Press Release

Andrew Ng (415) 379-5123
Stephanie Stone (415) 379-5121


From speedy ocean animals to the defending champions of the America's Cup,
find out what it takes to be swift in the sea

SAN FRANCISCO (May 8, 2013) – When San Francisco hosts the America’s Cup races this summer, the boats won’t be the only speed demons on display. Sailfish, tuna, sharks, and other swift swimmers—some of which can top even the fastest sailboats—take center stage in Built for Speed, a new exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences. From May 10 - September 29, 2013, Built for Speed encourages visitors to explore some of the ocean’s fastest animals and their fascinating adaptations—from streamlined body shapes and retractable fins to piston-like muscles. In addition, visitors can witness museum staff and volunteers assembling an orca skeleton, examine a 45-foot-long catamaran and wingmast from ORACLE TEAM USA (the America’s Cup defending champions), compare the forms that make these ocean racers fast in fluid, and learn the steps they can take to support ocean conservation.

“Competition has driven the evolution of the ocean’s fastest inhabitants, as well as the design of the world’s most extreme racing vessels,” said Dr. Greg Farrington, Executive Director of the Academy. “This summer, the Academy will offer racing enthusiasts a chance to explore the links between fast animals and fast boats—between natural selection in the wild and design optimization in the lab.”

The Academy is the Official Education Partner of ORACLE TEAM USA, Defender of the 34th America’s Cup. The America’s Cup is the oldest trophy in international sport. Founded in 1851, the competition will be held in San Francisco Bay—a natural sailing arena—for the first time this year, with teams racing AC72 wing sail catamarans. Racing starts with the Louis Vuitton Cup (the America’s Cup Challenger Series) in July and August, and the winner will face ORACLE TEAM USA in the America’s Cup Finals in September.

Built for Speed is located in and around the Academy’s central piazza. The exhibit includes models of some of the ocean’s fastest swimmers, along with the orca skeleton and 45-foot-long racing catamaran.

  • Fast Marine Animals
    Models of an Indo-Pacific sailfish, yellowfin tuna, and shortfin mako shark demonstrate the amazing adaptations these animals have evolved for speed and long-distance ocean travel. The sailfish is one of the world’s fastest fishes, capable of short sprints over 60 mph with the help of its streamlined body, retractable dorsal fin, pointed bill, and stiff, crescent-shaped tail. The yellowfin tuna is no slouch either, able to swim in bursts over 40 mph thanks to its torpedo-shaped body, internal heat regulation, and piston-like muscles near its backbone that drive its tail back and forth. The shortfin mako shark, the fastest known shark species, can reach bursts of over 40 mph and has been recorded migrating up to 2,500 miles. But fish don’t hold the monopoly on speedy travel—the spineless squid darts through the water with a fascinating jet propulsion system. A Humboldt squid model allows visitors to examine its adaptations. After comparing the forms of these fast animals and understanding the basic physics of drag and thrust, visitors can put their knowledge to the test by making a fictitious fast fish out of fanciful fins and body shapes.
  • Orca Lab
    The orca is one of the world’s fastest marine mammals. Its large size, strength, and ability to echolocate all contribute to its prowess as a hunter. In November 2011, a deceased 18-foot-long juvenile orca washed ashore at Point Reyes National Seashore in Northern California. Academy researchers and volunteers responded to the stranding and identified the orca as an offshore ecotype. Since little is known about this population, the skeleton was retrieved and transported to the Academy for future scientific study. Through June 9, 2013, visitors can watch as Academy staff and volunteers carefully assemble the skeleton—a jigsaw puzzle of whale-sized proportions. The completed skeleton will be on view for the duration of the exhibit.
  • Ocean Action
    Plastic waste, wastewater pollution, and unsustainable fishing are three major threats to the health of the oceans today. Throughout the exhibit, “Ocean Action” stations constructed out of manmade marine debris encourage visitors to pass on plastic, clean up the flow, and be seafood savvy. In addition, community-based initiatives offering tips for taking conservation action are highlighted. Visitors can also tweet their own ideas for creatively re-using plastic with the Twitter hashtag #ReimaginePlastic.
  • Built to Race
    The Academy is the only Bay Area institution to display an AC45 catamaran and its wing from ORACLE TEAM USA, who won the most recent America’s Cup in 2010. Suspended just outside the piazza, this wingsail multihull boat has a hull length of 45 feet, a mast height of 84 feet, and a total weight of 3,086 pounds. It can attain speeds of more than 35 mph. ORACLE TEAM USA raced AC45 catamarans in the America’s Cup World Series from 2011 to 2013, and they will sail the even larger, 72-foot-long versions in the 2013 America’s Cup Finals. With this high-tech example of a manmade racing machine above their heads, visitors can gain a sense of the extreme nature of the sport, and explore how competition drives both natural selection in the wild and design optimization in the lab.

During the summer of 2013, Academy educators offer daily and weekly programs in support of the exhibit’s marine biology and conservation themes. Visit for details.

Built for Speed is generously supported by Lakeside Foundation, The Bernard Osher Foundation, Wendy and Eric Schmidt, and Oracle.