• Steinhart Aquarium pictured on opening day in 1923.
  • The alligator Swamp.
  • Butterball the manatee.
    Butterball the manatee
  • The shark-sicle
  • The Fish Roundabout
  • The Philippine Coral Reef
  • Claude the alligator
  • African penguins swimming
  • Steinhart Aquarium at 100.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (August 22, 2023)— The beloved Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences will mark a major milestone—its 100th anniversary—on Friday, September 29, with a wide variety of festive activities. Centennial celebrations will include a citywide scavenger hunt, a coastal cleanup community event in McLaren Park, pay-what-you-can museum admission on September 29, the publication of a new book, The Spectacular Steinhart Aquarium, iconic Steinhart animals projected on the Salesforce Tower, a 1920’s-themed NightLife, special exhibitions and programs, and more. For a complete list of activities see the Centennial Celebration Events section below.

“Steinhart Aquarium has been a cultural anchor for San Francisco since 1923. Grandparents who came to see the fishes when they were kids are now bringing their grandchildren to revel in the beauty and splendor of some of the most awe-inspiring aquarium displays anywhere on the planet,” says Academy Executive Director Scott Sampson. “And our impact extends beyond the museum walls: Whether it’s sending biologists to South Africa to help rescue and rehabilitate abandoned wild penguin chicks, advancing the science of coral reef regeneration, or engaging museumgoers and online audiences with high quality educational programming, Steinhart Aquarium’s impact can be felt worldwide.”

One of the most advanced and biologically diverse aquariums in the world, Steinhart Aquarium is home to nearly 60,000 inhabitants representing more than 1,000 species of live plants and animals. Its innovative exhibits include one of the world’s largest and deepest indoor living coral reefs and a four-story rainforest, and historically included architectural marvels such as the 60-foot diameter ring aquarium, the Fish Roundabout, and remarkable “firsts” such as the first great white shark displayed in an aquarium.

“For more than half my life I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this great institution, learning from passionate and talented colleagues and mentors, caring for beautiful and fascinating animals, and journeying to some of the most remote corners of the planet to study marine life,” says Senior Director of Steinhart Aquarium Bart Shepherd, who began working at the aquarium in 1996 and authored a new book titled The Spectacular Steinhart Aquarium. “I’m so proud of the impact that the Steinhart has had in our Bay Area community and beyond, and I am confident that the second century will be as remarkable as the first.”

Named for brothers who helped fund the aquarium, Ignatz and Sigmund Steinhart, Steinhart Aquarium first opened its doors on September 29, 1923, to an unprecedented crowd of 5,000. One hundred years later, Steinhart Aquarium has been a source of joy and wonder for nearly 150 million visitors, and remains dedicated to inspiring the public to explore, understand, and regenerate the natural world.

The oldest continually operating municipal aquarium in the United States, Steinhart Aquarium is a powerful leader in conservation and scientific research. As part of a major regeneration initiative called Hope for Reefs, Steinhart was the first U.S. aquarium to successfully spawn corals, making its researchers uniquely poised to inform restoration practices.

The Steinhart technical dive team regularly discovers new species from the deep coral reefs known as the “twilight zone,” as well as uncovers the human impacts these ecosystems face. The aquarium has also been a champion of endangered species through collaborative breeding programs, called Species Survival Plans, and continues to support wild populations like endangered African penguins inside the aquarium and in the wild.

Centennial Celebration Events
The Academy will celebrate the Steinhart centennial throughout the month of September and anniversary year with a variety of events and activations:

  • Friday, September 15, all day: Citywide “Claude’s Day Out” scavenger hunt
    • During a whirlwind tour of San Francisco on his hatch day, Claude the alligator will leave 25 gifts across the city for folks to search for or stumble upon. Locations will include everywhere from iconic landmarks to local haunts and community spaces (keep an eye out for Claude footprints on doors), and one lucky finder will claim the Grand Prize, which includes an Academy Family Plus Membership, special behind-the-scenes aquarium experience, giant Claude plushie, and more!
  • Thursday, September 28, 6-9 PM: NightLife 1923
    • Giving a nod to the decade that birthed Steinhart Aquarium, NightLife brings a roaring 1920s theme to the 21+ event. The evening will include live jazz, a Steinhart history talk with aquarium Senior Director Bart Shepherd, an art workshop featuring aquarium specimens, and more.
  • September 28-30: Steinhart iconic animals on the Salesforce Tower
    • Eagle-eyed viewers will spot video of two of Steinhart’s most iconic animals, Claude the alligator and African penguins, playing on the Salesforce Tower screens in downtown San Francisco.
  • Friday, September 29, all day: Pay-what-you-can museum admission
    • To expand access to all and enable guests to show their support for the centennial of the beloved San Francisco aquarium, the California Academy of Sciences will offer special pay-what-you-can pricing starting at $3 for guests visiting on Friday, September 29, 2023. Tickets available for purchase after Labor Day, while supplies last.
  • Saturday, September 30, 10 AM-1 PM: Coastal Cleanup at McLaren Park
    • To give back to the community that has unwaveringly supported Steinhart Aquarium over the years, Academy staff will partner with San Francisco Recreation and Parks on a coastal cleanup event at San Francisco’s second largest park, McLaren Park. Participants will receive one complimentary Academy admission ticket at the end of the event. Sign up here.
  • Sunday, October 1, 10:30-11:30 AM: Speaking of Steinhart streamed talk
    • Tune in for a live-streamed talk with Academy experts as they share insights and anecdotes from Steinhart Aquarium’s storied history and dive into the aquarium’s role in regenerating the natural world. Moderated by Executive Director Scott Sampson, the panel includes Bart Shepherd, Senior Director of Steinhart Aquarium; Rebekah Kim, Academy Head Librarian; and Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle culture critic and host of the Total SF podcast.
  • September: Release of new book, The Spectacular Steinhart Aquarium
    • Written by Senior Director of the Steinhart Aquarium Bart Shepherd, The Spectacular Steinhart Aquarium celebrates one hundred years of history, achievements, and impact, and will be available for purchase at the Academy store. Advance copies available for press.
  • September-December: Steinhart exhibit in the Naturalist Center
    • Visit the Academy’s Naturalist Center to view objects, artwork, and technology from Steinhart Aquarium History, including historic tiles and bronze decorative elements from the original 1923 building; a vintage underwater camera used by former Curator and Superintendent, Dr. Earl Herald; skulls of specimens from the research collection; historic documents and animal illustrations from the Academy archives, and more.
  • Ongoing:

Steinhart Aquarium Extraordinary “Firsts” and Other Accomplishments
Steinhart biologists and scientists have propelled many scientific discoveries and advancements for nearly a century while educating millions of visitors:

  • Pioneering the use of brine shrimp (Artemia, AKA “Sea Monkeys”) as a fish food (1928)
  • The first live TV show to be filmed in an aquarium, Science in Action was hosted weekly by Steinhart Superintendent Earl Herald from 1952 to 1966, airing on all three major Bay Area Networks and syndicated nationally
  • The first dugong ever cared for in a public aquarium (1955)
  • The development of the use of copper sulfate to treat marine parasites (1955)
  • The first aquarium studies of susu, a blind river dolphin from the Ganges (1969)
  • The first breeding of a bushmaster (a highly venomous snake), which won the prestigious Bean Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (1969)
  • The first collection and display of bioluminescent flashlight fishes (1975)
  • The first successful display and release of a great white shark (1980)
  • The first to successfully display living corals and reef sharks together (1988)
  • The first to collect, display, and breed Burmese vine snakes (2001)
  • The first to collect and display coconut octopus in a public aquarium (2011)
  • The first to hatch and raise ostriches in an indoor museum environment (2012)
  • The first to use iPads as digital interactive graphics (2012)
  • The first US aquarium to successfully elicit corals to spawn in human care (2018)
  • The development of a patented submersible fish decompression chamber that makes it possible to study fishes from the deep reefs of the Twilight Zone (2022)

The Many Homes of Steinhart Aquarium
Steinhart Aquarium opened in September 1923 in a neoclassical building designed by architect Lewis P. Hobart, who played a significant role in rebuilding San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fires. This building remained relatively unchanged until a renovation and expansion from 1962 to 1963, followed by the fan-favorite Fish Roundabout in the 1970s.

Growing pains combined with the damage caused by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake helped nudge a move toward a new Steinhart Aquarium building and temporary relocation to Howard Street during construction of a new building in Golden Gate Park. When the arrestingly beautiful California Academy of Sciences opened in 2008 as the world’s greenest museum, it featured a serious upgrade to Steinhart Aquarium, including the 25-foot-deep Philippine Coral Reef as a stunning visual centerpiece.

Today eagle-eyed visitors can still spot some elements from the original aquarium in the new building, such as the iconic seahorse railing and historic Solon and Schemmel tiles that surround the Swamp habitat of modern-day mascot Claude the alligator with albinism.

Assets for Press:

  • A wide variety of historical and contemporary photos available upon request.
  • Digital copies of the new book, The Spectacular Steinhart Aquarium, are available upon request.
  • A series of videos featuring Steinhart staff and alumni will be available in mid-September.
  • Interviews are available, and all requests should be sent to Jeanette Peach, jpeach@calacademy.org.
About the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution with a mission to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it is home to a world-class aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in biodiversity science, environmental learning, and collaborative engagement—all under one living roof. Museum hours are 9:30 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on Sunday. Admission includes all exhibits, programs, and shows. For daily ticket prices, please visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.

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