The Oregon Coast Aquarium was founded in 1984 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in the coastal town of Newport, Oregon. The Aquarium was developed by the Yaquina Bay Economic Foundation to draw tourism, facilitate oceanic research and education, and bring economic prosperity to the community. Since opening in 1992, it has welcomed more than 15 million visitors from around the world. In the late 1990s, the Aquarium was home to Keiko, the Killer Whale (of "Free Willy" fame) until his release into the Nordic seas. It is the only aquarium in Oregon accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), maintaining this designation since 2001. More than a top-tier tourist destination, the Aquarium’s mission has even further implications:
ENVIRONMENT: The sea is a major force on the planet; home to over a million known species of plants and animals, producer of half of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere, sustainer of natural resources, and regulator of the world’s climate. The Aquarium engages youth volunteers in beach clean-ups, raises awareness about plastic pollution and climate change, identifies rare or endangered species, and shares updates on rescue and rehabilitation efforts. The Aquarium is one of three rehabilitation facilities in the Pacific Northwest, and the only facility in Oregon authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide specialized care to endangered marine life like sea turtles and sea birds.
EDUCATION: The Aquarium is a vital STEM education resource for hundreds of school groups who visit each year, thousands of students in rural communities who benefit from our outreach education, and thousands of youth volunteers who explore marine careers. Understanding the ocean is critical for future exploration, as well as international commerce, sustainable fishing, climate sensitive agribusinesses, biotechnologies to combat cancer, and the oxygen we breathe.
ECONOMIC: Since opening in 1992, the Aquarium has welcomed more than 15 million visitors from around the world to Newport. Drawing 96% of its visitors from outside Lincoln County, and 38% out-of-state, the Aquarium is a key driver in Oregon’s $12 billion tourism industry. Aquarium visitation alone contributes an estimated economic value of $100 million each year to the central coast, and boosts employment for this rural community.
ENTERTAINMENT: The Aquarium is frequently rated by travel writers as one of the top ten aquariums in the U.S. because of its naturalistic marine life exhibits, educational programming, and strong sense of place on the Pacific coast. Special exhibits added every two years keep the experience fresh for visitors of all ages, and maintain admissions.