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Birch Aquarium dives into summer with new exhibits and extended hours

Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has just opened a 600-gallon, cylindrical moon jelly experience
Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla has opened a 600-gallon, cylindrical moon jelly experience in the Hall of Fishes, where guests can get close to the jellies.
(Courtesy of Birch Aquarium)

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Angling to give guests a better experience, Birch Aquarium at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla is boosting its summer hours with new exhibits open to further its message of ocean conservation.

“When you visit Birch, you get the experience not only that you pay for but the experience that you’re accustomed to if you’ve visited us before,” said Charles Hopper, who came aboard as Birch’s chief operating officer in March.

Birch Aquarium will extend its hours for July and August, open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. so visitors can enjoy all the exhibits, including its just-opened 600-gallon, cylindrical moon jelly experience in the Hall of Fishes, where guests can get close to the jellies and observe their tentacles.

There also is a newer touch tank on Tide Pool Plaza, enabling visitors of any height multiple opportunities to touch creatures such as juvenile sharks and rays.

Through August, visitors will need to buy a ticket online specifying their entry time before arriving, as the aquarium is following UCSD health protocols for capacity limits. The last tickets are sold for entry one hour before closing.

All of Birch’s areas are now open, though masks are required indoors and out, Hopper said.

The efforts of the Birch team to create summer programs while still navigating the coronavirus pandemic were “pretty impressive,” Hopper said. “I hit the ground running right away.”

Charles Hopper became Birch Aquarium's chief operating officer in March.
(Courtesy of Birch Aquarium)

Taking the helm at Birch during the pandemic was a “refreshing experience” for Hopper, who said the aquarium staff innovated through restrictions on capacity and indoor activities by being one of the only aquariums to offer programming outdoors.

Moving forward, Hopper hopes to expand the aquarium’s reach and improve access for a diverse group of visitors, noting that “the work of conservation can’t be done by 10 people to make an impact. It has to be done by tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people to make an impact.”

He said Birch is well-positioned to lead that charge under the umbrella of Scripps Oceanography, “the leader in … making sure we understand what’s happening to our oceans, making sure we understand the ways that we as humans impact folks. Their science and their world-class research gives us the opportunity to expose the public to that.”

“It’s an amazing and unique operating model,” Hopper said.

Hopper feels his job is “relationship management … it’s allowing the experts to be the experts, to finding out what barriers they have in their way and breaking those down.”

To help achieve that, Hopper brings 15 years’ experience at the Seattle Aquarium in various roles.

Ocean conservation is “something I fell into and fell in love with,” he said. “There’s something else out there beyond our comprehension or even beyond what we’re exposed to.”

He learned in Seattle about the “symbiotic relationship” between humans and ocean creatures. “Being aware of that and having that consciousness and being exposed to that, you immediately start to think, ‘Well, what can I do different?’” he said.

“As I’ve matured in aquariums and grown up on the business side, I’ve seen a sub-narrative play out, that what we do is just as important as who’s involved in doing it,” he added. “So how many people … can we expose to create that same understanding of connection that I had so many years ago? How can we as an organization open up our doors and our reach even more?”

For more information about Birch Aquarium or to buy tickets, visit aquarium.ucsd.edu.

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