Steinhart Aquarium is officially 100! Dive into some of the watershed moments, fishy tales, and beloved sea-lebrities that made our first century spectacularly splashy—and scientifically exceptional.

On September 29, 1923, Steinhart Aquarium’s very first guests passed through its grand neoclassical entrance and into a never-before-seen undersea world.

Over the next 100 years, millions of museumgoers would marvel at creatures from every corner of the Earth—playful African penguins, kaleidoscopic coral reef fish, toothy, tranquil Claude—and grow their sense of wonder for our ocean planet. Meanwhile, on the other side of the tanks, Steinhart scientists would achieve numerous breakthroughs in animal care, exploration, and regeneration.

Today, Steinhart continues to shape the role that modern aquariums play in connecting people with aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity and protecting the planet we all share. As we begin our second century, we thank our diverse community—humans and animals alike—for being part of our first.

New! Check out our Steinhart Centennial YouTube playlist for 20+ short videos highlighting current and former staff and fascinating aquarium lore.

Close-up photo of green and purple button polyp coral at the Academy

100 years of wonder

From a two-headed snake to four-eyed fish, the unusual has always been the norm at Steinhart. Home to nearly 60,000 live animals representing nearly 1,000 species, it is one of the most biodiverse aquariums on Earth, with thoughtfully designed habitats and immersive exhibits that have captivated generations of visitors.

Pogo the African penguin chick yawning very cutely in a biologists gloved hands

100 years of impact

To provide life-changing experiences inside the museum, we have to understand, protect, and regenerate the wild places and threatened biodiversity outside of it. For decades, Steinhart has championed Species Survival Plans (SSP) for endangered species like the African penguin, and supported community-led coral reef conservation programs in the Philippines, Curaçao, and more.

A black and white spotted Luristan newt on exhibit in Steinhart Aquarium

100 years of innovation

Steinhart's biologists and scientific divers have a track record of making waves—and history. Milestones are myriad (see the slideshow below), and include the first successful display and release of a great white shark, the first successful coral spawning in a US aquarium, and the first team to dive the mesophotic reefs of Roatán and the Maldives.

A herd of dwarf seahorses cling to seagrass on exhibit at Steinhart Aquarium

100 years of care

Our commitment to animal care, enrichment, and wellbeing is our priority and our passion. For more than 25 years, Steinhart Aquarium has earned accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a stamp of approval reserved for facilities that embody the very best in animal care and welfare, conservation, and education.

On sale now: The Spectacular Steinhart Aquarium

Bart Shepherd's new book is a vibrant collection of photos, stories, and artwork from Steinhart's first century. Pick up a copy at the Academy Store during your next visit!

Spectacular Steinhart Aquarium book
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    Black and white photo of a scene from opening day at Steinhart Aquarium on September 29, 1923

    Photo: A scene from opening day outside the aquarium.

    The 1920s: A splashy debut

    On September 29, 1923, the brand-new Steinhart Aquarium opened to the public in Golden Gate Park. In 1928, Curator Alvin Seale pioneered the use of brine shrimp as aquarium fish food.

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    Black and white photo from the 1930s of the sailing ship Zaca, used on Academy expeditions

    Photo: The ship Zaca, en route to the Galápagos Islands.

    The 1930s: Epic expeditions

    Steinhart staff sailed to the Galápagos to bring back scientific knowledge and animals to display. In 1938, an Australian lungfish, Methuselah, also arrived by sea. She is currently the oldest living aquarium fish on Earth.

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    Black and white photo from the 1940s of a woman in uniform feeding fish to a sea lion at the Academy

    Photo: Marine mammals, like Cissy the seal, lived at Steinhart until the 2000s.

    The 1940s: All hands on deck

    During World War II, staff were called on to serve overseas, including to help set up fisheries for soldiers in the Pacific. In 1947, a bit of postwar glamour: “The Lady from Shanghai,” starring Rita Hayworth, was filmed at Steinhart.

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    Black and white photo from the 1950s of Steinhart Aquarium Superintendent Earl Herald hosting Science in Action TV show

    Photo: Steinhart Superintendent Earl Herald hosting “Science in Action.”

    The 1950s: Academy on air

    From 1952 to 1966, a weekly live television program, “Science in Action," aired on local San Francisco stations and was syndicated nationwide. In 1958, San Francisco voters approved Proposition B to rebuild the aquarium.

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    Detail of colorful fish mosaic at Steinhart Aquarium by artist Guillermo Granizo

    Photo: Fanciful fish populate one of Granizo’s mosaics.

    The 1960s: Steinhart art

    When Steinhart was renovated in the early 1960s, mosaic artist Guillermo Wagner Granizo decorated the hallways with dazzling tilework. In 1967, Butterball the manatee began his 17-year tenure at the aquarium.

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    The fish roundabout exhibit at Steinhart Aquarium with free-swimming open-ocean fish

    Photo: Striped bass, yellowtail, and mackerel swim in the 360° habitat.

    The 1970s: Circle of life

    The fan favorite Fish Roundabout opened in May 1977. This ring-shaped aquarium housed pelagic species unaccustomed to encountering walls. In 1975, Steinhart was the first facility to display bioluminescent flashlight fishes.

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    Sandy the great white shark swims with former Steinhart Aquarium director John McCosker in 1980.

    Photo: Former aquarium director Dr. John McCosker swims with Sandy.

    The 1980s: Totally jaw-some

    Over a few days in 1980, 40,000 guests packed the aquarium to see Sandy, the first great white shark to be successfully displayed and released. In 1983, the Penguin Experience opened, Steinhart’s first major bird exhibition.

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    Steinhart biologist Jorge Gomezjurado holds a jar with captive-bred seahorses.

    Photo: Biologist Jorge Gomezjurado displays some Steinhart-bred seahorses.

    The 1990s: An evolving focus

    Steinhart developed breeding programs for penguins, salmon, seahorses, and other endangered species. In 1995, our dolphins were transferred to another facility due to growing concern around marine mammals in aquariums.

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    Cutaway view of the Academy's dramatic roofline with glass-enclosed indoor rainforest and undulating Living Roof

    Photo: A cutaway view of the glass-enclosed rainforest and Living Roof.

    The 2000s: A new Academy

    After suffering damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Steinhart was torn down in 2004 to make way for the new Academy, which opened in September 2008. A month prior, Claude, our white alligator, arrived from Florida.

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    Steinhart director Bart Shephard scuba diving with the subCAS device to bring back live fish from the deep ocean.

    Photo: Aquarium director Bart Shepherd collects reef fish; © Luiz Rocha.

    The 2010s: Going deeper

    Steinhart divers began using advanced techniques to explore rarely seen deep coral reefs and invented a device to safely bring fish back up to the surface. In 2018, the Academy was the first US facility to spawn corals.

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    Steinhart Biologists Tim Wong and Holly Rosenblum with Pogo and Ozzie our African penguin chicks.

    Photo: Biologists Tim Wong and Holly Rosenblum with Pogo and Ozzie.

    The 2020s: Hatching hope

    COVID-19 closed the museum for 11 months, but Steinhart’s dedicated biologists showed up every day for our 60,000 animals. In 2022 and 2023, four new penguin chicks hatched at the Academy—the first since 2018.