Five Ways to Explore the Woods Hole Science Aquarium on Cape Cod

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The Woods Hole Science Aquarium is part of the Woods Hole Oceanic Institute (WHOI), which is a nonprofit education facility that focuses on marine science and engineering. The WHOI has a campus spread out throughout the village of Woods Hole and it includes a Visitor Center and Discovery center, both of which are open to the public and offer a variety of programs and events. Opened in 1875 and welcoming over 80,000 visitors every year, the Woods Hole Science Aquarium is the oldest public aquarium in America and home to 140 species of marine life who live in the Atlantic and Northeast waters, including harbor seals.  The aquarium also has a rehabilitation program for sea turtles.

Travel Tips: 

  • The aquarium is FREE to visit and open year round, with more limited hours (and days) during quieter winter months; Check here for updated information on hours 
  • There is very limited free parking in front of the building- better bet is metered street parking and public transportation;
  • No strollers or food or drink allowed inside; there is one small flight of stairs to an upper level of touch tanks, but it is handicap accessible via a ramp in the back of the aquarium.
  • Restrooms located near the check in desk.
  • Information on other Woods Hole activities here and dining options here.
  • Kids will want to print out these activity sheets and bring them on their visit to the aquarium to complete.
  • Plan on 45-60 minutes to explore the exhibits. 

Using the Five Senses to Explore the Woods Hole Science Aquarium:

  1. Sight: Look at sea life up close in some of the 12+ tanks in the aquarium, home to dozens of sea life from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic water, including a wide variety of fish, horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, skates, egg sacks, and underwater meadows. There are also exhibits with sea life skulls, bones, teeth. , as well as shells and bones from endangered turtles and whales.
  2. Smell: Smell the two harbor seals and see them up close in their outdoor, 17,000 gallon pool in the front of the building). Listen to one of the daily seal talks, usually offered a few times each day.
  3. Hear: Listen to the sounds of the seas, including harbor porpoises, sperm whales, and fin whales through recordings in some of the indoor exhibits.
  4. Touch: Check out the touch tanks on the upper level of the aquarium, which includes various shells, shark eggs, sea stars, crabs, and whelks. The tanks are in the “work area” of the aquarium and visitors are welcome to watch staff prepare food to feed the animals and clean the tanks. Be sure to peek in the other side of the aquarium tanks from the lower level
  5. Read: (A bit of a stretch, but who really wants to taste anything at an aquarium?!) Read all about the history of the Woods Hole area, fishery science, whale protection, marine turtles, and the local inhabitants of the water. 

Looking for more adventures on Cape Cod? Check out our full Cape Cod During the Winter City Guide and our posts featuring the Cape Cod National Seashore, the Whydah Pirate Museum, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Heritage Museums and Gardens, Ocean Edge Resort and Spa, and Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter

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  1. I’ve never heard about this place before, but it does sound like a great one to visit. I’m happy to hear that it’s also free since I love free or very affordable activities. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Wow, a free aquarium??? I would always be there if there were a free aquarium in my town! I love the idea of exploring the aquarium through the five senses. I once visited an aquarium with my younger sister and had the opportunity to touch a ray; it was a lovely experience we both enjoyed.

  3. This looks like a really great place to go to learn more about sea life. Great that it’s a budget friendly spot to visit too!

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