BALTIMORE — The National Aquarium opened up in Baltimore's Inner Harbor in August of 1981, primarily focused on attracting tourists.
But, it gave and continues to give visitors a face-to-face experience with nature and what it means to protect it.
"You really see the amazing power of these animals and how intricate and just amazing they are," says Laura Bankey.
Bankey visited the aquarium as a kid - and grew up to head its conservation programs.
"I loved how it inspired me and I did actually get a masters degree in aquatic conservation," she tells WMAR-2 News.
Over the course of the last four decades, the aquarium has increased its conservation efforts in many ways.
In 1991, the National Aquarium added its Animal Rescue Program, saving more than 300 aquatic animals over the last 30 years.
Also in 1991, the Aquarium added the Marine Mammal Pavilion and the Dolphin Show, though the show ended in 2012.
Staffers are still looking to find a new home for the dolphins, though the effects of climate change and the pandemic have presented obstacles.
"We remain steadfast in our search for a new home for our dolphins," says Jennifer Reardon, a spokesperson for the Aquarium, said in a statement.
In 1999, the Baltimore institution invited members of the public to help in their conservation effort.
"They're learning about the Chesapeake Bay, but they're also doing hands-on activities and they're also learning about how they can help protect the Chesapeake Bay," says Bankey.
Conservationists with the aquarium are continuing to expand outside the walls of the Aquarium.
"We do want to make sure we combat climate change, we want to stop plastic pollution and we want to save wildlife and habitats," Bankey says. "That's going to be our major focus because those are our major threats."
And while conservation has shifted to the National Aquarium's primary focus over the decades, tourism is still a part of that mission.
"We still invite people to come in and be inspired," says Bankey.