Scenic Overlook Closed for Renovations

The Scenic Overlook is closed for construction, with a new deck expected to reopen this fall. The Nature Trail between the buildings remains open.

Photo of the Virginia Marine Science Museum.

After many years of planning and hard work, our facility first opened in 1986 as the Virginia Marine Science Museum, and was a resounding success from the very beginning. Since then, we have expanded our exhibits into a second building, founded and built a headquarters for our nationally-recognized Stranding Response Program, launched dolphin and whale watching boat tours, and become a regional leader in research and conservation efforts to protect the marine environment. 

The Aquarium operates through a public-private partnership between the City of Virginia Beach and the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation. The City owns the Aquarium's buildings and provides administrative support, while the Foundation owns, procures, and maintains the animals and exhibits. The Foundation is also responsible for fundraising efforts and various scientific research, education, and conservation projects. 

Timeline of Aquarium History

June 14, 1986

The Virginia Marine Science Museum (VMSM) officially opens to the public. It is a 41,500 square foot facility on a 9-acre site. Attendance for the first summer exceeds projections by an astonishing 45 percent, with more than 109,000 visitors in the first three months. Although many museums typically experience a dramatic drop-off in attendance after the first year or two, the VMSM enjoys steady attendance.


Museum staff and volunteers begin responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles that wash up sick, injured, or dead along the beaches. The Foundation agrees to fund the activities of this newly-formed VMSM Stranding Response Program. Also during this year, the VMSM Foundation funds the development of an outreach program that developed into the Ocean in Motion traveling aquarium program.


In the wake of the Museum's success, staff begin planning for Phase II, a project that would triple the size of the facility to 120,000 square feet with two buildings and more than 45 acres of land.


The Museum's Stranding Response Team, composed of staff and volunteers, is officially formed. The Museum begins winter whale watching trips. These trips created an off-season tourism industry for the City of Virginia Beach.


The Foundation launches its second capital campaign at $5 million for the Museum's Phase II expansion. Ground breaking on the new facility begins. This same year, the U.S. Navy designates 50 acres of land on Owls Creek salt marsh, across from the Museum, as a protected Watchable Wildlife Area, the first area in Virginia to receive this designation.

June 14, 1996

Phase II of the Virginia Marine Science Museum opens to the public on the Museum's 10-year anniversary. The expansion includes the new Ocean Pavilion and its 300,000 gallon aquarium with several species of sharks, as well as a 70,000 gallon sea turtle exhibit that provides close-up views of these endangered animals. The new additions also include the new Owls Creek Marsh Pavilion at the end of an expanded Nature Trail, emphasizing marsh creatures and birds. 

During the first year, more than 692,000 people visit the newly-expanded museum, exceeding projections. This sets a new high-water mark for visitation. The number of full-time staff doubles, and with the new exhibits come many opportunities for expanded educational programming. 

July 1, 2004

Based on the recommendations of the staff and Foundation, the Virginia Beach City Council endorses the facility's name change to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.

May 2005

Looking to replace older exhibits with new galleries, the Aquarium initiates the Windows of the World capital campaign, its third capital campaign. This would eventually become the Restless Planet exhibit.

November 21, 2009

The Restless Planet exhibit opens to the public after a $25 million renovation. This new exhibit gallery includes habitats simulating ecosystems around the world that were once present during Virginia's prehistory. Restless Planet features a Malaysian peat swamp with Tomistoma crocodiles; a coastal desert similar to a Mediterranean coast; a 120,000 gallon walk-through Red Sea Aquarium with spotted eagle rays and a zebra shark; and a volcanic area similar to the Komodo Islands in Indonesia, complete with Komodo dragons.

Also in this year, the Foundation forms a partnership with a photography company to provide souvenir photos as an additional source of revenue during guests' visits.

May 30, 2014

The Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium has its official "rope" cutting ceremony. The following day, The Adventure Park opens to the public, and features several ropes and zipline challenge courses for guests of all ages and experience levels.

February 14, 2015

The Virginia Aquarium holds its first public Sea Adventures boat trip from its private, on-site dock after beginning a partnership for dolphin and whale watching trips with its current boat tour operator, Rover Cruises. Also in this year, the souvenir photo partnership is awarded to our current vendor, Photogenic.

March 2015

The Aquarium Foundation's fourth capital campaign begins. The goal is to renovate the 20-year-old Owls Creek Marsh Pavilion and construct the Darden Marine Animal Conservation Center (DMACC). DMACC is the first of four research centers called for in the master plan.

August 18, 2016

Staff discover two hatchling Komodo dragons on exhibit, the first Komodo hatchlings at the Aquarium. The baby dragons, Bejo and Kado, are the product of breeding between Teman, a male dragon, and Jude, a late female dragon. Jude, prior to her passing, dug an egg chamber in the exhibit, allowing the eggs to incubate and hatch.

September 18, 2016

The Chesapeake Bay Aquarium exhibit closes for renovation.

December 13, 2017

The Chesapeake Bay Aquarium reopens, with the original blue walls and rockwork replaced with a more natural design reminiscent of Kiptopeke State Park.

June 2018

Renovations occur in the Bay & Ocean pavilion, with the addition of new energy-efficient and water-efficient fixtures for the lobby bathrooms and a complete redesign of the existing café.

January 2, 2019

The Marsh Pavilion closes to the public to begin renovations.

April 2, 2019

The Virginia Aquarium announces a new partnership with KultureCity, an organization dedicated to helping businesses become more inclusive of guests with sensory processing disorders. As part of this new partnership, the Aquarium becomes certified as Sensory Inclusive by KultureCity, with accommodations such as staff trainings on sensory processing disorders, creation of quiet zones, and acquisition of on-site resources.

March 19, 2020

The Virginia Aquarium closes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the country.

June 19, 2020

In compliance with a phased opening plan set forth by the Governor of Virginia and consultation with the City of Virginia Beach's leadership, the Aquarium welcomes guests back. Operations include new safety measures and limited capacity requirements implemented to help keep guests, staff, volunteers, and animals safe. As temporary precautions for the pandemic, the café is closed, and staff put a pause on special programs, behind-the-scenes tours, scheduled feeding presentations, private events, summer camps, and school programs.

May 2021

The new Darden Marine Animal Conservation Center opens. This facility is named in recognition of the Darden Family and the Joshua P. And Elizabeth D. Darden Foundation for their generous contribution to the mission of the Stranding Response Program. This state-of-the-art facility provides holding pools and animal care space for sea turtle and seal rehabilitation, examination rooms and laboratory space for diagnostic and forensic investigations of stranded animals, and much-needed office space providing logistical and technological support for Aquarium scientists.

January 26, 2022

Sadana the spotted eagle ray gives birth to two female pups, marking a significant milestone for the Virginia Aquarium as well as zoos and aquariums worldwide. Spotted eagle ray reproduction is extremely rare, with the typical gestation period being anywhere from six to 13 months. Spotted eagle rays are included in a Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

September 1, 2022

Two female Tomistoma hatch after Sommer, our female Tomistoma, laid a clutch of 19 eggs in May. The babies hatched after close monitoring by the Aquarium's husbandry team during a 113-day incubation period. This is the first successful Tomistoma birth at the Aquarium, following previous nests laid by Sommer in 2019 and 2020. The hatchlings are approximately 12 inches long at birth and would remain behind the scenes until May 2024, when they are moved to their new home at Crocodile Encounters in Texas. The hatchlings grew to nearly three feet in length and were ten times heavier than they were at the time they hatched.

Summer 2022

The harbor seal exhibit closes for renovations of the seal pool and acrylic panes. The ray touch pool also closes for renovations. Both exhibits reopen later in 2022.

January 2024

After years of renovations with recurring delays, the Aquarium's South Building, formerly known as the Marsh Pavilion, reopens to the public. The building offers new immersive experiences with interactive exhibits, multiple kids' play areas, touch pools, a veterinary care center and water quality lab with observation windows, and more.

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