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In 1853, the world's first public aquarium opened in Regents Park in London. Similar public aquariums opened throughout England, France, and Germany over the next 15 years. Many of the early aquariums closed because the fish could not survive in the conditions provided. By the early 1870s, knowledge of aeration, filtering, and water temperature had increased, and new aquariums opened.

In 1856, the U.S. government established what is today the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. Over the next 50 years interest in fish and their environments grew rapidly. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography was established in 1903, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute was established in 1930.

Today's notable aquariums include the John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago; the National Aquarium, Baltimore; the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia; the New York Aquarium, New York City; the Steinhart Aquarium, San Francisco; and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans. Many aquariums recreate diverse aquatic environments, such as coral reefs, river bottoms, or various coastlines, in large tanks. Some aquariums also have oceanariums—huge tanks that allow visitors to view marine animals from above as well as from the sides. Popular oceanariums include those at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California.

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