How the National Aquarium Saves the Ocean One Story at a Time

In a divided world, water connects us all—and together, humanity is as powerful as the ocean itself. By sharing stories around these core beliefs, The National Aquarium bridges the gap between people and the earth’s waterways to create sustainable change. We connected with Nabila Chami, the Director of Brand Strategy at the National Aquarium, to learn how her team inspires people to care for our oceans during the pandemic. 

Finding Bright Spots in Dark Times

When COVID first broke out, the National Aquarium closed for four months—its longest extended closure since opening in 1981. Suddenly, Nabila’s team could no longer provide people the direct connection to habitats and animals that made up the core of their mission.

However, even though the public could no longer visit, its animals were still there…which meant its stories were still there too and could be shared with communities online. 

Nabila Chami, National Aquarium’s Director of Brand Strategy

One of those stories was Pippi, a one-month-old gray seal pup the National Aquarium rescued right before closing. Pippi became one of the aquarium’s most complicated cases and longest seal rescue residents. Despite the aquarium’s public closure, the aquarium team provided Pippi with constant attentive care. After helping Pippi gain healthy weight and new fur, they released Pippi back into the ocean within a year. Sharing bright spots like this with their audience helps Nabila’s team drive the aquarium’s mission forward: 

“Being able to really bookmark a year like 2020 with Pippi’s release meant so much to those of us who work at the aquarium, but also to those of the public that really make up our online communities, supporters, guests, and members who continue to provide the financial and other support that we need in order to keep going.”

– Nabila Chami, Director of Brand Strategy at the National Aquarium

Related Content: How Three Crowd-Pleasing Brands Survived the Pandemic

Using Robots to Provide Virtual Tours 

With its doors closed to the public, the National Aquarium began offering virtual tours using WeGo Robots. According to Nabila, these robots provided the “perfect antidote” to not being able to visit the aquarium in person. 

Nabila’s team piloted this program with children in local Maryland hospitals, such as the Johns Hopkins Hospital. With WeGo, her team was able to provide these children a break from the stressful hospital experience. By letting them have the aquarium virtually to themselves, Nabila’s team gave hospitalized children “the opportunity to just be a kid” for a couple of hours. 

Leveraging Social Media

In the months leading up to the pandemic, Nabila’s team floated the idea of creating a National Aquarium TikTok account. When the aquarium closed, they finally decided it was time. The team grew a substantial community of engaged TikTok followers in a few short months. By posting exclusive content only shared on Tiktok, they created “special value for those who care about the aquarium and want to follow [its] journey” on the platform. For example, Nabila’s team filmed day-in-the-life TikTok videos of the team members who cared for the animals during the closure, giving followers a glimpse behind the scenes at the National Aquarium. 

In addition, Nabila’s team leveraged interactive social media components like Instagram Stories to give their audiences a direct connection to aquarium animal experts during today’s remote era. This included hosting weekly Q&As with specialists on different audience-chosen topics, such as jellyfish or sharks. Beyond serving their audience, these Q&As provided valuable insights for the aquarium’s team by showing them which stories resonated most with their audiences. 

“Our digital community has grown, and we’re thrilled to be able to continue to innovate.” 

– Nabila Chami

To learn more about the National Aquarium’s visual storytelling and how brands can build meaningful connections with online communities, watch the full session below.

How the National Aquarium Saves the Ocean One Story at a Time is written by Sophia Li for

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