Visitor behavior research has become an essential
component to many museum programs. Since its opening to the
public in 1965, Oregon State University's Mark O. Hatfield
Marine Science Center Aquarium in Newport, it has been
visited by millions of people. A clear understanding of who
this audience was and what they actually did while viewing
the exhibits in the aquarium had never been achieved. This
descriptive study describes fall season visitors and their
circulation patterns. The goal of the study was to
understand the interrelationships between visitors, exhibits
and the physical layout of the aquarium. One purpose of the
study was to provide information that would aid staff
members with long range planning decisions that include the
design of new exhibits and the renovation of older displays.
Besides identifying the aquarium's fall audience,
demographic data on visitors was desired to gain a clearer
understanding of populations that did not visit the museum.
Two-hundred and forty participants responded to a
survey questionnaire administered by HMSC volunteers and the
author. Forty unobtrusive observations of visitors were
collected by the author. Respondents included all age
groups; however, the young adults (late teens, early
twenties) were underrepresented. Over half of the
respondents had visited HMSC before; 81% of repeat visitors
were from Oregon.
A positive correlation was shown to exist between group
size and the length of visit. The larger the group the
longer the group tended to visit in the aquarium. The
average time spent in the aquarium was 30.6 minutes. Most
(82.5%) respondents overestimated the length of their visit
by an average of 22 minutes. Overall, visitors were found to
spend over 77% of their time at HMSC viewing the exhibits.
Only 7.3% of the visitors observed traveled through the
aquarium the way it was designed. The average amount of time
spent at exhibits ranged from 16.6 seconds to 212.5 seconds;
however, standard deviation and range indicate a great deal
of variability in visitor behavior.
Visitor traffic patterns and competition between
exhibits was shown to influence the visitor experience.
Survey and observation results were consistent with examples
at other museums, zoos and aquariums cited in the
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