The Laboratory was established by Drs. Charles and Clarice Yentsch in 1974 as a private, non-profit research institution named for the oceanographer Henry Bryant Bigelow, founding Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Dr. Bigelow’s extensive investigations in the early part of the twentieth century are recognized as the foundation of modern oceanography. His multi-year expeditions in the Gulf of Maine, where he collected water samples and data on phytoplankton, fish populations, and hydrography, established a new paradigm of intensive, ecologically-based oceanographic research in the United States and made this region one of the most thoroughly studied bodies of water, for its size, in the world.
Since its founding, the Laboratory has attracted over $100 million in federal grants for research projects, winning competitive, peer reviewed awards from all of the principal federal research granting agencies. The Laboratory’s total operating revenue (including philanthropy) grew by 68% to $7.9 million over the period 2006-2012. Federal research grants have supported most of the Laboratory’s research operations and administrative needs in the past; education and outreach programs have relied on other sources of support, primarily contributions from individuals and private philanthropic foundations.
Since 2008, the Laboratory’s executive director is Graham Shimmield, Ph.D., FRSE, a marine geochemist and former director of the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences.
In December 2012, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences officially opened a brand new Ocean Science and Education campus in East Boothbay, after having spent nearly 40 years in West Boothbay Harbor. This followed the groundbreaking of the new site in Fall 2010, as shown in the video below.