What started as a bookish academic kerfuffle has blown up into a larger scandal of financial mismanagement, and the CEO of the SF Aquarium by the Bay and Bay Institute has stepped down as reports surface that he blew huge money on lavish travel and concerts in Dubai.

It sure seemed like there was more to the story when we learned this week that pretty much the entire staff of the Bay Institute resigned en masse over a fairly minor academic dispute (the Bay Institute and Bay.org also manage the Aquarium of the Bay in Fisherman’s Wharf, which has not suffered the same mass resignations). The dispute was that researchers at the ecological nonprofit were upset that the Bay Institute was planning on publishing some of their research without proper updates and the peer-review process they had wanted. Seems like an easy issue to solve! Just delay the publication and do the additional review, as there would be no point in publishing research that the authors had already disavowed themselves from.

Oh boy, was there more to the story. Two days after that news broke, the Chronicle is now reporting that Bay Institute CEO George Jacob has abruptly resigned amidst reports of his profligate spending on the institute’s dime. Jacob was clearly pushed out, as the Chronicle says he stepped down “after the board of the nonprofit asked him to resign.” The Chronicle also adds that “Jacob’s resignation came as the Chronicle prepared to publish an investigation into turmoil inside the organization,” so there may be more shoes to drop here.

But the shoe that has dropped, and likely played a major role in Jacob’s resignation, is the eye-popping spending at an organization where, per the Chronicle, staffers “reported receiving daily calls from collection agencies.” Meanwhile, in 2023, alone, documents obtained by the Chron show Jacob spent $286,000 on luxury hotels and business-class flights, plus another $461,000 just on a climate event in Dubai where Stewart Copeland of The Police was playing a concert (which appears to be this).

“Preliminary analysis shows that the combination of travel and expenses far exceeded anything that I was comfortable with for an organization of this size, and an organization in our financial shape,” new Bay.org board chair Jon Fisher told the Chronicle. “Clearly this was no longer a fit.”

For his part, Jacob told the Chronicle that he resigned “to pursue a new project that I am very excited about,” which sure sound like the words of someone trying to gloss over being fired. He also said reports on the mass resignation were “based on absurd baseless pronouncements that make little sense.”

Another of Bay.org’s financial problems may have been its boondoggly-sounding pursuit of a $200 million renovation of the Aquarium of the Bay, which was announced in 2018, but its permits have since been abandoned.

And the Chronicle also reports that Bay.org had “accrued hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid rent over the past several years,” including at the Pier 39 aquarium facility. Yes, a number of Fisherman's Wharf establishments struggled with their rent during the pandemic. But the Aquarium of the Bay did some apparently brisk business the last couple years, with a reported 500,000 visitors a year each of the last two years, and about $10 million a year in ticket revenue.

So Aquarium of the Bay ticket sales are the main revenue source for Bay.org and the Bay Institute. Maybe, hopefully, with the profligate spending eliminated, these marine life organizations can use the summer tourism boost to right their ship.

Related: Nearly Entire Staff at Bay Institute Up and Quits Over a Book Being Published Without the Authors' Consent [SFNews]

Image via Yelp