Just about every stopover in Seward is bound to include a stop at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Created using reparation money from the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill that devastated Prince William Sound, along with government grants, the center is one of a kind. Its dedicated to educating the public about the natural surroundings of this area, along with conducting research and rehabilitating injured sea life. Though expensive, it is worth visiting.
I generally didnt feel like I was being scalped by the costs of Alaska, except here. The $14 admission is far too high for what you get, especially if youre the sort of person that just looks at pictures on exhibits and moves on (seemed like I was the only person actually reading
). I spent a little over an hour there before Id seen and done it all, reading every single display I could find, and its not as if I were hurrying but being alone did let me move at a decent pace. You could maybe squeeze two hours out of it, and longer if you manage to sync it up with a presentation, but thats still not much for $14. Most museums in the state were about $5, and easily provided two hours worth of things to look at without even seeing everything. Its just not a good value, but I dont know that thatd ever stop somebody from going it didnt stop me. It just means Im giving this place 4 stars instead of 5.
After unloading the admission fee, you head up to the second level, with a room straight ahead that has a temporary exhibit. The content of the exhibit struck me as being pretty basic knowledge. However, Id consider myself relatively well educated regarding environmental items that it discussed, plus I had already been to numerous museums that had similar content, so perhaps for the more average person its exposure to something new. The exhibits were all of a pleasant size, with crisp and large enough text accompanied by pictures and small displays to keep them somewhat interesting. Better though, were the display tanks that had short blurbs next to them that explained what creatures were in the tanks, although people were frequently rude and moved in front of me while I was trying to read them. Once past those display tanks (there are more straight ahead), you enter a large open area.
--> To the left are large semi-outdoor enclosures that are like those youd find in a zoo, with one for sea birds, one for Stellar sea lions, and one for harbor seals. I only briefly saw the seals from this vantage point, and didnt see the sea lions at all. The bird enclosure was the best, where you can get right up close to an array of birds, including tufted puffins, horned puffins, black oystercatchers, and kittiwakes. All of the enclosures are actually a little more impressive than they look, as they are constantly pumping in fresh ocean water from Resurrection Bay. I imagine it is that process that has a lot to do with the high admission costs. All three enclosures have displays that explain what youre looking at and how you can identify them in the wild. There is also a seating area that is used for regularly scheduled presentations.
--> To the right is the Discovery Tank, along with large windows that overlook pools that house a variety of animals, most of which are undergoing rehabilitation. The Discovery Tank is where youre able to touch harmless sea creatures most of which are the sort youd never find tide pooling. You should definitely take the time feel them (regardless of age), as this is something thats pretty unique to the SeaLife Center. Staff supervises the tank and does a great job of educating people that stop by. However, I didnt see any staff elsewhere in the center answering questions or interacting with people.
After passing through the open area there are a few more of the enclosed display tanks and a touch-screen that operates a remote camera in the middle of a sea lion rookery, complete with information about the state-of-the-art technology and about sea lions. Theres also a spot for kids to do some colouring. There is a door that leads to an outdoor viewing platform, where you can look for whales to kittiwakes in the surrounding waters through telescopes. From here, you head back down to the first level, with large tanks all around in what is called the Denizens of the Deep area. Oddly enough, the critters in these tanks are from deeper in the ocean, with octopus, king crab, eels, and various fish. I was very impressed by the preserved Giant squid, which is quite a rarity to come across. Down here you also get to peer in on the underwater portions of the bird, sea lion, and seal enclosures, which was more interesting than viewing from up above. Watching the puffins dive and swim around as they collected food was exceedingly neat, and I didnt have to wait long to see it happen.
The last area is where a movie regularly plays. However, choosing a 4 or 5 year old kid as the narrator wasnt the best decision (children do not make good narrators), and it didnt take long before the lack of developed language skills had worn on me and I had to move on. After that you can grab a bite to eat, or check out the gift shop (one of Alaskas better gift shops, but still somewhat tacky), or leave. Hanging on to your receipt lets you come and go as many times as you want on the day that you purchased it but you can easily cover this place in one stop. Youd only want to come back if theres a presentation on later that you think youll enjoy. The center is actually much, much larger, but most of the areas are for rehabilitation and research, and are therefore not open to the public.
The Alaska SeaLife Center is a stop worth making. Though overpriced, it is unique, and there have been many times that small news stories from there have gone international most recently was the Giant Pacific octopus, Aurora, whose babies hatched back in the spring after many people had given up hope. Aurora was euthanized on August 19th, not long after my visit (death normally comes shortly after giving birth, as they stop eating). The octo-babies are not in the display that Aurora was in, and can only be seen if you join a behind-the-scenes tour. Its items like that though that makes the SeaLife Center the main attraction in Seward. Ill never be happy that it cost $14, but I am at least content that it wasnt wasted money and that it is going to a good cause.
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