Located along the waterfront of Sidney, British Columbia, the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea is a nonprofit aquarium and cultural learning center dedicated to the Salish Sea region’s ecosystem and indigenous history. The Salish Sea is an inland sea, fed by the Pacific Ocean and by the watershed of several mountain rivers, located along the coast of Canada’s British Columbia province and Washington State within the United States.

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This mixing of freshwater and saltwater has made the area around the Salish Sea rich with plant and animal life. While the area is best known as a natural habitat area for the southern resident orca and the grizzly bear, more than 37 different mammal species, 247 species of fish, and 172 bird species are native to the region. The area’s abundant plant life includes 200 species of seaweed and 500 species of plants. Over 100 of these plant and animal species are currently endangered or threatened due to environmental conditions and human activity. This biodiversity has made the region a desirable location for human settlement for over ten thousand years. The indigenous Coast Salish people of the region are not a single unified tribe but a group of ethnically, culturally, and linguistically linked individual tribes and nations. These nations are credited with shaping the region as it exists today, with many modern large cities, including Vancouver, Victoria, and Seattle, founded on the sites of traditional Salish villages and settlements.

The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea was opened in 2009 with a mission to preserve and educate the public about the area’s natural and cultural richness. The Shaw Centre is owned and operated by the Marine Centre Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the wildlife, people, and culture of the Salish Sea region. The Centre is the result of a merging of two earlier marine facilities: the Marine Ecology Center, a one-room ecology learning center opened in 1991, and the Sidney Marine Mammal Museum, opened as part of the Sidney Historical Museum the previous year. By 2004, both of these facilities had outgrown their original spaces, and plans for a new center dedicate to the Salish Sea were developed by the organizations. In 2005, construction of the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea began on the on the Sidney Pier. The new Centre was opened on June 20th, 2009 and currently attracts more than 75,000 visitors per year.

Permanent Exhibits and Attractions

The Centre’s natural exhibits are dedicated to both the social and cultural history of the region and the current native wildlife of its ecosystems. An Aquarium Exhibitfeatures 26 habitats holding over 3,500 live animals, including jellyfish, sea nettles, crabs, salmon, eels, and a giant Pacific octopus. Touch pools staffed by volunteers allow visitors to interact directly with sea urchins and sea stars as part of up-close touch experiences. Tours of the aquarium are led throughout the day and available at an additional cost to standard museum admission. The Center’s Marine Mammal Artifact display also focuses on area natural history and includes a fully-intact killer whale skeleton along with a variety of other fossils and artifacts.

The region’s cultural history is explored in the Centre’s Coast Salish Art Collection, a unique permanent collection of fine arts and crafts created by historic and contemporary indigenous artists. The Salish Sea Store gift shop also offers locally-made sustainable items available for purchase, including arts, crafts, and jewelry made by local artisans. Many of the items for sale within the Salish Sea Store were handcrafted by area Coast Salish indigenous residents.

Ongoing Programs and Education

A variety of public educational classes and workshops are available at the Centre, focused on topics related to the natural and cultural history of the region. Children’s programming includes marine-focused art classes, dock explorations, nature journaling courses, and animal exploration workshops. The Centre also hosts summer day camps for children and offers a variety of field trip programming designed to fit curriculum requirements for preschool through high school students. Children’s activity days are held periodically throughout the year, and regular preschool special event programming is conducted on a weekly basis.

For adult visitors, an evening lecture series is offered on a monthly basis, featuring guest speakers presenting on a variety of ecological and cultural topics. A monthly Seniors’ Night also offers rotating event themes and complimentary refreshments. Family-centered activities are presented on weekends with standard visitor admission, offering storytime presentations, arts and crafts workshops, and animal demonstrations. The Centre also runs a citizen science outreach program, known as the My Salish Sea Marineapedia, which encourages student groups and individuals to collect pictures, videos and information related to the wildlife of the Salish Sea in order to aid local conservation efforts.

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9811 Seaport Pl, Sidney, BC V8L 4X3, Canada, Phone: 250-665-7511