Located on Resurrection Bay in Seward, the Alaska SeaLife Center is an accredited nonprofit public aquarium dedicated to directly combining marine research and conservation with visitor experiences and education. The idea for the SeaLife Center stems back to the early 1980s, when Seward area scientists and community leaders proposed improvements and expansions to the University of Alaska’s Seward Marine Center, though initial attempts to secure funding through Alaska legislature proved unsuccessful.
Renewed interest in marine life research and preservation was brought to light following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, prompting the creation of the Seward Association for the Advancement of Marine Science, a nonprofit organization seeking to further marine research and public education through the creation of a new aquarium facility. Funds allocated from the Exxon Valdez criminal settlement were granted to SAAMS throughout the early 1990s, with additional support from a public fundraising campaign in 1996, and the aquarium was opened to the public in May of 1998.
The Center’s visitor experience begins on the second floor, where guests may watch a short introductory film about the Alaskan marine ecosystem. Several recreated ecosystems are on display, including an Open Waters exhibit and a Kelp Forest, featuring shallow-water species such as anemones and rockfish. Alaska king crabs are showcased in a Deep Gulf exhibit, and a Denizens of the Deep display provides rocky caves for octopuses and other deep-water species. Commercial fishing species and practices are highlighted in several exhibits, including a Salmon Stream exhibit that chronicles the life cycle of Alaska’s salmon species. Touch opportunities with animals such as sea stars and sea urchins are provided at a Discovery Pool.
As Alaska’s premiere marine research facility and the only organization specifically dedicated to the conservation of the northern marine environment, many of the Center’s exhibits focus on marine animals native to the northern Pacific, including the Steller sea lion, the Pacific walrus, and the Giant Pacific octopus. Of particular note is an exhibit providing up-close opportunities with the Pacific giant squid, Alaska’s largest squid species. A Seabird Habitat contains the deepest seabird pool in the United States, harboring tufted puffins, red-legged kittiwakes, and pigeon guillemots, and a Harbor Seal Habitat recreates the rocks of the Alaskan coastline for natural sunning spaces for its animals. A digital touchscreen exhibit, the Chiswell Island Interactive Rookery, allows visitors to view a live video feed of a nearby Steller sea lion rookery, and a Resurrection Bay Overlook provides an outside lookout spot to see animals in their natural environments.
The SeaLife Center is one of the only aquariums in the world that is comprehensively designed to integrate its research and conservation programs directly into its visitor experience. A Research on Display kiosk offers a look at the Center’s ongoing research projects and conservation efforts, and two overlooks of the Research Deck allow visitors to directly observe the daily work of scientists and staff members, including rehabilitation work with animals. Ongoing research into the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, including research conducted by the Center, is presented at an audio exhibit, The Continuing Legacy.
In addition to exhibits, the Center’s on-site restaurant, the Haul Out Café, is open from June through September, and a Discovery Gift Shop sells handmade items by local Alaskan artists.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Several tour packages offered by the Center include behind-the-scenes looks at animals and direct interaction with animal care staff, including a Marine Mammal Encounter, a Puffin Encounter, an Octopus Encounter, and a Sea Otter Experience. Day tours and Nocturne Sleepover adventures are also offered for student groups, incorporating Alaska Science Content and Performance Standards curriculum elements. An outreach program for students in Anchorage, Mat-Su, and the Kenai Peninsula brings hands-on marine activities directly into classrooms, and a Distance Learning program offers video conference tours for classrooms and organizations anywhere in the world.
As an affiliate of the University of Alaska, the Center doubles as a fully-equipped research facility, including a full on-site veterinary suite for animal rehabilitation. The Center serves as the state’s only permanent stranding center, with accreditation by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Dedicated programs for the rehabilitation of sea lions, seals, sea otters, and salmon are spearheaded by the Center’s Science Department, striving to return rescued animals to their natural habitats.
Annual events at the Center include a Beers By the Bay tasting event, a Community Holiday Party kicking off the winter holiday season and an Alaska Marine Gala in February, which serves as the Center’s main fundraiser.
301 Railway Ave, Seward, AK 99664, Phone: 888-378-2525