Tucked away at the end of Highway 1 in Seward sits the Alaska SeaLife Center. Part aquarium, part animal rehabilitation facility, the center is a popular stop for visitors to this little Kenai Peninsula town. The SeaLife Center is well-known among Alaska residents as the site of school field trips, annual events, and as a go-to place for injured or ill marine mammals. In fact, it's the only such facility in the entire state, and biologists around the world come here to learn more about the habitats and issues facing these creatures.
Not an aquarium in the sense that animals or birds perform for guests, every creature living at the Alaska SeaLife Center is nonetheless trained to allow keepers and biologists to treat injury or illness and perform regular check-ups, and thus, visitors are privy to the interesting activities that both enrich the animals' bodies and minds.
If your cruise to Alaska ends or begins in Seward, it is likely the cruise line will recommend a visit to the SeaLife Center. A short distance from downtown, a shuttle transports passengers to and from the center with plenty of time for other activities. It is also possible to walk to the Alaska SeaLife Center from the cruise ship dock or Alaska Railroad train depot, following a flat, paved trail for about a mile each way.
The Alaska SeaLife Center relies upon donations, grants, and admission fees to keep the non-profit facility in operation, so it is a worthwhile effort to take advantage of everything offered by the team of dedicated staff and volunteers.
The typical visitor spends at least two hours wandering the interesting exhibits, viewing animals, shorebirds, and marine "touch tanks" available to guests.
Children will especially love the SeaLife Center's approach to hands-on learning, with games, easy-to-see viewing tanks, and a fishing boat to climb aboard and "sail" to magical destinations.
Pay particular attention to the current beach trash exhibits, and ask your kids for ways they can help reduce the amount of plastic in our ocean waters.
The SeaLife Center has one outdoor viewing deck and wide expanses of windows offering beautiful views of Resurrection Bay. Whatever the weather, it is the smart visitor who steps outside to hear the gulls, sea lions, and boat traffic before venturing downstairs to the ground level and a unique interior view of the tanks.
Follow the salmon life cycle, guess the weight of a Stellar sea lion, or simply gaze upon the ocean fish swimming lazily around as waterfowl paddle, above. The Alaska SeaLife Center provides a number of opportunities to go "behind the scenes" for those visitors who wish to garner an even closer look at Alaska's seafaring wildlife. Try:
- Sea Otter Encounters, whereby visitors over the age of 6 can learn more about these important mammals and their connection to Alaska's marine ecosystems. Discover the stories that make them famous, and watch an enrichment session with these adorable and highly intelligent animals. 30 minutes.
- Marine Mammal Encounters take visitors behind the scenes to the animal care bays, and showcase the effort that goes into taking care of the diverse species residing at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Watch enrichment and feeding sessions, too. 60 minutes. Minimum age of 10.
- Puffin Encounters introduce guests to the most comical of seabirds that migrate north to Alaska each June. Living in rocky shorelines and cliffsides, puffins are smart, fast, and personable, and an encounter with these birds is a memorable one. 60 minutes. Minimum age of 10.
- Octopus Encounters, really? Yes, really. Ever shake hands with an 8-armed creature that "feels" with its skin? That's an octopus, and this encounter, appropriate for anyone over 6, is as unique as the animal itself. Don't miss the chance to have an octopus wrap around your arm and leave a gentle kiss. 60 minutes.
- Facility Tours welcome guests 12 and over who have an interest in marine biology, rescue, and scientific research. As the only designated marine mammal rescue and research facility in Alaska, the SeaLife Center is teeming with scientific data, research, and people conducting studies about the health and well-being of Alaska's coastal mammals, birds, and fish. In these times of climate change, it is a worthwhile tour. 60 minutes.
The Alaska SeaLife Center is open year-round, with daily hours of 10 a.m.-5 p.m. between March and September. Wintertime visitors are fortunate to have few crowds and very active animals, and spring usually brings babies of all kinds to the center.