Oregon Coast Aquarium
There are 6,000 miles of water between the Oregon coast and Japan—the largest stretch of open ocean on earth. You can hear our side of the story at the Oregon Coast Aquarium (2820 SE Ferry Slip Rd., 541/867-3474, www.aquarium.org, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily Memorial Day weekend–Labor Day weekend, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily Labor Day–Memorial Day, closed Christmas Day, $14.95 adults, $12.95 seniors, $12.25 youth 13–17, $9.45 children 3–12), one of Oregon’s most popular attractions.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium initially featured 40,000 square feet of galleries devoted to wetland communities, near-shore and marine ecosystems, and an environmental center. While it was respected as a top-notch educational facility, it lacked “star power” until the 1996 arrival of Keiko, a 7,720-pound 32-foot-long orca who starred in the movie Free Willy.
Understandably, the whale’s presence overshadowed four acres of sea lions, sea otters, tide pools, and undersea caves, as well as the largest walk-in seabird aviary in the Americas. Keiko was moved to Iceland for reentry into the wild, where he died in 2003. Keiko or no, there are still many attractions at the Oregon Aquarium to hold your interest.
One of the gems of the aquarium is Passages of the Deep, a 200-foot-long acrylic tunnel offering 360-degree underwater views in three diverse habitats, from Orford Reef to Halibut Flats to Open Sea, where you’re surrounded by free-swimming sharks.
The jellyfish exhibit is a surprising highlight; it showcases several dozen kinds of jellyfish in an almost psychedelic display. If jellyfish aren’t weird enough for you, check out the Oddwater exhibit, which looks at bizarre adaptations made by sea creatures.
At the Jetty is the aquarium’s largest permanent indoor exhibit to date. Visitors look through a window into a 35,000-gallon tank to watch white sturgeon and coho and chinook salmon swimming among large basalt boulders that simulate a coastal jetty, such as these anadromous fish in the wild might pass through on their upriver journey to their spawning grounds.
Of the several hundred species of Pacific Northwest fish, birds, and mammals on display in the rest of the facility, don’t miss the sea otters, wolf eel, leopard sharks, lion’s mane jellyfish, and tufted puffins. Kids will enjoy the sea cave with simulated wave action and resident octopus.
Simulations of indigenous ecosystems help visitors immerse themselves in the region’s biology. The centerpiece of the Wetlands Gallery, for example, is a cross-section of the salt marsh subject to the periodic ebb and flow of tides. Another ecological niche is illustrated by a 4,730-gallon tank in the Sandy Shores exhibit. Here you can see smelt, perch, and leopard sharks navigate amid human-made rocks and piers.
The Rock Shores Gallery adds another dimension to the experience with an open tidal pool that allows visitors to handle starfish, sea anemones, and the like. In the outside aviary and sea mammal pools, latex molds of rocky outcroppings provide perches for birds, otters, and sea lions (some of these animals were rescued from oil spills).
In addition to gaining a heightened understanding of the coast biome, you might also come away with something from the museum shop’s first-rate collection of regional books and oceanographic tomes or perhaps a crystal or gemstone. The on-site Mermaid Cafe emphasizes such Oregon fare as Tillamook dairy products, seasonal fruits, and seafood. Outside in the summer, enjoy barbecued burgers and hot dogs and teriyaki shish kebabs.
Advance tickets are recommended on weekends, major holidays, and during the summer.
Getting to the Oregon Coast Aquarium
To get there from U.S. 101 south of the Yaquina Bay Bridge, turn east on OSU Drive or 32nd Street, and follow Ferry Slip Road to the parking lot.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel