Meet the residents of the Alaska Sealife Center

05/10/2016
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If your travels bring you near the seaside community of Seward, Alaska, located on the shores of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, the Alaska Sealife Center is one of the top destinations in town. The center is the only facility in the state that combines a public aquarium with marine research, education and wildlife response. Its residents include marine life and marine mammals often in need of rehabilitation, which frequently come from the waters right outside the center’s door. Here, you’re sure to experience close encounters with marine mammals like sea otters, sea birds and the various fish and aquatic species found in Alaska waters.

While the center focuses on animal research and rehabilitation, its residents are often long term since they are unable to survive in the wild. They form unique friendships and close bonds with the center’s staff who get to know them through daily interactions.

Stop in and say “hi” to some of the fascinating creatures at the Alaska Sealife Center and learn more about Alaska’s marine ecosystem and the marine life that call it home. When you do, you’ll likely encounter some of these interesting residents:

Sea lions

The Alaska Sealife Center is home to a total of six Steller sea lions. Two of these, Ellie and Forrest, were born at the center in 2013. Ellie was the first Steller sea lion pup born in North American captivity since the mid-1980s, the result of the center’s breeding program. Researchers wanted a better understanding of how female Steller sea lions nurse their pups and remain pregnant during the majority of their adult lives. Ellie and Forrest are the offspring of Woody, the Steller sea lion who spent nearly 18 years at the Alaska Sealife Center, until 2015 when the 22-year-old celebrity sea lion—old by sea lion standards—died from age-related health reasons. The center estimates about 2 million people had seen Woody throughout his years there; he had become the face of the center. Another male Steller sea lion named Pilot has replaced Woody in the breeding program. He and his fellow sea lion friends continue to entertain visitors today.

Sea otters

Now is the time to get a good dose of cute at the center—at last count, it had seven rescued sea otter pups that it is rehabilitating. The Alaska Sealife Center is the only permanent sea otter stranding facility in the state, and with last year being a record number for stranded sea otters, the center is bracing for even more this summer season. Some of the older rescued otters include Atka, Kesuk and Pukiq. They’ve lived at the facility for a few months and keep staffers busy in the kitchen doing meal prep to feed these hungry critters. Stop in at the Sealife Center this summer for a Sea Otter encounter, a guided tour that also allows you to experience the otter enrichment session in the outdoor pool and tag along as animal caregivers feed the friendly animals.

Puffins that paint

If you get a chance to check out the puffins at the Sealife Center, also make some time to peruse some of their artwork that’s displayed around the facility. As an enrichment activity, the puffins and other seabirds participate in an art class of sorts, where they walk through non-toxic paint and create a trail of footprints across a blank canvas. Looking for a fun and unique Alaska souvenir? Take a print home with you or custom order a specialized piece of art, made by the feathered artist of your choice.