As part of her Brownie work this summer, Anna is taking the Wonders of Water journey. Because she’s currently between troops (for reasons I won’t go into here), she’s taking this journey over the summer with us, and our Oregon Coast trip was a big part of it.
After a second day of driving down the coast, we stayed put for a day so we could take our time visiting the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center. The two facilities sit side by side on the south side of Yaquina Bay, and both are great places for kids to learn about the marine species that live off the Oregon Coast.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium features many of the local species of birds, fish, and marine mammals native to the area. The first three permanent exhibits—located inside the main building—introduce visitors to the Oregon shoreline and many species that call these waters home. First up, Sandy Shores, which unveils the narrow but complex ecosystem found where land and sea meet.
Next door at Rocky Shores we saw many of the creatures we missed on our stop at Cape Meares—the ones that live in tidepools and in the shallow waters around the rocks. The final indoor exhibit in the main building is Coastal Waters. Here we got to see the species that swim in the waters just offshore, including Chinook Salmon, which Anna remembered from studying the Oregon Trail, Moray eels, sea stars, and jellyfish. The jellies entranced all of us.
Outside, we saw the marine birds and mammals that spend at least part of the time out of the water. Seabirds like puffins, oystercatchers, and murres hopped, swam, and sometimes flew around the aviary, and seals, sea lions, and sea otters showed off for the aquarium visitors.
We saw the resident Giant Pacific Octopus, who was very active that morning. We also saw an otter feeding session. The trainers showed how they use feeding time to help teach the otters certain behaviors that can be helpful for various activities including medical exams.
Our next stop was Passages of the Deep. This exhibit is the largest one at the aquarium and through it we were able to explore the ocean habitats off the Oregon Coast from shallow water to open sea. The first section, Orford Reef, is a reproduction of the haystack formations off Cape Blanco on the South Coast. Numerous species of rockfish swam through a small kelp forest separated from us by a semi-cylinder of glass.
The next section, Halibut Flats, reproduces the ocean floor of the “Graveyard of the Pacific” complete with a replica of a sunken ship. Here we saw sturgeon, halibut, flounder, and skates. Anna likes rays and she liked the skates too.
The final section is the aptly named Open Sea. Here we were surrounded by nothing but deep blue water and a wide variety of sharks and rays, along with schools of anchovy and mackerel. The fish swam around over and under us, as the exhibit perfectly recreated the illusion of being suspended in the open ocean.
After leaving Passages of the Deep, we had lunch and then took a special Behind the Scenes Tour. One of the aquarium volunteers showed us the tanks where baby jellies are kept until old enough to put on exhibit. We were all amazed by how tiny they were. Next, we visited the freezers where restaurant-quality seafood is stored to feed the larger animals. While there, she showed us the otter, seal, and sea lion feeding schedules. Each of them have specific likes and dislikes that are noted on their schedules.
Then we got to see the top of Passages of the Deep, where the divers can access the tanks as necessary and the side pools where the fish are fed. Finally we saw the water-filtration system that pulls water out of the bay and then returns it back. The water is cleaned both coming in and going out. As the volunteer said, “we want to put the water back cleaner than we found it.” This made an impression on Anna, who’s learning how much our actions impact the oceans and all the creatures living there.
After the Aquarium we visited the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Since it’s a functioning research facility operated by Oregon State University, only the Visitor Center is open to the public. It features an excellent selection of hands-on exhibits that kept us busy for the rest of the afternoon.
The exhibits include a wave simulator with LEGO pieces that can be fashioned into a seawall, a model of tectonic plates and earthquakes, the sounds of whales and other sea creatures, and much more. There’s also an aquarium display with a wide variety of tropical fish. We even found Nemo …
Well he looked like Nemo anyway.
And this is where our journey draws to a close. We spent the night in Newport, and the next day made a few familiar stops on the way back to Florence before returning home to Eugene. The sun had set. Vacation was over.
But we had the photos and the memories. And Anna had a journey of her own to continue on with our help—her Wonders of Water journey. More on that coming tomorrow and in the weeks to come.