Families enjoy reopened center on Stearns Wharf
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center is open again, providing families another activity to get kids out of the house if they feel cooped up from remote learning.
Guests at the Santa Barbara Sea Center on Wednesday morning were pleased to finally be walking through its rows of tanks filled with Santa Barbara Channel marine life.
The aquarium had closed its indoor exhibits for seven months due to COVID-19 and reopened its indoor areas to the public Oct. 15.
The past two months, it has operated only outdoors by moving some of its touch tanks outside.
Around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, guests started rolling into the Sea Center from Stearns Wharf. Many told the News-Press that it was nice to have another place to take the kids.
Santa Barbara resident Jocelyn Lasala was among the first to arrive with her son Logan, who goes to preschool three days a week at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School. Ms. Lasala remarked that COVID-19 restrictions limited the things they could do on Logan’s non-school days, so she was glad to finally have another option.
“We were running out of ideas. There was nothing new to do so this is fun for him to be able to come back, “she said.
She added that the Sea Center is particularly fun for her son, who is interested in its subject matter.
“He’s really, really into snorkeling, and scuba divers and fish. This is fun for him to get back out here,” she said.
Santa Barbara resident and homeschooling teacher Emmy Garlock was accompanied by two of her students, who she has been trying to get out of the house as much as possible. She told the News-Press that the Sea Center reopening its indoor areas is a small indication that things are starting to go back to the way they were.
“It’s really nice to be able to experience these kinds of things safely and kind of get back into normalcy,” she said.
Dan Crutcher, a Los Olivos resident, takes care of his granddaughter Colette on Wednesdays and is always looking out for “exciting adventures” they can go on together. Wednesday was his first time at the Sea Center.
“We’d heard that it was reopening so we just said, ‘Let’s head down to the Sea Center,’ and she’s very excited about it,” he said.
He added that the aquarium reopening does make it feel like things are starting to return to normal, even though there are still reminders that there is a pandemic going on.
“It does have that feeling to it. Of course, we’re all still wearing masks,” he said.
Sea Center guests were happy to be able to go inside the aquarium again, and the staff were pleased to afford them that opportunity.
“We’re really excited to be able to give visitors the indoor experience once again,” Sea Center director Rich Smalldon told the News-Press.
To prepare the reopening of its indoor areas, the Sea Center has marked its floors and set up signage to facilitate one-way flow foot traffic as a COVID-19 precaution.
Its upstairs area has been revamped with a new reef exhibit and giant Pacific seahorse exhibit, which Mr. Smalldon said is meant to bring about an “expanded dialogue” on local and global climate change.
The Sea Center director explained that the territorial range of the giant Pacific seahorse is not normally in this area, but warming temperatures have allowed them to live in the far edges of the Santa Barbara Channel.
According to Sea Center volunteer and interpretation manager Sam Franz, during warmer years giant Pacific seahorses can be found in the Santa Barbara Channel as far north as the Goleta Pier.
“We see with climate change and warming ocean temperatures that we’re finding them more regularly in their northernmost range,” she said.
The Sea Center’s giant Pacific seahorses were donated by its partner organization, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, which raised the seahorses in captivity.
Ms. Franz echoed Mr. Smalldon’s sentiments about the Sea Center finally reopening its indoor areas.
“We’re so happy to be back open on the inside,” she said. “Our outdoor operation was really fun and our whole team was so adaptable to move outside and get that up and going. But it’s just a special experience to be inside with all of our regular exhibits and have guests back in here.”
For more about the center, go to sbnature.org/visit/sea-center.