Stearns Wharf will welcome some seafaring creatures to its decks this Friday, as the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Sea Center reopens its outdoor exhibits to the public.
In accordance with current purple tier regulations, the Sea Center cannot welcome visitors indoors but is instead shifting some of its exhibits outside, offering a socially distanced and hands-on experience for visitors.
Starting Friday, Sea Center visitors will get to pet a Swell Shark, touch a Sea Cucumber or Sea Star and learn about marine mammals found in the Santa Barbara Channel at the museum’s outdoor exhibitions. At each outdoor station, a member of the museum staff or a volunteer will be giving a brief educational presentation.
After a rollercoaster year of reopenings and closures for the Sea Center due to the pandemic, the museum staff said they are ready to be back in action. This will be the staff’s first time back at the operating museum since December lockdowns barred the museum from staying open.
“Since our first opening of outside (exhibits) in July, we’ve opened and closed a handful of times due to California regulations, and I’m most excited to have the people back,” Sam Franz, volunteer and interpretation manager at the Sea Center, told the News-Press Wednesday. “There is just such a joy in interacting with (visitors) about the amazing sea creatures we get to care for.”
She added, “It’s electric the excitement we get to educate people about the Santa Barbara Channel.”
Ms. Franz said being out on the wharf allows the museum to show people “the rich diversity of species found directly under their feet” by pulling up sand samples from a hole in the deck.
“On any given day, we can pull up the most amazing collection of (about) 12 different types of colorful sea slugs that blow people’s minds,” Ms. Franz said.
When the museum opened its outdoor exhibits for the first time in July, museum officials reported great success among visitors.
“Visitors were really appreciative that we were taking steps to offer this experience,” Richard Smalldon, director of the Sea Center, told the News-Press Wednesday. “I think people have been used to not having the option to go out, and overwhelmingly they were really grateful that we were doing this.”
Like other institutions during the pandemic, the Sea Center felt the financial impact as the virus spread across California. However, the 100-year-old institution weathered the financial impact more fortunately than others and is ready to get back to business, Mr. Smalldon said.
“We’re excited to be back on the recovery path here,” he said. “I think the county and community are ready, and we’re looking forward to being of service once again.”
To visit the Sea Center’s outdoor exhibits, tickets can be purchased on-site at a reduced rate of $7 per person, or members can enjoy the exhibits for free. No prior registration is required. For now, the museum will be open every Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, go to sbnature.org.