Sea Center reopens to the public, moves stations outdoors
Families of eager children and parents relieved to get out of the house and enjoy the sunshine lined up outside the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center on Stearns Wharf Saturday morning to enjoy its second day of reopening.
Running Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Sea Center already had a 25-minute wait by 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. Kids were restless waiting in line, chomping at the bit to get a glimpse of the white abalones or to pet the baby swell sharks.
The Sea Center’s ability to move some of its interactive exhibits outdoors allowed for six different stations on the deck. Each family or group got five minutes at each tent, resulting in a 30-minute experience.
Robin Artac, of Thousand Oaks, made the trip up to Santa Barbara with her two sons, Nick, 10, and Lucas, 8, who were pumped to be able to visit the center in person again.
“We’re so glad it’s back open. He (Nick) asks to come here, like, every weekend,” Ms. Artac told the News-Press. “We love coming here. We come here a lot and we’ll spend hours here … This is another great way for us to get outside.”
Both Nick and Lucas told the News-Press they want to be marine biologists when they grow up.
“It (the Sea Center) is so cool,” Nick said. “Especially the wet deck, because it’s, like, so cool.”
The wet deck allows for visitors to become scientists themselves and use oceanographic tools to sample the ocean directly below the wharf and examine the marine life they scoop up. The Sea Center was able to reopen the wet deck Friday for visitors to enjoy.
The Artac boys said they enjoy petting the swell sharks as well, something they also got the opportunity to do Saturday morning, after sanitizing their hands, of course.
“I like petting the swell sharks because it’s super smooth on one side and the other side feels like sandpaper,” Lucas said.
Visitors of the Sea Center for the next few weeks will be able to pet baby swell sharks; feel sea otter and sea lion pelts and baleen whale teeth; examine the wet deck’s tidal animals; touch sea stars and sea urchins; watch live camera footage of seahorses with a TV hooked up outside; check out the endangered white abalone; and visit the gift shop. Hand sanitizer is required for any of the touch exhibits, and each group is socially distanced from the next.
Jeff and Cate Lee, of Orange County, also made the trip up to bring their two sons, Jeffrey, 7, and Jake, 5, to the Sea Center.
“Whenever we come up from Orange County, number one, I have to eat at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company because they have the best seafood,” Mr. Lee told the News-Press. “And then, because we’re on Stearns Wharf, we always come and visit the ocean museum. It’s part of our family trips coming up here to visit Santa Barbara.”
When Jeffrey and Jake were asked what they were most excited to see, they answered with one word: “Sharks.”
“We love it,” Mr. Lee said. “We’re wanting to support the local businesses, and certainly the ones focused on the ocean, which is such a big part of the Southern California community.”
“It’s a tradition,” Mrs. Lee added. “We’re so glad it’s reopened.”
Beverly Armendariz and her 9-year-old daughter, Isabella, were also excitedly waiting in line Saturday morning.
“We were members before the shutdown, so we’re excited that it’s open again and excited to come back,” Ms. Armendariz told the News-Press.
Isabella told the News-Press she was most excited to see the anemones. In addition, she said she was looking forward to scoping out the wet deck.
“Last time we did that, we pulled up one of those big snails. It was really fun,” Ms. Armendariz said. She added that she and her daughter loved seeing footage in the past of cameramen filming down under the pier.
Last time they saw footage, Isabella said, “We saw a shark!”
Richard Smalldon, the Sea Center’s director, said everyone’s “really excited” to be able to reopen.
“We’ve been closed for two months, and while operations remain intact, such as feeding the animals and caring for everything, it’s just really nice to be able to be open doing what we love to do — sharing the ocean wonders with our own,” Mr. Smalldon told the News-Press. “We’re fortunate to have such a great natural setting to temporarily operate outside, and, like everybody else, we’re hoping to move forward to the potential red tier so that we can operate with limited capacity inside.”
On Friday, the center’s first day of reopening, Mr. Smalldon said they had around 150 visitors, and called it a “good getting-back-into-the-swing-of-things day.”
The director said, “Everybody’s been so confined and locked up, and this is a safe, healthy, educational outing for the family. It’s supporting a local nonprofit and it’s a beautiful setting.”
No prior registration is required to visit the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf. Tickets can be purchased onsite at a reduced rate of $7 per person, and members can enjoy the exhibits for free. The Sea Center will be open every Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., but Mr. Smalldon made sure to remind the public that when Santa Barbara County reaches the red tier, as they’ll open at limited capacity indoors.
Visit sbnature.org for more information.