NEWPORT — Things are going swimmingly at the local aquarium.
“This has been a great season for the Oregon Coast Aquarium,” said public relations coordinator Sally Compton. “We are grateful for all of the visitors that walk through our doors to experience the Oregon coast and its inhabitants.”
Attendance is up from last year, encounter events did well and the summer events received positive feedback from visitors.
The aquarium starts its season on Sept. 30, rather than Jan. 1, but attendance has already passed last year’s record by almost 3 percent. In the 2016-17 year, 411,306 people passed through the aquarium’s doors. As of Sept. 26, over 422,500 visitors have come to the aquarium since Sept. 30, 2017.
The busiest week at the aquarium began March 24 and ended April 1, a typical week for schools to release for spring break. The visitor count reached a total of 26,281, averaging 2,920 per day.
The record visitor count for a single day this year was 3,574, which was set on Sept. 2, Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. Aug. 11 was a close second, with exactly 20 visitors fewer.
The aquarium offers, for an additional ticket price, special up-close encounters with animals, which include behind-the-scenes tours, educational information and often, a chance to interact with the animals themselves.
This year saw the return of Octopus Encounters, which gave visitors the opportunity to “shake hands” with a Giant Pacific Octopus. Over the season, 83 of the 96 spots available sold — that’s 87 percent.
A new encounter was introduced this year: the sea jelly touch encounter. Participants got to meet baby jellyfish in the aquarium’s sea jelly growing area and touch the non-stinging bell portion of adult jellies. Ticket sales for this encounter reached 54 percent, which may seem low compared to the octopus encounter. However, the sea jelly encounter had much higher availability — 242 tickets for sale total — meaning that the jellies outsold the octopus by 49 tickets.
“I think they both went very well, they were both very popular,” said Jeff Harms, education manager at the aquarium. “It gave visitors an opportunity to connect with sea jellies for the first time and an octopus for the first time in years.”
This winter, the sea jelly touch encounter will return, though the aquarium was unable to say whether the same is true of the octopus encounter.
The aquarium celebrated World Oceans Day on June 30, which featured the theme “our oceans, our future.” The goal was to call attention to the importance of maintaining the ocean for the sake of humanity. More specifically, it focused on how reducing plastic consumption can benefit everything affected by the marine ecosystem — “from plankton to people.”
The event featured Max the sea lion and Schuster the sea otter; recycling plastic into bins; presentations with JoJo the brown pelican about proper waste disposal; and talks with the marine mammal team about rehabilitation cases caused by irresponsible disposal of wastes like plastics and fishing lines.
In August, the Aquarium continued the quest to encourage guests to reduce their consumption of single-use plastics. Teaming up with the Surfrider Foundation, August 29 was committed to spreading the word about ditching the straw. On that day, reusable metal straws were given to the first 200 groups of the day, and those straws have been available at the gift shop ever since. Messages about the effect of plastic pollution in our oceans on wildlife were given during animal presentations and feedings.
“We’ve received positive feedback about our events this summer, including World Oceans Day and Ditch the Straw Day,” said Compton. “Now we’re looking forward to our upcoming holiday events, Trick or Treat Street and Sea of Lights.”
Trick or Treat Street , co-hosted by the OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Program, is back again on Saturday, Oct. 27 from 6-8 p.m. Numerous local businesses will hand out treats to kids, allowing a safe and dry trick-or-treat setting for kids under 12. Cans of donated food will be accepted both at this Halloween event and the perennial Sea of Lights holiday event.
This year, two beloved animals passed away.
The aquarium announced the death of Judge the sea otter on Dec. 8, 2017. Judge was the face of the aquarium in 2013 and loved interacting with humans. He passed at the age of 17 from illnesses associated with old age.
Turkey the sea turtle arrived at the Oregon Coast Aquarium on Thanksgiving after being found stranded on Benson Beach. She was dehydrated and hypothermic, but the aquarium staff was determined to help her recover. However, despite the round-the-clock efforts of many staff members, Turkey passed away on Jan. 8 from a combination of a suppressed immune system along with a bacterial infection.