The Oregon Coast Aquarium closed on March 16 in an effort to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading among its employees, volunteers and visitors. However, as a nonprofit organization, the longterm closure is hitting hard. For lovers of the otters, sea jellies, sharks and other animal residents, there are still ways to stay connected with the animals and support the aquarium.
“We don’t know how long we’re going to be closed,” said Oregon Coast Aquarium president and CEO Carrie Lewis. “I believe the governor’s order included the aquarium, so until she says that we’re ready to reopen, we will abide by this. We’re doing our very best with social distancing with the staff that is here. I wish we had visitors here to do social distancing with, but they come back.”
According to a release from the aquarium on March 23, the closure resulted in 53 full-time staff and 9 seasonal or part-time staff being temporarily furloughed — together, those account for 63 percent of the aquarium’s workforce. For now, only 36 essential staff members are continuing animal care or working from home.
“The animals still need to be fed and we still have over 15,000 animals that need constant care,” Lewis said. She explained that the animal husbandry staff is working in two shifts to care for the animals while keeping each other safe, decontaminating everything at the end of their shifts.
The aquarium’s estimated loss in revenue from closure as of March 31 is $2.8 million. The aquarium, a nonprofit organization, receives 70 percent of its operating budget from admissions.
“(In) my 26-plus years working at the aquarium, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Lewis said, standing in the empty aquarium on the Monday of spring break, March 30.
The aquarium saw around 38,000 visitors during spring break last year.
“On a day like today … normally we see kids running around and parents laughing,” said Lewis. “It’s just very difficult to see the aquarium like this.”
But Lewis remained hopeful, keeping her focus on the future and on the support the aquarium is already seeing during the closure.
“We’re trying to get through this together because when we reopen, and I believe that we will, it’s going to look very different. The landscape in our community, in our state, in our country is going to be very different,” Lewis said. “But the aquarium will get through this. We’ve had an incredible amount of support from people all over the world that believe in what we do and want to see our animals healthy and happy and taken care of.”
The aquarium still has live cameras operating so visitors can keep in touch with some of their favorite animals from afar. On the website, www.aquarium.org, viewers have the option of watch a live feed of the shark tank, the otter habitat or the aviary.
“We’re so grateful for the support that we’ve had from our visitors and our members and our donors … people that have been with us through thick and through thin, and they’re coming and they’re helping us now,” said Lewis. “And I am so grateful for that.”