If you haven't been to the Seattle Aquarium in a while, it's time to visit. The current event, Marine Mammal Mania, and the recent remodel truly elevate the visitor's experience. During the first three weekends in April, Marine Mammal Mania showcases the aquarium's furry friends. Sea otters, fur seals and harbor seals become the main attraction during these action-packed events, which include fun demonstrations and educational activities.
Our Marine Mammal weekend was dedicated to the sea otter (April 13 through 15 showcases fur seals and April 20 through 22 harbor seals). The website featured a list of events I wanted to see during our visit, including how the seals and otters are weighed and how the aquarium enriches the animal's lives through active play. When we visited, my children, ages 2, 5 and 7, first ran to see the impressive wall of fish, called Window on Washington Waters.
The map provided by the membership desk was helpful, but did not give the locations of the Marine Mammal events, so I felt challenged to organize our time. With three little ones dragging me toward the orca parachute game in the main lobby, the first event for Marine Mammal Mania, my planning time was up and we set out on our own.
"Here we go!" I heard a parent say to his child as we walked over. It was 10:30 a.m. and the parachute game was about to begin. A giant parachute encircled the children, waiting to be flung midair. At the front, a volunteer quieted the crowd and quickly engaged the children with questions about orcas and their environment. She explained that orcas, an endangered species since 2005, are residents of our Pacific Northwest waters. They feed on the local salmon and rely on clean, unpolluted waters to raise their young.
Suddenly, the parachute became the sound's tides and up it went. "High tide!" "low tide!" called the volunteers. Orca balloons sailed across and underneath the little "orcas," who ran from one side to the other. I appreciated how the volunteer used the game to teach children about the struggles orcas face in our local waters, while keeping the kids completely engaged.
Next on the docket was the sea otter weigh-in and, knowing I would have difficulty pulling my kids away from the tide pool area – the aquarium's version of a petting zoo – I negotiated; after the weigh-in, we would make our way back to the tide pools. I only wish I had known about the short cut to the large animal exhibits through the gift shop. The aquarium is lined with educational activities, manned by informative, enthusiastic volunteers, it was impossible not to stop to investigate.
By the time we made it through the aquarium, we had missed some of the weigh-in and had to stand in the back. We hoisted our little ones onto our shoulders in time to see how the trainers entice the otters to jump out of the water and lay down on the scale. The night before we had guessed how much the animals weigh, and our guess of 228 pounds was a bit off from the actual weight of 57.5 pounds. All the aquarium's large marine inhabitants are weighed twice a month to monitor their health. As we watched, the otters played to the audience, and many a child squealed with joy from the excitement of looking an otter in the eye.
The ice toy demonstration was one event that really stood out for the kids. Ice toys are used for planned enrichment activities for the aquarium's marine animals. My oldest was fascinated by how different foods and colors were frozen into ice, and then floated on the water for playtime. As toys were dropped into the water, games ensued, and child and adult alike laughed at the hilarious animal antics.
To my disappointment, we were not able to stay for the 2 p.m. meet the expert and otter feeding, but it is good to have a reason to return.
If you visit the aquarium for Marine Mammal Mania, I advise you to arrive early and get a map. Take a minute to plan your visit in order to take best advantage of the many sights and activities. Arrive early for the demonstrations as well; it can get crowded around the exhibits (and be sure to remember the short cut through the gift shop to the marine animal area). Parking around the aquarium can be difficult, especially in the afternoon. The street parking fees are now $4 an hour. The aquarium has added a lovely café upstairs, and sack lunches can always be enjoyed outside by the fountain.
Our family trips to the Seattle Aquarium have created lasting memories due to the fun, educational activities filled with movement and tactile experiences. Marine Mammal Mania is no exception.
IF YOU GO
Where: 1483 Alaskan Way, Pier 59, Seattle.
When: April 15 – 17 and 20 – 22; 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Cost: $19.95 for adults; $13.95 for youth ages 4 – 12; free for children 3 and younger.
Contact: 206-386-4300, www.seattleaquarium.org.
Isabel Sanden is a Seattle-area French instructor, incorporating music and language skills for preschool-age children, and a mother of three adventurous children ages 2,5 and 7.