Almost all of the stuff I read about Newport’s Oregon Coast Aquarium called it one of the 10 best in the United States, but for the 1st half hour we were there Ruth and I were both underwhelmed. Perhaps this was because we had recently been to the magnificent aquarium in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. OCA seemed to suffer by comparison. I paused to write in my notebook “slick & impersonal…too big for its own good”, and I asked Ruth what she was thinking. She said, “Tired.” Not her, the place. But then.
The Oregon Coat Aquarium, now one of the Oregon Coast’s biggest attractions, opened in 1992 on an abandoned industrial site at 2820 SE Ferry Slip Road. Almost half a million people pass through its doors every year. As I was watching a really ugly, spotted shark scrounger for far too long, a little boy joined me in fascination. We cringed together until he had to go find his father to show him this….creature. I went on to seahorses, those delicate looking, suspended floaters. A bit later I saw my shark scrounger friend digging in some sand while his Dad was totally fascinated by his cell phone.
I joined a couple of other children who were watching a really strange wolf eel floating half way out of a hole like a fat, stupid worm waiting to be grabbed. We watched it together until they lost interest, which took about 2 seconds. By this time I was changing my mind about a place completely engaging to children, and I hadn’t even gotten to the best parts.
When you live in the Northwest, king and coho are on dinner plates year-round and salmon is talked about like Texans discuss barbecue, southerners compare notes on grits, etc. One sign explained that there were 5 other salmon species–chinook, sockeye, chum, pink, steelhead, and cutthroat. Hmmmmm. I thought the last 2 were trout. I asked David Daus, an aquarium interpreter who was busy helping squealing children explore a touch pool, to explain. He told me the sign was correct. However, a week later I was still getting emails from diligent Dave who was doing marine research and deciding that trout and salmon do share similar lives but are different species.
That’s what happens when anyone steps into the Oregon Coast Aquarium. They get involved as long as they forget about their cell phones. But that could be said of any aquarium. So how does OCA earn a top 10 ranking? Almost every aquarium has a walk through tunnel like its acrylic Passages of the Deep. But here people stare in wonder at 100 sharks cruising over their heads and soon find that there are actually a series of tunnels showing underwater landscapes peculiar to the Oregon Coast. It’s different from others in additional ways. Those interested in becoming shark bait can sign up to snorkel among Passages’ diverse residents. There are multi-level outdoor displays of local otters, seals, sea lions, etc. The Oregon Coast Aquarium has the largest walk-through seabird aviary in the United States. A unique outdoor nature trail features 100 native plants seen only on this coast. And so on.