Photo courtesy Alaska SeaLife Center                                 A female harbor seal pup that was admitted to the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Wildlife Response Program on May 4 is seen in this undated photo.

Photo courtesy Alaska SeaLife Center A female harbor seal pup that was admitted to the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Wildlife Response Program on May 4 is seen in this undated photo.

SeaLife Center on life support?

The aquarium is expecting a decline in visitor revenue of nearly 70% this year.

Because of a sharp decline in visitation and loss of revenue caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward is at risk of shutting down — permanently.

The SeaLife Center is expecting a decline in visitor revenue of nearly 70% this year, according to a Monday release. When the pandemic hit in March, the center closed for two months. The cancellation of cruise ships to Seward this year meant far fewer summer visitors, which typically account for 90% of the guests at the center.

A lack of summer revenues means that, currently, the SeaLife Center will be unable to maintain operations through this winter.

“Aquariums like ASLC are especially vulnerable during this difficult time because we can’t reduce operating costs like most businesses – we can’t just shut the doors, turn off the lights and furlough staff,” SeaLife Center President and CEO Tara Riemer said in the release. “We need to maintain good animal care, maintain the building and keep seawater pumping through the building every minute of every day.”

To avoid permanent closure, the center is launching a fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $2 million by Sept. 30.

“The board of directors and staff of ASLC implore the world to help support the Center right now in their time of greatest need by visiting, becoming members or making a donation to the Alaska SeaLife Center,” the release said. “ASLC will also take every opportunity to identify and secure sustaining funds.”

If the center is forced to close, all of the animals would be sent to other facilities, staff would be laid off and ownership of the building would be transferred to the City of Seward. The closure would also mean turning off the building’s seawater pumps, an action that cannot be reversed.

“The Alaska SeaLife Center is important, not just to Alaskans but to the world. It’s a key part of Alaska’s tourism infrastructure,” SeaLife board chair Wendy Lindskoog said in the release. “Closure of the Center has terrible consequences – the loss of it would be staggering.”

There has been some good news recently at the SeaLife Center, despite the looming threat of closure. On June 26, the ASLC’s 17-year old Steller Sea Lion Mara gave birth to a female Steller sea lion pup.

Mara’s pregnancy was officially made public back in April. She is just the second Steller sea lion to give birth at the SeaLife Center.

“Mara is proving to be a doting, attentive and protective mom,” Husbandry Director Lisa Hartman said in the release. Newborn sea lion pups cannot swim for several weeks, so SeaLife staff are currently monitoring the mother-daughter duo in a private enclosure with supervised water access for Mara.

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