Stearns Wharf will swell with visitors tomorrow at noon, as the Ty Warner Sea Center — a project six years in the making — celebrates its grand opening.
The 7,000 square foot square foot aquarium, located at 211 Stearns Wharf, has over 30 exhibits offering information on marine life in the Pacific Ocean. In contrast with the old 2,700 square foot sea center located on Stearns Wharf, the Ty Warner Sea Center will feature a theater, classroom, outdoor program space and store. Sea Center director Jenny Theodorou said the sea center will be open everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for teens, students and seniors, and $4 for children.
The 4,000 square feet of the new aquarium reserved for exhibit space will house features such as a display focusing on the Channel Islands and an exhibit dedicated to sea mammals. Theodorou said her favorite exhibit is the tide pool, where visitors are able to see waves from under water through a clear, walk-through tunnel. She said these exhibits are designed to offer visitors a hands-on educational and research experience, similar to what one may find in a marine science lab.
“It’s a marine science education center, but it is not just looking at animals behind glass,” she said. “It is that interaction that is important.”
The sea center is an extension of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Theodorou said the aquarium cost $10 million – which was raised through private donations and foundation support. She said the center was named after Ty Warner, the creator of Beanie Babies, because he donated $1.5 million to the sea center.
The projected annual attendance for the aquarium is 120,000 people. Of those, 15,000 are anticipated to be kindergarteners to 12th graders. The old sea center only had 70,000 visitors annually, 7,000 of which were students. Theodorou said sea center designers worked to make sure the aquarium caters to all ages – toddlers to senior citizens.
While the sea center focuses on education, Theodorou said all information about marine wildlife and the environment is presented in an interesting and easy to understand manner.
“We have to let the average person understand what is going on [with the environment]. People can come here,” she said. “[It’s] a unique opportunity to advance the popular understanding of our marine environments and promote a sense of stewardship for these critically important resources.”