For a look into the mysterious deep of Bellingham Bay and the Salish Sea, look no further than the Marine Life Center.
Located at 1801 Roeder Ave. on Bellingham’s waterfront, within walking distance of the Bellwether complex, the MLC lets visitors “get a feel for marine life” quite literally. The center’s touch tank is a main attraction, allowing all ages to caress a sea cucumber or identify with a sea urchin.
Other exhibits include the rock shore habitat, algae tank and, a kid favorite, the bubble tank. A large viewing bubble in the middle of the tank allows kids to pop their head into the middle of the tank to come face to face with crabs, perch, anemones and other undersea creatures.
Voted as the best attraction at the MLC by all five of my kids (and me): the Great Pacific Octopus, Roxy. On past visits, the previous resident octopus has often acted shy. Not on this day. Roxy was hungry and had her sights on a Dungeness crab in her tank. This time, the crab got away to swim another day, but visitors and volunteers alike we entertained by Roxy for quite some time.
The MLC often has an octopus, but not always. Theirs is a catch-and-release program, where the octopuses stay for typically three to five months. They typically arrive weighing about 3- to 5-pounds, and then are released when it is time to mate, they have grown too large or have “feisty” personalities.
As a parent, one of the most enjoyable parts of going to the MLC is watching the children really get excited about what they’re seeing – whether it’s spotting a flounder hidden at the bottom of the observation pool or watching feeding time for any of the undersea critters. The friendly volunteers and staff are great at engaging the kids as well, asking them questions about the marine life to get them thinking.
The MLC is small, so don’t expect to spend all day there like you might at the Seattle or Vancouver aquariums. It is, however, within walking distance of Zuanich Point Park, which is a great spot to fly kites, as well as having a play toy that is fit for smaller kids.
The area between the Bellwether and Zuanich is also a great place for an easy, child-friendly bike ride, which can add to the fun of a trip to the waterfront.
The Marine Life Center facility is owned by the Port of Bellingham and operated by the Northwest Discovery Project, a nonprofit that aims to raise awareness and promote stewardship of our marine ecosystem. More than 70,000 visitors explore the MLC each year; many of them are school children attending educational programs.
One of the best parts of the MLC: It’s free! Donations are always welcomed, and I always try to have a little cash on hand to make a donation when we visit. The center is one of those hidden gems in Bellingham that is worth my support.
Know before you go:
Hours: Open 7 days/week
Sept-May: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
June-August: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Suggested donation: $1 for kids; $2 for adults
Be prepared for kids to get wet exploring the touch pool. Bring a waterproof jacket or an extra shirt. Of course, if it’s summer, the kids will just dry off quickly!