Hank the Giant Pacific Octopus

Hank, the giant Pacific octopus was discovered six weeks ago and housed at the Charleston Marine Life Center. Hank will be released when he becomes too large for his holding tank.

Photo contributed by Trish Mace

CHARLESTON—Trish Mace said the Charleston Marine Life Center gives visitors a chance to "lift the ocean and look under."

Since it opened more than a year ago, the center has done just that.

From the tiny animals that live in grains of sand, to giants that live in the deep sea, the marine life center provides insight to Oregon Coast creatures that even locals don’t normally get to see.

“What we’re trying to do is highlight the diversity of marine life locally,” Mace, the Charleston Marine Life Center’s director, said.

The building has "neighborhoods," that show the different environments marine life live in. Mace said the exhibits are constantly changing as they add or release animals.

One of the new additions is Hank, a giant Pacific octopus that’s been at the center around 6 weeks.

After he was found in a prawn pot, a trap for marine life, the center worked with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to get a permit to take him.

Once he gets too big for the tank, he’ll go back to the ocean.

“It adds that fun. Even if you’ve been here before, you know every time you come there’s going to be something new to see,” Mace said.

In the past, Mace coordinated a project that worked with local school districts to create a marine education curriculum in schools. That ended in 2011.

Mace went on to work at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., but knew she wanted to come back to the area.

When the Charleston Marine Life Center opened, she came back to run it.

She said the conclusion of the marine curriculum was one of the motivators in creating the center.

“When the funding for that ended it was like: ‘How do we keep this going?’” Mace said.

This past year 3,149 children visited the facility, coming from as far away as Portland and Mt. Shasta.

“We really want to be a resource, kind of stepping stone for people interested in this (marine science),” Mace said.

The Charleston Marine Life Center, which is part of the University of Oregon’s Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB), is the only museum and aquarium of its kind on the Southern Oregon coast.

OIMB’s director Craig Young helped make the center a reality.

He said his goal was the have around 10,000 people within the first year.

The building far exceeded that, reaching 16,605 in attendance.

Young said the endeavor has been an outstanding success, not only because of the amount of visitors, but also because of its community impact.

“The other very successful thing is that I think it’s had a big impact on local schools and local families,” Young said.

He attributes the center’s success to its quality.

“The level of educational opportunity that we have goes a cut above a typical visitor’s center,” Young said, “What we have is displays that are designed and written by professional marine biologists.”

Beyond just the OIMB staff who volunteer their time and expertise, Mace said it’s the 40-plus volunteers who help the place run.

Admission prices are set at $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and free for children and students. Mace said those prices were set knowing they wouldn’t run the facility by admission alone.

“It was a conscious decision we made that we’re going to have to continually look elsewhere for funding to run, because we didn’t want to price out anybody coming,” Mace said.

As the center looks to add more exhibits, it is accepting donations, including through memberships or by adopting each of the bones that make up the orca and gray whale skeletons that hang on the ceiling.

“It’s evolving, we’re continually adding more exhibits as we get the funding to do so,” Mace said.

On top of that, Mace said she's also building more programming for teachers to choose from when they bring their students.

“We’re super excited about everything we have here, but we also have a lot of dreams of what we can add but it takes staff, it take support,” Mace said, “As we get that we will continue to grow and add things.”

The Charleston Marine Life Center is located across the street from the University of Oregon’s Institute of Marine Biology. It’s open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Reach Saphara Harrell at (541) 269-1222 ext. 239 or by email at saphara.harrell@theworldlink.com