The Oregon Coast Aquarium is a living classroom, designed to meet the needs and styles of learners of all ages. Exhibits range from those you can touch to those you can hear; from those you can see to those you can explore. All displays naturally replicate coastal habitats and showcase the many species that live there. Permanent exhibits are updated continually to accommodate new species and exhibit techniques.
Indoor exhibits: An introductory video introduces visitors to the sounds, sights and ecosystems that make Oregon coastal habitats among the richest in the world. This four-minute video was made for the Oregon Coast Aquarium by Odyssey Productions.
Three exhibit galleries—the Sandy Shores Gallery, Rocky Shores Gallery and Coastal Waters Gallery—present separate coastal habitats and the animals that live there. Each gallery includes an exhibit designed with moving water; each has a centerpiece exhibit that showcases a coastal species or habitat. The three galleries present a total of 44 separate exhibits.
The “At the Jetty” exhibit in the Coastal Waters Gallery spotlights survival issues of coho and chinook salmon, explaining their life cycle and their tremendous journey from streams to the ocean and back again. Extending into the Aquarium's courtyard with a large wall-to-wall viewing window, the 35,000-gallon exhibit is the Aquarium's largest indoor display. Made up of impressive basalt boulders, the exhibit replicates the Yaquina Bay jetties, through which salmon must pass on their annual migrations. Large white sturgeons are also featured in “At the Jetty”. Considered ancient fish, white sturgeons have been around for some 200 million years. They are believed to live as old as 100 years of age and can reach lengths of 20 feet. Aquarium visitors enjoy watching these gentle giants poke around the sandy bottom in search of food. The "At the Jetty" exhibit was made possible through the generous support of Spirit Mountain Community Fund and The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.
The Qwest Theater continuously runs three films produced by Odyssey Productions for the Aquarium. One explores the natural history of migrating gray whales; one looks at shark biology in a way that debunks the myth of the man-eater; and a third takes visitors inside the lives of Oregon seabirds such as the tufted puffin, both in the Aquarium's Seabird Aviary and in the wild.
Ocean Exploration Station features the Crab Lab, an amazing tour of the crustacean world. From barnacles to ghost shrimp, you’ll get to know their feeding habits, cycles of life and more. The station also features an interactive touch screen that describes fun and little-known crustacean facts. Topics at the station rotate yearly.
The New Currents area holds changing exhibits that make revisiting the Aquarium a must. Currently the Aquarium hosts "Jellies: Jewels of the Sea", featuring one of the largest collection of jellyfish ever exhibited in North America, with over 4,000 square feet of temperate and tropical jellies. Each display is carefully lit to provide jewel-like views of the animals. Also showcased throughout the exhibit is the exquisite handblown glasswork of renowned artist Chris Hawthorne. Hawthorne has created a number of impressive handblown glass jellyfish over six feet in length. The various sized jelly sculptures convey the luminescent colors, symmetry and graceful movement of these magnificent creatures.
Outdoor Exhibits: Six acres of the Aquarium's site have been transformed into replicas of Oregon's coastal habitats, including cliffs, dunes, caves and tide pools. Native plants create a lush backdrop.
A 75,000-gallon seal and sea lion pool is home to five harbor seals and six California sea lions. All were either captive-born or rehabilitated after becoming ill or injured and deemed non-releasable. The pool offers the marine mammals nooks, tunnels and haul-out areas. Visitors can enjoy both above-water and below-water viewing and watch feeding and training sessions.
A 68,000-gallon sea otter pool houses sea otters Aialik, Adaa and Hunter. Aialik was only about one week old when he was found abandoned near Ketchikan in southeast Alaska in July 1998. Adaa was approximately six months old when he was found wandering on an airport runway in Port Heiden, in southern Alaska in January 2000. When rescued, he was suffering from hypothermia and would likely have perished if authorities had not intervened. Hunter was one week old when he was rescued by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program (SORAC) after washing onto Carmel Beach in California in February 1998. It is believed that he became separated from his mother during heavy surf conditions. The sea otter pool has swim-through tunnels and haul-out areas. Visitors can enjoy both above-water and below-water viewing, and watch feeding sessions.
The walk-through Seabird Aviary, one of the largest in North America, exhibits four seabird species (tufted puffins, common murres, pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets) and one shorebird species (black oystercatchers) native to the Oregon coast. Two large pools, one holding 12,000 gallons of sea water and the other holding 17,000 gallons, give the seabirds ample room to "fly" underwater, which visitors can view through a large underwater window.
Visitors who may not have the time or physical ability to visit Oregon's coastal tide pools can hear and see the crash of waves in our replicated tide pool. Two wave machines hidden high in the cliffs above the exhibit send thousands of gallons of sea water cascading into the exhibit every 40 to 50 seconds.
In the Coastal Cave, a giant Pacific octopus lives among rocky nooks and crannies. This reclusive denizen of the deep can have a total arm span of over ten feet, and is thought to be as smart as a house cat.
The Aquarium's 1.32-million-gallon Passages of the Deep exhibit was once a rehabilitation pool where Keiko, the killer whale star of Free Willy, resided. Keiko has since been relocated back to his native waters in Iceland.
Passages of the Deep is an undersea adventure featuring 5,000 sea creatures and allows visitors to journey through shark-filled waters—all in the safety of an acrylic walkway nestled deep beneath a simulated sea. Showcasing the diverse marine life found off the Oregon coast, the Oregon Coast Aquarium's new exhibit features three large ocean habitats, connected by a 200-foot underwater tunnel.
Suspended eight feet below the water’s surface and eight feet above the bottom, the tunnel gives visitors the feeling they are walking beneath the sea. With large floor windows visitors can experience nearly 360-degree views.
The first habitat, “Orford Reef,” highlights a rocky reef with large wolf-eels, rockfishes, two octopus and schooling surfperch swimming among basalt boulders. A machine creates surging waves above, which cause the kelp forest to sway to and fro. Next, in “Halibut Flats,” visitors encounter a shipwreck resting on the rocky bottom, where halibut, skates and other animals glide gracefully nearby. The largest habitat of the three is the “Open Sea.” Here, visitors face mysterious sharks and other fast-swimming predators of the open sea. Sharks, salmon and yellowtail jacks swim in and out of soft pools of light, which give the illusion of an endless ocean environment.
Adjacent to the exhibit is an elegant banquet room for business meetings and after-hour events. With a large viewing window that looks back into the spectacular exhibit, and a viewing deck overlooking the picturesque Yaquina Bay, the Event Room is a popular space for meetings and after-hour guests.
The Aquarium is fortunate to have the Yaquina Bay estuary right out its back door. The quarter-mile Nature Trail offers three viewing platforms, one outfitted with a viewing scope. More than 200 species of migrating and resident birds can been seen from here each year.
Families with young children can visit the Aquarium's play area, which offers a soft play surface and concrete play equipment shaped like marine animals.
School groups, families and others wishing to eat food brought from home can enjoy their picnics under cover, thanks to the generosity and hard work of the Newport Rotary Club and the Lincoln County Home Builders’ Association. The picnic area includes a covered shelter, picnic tables, trash bins and landscaping.