Pandemic leaves ASLC struggling financially

A fundraising campaign is underway at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward to raise $2 million by Sept. 30 to keep the nonprofit research institution and public aquarium open.

ASLC officials said unless the campaign is successful they will be unable to maintain operations through the winter, due to a lack of summer visitor revenues. 

The SeaLife Center’s financial woes are due to being closed for two months, a lack of summer visitors and travel restrictions caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The center is dependent on revenue from visitors, 90 percent of whom visit between May and September.

Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the center anticipates that annual visitor revenues will be reduced by 70 percent.

Aquariums like ASLC are especially vulnerable during this difficult time because they can’t reduce operating costs like most businesses, said Tara Riemer, president and chief executive officer.

The center can’t just shut doors, turn off lights, and furlough staff because it needs to maintain good animal care, maintain the building, and keep seawater pumping throughout the building every minute of every day, she said.

Closing ASLC would be a permanent decision which could not be undone. Animals would be sent to other facilities, staff would be laid off and keys to the building would be turned over to the city of Seward.

“Closure of the center has terrible consequences — the loss of it would be staggering,” said Wendy Lindskoog, chairperson of the ASLC board of directors.

In addition to being a top destination for visitors to Alaska, the center is a research facility for ocean, Arctic and subarctic marine wildlife and climate change, and an important part of the state’s science education system.

The center, an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, operates as a 501(c )(3) non-profit research and public aquarium that promotes understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems.

More information about the center is online at www.alaskasealife.org