For those too impatient to wait until next spring for the opening of the Alaska SeaLife Center, ''hard hat'' tours of the $50 million center while it's under construction will be available beginning today.
With 115,000 square feet of space and the latest technology for research, animal care and public education, the SeaLife Center's organizers are hoping it will become one of the world's finest marine research centers.
Its mission is to provide space for research, to rehabilitate injured or orphaned wildlife and to educate the public about the marine world.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks is actively involved in the management and scientific aspects of the center, which is run by the private, nonprofit Alaska SeaLife Center Corp.
Much of the building is set aside for private laboratories and offices, where visiting scientists will work. Some labs and animal holding pens have viewing galleries where the public will be able to watch research in process.
The center's success likely will hinge on the money available for work and the flow of seawater through its fish tanks and holding pens.
The building's construction and start-up is being funded by criminal and civil settlement money from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, by bond sales and from private donations.
The water flow is just as crucial but easier to predict. The center's basement is filled with pumps and filter devices designed to circulate 4,500 gallons of clean salt water through tanks and pens every minute.
Contractors are already testing tanks for leaks and building artificial rocks for animals to rest or roost on.
The center will house fish, seabirds and marine mammals such as seals, sea lions and sea otters. Visitors will be able to watch the animals outdoors and under water through plexiglass viewing ports.
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