Visit the Charleston Marine Life Center

November 18, 2016 (Updated November 21, 2016)

Along the Cape Arago Beach Loop, gorgeous vistas, marked by landmark buildings like the Cape Arago Lighthouse, make sea side travel worth your time.

At Cape Arago State Park, Shell Island is alive with marine life. It’s a good place to bring a spotting scope or binoculars so you can watch the wildlife show.


Marty Giles of Wavecrest Discoveries is an environmental teacher who leads groups through the area. She says more than 3,000 sea lions haul out on Simpson Reef where they put on “quite the show.”

“Imagine a group of anxious kids in the back seat of a car on a long trip; you’re in my way, you’re over my line, move — you touched me! Well, you can see that kind of behavior going on with these marine mammals. They walk over one another and grump at each other and always seem to be moving around,” says the longtime eco-tour guide.

At Charleston Harbor, at the University of Oregon’s new Charleston Marine Life Center features experiences made for the curious.

“Visitors of all ages are so interested and so excited to be here, but they may not know enough about the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon coastline — especially the organisms that live there,” says Carly Salant, a marine biology student and guide at the new center. “My favorite part is being able to teach them and that gets them excited. They even spread the word and even more people come.”

Salant adds that the $2 million museum and aquarium is the only one its kind on Oregon’s South Coast where visitors are greeted by full-size skeletons.

“And these are the real things — right up front is a toothed whale orca and right behind her is a juvenile gray whale,” she says. “They make for a pretty impressive entrance to the center.”

The Charleston Marine Life Center offers interactive lessons on coastal ecosystems, deep-water habitats and diverse sea life through hands-on, shallow touch tanks with starfish, anemones and sea urchins.

If you time your visit at the lunch hour, you’ll have a chance to watch student Rachel Prescott feed an array of marine life: from young octopus, varied rockfish, an amazing Basket star and a rarely seen Puget Sound king crab.

“I love my job,” says the marine biology student. “There’s never a dull moment that’s for sure.”

The new two-story 6,400-square foot building was built entirely from donations and it is a place that will teach you much about our coastal waters. It should not be missed.

“It’s the great collection of people that work here and those folks who come through to visit,” adds Salant. “I hope more people will make time to visit us soon.”

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.