When traveling towards or from Seattle, my husband and I usually try to change it up a bit by taking backroads. This often involves coastal roads, as far as they are available. One of our favorite stretches is that through Redondo Beach. In the past years we always passed by an aquarium that was closed due to Covid. Not any longer – and that is what we did the other day. We visited this inviting building directly on the beach.
The MaST Center Aquarium belongs to the Marine Science and Technology Center of Highline College in Des Moines (mast.highline.edu/ ). Its main building holds more general exhibits about the watershed of Puget Sound, the Sound’s marine wildlife, and environmental impact. Docents are welcoming visitors and their questions there. I didn’t ask though what was behind the closed doors. Could be classrooms, could be labs. A truly fascinating fact I learned, though, was the interaction between the divers who are numerous outside the Aquarium and the facility itself. Apparently, there is a list of marine life the college is interested in obtaining for their aquarium, and the divers are, also apparently, most willing to work off the wish list. Currently, there are around 250 species at the MaST Center Aquarium at Redondo Beach.
We went through the exit onto the dock that leads from the main building to the actual aquarium. Slender anemones are waving their tiny tentacles in a tank that connects the outer world with its gorgeous vistas of the shoreline between Tacoma and Des Moines as well as of Vashon Island with the darker belly of the aquarium. The number of tanks inside is not overwhelming – which means that you can really take your time and focus on the species inside instead of getting an overload of information. Here, also, docents will be happy to tell you about the creatures in the saltwater tanks.
And what a colorful exhibit it is! From shimmering blues to almost fluorescent purples and magentas, yellows, and bright reds and oranges, spots and stripes, fins, tentacles, scales, camouflage – it is all there! To think that all of these species are very much alive out there in Puget Sound!
I observed a funny little guy “walk” on its fins – a beautifully patterned grunt sculpin in beiges, grays, blacks, yellows, and whites. I googled it and found that grunt sculpins grunt when they are held. Actually, it’s a vibration that a diver would feel – but still, interaction!
The octopus we found clinging to a wall in one of the bigger tanks had its eyes closed and was apparently asleep. Its body had taken on the rugged, earth-colored texture of its surroundings – which is why I first didn’t see it. A number of starfish were sharing the same tank.
I was one of the lucky few that morning to get to see another absolutely fascinating creature who dwells in a cave, often hidden out of sight. Seku (do I spell her right?) is a gorgeous wolf eel with a face that looks back at you as curiously as you look at her. At seven feet length, I was only able to see the first half foot of her, if that! I was told that she rarely eats anything in winter and that she sometimes had to be lured out of her abodes with a shrimp in order to get some exercise. You don’t want a wolf eel to get stuck in their cage. Later, when I passed by Seku’s tank for a second look, she had hidden herself already.
Two tanks were of the kind where kids can encounter sea creatures by touch. I didn’t know what was more fascinating – the colors of the species inside the water or watching the awed kids as they touched the maritime creatures.
All in all, it was a beautiful, little outing that day. We now perceive the divers at Redondo Beach from a new angle as well. Eye-openers can be in such unexpected locations!
The MaST Center Aquarium is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admittance is free, but donations are welcome, of course. This beautiful, little jewel on the beach is well worth a visit. You might want to try it, too.