Mike Castellini ~ Polar Visionary

COSEE Alaska logo

Intersecting Circles: Research,
Education, Rehabilitation

The Alaska SeaLife Center is one of COSEE Alaska's partners, and Dr. Castellini played a major role in its creation. Castellini moved to Alaska in 1989, two years after the Exxon Valdez spill, when there was lots of interest in marine science on the part of the public. Mike also needed a place to do marine mammal research. He started thinking about combining the two.

The Alaska SeaLife Center opened its doors in 1998, with Mike Castellini as the first Science Director. It is primarily a research institution – albeit one that puts much of its research on display. It is also the busiest marine tourist center in Alaska, with over 150,000 visitors annually. It regularly puts scientists in direct contact with the public, training them to be better communicators. "The public gets to see displays but they also get to interact with scientists," says Mike.

Sea lion
COSEE Alaska provides links that enables the SeaLife Center to conduct a range of outreach activities, from public lectures and demonstrations to behind-the-scenes tours. The Center develops education materials, sponsors outreach with coastal villages (often using video conferencing for long distance learning), and offers workshops at the annual Alaska Marine Science Symposium.

As a research institute, it is a tremendous resource for scientists wanting to work with marine birds and mammals. It is has a partnership with the University of Alaska, which has four faculty on contract with the Center, and offers research opportunities to grad students (including Mike's). It has extensive life-support capabilities for marine species from jellyfish to sea lions, and is the major rehabilitation center for the state.

R/V Sikuliaq
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has provided funding for the building of the R/V Sikuliaq (an Inupiaq name meaning "young sea ice that is safe to walk on"), the first ice breaker designed for research. Part of the NSF University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) fleet, the ship will be operated by the University of Alaska School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. It will be launched in October 2012 and will be ready for its first research cruise in early 2014. Plans for its use are well under way, with NSF already calling for proposals. It has the capability to go anywhere in the world, spending 300 days a year at sea, and will certainly be making trips to the Arctic and Antarctic. Every cruise will have broader impacts components. With full internet connectivity via satellite, students will be able to talk live with scientists. A request for funding has been made to the State of Alaska for students and teachers to be onboard 10 days a year. COSEE Alaska will support local outreach through the SeaLife Center, and is already talking to scientists about collaborative projects using the ship. COSEE Alaska is also working on an exhibit in collaboration with the UAF Museum of the North, recreating the ship's interior to demonstrate a research cruise.

Ian Dutton
Ian Dutton, President and CEO, Alaska SeaLife Center
Collaborating with Mike Castellini
Jim Pfeiffenberger
Jim Pfeiffenberger, Education Coordinator, Ocean Alaska Science & Learning Center
Importance of partnerships for the National Park Service