The center's role as an important research institution makes it an especially vibrant and fascinating aquarium to see creatures from Alaska waters. You may have seen puffins diving into the water from a tour boat; here you can see what they look like flying under the water. Seabirds, harbor seals, octopus, and sea lions reside in three spectacular exhibits viewed from above or below -- you can get within a few feet of the birds without glass. There are smaller tanks with fish, crab, and other creatures; a touch tank where you can handle starfish and other tide-pool animals; and exhibits on current ocean changes and hot research issues. A remarkable exhibit traces the life cycle of salmon; the staff hatches salmon eggs on a schedule, so fish at each stage of development will always be present in their realistic habitats. I don't want to oversell the place, however: The center is not as large as a big-city aquarium, and you'll likely spend no more than a couple of hours unless you sign up for one of the lectures or special behind-the-scenes programs for adults and children that happen all day.