Alaska SeaLife Center Using Resurrection Bay for Heat 

By Anne Hillman | Alaska Public Radio Network: Agnes is a seven-month-old sea otter pup who was rescued and sent to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. She’s swimming around a pool with another orphaned otter.

The center’s marine mammal curator Derek Woodie says the otters don’t have any blubber, they rely on their thick coats of hair to stay warm.

“What they do is groom themselves and they’ll blow air into that fur and they create like a little bubble of air, almost like a wet suit, and it keeps them warm in that 40 degree water,” Woodie said.

That same chilly water rushing into Agnes’ pool is also being used to heat most of the building.

“It’s hard to explain, it doesn’t actually seem logical,” Tara Reimer Jones, president of the SeaLife Center, said. “I’m actually trained as an engineer and it still doesn’t quite make sense to me, but essentially we’re running reverse refrigerators.”

The SeaLife Center converted to the seawater-heat pump system to save money – tons of money.

In 2008, the center heated with oil and their energy bill was $1.2 million. Last year they spent less than half that amount. With savings like that, the entire system will be paid off in eight and a half years.

“Being able to reduce our energy costs as much as we have has enabled us to stay successful and be open to the public and keep our costs under control,” she said.

So how does it work? Facilities Director Darryl Schaefermeyer takes me to see the system.

First, they pump seawater into the building. They already do this to fill tanks and pools for the animals.

“Right now we’re probably pumping about 3,000 gallons per minute of sea water constantly through the building,” Schaefermeyer said.


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