When the Marine Science Center was dedicated in 1965 the Oregon State Oceanography program had existed for a mere 6 years. Created at the backing of Wayne Burt in 1959, the program grew rapidly and within 10 years had over 30 faculty and over 100 staff members.
In 1972 the program would become a school and by 1983 it had become the College of Oceanography, but far before that could happen the program had quickly discovered several problems. Thanks to funding from the Office of Naval Research, the developing Oregon State Oceanography program had been able to furnish a vessel of their own to aid them in their research, but they were lacking in space for their coastal facilities as well as a place for them to moor their vessel, the 80-foot Acona. Needs for harbor increased once the department upgraded the Acona to a vessel over twice her size, the 180-foot Yaquina, converted from a World War II freighter ship.
In a stroke of good fortune the fledgling program was able to get a grant from the federal Area Redevelopment Administration to create their new complex. With over 1 million dollars in funding – the vast majority from the ARA – OSU was able to create their facility after securing a 99-year lease on 49 acres of land in the Yaquina Bay. As part of the lease agreement the city of Newport wanted the facility to include a public aquarium and museum to boost the city’s tourism and help it get out of an economic depression.
When the center first opened in ’65 it was not prepared for the flood of people who arrived – 50,000 in the first year – and faculty and researchers were forced to contend with questions from eager children when they weren’t working on their own projects. By the late 70′s the Center was fielding almost 400,000 visitors a year. With help from OSU’s Art Department the Marine Science Center was able to amaze many of the early guests who were fascinated by the touch tanks as well as the octopus. Over the years the number of tank exhibits increased and in 1983 they introduced a whale-watching program for the public where volunteers would staff locations for people to come watch the migration of gray whales; this program became extremely popular and near the end of the decade was drawing in tens of thousands of visitors, many of them from other countries. Today the whale watching program gets around 40,000 people each year coming to designated whale watching locations.
1983 was an important year for another reason, as it saw the name of the center changed to the Hatfield Science Center, named for former governor Mark Hatfield who had shown great support for the center throughout his political career and his time in office. The 80′s also saw a series of scientists with abilities in education come to work at the Marine Science Center which was reaching out to more and more children and students of the Oregon school system; in 1990 the Hatfield Center was visited or reached out to 6% of Oregon students.
Starting out with $200,000 to build the Oceanography program’s first laboratory and then a little over one million dollars to start construction work at Yaquina Bay, the Hatfield Marine Science Center was able to raise over 45 million dollars in funding in the last fiscal year alone. From it’s humble beginnings the Hatfield Marine Science Center has grown enormously, but importantly it still remains a place for students and those interested in learning more about the environment off of the coast. Thanks to it’s growth over the years the Center has been able to plant the seeds of that interest and foster it’s progress through seminars, exhibits, classes, outreach programs and more that serve to connect the Center with the community at large.
For more information and to find sources for many of the budget statistics see http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/files/main/hmsc_annualreport_2012_2013__0.pdf
For more information on the early beginnings of the Marine Science Center here are several articles created by the Center to document it’s history see:
- Oceanography Pioneers: The Oregon State Story by John V. Byrne, Ph. D.
- Decades of Discovery
- Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. A Celebration of the First 25 Years
- Oregon State University Mark O. Hatfield Marine Science Center 1965-1988, The First Two Decades
- Historic Yaquina Bay photos taken from SCARC’s Flickr account
- Photos of recent ships taken from Oregon State University
Post by OSU History student Christopher Russell.