JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska SeaLife Center has announced plans to become a first responder for marine mammals affected by oil spills in western Alaska.

The nonprofit center in Seward said a new partnership with the Alaska Chadux Network will greatly expand the center’s service area, the Juneau Empire reported Saturday.

Alaska SeaLife Center is the state’s only permanent marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation facility, the center’s website said.

SeaLife Center chief operating officer Chip Arnold said the facility did not have the ability to respond to oil spills when it opened in 1998, but people knew the time would come.

“We knew we would be involved,” Arnold said. “It was never a question of if we were going to respond. We are going to respond.”

Alaska SeaLife Center has trained more than 430 responders from across the U.S. over the last several years who are ready to “drop everything” and travel to Alaska to assist with relief efforts in the event of an oil spill, Arnold said.


The center has developed infrastructure to treat marine mammals affected by oil spills, including eight mobile containers and a cleaning station, Arnold said.

Alaska Chadux Network is a nonprofit oil spill response organization headquartered in Anchorage with 17 equipment hubs and the capacity for 24-hour response, the network’s website said.

Chadux Network President Buddy Custard said in a statement that the collaboration with SeaLife Center meets the requirements of state and federal agencies and companies that will benefit from the oil spill response capabilities.

“We are now extending wildlife rehabilitation all the way out to Western Alaska,” Custard said. “Alaska is home to many species that are endangered or threatened, so we want to make sure we can protect those species for generations to come.”

Western Alaska incorporates the coastline from Point Barrow in the state’s northernmost region to the end of the Aleutian Islands chain, Custard said.

The partnership with SeaLife Center comes as regional shipping activity is expected to increase because of ongoing Arctic ice melt, Custard said.

“Because the sea ice is receding, that’s expanding shipping lanes up north,” Custard said. “Which means there’s going to be more and more encounters up there with marine mammals and shipping, as well as an increased risk of a potential oil spill up in those regions.”