It all started thirty years ago. A woman named Lenie 't Hart found some sick seals at the beach of the Waddenzee in the Dutch province of Groningen, where she lived. She started to take care of the animals in a small town called Pieterburen, in a small bath in her backyard.
At first Lenie 't Hart was considered some kind of village idiot. You know, sometimes you read in the papers about an old lady who was found having her house full of seventy street cats to look after. But somewhere in the seventies and eighties, the aaibaarheid1 (cuddlyness) of seals increased in the Netherlands.
Lenie 't Hart and her care for seals became famous in the Netherlands. Funds and sponsors enabled her to develop her primitive facilities into a real seal hospital with laboratories, quarantine possibilities, X-rays and medical facilities. Apart from that, the Zeehondencrèche (Seal Creche; the organisation itself translates its Dutch name to Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre for the English speaking tourists) is a public information center on the problems of the seal, other Waddenzee and North Sea animals, and their environment.
What you can see at the center as a visitor is the following:
- Seals: One thing you can be certain of to see here and that's seals. They are all recovering from illness, wounds or other weaknesses and most of the times you won't get to touch them. Once the seals have recovered fully, they are released.
- Quarantine rooms: These are rooms inside the building where seals are cared for firstly after they have been taken to the Zeehondencrèche. You'll feel sorry for these animals because they really look sick.
- Swimming pool: No entry for humans! This is the playground for the almost healthy seals. Since there is a glass wall on one side of the basin, you'll get a terrific view of the seals underwater.
- Square and pools: Outside there are several pools with seals. On the little square, they sometimes let seals play with eachother. This might be the only occasion to touch one. I've been there three or four times but I never managed to get that close (I didn't make any efforts by the way: not interested).
- Information centre: The spacious hall has a permanent exhibition on the life of the seal and the activities of the crèche. I'll admit it's terrific if you're interested in loads of information. But it tends to get boring. Seals don't get boring. Instead of reading and watching all this information on the spot, you can visit the web site at http://www.zeehondencreche.nl. Yet the more time you can spend at watching the seals.
The last thing is what is so great about the Zeehondencreche. Seals are just fun animals to watch: playful, dynamic and adorable. When you bring children, they will be busy all day. Guaranteed.
Every year about 300,000 visitors come to the creche. The entrance fee is 1 Dutch guilder (0.4 Euro). During the holiday season the Zeehondencrèche can be reached by special public transport, a bus named Crèche Express from province capital Groningen to Pieterburen and vice versa. You'll recognize the bus by the seal depictions on the outside.
The Zeehondencrèche is ALWAYS open. Or at least they say (I never tested it by jumping in the car in the middle of the night). The shop is open from 9 to 6. Pieterburen is just a small village with one main street, called Hoofdstraat. The creche is at number 94a.
1I used the modern Dutch term aaibaarheid here because I don't know of any appropriate English term. It's used to describe the grade in which the general public thinks a certain animal is cute and 'caressable'. The aaibaarheid of the panda bear is high; that of an alligator is minimal.
Professor_Pi suggested cuddlyness, while r4v5 thought of cuteness, desirability or public awareness.