Monday, December 3, 2018

We Love Our Aquarium Creatures! (Part 2)

Fun Facts About Marine Life At The Aquarium

This is Part 2 of a two-part series, To read Part 1, go here.

Children learn about the marine food web on the dock outside the
Port Townsend Marine Science Center Aquarium. Staff photo.

Kelp Forest
Kelp forests are large collections of kelps -- large brown algae seaweeds -- growing vertically from rocky substrates at depths of 20 to 210 feet. 

Giant kelp forest, photo by NOAA National Ocean Service.
Found in cool, temperate marine waters, these diverse and dynamic communities are comparable to coral reefs and rainforests. Beneath the surface, kelp forests provide a protected habitat by slowing wave action and currents so animals can rest or hide.

At least 26 species of kelp live in the Salish Sea. 

Among the most distinctive kelps is the canopy-forming giant kelp, with buoyant bulbs and blades that can be seen floating on the water’s surface. This plant, which grows up to 10 inches per day, can be as much as 100 feet tall, anchoring itself to a rocky surface with a holdfast measuring over 12 inches across. Found in intertidal to subtidal zones, it prefers semi-exposed habitats and rough-and-tumble, high-current areas.

China rockfish in PTMSC tank. Staff photo.
Northern kelp crab. Photo by Bobbee Davidson.
Northern kelp crab, sea urchins and abalone feed on the kelps. Rockfish – over-harvested for years – can thrive in its blades.

Feather duster worm, common on pilings. Staff photo.
Living in the kelp forest tank at the main entrance to the aquarium is the newest arrival, Eleanora, a giant Pacific octopus. ‘Nora is the subject of The Octopus Learning Project, which will be described in a later blog posting. In the meantime, here's a wonderful article on

Pilings, piers, and docks are found everywhere along developed coastlines. In many areas they dominate natural habitats, yet marine animals have found ways to make these artificial structures their homes. 

A river otter finds food and refuge under the PTMSC dock.
Photo by Florian Graner.
Schooling fish, such as shiner perch and young walleye pollock, shelter in the shadows. Anemones, limpets, barnacles, mussels and plumose anemones attach to the hard surfaces. Spaghetti worms and burrowing sea cucumbers tuck into crevices.

Many wood pilings contain creosote, a toxic chemical cocktail of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phenol and creosols. Throughout the Salish Sea there are efforts to replace old piers, docks, and pilings with environmentally friendly structures.

Tidal Flats 
Water slows as it enters the bays, inlets and estuaries of the Salish Sea, depositing fine sediments -- mudflats and sand beds -- that cover the gently sloping seafloor.

Sole and flounder seek out worms and crustaceans, while they, in turn, are a common food of the river otters within Fort Worden – which are sometimes visible on the aquarium dock. These fish can be viewed in aquarium’s tidal flats tide pool, along with sand dollars (closely related to sea urchins), which have very short spines and tube feet and feed on plankton and detritus.

Historically, the Salish Sea’s estuarine mudflats were once dominated by the only oyster native to the Pacific Northwest: the Olympia. Pacific oysters, native to Asia, have now replaced them as the most harvested species. However, with renewed commercial interest and habitat restoration efforts, Olympia oysters are making a comeback.

Conservation Lab
The newly built conservation lab -- constructed with funding from an Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account grant from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the support of many volunteers -- showcases citizen science projects, special programs and exhibits in a demonstration area. 

The Conservation Lab, completed in 2018, reveals
microscopic life to inquisitive minds! Staff photo.
The lab is home to the current Pinto Abalone Project. Pinto abalone are marine snails once found in abundance in the Salish Sea. Over-harvested for decades, their population is now too small and spread out to successfully reproduce. The PTMSC has partnered with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund to raise pinto abalone to help determine the best way to reintroduce these remarkable creatures into the wild to ensure their recovery. A future blog posting will describe this project in more detail. 

This is Part 2 of a two-part series, To read Part 1, go here.

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