Friday, May 18, 2018

Spring Off The Pier

Coming from the Midwest, my experience of spring has been a bit different from the way it is out here on the Olympic Peninsula and the Salish Sea. I figured it would be fun to share a few of the new things I’ve encountered so far this spring at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Since spring is in the air, many animals have been feeling frisky. The kingfishers have been out and about chattering away with each other. I’ve even witnessed them diving for schooling fish under the pier a few times.

There is always something new to see when looking off the pier into the water below. Since April has started, this is especially true. Jellyfish and ctenophores are frequently visible. On first glance I only saw a few, however when I focused more I noticed hundreds of them. I have never seen so many live jellies in the wild before, so this really was an experience.

Ctenophore caught off the pier.

Each of these jellies was about the size of a quarter.

Large schools of sand lance, tube snout, and herring (known as bait balls) have been coming into the pier for its sheltered waters. These large schools sparkle and shine in the water due to their counter shading. Counter shading is a technique used to disorient their predators. It looks like an underwater light show! 

The plankton we’ve sampled in the last few weeks have had a lot more activity in them. Baby barnacles, crabs, copepods and more were common in our samples. This increase in plankton has to do with sunlight being stronger and nutrient availability greater than in the winter months.

Even the animals in the aquarium have got more energy. Over the winter, most of their appetites were reduced, but in the last couple of weeks everybody is eating a lot more food. Many have been spawning, including the invertebrates that are broadcast spawners. This means they release their sperm and eggs into the water, hoping they mingle and fertilize. This makes for some murky water conditions in the tanks when it happens.

We also have been collecting animals lately to add to the exhibits. Recently we netted some eelgrass right off the pier. Babies critters were everywhere: juvenile flounder, gunnels, crabs, and sculpins were coming up in the net. This was so exciting to see since eelgrass beds are nurseries for juvenile fish. That is one of the reasons we have two tanks dedicated to eelgrass because it is so important for the early life stages of certain species, especially salmon.

Two juvenile flounder hiding in the sand of the eel-grass tank.
(There is also an orange-tipped nudibranch hiding in the back)

There is too much for me to mention in one blog post, but not being from the Northwest and witnessing all this going on I can only think one thing: The Salish Sea is one productive body of water, especially this time of the year. The PTMSC Aquarium and pier here are the perfect place to showcase that richness!

Written by AmeriCorps Marine Science Educator James Swanson.

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