Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hibernate for winter? We don't THINK so.

Just because we're closed for the winter season doesn't mean we've stopped!
We have a crew of 5 working over the winter thanks to a Job Creation Program grant from the Ministry of Housing and Social Services.

Kane, Kat, Dave, Danielle & Jack (Missing from photo is Ashlie) [UAS]

Let's hear about some of our exciting projects!

Refurbishing tanks
: Through volunteer efforts by UAS and generous donations from Living Elements Ltd., we have saved over 25 used aquarium tanks from the dump. They were obtained from aquariums and research facilities from as far south as Oregon and as far north as Resolute Bay in the Arctic. Their condition ranged from almost new and slightly scratched to VERY scratched with deep gouges. With the help of Mark Schnurr, an expert in plastic fabrication from Archer Plastics in Vancouver, we've been learning the correct way to remove dings and scratches from acrylic tanks to make them look like new.

Sand them down first

Buff them back to life [UAS]

The work is quite satisfying and takes very, VERY close attention to detail.

BUILDING BACKDROPS: We've been creating backdrops for the tanks in the aquarium that will spend months underwater in hopes that many wonderful clingy creatures will use them as a home. The backdrops are a lot easier to use than rocks from the ocean with existing life because the backdrops can be customarily shaped to fit in the tanks. They are also a lot lighter so will be safer when placing them into the restored tanks.

Using bricks & plastic mesh as a base, forms are covered in concrete & left to cure [UAS]

BUILDING INTERTIDAL GARDENS: We've been scouring the intertidal zone on the foreshore in front the the new aquarium site (to be built in 2011) and mapping out where to build our intertidal gardens! Using the natural bedrock as a frame, these new pools will be full of life and easily accessible to the public in a safe environment. We're excavating rocks by hand & shoveling the silt. There will also be a bed for surf grasses and plants against the existing concrete wall. True to our nature, all species of plants and animals will be native to the area. If you see us down on the shore in front of the Ucluelet Aquarium, be sure to say hi and see what we're building!

FIELD TRIP: . We’ve taken a field trip to visit local riversides and stream beds to learn about and identify native plants in our area. Similar species will be planted in our seagrass bed on the foreshore to offer a different type of habitat than the tidepools.

Investigating local grasses [A.Z.]

Taking field notes [A.Z.]

It's still a flurry of activity down at our workshop at 1980 Harbour Crescent. It’s almost time to start collecting specimens for opening day of March 6th 2010. You’ll see us out collecting substrate for the tanks soon! Tank sponsorships are still available for the 2010 season. Contact our curator, Dave Hurwitz at 250-522-2782 for more information.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Season Highlights- 2009

The summer weather has left and the west coast has no choice but to gear up and embrace the coming winter. With the end of the season here the aquarium has said goodbye to all of the creatures and people that made this successful season what it was.

Photos, etc. from the release party on October 17th will be available soon, but for now- some eye candy from the season passed. These are a few of the many highlights and give a little taste of what the Ucluelet Aquarium was (and is) all about. Thank you to everyone who visited, contributed, and shared our season. Enjoy!

Giant Pacific Octopus-

This season's giant pacific octopus was truly impressive- though often hiding in her den, her sudden appearance was a beautiful thing to see. [Caylan Piper]

From collection to display-

Intertidal collecting was always great and sharing our discoveries with our guests was a big part of the fun. Caylan shows off a geoduck and Mary introduces the new urchin collection with brave visitors. [Caylan Piper]

Our special VICs-

Puget Sound King Crabs- large, medium, and small! [Caylan Piper]

Sena II brings in the deepwater Grooved Tanner Crab [Caylan Piper]

Our appreciation for bryozoans sky-rocket when using the microscope!! [Mary Vasey]

Water jellies scope the aquarium [Mary Vasey]

Squid, squid, everywhere-

Humboldts wash up on Tofino beaches- a dissection back at home base taught us all about their anatomy and lifestyle [Caylan Piper]

Opalescent squid eggs develop and hatch in the aquarium- check out previous posts that include photo and video time-lines of development [Mary Vasey]

Ukee Days!-

The aquarium set up a booth at the Ukee Days fairgrounds to promote our new facility and give a chance for some hands-on interaction with the community. [Caylan Piper]

That's all for now- have a great winter and we will see you in the spring!

-Mary Vasey, Interpreter

Friday, October 2, 2009

Grand Release Party, October 17.

Join us Saturday, October 17th, at 10:00am for our traditional end-of-season closing party. Each visitor will have a chance to free a display animal from its temporary residence in the aquarium to the waters of Ucluelet Harbour. New display specimens will be collected in the spring in time for the aquarium's re-opening next March.

Here is your chance to participate in this FREE one-of-a-kind experience unique to the Ucluelet Aquarium. Bring the whole family and remember to dress for the weather!

Don't forget to bring your own reusable mug for some yummy hot chocolate and your spare change to donate!

See you there!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

As the Tides Go By

A quick update on our newest staff members: Nate and Laura are now happy as two little urchins in a kelp forest. They are settled in and really getting to know (or re-know as the case may be) all the critters and are confidently sharing the secrets of the sea with our guests. Unfortunately, their education will be taking both of them back to Victoria in early September.

Nate is startled by the hefty size of the Horse Clam (above) and is pleased with jello-like consistency of the California Sea Cucumber. [Mary Vasey]

These past weeks have been ones of high highs and low lows- with the tides of course. Such low tides are a great opportunity for the aquarium staff to replenish the intertidal tanks. One of the items at the top of our wish list was the always-impressive geoduck. When you want to find a geoduck you have to think like a geoduck so that is just what Laura, Dave, and Caylan did. They were roaring to go at 630 in the morning during the low-tides and made their way to Tofino mudflats. Because geoducks have such long siphons they are able to live very deep under the squishy sand making them difficult to dig up even with snowshoes, shovels, and cross country skis. Their siphons are full of the water that they are filtering and they are able to release this water by squirting it out of the sand and this is how a geoduck's location can be spotted. It is illegal to harvest any sort of mollusk or shellfish in many areas due to contamination (poo!) and/or Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). The DFO website has regional updates about the coastline and which areas are legal harvest areas.
Laura (left) and Caylan (right) try to maintain their balance as they show off their victory geoducks. [Dave Hurwitz]
Red tide is harmful because of the natural dinoflagellate biotoxin saxitoxin and this chemical can prove fatal for humans even in doses as low as 0.2 milligrams. Often the affects of red tide from direct water consumption is negligible as the saxitoxin is not concentrated enough. This is not the case, however, when dealing with filter-feeding mollusks that condense the toxins within their biomass. It is this accumulation of saxitoxin that makes shellfish poisonous sometimes even years after the dinoflagellate outbreak has cleared. The symptoms of consuming affected shellfish becomes apparent within 2-12 hours of eating and include dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, disorientation, eye irritation, and death. Due to the intense toxicity of saxitoxin it is one of only two natural toxins that are classified as Schedule 1 Chemical Warfare Agents and are considered a Biological Weapon.

Laura gives the thumbs-up after checking the DFO website for geoduck and shellfish closures. [Caylan Piper]

The lethal nature of this toxin comes from its ability to block sodium-channels with extreme selectivity and potency while leaving potassium and calcium channels unharmed. These channels are all part of our intricate nervous systems and medical research using saxitoxin has lead to a better understanding of how nerves and their channels work. (Edwards, Neil. 1998.

Dave-the-master-clam-digger holds up a frightened geoduck releasing water. [Laura Griffith-Cochrane]

Rocky intertidal collections were also possible during these times of low tides and were executed by Spencer, Dave, Mary, and our volunteer Jordan from Parks Canada. Scoping out our secret spots during these few morning opportunities proved fruitful. Sea urchins were particularly abundant during our recent adventures as evident in our newest tank design. When found in tide pools, purple sea urchins are found hiding in perfectly-fitting dug outs. The reason these holes are so snug is because the urchins are actually creating them as they grow larger. They use their calcite teeth to dig into rock (often limestone) even though the rocks can be of equal or greater hardness. This is possible because the urchin's five teeth also contain crystallized magnesium calcite which is a little bit harder. There is more magnesium calcite in the tip of the tooth and it is aligned in such a way that as the teeth get ground down the interwoven crystals break in a manner that continues to create a sharp point. (Live Science. 2009.

One last photo shoot for these collected shore crab before they are put in the octopus tanks for breakfast. [Caylan Piper]

The boys are stoked on their beach-combing prizes. [Mary Vasey]

-Mary Vasey, Interpreter

Friday, August 14, 2009

And The Staff Did a Switcheroo...

The Ucluelet Aquarium has been going through a roller coaster of emotions lately. Sadly, we wished Kristin Westman farewell as she ventured to Norway to begin studying for her Master's. The amount of time and energy that Kristin gave to the Aquarium on and off shift was inspiring to say the least. As the initiator of our first pilot study, assistant curator, and personal professional photographer Kristin was a joy to have around and her contagious passion will be missed. We of course wish her the best of luck as she gets one step closer to saving the world and look forward to hearing of her future endeavours.

In leiu of Kristin's return to school two more part-time team members are joining us for the remainder of the summer. Nathaniel Glickman and Laura Griffith-Cochrane are both ready to share their expertise and enthusiasm as they throw on their blue shirts and get to work. Laura, a former employee of the aquarium, has just returned froma trip to New Zealand and Fiji and will begin interpreting in a couple of weeks. Nathaniel is brand new to our team and will be with us until he leaves for his studies at UVIC in early September.
So come visit the team: Dave, Spencer, Caylan, Nathaniel, Laura, and Mary down on Main Street in Ucluelet.

Dave, Caylan, Mary, and Spencer put on a brave face saying farewell to Kristin and await the new team members [Mary Vasey]

-Mary Vasey, Interpreter

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One for the Little Guys

One of the best things about the Ucluelet Aquarium is the opportunity to see and appreciate all the little guys that are often missed among the kerfuffles of the sea. It only seems right that the blog should reflect this and here it is: One for the Little Guys. By taking advantage of our microscope and cameras we were able to show off a few of our most-missed buddies.

Calcareous tubeworms (Serpula columbiana) can grow to be up to 6.5 cm long and have a diameter of 0.6 cm. These tube-secreting worms stay encrusted to the rocks for most of their body length and can hide inside their shell when startled. In the below photographit is possible to see the trumpet- or funnel-shaped operculum that the animal uses to block of the entrance of the tube when fully withdrawninto the shell. The aquarium also has feather duster tube worms that when approached with a finger will rush into their softer, more flexible home.These animals are filter feeders that munch on plankton and reproduce by broadcast spawning.

The Sitka Periwinkle (Littorina sitkana) is commonly found in protected intertidal zones trying to stay moist. They often will aggregate as seastars do in an attempt to not dry out. Living similarly to other snails and as the prey of some nudibranchs, the sitka periwinkle can be variable in colourfrom a light brown to black and will often have stripes have various thickness and colour.

The Heart Crab (Phyllolithodes papillosus) lives between the intertidal zone and down to 183 metres. Its camouflaugecomes from the hard spines covering the legs and pincers. They grow to be 10 centimetres across the carapace but as youcan tell in the picture they are quite small when they are young. These guys get their name from the heart-shaped designon their backs.

Little Skeleton Shrimp have been popping about in several tanks as they develop into a size visible with the naked eye. This generic grouping contains several species which can be either filter feeders or predators. These shrimp tend to be found in large groups in our tanks and can be seen attaching on to the algae or rocks and swaying to and fro.

The excitement level of the small common barnacle (Balanus glandula) is unfortunately often lost on local beachcombers- and What a mistake thatis!! These crustaceans begin life as small larvae that contribute to the plankton population as they are released from the shell of the fertilized adult. Each adult will brood and release up to 13 000 larvae at a time. As they mature they are attracted by settledbarnacles towards rocks, pilings, or even animals on which they are able to settle. Once committed to a surface the barnacle willattach itself for life using cement glands in the antennae. Their appendages change into a fan like structure- the cerripeds- and theyconstruct a permanent shell structure in which they will entirely hide when not feeding. They filter the water using their cerripedsto catch all the plankton that they feed on. The funnest fact of all? When it comes to mating the hermaphroditic barnacle will probetheir neighbours with their male reproductive organ which can be up to five times the size of the rest of the body!!

Get your glasses on and come check these little guys out first hand!

-Mary Vasey, Interpreter

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Love is in the Water

It seems as though true love is blossoming before our eyes as the opposing genders of many species become better acquainted. Events such as: spawning sea stars and sea cucumbers, eggs from Oregon Hairy Tritons and various nudibranchs, and the claws-on mating of the Red Rock Crab are spontaneously occurring at the Ucluelet Aquarium. It is a good idea to breed when the warming water supports more growth as the success rate of young increases.

The predatory Hairy Oregon Triton has begun laying eggs in a beautiful spiral shape on the window of one of our tanks. This animal is suspected to have the longest larval development period of any marine invertebrate- up to four years. They will wait to undergo metamorphosis until there is adequate food to support their growth. The appearance of the eggs indicate that 6 - 9 months earlier a snail couple had intimate relations in which internal fertilization occurred. The snail will now protect these eggs for up to nine weeks from predators before the young larvae hatch. These hairy guys are covered in periostracum which are brownish bristles aiding in camouflage, when fully grown the snail will span up to 6 inches across.

Hairy Oregon Triton laying their eggs in a spiral pattern on the glass tank. [Mary Vasey]

When it comes to crab it's all about tough love as demonstrated by our Red Rocks. The male- generally much larger than his partner- will hold the female and wait for her to moult. This period can often take several days. If the female does not moult and the males appetite gets the best of him then he will eat her! Assuming that she doesn't become a snack mating will take place usually within a few hours. Both the female and male will open their abdomens and reveal their spermathecae and gonopods, respectively. Using his gonopods the male release packages of sperm into the female that she can hold for several months before fertilizing her waiting eggs. Need a visual? Okay!

Red Rock Crab action. [Mary Vasey]

Strangely, nudibranchs are simultaneous hermaphrodites meaning they are capable of holding both egg and sperm at the same time. The advantage to this is that when two nudibranchs of the same species cross paths they are definitely able to mate unlike if they were both males or both females. Both nudibranchs will fertilize their partners eggs and also receive sperm. The egg spirals are then laid in lacey-looking coils. These coils differ depending on the species and will be eaten readily by other species. Because nudibranchs live only a year so copulation is constant throughout the year.

So there you have it: the delicate art of marine animal courtship can be seen by you, here, at the Ucluelet (mini) Aquarium.

The shells of the veliger stage of these moonsnails are visible between the grains of sand that protect these young. [Aquarium Staff]
Sea stars release egg and sperm during broadcast spawning. These gametes are viewed under the microscope. [Aquarium staff]

-Mary Vasey, Interpreter

Monday, July 13, 2009

An Octopus' Garden

On July 12 the Ucluelet Aquarium hosted the Annual General Meeting after hours. Philip Bruecker, Founder & Chair of Building Committee, and Mark Cunnington, Director, discussed the plans and fiscal opportunities for the new permanent facility. Mark Cunnington also outlined the plans for the heat pump system that will be used. Many thanks to the approximately 50 people that were able to attend. Other business covered included the re-election of the Board of Directors, and a casual meet and greet.

The Giant Pacific Octopus is growing rapidly and is now settling in the larger rockfish tank. In this tank the numerous rocks allow for natural den building activities and the abundance of various animals allow our octopus to display more extreme hunting behaviours. Even though the rockfish and greenlings in this tank are palatable for an octopus the presence of the tastier red rock crab ensure their survival.

Our much smaller, but equally exciting, Red Octopus is warming up to her new home as well and is now often seen exploring and hunting. She has also begun investigating the field of interior decorating and can be seen shifting rocks and seaweed to make the perfect den.
The newest tank is specimen-free with the objective being of environmental significance. Our garbage tank features mostly plastic but also glass, shoes, metal, string, and other rubbish found on our beaches. All displayed trash is from the beaches either in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve or right outside the aquarium. While broadening the understanding of the permanency of plastic waste we also acknowledge its value in maintaining our current lifestyles. Messages such as “Since 1976 plastic has been the most used material in the world” and “Plastic ropes, nets, and packaging can entangle and harm marine life” line the tank to reinforce the significance of this always growing problem.

The aquarium is open daily from 10 am until 6 pm and is located at the bottom of Main Street beside the Whiskey Docks- see you there!

-Mary Vasey, Interpreter

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fishy Business

The opalescent squid have hatched!!! After tending to the squid egg pods for over four weeks the work sure has paid off. In the last few days we have greeted approximately 100 new squid, about the size of a rice grain, to the Ucluelet Aquarium. They are residing in the jellyfish tank as they hatch and learn to fight the currents. Already it is evident that they are grouping together when swimming as would be the case in the wild. Their pigment spots, or chromatophores, are visibly contracting and altering the overall colour of these juvenile squid. It is interesting to note that squid have no free larval stage- after hatching as juveniles they will continue to grow and mature until reaching adult size and proportions. We expect the squid to continue to hatch in the coming days and look forward to seeing the overall results.
A juvenile squid releases ink from the already developed ink sac in response to sudden water currents [Aquarium Staff]

Juvenile squid swimming in circles after hatching one day previous. [aquarium staff]

Today we enjoyed the Canada Day celebrations hosted by the District of Ucluelet. Activities for the kids included arts & crafts and games. Free hot dogs, live music and stands from Parks Canada and local businesses were also there. Aquarium staff hosted a squid dissection and face-painting table- both were a fun success with both kids and adults from Canada and around the world.

We have a new exhibit under construction that emphasizes the impact that plastic waste has on our ocean and our environment. It is important to realize the aquarium (and our whole way of life!) would be impossible without plastic, but that it does not decompose and can have detrimental effects when not discarded with care.

With the warm water being maintained by the excellent weather we have seen many animals responding differently. The California sea cucumbers, for instance, celebrated the heat by broadcast spawning in the tanks. When examined under the microscope the collected samples suggested most were males, releasing their sperm into the water. They do this in the same manner as sea stars and some snails, hoping that with luck the broadcasted egg and sperm will connect to allow eventual larvae development.

California Sea Cucumbers release gametes into the water during a broadcast spawn session [Mary Vasey]

Happy Canada Day everyone!!!

- Mary Vasey, Interpreter

Monday, June 15, 2009

Life is the bubbles!!

Take it from me, there is a lot going on down here at the Whiskey Dock promenade as summer gets into full swing. Lots of new specimens have been brought in and are settling down in their summer homes. Some of our most exciting newbies include the quickly-developing squid eggs and the grooved tanner crab.

The squid eggs have been with us now for almost three weeks and have recently gone through some major growth spurts. Individual squid are surrounded by an egg membrane and then further enclosed
in long pods by the hundreds . The little squidlets are now a whopping millimeter long and have defined eyes, arms, mantles, pigment spots, and a shrinking yolk sac as somewhat visible in the following photos/videos taken using the aquarium microscope. These opalescent squid generally grow to no larger than 20 centimeters during their short 4-9 month lifespan. We can expect that they will be approximately half a foot long by the end of summer.

On a larger note, the seven grooved tanner crabs that are now residing with us live quite differently. They are a deep-dwelling crab brought to us by the always-awesome Sena II crew. Hauled up from 300 fathoms, or 1800 feet deep, their bulging broad abdomens indicate that all of these bright orange beauties are pregnant females. In The Deadliest Catch television show the crabbers are catching a very similar looking but much larger crab, the Alaskan king crab.

Founder of the Ucluelet Aquarium Society and very experienced commercial diver Phillip Bruecker is in town so the aquarium has been getting lots of new critters, including a stubby rose anemone. This anemone closely resembles the red fish-eating anemone, but has much shorter tentacles and settles by burrowing into fine substrate and expanding its base to anchor itself. A bright-striped painted greenling has also found its way to our waters along with a couple of yellowtail rockfish, lingcod, and a temporary visit from a ratfish. The female ratfish has a completely cartilaginous skeleton and is related to skates and shark as seen in their similarly boneless bodies.

Video off developing squid surrounded by egg membrane. Taken by aquarium staff several days ago using microscope and camcorder.

See you soon- we’ll get you hooked!

-Mary Vasey, Interpreter

Friday, June 5, 2009

All Warmed Up

With the sunshine sticking around Ucluelet the aquarium has really brightened up. A temperature increase means an increase in activity and responsiveness from the specimens. The giant Pacific octopus has been particularly rambunctious lately, much to the distress of the red rock crab. In the video below you can see the octopus playing around her tank while waiting to begin hunting her next feast.

The giant pacific octopus squints at observers while enjoying the tasty red rock crab [Mary]

As usual the aquarium had their awesome volunteers from the community come by after school. Today's activities included specimen collecting from the shore and off the docks, feeding, and simply adding to the exciting atmosphere of the aquarium.

Two great volunteers, Kai and Mickayla, drop by to check on the specimens they collected [Mary]

Indicators of the warming waters are apparent in all animals, not just the large flashy ones. Here you can see a burrowing orange sea cucumber bringing feeding branches into its mouth one by one. It is essentially licking its fingers after catching floating particles in the currents.

See you soon!

-Mary Vasey, Aquarium Interpreter

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Locals and kids spent this morning with Dave making specimen/crab traps and testing them out off the dock. Mission successful!! Specimens including red rock crab, kelp crab, and sunflower sea stars were collected with the fine handcrafted traps.

Those visiting in the past few days would have seen the decorator crab in action as they begin dressing up disco-syle in their new tank:

Decorator Crab covered in yarn in the new tank. [Kristin Westman]

Overview of the tank containing the 'Disco Decorators' including sponge 'rocks' and foam 'plants' [Kristin Westman]

Off the dock a lion's mane jelly was collected, spanning approximately 25 cm. This exciting scoop is the newest addition to the beautiful jellyfish tank already containing ctenophores, water jellies, and fried-egg jellies.

Recent collection outings were possible due to very low tides in the morning. The new specimens are settling well into their vacation-home and include urchins, sea stars, sanddabs, sculpins, snails, and more from our local area. As always community members have also been very helpful with their constant contribution of exciting finds.

Caylan and Dave carry back specimens from the beaches at low tide.

Touch tank studies concerning the possible effects of handling are nearly underway and will be continued for the duration of the summer. The intertidal touch tank will be the first to begin observations. As a result of tank-shifting, many of the Dungeness crabs were released and the moonsnails now reside in their own tank. This tank includes the sand collars left behind in the sand that contain moonsnail eggs. The clam shells with the characteristic hole left at the base near the hinge are also being created as hungry moonsnails eat up.

photo of a clam that has been drilled by a moon snail
A clam shell left empty after being breached by the moon snail's radula, the tongue like tool used to breach the hard shell.[]

photo of moon snail egg case
Rubbery feeling sand collar left behind by Lewis' Moonsnail. The eggs are protected between layers of sand held together by mucus from the giant snail. []

Make your way to the aquarium to check out all the critters and watch demonstrations from the staff! In the past week visitors from all over the world including England, Germany, Australia, and South Africa have dropped in to learn about our amazing ocean life. See you soon!

-Mary Vasey, Aquarium Interpreter