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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oregon Coast Aquarium

Although the weather here in Newport has been amazingly nice of late,
I know full well that it won't be that long before we'll be hunkered
down in the boat with the wind and the rain whipping the marina into a
frenzy outside. After a couple weeks of that it would be nice to have
a little diversion. So, with that in mind, I decided to volunteer at
the Oregon Coast Aquarium (OCAq) until our planned departure next
summer. This decision came at a really opportune time since it just
happened to coincide with the OCAq's scheduled classes for new
volunteers. And, the Aquarium is a whole 5 minute walk from the boat.

Now I figured that volunteers would be put to work greeting visitors
(some are) and helping clean up (some are) and maybe helping out with
setting up exhibits (some are). However, the vast majority of the
volunteers fill the Aquarium's greatest need: on-floor interpreters.
I had no idea what that was but, heck I'm game so I decided to train
to be an interpreter. The classes are all day (9-5) every Saturday
for 6 weeks. That's a lot of classwork. We also get 2-3 hours of
homework each week. But since the interpreters are generally the
public's main contact with the Aquarium, it's important to have some
vague idea of what we're doing. The job of interpreters is to work
out on the floor at the exhibits helping visitors to not only
understand what they are seeing, but possibly to enable them to tie it
in to the bigger picture and to learn a little bit more about the
critters than what is printed on the reader boards. I've been
learning a LOT and I've only just completed week 3. I'm completely
overwhelmed but have been assured that it will all fall into place as
time goes on and I gain experience on the floor. For my own benefit,
I think the stuff I learn is going to make re-reading John Steinbeck's
"The Log From The Sea Of Cortez" way more interesting and even more so
since I plan t read it when we're actually in the Sea of Cortez.
Plus, I get to come and go at the Aquarium as I please which is pretty

After our 6 weeks of training we'll shadow another volunteer for a bit
and then we'll be turned loose. We're expected to work one 5-hour
shift per week although I've signed up to work two. It's all a bit
intimidating right now, but I'm anxious to get started. If the
schedule works out I'm also going to volunteer to help tear down the
rotating exhibit (currently"Oddwater") in November and help build the
new exhibit ("Swamplands") which is scheduled to open in May.

A few interesting factoids I've learned so far:

- Fish have pectoral fins, eels don't, Therefore the Wolf Eel isn't
really an eel.
- Sea stars can extrude their stomachs into or onto their prey. Ochre
stars, which dine primarily on mussels, can get their stomachs through
such a small opening that they only have to open a mussel the width of
a human hair. As they digest the mussel, they consume the tissue that
holds the shell closed so they can get their stomachs back out again.
- Sunflower stars, with up to 24 arms, can move at speeds up to 4 feet
per minute.
- When threatened, the California Sea Cucumber ejects his sticky
internal organs out his anus, distracting the predator. He'll grow
new organs in 6-8 weeks.
- Some scientists believe that anemones may live up to 100 years.
-Some species of Rockfish are believed to live over 200 years. That
means that a rockfish alive today could have been alive during the War
of 1812!
- An octopus can get its entire body through an opening that's only
big enough to accommodate its beak.
At least 75% of all animal species known to date are of the phylum
Arthropoda (meaning "jointed appendage"). This includes invertebrates
like crabs, shrimp, barnacles, spiders, etc.

And we've only studied through the Sandy Shores exhibit so far. Still
to come: Rocky Shores, Coastal Waters, Orford Reef, Halibut Flats,
Open Seas and Passages of the Deep. Not to mention the mammals
(seals, sea lions and otters) and the aviary, including the newest
acquisition, a pair of turkey vultures.

This is all pretty cool.

Oh, and if you want a gross-out, check YouTube for videos of the
Pacific Hagfish. We got to see and handle one of these creepy little
guys which are often referred to as "slime eels" for good reason.


Shelly and Randy said...

Very cool, Stephen. We love that you are so open to learn and can't wait to hear facts about Swamplands! The underwater world is always something that we have a lot to learn about, and take for granted. What a great way to spend some of that stopped-up-sailing-energy!

Anonymous said...

or he is positioning so that when the girls bend over to see the "starfish" he can be there to answer "questions" and glance down their blouse!!!!!! FI

LittleCunningPlan.com said...

This is a dream volunteer job. You get to learn cool things, be with the animals, and teach people about what you've learned. I wanted to be a marine biologist up until I realized I wouldn't be able to pull a decent grade in zoology because I couldn't remember all those long lists of names. I'm feeling a certain amount of envy in my heart.