Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Day at the Aquarium, with My Favorite Things

by Erica Meier, communications intern

When I was told on the first day of my communications internship at Save The Bay that I would participate in the different aspects of Save The Bay’s programs, including volunteering at the Exploration Center and Aquarium for a day, I was ecstatic. I had no idea what to expect, but as someone with a love for all things ocean related, I was excited about the chance to experience working at the aquarium. I had never been to the Exploration Center and was delighted to learn that it has three touch tanks where I would get to help guests learn about and safely interact with the many critters that inhabit the tanks.

I began my day at the Exploration Center before it opened by meeting all of the interns and volunteers who work there. I spent the time before opening walking around to the different exhibits to familiarize myself with all of the creatures in the aquarium. I was amazed at how many different species of marine life are in the aquarium and shocked to discover that creatures like sea horses, little skates and dogfish sharks reside right off the coast of our little ocean state in Narragansett Bay.

Chain catshark eggs resemble "mermaid's purses" often
seen washed up on beaches.
An aquarist intern showed me the little skate and horseshoe crab touch tank where I would be stationed for the first part of the day. I was fascinated to learn that baby skates come from “mermaid’s purses” and that the aquarium has eggs growing in a nearby tank along with recently hatched baby skates and chain dogfish. Seeing the life cycle of little skates and chain dogfish right there in the Exploration Center was so amazing!

The skate and horseshoe crab touch tank was one of the most popular exhibits, fascinating kids and parents alike. Children were always eager to reach in and touch one of the little skates resting on a ledge near the edge of the tank, and their eyes lit up when I lifted up a horseshoe crab so they could see all of its little legs on the underside of its hard outer shell.

Recently hatched "mermaid's purses" reveal these juvenile
little skates and chain catsharks.
The parents were just as interested as I had been when I told them that the mermaid’s purses carried little skate eggs and showed them the tank where they, and their chain dogfish cousins, are visible growing inside of their eggs. Visitors of every age were fascinated with some aspect of these creatures, and I realized that the Exploration Center is not just a place for children to come explore, but an experience for the whole family.

Next I was off to the shark touch tank, inhabited by chain dogfish and a smooth dogfish shark. The smooth dogfish shark was in constant motion, dancing around the tank, swimming in a circular motion and bobbing up and down with its head out of the water. One bright-eyed and energetic toddler in particular loved this station as much as I did and kept returning to stand with me and watch the dogfish swim around and around. After eagerly reaching forward in the sharks direction time and again only to jump back when it swam near, he eventually worked up the courage to reach in and gently touch its back as it danced past. The energetic boy’s eyes lit up with excitement, so proud that he’d finally done it! He even took to grabbing my hand and bringing me back and forth with him between the three touch tanks, eager to interact with all of the critters. Interacting with the guests, particularly the children who were having such a blast exploring everything in sight, was my favorite part of the experience. I had just as much fun as they did and felt like I was learning and exploring with them.

The touch tanks at the Exploration Center and Aquarium
captivate visitors of all ages.
Last I moved to the tide pool touch tank, where children were especially interested in the many different critters they could uncover. Some young children excitedly pointed to shells and starfish in the tank, exclaiming how they’d seen the same creatures at the beach before. Kids would stand peering down into the water inquisitively as I instructed them to touch the backs of the starfish stuck to the wall of the tank and hold the shells that rest on the bottom of the tank. A few young children were courageous enough to hold a hermit crab that I gently placed in their hands and carefully touched the back of a spider crab.

The wonder and excitement of the kids visiting the Exploration Center was contagious, and getting to show them all the different critters in the Aquarium was an incredible experience. As someone who has always loved marine life and has worked with children for many years, I felt this experience truly combined some of my favorite things, and I had such a great time that I’ve decided to continue volunteering at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium even after my internship is over. 

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