Ucluelet Aquarium staffers Keltie Minton, Brittany Buirs and Emily Beeson, holding a red urchin, a California sea cucumber and a gumboot chiton, are excited to welcome the public to Saturday’s release day celebration. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Ucluelet Aquarium invites public to celebrate release day on Saturday

“No matter what their biological destiny is, it’s important for us that they go back and fulfill it.”

The West Coast will be filled with mixed emotions this Saturday as, after spending the past seven months fascinating and inspiring locals and visitors, it’s time for the Ucluelet Aquarium’s oceanic tenants to head home.

The aquarium closed for the season on Nov. 26 and will host its annual community release day event on Dec. 2.

“We had a fantastic season. We had over 32,000 visitors this year and thanks to partnerships in the community we were able to provide free programming for over 600 visitors, which was fantastic,” said Aquarium staffer Keltie Minton. “There’s been a lot of really great educational pieces going out from the aquarium this year. We’re really happy with what we’ve done this season.”

Those free educational opportunities included helping locals and visitors become better beachgoers, assisting with cleanups, and an ongoing microplastics survey.

Dec. 2’s family-friendly release day event will run from 12-2 p.m. and will see visitors and locals carrying a wide range of critters from the aquarium down to the nearby Whiskey Dock. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own container for carting the animals as well as a mug for cocoa.

The animals the public will help release on Saturday were all collected around the Whisky Dock prior to the aquarium’s season-opener in March and aquarium staffers will spend roughly two weeks releasing the thousands of critters they’ve been nurturing all season. Animals are released as close to where they were found as possible and other collection and release sites include Big Beach, Terrace Beach, Little Beach and areas around Hyphocus Island, according to Minton.

Ucluelet’s was Canada’s first-ever catch-and-release aquarium when it opened in a temporary structure off Main Street in 2008. Its founder, Phillip Bruecker, had long dreamed of establishing a catch and release aquarium facility and his innovation quickly took off and led to the larger, permanent, facility opening to big fanfare in 2012.

“We continue to catch and release because it’s a way to share the amazing animals of this area, teach people about them, get people to appreciate them but they are also able to return and not spend their life in captivity,” said the aquarium’s Emily Beeson. “No matter what their biological destiny is, it’s important for us that they go back and fulfill it. It also helps keep things interesting. Because we’re releasing and catching, we have different animals every year so, even though we have a smaller facility physically, we’re still able to showcase a huge number of animals.”

Minton said it’s important to invite the community to participate in releasing each season’s cast of awe-drawing animals back to the wild.

“A big part of it is that our community is very invested in the aquarium,” she said. “They care about what happens here and they care about the animals. We’ve got families coming in every couple of days all season and they love seeing these animals and they want to see them off back into the wild. It’s important to them.”

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