Ucluelet Aquarium keeps education flowing into fall

Ucluelet Aquarium keeps education flowing into fall

“We’ve had a lot of school groups and a lot of people book in for the offseason.”

The Ucluelet Aquarium is wrapping up another successful summer season and preparing for fall’s student boom.

“It was a really wonderful summer. We had wonderful visitors. People got really engaged and we had some great talks with people,” said aquarium curator Laura Griffith-Cochrane adding she hopes to see the busyness continue. “We’ve had a lot of school groups and a lot of people book in for the offseason which is something we’re really excited about.”

She said attracting out of town groups to visit during the West Coast’s shoulder season is a key way for the aquarium to help the community that’s helped it thrive.

“That’s a big way that we can give back to the community for all the support they’ve provided to us. If we can bring in more groups that will stay here, eat at restaurants, stay at hotels and support all of the other businesses in the local area. It’s great for the community.”

The unique educational facility, and pioneer of the catch and release aquarium movement, launched a new program about rockfish this year and has handed out roughly 150 free descending devices to local fishers.

When caught and reeled up to the ocean’s surface, a rockfish’ swim bladder inflates, pushing its stomach out of its mouth. Fishers can drop descending devices into the fish’ mouth to help it return to depth so its bladder can shrink back and allow the rockfish to hopefully survive.

“A lot of rockfish species around our Coast are threatened, so talking about how to protect them and how to take care of them has been a big thing for us,” Griffith-Cochrane said. “We felt really pleased that we were able to partner with some local fisherman to use descending devices and talk to people about descending devices and how to better care for rockfish when they’re caught accidentally.”

She said rockfish are worth protecting because they’re valuable contributors to their surroundings.

“They have small territories so they can be very important engineers of tiny little ecosystems,” she said. “Last summer when we were looking in the stomachs of a lot of the salmon, a lot of what the salmon were eating were young rock fish. So, they provide both an important food source for species that are economically important and an important marker for healthy ecosystems.”

Rockfish have impressive lifespans with some living over 100 years, but their reproduction cycles are tricky with many females not reaching sexual maturity until they’re well into their 20’s, according to Griffith-Cochrane who added some studies have suggested the environmental conditions required for their larvae to be successful only occur once every 20 years.

“So, if the fish takes more than 20 years to be ready to reproduce and then only can successfully do that once every 20 years, that’s an easy fish to create problems for,” she said adding mature rockfish are far more successful at reproducing.

“The fecundity of a female increases as she gets older and larger. A weedy little 22-year-old yellow eye rockfish doesn’t have very many fats and proteins stored up so she will have less larva to release…She also will have smaller yoke sacks for each one of her larva so they’re less likely to survive any environmental pressures or change. When she gets into her 80’s she’s got all kinds of fats and proteins stored up so an 80 year old rockfish is able to better prepare their young for stresses.”

The aquarium has a variety of other projects designed to keep sea creatures safe in the works, including a movie launch on Oct. 18 in partnership with Surfrider Pacific Rim’s Straws Suck campaign.

“We’re still working on promoting awareness about plastic pollution and how people can make responsible choices in their day to day lives to reduce their plastic consumption,” Griffith-Cochrane said.

She added sunscreen choices have also been put under an educational microscope with the aquarium dishing out information to help beach-going tourists and locals make healthy choices.

“A lot of sunscreen products can be really toxic for the ocean and can mess with invertebrate reproduction,” she said.

“There are a number of products that have made a lot of effort to be both healthy for humans and healthy for the environment.”

Anyone interested in helping the aquarium help the Coast can find volunteer opportunities by reaching out to keltie@uclueletaquarium.org.