Local ocean creatures have been sent home after spending the year delighting crowds at the Ucluelet Aquarium.
The sun has set on the unique catch and release facility’s 2015 season and West Coast locals and visitors gathered at Ucluelet’s Whiskey Dock on a stormy Dec. 5 to help release over 200 critters back into the ocean.
“Obviously I would love it if the weather was a little bit nicer, but I think it’s going incredibly well,” aquarium curator Laura Griffith-Cochrane told the Westerly during the event.
“I’m so impressed that people still decided to come out even with sideways rain and huge winds; this is really, really great.”
The stormy weather forced a change to the popular annual event’s format as rough waves bucked the dock making it unsafe for children to walk on so kids carried their creature-filled buckets from the aquarium to the top of the dock’s steps and handed them off to aquarium staff who carried the critters the rest of the way.
Aquarium staffer Andrew McCurdy assured the harsh conditions would not impact journeys home.
“The nice thing about weather like this in the harbour is it’s not a really big concern for the animals. As soon as they’re down five-feet it’s going to be totally fine for them,” he said adding the young releasers handled their creatures with exceptional care.
“Everyone was super gentle with their animals, even the younger kids were being very gentle and listened to all the instructions we gave them and everything made it without any problems.”
Griffith-Cochrane noted the wet weather did not dampen the community’s volunteer spirit.
“We had an unbelievable number of volunteers show up today and we couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
“Anytime people help out we really appreciate it, but especially coming out on a day like today and lending a hand in the cold really means a lot to us.”
She said over 200 individual creatures were released including ones whose life began in the aquarium.
“Its always bittersweet. You can’t help but fall in love with some of them throughout the season…but it’s really exciting to see them go,” she said.
“There’s also a lot of individuals going out to the harbour today that developed in the aquarium, so it’s really exciting to see a lot of those little ones go to the wild for the first time.”
Ucluelet local Silva Johansson was thrilled to volunteer at the event.
“This is something I love to do every year with the aquarium,” she said.
“It’s one of the things I look forward to the most with the aquarium, seeing locals and visitors releasing the creatures to fulfill their ultimate destinies.”
She said the event helps keep community members connected to their environment.
“Watching people continue their connection to the aquarium, renew their connection to the place and the creatures; it’s a great community thing,” she said.
“The aquarium is founded on people being curious about the natural world and this is a great way to reconnect to it.”
Heather Gray enjoyed watching her 3-year-old daughter Lily participate in the event.
“I thought it would be really good to teach Lily about setting animals free,” she said. “It was really cool to see how excited the kids were when they saw their little creatures go free in the ocean.”
She added the storm caused no hesitation for her family’s participation.
“My husband always says there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” she said.
The Gray family moved to Ucluelet on Nov. 29 and is already stoked on the community’s active calendar.
“There’s tons of wicked family events here; it’s amazing,” Gray said.
Brittany Lorenzen, who moved to Ucluelet with her family in September, was delighted to bring 16-month-old son Maverick to his first release day.
“We thought it was a good way to start a tradition and meet people,” she said.
“It was fun to watch my son dip his fingers in the water in the tanks and see his excitement with the fish and the wildlife and for him to meet some new friends.”
The Ucluelet Aquarium Society’s treasurer Geoff Lyons touted release day as a “historically fantastic” community event.
“People just love it,” he said pointing to the large crowd of people lining up to participate.
“We’re an incredible asset for the community and the West Coast and Vancouver Island and British Columbia and Canada and people just love to be part of a successful enterprise; they want to share in the enjoyment and excitement,” he said.
“The children can tell their parents and grandparents, and their children down the road, that they were part of this amazing event.”
The aquarium will have a whole new roster of ocean animals ready to interpret when it reopens in March
“We’re pretty excited,” Griffith-Cochrane said. “There’s some new things that are going to be coming in and it will be wonderful.”