The colourful cast of ocean critters that swam into the hearts of locals and tourists during their stay at the Ucluelet Aquarium this season will soon be sent home.
The aquarium’s annual release day event is scheduled for Dec. 3.
“We release the animals so they can continue their biological quest,” aquarium staffer Emily Beeson told the Westerly News.
“It is great to have them because we can use them to educate the public and the public can learn to appreciate the life that is here but, by releasing them, we’re making sure that they’re not living their lives in confinement.”
The unique catch-and-release facility, the first of its kind when it opened as a mini-aquarium in 2008, is coming off its fifth successful season in the newer and larger digs it moved into in 2012 and aquarium staffer Emily Beeson touted the West Coast’s support as a key source of that success.
“We wouldn’t be here without the community. Everyone’s so supportive of the aquarium,” Beeson said. “We really, really, appreciate all the support. This has been a really great year.”
She said Dec. 3’s release will bring mixed emotions as the creatures the aquarium’s staff has cared for, and its fans have fallen in love with, swim away.
“It’s bittersweet. On one hand, we get really attached to the animals and we’ve spent the whole year taking care of them and keeping them healthy so that’s really sad to say goodbye to them, but it’s pretty amazing knowing they get to go back home,” she said. “We were just borrowing them. They were never really ours…We’re happy that they’re going home but we’ll also miss them.”
Release day is a favoured staple on the West Coast’s annual calendar as participants line up to bid their favourite animals a final farewell.
Beeson said Dec. 3’s event will run from noon to 2 p.m. and will kick off with a brief presentation on the catch-and-release model before creatures are dished into buckets and carried by participants from the aquarium to the Whiskey Dock where they will be released into the ocean. Goers are reminded to bring their own buckets to carry the critters in. Beeson added the aquarium’s staff, all of whom are marine biologists eager to share their knowledge of local sea creatures, will be on hand to answer questions.
“Everyone who’s going to be helping that day will be super happy to talk about the animals: where they’re going and the type of habitat they’re going back to,” she said.
The public release will focus on sea stars, sea cucumbers, snails, scallops and other intertidal species, according to Beeson.
“We are really careful about where we put the animals back,” she said. “It’s really important for them to go back to the habitat we got them from.”
She added it’s important to involve the community in the release as the event serves to reenforce the importance of environmental stewardship.
“It’s one thing for us to say that we’re releasing the animals but to actually show that the animals are going back, and for people to actually see the animals move from the aquarium right into the water, that’s a very direct way to send that message home,” she said.
“Life is important here. The animals that are in the area are so integral to everyone’s lifestyle…The more we can teach people, I think, the more they’ll be appreciative of the animals and willing to take steps to keep them healthy and happy.”
She said local marine life plays a key role in West Coast culture and commerce and healthy ecosystems are relied upon by both the fishing and tourism industries and, she added, the importance of the ocean’s presence is illustrated in local art.
“So many artists will take the time to illustrate or address marine life,” she said. “Pretty much everyone here that I’ve met has been really dependent on the ocean in one way or the other, whether it’s spiritually, artistically or financially.”
The aquarium synchronizes each season’s opening with the Pacific Rim Whale Festival and it will reopen in March with a new cast of characters to enjoy.
“All the animals have their own personality and every year has a different dynamic,” Beeson said.
“The end of one year means the beginning of a new year so that’s really exciting.”