We’ve got whole ecosystems in our hands.
The Ucluelet Aquarium has launched into a new season with new displays set to showcase local sea life to tourists and locals.
“It’s been a really, really great start to the season,” said aquarium curator Laura Griffith-Cochrane.
“We’ve already had quite a few people come through. There’s been a great turnout with Whale Fest and lots of really good, really positive, feedback with the new displays that we’ve put together…We have some pretty exciting new things coming up in the season and we’re off to a good start.”
The aquarium’s unique catch and release model means an ever-changing roster of species to enjoy as well as an accurate snapshot of what’s swimming around local harbours.
“Although it was a really cold winter this year, we had really good luck with weather so collections went really well and we have some fantastic displays put together already,” Griffith-Cochrane said.
Along with the perennially popular octopus tank, Griffith-Cochrane is stoked to see how patrons react to the grunt sculpins which weren’t a part of last year’s offerings as well as a boost in cardinal rockfish and, her personal favourite, a snail fish found off Big Beach.
“There are a lot of different little ecosystems that we could be displaying so we look at what we’ve been displaying for the last couple of years and what we really want to showcase,” she said.
“Then, we start collecting and we see what’s going on in the ocean and re-look at our plans and see what’s realistic based on what the sea is doing.”
She added each patron reacts differently to each species and that the aquarium makes sure to continually bring fresh faces to each season’s forefront.
“We live in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. If we were showcasing the same stuff every year we would only be showing one chapter of the book and there’s just so much more that we can talk about,” she said.
“Because there’s a lot of things that are changing in the oceans right now, there are a lot of really important stories that we feel like we need to tell, but that would be really overwhelming if we did it all at the same time.
“If we do some different things every year then we get to talk about a variety of issues and a variety of animals that we find amazing and hopefully people get to absorb all of that information and still get really excited about it.”
She added patronage is expected to hit an all time high this summer and aquarium staff are ready to help the West Coast’s visitors evolve their conscientiousness of ocean life.
“We’re preparing for a really busy year. With the free park passes that are going on, we’re expecting that visitorship is going to be up so we’re hoping we can do some really cool and free programming for locals and visitors this summer,” she said adding a programming schedule will be released in May.
“We’re going to do a focus on microplastics and marine debris this year and we’d really like to talk about how people are eliminating or reducing plastic-use in their lives so we’re hoping we can provide a space where people will share their tactics and what works for them.”
She said a lot of the animals and organisms that delight aquarium goers during the season are sensitive to changes to their habitats and it’s important for the aquarium to engage patrons and boost their curiosity in sea life to help them think critically about their impacts on ocean ecosystems.
“A lot of the things we have out here are just kind of weird and fascinating and they can be really, really cool…If we want to have a future around a lot of these organisms we need to learn how we can better protect them and the places that they live,” she said.
“I feel like we need to be the ambassadors for these animals and help people to understand why they’re great…They can have really big impacts on our lives whether they bring us joy or whether they protect something that is economically valuable to us.”
Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques said the aquarium is a key piece of the Ucluelet experience.
“We are all so proud of that place. I remember the first time i went there i was so amazed at the weird and quirky stuff that’s in our water right here that I had no idea…It’s just so cool,” she said.
“You can’t talk to anybody about the aquarium without having their face light up, whether it’s a guest or a local.”