Thousands of charismatic ocean creatures are heading home after spending the past several months entertaining and educating their delighted fans at the Ucluelet Aquarium.
The aquarium wrapped up its season on Nov. 30 and many of the animals it showcased in exhibits designed to inspire respect for ocean habitats have already been released, with the remaining critters waiting for Dec. 7’s public release day to celebrate their homecoming.
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Aquarium curator Laura Griffith Cochrane is excited to invite residents and visitors to the aquarium’s popular release day event on Saturday where participants will get one last chance to see their favourite animals as they bring a container to carry critters from the aquarium to the Whiskey Dock and wave goodbye after setting them free.
“I think that the act of returning an animal to the wild reminds us that that animal is there and it’s part of that ecosystem and it’s important for us to make sure that we’re acting in a way always that protects that animal’s home, so that we can continue whatever activities we do in that area, whether it’s recreational fishing or surfing or snorkeling or free-diving and that there is beautiful things for us to return to,” Griffith Cochrane told the Westerly. “Although, in an ideal world, we would all just naturally behave really well and have that relationship really ingrained in our systems, I think that sometimes we need reminders. It’s easy sometimes to lose sight of how interconnected we are with ecosystems and with the world around us and it’s important to have those moments to reflect and to remind ourselves that whatever we do reflects the world around us and we’re part of the whole thing.”
The unique catch-and-release aquarium runs from March to December and consistently releases more animals than it collects as babies are born and new animals arrive through the facility’s water system.
“We get a lot of animals that arrive here in their planktonic stages and then settle and grow into their adult forms, so we always release more animals than we collect and we see a lot of change within our exhibits throughout the season,” she said.
All animals are returned to where they were collected from and are released throughout the season, with two large releases being done in the summer and winter.
“For best animal care practices, it is better for some animals to be exchanged in the summer months and it’s better for some to be exchanged in the winter,” she explained. “It really depends on the species, the habitat that they will be going back to and it depends on what’s going on in here. For example, sometimes fish give birth to live young in the aquarium and we prefer to release them mid-summer because that gives them a little bit of time to really develop.”
While a variety of releases are conducted throughout the West Coast, only the Whiskey Dock release is open to the public.
“We’re part of the Ucluelet community so, whenever we can, we like to involve everyone so that they can be part of our operations,” she said.
“There are a number of sites that we go to on our own time…Those places involve the release of very sensitive species, so we have to be 100% focused on the well being of that animal. Because we all really like the people in our community, we can be distracted by wanting to provide good interpretation. So, if we really need to focus on that one spot, we just focus on that one spot.”