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May 31, 2009
BIG ochre star

BIG ochre star

K isn’t your average nineteen-year-old. Case in point: the only thing she wanted to do during her visit to Seattle was go tidepooling in Puget Sound. Not only is she a marine biology major and a total ocean dork, but she also read The Highest Tide a few years ago and has considered Puget Sound a tidepooling mecca ever since. Not that I minded. I’ve worked as a naturalist (a.k.a. professional tidepooler) for three summers straight and was the one who recommended she read the book.

The tides were -1.9′ and -1.8′ on the first two day’s of K’s visit, so we went to Lincoln Park on the first day and Carkeek on the second. As expected, I encountered some familiar friends from the summer I spent Alaska: red sea cucumbers, true stars, and gunnel fish. But the clingfish, shag rug nudibranch, and porcelain crabs were new and bizzare to both of us. I was also surprised by how plentiful and purple the ochre stars are down here. We had one curmudgeonly individual in our touch tanks in AK, but it never moved and wasn’t very exciting.

porcelain crab

porcelain crab

shag rug nudibranch

shag rug nudibranch

the clingfish lives up to its name


Our tidepool finds were exciting, but we both knew there was more to see.  So a few days later, we were off to the Seattle Aquarium. We grew up going to the New England Aquarium, which boasts the four story Giant Ocean Tank, so I was a little worried when I heard that the Seattle Aquarium is on the small side. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in exhibit quality and emphasis on local creatures. Many of the tanks seemed to contain entire ecosystems and it was fun to search for all the hidden invertebrates.

sea urchin

sea urchin

But the highlight by far was their 40 lb. Giant Pacific Octopus named Olive Oyl, after Popeye’s girlfriend. (K claims this is because they both have wavy arms. I don’t know how she remembers Popeye cartoons that well.) We went to the afternoon octopus presentation and Olive put on a show that made it worth fighting the crowd for a good look. She prowled her cylindrical tank during the talk and devoured the sardine on a stick that they offered her. Then she floated upside down, a behavior for which the naturalist had no explanation. Some folks in the front row even claimed that she ate a fish from the exhibit for dessert, but that may have been wishful thinking on their part.

The naturalist’s talk was surprisingly informative, too. She did a great job of explaining things without sounding patronizing and I learned quite a bit. And although I already knew that octopodes are super smart, I was still surprised to hear her compare their intelligence level to that of a house cat. Maybe if PETA had targeted calamari with their terribly misguided Sea Kittens campaign, I wouldn’t have lost what little respect I still had for them.

After three days of aquatic exploration, K had yet to reach her limit. If there had been time, I think she would have talked me into getting scuba certified. I guess that’s something I’ll have to get done before her next visit.

Olive Oyl in action

Olive Oyl in action

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