NANFA-- A Trip to the Pacific NW

Christopher Scharpf (
Mon, 05 Feb 2001 11:37:53 -0400

I was rummaging through some old computer files and found a document I had
started to write describing a vacation Stephanie and I took to Seattle and
British Columbia in 1999. I never finished it, and as far as I know I never sent
it to the e-mail list. Since I enjoyed reading it again, I thought I might share
it with you here -- unfinished and unedited though it is.

Stephanie Brough and myself traveled to the Pacific Northwest in June, where we
did many fishy things. Here's a summary and some observations, which as fellow
fishheads and nature lovers, you may enjoy reading.


Stephanie knows some people there, so we were let in a side door and allowed to
tour the facility before it opened for the day. It's constructed on 2 piers. The
first one has the standard public aquarium fare, e.g., tropical reef tanks,
electric eel, etc., plus several tanks featuring inverts from Puget Sound.

The second pier is much more interesting, at least from a native aquarists'
point-of-view. There's an excellent "From the mountains to the sea" exhibit,
tracing the path of a mountain stream from headwaters to the ocean; a thousand
or so salmon fry which were born at the Aquarium, and travel to and from Puget
Sound via fish ladders (unfortunately, no salmon were running this early in the
summer); and a dozen or so fabulous tanks featuring local fishes from Puget
Sound. These were very well-done and fun to look at. These fishes -- gunnels,
sculpins, wolf eels, greenlings, rockfishes, white sturgeon, ratfish, etc. --
are beautiful and fascinating. They're fairly easy to keep in an aquarium,
assuming you can keep the water at 50 degrees or so -- a problem the Aquarium
gets around by pumping their water directly from the Sound. I took lots of video
since these fishes are mostly unfamiliar to me.


A 3-hour drive from Seattle puts us into Vancouver, where its aquarium is
located within the beautiful Stanley Park, atop a cliff overlooking the Strait
of Georgia. Fishes and inverts from Puget Sound and the Juan de Fuca Strait are
the featured attractions. Again, the water is pumped in directly from the sea.

My favorite display was the one featuring Pacific hagfish (Eptatretus stouti);
an ugly, creepy fish, but fascinating to look at!

There's also a frog exhibit ("A Ribbeting Experience") and an impressive Amazon
gallery with arowana, arapaima, and the like.

Other than native salmonids, the only North American freshwater natives on
display weere a burbot (Lota lota), a large pike, redside dace (Richardsonius
balteatus), and assorted pumpkinseeds and yellow perch (exotic in British

My only regret about this facility is that it did not feature any of the
stickleback species flocks that are going extinct in B.C.


Stephanie used to work here, so we were allowed behind the scenes and watched
them feed the reef sharks from above. Each shark is hand-fed (actually
pole-fed), with the aquarists making sure each shark gets its fill and the
correct vitamins (dead food fish are stuffed with vitamains). A large
walk-around circular tank featuring Puget Sound natives -- again with water
pumped from the Sound -- is very impressive. The site of male sockeyes with
their spawning kypes was breathtaking.


We don't have rocky tidepools in the East where I live, so this was a big treat
for me. A lot of the inverts I saw at the above 3 aquariums were here available
close-up -- it was like one giant touch pool, but without all the screaming,
pushing kids! You don't really catch inverts. You just bend over and pick them
up. Turn over a rock and dozens of purple shore crabs scamper about. Their claws
are too small to inflict a wound, so they're easy to hold and play with. Kelp
crabs, hermit crabs, and baby dungeness crabs were also to be found, but in
smaller numbers.

Along Patricia Bay in Sidney, B.C. I hand-caught a female plainfin midshipman.
These deeper water fish come to the tidepools to spawn and lay their eggs. The
female I caught (and returned) was no doubt guarding her eggs, which explained
why she didn't flee when I came sloshing through her pool. There were also
hundreds of sea stars (I forget their names), many as big as dinner plates.
They're completely harmless; the bigger ones you can put on your face and
scream, making pretend you're being attacked by the face-hugger from "Alien." I
also came face-to-face with a 3-foot long garter snake, sunning itself on a
rock. It was the largest garter snake I have ever seen.

The tidepools along Clallam Bay in Washington had many of the same inverts
(minus the sea stars), plus bald eagles, sea lions, and seals. The foul stench
of rotting kelp and other sea life greeted us when we stepped from the car, but
we got used to it quickly. We used a dipnet to sample fishes from the kelp,
including the beautiful green gunnel. Imagine a lime green, eel-shaped darter --
that's what the gunnel reminds me of. Tidepool sculpins were also in abundance,
plus chitons as big as the palm of your hand. [Thanks to Jay DeLong for taking
us to this site.]

I'm sure Northwesters are accustomed to these creatures, but they are new to me.
Too bad they require such cold water, or else I'd have been taking some home.

Christopher Scharpf

"The secret of life is to have a task....And the most important thing is -- it
must be something you cannot possibly do!"
Henry Moore, sculptor

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