For the first time in Staff Pick of the Month history, a non-animal organism has been selected as the highlighted species. Stephanie C., guest services lead, nominated the giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) because she enjoys getting lost in its beauty when looking up toward the water’s surface from the ocean bottom while diving.
“It makes me feel very calm and loving of the West Coast. I wish more people could appreciate these small things in life.”
This seaweed is found on the west coast of North America, from Alaska to California, as well as on the west coast of South America. It has gas-filled “balloons” (called bladders) that lift the kelp blades to the surface toward the sun. On the other end, the holdfast anchors the kelp to a rock on the ocean bottom. Holdfasts look like plant roots, but don’t work the same way because they don’t transport nutrients.
Contrary to what many of us think about seaweeds, they’re not all classified as plants. The giant kelp belongs to another group of organisms called Chromista.
Kelp forests grow quickly underwater in the summer, providing habitat for a variety of animals: fishes, invertebrates and sea otters. As a volunteer years ago, Stephanie says she learned that female sea otters wrap their babies in the kelp at the surface, keeping them in one place while they forage.
Stephanie likes to stop by the Burnaby Narrows exhibit in the Treasures of the B.C. Coast gallery to see the giant kelp in the morning when everything is still quiet at the Aquarium.
“It reminds me of the nice silence while diving,” she says.
Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.