I love the rush of discovering a hidden treasure. For me, this treasure is often tiny aquatic creatures that live in habitats that I walk past every day at work. My biologist nerdiness is at an all-time high when I spot a teeny fish whose camouflage makes them almost invisible. Sharing these hard-to-spot animals with our guests makes this experience come full circle for me, because whether you are a member of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre or visiting for the first time, there is always something novel here.
My recent treasure hunting grounds has been the Stanley Park’s Shores exhibit located in the Pacific Canada gallery. This gem supports a plethora of lives that are tiny from the Pacific spiny lumpsucker to the pipefish, and while it might take a bit more effort to spot them than the sharks or sea otters do, that extra little bit of time spent is worth the rewards.
If you peek among the slender eel grasses, you can spy bay pipefishes curled around the leaves, swaying with the current which allows them to camouflage from predators. If you are very lucky, you might even spot a pregnant male hidden in the flora. You read that right! The males are the ones to carry the eggs, similar to their seahorse cousins. The female pipefish will lay roughly 225 eggs in the male’s pouch which he guards until they hatch a few weeks later.
As you peer towards the sandy bottom of the exhibit, you might notice some bits of debris piled up with a small dark opening in the middle at the base of the curving eel grass. You have just uncovered the nest of a male three spine stickleback. The males’ bellies turn from silver to red during the spawning season which makes them stand out as they fan their eggs with his side (pectoral) fins to make sure the babies are getting all of the oxygen they need to grow. He will also keep away any snooping neighbors who might stray too close to the nest. Check out this video below of the action:
These are just two of the over 20 species that can be found in this wondrous exhibit, unless you include the gaggle of red shirted staff that can often be spotted gazing into the clear waters. These aquatic animals represents the diversity of creatures right off of our own Stanley Park seawall, tiny beings that live beneath the waves we look out over on a daily basis.
Stanley Park’s Shores is just one exhibit that has more aquatic creatures than first meets the eye. Do you have a favourite exhibit at the Aquarium with tiny or well camouflaged creatures? Share with us in the comments below!
Blog post by Lauren Hartling, treasure hunter and interpretive delivery specialist at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.