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Sisters Annabelle and Abby Kjellbotn have been regular visitors to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre since 2012, when their grandparents gave them the gift of membership. Since then, the girls aged nine and 11, have taken every opportunity to learn about the animals, science and research that happens here. A highlight of their Aquarium experience has been getting to go behind the scenes as part of the Junior Biologists’ Club.

Offered on Saturdays, the Junior Biologists’ Club lets kids aged seven to 11 dive into marine science through hands-on programming and behind-the-scenes encounters with our researchers, trainers, aquarists and educators. Participants learn about the different ways animals communicate, discover the amazing creatures that live right here in our backyard,  explore our galleries and wet labs, and take fieldtrips to the beach.

Kids leave with the knowledge and inspiration to take action on ocean conservation within their own lives. Just ask Abby and Anna. We sat down with these notable members (plus mom Nicole) to learn more about how joining Junior Biologists has helped them become ocean ambassadors in their everyday lives, and what keeps them coming back.

Anna and Abby get up close an personal with some plankton during a beach field trip as part of our Junior Biologists' Club.

Anna, Abby and volunteer Michael get up close an personal with some plankton during a beach field trip as part of our Junior Biologists’ Club.

Nicole, what drew you to this program three years ago?

As a parent and an educator, I was immediately attracted to the idea of activities being hands-on and interactive. I was also attracted to the idea of small groups and behind-the-scenes activities as I find those activities to be the most worthwhile for learning.

What kind of activities have you been able to do?

Abby: We have had a chance to talk to a lot of different people who work at the Aquarium. I liked learning about taking care of the dolphins and another time we learned about echolocation. We learned about rockfish and scuba diving. We have had sea urchin races, made compost boxes, and participated in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. And one time, we dissected owl pellets. I found lots of bones and fur in mine.

Anna: We have learned about all different animals at the aquarium. We’ve gone on a scavenger hunt about animals in the Arctic. We got to drive ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) in a habitat once. It was really fun! We have met many animals up close. We met a gyrfalcon, a Steller sea lion, a fur seal, parrots, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, cockroaches, and sea urchins. And we’ve been to the beach a few times, collecting plankton and searching for male and female crabs.

Getting hands on with Junior Biologists is a highlight.

Anna gets into a hands-on activity with Junior Biologists.

Any favourite experiences that you’ve had?

Abby: My favourite experience ever with Junior Biologists was meeting the Steller sea lion. She was sooooo big! We also got to see Chester, the false killer whale, up close that day. And when we explored the Sea Monsters exhibit, we got to see the baby sharks inside a pregnant shark.

Anna: My favourite time at Junior Biologists was when we got to dissect the squid and herring.

What was the most unexpected thing that you’ve learned in the last two years?

Abby: I learned that when beluga whales sleep, half their brain sleeps and then it wakes up and the other half goes to sleep. This is so that they stay alert. They swim in circles when they sleep too.

Anna:  I learned that squids have three hearts!

What do you want to do as a career?

Abby: I want to be a teacher when I grow up. I want to take my students on field trips where they can do hands-on activities because that’s how I like to learn.

Anna: I want to have a job that is helping animals. I want to be able to help all kinds of animals, even bugs and worms.

Nicole, what has been the biggest change you’ve seen in your girls since they started with Junior Biologists?

Abby inspects organisms she collected from the beach during a field trip in our own backyard.

My daughters are no longer afraid to get their hands dirty. They recognize and appreciate how getting “dirty” (or wet, in many cases) provides them with more fun and more learning.

I’ve also noticed their ability and willingness to take notice. They take notice of the world around them, all parts of it, not just the bright, shiny parts (like dolphins) but the small, overlooked parts, that are integral to the way the world functions (like plankton).

This ability and interest in observing translates into all areas of their lives. Whether we’re at a theatrical performance or a nature walk or a shopping mall, they are keen observers, often noticing small nuances and making inferences based on them.

Want to experience exciting programming too? Junior Biologists’ Club runs on Saturday mornings from 9:30-12 p.m.  New dates are now available! Register on our website or email Stephanie.chong@vanaqua.org. Our Junior Biologists’ Club receives support from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. 

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Want a discounted rate?  Become a member to gain access to 20% off Junior Biologists’ Club plus many other benefits!

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