Alex Jackson of Port McNeill

Alex Jackson of Port McNeill

BC Hydro Aquavan: a hands-on experience for kids on the North Island

The BC Hydro Aquavan, through the sponsorship of B.C.'s Year of Science, rolled into Port Hardy and set up its touring exhibit in the Salmon Stewardship Centre at the Quatse River Hatchery.

PORT HARDY — Dozens of local youngsters and their families got an interactive tour of the Vancouver Aquarium Saturday.

And they never had to leave the North Island.

The BC Hydro Aquavan, through the sponsorship of B.C.’s Year of Science, rolled into town and set up its touring exhibit in the Salmon Stewardship Centre at the Quatse River Hatchery.

For five hours, area children and families were able to view living sea creatures in aquariums, touch living starfish and urchins, examine whale teeth, examine shells, play with aquatic hand puppets and spin the wheel of salmon survival.

“Our mission is to bring the aquarium to people in communities that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to get to the (Vancouver) aquarium,” said Paul Botha, one of several biologists and educators who guided visitors through the displays and answered questions about the sea life found on the North Island. “All the live animals we’ve brought here are found locally.”

Youngsters perused a photo book at the main aquarium to identify species swimming inside, inspected the shell of a green sea turtle and compared the teeth and baleen of different whale species.

At one table, a member of the aquarium staff was explaining how sea anemones eat. She had six-year-old John Smith of Port McNeill drop a stuffed toy fish into a model of a sea anemone she was holding, then pulled out a toy fish skeleton and presented it to him.

“Are these real bones?” he said.

At the Salmon Survivors Against All Odds wheel, youngsters learned how many dangers juvenile salmon face on their journey to the sea and how few of them survive to adulthood. Spinning the wheel to learn the fate of the salmon, they watched as it stopped on results from eggs, fry and smolt dying of disease and predators to being poisoned by toxic pollutants to being run over by a mountain bike.

The visit was part of a multi-stop tour of Vancouver Island including visits to Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox, Port Alberni and Tofino. The staff had a couple days off following Saturday’s stay and were looking forward to some tourist activities on the North Island.

And they were particularly taken with the Salmon Sewardship Centre, which includes its own aquarium, various fish and seafloor displays and an interactive kids area.

“This is the first time I’ve been here, and I’m impressed with the facility,” Botha said. “It’s great that you have this kind of exhibit for people who live here and for tourists. It’s amazing.”