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Students celebrate Earth Day the CMA way

It was another busy day at the bustling San Pedro High School campus, but this time all the commotion was about Earth Day. Three senior CMA staff members visited to show students how to celebrate the CMA way by learning more about Southern California’s ocean and marine life.

The fun started with CMA Director Mike Schaadt recognizing a volunteer Sea Ranger in the class. CMA Sea Rangers celebrate the Earth all year round by sharing their knowledge of the local environment with others. Schaadt invited students to stop by the Aquarium, reminded them it’s free and then launched into a discussion about the importance of marine protected areas.

“Marine protected areas are underwater parks, areas set aside in the ocean to protect animals in the same way parks do on land,” explained Schaadt. “By safeguarding an ecosystem, we are also protecting BOFFFs as we like to call them, Big Old Fat Female Fish. BOFFFs lay the most eggs and are in the best position to replenish fish stocks, keeping ocean ecosystems in balance and healthy.”

Using three different-sized fish models of the vermillion rockfish, Schaadt asked students to guess how many eggs each fish can lay. “Guesses are free,” he yelled. Schaadt then revealed the answer: the smallest female vermillion rockfish lays 150,000 eggs while the biggest lays 1.7 million! “The more eggs the better because often only two baby fish out of all those eggs survive,” he said.

In the classroom next door, CMA’s Exhibits and Collections Curator Julianne Passarelli passed around specimens pointing out special characteristics that have helped different animals adapt and survive in the wild. “You’ll notice that bird bones are lighter than mammal bones to help birds fly,” explained Passarelli as students looked at pelican bones. “And this dolphin vertebrate shows how dolphins have bigger spines than humans for swimming.”

With a baleen specimen, Passarelli demonstrated how large baleen whales are able to catch extremely small animals by trapping them with thick hair-like material that looks like a broom. Students also had a chance to see swell shark egg cases and learn how swell sharks lay eggs on the ocean floor where the baby shark develops for nine months before hatching and entering the watery ocean world.

CMA’s Research Curator Kiersten Darrow wrapped up the Earth Day celebration with a classic CMA activity…hatching grunions. As she passed out jars, grunion eggs and ocean water, Darrow described the grunion’s unusual mating ritual. “During the full moon and the new moon when the tide is highest, grunions catch a wave onto the beach to lay their eggs in the sand,” said Darrow. “They can stay out of the water for up to 20 minutes.”

Students furiously shook tiny jars of grunion eggs to simulate powerful waves. Then the room erupted with delighted remarks from new grunion parents, “Aw, it’s a baby!” CMA staff wrapped up the Earth Day presentations by encouraging students to learn about the environment around them, and come to CMA to find out more.

Post Date: Thursday, May 23, 2013

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