Some days it isn't easy being a small spiny critter in a live tank at the Auke Bay Laboratory.
Cody Dalton, 5, remarked, of a baby red king crab he had just inspected on Friday, "He's giving me the looks."
Next to him, a classmate raised a dripping, plump sea cucumber out of the live tank, squealing, "Yuck. Cody, look!"
The 50 little hands of 25 Mendenhall River Community School students reached into the tanks, filled with starfish, crabs, urchins and chilly water piped directly from Auke Bay, during their Alaska Sea Week field trip to the lab on Friday.
Almost 1,000 kindergarten and sixth-grade students are visiting the lab for the annual rite, which stretches over two weeks and ends Friday.
A statewide event, Sea Week began as a local program in Juneau, spearheaded by parents who worked at the Auke Bay Lab, in 1969.
The program has been named one of the country's best science education programs by the National Science Teachers Association.
About 60 lab employees are volunteering this year to help with the live tank and aquarium visit at the lab, said local Sea Week coordinator and lab research biologist Bonita Nelson.
Students are also traveling on field trips to local beaches.
Sea Week-related study reaches into the classroom as well.
The Juneau School District developed the original curriculum for Sea Week, with funding from the Alaska Sea Grant Program.
"We'll follow the whole month with class activities," said Lisa Currier, who teaches the 25 Mendenhall River students who visited the lab at 9 a.m. Friday.
"Sea Week opens their eyes" to the sea life around them in Juneau, she said.
Students are taught to handle live creatures with respect, she said.
Before visiting, Currier asks students how they would feel if someone reached into their classroom and picked them up.
"That's really easy for them to understand," she said.
After visiting the live tanks, the Mendenhall River students had their hands washed and sanitized before their final activity - identifying species in the lab's large aquariums.
Nelson said Sea Week is also a good way to show sixth-graders - who will simulate an oil spill at the lab next week - the variety of people and methods in science.
"We show them how we can help them with projects," she said. "We like to participate in mentoring."
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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