Call goes out for sea denizens

DIPAC aquarium needs volunteers who can bring sealife back alive

Posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A lot is going on beneath the waves near Juneau, and the fish hatchery is looking for volunteers to help make it easier for people to see.

"It's a good thing to give people a chance to see what things look like before they end up on their dinner plate," said Nick Yurko, who has brought in a couple of king crabs that now make their home at the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center on Channel Drive.

About 40 volunteers donated 380 hours to Douglas Island Pink and Chum, or DIPAC, last year, Aquarium Manager and Education Services Coordinator Rich Mattson said. It continues to look for more.

Some volunteers help with educational programs. Some help with cleaning and feeding. Some have helped stock the aquarium displays.

"We need neat critters for these tanks," said Rob Parsons, DIPAC's tourism manager.

The centerpiece is the hatchery's new 5,000-gallon cylindrical tank. It also has 13 smaller tanks, from 50 to 70 gallons, displaying smaller underwater environments.

Many of the specimens on display in the aquariums were collected by volunteers on an informal basis, DIPAC Director Eric Prestegard said.

Anyone wanting to donate to the aquarium will need to be on a list of authorized collectors, Mattson said. Benefits to volunteers include free admission to the center and family passes.

DIPAC's mission as a nonprofit hatchery is to increase the number of wild salmon in Alaska waters. It also works to educate the public on Alaska's marine resources, working under a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"There's a lot of those sea animals that people have never seen before," said Sherry Tamone, an assistant biology professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, who dives with Mattson.

She researches crabs and collects animals to use in teaching invertebrate zoology. While she is looking for crabs, she comes across other creatures the aquarium can use, she said.

Sometimes divers put rocks in buckets to be hauled up, Tamone said. "There's all sorts of neat things on rocks."

Students also have collected aquarium specimens in intertidal areas.

At the visitor center, Mattson pointed to a sturgeon, a pointy-snouted fish about 6 inches long and a face "like a gruff old man with whiskers" in one of the small tanks. He recently caught that with a trout landing net while diving, he said.

"You have to be stealthy sometimes," he said.

In another small aquarium, he pointed to where the center's octopus lived before it died during the weekend. The center could use another octopus, he said. Sometimes they find their way into shrimp or crab pots.

It also could use a "spiny lumpsucker," something most people call a "puffer fish." "It's 2 to 3 inches long at most," he explained. "It looks like a pingpong ball with spikes on it."

At any particular time, the aquariums have more than 100 species of animal life from the area, including coral and other animals that look more like plants.

In addition to an octopus or spiny lumpsucker, the center can always use shrimp and clams because the ones they have get used up.

"They're part of the food chain," Mattson said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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