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A photo series following the staff and sea creatures at the Salish Sea Centre
So, how do you move a jellyfish? Very, very, carefully.
The blobs of tentacles and mesoglea that form the Sea Nettle jellyfish slowly pulsate in large bins of water set on the main floor of the Salish Sea Centre in Sidney so their tank can be cleaned. A staff member wriggles into and then out of their tank to scrub and clean the windows and walls; and now has the very odd, and wonderfully site specific task of returning these delicate, stunning, and slightly stinging creatures, back into their display tank.
Located in Sidney, just metres from the Sidney Pier and the Salish Sea, the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea opened in 2009 as a not-for-profit aquarium focused on the Salish Sea bioregion. With dozens of tanks and aquariums, large and small. The centre hosts a kaleidoscope of the region’s creatures, fish, and undersea inhabitant for the 60,000 yearly visitors it gets. “We are really lucky we are really ingrained into the community of Sidney and greater Victoria,” says Tina Kelly, the director of learning and communication at the aquarium.
The centre is frequented by recurring visitors from around BC and Alberta, local aquarium members, and school kids from around the region. The centre is an important educational tool for awareness and conservation. Kit Thornton, the head of animal care, explains the importance of community aquariums such as the Salish Sea Centre.
“It allows people of all ages to come face to face with our local marine wildlife in a way that is safe for both the visitors and animals. When people understand the incredible diversity of species in our waters, they can become informed and enthusiastic about protecting them,” Kelly says. “I have heard multitude of times from visitors [who say] ‘I have lived here my whole life and I had no idea that there was this much colour in the ocean.’ ”
Tucked in behind the tanks and walls of water are the intricate piping, narrow catwalks, and essential filter systems that keep the aquarium running smoothly and the thousands of residents alive and happy. Along with the aquarium infrastructure, it takes a dedicated and committed team, who are on call 24/7 in case of power outages, filter issues, or pump failures.
“My favourite aspect of the job is the care and husbandry of the animals, discovering their personalities and understanding their life history better,” says Thornton. “I also find it incredibly rewarding to work with the Giant Pacific Octopus and Chinook salmon, and release them when it's time for their return to the ocean. Lastly, I quite enjoy nerding out about fish with visitors.”
While being surrounded on so many sides by water, it can be difficult for those not directly connected to the ocean to fully grasp and appreciate what lies in all that water. “The awareness, and the sense of place that an aquarium like this brings is really important,” says Kelly. “We can think of the Salish Sea and where we live.”