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Salish Sea creatures star at Bellingham’s Marine Life Center during Water Week presentations

Visitors to the Port of Bellingham’s Marine Life Center can handle and examine live sea creatures — and maybe even get to feed them — during several special programs this month in observation of the annual Whatcom Water Weeks, a three-week series of events that focus on a variety of conservation-related issues.

An “Animal Feeding and Adaptations” program is offered free at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, at the center, which is located in the port office complex at 1801 Roeder Ave. The program is repeated at 3 p.m. Sept. 11, 18 and 20.

“Most of the animals are nocturnal feeders, which makes them hungry later in the day,” said Casey Cook, center director.

If everything goes right, visitors will get the special treat of seeing the center’s two giant Pacific octopuses hunt, catch and eat a crab or other prey.

“We have live food in the tank for them to hunt. People can actually watch how they hunt — it’s fascinating,” Cook said.

“The kids are welcome to feed certain animals in the touch pool. Kids absolutely connect with that more than any other of the experiences we can provide. It’s something they really understand,” she said.

“We’ll show animals that normally don’t come out” of the tank, such as giant sea cucumbers “that are as big as your arm,” she said.

Cook also will explain about sea star wasting syndrome, which is killing sea stars worldwide, including those in aquariums — even at the Marine Life Center. It recently lost a multi-legged sunflower star to the ailment.

Some of the creatures that visitors will see are shrimps and crabs; sea stars and sea cucumbers; barnacles and anemones; and fish such as sculpin, salmon and gunnels. But the undisputed star attraction is the octopus. Although the center has two on exhibit, one is being returned to the bay soon.

“They’re only kept a short time, so they can retain their hunting skills” and not learn to rely on humans, Cook said.

Marine Life Center offers two tide pool tanks — including one touch tank — and several aquariums featuring the aquatic creatures and plants of the Salish Sea in a dockside building. Water for the tanks is drawn from the adjacent Squalicum Marina. There’s even a tank with a bubble indentation so visitors can experience a view from inside an aquarium.

It’s part of the nonprofit Northwest Discovery Project, whose goal is to increase marine awareness. Hours from September through May are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

Special programs for toddlers are offered at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and Thursdays and a general program at noon Saturdays features a specific marine plant or animal.

For more information, call 360-671-2431 or email info@marinelifecenter.org. For more Whatcom Water Weeks events, check the online calendar at whatcomwaterweeks.org ore call 360-676-6736.

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