Go aboard The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s research vessel this summer to journey out onto Long Island Sound and discover first-hand “what’s down there?” The Aquarium’s hands-on Marine Life Study Cruises offers exciting introductions to fish, crabs, skates and other animals brought up right out of the water and onto the research vessel Oceanic for examination. The study cruises will depart on Saturdays at 1 p.m. through June 29 and will push off at 1 p.m. daily in July and August.
“Before people can be inspired to take actions to preserve and protect Long Island Sound, they first must understand what animals are in the Sound and how complex, diverse and alive this marine environment is,” said Jamie Alonzo, the Aquarium’s director of education. “Our best exhibits within the Aquarium can’t top the immediacy and impact of seeing dozens of animals come up out of the water right in front of your eyes.”
During each 21/2-hour Marine Life Study Cruise, animals are brought onboard from different water levels and bottom habitats of the Sound. A video microscope provides a magnified look at wriggly plankton gathered at the sunlit surface. Tiny crabs and worms emerge from a sampling of the anaerobic muddy bottom. A biodredge reveals a hidden world of sponges, snails and mollusks. And everyone inspects the trawl net’s bounty: varieties of fish and crabs, skates, lobsters, sea stars, squid and always a few surprises.
Maritime Aquarium educators involve participants in the processes, from sorting through samples to helping to pull in the trawl net and returning animals to the water. Besides being fun and eye-opening, Marine Life Study Cruises also contribute to local scientific research. Water-chemistry and weather readings are taken. And details about the animals brought onboard are entered into the Aquarium’s Long Island Sound Biodiversity Project, a database of physical and biological features available online to teachers and researchers.
Also during the study cruises, as part of a Horseshoe Crab Census conducted by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, The Maritime Aquarium tags and records data about all horseshoe crabs collected. “Boat rides are always great for some family fun, but the animal encounters and learning opportunities make our study cruises even more memorable,” Alonzo said.
Cost of a Marine Life Study Cruise is $20.50 per person ($18.50 for Maritime Aquarium members). All passengers must be at least 42 inches tall. Reservations are strongly recommended; walk-up tickets will be sold space permitting. The Oceanic can accommodate 29 passengers. Marine Life Study Cruises also are available for weekday charters for schools on field trips, summer camps, Scouts and other groups at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Cruises depart from the dock near the Aquarium’s IMAX Theater entrance. To reserve your spot on a Maritime Aquarium Marine Life Study Cruise or for more details, go to www.maritimeaquarium.org or call (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206. For area information www.visitfairfieldcountyct.com.