Using a citizen science website and app maintained by the California Academy of Sciences called iNaturalist, Aquarium visitors and staff members are logging their observations of local marine life as part of its shows in the Marine Life Theater. The Aquarium’s education department added this element to its Critter in a Crate shows, which give visitors the chance to see animals, algae, and other organisms in a specimen sample collected daily from nearby Rainbow Harbor.
About two years ago, the Aquarium began suspending milk crates on a length of rope in the water at the end of Dock 2, where the daily whale watch boats depart. After a period of time, the crates are brought up with an accumulation of diverse marine life typically found on dock pilings and the undersides of boats. These organisms are collected and brought to the Marine Life Theater for Critter on a Crate, allowing the audience to see the various ocean animals that live right outside the Aquarium.
This year Aquarium educators started incorporating the iNaturalist app to document the animals observed during these shows, encouraging attendees to become citizen scientists and log their own observations. Aquarium educators have cataloged thirty-five total observations and documented eighteen species so far. These include flatworms, striped shore crabs, scale worms, opalescent nudibranchs, and sea urchins.
To participate in a Critter on a Crate show, check the Today at the Aquarium insert in the visitor guide or the Aquarium app for iPhone and Android and look for Explorer Time at the Marine Life Theater in the schedule. To see the observations logged by Critter on a Crate participants, visit the program’s page on the iNaturalist website.