Adventures in Woods Hole
July 10, 2013

For a lot of New England residents, summer equals Cape Cod. Sand, surf, clam bakes, ice cream, and sun. Why not add a little bit of learning along with the lolling around? And you don’t have to tell the kids what you’re up to.

As soon as they see the outdoor seal habitat at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium—where a couple of seals (unable to survive in the wild) play in their 17,000-gallon pool—you’ll have them hooked. LuSeal and Bumper, the harbor seals, are usually fed each day at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., and are always entertaining to watch.

This is our country’s oldest marine aquarium, established in 1885, and it offers about 140 species of marine animals found in the waters of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to check out. Inside, you’ll see exhibit cases with bones, skulls, and teeth, plus touch tanks where anything from lobsters to quahogs to sea stars may be in residence, always popular with children.

The facility is really hands-on, and you can watch staff feed animals, clean tanks, and work on the life-support systems. Part of their mission is to rehabilitate and release cold-stunned turtles that are sometimes found beached.

In the summer, naturalists lead tours on local beaches to teach about life in salt marshes, demonstrate how to collect animals, and how to identify the catch. Sometimes they bring animals back to the aquarium to add to the collection. More often you’ll just observe the animals briefly and then release them.  

The aquarium staff provides the nets, buckets, coolers, animal expertise, directions to the day’s collecting site, and one-time parking passes. It’s a fantastic and fun way to learn about the animals found in the Cape waters. The next one is July 17 at 8 a.m. (you have to sign up in person).

The aquarium has several fun activity sheets for kids on its website (click here to find them), which can enhance your visit, pointing out what to look for and challenging kids to find out more about the animals. Make sure to download a couple before you go.

If you and your kids want to learn even more and get out on the water, OceanQuest, a nearby nonprofit marine education program, offers Discovery Cruises out of Woods Hole. The 1.5-hour cruise has kids (and parents) man a physical oceanography station, chemistry station, and marine biology station to learn all about the ocean.

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