Bringing the ocean to school

Oregon Coast Aquarium visits Dorothy Fox Elementary

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Students at Dorothy Fox Elementary School had the opportunity to experience an aquarium without ever leaving their school.

That’s because it was one of the elementary schools in Clark County selected for the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s outreach program. The assembly-style events make coastal and ocean education accessible to kids who may not have an opportunity to explore the Oregon Coast with their families or during field trips.

“The excitement that erupts when kids touch a sea otter pelt or stand next to a life-sized inflatable Stellar sea lion for the first time makes traveling for these programs so fulfilling,” said Jenni Remillard, aquarium education specialist.

She was on hand to help the students learn about the adaptations of sea otters, seals and sea lions, including their body structure, diet and social behavior using an interactive Power Point presentation, props and audience volunteers.

Students learned about the sea otter, seal, and sea lion secrets to survival as three of their classmates dressed up in costumes to represent the marine mammals. After the presentation, students were given the opportunity to visit a table containing items such as pelts and skulls.

Principal Cathy Sork noted that these kinds of assemblies such as the one offered by the aquarium, provide multiple lessons and opportunities.

“Any time we have an assembly, it brings us together as a community,” she said. “Students get a chance to learn and practice being an audience which is a life skill beyond the classroom. The aquarium brings the ocean to us.”

The two assemblies were aimed at two different age groups: “Flippers, Fur and Fun,” was designed for kindergarten through second-graders, and “Dressed for Success,” was designed for third- through fifth-graders.

During the assembly, gasps erupted across the audience when Remillard described the gymnasium-sized freezer the aquarium uses to store the sea lions, sea otters and seals food.

“Sea otters have to eat their body weight every single day,” she said. “It would be like a 100 pound person eating 100 quarter pounders every day.”

She also described them as “cute, but not the friendliest of animals.”

“There’s a reason why we have sea lion kisses at the aquarium and not sea otter kisses,” Remillard joked.

She had audience volunteers dress up in sea otter, sea lion and seal costumes to compare and contrast the animals.

“Seals grunt, have short flippers and use them to push through the water,” she said. “Sea lions have long flippers, can stand on land and make lots of noise.”

She then asked the students what sea lions sounded like. A loud and enthusiastic response followed.

An interactive video of an aquarium trainer working with sea lions was also well received by the young audience.

“They learn new things all of the time, just like you do,” Remillard said. “Training is an important part of keeping them healthy.”

The presentation ended with Remillard inflating replicas of a Northern elephant seal and Stellar sea lion. Elephant seals, who live in California, can weigh up to 4,400 pounds. Stellar sea lions, in Oregon and Washington, weigh up to 2,400 pounds.

The aquarium assembly is one of several that Dorothy Fox is offering students this year. Others include Unit Souzou Taiko Drumming, The NED Show Character Building Assembly, OMSI Portable Planetarium and Portland Opera to Go.

The Aquarium outreach team will visit schools across Oregon, Northern California, and Southern Washington for 20 weeks this academic year.

The topics rotate so students see something different every year during the aquarium’s annual visit.

“Not all of our students have been to the beach or seen these animals up close and it gives them all new learning in science,” Sork said. “This presentation is focused on the animal science study of seals, sea lions and otters, which helps them to understand sea creatures in our own Northwest. They got to understand the systems that support animals and the careers available with animal care and conservation.”