For those interested in printing T-shirts with real salmon, coming face-to-face with birds of prey, or just learning more about the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, the 26th annual Nisqually Watershed Festival was the place to be Saturday.
For budding scientists Tre Whalen, 9, and Isaiah Whalen, 10, it was a chance to learn more about the careers they hope to pursue. They attended the event with their mother, Hollie Whalen, and their two younger siblings.
“They love this kind of stuff,” Hollie Whalen said. “Any chance to be outside and learning is great for them.”
During the festival, the Whalens joined a group that traveled out to the Nisqually Reach Nature Center, located adjacent to the wildlife refuge at Lure Beach. Executive director Daniel Hull showed the group how to place a 50-foot net into the water to catch fish, crabs and other marine creatures to study.
“Hopefully today we’re going to catch a fish,” Hull said. “I can never tell you when we’re going to catch a fish. This isn’t a zoo.”
But the group was lucky Saturday afternoon. When they brought in the net, it contained one fish, several crabs and a few shrimp. Hull also measured the water conditions — including temperature and salinity, or salt content — then released the creatures back into the water.
The fish was a sculpin, which Hull said is a common shoreline fish. He said that like salmon, sculpin can survive in estuaries, where there is a mix of saltwater and fresh water.
Hull said he uses the net to catch fish at least 200 times each year. That way, he can determine how healthy the estuary is by studying the animals that live there. In the fall, it’s common to see fewer animals caught in the net, he explained.
“This time of year, most of the fish have moved away from the shore and into the marine habitat,” Hull said. “If you came back in the spring, you would probably see a lot more.”
Isaiah Whalen, who hopes to become a marine biologist, said he learned a lot on the trip, and he was glad that the group was able to catch a fish.