Getting to Know Maine’s Marine Life

REU interns Michael Chen and Nina Forziati get a closer look at a fouling community on one of Boothbay Harbor’s docks.

There are a lot of incredible discoveries to be made in the coastal town of Boothbay, especially for a group of interns interested in the marine sciences. I, along with a few other interns, spent part of this past Saturday making some of these discoveries, and exploring what our summer home has to offer us. Early Saturday afternoon, we visited the Maine State Aquarium, a small aquarium not too far from Bigelow labs that is attached to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. To preface, I may be showing a little bit of bias towards this particular aquarium because I love small aquariums. All aquariums have something fantastic to offer, but the smaller aquariums tend to have tanks that allow for closer inspections and connections with the critters in the tank. While larger aquariums have the awe factor of hundreds of individual marine animals moving around, hiding in the nooks and crannies of faux corals, or swimming and crawling out in the open for everyone to see, the individual animals themselves are usually overshadowed by that awe factor. The smaller aquariums, like the Maine State Aquarium, with their less busy tanks, create an opportunity to really focus in on the individual animals, because there are not a ton of other distractions within the tank itself. So during our visit to the Maine State Aquarium, we were able to really get to know the fish, crustaceans, anemones, and more that were in front of us.

The aquarium is contained within a single large circular room, further separated into three main exhibit subjects: Coast of Maine, Touch Tank, and Lobsters. The Coast of Maine exhibits had tanks displaying many of the marine species found along the coast of Maine. There were schooling alewives, brightly colored anemones, alien looking skeleton shrimp (which I had never seen before), and a mystery fish that we later determined to be a type of lumpsucker, a cool and weird looking fish with adhesive discs along its underbelly. The Touch Tanks were separated into two tanks, a large circular tank in the middle of the aquarium with some sharks, rays, and a sturgeon, and a longer tank that curved along the side of the aquarium with all manner of crabs, snails, and clams to learn about. The final exhibit, which was on the wall in between the Coast of Maine and Touch Tank exhibits, was the Lobster exhibits. Now, to be clear, all the exhibits had lobsters in some fashion. There were lobsters in some of the Coast of Maine tanks and a few to hold in the Touch Tank (this is an aquarium in the state of Maine after all). But the subject of the Lobster exhibits was only lobsters, including their life cycle, and information on how Maine Lobstermen catch them. There were tanks with multiple stages of lobster larvae, a 20 pound lobster (the largest I’ve ever seen), and multiple lobster traps and placards explaining the terminology of Lobstermen and the different parts of a lobster trap.

A small spider crab holding onto a sponge.

Though the aquarium did have a lot to see and do, our curiosity was apparently not entirely sated. After going back to Boothbay to get some ice cream, we walked on a few docks and pulled up the ropes attached to the dock in order to get a closer look at some of the fouling communities found there. These communities are found on the sides of docks, boats, etc. and are made up of barnacles, seaweed, mussels, sponges, really anything that lives a largely sessile (i.e. immobile) lifestyle. We also found some crabs, a small spider crab and multiple green crabs, living among the communities we pulled up, which show just how diverse marine life can be even this close to home. While aquariums do have a lot to offer in terms of marine life, the Maine State Aquarium being no exception, sometimes you just need to get down and dirty and discover some things on your own.

Eric Walton is a Communications Intern at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

Getting to Know Maine’s Marine Life