The Little Adventurer Within Us
By Kim Ramos, Expedition Guide on the Wilderness Adventurer
Alaska offers many opportunities for people to connect or reconnect with nature. It also gives us the chance to rediscover the little adventurer within us that is sometimes deeply hidden within our adult body. One of my favorite ways to bring out my inner child is tide-pooling.
While exploring the rocky shoreline of Neka Bay, I tell our guests to think about when we were kids. Imagine seven-year-old versions of ourselves walking along the intertidal zone. What would we do? We would let our curiosity take control and we would EXPLORE.
So, we pick up rocks to see what’s underneath. Sometimes, we find tiny six-armed sea stars that are blue and green and purple. Sometimes, we find a gunnel, a small fish that looks like an eel and uses its long slender body to hide amongst the rocks in the intertidal zone. Sometimes, we see swarms of little shore crabs scuttle as soon as we lift the rocks that hide them. Limpets, sea snails, mussels and barnacles cover every bit of rock that surrounds us. Neon green sea anemones catch our eyes and as we gently touch their tentacles, we feel them stick to our fingers. We have gotten used to looking for big things aboard the Wilderness Adventurer - whales, bears, and sea lions. Onshore, we readjust our eyes to see the small and the squishy.
Sea stars, also known as starfish, are one of my favorite tide pooling finds. Sea stars, which are related to urchins and sea cucumbers, are in the Echinoderm family. Echinoderm means spiny skin. The spines are obvious when looking at an urchin but in order to discover a sea star’s spines, you have to pick one up and feel for yourself. You feel the dorsal surface of a sea star, it is a strange combo of rough and slimy. They have tiny pincer-like structures that you can feel but are only visible under a microscope.
Flip the sea star over and the fun really begins. The ventral side of the sea star is covered in hundreds of tiny undulating structures called tube feet. On today’s adventure, we find several large mottled stars. One of them is enjoying a blue mussel breakfast. Sea stars have a water vascular system, which means they pump ocean water to each of their tube feet and the tube feet then adhere to and release different surfaces, like the shell of a mussel.
Watching sea stars eat is a sci-fi experience, albeit a slow one. The tube feet ever so gradually begin to pull apart the mussel’s shells. Once there is a sufficient gap, the bizarre-ness kicks in. The sea star will extrude its clear gelatinous stomach out of its own body and into the mussel shells. It will externally digest the mussel and then slurp up all the digested juices when its stomach reenters its body.
We leave the sea star to its breakfast and move on to another pool of crystal-clear water, ready to discover what else is hiding amongst the rock and seaweed. I can only hope that when the tide pool adventurers leave Alaska and return home, they will remember the strange, wonderful, and unexpected creatures we discovered. Alaska seems to stay with people long after they’ve left, and perhaps the childlike curiosity and want for adventure will linger too.
Rediscover your childlike sense of wonder on an Alaska adventure cruise.