BEYOND LIMITS: Birch Aquarium has the cure for families’ winter-break boredom
by Johnny McDonald
Published - 12/05/12 - 03:01 PM | 4577 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Birch Aquarium at Scripps is swirling with an assortment of field trips and lectures this winter that encourages exploration, knowledge and adventure.       

Discover the SEA

The aquarium’s Science, Exploration and Adventure program, SEA Days, will feature multigenerational learning about cutting-edge research taking place at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), focusing on current ocean topics with hands-on experiences, key activities and a chance to interact with scientists. 

It also provides an ideal venue for students, Scouts and others to meet requirements for “Interview a Scientist” or career-day projects. 

Programs are included with aquarium admission and take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the third Saturday of each month. 

The next program in the series picks up on Dec. 15 with “Whale of a Tail,” where participants are invited to watch for the gray whale migration from the aquarium’s Tide-Pool Plaza and learn all about whales from SIO scientists.

Then, on Jan. 19, come face to face with animals that live in the La Jolla Ecological Reserve and learn about underwater treasures at the fourth annual Underwater Parks Day.

Finally, Feb. 16’s “Plankton Party” will answer the question, “What do algae, crabs and jellies have in common?” The answer: plankton. All of these ocean-dwelling organisms spend a portion or their entire live as plankton. SIO scientists will give the rundown on these “drifters.”

Getting a closer look

Daily whale-watching cruises featuring aquarium naturalists pick back up for the season toward the end of this month. Guests can get up close to a migrating gray whale or even take an expedition to Baja California to witness the breeding of the 20,000 mammals that take this annual 10,000-mile round-trip journey from the Bering Sea.

Daily whale-watching cruises run from Dec. 26 through April 14.

Additional lecture series

The Jeffrey B. Graham Perspectives on Ocean Science Lecture Series explores Earth’s mysteries through hundreds of research projects under way on every continent and ocean. Taking place Dec. 10, Jan. 14 and Feb. 11, the lectures are intended for a lay audience.

• On Dec. 10, the series presents “Exploring Beyond the Abyss: The Deep Sea Challenge Expedition” with Scripps scientist Doug Bartlett describing his experiences as the chief scientist on the Deep Sea Challenge Expedition. Led by film director and National Geographic explorer-in-residence James Cameron, the expedition conducted submersible operations in the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth, and Bartlett’s research will shed light on how organisms thrive in such extreme environments.

• Guests can join Scripps geochemist James Day on Jan. 14 for “New Insights into the Early History of the Earth and Moon,” which will delve into new insights into the moon’s chemical makeup by examining lunar rocks gathered by Apollo mission astronauts. Advances in technology are offering fresh clues about how the early earth and moon may have formed and evolved.    

• “Genetics and Gray Whale Behavior” will be the discussion on Feb. 11, presented by Aimee Lang, Southwest Fisheries Science Center marine biologist. Lang and her colleagues are using genetic analyses of gray whales to explore their behavior, migrations and other information critical for managing the gray whale population in the North Pacific.

Past lectures have aired on UCSD-TV and are broadcast to more than 16 million viewers via satellite and cable television. Lectures also can be found on YouTube. 

Lectures run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and are $8 ($5 for students and educators, free for members).

— Johnny McDonald is a longtime writer and columnist for the San Diego Community Newspaper Group. He can be reached at
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