Pier Peer: Discovering the Creatures of the Night

Mar 29, 2011

What with theaters, concerts and clubs, Seattle has a pretty lively night life. But as a group of people gathers after dark at a marina on Elliot Bay, they’re looking for a completely different kind of thrill.

Creatures of the night

All it takes is lowering a waterproof light over the edge of the dock. After a few minutes, all kinds of tiny sea critters start to gather ‘round.

Gabby Byrne and several kids are flat on their stomachs, lying on the dock as she dips a plastic yogurt cup into the water to scoop up a specimen.

Byrne is a community educator with People for Puget Sound. She’s hosting tonight’s “Pier Peer,” which is pretty much what it sounds like   -- you stand on a pier and peer into the water. The group sponsors  these nocturnal adventures during winter evenings in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Everett as a kind of window into the ecosystem on our doorstep.

Party time for plankton

The bright light attracts a swarm of isopods, amphipods, larval shrimp and more; the multitudes that make up the base of the marine food web.  In fact, put together, all those gooey little critters weigh more than the entire human race.

Volunteer Jarrett Kaplan has set up his microscope on the dock. It’s equipped with a video camera connected to a TV screen. He captures a tiny fish larva in a drop of water and puts it under the microscope to get a better look.

The creature looks huge and creepy, with big black eyes and a translucent body that’s barely visible.

Willem Scholten is here tonight with his daughters – 10-year-old Mirabelle and six-year-old Saskia. Mirabelle’s made a very exciting discovery …

Daddy! Daddy! The isopod is like a potato bug! It rolls up in a ball!

Scholten thinks the Pier Peer is a great idea.

I think it’s a good way to first-hand see what’s going on, you know? I mean, we live right here. So it’s hands-on science in our backyard.

Gabby Byrne says fostering that kind of connection is one of the main reasons she does this.

What we see and learn about, we start to care about. And what we care about, we’re going to protect. And I think we’re in such an urgent place with Puget Sound. It really needs our very kind attention.

Mirabelle seems to be enjoying herself. Does she want to do this again sometime?

Totally! And find some awesome new fish!

For more information on Pier Peer events, click here ...