Conditions were perfect — finally — last Thursday evening for the Marine Discovery Tour leaving Oak Bluffs harbor. It was sunny, there was a gentle breeze, and plenty of families were lining up to board the fishing boat Skipper.
This Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary program was supposed to begin running twice a week on June 27. However, the outing on July 30 was the Skipper’s first of the season. Felix Neck educator Justen Walker put it down to “a combination of the weather and the economy.”
Before the boat began its two-hour cruise, Capt. John Potter gave everyone an idea of what we were going to be doing. “We don’t have a set plan; we’re just going to go where the spirit moves us,” he said.
Mr. Potter has been working with Felix Neck for eight years and loves running this family-oriented trip. “The highlight is seeing the smile on a child’s face when they learn something new,” he said.
There were a lot of smiles going around, from the very start of the excursion. For Remy Perry, 4, of Cleveland, Ohio, one of the best parts was seeing the lobster that had been pulled up in a lobster trap, along with some spider crabs, at the boat’s first stop. The two claws that the lobster has are the cruncher and the slicer, she recited.
Lobster used to be the poor man’s food, Ms. Walker said, adding with a laugh that there was even a prisoner’s revolt once because they were sick of eating lobster dinners every night.
Lobsters weren’t the only sea creatures sighted on this trip; crabs, squid, scup and even a shark’s head were also on the agenda.
The next stop was a scallop drag, but when the group ended up with a net full of scallopless seaweed, there was a quick change of plans.
In the spirit of the trip, we went with the flow and learned a bit about the different types of seaweeds. For example, a chemical called carrageenan, which is found in some seaweed, is used as an additive in ice cream and toothpaste.
As everyone digested the fact that they had unknowingly been eating seaweed with their sundaes, we drove on to another stop.
“Kids need hands-on activities, so when we were tweaking the program, I threw in some fishing,” Mr. Potter said.
Everyone grabbed a fishing rod baited with squid and threw their lines into the water. Soon, people were catching scup right and left. Mr. Potter even kissed one. “Let me tell you, in all my years doing this, that is the first time I’ve ever kissed a scup, and it is the last time I will ever kiss a scup,” he announced to applause.
After helping people reel in fish, first mate Darren Smidt headed to the stern of the boat and began cutting away at a shark’s head. The shark in question was a Mako shark that Mr. Smidt caught in the shark tournament. He wanted to keep the jaws as a souvenir, and threw the remains of the head back into the ocean.
Amy Hudak of Cleveland, Ohio, thought that this was the most exciting part of the program. She believed that overall the trip was informative and important, especially for kids. “It’s a good trip because it means they [kids] don’t just look at the materialistic things here, they get to appreciate nature too,” Ms. Hudak said.
As the Skipper set off homebound, the things to see and do didn’t stop. Ms. Walker passed around samples of plankton and urged everyone to look at them through microscopes when the boat stopped.
The Marine Discovery Tour runs Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. from Oak Bluffs harbor. For details, call 508-627-4850.