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By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
Are jellyfish really bouncy on top as they are portrayed in the Disney movie, “Finding Nemo”? What are sea shells really made of? How long do sea snails live?
Students at Granite Quarry Elementary learned the answers to those questions and more when representatives of the Fort Fisher Aquarium visited their school Tuesday.
Jessica Paddock and Dee Thonnard, both from the aquarium, led two programs at the schooló “Hermit Crab Friends” for kindergartners and first-graders and “Invertebrate Interview” for older students.
Paddock explained that invertebrates are animals that don’t have backbones.
Children named several marine animals they thought would fit into that category, including jellyfish, octopi and sponges.
After the class went over what an interview was, Paddock said, “We can’t really talk to these animals, but what we’re going to do is use scientific investigation.”
Paddock and Thonnard divided children into groups and handed each group their own small tray of water containing an invertebrate marine animal.
They instructed children to observe the animal and write down things they noticed about it.
One group observed that their animal had a gray shell and was walking around the small tank in circles. “He likes staying close to the wall,” one student said.
Another child in the group observed that the animal spit something out of its mouth.
Paddock gathered all the invertebrates and put them under a lens that projected onto a TV screen so everyone could see all the animals.
Each group then described its animal while other students tried to pick out which one it was.
Even though they all looked different, children discovered in the end that they were all hermit crabs.
Paddock talked to children about why hermit crabs move from shell to shell.
“When they grow they have to move just like we move when our family gets bigger,” she said.
While hermit crabs move to bigger shells, sea snail shells grow with the snail.
She showed children a whelk snail when one child asked what the snail eats.
“Whelks eat meat. Did you smell a fishy smell when you came in the door? That was last night’s dinner,” Thonnard said.
Sea snails start out as very tiny animals inside of egg casings. You may find these from time to time washed up on the beach. They are a brownish yellow color and resemble a Hawaiian lei.
As the snails grow, they keep adding layers to their shells and that’s what grows in that spiral shape, Paddock said.
Snails need calcium to help their shells get bigger but there isn’t any milk in the ocean.
“These guys eat the sand to get calcium,” she said.
But the sand alone won’t help build up the shell.
They mix the sand with mucus, or “snot” as children guessed, to make the process complete.
“They mix the snot and sand and they paste it on the side,” Paddock said.
“Next time you bring some sea shells home you can tell your parents what it really is,” she said.
Paddock and Thonnard also went over some ways children can help marine animals survive.
Keeping the ocean and beach clean was number one.
Paddock also told children to be respectful when they go outside.
She explained that the beach and ocean are home to the animals.
Would you like it if someone came into your room and messed everything up and didn’t put it back, she asked.
As children said no, Paddock said that person probably wouldn’t be allowed back in your room .
She also told students to remember that the starfish and large, perfect shells they see in beach stores were taken from the ocean.
She explained that the animal had to die so that the customer could buy the shell or starfish.
“Be a smart shopper,” she said.
Paddock challenged children to consider if buying the shell was worth the animal’s life.
The Granite Quarry student government association, town of Granite Quarry and various businesses in town made the aquarium visit possible.
Granite Elementary also invited Koontz students to visit. Those children saw the program Wednesday and Thursday.
For more information about the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, visit www.ncaquariums.com.

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