Each group itinerary is tailored to fit your learning objectives.
Our educational activities are focused on the biological, chemical and physical sciences. We also integrate journal writing, videography, fine art, geography, archaeology, mathematics, chemistry and physics. Please let us know if you have other interests, and we will customize your trip accordingly.
Our activities are adaptable; please advise us of specific goals and topics for your group in advance. Co-teaching with our staff is encouraged.
Oceanography and Biodiversity in Grappler Inlet (2 hours)
Travel up Grappler Inlet in one of our research vessels and experience being an oceanographer! This tranquil inlet provides the backdrop for an examination of the biotic and abiotic characteristics of the ocean. Oceanographic measurements and plankton collections are taken at two locations, the head and mouth of the inlet. At each location students measure temperature, salinity, and turbidity. Back in the laboratory, the data are discussed, comparing between the head and mouth of the inlet, and added to an ongoing multi-year study. Most plankton, collected using a fine meshed net, cannot be seen with the naked eye; the Plankton Lab provides a microscopic examination of the sample.
Research Vessel MV Alta (>1.5 hours)
A field trip to the Deer Group Islands on the MV Alta includes sampling from the subtidal environment and marine mammal and bird observation. A dredge net sampling from the sea floor yields a diversity of organisms including sea stars, urchins, octopuses, crabs, fish, sea cucumbers, and many others not inhabiting the intertidal zone. A trip to the open ocean, depending upon the season and migration pattern, whales, harbour seals, sea lions, and a diversity of marine birds can be observed. There is an additional cost for these trips, please see pricing guide (maximum 12 people per trip).
Research Vessel Barkley Star
Experience marine mammal and bird surveys in BMSC’s research and diving vessel. There is an additional cost for these trips, please see pricing guide (maximum 12 people per trip).
Brady’s Beach Intertidal Exploration (3-4 hours)
Brady’s Beach, with its picturesque sea stacks, sandy and rocky shores, is a wonderful place to explore the intertidal zone. Exploring this beach is an opportunity to see the organisms in their natural environment. Brady’s Beach is an ideal site to conduct quantitative and qualitative studies, for example, tide pool studies involve mapping, estimating volume, and observing organismal interactions.
BMSC’s Education Team can deliver lectures and lead activities on intertidal ecology, including tidal and zonation processes, coastal geomorphology, kelp forest ecology, marine terrestrial interactions, and more.
Eagle Bay (2 hours min.)
Eagle Bay is a semi-exposed rocky shore where students can observe a diversity of intertidal animals and seaweeds in their natural habitat. Some organisms inhabiting only areas of high wave exposure, such as gooseneck barnacles, can be found here. This bay is also a beautiful place to have reflective time as the sound of crashing waves on the shore is enhanced by the whistle buoy. Students are encouraged to explore under rocks, gently handle animals and ask lots of questions.
Bioluminescence (0.5-1 hour)
This short field trip is conducted at night off the dock or in the boats at the mouth of Grappler Inlet. It is an opportunity to see the water glow! When phytoplankton are disturbed, a chemical reaction occurs. One of the products of this chemical reaction is a bright green light. Knowing the science behind it does not affect the magic of seeing bioluminescence first hand. Bioluminescence is best observed on calm days during the Spring, Summer and Fall.
Temperate Rainforest Ecology (1-3 hours)
Experience a guided walk in the coastal temperate rainforest. Our forest path meanders through old growth before entering into second growth, allowing students to compare the two. Quantitative studies using biodiversity indices can be done here. The biology of many plants, including fungi, mosses, ferns, shrubs, and trees is discussed with an emphasis on traditional cultural uses (ethnobotany). Culturally modified trees along the path illustrate how first nations people harvest from trees. A specific focus on non-vascular plants complements the B.C. Biology curriculum. Temperate rainforest ecology can also be incorporated with the Brady’s Beach and Pachena Bay field trips.
Pachena Point hike (all day)
Hike a section of the West Coast Trail (WCT) to Pachena Point Lighthouse through the coastal temperate rainforest. The WCT was originally a telegraph line trail, and subsequently modified to assist ship-wreck survivors after the ship Valencia was wrecked off of Pachena Point in 1906, near the present site of Pachena Point Lighthouse. Many lives were lost, making the lack of resources available to help ships in danger. The lighthouse, a 10 km hike from the trail head at Pachena beach, was built in 1907; the same year construction of the Lifesaving Trail began. Trees with cable scars and old lifesaving cabins can still be seen along the trail. (Limited availability)
Climate Change and Oceans (2 hrs)
What will climate change mean for our oceans? Students will address this issue from many angles, using information they’ve gathered from other labs and field trips during their time at BMSC. Topics include: a review of the carbon cycle, weather and storms, ocean currents, water density, ocean acidification, and the pH scale. The lab begins with an interactive game and brainstorming activities to review the concepts of climate change. Students then break into smaller groups to perform small-scale experiments which mimic real-life natural phenomena, and answer questions such as “What happens to the pH of water when CO2 is introduced?” and “How do changes in the salinity and temperature of water affect currents?”.
This lab is designed for students in grades 7-9. For students in grade 10 or higher, see our Climate Change Grant Proposal Workshop.
Invertebrate Diversity Lab (1.5-2 hours)
Students will explore the diversity of live marine invertebrates found in Barkley Sound in the laboratory. Instructors will provide a brief introduction to classification systems and characteristics and identification of species. Teaching will be tailored to the grade (curriculum) level and requirements of individual groups. This lab is a great introduction to the organisms that students will observe on field trips to beaches or sampling subtidally from research vessels.
Fish Lab: Form and Function (1.5-2 hours)
This lab provides the students with a basic overview of the three main Classes of fish, Agnatha, Chondrichthyes, and Osteichthyes including characteristics and basic morphology. Adaptations of fish are discussed with a focus on buoyancy, locomotion, sensing the environment, and velocity. In the lab activities, students will get to practice identifying fish found in the lab and in our display tanks. Another activity involves choosing a habitat, food source and predator, and then creating a fish adapted to these different conditions.
Seaweed Ecology Lab (1.5-2 hours)
This lab focuses on the identification, ecology, and human use of a selection of the West Coasts’ >600 species of macroalgae. With live specimens in the lab, students can handle the algae as they learn to identify new species and the role of algae in the marine food web, with a focus on kelp (big brown algae) and the ecosystem of kelp forests, and is a valuable introduction to intertidal field studies.
Reproduction and life cycles of algae and algal pressing on herbarium paper can also be included.
Plankton Lab (1.5-2 hours)
This lab is an eye-opening experience demonstrating the diversity of life that lives suspended in the ocean. A brief lecture focuses on types of plankton found in Barkley Sound, the biology of major groups, and how plankton plays a role in our lives (Red Tide, bioluminescence, productivity). Students are then equipped with microscopes and guides as they explore the often underappreciated world of plankton. Students involved will record the species of plankton observed, taking part in a multi-year study looking at seasonal changes in plankton diversity. This lab usually coincides with the oceanography fieldtrip to collect plankton samples.
Experimental Marine Biology Lab (around 3 hours)
Using the scientific method as a guideline, students will design, plan, and run their own experiments. This is a great opportunity to focus on adaptive behaviour of many marine organisms and to get hands-on experience working with the invertebrates available in the lab. Presentations of results and conclusions follow the completion of the experiments. This is a great lab for those students who would like to experience the many aspects of scientific research: brainstorming, experimental design, analysis, and presentation. By the end of the lab, students will feel satisfied with the feat they have accomplished as well as brimming with more questions to investigate!
A few examples of previous experiments:
Substrata preference of hermit crabs
Swimming scallop reaction time to different sea star species
Reproduction of Marine Invertebrates (Seasonal, 1 hour plus timeline)
This lab is an examination of the spectrum of reproductive strategies that organisms have adapted to overcome the challenges of reproducing in the ocean. In one-hour students will observe the fusion of egg and sperm, the formation of a fertilization envelope, and will have set up a culture of developing (sea urchin or sand dollar, depending on the time of year) embryos to observe throughout the duration of their stay. From these subsequent observations students will create a timeline of their developing urchins.
Marine Mammal Adaptations (2 hours)
Why can seals dive so deep without crushing their lungs? How does baleen work? How do sea otters stay warm in the cold water? Many mammals have adapted to living in the ocean. This lab includes a brief classification of these mammals and then primarily focuses on how each group has adapted to the limitations and challenges of living in water. The Whale Lab collections of marine mammal skeletons are used extensively in this lab.
Seabirds and plastics (1.5-2 hours)
Students will learn how to identify several species of seabirds and aquatic birds, and will examine the characteristics that make birds adapted to survive on the ocean. They will then perform case studies using replicas of stomach contents to answer the question “Is this species a good indicator of plastic pollution?” Students must consider the feeding strategy, habitat, and range of each bird, along with the stomach contents, in order to determine if the bird is a good indicator species for plastic pollution.
This lab is a good lead-in for the field trip aboard the M/V Alta, since many of the birds examined in the lab can be seen along the route traveled through the Deer Group Islands.
Primary Productivity ( 3-4 hours divided)
While conducting the light/dark Winkler bottle experiment students will examine kelp and phytoplankton productivity. Using this classic method, students become thoroughly familiar with the process of photosynthesis and respiration. Students will use dissolved oxygen kits to perform chemical titrations to measure how much oxygen is produced (or used up) in the bottles over the course of a few hours. By measuring dissolved oxygen of bottles under different conditions, students will be able to detect the fixing of inorganic (CO2) to organic (C6H12O6) by the kelp. This experiment demonstrates the importance of kelp and plankton as primary producers in the global food chain.
DNA Barcoding Lab (2.5h)
Our new DNA Barcoding Lab is an exciting project that involves visiting students the opportunity to contribute to barcoding as many species on the BC coast as possible, in partnership with the Biodiversity of Life Database (BOLD) and the Canadian Center for DNA Barcoding (CCDB). The field component of this lab involves collecting specimens from nature and bringing them back to the lab for tissue sampling. The tissue samples are then sent to CCDB for DNA sequencing (i.e. barcoding), and the data is uploaded to the BOLD database. Students will learn the basics of DNA barcoding, how to collect field data and organisms, identify local organisms, sample tissue using sterile technique, and ultimately add to the public and scientific knowledge of biodiversity on BC’s west coast.
Please note: certain components of the lab span multiple days. This lab is only available to school groups visiting for 3 days or more, and preferably to group size up to 24 students.
Funded by NSERC PromoScience
Career Panel (45 min – 2 hours)
The BMSC career panel is an especially valuable experience for high school students making decisions about university and careers. BMSC staff and researchers will join your group and present their educational background and experiences in the field of marine biology, and answer your students questions.
Conservation Case Studies (2-3 hours)
Conservation is an important initiative to encourage in young people but can be met with frustration due to lack of resources, information, or inspiration. This workshop strives to inform and encourage students to think critically about the issues involved. Topics such as habitat loss, invasive species, population changes, pollution, climate change, over-exploitation and the various species status listing (endangered, threatened, special concern, extirpated, extinct) in Canada are discussed in an open forum. Students then examine the biology of a species at risk, the threats to its survival, what conservation measures are in place, and what a student can do to help.
Fish Printing (1 hour)
Gyotaku (‘gyo’ meaning fish and ‘taku’ meaning impression) is a traditional method of fish printing dating back to the mid-1800’s. Japanese fishermen recorded their catches by placing rice paper onto fish painted with ink. In this workshop, students create their own gyotaku using rubber fish and acrylic paint. Encourage your students to bring T-shirts, sweatshirts, or canvas bags to print, or they may use paper available in the lab. These prints make wonderful souvenirs to take home.
Climate Change Grant Proposal Simulation (1.5 hrs)
Age range: grade 10 – university
Students review a case study outlining chemical and physical impacts of climate change in a marine ecosystem in small groups. Based on their readings, the students then test their knowledge of the scientific method by identifying a specific research question and designing a realistic, persuasive grant proposal to be presented to “the panel” (the instructors) and the rest of the class.
Marine Mammal Slide Show (1-2 hours)
Enjoy a virtual survey of the marine mammals inhabiting the North Pacific Ocean. This comprehensive slide show includes the pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), the mustelids (sea otters), the cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises, and the magnificent whales). The biology of each group and species specific facts are discussed. Fascinating details about each group make this slide show engaging and thought provoking.
Kelp Forest Ecology and Species at Risk Slide Show (1-2 hours)
There are more species of kelp on the west coast of Vancouver Island than any where else in the world, and BMSC has played a key role in research on kelp forest ecosystems. The slide show presents basic kelp forest ecology, a discussion of why these ecosystems are important, how kelp forests have changed in the last few hundred years, the community interactions among kelp, sea otters, urchins and abalone, and how changes in the kelp forests are affecting humans and species at risk.
5 – Day Sample Itinerary
10:15 Pickup by BMSC shuttle at Nanaimo Airport
Lunch en route (Nanaimo or Port Alberni)
Stop at Cathedral Grove to stretch your legs
17:00 Arrive at BMSC, check in at the Whale Lab, settle into accommodations
19:00 Tour of the facilities, safety orientation (Meet in traffic Circle)
20:00 Video: BBC’s “Life at the Edge of the Sea” (Rix A)
Day 2 (Low tide of 1.0 m @ 09:27)
8:30 Lab: Marine invertebrate reproduction. Set up sea urchin embryo experiment and start development timelines. (Whale Lab) *Time to visit the touch tank
10:30 Group 1: Field trip: Oceanography in Grappler Inlet (Meet at docks)
Group 2: Field Trip: Barkley Star (Meet at Docks)
13:30 Group 1: Field Trip: Barkley Star (Meet at Docks at 13:20)
Group 2: Field trip: Oceanography in Grappler Inlet (Meet at docks)
15:30 Break to warm up
16:00 Lab: Seabirds as indicators of ecosystem health (Ross Hall)
19:00 Check embryos (Whale Lab)
19:15 Workshop: Sustainable seafood (Ross Hall)
Day 3 (Low tide of 1.0 m @ 10:07)
8:30 Field Trip: Intertidal seaweeds and ecology at Eagle Bay (Meet at docks)
10:30 Lab: Climate change and oceans. (Lower Main Lab)
|Group 1||Group 2|
|13:30||Field Trip: Sampling for invertebrates on board the Alta (Meet at Docks)||Field trip: Examination of life on docks and pilings (Meet at docks)|
|14:30||Field trip: Examination of life on docks and pilings (Meet at docks)||Field Trip: Sampling for invertebrates on board the Alta (Meet at Docks)|
|15:30||Break to warm up|
|16:00||Lab: Microscopic examination of plankton and review of oceanography data.Don’t forget to check embryos and update timelines (Rix lower level)|
19:00 Art activity: Fish printing
Day 4 (Low tide of 1.0 m @ 10:53)
8:30 Field Trip: Brady’s Beach. Measure water quality variables and diversity in tidepools. (Meet at docks)
13:30 Lab: Experimental marine biology. Design and perform experiments on live animals, then present your findings to the class. (Whale Lab)
16:00 Souvenir sales in the Whale Lab, final embryo check and release of babies!
16:30 Workshop: Marine Conservation Case Studies (Rix A)
19:00 Slideshow: Marine mammals of the west coast (Ross Hall)
Day 5 (Low tide of 1.1 m @ 11:48)
7:30 Breakfast, build a bag lunch and fill a water bottle.
8:30 Pack up and move out of accommodations, load luggage onto BMSC bus.
9:00 Field trip: Hike to Pachena Bay (Meet in Traffic Circle with life jackets)
12:30 Lunch on Pachena beach (if weather permits)
13:30 Depart for airport directly from Pachena Bay on BMSC bus.