Every summer for more than a decade, the Maria Mitchell Association has been hosting a free public event they call Release Day. This year on Saturday August 31 at 10 am (arrive earlier to be at the front of the line), head over to the Aquarium at 28 Washington Street. Sixty-five species including dogfish, horseshoe crabs, and flounder are part of the 2019 Maria Mitchell Aquarium collection, and their aquarists and interns will demonstrate how to release the critters back to the water with help from the hundreds of participants who show up.
“The excitement is palpable that day… it is truly a MMA and island tradition and is unlike most other aquariums in the world,” says Director of Natural Science, Shelley Dresser. “We believe in hands-on learning and felt that this would be a wonderful opportunity for the public to learn about some of our animals and to share in the enjoyment and satisfaction that comes with releasing the fish and other animals,” she explained. The species are collected throughout the summer months by both staff and locals: “Local fishermen call us when they find some of the amazing animals that live in Nantucket waters…we are very grateful to the fisherman and local aquarium enthusiasts that make each season a huge success,” says Dresser, commending the participation and camaraderie of the Nantucket community and visitors who come to the Aquarium.
With roughly 1200 species to release, the release day will be busy. “It’s a lot of fun,” says Jack Dubinksy, an aquarist at the Maria Mitchell Association who is looking forward to the releases of both the small and large aquarium creatures. Kids will help release creatures like blue crabs and black bass every 15 minutes or so, while having the chance to learn all about the animals that will be returning to the sea. “It’s nice to see our animals go home,” says Dubinksy fondly, who highlights the excitement of the event and getting to share all sorts of facts with those that attend. Kids, families, and visitors are all welcome to enjoy this free event from 10 to noon on August 31. Participants should arrive prepared to get wet as there is often activity by the water and the actual release of the animals involves wading in a bit.
As sad as it is to see the critters and creatures head back to their watery homes, it signifies another summer of experiences and learning opportunities at the Maria Mitchell Association. Throughout the summer, the Maria Mitchell Association offers a wide array of programs and camps for kids, teens and adults. The aquarium also brings in high school and college interns: “they learn how to do water chemistry, prepare food for the animals, and learn how filters and skimmer work. They also learn how to do research about the animals,” says Dresser. While Release Day is one of the biggest days of the summer, the MMA continues its work throughout the season. “We maintain some tanks throughout the winter,” says Dresser, highlighting the aquarium’s role is in helping to save tropical fish that came up the Gulf Stream who “would not make it back into their warmer waters in time and would likely die.” Winter visitors will still have the chance to visit some of the tropical fish on Saturdays during the off-season.
The Maria Mitchell Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Maria Mitchell’s history and research as an astronomer, educator and naturalist. The Association consists of several buildings dedicated to Mitchell and her family including: The Mitchell House, The Aquarium, The Natural Science Museum, and The Loines Observatory. A variety of programs and events are available throughout the year for kids and adults of all ages. For more about the Maria Mitchell Association visit mariamitchell.org.