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A Visit to Marine Science Institute

January 05, 2016
By Stephen Thomforde
Looking out the dock into the Bay.

The Abe Farag Family Foundation recently supported the Marine Science Institute in Redwood City. I had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Institute on December 23rd.

Arriving earlier than expected, I was greeted by Jodi Stewart, their programs coordinator. She’s also a long time instructor, so she gave me a tour. She began with an overview of MSI’s shore side programs aimed at all ages (pre K and up).

Jodi described one activity where groups of up to 70 elementary school students pull a net across the inlet. What they collect varies, but there’s always something interesting to look at.

Entryway to the Discovery Classroom

They’ll usually catch small fish, algae, and crabs but occasionally the net picks up small leopard sharks too. In these cases, the sharks are tagged and rotated through a petting tank. Many students have never seen sharks this close and its an excellent opportunity for kids to learn that sharks are not all like Jaws.

I also met a bottom feeder called the Plainfin Midshipman. At about 6 inches, he’s only an adolescent. They can grow up to 12 inches long! Depending on their diet, they’ll also shine with bioluminescence. They have a row of glowing spots along their belly. This is affected their diet and only happens when they need to eat biolumiscent bacteria. This is similar to flamingos who only turning pink with a diet of shrimp.

(Hand credit: Jodi Stewart)

At this point, the director, Marilou Seiff, joined us and we continued walking around. We got to see MSI’s main attraction: The R/V R.G. Brownlee. The MSI has been running programs on this boat since they bought it in November of 1998. Before that, they had the R/V Inland Seas an old WWII boat that served close to 300,000 students since the Institutes inception in 1970.

They can run all the land programs and more! This winter, the boat will travel north and run programs focusing on pollution and proper recycling methods. Its awful how much trash ends up in the water. This program is sponsored in part by [the waste management] as part of their philanthropic wing.

This was so cool, I couldn’t resist taking a selfie with Marilou… and the boat. She humored me.

Marilou and me in front of the boat

From there we went to the program center. This great indoor space to work with 50-70 elementary students. The many areas in this space show show what great character MSI has. Many of the smaller walls are covered with marine life paintings. These are done by a variety of students but most are late middle – early high school.

My favorite part of the room was the full Gray Whale skeleton. This whale washed ashore in the bay and died before we could return it to the ocean. MSI gave it a proper burial next to their program center. Years later, they went back and gathered the now bones to give kids another tangible learning tool. I got to hold one of the vertebrae. It was 12 inches across!

A battle between a sperm whale and a squid adorns the wall of the learning center.

After the tour, Marilou and I discussed more of the MSI’s long term goals. They would like to own the property they’ve been working out of for the past 45 years. However, in order to do this they have much more fundraising to do.

While students love the programs and there’s a waiting list for schools, it’s still difficult to make ends meet. Without extra financial support, many schools could not afford to come to MSI. MSI wants to give all children the chance to build a closer connection to the Bay, but they can’t do it without help.

The Gray Whale skull, upper vertebrae, and ribs

I’m proud to be a part of the Abe Farag Family Foundation and supporting the MSI!