Capt. Carl opens the ocean
Capt. Carl Abajian demonstrated how he dives to find sea creatures used in his presentations.
Priscilla Rodriguez cautiously stretched out her hand for a chance to pet a sea slug.
He may not be as well known as SpongeBob SquarePants, and he certainly does not live in pineapple under the sea. Yet, Captain Carl Abajian of Seal Beach took children at the Claude W. Richardson Child Development Center on an underwater adventure of discovery they never would have experienced watching the popular cartoon show. Capt. Carl and his traveling collection of live southern California seawater invertebrates came to the Richardson Center on June 18 to educate and entertain students in the Infant Development Program.
While not a cartoon character, Capt. Carl was entertainingly quirky for the young ones, explaining how he dove deep to the ocean floor to retrieve each of his live display animals. Donning scuba equipment and breathing through a ventilator, he demonstrated how it was done with his arms simulating the breast stroke.
Then, with scuba gear off, Capt. Carl reached into one of several picnic chests and pulled out a gelatinous, moving blob known as a sea slug. “See how smooth and soft he is — it is because he eats nothing but seaweed,” the underwater educator explained to the children. Then, he put the slug beneath his nostrils and took a big whiff. “Another thing about sea slugs,” Captain Carl said. “They smell great.”
Soon after, the Seal Beach seawater scholar placed several sea slugs in Tupperware containers filled with ocean water and invited the children to touch, feel and even gently hold one in their hands. Richardson aide Karla Escamilla scooped one out of a container so that a curious infant, Devin Lowe, could get a better look. Escamilla scrunched up her nose and mouth at first, unused to the slimy feel of the sea creature. But soon she was laughing at the curious reaction on Lowe’s face.
“Capt. Carl’s right,” Escamilla said. “It doesn’t smell bad. It smells like the ocean.”
The morning went by quickly as Capt. Carl dug deep into his sea chests to pull out a bat star, starfish, sea urchin and more. “The sea urchin has spines that protect it from its natural enemies, but pick it up gently, the spines won’t hurt you,” he said while rubbing one against his forearm.
The event was one of a series of monthly family activities teachers Abigail Rattay-Miller and Wendie Nielson have been able to arrange thanks to a Kern County Superintendent of Schools’ minigrant. The HEARTS Connection and teachers Sandy Weeks-Kirk and Veronica Benavides also provided additional funding to make Capt. Carl’s visit possible.
“Our theme in class for the summer has been ‘oceans,’” Nielsen said. “And we wanted to give our children a real life experience that they could relate to what has been taught in the classroom. Several of our children have sensory and fine motor skill issues. This hands-on adventure has them discovering different textures they have not previously been exposed to — hard, soft, ridged, smooth, rough and so on. Let’s face it, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. How often will they get a chance again to touch live animals from the ocean.”
All too soon, Capt. Carl had returned his fun collection to their temporary sea chests for the return drive from Bakersfield to Seal Beach. Once back home, he strapped on the air tanks, took a deep breath and dove to the ocean floor. His live companions were safely returned to their homes, oblivious to the important stepping stone they had given about 45 infants learning to manage life in the real world.
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