Poulsbo Marine Science Center, curiosity lives here

POULSBO — The Poulsbo Marine Science Center is a place to look and touch.

And that’s a good thing, considering many of the center’s visitors are youngsters.

“Some kids just want to reach for something in the water, no matter what,” said Rick Spencer, a retired environmental engineer from Poulsbo.

For the past two years Spencer has been working at the center as a docent, a volunteer who helps answer questions from visitors and show them all the center offers, including the tide pools in the building’s entrance, where visitors are encouraged to look and touch.

Despite a healthy stable of docents, the center needs more to ensure the two daily shifts are covered, and to fill in when other docents are called out of town.

Patrick Mus, aquarium director, said he would like about 10 more docents, noting that it would be difficult to imagine the center functioning without volunteer labor.

“I would be doing it otherwise, and I do everything else,” said Mus.

The center relies on people like Spencer and other volunteers, who do the day-to-day work ranging from cleaning tanks to data processing. Many docents volunteer about three hours a week.

There are also volunteer opportunities for divers and others with skill sets suited to marine science.

But it is the docents who help visitors make the most out of their time in the center.

“It would be hard to keep it open if it wasn’t for docents,” Mus said.

Most of all, Mus said the center wants volunteers who are going to make a committment. Often it gets high school and college students who volunteer over the summer then disappear when school starts again.

Second, is curiosity about the ocean.

Denise Bauman, volunteer coordinator for the center, became interested in marine biology tagging along with her husband when he was in college.

“I’m interested in tidepools more than he is now,” she said.

Both Mus and Bauman said a natural wonder about marine biology is more important than knowledge of the field.

People skills are important as well. Many of the center’s visitors are children, and may require lengthier explanations and more patience than adults.

Besides serving the community and staying close to the marine world, docents have an opportunity to observe wildlife.

Spencer recalled an afternoon when he and one other docent greeted 60 first-graders eager for a tour.