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Night Walk in the Carson Sanctuary
by -- May 8th, 2010

Noctiluca from Wikipedia

Noctiluca from Wikipedia

Nighttime on the Rachael Carson National Estuarine Sanctuary is never really dark. There are the twinkling lights of Beaufort across the water. And the swinging, swaying floodlights of another group of passengers on the famous Night Tour from the Duke Marine Lab.

Friday night, about 20 of us went on the adventure as part of DUML’s 70th Anniversary celebration.

My group was with Professor Richard Forward, who didn’t really let on that he’s a world authority on blue crabs. We saw a lot of little blue crabs, and hermit fiddler crabs by the thousands, swarming around in the intertidal zone, eating and perhaps hooking up. If you stood quietly you could hear them scuttling in the grass stems and oyster shells all around us.

The other group on our boat went with Professor Dan Rittschof, who won a teaching award a couple of years back for sharing his child-like enthusiasm for the natural world on these walks.

Rittschof has lots of great tricks, like making fireworks with his bare hands. We stood in six inches of water and waved our fingers around in the water, lighting up blue-white sparks from the dinoflagellate Noctiluca.

We also scooped up a few things in long-handled nets — a smallish flounder, various crabs (we barehanded the big orange snails) — and the catch of a night: a football-sized pufferfish who grunted like a pig and spit water to show us his displeasure.

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