Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:23 PM on Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Young naturalist finds mollusk new to K-bay

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Hale Wilkinson holds the Greenlandica wentletrap he found on the Homer Spit, the first collection of the species in Kachemak Bay.

For the third time in two years, the sharp eyes of a young naturalist have noticed something adults have missed: a new marine species never before seen in Kachemak Bay.

Last month, Hale Wilkinson, 14, became the latest citizen scientist to add a new species when he found a Greenland wentletrap (Boreascala greenlandica) near the Bear Country Fishing Village on the Homer Spit.

"It's never been found before," Hale said.

Hale, an eighth grader at Homer Middle School, found the shell on Sept. 25 while walking with his father Kien and brother Emmet on the Spit below the high tide line about 30 feet from the west end of the boardwalk. He thought the shell looked different, but didn't realize how different until he showed it to his eighth grade science teacher, Jennifer Booz. She had no idea what the shell was, he said. Hale showed it to Margi Blanding, his seventh grade teacher. She found something similar in a guidebook and thought it might be a tinted wentletrap.

Hale's mom, Mo Wilkinson, mentioned the find to Carmen Field, a naturalist and educator at the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, who told them to bring the shell to the lab at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. Field hadn't seen it before and worked with Hale to identify it.

"She was pretty excited," Hale said of Field. "She wanted to check it out."

"I had to get out the collection of field guides and keys to know what to look for," Field said.

By looking at the distinctive ridges under the ribs running around the axis of the shell, Field and Hale figured out it was a Greenland wentletrap, a shell first described in 1811 by British scientist George Perry, who first saw one in Greenland — hence the name.

In 1999, the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve started the Kachemak Bay Ecological Characterizations, a list of species found here as reported in research. Part of the Epitoniidae family of gastropods, there have been other wentletraps seen in lower Cook Inlet, including a tinted wentletrap found in Anchor Point.

The Greenland wentletrap lives in deeper water about 45 to 80 feet and feeds on anemones. Field said she thought the shells might have come from a reef off the Spit.

"Since it's on the bottom is probably why it doesn't come up on shore a lot," Hale said.

Living in circumboreal latitudes about 40 degrees and further north, the Greenland wentletrap isn't out of its theoretical habitat.

"This is its natural habitat," Hale said. "I believe you would find more on the northern end of Alaska."

In April, some students in Carol Gray's class found a new nudibranch, a kind of invertebrate, in Kachemak Bay. Two years ago Clem Tillion Jr. and Hunter Tillion found a new crab, the yellow shore crab, near Halibut Cove.

"I like to think that the kids are learning on their own, or learning from their teachers or from us what's normal, what belongs," Field said of the recent youth discoveries. "It's nice to see local kids noticing things that are different out there."

"I think it's so cool Hale found this, but more cool that our kids are out there finding things that are different," Mo Wilkinson said. "It proves our science teachers are doing a good job and getting our kids outside and showing them what to look for and notice."

Hale also did another cool thing, Field said, by donating one shell to the Research Reserve.

"It was very kind of him to share that with other people," she said.

Next month, the Research Reserve starts a new project, the Nature Trading Post, to share less rare, but just as cool, natural objects. People can bring in things they find, get points for writing up information on them, loan the objects, and check out other things to learn more.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.