Chris Hall, 9, stared at the shark egg, floating only two inches away from his nose.
"I can't believe Jaws is in there!" Hall said as he leaned against the indoor tide pool at the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center.
Inside the egg wriggled a gray embryo, small as a tadpole and bobbing next to a ball of yolk. The egg, shaped like a bottle, was hooked onto a clump of algae.
Hall was one of the dozen or so children who learned about some forms of tide pool life Saturday afternoon. Each weekend, the visitor center offers free slide shows and lectures on topics ranging from Chumash Indians to shipwrecks.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 18, 1991 Ventura County Edition Ventura County Life Part J Page 9 Column 3 Zones Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Column byline--Last week's For the Kids column on the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center was incorrectly attributed to regular contributor Jane Hulse. The column that week was written by free-lancer Iris Chang.
Each year, about 200,000 people visit the center, located at 1901 Spinnaker Drive in Ventura.
During one slide show, park Ranger Ron Massengill delighted parents and children alike when he flashed pictures of plants and animals living in the grooves and basins of the islands' rocky shores. The presentation gave the audience a little history of the national park, which contains five of the eight Channel Islands.
He explained how food and predators wash in and out of the tide pools with each crashing wave, and the ways in which species adapt to survive: mollusks with eight plates of black armor and spikes to ward off birds, anemones squeezing into tight wads of needles, sea urchins with grips so tight they carve holes into the rocks.
There were moments of beauty too. Thick rugs of algae, pools splashed with orange bits of barnacle, pink patches of a saddleback sculpin fish blending into the tide pool floor.
After the show, children were encouraged to touch some of the displays in the center, such as the abalone shells, coral and a gray whale baleen--a rank of strawlike bristles that filters incoming food for the whale. They can also squeeze an empty shark egg as hard as they can, but the "mermaid's purse" is flexible and practically unbreakable.
Along the center's walls is a miniature beach, scattered with stone mortars and pestles that were used to grind seed by the Chumash Indians hundreds of years ago. Stuffed owls and sea gulls hang suspended in mid-flight by metal hooks from the ceiling.
In another room, the center offers a model of the islands, jutting with small brown mountains over a painted blue sea. The walls are lined with pictures of goldfish and starfish and a giant information sheet decorated with a swarm of ocean animals.
But the greatest attraction of the center is an artificial tide pool populated with sea cucumbers, lobsters, anemones and about 50 other species. Visitors can watch rangers feeding the animals at 3:30 p.m. on weekends.
As children crowded around the indoor tide pool, Teresa Brodsky, 3, pointed to a green and purple striped shore crab.
"It looks like a spider!" Teresa squealed as she tugged at her mother's sleeve.
Kathleen Brodsky, meanwhile, was mesmerized by a C-O turbot that looked like "a dead fish lying on its side."
Park Ranger Dana Smith sprinkled mussel meat into the indoor tide pool and scooped up an urchin in a plexiglass container, cautioning visitors to avoid stepping on animals or handling them too roughly when exploring.
The audience learned that the ideal time to visit a tide pool is during low tide, one hour before the water reaches its lowest level. Rangers recommend that parents take along a field guide to help identify different species, such as a copy of "Seashore Animals of the Pacific Coast" by Myrtle Johnson.
Families wishing to visit the Channel Islands can make anappointment with Island Packers, a company that ferries up to 50 people at a time for $20 to $55. Reservations must be made at least one to two weeks in advance by calling (805) 642-1393.
Here is a schedule of July events sponsored by the National Park Service:
* "The Danger Zone--Foggy Seas and Shipwrecks Off the Channel Islands." Ranger Lisa Porto will tell the stories of three famous shipwrecks--the Cuba, the Chickasaw and the S.S. Winfield Scott--and what the National Park Service is doing to preserve the wreckage. , July 21 at 2 p.m. in the visitor center. For more information, call (805) 644-8262.
* "The National Park Service--Polishing the Jewels for 75 Years." Celebrate the diamond anniversary of the National Park Service by learning more about its heritage and its 355 park sites. Ranger Dana Smith will speak at McGrath State Beach, 2211 Harbor Blvd., on Sunday at 2 p.m. and on July 27 at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call (805) 684-2811 or (805) 654-4611.
* "Life Before Vons." Park Ranger Julie Pearson will discuss how the Chumash Indians prepared food, medicine and games from plants in a hunter-gatherer culture that was sustained for more than 10,000 years on the Channel Islands. July 28 at 2 p.m. at the visitor center.
* "The Island Chumash: A Window into Their World." Learn more about the lifestyle of the Chumash Indians. Park Ranger Jean Van Tatenhove will use archeological clues to explore the world of the ancient Chumash and how it compares with the world today. July 20 at 8:30 p.m. at Carpinteria State Beach.
* "The Ever-Changing Landscape of the Channel Islands." Park Ranger Gil Gregory will look at how plants, animals and natural processes bring about subtle to major changes to the Channel Islands. The presentation will describe what people have done to disrupt the ecosystem in the islands and what the National Park Service can do to restore it. Saturday at 2 p.m. at the visitor center.
* "Kelp: A Hidden Goldmine." It's more than just a slimy tangle of leaves that washes up on the beach. Park Ranger Nate Keever will tell you where it comes from, what it is made of, what it can be used for and what it is worth. Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at McGrath State Beach.