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Pier Peer at Point Defiance in Tacoma Washington

Updated on January 26, 2014

Peer at the pier brochure


Peer At The Peir

It is February 2013. I signed my ten year old daughter and I up for this peer at the peir event not really knowing what to expect. I turned out to be a fantastic way to spend a Saturday evening with my hard to impress daughter.

The Peer into the Pier program has been running for two years now and is very popular. Our class was registered to full capacity of 40 participants. It only runs during the winter months because that is when they see most activity around the docks at night as explained by one of the volunteers.

Big orange life jackets!

Life Jackets

The event we signed up for was at the Point Defiance Marina and began at 7:30 pm so it was cold and dark out. We expected the cold so we were dressed appropriately in wool caps, winter coats and warm gloves so we were pretty comfortable. We were welcome to bring our own life jackets but unfortunately don't own any so we used the big orange ones that were provided.

Catching critters with buckets on a stick!

Fun on the docks

After we checked in and the safety rules were reviewed we went down a steep ramp to the dock below. It was very dark out there but several big spotlights shone into the water so that we could see the sea-life teeming below the surface of the water. I have walked on these docks before in the daylight and never seen much down there but dark water. It was amazing to see all of the sea-life below. The kids were given a bucket attached to a long stick with which they are supposed to scoop up sea critters. This is where the one parent per child ratio becomes important. It is really important to watch your child carefully to make sure they don't fall in. The docks do get crowded and it is possible to get bumped off the dock. The kids had a great time "fishing" for sea-life with their buckets. My daughter caught several jellyfish about the size of a dime. We could see the herring busily swimming around just out of reach for our buckets on a stick. There was a tub on deck where the kids could deposit their catch so everyone could see. Several volunteers patrolled the dock to be sure everyone was being safe and to explain exactly what we were looking at in our buckets. A couple of divers were near the docks pulling up some bigger sea-life from down below. These larger animals were brought up to the main boardwalk to that everyone could look at and talk about them. My daughter was fascinated with the divers bobbing up to the surface and talking about what they were seeing and then back down again leaving giant bubbles behind.

This is a decorater crab.  They decorate their shells with stuff found on the sea floor.
This is a decorater crab. They decorate their shells with stuff found on the sea floor.
Hey watch it lady I am feeling crabby!
Hey watch it lady I am feeling crabby! | Source

Table 1

The upper boardwalk was well lit and there were two tables set up. The first one had large tubs of water that contained some of the larger animals brought up by the divers. The children and their parents could touch and ask questions about what the sea creatures. The volunteers were friendly and knowledgeable they had all the right answers for my silly questions. There was a nice variety of sea life to look at in the buckets such as starfish, a sea spine and a decorator crab. My daughter thought it was hilarious when one of the large crabs grabbed on to my finger, gave me a good pinch and then hustled away irritably across the bucket.

We get a closer look with the handy dandy magnifying glasses
We get a closer look with the handy dandy magnifying glasses | Source

Table 2

The second table held a microscope and several magnifying glasses that the kids could look at the little sea critters with. My daughter loved placing her catch in a water filled petri dish and gaining a close up look at what she caught. We could really see all the little details of the tiny jellies. When we finished looking at them we placed them safely back into the larger water bucket.

This is a sea goosberry jellyfish.  We caught several of these fun little jellies.
This is a sea goosberry jellyfish. We caught several of these fun little jellies.

Advice for a great trip to the pier

Be sure to dress warmly and in water resistant type clothing. We wore waterproof pants and ski jackets which worked well for us.

Wear water proof gloves to keep your hands warm

Bring your own life jacket if you own one. It is great that they have these big fat orange life jackets to borrow but you will probably be more comfortable in your own.

Wear a headlamp, your hands will be to busy playing with sea creatures to be holding a flashlight.

Bring a camera. Even though it is dark you are sure to find something that is photo worthy.

Wear shoes with good traction to wear on the dock.

Be very aware of your surroundings on the dock as they do get crowded.

To register for this event


Wrapping up for the night

After several hours of being fascinated by the incredible sea-life of the Puget Sound we were ready to get warm and head home. We thanked the staff and got some free hot coco in the boathouse. The coco was just the thing to warm us back up. All the way home my daughter excitedly buzzed about all that she saw at the pier. We can't wait to go back and do it again!

Some interesting brickwork on the pier
Some interesting brickwork on the pier | Source

About the Author

My name is Karen Shiley. I live in the beautiful evergreen Washington state. I have an adventurous spirit and love to share what I learn with everyone. I like science, gardening, cooking, reading, daytrips and above all else my amazing family who supply me with endless amusment and happiness. This article was originally written and published by me on February, 3rd 2013.


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What a great evening activity. I never knew this existed. I was born and raised in Tacoma, in the North End, and I have spent countless hours playing at Point Defiance...I even remember when the old boathouse burned down. :) Anyway, thanks for the memories and the fun hub.


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