GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - They get to pet sting rays, catch hermit crabs and learn about our coastal environment. Summer camp at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is in full swing this week. Nearly 500 kids will participate this year.
Drag a net through the Mississippi Sound, and you never know what you might pull ashore. That's why seining along the beach in Jones Park is among the favorite activities for summer campers.
"Pull the nets and they get to learn what types of fish and animals live in the waters and we talk about those animals," said Denise Reinke, an IMMS instructor.
Today's bounty from the sea is mostly tiny crabs, including a hermit crab or a "Herman" crab as one of the kids called it. There are all sorts of crabs in these waters.
"Feels like he's trying to get under my skin!" said one young boy, as he carefully held a small blue crab.
"Can you tell what that one is? You know which one that one is? It's a boy! A boy, very good," said the instructor.
From the nets to the trash bags, another beach activity involves picking up all sorts of trash.
"We also do some beach clean up with them so that they learn how to be good stewards of the environment," said Reinke.
A pontoon boat trip is on the summer camp agenda. This time, a fishing excursion on Gulfport Lake. Despite the finest cut bait and excited fishermen, the only thing they seemed to catch, was each other's lines.
"Reel yours in real quick," said one boy, who's line was crossed by the girl standing nearby.
"I am the most horrible fisher in the world!" said one little girl.
"It would be nice to catch one, but they won't bite our bait," said her partner.
Ten-year-old Conner finally started getting some bites.
"Pretty hard, but they're just nibbling on mine now," he admitted.
So, the fishing wasn't the greatest, but there's always the touch tank. A chance to get up-close with all manner of marine life.
Like horseshoe crabs.
"Yep, that right there, that's their mouth," said the instructor, as he held a moving horseshoe crab.
"How does it eat their prey?" came the question from a camper.
"These guys are scavengers. They eat dead things. So they'll crawl over like a dead fish that's on the bottom," the adult explained
"There is never a dull moment. There's so many activities. These guys will become great stewards of the environment," said IMMS Executive Director Dr. Moby Solang
Among the other activities at the IMMS summer camp, is an excursion to Ship Island.