(In)frequently Asked Questions

(In)frequently Asked Questions

As a science communication assistant at Olympic National Park, I work with the interpretive ranger team at the Kalaloch Ranger Station information desk and also work on interpretive educational programs. While our adult visitors have many important frequently asked questions (“Where is the nearest gas station?” “What are the best hikes in the area?” “How do I pronounce Kalaloch?”), this blog post is *not* an FAQ. Instead, I would like to dedicate some time and space to a few equally important infrequently asked questions from young park visitors. These are questions that at first seemed frivolous but revealed some hidden magic about the world around us.


How long is the sea? (age 4)

The sea that we have here in Olympic National Park is the Pacific Ocean, which is the LARGEST feature on Planet Earth. Measuring in a straight line east-to-west, its longest point is 12,000 miles long. That means its longest point stretches halfway around the planet! It’s tricky to measure the ocean in a straight line, though, because our coastlines are so wiggly. If you were to walk the entire Pacific coast of the US, you’d walk about 40,000 miles–longer than walking all the way around the planet! 


What is the rarest animal? (age 7)

Man, that’s a big question! There are different kinds of very rare and endangered animals in Olympic National Park, like fishers, bull trout, and spotted owls, but the *true* rarest animal probably hasn’t even been discovered yet. One highly debated example is the legendary Sasquatch, which is SO rare… it doesn’t exist at all!

Do starfish get cold? (age 6.5)

Starfish are so different from us that it’s hard to know exactly what they feel. We humans can get dangerously sick if we get too hot (heat stroke) or too cold (hypothermia). When we get too hot, our bodies produce sweat to cool down; when we’re cold, we shiver to warm up. Animals like us that need to make sure our bodies don’t get too hot or too cold are called homeotherms. Starfish, on the other hand, are poikilotherms, which means that their bodies can be hot or cold. When the water or air is cold, starfish’s bodies cool down to the same temperature, so they don’t feel uncomfortable in the cold like we do. Instead, they slow down their metabolism and circulation, so they might feel like they’re going in slowww motionnn. 

image credit: christian schwarz

Why does the trail smell like maple syrup? (age 9)

There could be a couple reasons (someone making pancakes in the campground?), but one likely culprit is the candy cap mushroom, Lactarius rubidus. Candy cap mushrooms contain a chemical called sotolon, which in large amounts smells like curry and in small amounts smells like… you guessed it, maple syrup! Candy caps grow in clusters on dead wood, and when they dry up, the smell spreads through the air. Keep your nose up on warm, sunny days as you walk along forest paths in Kalaloch–you might sniff a sweet surprise! 

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