I Love Ice Cream! I Just Can’t Kelp Myself!

Pop quiz! What do strawberry, rocky road, mint chocolate chip, French vanilla, and butter pecan, have in common? They’re all ice cream flavours! What does ice cream have to do with an invertebrates course? Hold tight and I’ll tell you.


This past weekend, our class ventured to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC) on the west coast of Vancouver Island. One of our many cool activities there included exploring the intertidal zone at Brady’s Beach. We flipped over rocks and scaled the sea stacks, in search for our favourite invertebrates and whatever other fascinating marine life we could find. I was particularly intrigued by the bull kelp I found washed up on the beach.

Bull Kelp Diagram

Bull kelp or Nerocystis Luetkeana is not an invertebrate. It’s a type of brown algae. Now, to be perfectly frank, I used to think algae was boring. I mean how interesting could a piece of seaweed be? Very!

Bull kelp grows from the ocean floor in the Pacific Northwest between Alaska to California. It’s structure can be divided into 4 sections, the holdfast, stipe, bulb, and blades. The bulb is filled with 10% carbon monoxide which allows it to float on the surface of the water and photosynthesize. This is likely where bull kelp gets its scientific name. Nerocystis translated from Greek means mermaids bladder.

Bull kelp is an important part of marine ecosystems. It forms dense underwater forests that provide shelter for fish and invertebrates. Sea otters also like hanging out in these forests snacking on sea urchins and taking naps.

Bull kelp grows annually from a single spore every year. It grows very quickly, sometimes up to 10 inches a day! The length of the stipe alone can grow up to 30-35 meters.

There are many creative ways that we can use bull kelp. First Nations groups used the dried stipes to make fishing lines and the bulbs as cups for holding oil. Other creative uses of bull kelp include weaving it into a basket and turning it into a skipping rope, a lasso, a puppet, or musical instrument.

Bull Kelp Forest

Bull kelp is totally edible and happens to be quite nutritious. It’s low in fat and high in vitamins, minerals, and protein. Speaking of food, let’s talk ice-cream. Alginates are a type of sugar found in most brown algae. When combined with water, alginates form a thick jellylike like substance. The alginates from brown algae are used as a natural stabilizing agent in a wide range of products including textile printing, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and ice cream!

So you see, algae is lot more interesting than you think. You’re now armed with lots of fun facts about bull kelp you can share with others. If you want to learn even more about bull kelp or try a delicious pickled bull kelp recipe follow the links below

Pickled bull kelp – http://www.food.com/recipe/pickled-bull-kelp-334435

Bull kelp info

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