THE SHORT SET: PUBLIC ANEMONE

Traipsing through a tide pool and meeting its inhabitants is a rite of passage for coastal kids. Remember that first poke into the impossibly soft mass that is a sea anemone? Would it tense up and gently enfold your finger or snatch the digit right off? How about picking up a hermit crab and sending it directly into someone's shirt? And those purple porcupine ball things? So weird! Cabrillo Marine Aquarium education specialist Linda Chilton, who leads Weekend Tidepool Walks, says now is an ideal time to hit the rocks. She advises you find out when the tide is lowest -- and don't be in a hurry. "The longer you look the more you will see," she says. Some kids are wary of touching the sea creatures. "I usually let them know it's like touching Scotch tape, and you can pull your finger away at any time -- or if you just want to watch, that is OK. It's best to touch anemones that are underwater so that they can take in any water they let out as they close up." The creatures don't hurt people, but those crabs will pinch "given the opportunity," Chilton says. So maybe putting them down your sister's shirt isn't such a good idea. Try dad instead. Weekend Tidepool Walk, check website for schedule, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, 3720 Stephen M. White Drive, San Pedro. $1. (310) 548-7562; www .cabrilloaq.org

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