Staci DeSchryver: The First Rule of Mammal Club, July 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Near the Maro Reef, Northwest Hawaiian Islands

Date:  July 24, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Location: 23 deg, 39.5 min N, 169 deg, 53.5 min W

Wind:  85 degrees at 12 kts

Pressure:  1017.0

Waves: 2-3 feet at 95 degrees

Swell: 3-4 feet

Temperature 27.5

Wet bulb temp: 26.2

 

Science Log

Most of us know the first rule of Fight Club – Don’t talk about Fight Club.  In previous blogs, we’ve established that if acoustics hears a vocalization from the lab, they do not inform the observers on the flying bridge – at least not until all members of the vocalizations are “past the beam”, or greater than 90 degrees from the front of the ship.  Once the vocalizations are past the beam, acoustics can elect to inform the observers based on the species and the specific protocols set for that particular species.  The purpose of this secrecy is to control for bias.  Imagine if you were a marine mammal observer, headed up for your last two hour shift on your ten hour day.  If you stopped by the acoustics lab to say hello and found the acoustician’s computer screens completely covered with localizations from a cetacean, you might change the way you observe for that animal, especially if you had a general idea of what angle or direction to look in. One experimental goal of the study is to eliminate as much bias as possible, and tamping the chatter between acousticians and the visual team helps to reduce some of this bias.  But what about the observers?  Could they bias one another in any way?  The answer to that question is yes, and marine mammal observers follow their own subset of Fight Club rules, as well.

Let’s say for example, a sighting of Melon-Headed Whales is occurring.  On the flying bridge, available observers come up to assist in an abundance estimate for that particular group (more on how these estimates are made later).  They also help with photographing and biopsy operations, when necessary.  Melon-Headed Whales are known to travel in fairly large groups, sometimes separated into sub groups of whales. After spending some time following the group of whales, the senior observer or chief scientist will ensure that everyone has had a good enough opportunity to get a best estimation of the number of Melon Headed Whales present.  At this point, it’s time for the observers to write their estimates.  Each observer has their own “green book,” a small journal that documents estimation numbers after each observation occurs.  Each observer will make an estimation for their lowest, best, and highest numbers.  The lowest estimate represents the number of cetaceans the observer knows for certain were present in the group – for example they might say, “There couldn’t possibly be fewer than 30”.  The highest estimate represents the number that says “there couldn’t possibly be any more than this value.”  The best estimate is the number that the observer feels totally confident with.  Sometimes these values can be the same.  The point is for each observer to take what he or she saw with their own eyes, factor in what they know about the behavior of the species, and make a solid personal hypothesis as to the quantitative value of that particular group.  In a sighting of something like our fictitious Melon Headed Whales, those numbers could be in the hundreds.

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Marine Mammal Observer Allan Ligon records his cetacean estimates in his “green book” after a sighting.

Once the documentation is complete in the green books, the observers direct the ship to return back to the trackline, and begin observing again.  They never discuss how many animals they saw.  This is such an important part of what marine mammal observers do as professionals.  At first glance, one would assume that it would be beneficial for all observers to meet following an observation to come to a consensus on the numbers sighted.  But there are a lot of ways that discussion on numbers can turn sideways and skew overall data for the study.  Let’s take an obvious example to highlight the point.

Imagine if you were a new scientist in the field, coming to observe with far more senior observers.  Let’s assume you’ve just spotted a small group of Pygmy Killer Whales and although you are new on the job, you know for an absolute fact that you counted six dorsal fins – repeatedly – through the course of the sighting.  If the sighting ends, and the more senior observers all agree that they saw five, the likelihood that you are going to “cave” and agree that there were only five could be higher.

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Scientist Paula Olson recording her numbers after a sighting, keeping her information separate from others.

If you never talk about your numbers, you never have to justify them to anyone else.  The question often comes up, “What if an observer consistently over or underestimates the number of cetaceans?”  It’s much better for the scientists to consistently over or underestimate their counts than to spend time trying to fine tune them against the rule of another’s estimate.  If counts skew high or low for a scientist each leg of the trip as the co-workers change, that can create a problem for those trying to analyze the abundances after the study is complete.  Further, not discussing numbers with anyone at all ever gives you a very reliable estimation bias over time.  In other words, if you consistently over estimate, the people who complete the data analysis will know that about you as an observer and can utilize correction factors to help better dial in cetacean counts.  It is because of this potential for estimation bias that all marine mammal observers must never talk numbers, even in casual conversation.  You’ll never hear a marine mammal observer over dinner saying, “I thought there were 20 of those spinner dolphins, how many did you think were there?”

Where do these data go after the study is over?  Data from each sighting gets aggregated by the chief scientist or other designee and the group size for each sighting is determined.  Then, via many maths, summations, geometries, and calculuses, population abundance estimates are determined.  This is a dialed-in process – taking the number of sightings, the average sighting group size, the length of the transect lines, the “effective strip width” (or general probability of finding a particular cetacean within a given distance – think smaller whales may not be as easy to see from three miles away, and therefore the correction factor must be taken into account), and finally the probability of detection – and combining those values to create a best estimate for population density within the Hawaiian EEZ.

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Scientist Kym Yano on the bow of the ship, trying to get an up-close ID photo.

The probability of detection is an interesting factor in that it used to always be considered as a value of 1 – meaning that if a cetacean shows his friendly (or ferocious) mug anywhere on the trackline (the predetermined path the ship is taking in the search) the value assumes that a mammal observer has a 100% chance of spotting it.  This is why there is a center observer in the rotation – he or she is responsible for “guarding the trackline,” providing the overlap between the port and starboard observers in their zero to ninety degree scans of the ocean.  Over time, this value has created statistical issues for abundance estimates because there are many situations when a 100% detection rate is just not a realistic assumption.  Between the HICEAS 2002 study and the HICEAS 2010 study, these detection factors were corrected for, leading to numbers that were reliable for the individual study itself, but not reliable to determine if populations were increasing or decreasing.

Other factors can play a role in skewing abundance estimates, as well.  For example, beaked whales often travel in smaller-sized groups and only remain at the surface for a few minutes before diving very deeply below the surface.  Sightings are rare because of their behavior, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are declining in population.  In HICEAS 2002, there was an unusual sighting of a large group of these whales.  When the statistical methods were applied for this group as a whole, the abundance numbers were very high.   In 2010, the sighting frequency was more “normal” than finding the anomalous group, and the values for the numbers of these whales dropped precipitously.  There wasn’t necessarily a decline in population, it just appeared that way because of the anomalous sighting from 2002. Marine mammal observer Adam Ü assists on a sighting by taking identification photos.

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Marine mammal observer Adam Ü assists on a sighting by taking identification photos.

Statistical analysis methods have also changed over the years once scientists took a harder look at some of the variables that the marine mammal observers must contend with in their day to day operations.  At the start of every rotation, mammal observers make general observations about the sea conditions – noting changes in visibility, presence of rain or haze, wind speed, and Beaufort Sea State.  Observers will go “off effort” if the Beaufort Sea State reaches a 7.  To give you an idea of how the sea state changes for increasing numbers, a sea state of Zero is glass-calm.  A sea state of 12, which is the highest level on the Beaufort scale, is something I’m glad I won’t see while I’m out here.  Come to think of it, we have gone “off effort” when reaching a sea state of 7, and I didn’t care for that much, either.    

Most of our days are spent in at least a Beaufort 3, but usually a 4 or 5.  Anything above a 3 means white caps are starting to form on the ocean, making it difficult to notice any animals splashing about at the surface, especially at great distances – mainly because everything looks like it’s splashing.  Many observers look for splashing or whale blows as changes against the surrounding ocean, and the presence of waves and sea spray makes that job a whole heck of a lot more difficult.  Beaufort Sea States are turning out to be a much bigger player in the abundance estimate game, changing the statistical probabilities of finding particular cetaceans significantly.  

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Everyone loves a cetacean sighting! Corps officers Maggied and Frederick on the bow looking at a dolphin sighting.

One species of beaked whale has a probability of sighting that drops off exponentially with increasing sea state.  As sea state goes up, the chances of seeing any cetacean at all decreases.  Other factors like sun glare play a role in decreased sightings, as well.  When a beaked whale “logs” at the surface in glass calm waters, chances are higher that it will be spotted by an observer. When the ocean comes up, the wind is screaming, and the waves are rolling, it’s not impossible to see a whale, but it sure does get tough.

The good news is that for most species, these abundance estimates account for these variables.  For the more stealthy whales, those estimates have some variation, but overall, this data collection yields estimate numbers that are reliable for population estimates.

 

Personal Log

It is darn near impossible to explain just how hard it is to spot mammals out in the open ocean.  But, being the wordy person I am, I will try anyway.

I had some abhorrently incorrect assumptions about the ease at which cetaceans are spotted.  These assumptions were immediately corrected the first time I put my forehead on the big eyes.  Even after reading the reports of the number of sightings in the Hawaiian EEZ and my knowledge of productivity levels in the tropical oceans,  I had delusions of grandeur that there would be whales jumping high out of the water at every turn of the ship, and I’d have to be a blind fool not to see and photograph them in all of their whale-y glory.

I was so wrong.

Imagine trying to find this:

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Try spotting this from two miles away. There is a Steno Dolphin under that splash!

In this:

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Sun Glare. It’s not easy to find mammals in these conditions.

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Beaufort 6 sea conditions: When you’re looking for splashes…and it’s all splashes…

Here’s the long and short of it – there were times when we were in pretty decent conditions, and marine mammal observers were “on” a sighting, and I trained the big eyes in exactly the direction and my eyes at the exact distance and I still couldn’t see them.  There were times when the mammals pretty much had to be launching themselves out of the water and onto the ship before I was like, “Oh, hey!  A whale!”  I can think of at least four sightings where this happened – whales were out there, everyone else could see them…and I couldn’t find them if they were pulled out of the water and handed to me in a paper bag.  Which is extra disappointing because a) a whale doesn’t fit in a paper bag, and 2) if it did, it would likely soak the bag so that it fell out of the bottom and now I’d have a whale that I couldn’t see anyway who now has a headache and is ornery because someone shoved him in a paper bag that he promptly fell face first out of.  And as I’ve learned over the time I’ve been on the ship and through many forays into the wilderness – don’t anger things with teeth.

I have had the good fortune of watching our six marine mammal observers as they do their work and I am continually floored at the ability and deftness in which they do their jobs.  I have done a few independent observation rotations – I try to get in at least three each day – and I have only once been able to complete a rotation in the same way the observers do.  Looking for forty minutes through the port side big eyes, sitting and guarding the trackline for 40 minutes, and looking for forty minutes through the starboard side big eyes is exhausting.   Weather conditions are constantly changing and sometimes unfavorable.  The sun could be shining directly in the path of observation, which turns the whole ocean into the carnage that could only be rivaled by an explosion at a glitter factory.  While the canopies protect the observers from a large majority of incoming sunlight, there’s usually a few hours in the day where the sun is below the canopy, which makes it blast-furnace hot.  Today the winds are blowing juuuuust below the borderline of going off effort due to sea state conditions.  Sometimes the wind doesn’t blow at all, or worse –  it blows at the exact speed the ship is traveling in – yielding a net vector of zero for wind speed and direction.  Out on the open ocean, Beaufort Sea States rarely fall below a 3, so observers are looking through piles of foam and jets of sea spray coming off the waves, searching for something to move a little differently.  Trying to look through the big eyes and keep the reticle lines (the distance measures on the big eyes) on the horizon during the observation while the ship moves up and down repeatedly over a five foot swell?  I can say from direct experience that it’s really, really hard.

The animals don’t always play nice, either.  It would be one thing if every animal moved broadside to the view of the observers, giving a nice wide view of dorsal fin and an arched back peeking out of the water.  A lot of cetaceans see ships and “run away.”  So, now as an observer, you have to be able to spot the skinny side of the dorsal fin attached to a dolphin butt.  From three miles away.   Some whales, like sperm whales, stay at the surface for about ten minutes and then dive deep into the ocean for close to an hour.  We’re lucky in that if we aren’t on the trackline and spot their telltale blows when they are at the surface, the acoustics team knows when they are below the surface and we can wait until they do surface, so that’s a benefit for everyone on the hunt for sperm whales.

But overall? These things are not easy to find.   We aren’t out here on a whale watching tour, where a ship takes us directly out to where we know all the whales are and we have endless selfie opportunities.  The scientific team couldn’t bias the study by only placing ourselves in a position to see cetaceans.  In fact, the tracklines were designed years ago to eliminate that sort of bias in sampling.  Because we cover the whole Hawaiian EEZ, and not just where we know we are going to see whales (looking at you, Kona) there could be times where we don’t see a single cetacean for the whole day.  As an observer, that can be emotionally taxing.

And yet, the marine mammal observers persevere and flourish in this environment.  Last week, an observer found a set of marine mammals under the surface of the water.  In fact, many observers can see mammals under the water, and it’s not as though these mammals are right on the bow of the ship – they are far far away.  Most sightings happen closer to the horizon than they do to the ship, at least initially.  The only reason why I even have pictures of cetaceans is because we turn the ship to cross their paths, and they actually agree to “play” with us for a bit.   

Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried to hone my non-skill of mammal observation in to something that might resemble actual functional marine mammal observation.  I have been thwarted thus far.  But I have gotten to a certain point in my non-skill – where at first, I was just in glorious cod-faced stupor of witnessing cetaceans, and trying to get as many photos as possible – now, a sighting for me yields a brief moment of awe followed by an attempt to find what the observers saw in order to find the animal.  In other words, I “ooh and ah” for a few moments at first, but once I can find them, I start asking myself, “Ok, what do the splashes look like?”  “How do the fins look as they come out of the water?”  “What does the light look like in front or behind the animal, and would I be able to see that patterning while I’m doing an observation?”  So far, I’ve been unsuccessful, but I certainly won’t stop trying.  I have to remember that the marine mammal observers who are getting these sightings have been doing this for years and I have been doing this for hours comparatively.  Besides, every sighting is still very exciting for me as an outsider to this highly specialized work, and the star-struck still hasn’t worn off.  I imagine it won’t for quite some time.  

 

Ship Fun!

Being at sea for 28 days has its advantages when it comes to building strong connections between scientists, crew, and the officers.  Everyone pitches in and helps to make life on this tiny city a lot more enjoyable.  After all, when you spend 24 hours a day on a ship, it can’t all be work.  Take a look at the photos below to see:

 

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Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana hosts a shave ice party (a traditional Hawaiian treat) on a Monday afternoon

 

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The scientific team gets fiercely competitive when it comes to cribbage!

 

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The Doc and I making apple pie after hours for an upcoming dessert!

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Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana fires up the smoker for a dinnertime pork shoulder. Yum!

 

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Husband and wife team Scientist Dr. Amanda Bradford and Crewmember Mills Dunlap put ice on a freshly caught Ono for an upcoming meal.

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Commanding officer CDR Koes makes a whale shaped ice cream cake to “call the whales over” and aid in our search effort.

Patty McGinnis: Women Scientists on the Ocean Starr, May 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Point Reyes, CA
Date: Monday, May 27, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 38 09.465 ° N
Longitude: 123 01.204 ° W
Air Temperature: 10.2 Celsius
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wind Direction: North
Surface Water Temperature:  9.8 Celsius
Weather conditions: clear

Science and Technology Log

If you had asked me ahead of time to predict the percentage of males and females aboard the Ocean Starr, I would have surmised that males would make up the majority. While it is true that most of the crew is male, my scientist co-workers are primarily female.

Lyndsey

Lyndsey is dressed to go out on deck

Lyndsey Lefebvre is a fisheries biologist who works for the Groundfish Analysis Team. Her primary job is to study the age and growth of rockfish and flatfish species such as sanddabs to support fishery assessments. Lyndsey ages fish by removing their ear bones, or otoliths. Otoliths contain annual rings, much like a tree. The ear bones are prepared by breaking them in half and holding them over an open flame to darken them; the rings are tiny so a microscope is required to count the rings. Lyndsey explains that this work is important because studying the age structure of a population over time can yield insights into the population’s health. Fish populations that are heavily fished tend to be smaller and younger. Lyndsey is also concerned with reproductive biology such as when and how frequently fish spawn. She studies the blackgill rockfish, a long-lived fish that has internal fertilization. Females give birth to live young once a year, but Lyndsey is trying to determine if a female’s health or environmental conditions impact the numbers of young produced. In contrast, the Pacific sanddab releases eggs on a daily basis for up to six months of the year. Lyndsey says that although she enjoys field work, that about 90% of her work is microscope work done in the laboratory. She likes to listen to audio books or music to help pass the time. Lyndsey says that being a fisheries biologist is a great career. If you think you are interested in such a career, try volunteering doing any type of naturalist work and make as many contacts as you can.

Amber

Amber shows a squid jig

One of NOAA’s better kept secrets is the NOAA Corps. The Corps, which is run by the Department of Commerce, consists of approximately 340 commissioned officers who are involved in operating one of NOAA’s ships or piloting a NOAA plane. Amber Payne has been in the NOAA Corps since she graduated four years ago with a degree in marine biology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Amber first became interested in working on marine vessels through her involvement with a Search and Rescue extracurricular club while in college. She considered entering the Coast Guard, but was drawn to the NOAA Corps because it requires a science background. Amber enjoys the many opportunities the Corps has provided, including training and traveling. She recently obtained a 1600 ton Mate’s License which will enable her to work for a private company if she ever decides to leave the Corps. Amber is currently on shore duty as operations officer at the Fisheries Ecology Division which is part of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. In addition to running the Small Boats Program, Amber helps out Lyndsey in the fisheries lab. Recently Amber took a freshly-caught Humboldt squid to an elementary school where she dissected it for the students. She’s pictured above holding a contraption known as a “squid jig” that is used to catch Humboldt squid. Amber’s words of wisdom: always carry a knife and a flashlight with you when on a boat!

Jamie Lee works the day shift so I don’t see much her except at meals. She smiles delightfully as she tells me that her interest in oceanography sprang from watching “Finding Nemo” as a child.

Jamie

Jamie at work in her floating lab

Jamie is currently a graduate student at San Francisco State University; she attended Stonybrook University in New York as an undergraduate. This is Jamie’s first time on a boat and she is unfazed by its ceaseless motion. Her role on this mission is to assess chlorophyll levels. Chlorophyll is used as an indicator of primary productivity, which dictates how much food is available for ocean organisms. Jamie takes the water samples collected by the CTD and pours the water through a filter to extract chlorophyll from all the phytoplankton in the sample. Jamie tells me that this work must be conducted in subdued light to prevent the chlorophyll from degrading and giving an incorrect reading. The filter paper, which contains the extracted chlorophyll, is then stored in a glass tube or folded in half and put in aluminum foil until it is ready to be read by a fluorometer back at the university lab. I asked Jamie why she is interested in studying phytoplankton, rather than fish or marine mammals. She explains that phytoplankton, although tiny, are the crucial element upon which all the ocean relies.

Kaia

Kaia sorts krill

Kaia Colestock is a volunteer who free-lances as a wildlife biologist. Kaia has been assisting Lyndsey in the fisheries lab with counting fish eggs present in adult sanddabs. This reproductive ecology study will help to determine if the sanddab fishery is doing well. Kaia earned her undergraduate degree in fisheries wildlife from Michigan State University and her masters in ecology from Utah State. Kaia has participated in a number of wildlife studies over the years, but her favorite is when she had an opportunity to fly aerial surveys for wading birds in the Everglades with supplementary surveys via airboats.  Kaia recommends her career to anyone who likes spending their time outdoors and says that perseverance, motivation, dedication, and being a good critical thinker are important qualities for someone who works as a wildlife biologist. She recommends acquiring special skills related to math, engineering, or physics. Places that hire wildlife biologists such as Kaia include federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies, and non-profit agencies. This is Kaia’s first time on a ship and she is enjoying seeing seabirds during the day and watching how the CTD is deployed.

Brianna

Brianna preserves krill for future studies

Krill biologist Brianna Michaeud earned her undergraduate degree in marine biology from the University of California Santa Cruz. Brianna plans to pursue a master’s degree beginning this fall at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Brianna enjoys working with krill because of krill’s vital function to the ocean’s food web. Brianna enjoys being on the ocean and seeing what is caught during the trawls. She works for the Long Marine Laboratories, which is affiliated with UCSC. All the data she is collecting will be shared with NOAA scientists. Brianna’s role on this trip is to collect and preserve samples of krill that are collected in both the bongo net and the trawl net. The bongo net is actually two nets that lie parallel to each other; they are designed to remove the effects of the bridles found on regular ring nets. For organisms as small as plankton, the pressure waves produced by the bridles, or connecting cables, can push them away from the net.  The bongo net is made up of a much smaller mesh than the trawl net, so it is capable of capturing the juvenile krill that tend to escape the trawl net. The entire haul from the bongo net is kept in a jar of preservative. Once back at the lab, Brianna will go through the jar to identify the various krill species and obtain a sex ratio for each species. Brianna also preserves 200 milliliters of krill from each of the trawls for later use. Once at the lab, she will count out 100 individuals of the dominant krill species and 50 individuals from the second most dominant.  She’ll then measure each individual, identify how many are gravid (contain eggs), and obtain a sex ratio. Brianna says that marine biology is a “great career” and recommends that students interested in this career take classes in statistics, biology, and chemistry. She also recommends volunteering in laboratories, assisting with beach clean-ups, and reading about oceanography.

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Sophie scans the water and air for the presence of birds

The research conducted this week extends beyond the waters; biologist Sophie Webb is onboard to document sightings of seabirds and marine mammals. Sophie is one of only three scientists who work the day shift. One glance at Sophie informs you that her site is one where she is exposed to the elements. You’ll find Sophie on the uppermost level of the ship where she sits with her binoculars and a computer recording data all day. Her job is not for the timid; the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean is cold and she has little company other than the wildlife she is documenting.  Sophie is no stranger to this type of work; she has conducted this research project seven or eight times previously and has also participated in several five month cruises in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (Hawaii,  Mexico and Central America). Currently Sophie is recording all birds seen in a 300-meter strip seen off one side of the ship. She records the species and basic behavior, such as whether the bird is flying, sitting, or feeding. The black-footed albatross is notorious for following the boat, necessitating Sophie to carefully observe so that the bird is not counted more than once. All the information Sophie collects is recorded into a computer program that is hooked into a GPS unit that updates several times a minute. Sophie shares with me that she is also an illustrator and has authored several children’s books such as Far from Shore, Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage and Looking for Seabirds. If you are interested in a career like Sophie’s, she recommends that students obtain advanced degrees in biology and volunteer as much as they can to obtain experience.

Personal Log

It has been amazing to see how quickly the night shift has formed into a team. Everyone works together when the trawl is pulled up to sort, identify, and record the information as efficiently as possible.  I find it interesting to see the variety of organisms we are obtaining in the trawls; tonight some of our catches mainly consisted mainly of shrimp and smelt.

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Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma displays the results of a haul

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Shrimp and smelt

I also continue to be enthralled with the odd looking creatures that the trawls yield. Last night I saw an eel larva. Its body, almost impossibly thin, was gelatinous to the touch. A tiny eye and mouth were the only things that made it recognizable as an animal. When I held it up to the light its many bones became obvious. Even odder was the Phronima, a creature reported to have been the impetus behind the creature in the Alien movies. I also got to hold an octopus in my hand—I could feel the animal’s tiny suckers pulling on my skin. The octopus was returned to its home after the photo op.

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The bones are visible in this transparent eel larva

Phronima

This cool creature, Phronima, was the inspiration for the creature in the movie “Alien”

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Check out this octopus

Did You Know?

That adult krill have the unique ability to actually shrink in size after a molt if food resources are scarce?

Kaitlin Baird, Women in an H2O world: Girl Power in Science (7), March 20, 2013

Margie Turrin

Margie Turrin- Science Education Coordinator at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Margie Turrin- Science Education Coordinator at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Job Title:
Science Education Coordinator Program: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of the Columbia University

What she does:

Margie’s job focuses on linking education and research in field based science. She works with students, teachers and college faculty, training and engaging them in collecting samples and data that they can study, and that research scientists can use to improve our understanding of estuaries and ocean systems. Whether she is living onboard a research vessel or land-based and organizing trainings, Margie is focused on helping expand the reach of science, developing and sharing ways that teachers and student groups can be involved in field based stud and research.

Favorite Part of her Job:
Hands down Margie’s favorite part is being out in the field. She loves working on a ship or along the shoreline – anything that is outside is OK! Aside from her own love of working in the field she enjoys being with students as they work outdoors since it is never what they expect! Students think science is like a lab experiment with a set beginning and end, but in the field things are always changing and you have to be able to think critically, make decisions and carefully record your data so that when you get back to the lab it makes sense and is usable.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
A background in biology and ecology was really helpful for Margie, but just as important is spending time volunteering or interning in any programs you can find that are related to your interest. Test it out before you commit your education to it,  see if you really like working outside in the field, being dirty and wet and collecting your own data and samples! Always be willing to say ‘yes I can help’ because that is where the real opportunities lie…and ask plenty of questions when you are helping on a project – that is how we all learn an scientists LOVE to talk about their work to an interested audience.

Olga Shatova

Olga Shatova- Graduate Student/Resarcher (marine ecology/biological oceanography)

Olga Shatova- Graduate Student/Resarcher (marine ecology/biological oceanography)

Job Title:
PhD student
Marine Science Department, University of Otago, New Zealand

What She does:
I am currently working on my PhD project that focuses on the role of nutrients recycled by seabirds for the phytoplankton productivity in the vicinity of sub-Antarctic islands. I’m doing my field working in the New Zealand sector fo the Southern Ocean: from off-shore Otago Peninsula to the Ross Sea, Antarctica.

 Favorite Aspect of job:
My job gets me to unique places protected from any public visits. Encounters with sub-Atarctic and Antarctic wildlife is really once in a lifetime experience.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
I think the most important goal is to get work experience outside the classroom. I value most 2 internships I’ve done in Moneterey Bay Aqurium Rsearch Institute and Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences; this helped me a lot in understanding marine science research and allow me to choose what to do.

Darcy Saxion

Darcy Saxion- Student

Darcy Saxion- Student and Volunteer Reseacher

Job Title:
Senior at SUNY-ESF – Volunteer on NOAA Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey

What She does:
As a volunteer on the NOAA Autumn Bottom Trawl, I measured, weighed, dissected, and classified many fish species. I learned where otoliths were located on various fish, learned how to extract them and compared the size of otoloths between various fish. Additionally I learned the classification difference between a scup and a croaker. Most importantly, I became increasingly aware that volunteering/interning for NOAA aboard the Henry Bigelow was the best hands-on out of the classroom learning experience I ever had. I highly recommend this experience to gain a step up in your education.

Favorite Aspect of the job:
My favorite aspect of the job was networking with the crew members; getting to know them, how they got where they are today, and how I can get there myself. Many teachers at SUNY-ESF and Sea Semester have always told me that networking is the main way to achieve your goals and get your dream job. With that in mind I asked for advice, got emails, and most importantly worked hard on this two week cruise to prove my strong work ethic.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
I have not graduated from College yet,  but would say my experience aboard the NOAA ship  Henry B. Bigelow and my past Sea Semester Ocean and Climate experience have been invaluable. Both are visual learning experiences where you’re thrown into a new routine – the learning curves are steep but I recommend them to every woman to better prepare for future jobs.

Claire Grenfell

Claire Grenfell- Student and Researcher

Claire Grenfell- Student and Researcher

Job Title:
Master of Science Marine Environmental Protection
Bangor University, Wales

What She does:
Claire is working towards completing her Master of Science degree in Marine Environmental Protection.  The degree consists of nine months taught courses and three months conducting an individual research project.  During the taught component of the course, Claire is undertaking five modules which each include a lecture period followed by a short research project.  Most recently, Claire conducted a survey to study the distribution of infaunal species along a sand beach in North Wales as a component of the Coastal Habitat module.

Favorite Aspect of job:
The many opportunities that Claire has to gain practical experience during her course, through field and laboratory work, is her favourite part of the degree so far.  She enjoys being able to complement the theory taught in lectures with the acquisition of skills through practical endeavours.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Students accepted onto the course generally require academic or work experience in marine, environmental or biological sciences.  Claire completed her undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and gained practical experience in marine research through a Bermuda Program internship at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS).  She recommends gaining volunteer or work experience in a research environment before undertaking an MSc degree, even if you have a relevant academic background.

Grace Seo

Grace Seo

Grace Seo, Master of Science Student

Job Title
Master of Science Student
Marine Affairs and Policy, RSMAS, University of Miami

What she does
Grace works at the University of Miami Experimental Hatchery (UMEH). She works with cobia, mahi mahi, Florida pompanos, goggle eyes, and blackfin tuna. These are all species of pelagic fish that occur naturally in the waters off Miami. Her focus is live feeds, specifically rotifers. Rotifers are the first live feed that is given to the larvae after they have fully utilized their yolk supply. Live feed is essential to the survival of larvae that are spawned at UMEH. It is her responsibility to ensure the maintenance, growth, health, and quality of the live feed that are essential for larval survival and proper development. She also works with students to teach and guide them to learn the proper protocols of live feed management.

Favorite part of her job
Grace’s favorite part of her job is being a mentor. Having gone through the process of learning all the protocols to a successful aquaculture project, she understands the nuances that it takes to keep the fish healthy and productive. Since she went through the process of learning all the protocols herself, she can relate with upcoming students in their learning process. She is able to relay the message in a manner that makes sense to a person who is new to the aquaculture world.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job
Grace believes that a background in marine science will help but volunteer and hands-on practice is best for aquaculture. Understanding why certain protocols are followed is essential and is best learned through practical application. If you are interested in aquaculture, volunteering at a hatchery would be the best exposure that you can get.

aquatic careers

Girl Power in Science

Thanks for learning about all of these great women working in aquatic careers!

Kaitlin Baird, Women in an H2o World: Girl Power in Science (6), March 19, 2013

Another five ladies who work with and in our H2O world!

Sara Grady

Sara Grady- Watershed Ecologist

Sara Grady- Watershed Ecologist

Job Title:
Watershed Ecologist and South Shore Regional Coordinator
Massachusetts Bays Program

What She does:
A mix of research, outreach, and management, all to help local coastal communities understand, protect, and restore their watersheds.

Favorite Aspect of job:
It’s a tie between getting out in the field (especially salt marshes and mudflats) and the relationships I’ve formed with town staff and citizens

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
While I learned the basics of doing research and presenting it properly and clearly while working on my Ph.D., the interaction aspect came through my actual field work. I studied horseshoe crabs on the Cape, and as part of that I spent quality time with the natural resource staff of some of the towns as well as some crab fishermen. It made me realize that I wanted to do something where I helped the local coastal folks in a direct way with my research and outreach. I also spent a few summers as an undergraduate working at the watershed association that hosts my position, so that experience helped me find the sort of community I wanted to participate in.

Helena Reinardy

Postdoctoral Researcher- Helena Reinardy

Postdoctoral Researcher- Helena Reinardy

Job Title:
Post-doctoral Scientist in the Molecular Biology Lab
Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

What She does:
Developing molecular and genetic techniques for investigating DNA repair mechanisms and trying to understand how capable sea urchins are in repairing damaged DNA. More broadly speaking, I am interested in understanding how organisms are affected by environmental stressors such as chemical pollutants, and the mechanisms they have for dealing with them at all levels of biological organisation (genetics, molecular and cellular, physiology, behaviour, and reproduction).

Favorite Aspect of job:
the variety of the work. The work requires so many different things: working in the lab, running experiments, collecting samples from the sea, designing experiments, researching previous work, writing manuscripts, teaching students, and communicating and collaborating with other researchers all over the world.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Getting as much experience of all the aspects of research as was possible. I worked in labs during my holidays as an undergraduate, I have moved around and been able to gain experience from many different scientist with different skills and perspectives, and my PhD was invaluable training in being a self-sufficient all-round science researcher.

Rachel Parsons

Rachel Parsons- Microbial Oceanographer

Rachel Parsons- Microbial Oceanographer

Job Title:
Research Specialist and Laboratory Manager of the Microbial Observatory
Bermuda Institute of Ocean SciencesWhat She does:
Microbial Oceanography: quantify and qualify the microbes in the ocean – viruses, bacteria and archaea. These microscopic organisms are responsible for using dissolved organic carbon (~40%) in the ocean and re-introducing it back into the food web and oceanic carbon cycle. Autotrophs or plant microbes along with phytoplankton contribute to 45% of the world’s oxygen – basically every other breath that you breathe comes from the ocean. She uses microscopy and molecular techniques to identify specific microbes in the ocean in order to better understand what microbes have adapted in specific ocean depths and why they have made these adaptations.

Favorite Aspect of job:
Teaching students the microscopy and molecular techniques and assisting them in looking at a variety of ecosystems including microbes associated with corals and sponges; those that adapt to a seasonally anoxic marine sound and those that can be used to trace sewage pollution.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
A strong mathematics and chemistry background in high school is essential. Being able to do chemical calculations in my head really speeds up many protocols and having a great grounding in these subjects ensures that mistakes are caught in time! Strong writing skills and knowledge of grammar have also been useful when writing scientific papers.

Katie May Lauman

Katie may Lauman- Student and Researcher

Katie may Lauman- Student and Researcher

 

Job Title:
Ph.D. Candidate, College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Department of Fisheries Science

What She does:
Katie May is working with other scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science studying sturgeon phylogenetics.  There are 25 species of sturgeons, all of which are imperiled due to demand for their meat and caviar, as well as habitat destruction.  These species are culturally and economically important to many communities, including Native American and First Nations groups.  In order to effectively protect sturgeons, it is important to understand their biology and phylogenetic relationships (how different species are related to one another).

Katie May extracts and sequences mitochondrial DNA from sturgeons, and uses this information to construct phylogenies that help elucidate evolutionary relationships among sturgeon species.  She also studies the development of sturgeons during the larval stage to better understand how behavior is linked to morphological development.  This aspect of her research requires her to clear and stain hatchery-raised larval sturgeon specimens- a process that turns soft tissue clear, bone red, and cartilage blue.  She then dissects the stained specimens- they can be as small as 10mm.  Conducting these dissections is a delicate process, which requires use of a microscope- for example, she uses tools such as insect pins to carefully separate the jaws of larval specimens so that she can examine tooth and jaw bone development.  Once dissections are complete, she compares her findings to behavioral developmental information documented by other researchers.

Katie May also participates, with her lab and the VIMS ichthyology course (taught by Dr. Eric Hilton), in an annual fish-collecting trip in the southern Appalachians.

Favorite Aspect of job: 
Katie May most enjoys dissecting larval sturgeon specimens and finding links between the timing of morphological and behavioral changes.  This aspect of her work is extremely interesting because sturgeons undergo very dramatic shifts during the larval stage.  For example, they hatch with terminal, forward facing jaws.  During the larval stage, the jaws slowly shift until they are ventrally positioned and protrusible- meaning they can extend their mouth away from their body to suction prey from the benthos.  Also interesting is the fact that sturgeons hatch without teeth, develop teeth during the larval stage, and then lose these teeth before they are fully mature.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job: 
Katie May earned her B.S. in Biology at Southampton College of Long Island University.  She then earned an M.A. in Conservation Biology at Columbia University.  While at Columbia, she interned at the Blue Ocean Institute, a non-profit organization where she helped develop Seafood Sustainability cards.  She also interned and volunteered at the American Museum of Natural History, working on a molecular coral reef project.  Before returning to school to pursue her PhD, she worked in the grant-writing department at Rainforest Alliance, an organization dedicated to biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods.  The best advice she can give anyone interested in pursuing science is to take advantage of internship opportunities- especially those involving lab or field work.

Yosra Khammeri

Yosra Khammeri- student and regional coordinator

Yosra Khammeri- student and regional coordinator

Job Title:
PhD student,
National Institute for Sciences and Technology of the Sea,
National Institute of Agronomy of Tunisia,
Regional Scientific Coordinator NF-POGO Alumni Network for Oceans (NANO), Africa region,

What She does:
I had the opportunity to benefit from a joint fellowship from the Nippon Foundation (NF) and the Partnership for Observation of the Global Ocean (POGO) to follow a training programme at the Bermuda institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). I was particularly interested by the work addressing the impact of Saharan dust deposit on phytoplankton growth.  At this stage, I was also involved in using flow cytometry to investigate at the single cell level, the response of phytoplankton to atmospheric dust deposit.

I found this approach very appealing to address the impact of Saharan dust deposit on phytoplankton development in the gulf of Gabès, Tunisia, and integrate it in my PhD project which is “High frequency observation of phytoplankton assemblages with automated flow cytometry, response to pulsed events”.

Favorite Aspect of job:
As a scientific coordinator for NANO Africa, I will be able to participate in promoting global oceanography and particularly implementing international and integrated global ocean observing systems.

My PhD project will address several priority areas: fixed point time-series observations, emerging technologies (automated in situ flow cytometry) for ocean observation, data management and coastal observation.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Working hard and passionately contributes to the capacity building of my country by applying my skills and transferring my knowledge to other Tunisian scientists. I am proud that Tunisia will become the second country after France to deploy an instrumented buoy including an automated flow cytometer, thus contributing to the cornerstone of a future Mediterranean network of similar observation buoys. Always be motivated, make connections, and be sure that you love what you do. Oceanography is not an easy field so having the support of your family and friends is also very important!

Stay Tuned for the next set of ladies!!

aquatic careers

Girl Power in Science

Kaitlin Baird, Women in an H2O world: Girl Power in Science (5), March 18, 2013

Fernanda Giannini

Fernanda Giannini- Oceanography Researche

Fernanda Giannini- Oceanography Researcher

Job Title:
PhD student at University of São Paulo – Oceanography Institute

What She does:
I am a first year PhD student in the Biological Oceanography Program and I am developing my field and laboratory work at the Marine Biology Center, located in São Sebastião (northern coast of São Paulo State – Brazil).

My project looks at the estimates of primary production and analysis of photosynthetic rates of the phytoplankton community in the São Sebastião channel. This channel deserves special attention due to the presence of the Port of São Sebastião, which presents potential environmental impacts for this coastal region. Furthermore, there is an important ecosystem located in the continental portion of the channel, the Araça Bay, which presents a very high biodiversity and it is an ecosystem under different types of human pressure.

The project approaches the use of techniques to estimate physiological rates and primary production from the fluorescence emitted by chlorophyll molecules as part of the photosynthesis process in the phytoplankton cells. Several studies on how to accurately estimate primary production rates from the fluorescence data has been developed around the world in order to provide a faster and less invasive method to obtain this kind of data.

Favorite Aspect of job:
For me, the most exciting aspect of being in this type of research is to have the opportunity to be in contact with so many different people, sharing experiences and moving to work in different places, from which you can establish networks and good research groups. The second aspect I consider really important is that, different of other jobs, you have the liberty and independence to work on issues and projects that suit you best, and this makes the job much more rewarding. Also, as an oceanography researcher, I am fascinated with being out on the ocean in research vessels.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
I got my degree in Marine Biology in 2007, when I decided to focus in oceanography, applying for a master degree program in Biological Oceanography in 2008. Then, I have spent two years to get my degree and, during this time, I had great experiences in the oceanography field, participating of different projects, cruises, conferences and so on. By the end of my masters, I was selected to join the Training Program in Observational Oceanography at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). I have spent 10 months at this training and the course provided great experience and knowledge about different areas of oceanography, such as physical and chemical oceanography, data management, remote sensing, etc. As soon as I got back home, I joined the PhD program, also in Biological Oceanography at University of São Paulo. In summary, that was my schooling and experiences which made me end up at my current position, and that I hope will help to set me up for a good job in a near future.

Lisa Bourassa

Lisa Bourassa- Research Associate/Phycologist

Lisa Bourassa- Research Associate/Phycologist

Job Title:
Research Associate, Phycologist
Louisiana State University
Sea Grant Oyster Hatchery

What She does:
I work at an oyster hatchery operated by LSU Sea Grant. Here we grow polyploid Crassostrea virginica oysters for research and development for the oyster industry, as well as restoration working with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). As the Phycologist I am responsible for culturing all of the microalgae that is fed to our broodstock and larval oysters (our system can generate up to 2800 L of algae a day). I also help spawn oysters, culture the larvae, and many other miscellaneous tasks that need to be completed in the hatchery.

Favorite Aspect of job:
My favorite aspect my job is that I’m not chained to a desk! I get to work outside, get my hands dirty, and every day is different! It’s also great to be part of restoration efforts. Our hatchery works with LDWF researching different methods for oyster restoration, so it’s great to be part of something that strives to restore the oyster populations to benefit the environment as well as the industry, which many people rely on for their livelihood.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
While a background in marine biology is very important, I think the experience that set me up best for this job was working in the aquaculture laboratory as a tech at Roger Williams University. Here I learned many of the skills I execute on a daily basis, but I really learned how to manage my time, figure out what needs to be done, and get it done. Because this job was mostly taking care of animals, I learned quickly that when you work with live animals, the animals must come first and be cared for, regardless of weekends or holidays. This experience also taught me how to roll with the punches, and troubleshoot any problems that I encounter throughout the day, and it’s always okay to ask for some help if you need it.

Another experience that set me up best for this job was my time spent as a Girl Scout. Although being a Scout may not have given me the technical knowledge for my job, it taught me how to think on my own, work individually, the value of teamwork, and how to use my resources effectively. I also learned that hard work and challenges are not something to be feared, but instead to embrace the opportunities that they provide.

Kate Degnan

Kate Degnan- Educator, North Carolina Aquarium

Kate Degnan- Educator, North Carolina Aquarium

Job Title:
Educator
Education Department
North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island

What She Does:
Kate conducts public education programs at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. The mission of the aquarium is to promote awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the natural resources of North Carolina. Kate facilitates this type of learning by introducing the public to live animals, using the Science on a Sphere technology developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), playing educational games, or speaking with aquarium divers. Kate has other tasks as well; occasionally she works with the aquarium husbandry staff to help with animal care, each week she dives in the aquariums 285,000 gallon shark tank, and she also helps develop new programs.

Favorite Aspect of Job
Each day is different! Typically within a week, Kate will only teach the same program once or twice since the schedule is so varied. However, no matter how many times Kate teaches a program the delivery and execution of each program is different. Due to the location of the aquarium, people from all over the United States and from different parts of the world visit. Each person who visits has some interest, curiosity, or fear of the animals they encounter. As an educator you must understand their reaction and impart some knowledge so they might be less afraid or more interested and educated. The people make the program.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job?
Kate has found that having experience working with various age groups of students and being able to modify what you teach to suit the audience is extremely important. Kate has a background in marine biology and education psychology; this combination of education has provided Kate with a scientific background but also the understanding of how people learn. Communicating scientific information is important you must be able to translate that information in a way that the public can relate to it and care about it.

Sarah Fawcett

Sarah Fawcett- Chemical Oceanographer

Sarah Fawcett- Chemical Oceanographer

Job Title:
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University

What She does:
Sarah is a Chemical Oceanographer studying the interactions between the ocean’s major chemical cycles (specifically nitrogen and carbon) and phytoplankton, the floating single-celled plants that generate chemical energy by photosynthesis and support all of ocean life. Photosynthesis is the biological process that converts carbon dioxide into organic carbon, and nitrogen is essential for photosynthesis. One major consequence of phytoplankton photosynthesis is that it lowers the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere by storing it in the deep sea. Changes in the efficiency of this storage likely explain past changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which in turn have affected climate. We know surprisingly little about which phytoplankton in the surface ocean are responsible for taking up the nitrogen mixed into the surface from depth, and for transporting organic matter back into the deep ocean, or if indeed all phytoplankton participate equally in this process. Sarah’s interest is in discovering the sources of nitrogen that different types of phytoplankton use for growth, with a view to understanding whether phytoplankton diversity is important for ocean processes such as carbon storage in the deep ocean, and how this might change if phytoplankton communities change in the future.

 Favorite Aspect of job:
I love going out on the ship to collect samples at sea. Being out on the open ocean reminds me of the “big picture”, of the important reasons why I’m doing the research I do. It’s easy to forget that when I spend long periods of time in the lab. I also really enjoy deploying all the different types of instruments that we use to collect scientific samples at sea; some of the engineering that goes into making oceanography happen is genius!

 What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
I got my bachelor’s degree in Earth and Planetary Science, and was first introduced to marine chemistry during the two summers I spent as an undergraduate on the Great Barrier Reef, reconstructing El Niño signals recorded in 10,000 year-old corals. This experience cemented my fascination with how our planet – and particularly our oceans – work. Ultimately, however, taking math and science courses, and taking advantage of field trip and lab work opportunities was the best preparation for this job.

Ali Hochberg

Ali Hochberg -Education and Development Coordinator

Ali Hochberg -Education and Development Coordinator

Job Title:
Education and Communications Coordinator
Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

What She does:
Varies from day to day, but includes writing press releases, newspaper articles, newsletter articles; managing social media accounts; assisting with the creation of short- and long-term audience and donor development and communication strategies; working with faculty to highlight current and future science endeavors; identifying new avenues of publication and promotion within local and international circles; website content and design development; creation and design of new marketing materials.

Favorite Aspect of job:
Using my science background to translate the work of science faculty and staff into materials that can be understood by wider audiences.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
A science background is crucial, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to understand the details of the research taking place, but experience in public education/outreach, marketing/advertising, and writing are also invaluable.

aquatic careers

Girl Power In Science

Kaitlin Baird, Women in an H2O World: Girl Power in Science (4), March 17, 2013

Kayte Altieri

Kayte Altieri- Associate Research Scholar /Atmospheric Biogeochemist

Kayte Altieri- Associate Research Scholar/Atmospheric Biogeochemist

Job Title:
Associate Research Scholar, Princeton University, Department of Geosciences

What She does:
Katye studies atmospheric biogeochemistry and her research seeks to improve our understanding of how air pollution impacts the ocean. Her postdoctoral work focuses on characterizing the sources and interrelationships among pollutants in rainwater and aerosols deposited in the subtropical North Atlantic surface ocean. Katye conducts her fieldwork on the small island of Bermuda, which is 1000 km off the coast of South Carolina. The rainwater and aerosols collected on the island are analyzed by both chemical techniques and instruments which characterize the types of molecules and provides information on the atmospheric chemistry impacting the pollution as it travels out to the ocean.

Favorite Aspect of job:
I love being on the ocean and traveling around the world to conduct my research. I also really enjoy knowing that my work is helping us understand the world around us and how we can better protect it from pollution.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
I was a Chemistry major in college and I did an internship in an Oceanography lab which is where I first became fascinated with the chemistry of the ocean and atmosphere. I recommend studying as much math and science as you can because they will help prepare you for many career paths.

Kate Rossi-Snook

Kate Rossi-Snook- Bay Management Specialist

Kate Rossi-Snook- Bay Management Specialist

Job Title:
Bay Management Specialist and Hatchery Manager
East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery

What she does:
She works on spawning and growing oysters, clams, and scallops for restoration and enhancement of the natural stocks in East Hampton harbors.

Favorite Aspect of her job:
My favorite aspect of my job is witnessing and contributing to the full cycle of life – spawning the shellfish broodstock and being able to see the cells fertilize within minutes, divide within hours, and become larvae the next day; tracking the growth of the shellfish until they are finally large enough to be seeded; and ultimately watching the baymen and recreational fishers harvest the shellfish and directly benefit from the work we do.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
My bachelors in marine biology and my aquaculture experience gave me the scientific knowledge to manage the spawns and care for the shellfish as they grow, while my masters in applied environmental anthropology set the stage for fully appreciating my work and understanding the complexities and importance of a marine resource management approach that takes into consideration and respects the culture and economy of a region as well as the environment.

Missy Stults

Missy Stults

Missy Stults- Research Fellow and Doctoral Student

Job Title:
Research Fellow and Doctoral Student (Previously Climate Director for ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability)
University of Michigan

What She does:
Works with and studies strategies for building more resilient and climate friendly urban areas. Includes looking at the psychology of environmental decision-making and working with local stakeholders to devise practical solutions to local climate action.

Favorite Aspect of job:
Working with people. I absolutely, unequivocally love working with people. Research is fascinating, but it’s only through the application of research that really difference can be made. This is particularly true with an issue like climate change that, I’d argue, we have a moral imperative to address in meaningful ways by engaging with stakeholders to co-produce useful and usable tools, resources, and information.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
My undergraduate training in marine biology and environmental science afforded me the critical thinking skills necessary to be successful in my current role. My graduate degree in climate and society gave me the content expertise needed to truly understand the science behind climate change and variability. However, it was the skills I acquired on the job that made me the most qualified to do the work I’ve been blessed to do. I hope that my doctorate will allow me to refine these skills and give me the remaining training I need to really transform the way we think about urban climate action.

Joanna York

Joanna York- Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Program

Joanna York- Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Program

Job Title:
Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Program
University of Delaware, School of Marine Science and Policy

What She does:
My job includes both teaching and research.

Favorite Aspect of job:
I’m torn here. I love my research which focuses on investigating the sources and impacts of nutrients in estuarine systems. I get to do field work ranging from small boat work to groundwater sampling, and those days are always wonderful– exhausting and wonderful. Lab work is challenging and time consuming, but it produces the cool data that allow me to piece together the story of how the system works. The other part of my job that gives me great satisfaction is teaching. I teach several of the introductory courses our program in Marine Biology and I love working with young people and getting them excited about this field of science. Best are probably the field trips we take. The highlight last year was a moonlit horseshoe crab spawning survey.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
My undergraduate work in general, and specifically a semester abroad spent studying marine biology and ecology probably had the greatest impact. Those experiences sparked my interest in the field and provided the enthusiasm to consider working towards a PhD, which is a requirement for academic jobs.

Diane Wyse
Graduate Student (Oceanography/Marine Science)

Diane Wyse- Graduate Graduate Student (Oceanography/Marine Science)

Job Title:
Graduate Student (Marine Science/Oceanography)
Moss Landing Marine Laboratory
Moss Landing, California

What She does:
Diane is working towards her Masters degree in Marine Science in the Physical Oceanography Lab at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories on the Monterey Bay.  Her thesis project focuses on data analysis of multiple oceanographic sensors from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s (MBARI) Dorado autonomous underwater vehicle.  She is specifically interested in determining what we can learn about plankton community composition from the Laser In-Situ Scattering and Transmissometry sensor, which detects particle sizes in the upper water column.  Diane developed her thesis ideas and questions from work she began during her summer work at where she performed the Drew Gashler Internship.  In addition to taking classes and working on her thesis proposal, Diane has worked as a Research Assistant for the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System, managing the public data portal and oceanographic sensors at MLML.

Favorite Aspect of job:
Diane enjoys the adventure of collecting data for her projects and others, whether it is on a research vessel or on SCUBA.  The challenges of processing, analyzing, and presenting oceanographic data to address questions about dynamics in a marine ecosystem are among the most rewarding aspects of research.  Diane also feels very fortunate for the opportunities to live in beautiful, outdoorsy, and sometimes remote locales in order to study marine science.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
A background in biology and marine science internships from her undergraduate career helped solidify Diane’s interests and background in oceanography.  Exploring a variety of research experiences as an undergraduate was crucial in building a foundation for graduate-level research science.  Diane believes that pursuing research and field opportunities in multiple disciplines was and remains among the best ways to be a well-rounded and informed marine scientist.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more careers!

aquatic careers

Girl Power in Science

Kaitlin Baird, Women in an H2O world: Girl power in science (2), March 15, 2013

A few more career ideas from these exciting women!

Hillary Kates

Hillary Kates- Aquaculture Research Technician

Hillary Kates- Aquaculture Research Technician

Job Title:
Aquaculture Laboratory Technician
Algenol
Bonita Springs, Florida

What She does:
Research and development with blue-green algae, creating an algal technology platform for the production of ethanol. Basically, the company’s mission is to make an affordable and renewable biofuel out of algae for less than a dollar a gallon!

Favorite Aspect of job:
I get to work both outdoors and indoors working on everything from the aquaculture to the physiology of the algae. Its a fast-pace milestone-driven company so there is always something new to be learned!

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
The National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program in Bermuda provided me with an introduction to this field and with an exceptional experience that allowed me to find a job in it!

Karen Sullam

Karen Sullam- Researcher and student

Karen Sullam- Researcher and student

Job Title:
Graduate Student Researcher, Ph.D. Candidate at Drexel University, Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science

What She does:
Karen researches the ecology and evolution of fish and their gut bacteria. She uses three model systems for evolution to test her hypotheses about what shapes bacterial communities in fish and in their environment. These include guppies from Trinidad, which have locally adapted to stream environments with and without predators, Sticklebacks from Switzerland that either live in lake or stream environments, and cichlids from Africa that have adaptively radiated in Lake Tanganyika and consume incredibly diverse diets. Karen uses both collections from the wild and experimental manipulations to analyze the bacteria from fish and figure out what shapes their communities, with particular focus on fish diet, ecology and evolutionary history. She also works as a teaching assistant and teaches introductory biology to undergraduate students at Drexel University.

Favorite Aspect of job:
She has two favorite aspects of her job: learning and traveling. She really enjoys working in an academic setting because it provides an intellectually stimulating environment. As a student at a university, she has many opportunities to meet other scientists, hear different lectures and discuss ideas with other students or professors. She also loves having the opportunity to travel for her work. She has been able to go to Trinidad to conduct fieldwork there, and she has been on a Fulbright Scholarship to Switzerland. Both experiences provided a great opportunity to learn more about the natural environment and diverse cultures from different parts of the world.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
A bachelors degree in biology or a related field is necessary to become a PhD student in her field. Some students first complete a master’s degree, but it is not required for many programs in the United States. She also encourages people to apply to different scholarships and grants. The application process itself is a learning experience, and being awarded one can be life changing!

Kerstin Kalchmayr

Kerstin Kalchmayr- NY Oyster Program Coordinator

Kerstin Kalchmayr- NY Oyster Program Coordinator

Job title:
NY Oyster Program Coordinator
NY/NJ Baykeeper

What She does:
I manage the field aspect of the Oyster Restoration Research Project (ORRP). The ORRP is a multi-partner pilot study to understand how best to reintroduce oyster reefs to NY harbor. I schedule and coordinate field trips with partners, and oversee and manage all the data collection (biological and water quality) out at our experiment oyster reefs.  Part of my job is also to go out into the community and spread the word about the project and why oysters are so important. I also coordinate our Oyster Gardening Program, an environmental stewardship activity engaging New York City residents in taking care of a small cage of oysters. This program aims to reconnect NYC residents with their forgotten waterways and has grown in popularity over the years.

Favorite Aspect of Job:
My job has a nice balance of desk work and field work. I really enjoy being out in the field whether it’s on a boat or in waders come rain or shine. I see the city I live in (New York City) from an angle that many never get to see it from. I enjoy being close to the natural world, and keeping track on the daily tide levels and moon phases which I need to be aware of in order to schedule field trips. Because of the educational outreach aspect of my work I also come into contact with a wide variety of people, which is also an aspect of my job that I love.

What type of schooling/experience best set you up for this job:
For my undergrad I majored in Botany and Zoology so that definitely helped set me up to work in the environmental field. During my studies I volunteered in research projects as much as I could. Moving to a new city after my studies I found that volunteering for environmental organizations was a great way to break into the local environmental scene and meet the people involved. I feel it definitely helped me in getting my current job at NY/NJ Baykeeper.

Kathleen Mimoy Silvano

Kathleen Mimoy Silvano- Biological/Satellite Oceanographer

Kathleen Mimoy Silvano- Biological/Satellite Oceanographer

Job Title:
Biological (and Satellite)  Oceanographer

What She does:
I study these microscopic organisms in the ocean called plankton. These cute little creatures are key players in ocean processes like carbon cycle, fisheries, algal blooms, etc. Part of my job is to go out to sea to measure their abundance, and distribution in a certain area to find out how much they are contributing to the ocean processes mentioned above. I also look into the environmental conditions that could affect plankton to understand their dynamics. Getting measurements at sea means collecting seawater with plankton to be analyzed under a microscope, and deploying instruments that records information about the water at different depths. Another tool that I use to study the ocean are satellite images, a technique called satellite remote sensing. These satellite images are like “pictures” of the earth taken  from outer space, and may look simple but actually contains a lot of information on synoptic spatial coverages that cannot be achieved by going out to sea for days. Besides plankton applications, my colleagues and I use satellite images to detect and study coastal habitats (i.e., coral reefs, seagrass and seaweed beds and mangroves), and processes. This part of the job takes me underwater, diving to survey these habitats and moore instruments that would record water conditions for longer periods of time.

Favorite Aspect of job:
What I like most about my job is doing fieldwork, being out at sea, interacting and learning from other people from different fields. Handling instruments for me is fun as I usually call them my “toys,” and remote sensing is similar to putting colors in a coloring book but doing it in a hi-tech way with a computer, and finding the stories behind it.  Seeing the wonder below the surface (diving) helps me appreciate and reminds me why I am doing this job in the first place. The most fulfilling part about my job however, is when we (colleagues and I) impart to local communities and kids what we do and what we have found out; or see our study outputs (e.g., satellite maps and scientific results) actually being used by communities for fisheries, environmental management and policy making. Of course there’s much, much more work and technicalities behind the  “playing” and “coloring”, but this is just a way of saying how I’m enjoying what I do.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Basic Biology would be a lot of help as well as being technically inclined to work with all sorts of tools. The biology doesn’t have to be specialized, as my background is actually pre-medicine biology. But I would say hands-on field experience and exposure is very valuable because it teaches things that cannot be learned inside a classroom or from a book. Luckily, I had the chance to have sea-time experience which I complemented with formal classroom trainings.

Marine Science Institute- University of the Philippines: my long-term affiliation (since I graduated B.S. degree, and where I actually worked as a biological oceanographer and on remote sensing on several projects. Main sites are Philippine waters, South China Sea, West Pacific boundary.

NF-POGO – BIOS: short-term training to update on techniques. Sites: North Atlantic, Sargasso Sea

Phytoclima Proj. – Universidade do Algarve (Portugal): current affiliation where we study phytoplankton responses to climate change. Site: Southwest Iberia.

Pamela Marsh

Pamela Marsh- Coastal Geologist

Pamela Marsh- Coastal Geologist

Job:
Coastal Geologist, most recently consulting with the National Park Service on Barrier Island Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico.
What the job entails:
This position entails planning and conducting field studies related to sediment transportation along the barrier islands of the northern Gulf of Mexico.  It also involves reading landscape construction plans, technical documents, and regulations prepared by various branches of the federal government, state governments and environmental groups and providing scientific insight and comments to ensure that what is planned is within the realm of scientific possibility and that actions are based on science and not just on wishful thinking and on what is cheapest in the short run but more destructive in the long run. This position involves attending numerous meetings with people from a variety of government and non government organizations and acting as a liaison among the various organizations and being the person who is in the field making sure that the project work is being performed to specifications.  I am the translator who takes the scientific information and explains it to the non scientists.
Favorite aspects of the job:
I enjoy the field work most, especially the two weeks I got to spend aboard a coring ship in the Gulf of Mexico running a vibracorer to collect sediment samples from the sea bottom to see what type, color and size of sediment was present.  I also enjoy finding the flaws in the plans so they can be addressed before they cause problems.
What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
I have a variety of degrees that helped me prepare for this job.  I have an associates degree that focused mostly on communication.  Communication is very important when working with people, especially people who come from different backgrounds and don’t necessarily understand each other’s priorities and concerns.  I have a bachelors in Geography with a focus in Oceanography that gave me the opportunity to learn how the ocean works.  I have a masters and PhD in Geological Sciences that taught me how to design and carry out scientific studies and how to do field work.  Getting graduate degrees also required me to learn to read technical papers to understand the content and taught me to question what I read.  Not everything that is published is correct and it’s important to remember that.  I have a teaching background that comes in handy in explaining things to people who don’t have much background in the subject.  I think all these things are important in order to do this sort of job well.  While a graduate degree may not be strictly required for a job of this type, all the scientific staff have PhDs and all the regulatory staff have at least a masters on this project.
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