Finally Found my Fellow Fish Nerds
I am excited to say that last weekend I got to stay over at the Oregon Institute for Marine Biology (OIMB) in Charleston, Oregon. This trip was for this neat one-credit course called Marine Habitats of the Oregon Coast where you were bused over to the research facility to study the local coastal habitats and the creatures that live in them.
The forty of us got picked up at 8am on Saturday by a decked-out school bus (in other words it looked like a school bus on the outside but the inside was much nicer than the average school bus) and driven to the research facility, which was about a two-and-a-half-hour drive. The car ride was beautiful, just getting to look at Oregon's scenery. So much green!
As soon as we got to the research facility, they fed us lunch and took us to the boathouse to teach us about some of the creatures we would encounter later that day. Then they split us up into two groups to go explore the coast. My group headed to the dock where we got on our bellies and looked at the marine life just below the water's surface. There was a plethora of living creatures at the reach of our fingertips, from anemones to ochre sea star to crab megalopa (juveniles). I was fascinated by all the different colors the anemones came in: greens, pinks, and reds. And they were fun to poke as they tried to latch on to me with their nematocysts and engulf my finger. Naturally it didn't work for them, but I gave them an A for effort.
Next, we went to a different part of the dock to board a small research vessel which took us out to collect plankton. Leading the trip was Dr. Craig Young and his graduate assistant Kirsten Meyer. Dr. Young is the director of OIMB and leads the deep see ecology course in the fall. I made sure I got to talk with him because I am very interested in deep sea ecology. Turns out he's from San Jose and knew my high school. Thank goodness for that small-world encounter. :)
They had us trail a plankton net, an extremely fine net connected to a specially made jar so that water could filter through but the plankton would get caught inside the jar. We also caught some Dungeness crabs to observe. My finger, unfortunately, observed that the crab I held was not interested in being looked out or fondled with. Not at all.
When we got back to the research facility, we took our sample of plankton to look at it under some microscopes in one of the lab classes. I find plankton fascinating because there are so many different types and they manage to be so simplistic yet complex at the same time. We saw crab zoea, sea urchin larvae, tiny jellies, copepods...you name it! It was too much for me to remember the names of all of them. Yet the assistant professor who taught us about the plankton, Dr. Svetlana Maslakova, seemed to know all of them.
After we had another lecture at the boathouse about tides and life in an estuary. Then we attended an advisory meeting to make sure that we knew everything we needed to do for our major. This was extremely helpful since there are so many requirements to fulfill. What is amazing though is that it is a requirement to spend three quarters at the research facility though you can stay longer. I can also create an undergraduate thesis while I'm there as well as work at the new aquarium that had just been built across the street. Hearing this was a dream come true. I will be spending my first quarter there next summer.
And if that day wasn't packed enough, we finished it off with a bonfire on the beach where we roasted marshmallows and explored the tide pools and wharf. The pictures above were some of the pictures I took while looking around.
The next day we had breakfast at 7am and then off we went to the muddy shore to study worms and digging clams. I had no idea I would be so fascinated by worms....
Afterwards we went to another part of the coast to see more tide pools. Lots of tide pools! There was so much to see in every crevice, under every rock, and in every hole that it was too much to take in. The only downside of tide pools is that no matter where you stepped, you felt like you were killing something because there was so much life. In addition to creatures we had previously seen on the dock and at the other tide pools yesterday, we saw way more chitons, lipids, and sculpin. (Two types of mollusks and a type of fish.) There were also a ton of sea urchins, both red and purple, sea snails, and hermit crabs. I had been working in touch pools at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for years but there's something about seeing these creatures in the wild and interacting that is truly special.
The last event we had on our agenda was one more lecture on organisms in estuaries and a tour of the new aquarium that will be opening next month. I am looking forward to working there. It is not the Monterey Bay Aquarium by any means, but it has a lot to offer and a lot of potential.
I am very glad I went on this trip. I got to meet so many cool fish nerds that I could explore the coast with. We weren't afraid to get wet and muddy. And overall, my excitement for marine biology was recharged, reminding me why I am sitting in chemistry lectures. I have a goal and, so help me, I am going to reach it.