Author Archive

How Many Grad Students Does it Take to Dissect a Fish?

September 24, 2011

photo: E. Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

For a fish as big as a mahi-mahi, getting the inside scoop can be a team effort.  Students from an MLML Ichthyology class dissected this fine specimen to study everything from the digestive system to the muscles of the fins and head, and even got an up-close look at the eye ball.  We took care to only cut up one side of the fish, leaving the other half presentable for visitors to admire at our Open House.  The “good side” of our then two-faced fish became the basis for some giant-sized fish prints!

Baby Black Cod

September 19, 2011

Only a few inches long, this baby sablefish (in green) wouldn't be a satifsying meal, but is a feast for the eyes (photo: E. Loury)

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab.

Sablefish, also known as Black Cod, are enjoying a boom in price as the in-demand fish of the hour.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide currently ranks them as “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative,” depending on where they are caught.  While the adults are indeed black and color (and do taste delicious, from my limited exposure), the juveniles are a rather attractive pearly green, like this one turned up in a fish trawl off of southern California.

Saying Thanks to Dr. Kenneth Coale

September 18, 2011

Kenneth in action at an MLML holiday party for the all-important turkey carving. (photo: E. Loury)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

My very first class as a shiny and eager new student at MLML, in that distant year of 2008, was Chemical Oceanography with Dr. Kenneth Coale.  That class not only kicked of my graduate path in marine science, it also helped spark the inspiration for this very blog.

During each class, before delving into the particulars of the nitrogen cycle and the oxygen minimum zone, Kenneth would use the first ten minutes to talk about some big issue facing the ocean.  The fateful day we talked about the article “110 Misconceptions About the Ocean,” was certainly a wakeup call.  Learning what major gaps existed in the public’s “ocean literacy,” combined with a discussion of blogs in Joan Parker’s Library Research Methods class, put the wheels in motion that helped me create the Drop-In.  As I wrap up my time at MLML, I just wanted to thank Kenneth for his many contributions to MLML that I have found so inspiring.

Some of my favorite memories of Kenneth include seeing him in the front row of almost every seminar and student thesis defense, always ready with a thoughtful and insightful question and an expression of support for the speakers.  He also would provide the turkey for the lab holiday party and carve it himself, and one year brought a build-your-own chocolate mousse dessert that also demonstrated some delicious principles of chemistry.   I enjoyed seeing him as an active member of our community despite his many administrative duties – he even came out in style for our Lab Olympics this year.

Kenneth (left) competes in the blind dive slate assembly challenge during the 2011 Lab Olympics. (photo: S. Gabara)

I have also benefited from Kenneth knowing students well enough as individuals to direct us towards fitting opportunities.  After becoming aware of my interest in science communication and outreach, Kenneth got me involved with the MARINE program to represent MLML in developing programs for all marine graduate students in the Monterey Bay Area.  He also suggested me as an interview subject for the Ocean Project by SepctorDance, where I was in the company of many top-notch ocean scientists.

So thank you, Kenneth, for all the work and heart you dedicated to the lab as our Director.  Your kindness and support helped make my graduate experience at MLML truly enjoyable.

The Stargazer Fish – a Pretty Name, If Not a Pretty Face

September 14, 2011

photo: E. Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

It might not be one of the the shiniest stars of the deep sea, but the stargazer fish certainly has some unique adaptations.  With eyes on top of its head (the source of that romantic name) and an upturned mouth, the stargazer can bury itself in the sand where it is perfectly poised to snatch an unsuspecting meal swimming by.  And don’t get too dreamy-eyed if you ever try to handle one – those spines behind the head have venom that can pack a sting.  This fish is more on guerrilla tactics than moonlit strolls!

Pinned to the Bottom of the Sea

August 30, 2011

The long trawl net coming on board as it's supposed to. (photo: E. Loury)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

I’ll admit, the prospect of spending ten days at sea aboard a 60 foot fishing vessel to do a fish survey had me a bit nervous.  The conditions in sunny southern California are nothing to rival the Bering Sea storms that Nate Jones blogged about – but even so, there can be tense moments.  The day I have in mind was while we were trawling off the coast of San Diego.  The continental shelf is very wide in this area, and we were miles from shore on the continental slope. With nothing but water all around us, we were reeling in our long net when suddenly it wouldn’t budge any further.  We were stuck.

Our lead scientist and the fishing crew deliberated our choices.  We could cut the net, which would involve a considerable loss of money, and any further sampling would literally be cut short.  We’d have to return to port early, and our survey would be over.  Or they could try to salvage the net, although how to do so without any help in over a thousand feet of water was beyond me.  Unable to contribute any useful skills or advice to the situation, I curled up and took a nap.  The crew later said they were impressed that I seemed unperturbed by the whole situation.  But in reality, sleeping was my best way to avoid thinking of that fact that I was bobbing in a tiny boat effectively pinned to the bottom of the sea.

The tangled net limps back on board after being stuck to the bottom of the sea. (photo: E. Loury)

The crew’s strategy to free us from our deep-sea snare turned out to be straightforward: it involved letting out one side of the net, then reeling it in as they let the other side out.  This alternating dance of pull and release essentially rocked the net back and forth, attempting to shake it from the grip of whatever underwater ledge or rocky outcrop had us snagged.

After about three tense hours, it worked.  With a sigh of relief and a tinge of sadness, I welcomed our tattered net as it limped back to the surface, a messy tangle of floats and line.  Once it was aboard, the crew set about mending the tear.  I’m fascinated by the historic artistry involved in “sewing web,” as the mending of the net is called.  I have to say I was not a quick study in the skill, but my fellow scientist Melanie was an old hand at it.  Consider it just another a job hazard in the world of fishing.

Scientists and crew mend the torn net to get it back into service – all in a day's work! (photo: E. Loury)



Moss Landing, Our Port of Call

May 23, 2011

photo: E. Loury

It’s relatively easy to orient yourself back to Moss Landing from anywhere in Monterey Bay, as long as you can catch a clear glimpse of our iconic smoke stacks.  MLML students can take in this unique ocean-side view of the town when heading out to sea on class research cruises.  Looks like the Drop-In has the start of a photographic study on the many faces of the Moss Landing smoke stacks!

Eyes on the Pies

May 20, 2011

No mess, no glory! (photo: E. Loury)

As the school year winds to a close, Moss Landing students get ready to unleash their post-finals jubilation on the time-honored Lab Olympics.  These contestants from last year have survived a pie-eating contest, one of may challenges facing the would-be Lab Olympic champion.  This year’s event is approaching next week – what daring feats of skill will come to pass?  Stay tuned to find out!

Basket Case: A Tangled Catch from the Deep

May 19, 2011

photo: E. Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

The fishing practice of bottom-trawling, which involves dragging a weighted net across the seafloor to scoop up deep-dwelling fish, has some obvious downsides: the net often indiscriminately collects everything else in its path.  Despite its potential destructive consequences to marine habitats, scientists sometimes use trawling on a small scale as a collection method, and to survey what animals are present in deep areas that are otherwise hard to access.

This haul from a government fishing survey near southern California yielded a bonanza of basket stars, a type of brittle star with many branching arms.  You can also spot rockfishes, urchins, crabs and sponges amongst the catch.  Though trawling may clear a swath of the seafloor, there are few other means to collect deep-sea animals to inspect an study them.  Advances in underwater robotic technology provide one avenue for less destructive studies.

Squat Lobster Caviar

May 18, 2011

photo: E. Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

This bright white crustacean is a squat lobster pulled from the deep during a government fishing survey in southern California.  Squat lobsters aren’t actually lobsters at all (they’re more closely related to porcelain crabs and hermit crabs), and are much smaller than lobsters (note my finger in the photo below).  Their tucked-under abdomens and extended claws always make me imagine them doing some kind of yoga pose.  Flipping this one over indicated that it (or rather, she!) was closely guarding a clutch of bright red eggs.  Holding them close is probably a good idea – they look like they’d make a tasty snack for some predator swimming by!

Clearly this one is a female! (photo: E. Loury)

Sea Slug: A Little Drop of Sunshine

May 17, 2011

A nudibranch in the hand is worth a dozen hidden under intertidal algae during an early low tide! (photo: T. Mattusch)

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

Sea slugs, or nudibranchs, are some of my favorite marine animals.  While an undergraduate at UC Davis, I participated in the awesome summer program at Bodega Marine Laboratory and did a research project on these sponge-eating squishies.  I spent many an early morning on hands and knees in the rocky intertidal zone, searching for nuidbranchs to use in my experiment (I was trying to test their movement in response to chemical cues from their sponge prey).  Despite being bright yellow, these buggers can be hard to find, and I often had my boots filled with water from trying to nab them in hard-to-reach crevices.

But occasionally a nudibranch will turn up in an unexpected place, like on a fishing boat!  This little guy got taken for a ride when snagged by an angler’s hook during marine protected area monitoring surveys conducted by the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program.  Though I thought it was quite the catch, we were really after things like rockfishes, so we released it without a tag.  The poor thing had probably experienced enough trauma for one day!

A dorid nudibranch in a more natural setting. Their sensory rhinophores (those ear-like structures) and the tuft of gills (yes, they breathe near their rear ends) makes me think of them as little sea rabbits! (photo: Steve Lonhart / SIMoN NOAA)


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