Field School is very excited to report that instructor Danielle Quinn will be returning to Garvin September 1-3, 2018, for a repeat of her immersive three-day workshop teaching R programming and ecological modeling techniques. No experience is necessary to participate, though the workshop is appropriate for both beginner and intermediate users of R, and students are encouraged to bring their own data sets to work with. For more information on the modules covered in the course, or to register, go to the course page here.
Our team was in Dry Tortugas National Park this week as a support vessel for elasmboranch researchers from Florida International University. Dr. Mark Bond, the principal investigator, uses baited underwater remote video (BRUVs) to study the effectiveness of marine reserves in conserving sharks and rays.
Dry Tortugas National Park is made up of ocean and a tiny group of seven islands 68 miles west of Key West, in the Gulf of Mexico. These islands (called "dry" because they have no surface water, and "tortugas" because Ponce de León saw a lot of sea turtles when he became the first European to visit them in 1513) represent less than 1% of the park's total area--it's mostly water. Garden Key, the administrative center for DTNP, also contains the largest brick masonry structure in the western hemisphere--historic Fort Jefferson. While we had a great time seeing the sights, the real attraction for most visitors is the amazing variety of marine and bird life that calls the park home.
The Field School team just returned from a successful expedition to Abaco with the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization. Despite windier than expected weather, we spent several days tracking sperm whales, including an overnight track! We were also able to retrieve and download data from the two underwater arrays we set with BMMRO during our November expedition (despite some challenging diving conditions). During the search for the western array, we were weathered in for two days at Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands, where Field School staff and participants had an amazing time exploring the island, including the beaches. We also went looking for (and found) a previously tagged manatee taking advantage of freshwater being released in the marina. On the final day, we encountered and collected data on an enormous pod of melon-headed whales (estimated to contain more than 100 individuals). It was the perfect way to end an incredible trip! Our thanks to the amazing BMMRO and our awesome participants for making even the roughest day spent at sea a ton of fun!
On the last day of our sperm whale expedition, Field School and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization were lucky enough to encounter a pod of over 100 melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra). These amazing animals, which despite their common name are part of family delphinidae—oceanic dolphins—are rarely seen by humans because they rely on deep water habitats. When they aren’t diving down to 500 m (1600+ feet!) looking for food, melon-headed whales spend a lot of the time resting on the surface in small social groups. Encountering this pod was the perfect way to wrap up our expedition!
During our recent expedition to the Bahamas, our team stopped over in Bimini, where we came across this amazing Caribbean reef octopus (Octopus briareus) doing some nighttime hunting. In the video you’ll see the octopus changing color using amazing specialized skin cells known as chromatophores, and expanding its tentacles into a “skirt” to trap small fish and invertebrates so it can eat them. These octopuses are cryptic (hard to see and find) and hunt mostly at night, so it was a rare treat for us to get to see it in action!
Announcing our 2nd annual Summer Scholar Writing Competition! Win a scholarship to join our sharks and rays research course!
Here at Field School, we believe the opportunity to gain field experience and hands-on training in scientific research skills should be available to all interested students, regardless of income. We are excited to announce our second annual writing competition for a full scholarship to attend our summer sharks and rays field research course!
Entrants complete a short essay in addition to our course application, telling us about their passion for sharks and what they would hope to gain from participation in a field course. Winners will be given a full (grand prize) or partial (runner-up) scholarship to attend our hands-on elasmobranch summer research course.
During their week living and working aboard RV Garvin, students will be instructed in shark and ray biology, ecology, and conservation, and will get practical experience with a variety of field research techniques, including the use of BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Video), drum lines, gillnets, and long lines. Students will also get experience and training in how to work on a research vessel and safely restrain shark species for data collection.
The deadline for submission is April 2. Winners will be announced by April 9. The course runs from June 17-23, 2018. All food (with the exception of one inexpensive "dinner out"), housing, research activities, and transportation are included in the tuition for the course once students arrive at the R/V Garvin.
Get started on your submission here! We hope to see you in the field this summer!
On Wednesday our Assistant Director of Program Development Jake talked to the Hollywood Hills Saltwater Fishing Science and Social Club at their monthly meeting. Jake gave a brief talk about shark ecology and biology, while also covering the work he did for his masters thesis, which studied the effects of fishing capture stress on sharks. Club members asked lots of great questions, and were able to chat with Jake afterwards about their interactions and experiences with sharks as sport fishermen. Jake's masters research on shark stress physiology was recently published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science (read it here!).
We're always thrilled to have a chance to talk to people who love the ocean as much as we do. Many thanks to the Hollywood Hills Saltwater Fishing Science and Social Club for the invitation!
A recent study in Science included placing cameras on Polar Bears in the Beaufort Sea. While, no, we don’t see a lot of Polar Bears here in South Florida, they featured in our Executive Director Catherine’s dissertation, and we think they’re incredibly cool (and seriously under threat), so we thought we’d discuss this neat new research.
A lot of the challenges polar bears are facing come down to two main issues: habitat and energy budgets. In general, the more inhospitable to life a place is, the more specialized the adaptations are that the animals that live there need to survive. So polar bears need to eat a lot of calories to stay warm (though their blubber layer and specialized fur help). They also need to solve practical problems like getting enough fresh water in a sea ice environment (which they do in two cool ways—by eating mostly seal blubber, which breaks down to provide fresh water, and by having incredibly efficient kidneys). Changes in sea ice and climate are making it harder for polar bears to access (and capture) the seals they depend on for food. A polar bear that’s hunting successfully may catch and eat a seal every day or two—and if they do, they can expect to gain up to 40 pounds in as little as a week and a half. These resources help them survive arctic summers, when sea ice recedes and they no longer have access to seals as a food source. On the other hand, polar bears that aren’t having good hunting success can lose 40 pounds in a week and a half, putting them at risk of starvation (or at least a very lean and difficult summer season).
Polar Bears are one of the clearest examples of how changing climates can directly impact species that people care about--so enjoy this amazing polar bear footage, take a look at the study itself or the great coverage of it in The Atlantic, but also maybe consider supporting an organization that's working to address climate change.
R/V Garvin and crew just returned from a research expedition to the west side of Andros, in the Bahamas. The research trip transported researchers from Florida State University, the FSU Coastal & Marine Lab, and NOAA collaborated for a joint sawfish and sea turtle expedition, seeking to gather data about local populations of these amazing species. Although blustery winter weather limited the number of field days, researchers were still able to collect valuable scientific data from these remote tropical ecosystems. While the critically endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) eluded the elasmobranch crew on this trip, their team successfully deployed and retrieved acoustic receivers, and were able to catch and sample over 80 sharks! Despite windy conditions, the sea turtle crew was also able to catch and sample numbers of both green (Chelonia mydas) and loggerhead (Caretta caretta) turtles! Overall, it was a great trip which reminded us why we always look forward to expeditions to this remote and beautiful area!
The Independent has coverage of a 2015 paper (which Catherine and Julia helped to co-author) arguing that the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) should stop taking weight-based recreational fishing record bids for fish species which are threatened and endangered. It's a low cost, easy way to reduce fishing pressure on the largest and most ecologically important individuals from fish species at risk. Read the coverage, or check out the original paper here!
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