Monday, September 2, 2013

Doing Science....

I'm a science big surprise to anyone who knows me. I take pride in being a fountain of useless knowledge of science factoids (how many people really know that spanish moss and pineapples are in the same plant family...didn't think so). I even subscribe to an online magazine just to get cool science research fixes......

I've had my fair share of fun field (and lab) work since college....working on fishing boats in Alaska (well technically in international waters, since I think I only was on land maybe 4 days the whole 2 months I was up there), circumnavigating Catalina Island for dolphin research on 3 day trips, pipetting like a pro at the genetics name just a few, but you get the picture. I think my favorite field work has been helping with the HERA dolphin situ field work at its best.

Cliffnotes version.....dolphins are sentinels for humans. Given we can't (easily) get permits to draw blood, remove blubber (I would gladly donate some though!), and poke and prod to check the health of humans based on contaminant loads, dolphins are the next best thing. Given dolphins live the water we play in and eat a lot of the same fish and shrimp we do, by checking out them it gives us a way to guesstimate/correlate to human health. If dolphins in an area are healthy then the sea food is probably okay for humans to consume frequently.

Anywho, back to the story. I was able to help when I was a graduate student with the dolphin captures back in 2003 and 2005 (I was preggo in 2004.....since dolphins can carry toxoplasmosis (ie reason you don't have kitty litter duty while pregnant) I couldn't go out due to the safety of Mason growing in my tummy). Teaching high school chemistry, put a bit of a damper on my field work opportunities (and field trips would make me miss it so much). So, when asked if I could volunteer and help with photo-ID, I jumped at the opportunity.

Being on the photo-ID team, meant riding in style on the catch boat. This particular boat had wet areas to stand and wetter areas to stand....staying dry while on the boat pretty much wasn't an option. While showering when under way, we watched for dolphins. As part of the photo-ID team our jobs were to make sure the dolphins hadn't been previously capture this week (we'd put pink and blue tags on them which can be seen from a distance), as well as make sure the dolphins were old enough to be captured. Any calf under 2 was avoided and Moms with older calves were avoid as well because they were likely pregnant! Both of these were avoided so we wouldn't put them under too much stress and cause health issues. All females were ultrasounded in the water (how cool is that) and the majority were pregnant (which is good in terms of population health!), so they would be released right away.
Looking for Dolphins
Once captured, photo-ID's job was to photo document the dolphins body. We would take pictures of healed shark bites (tons of fact one afternoon we caught 3 sharks ourselves! After untangling from the net we would throw them back....Sharknado Charleston....hee hee). We also took pictures of other body scars (stranded feeders tend to have a lot on the side they strand on), their teeth (old dolphins have lots of worn down teeth), photos of the tagging and branding of the fin, and any health ailments (infections/diseases/etc). Pretty much....we were dolphin paparazzi....up close and personal style!

Waiting to do some science :)
The white board allowed for good pictures of the
dorsal fin with a measurement scale along the side
and bottom as well removal of background
objects that could distort the fin profile.

There was a huge team of veterinarians and other scientist who were: conducting exams, monitoring the animals vitals, processing samples, etc., while we were sneaking in for pictures (and don't worry this was all done with a Federal permit allowing the harassment of marine mammals.....hence the lack of photos of our grey aquatic mammalian friends). Upon completion of the exam, the dolphins were released and monitored for an initial surfacing. Samples are sent back for distribution to different scientist/labs we were collaborating with. I feel the most interesting part will be to compare samples caught this year with samples from 10 years ago.....and we did have a number of recaptures from prior years.

For safety reasons, since the Charleston waterways vary from hard, sandy bottom to soft, pluff mud full of oysters shells, we have to wear rubber soled shoes while on the boat so we were ready to jump in the water with a moments at the end of a week....I was rocking an awesome ankle tan line (even with sunscreen reapplication bordering OCD)!

1 comment:

  1. Here's a link to see a video of the HERA project doing captures in FL, same thing (with a lot of the same people) as we did in Charleston.