Ever wonder what our wildlife response staff is up to behind their quarantined doors? We got to meet Halley and Helena, who both work with the stranded animals that come to the SeaLife Center. They taught us about how the whole program works and gave us a sense of their daily duties, including restraining and tube-feeding seals. They even let us try tube-feeding a model seal. After Karl (pictured above) successfully led the tube into the seal’s stomach (notice the green light), he proceeded to give some mock formula (in our case air) to the animal. There is definitely a technique to tube-feeding!
This week we got to meet two of the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Giant Pacific Octopuses!! Aquarist Amy Sherrow introduced the group to several physical characteristics of octopuses and then the kids got to see several of these features in action. They got to feel the strength of the sucker disks, see the siphon helping to move the octopus around and witness color change. You can get involved with some close observation too: if you look right over the eyes of the octopus in the lower photo you can notice “horns” or papillae, creating a more aggressive appearance, absent in the octopus in the top photo.
This week in Ocean Sciences Club Katrina Edgar, a microbiology researcher at the Alaska SeaLife Center, came to visit! She taught us about her work identifying adenoviruses found in long tail ducks. In order to understand her research better, she explained many common viruses like the flu and rabies. She also taught us some lab techniques, like pipetting, that she uses in her lab. Everyone got excited about pipetting and kept on practicing until they became more comfortable with the skill.
We had two great presenters to finish off March in Ocean Sciences Club. First, Caitlin DeGrave, an Aviculturist at the ASLC, taught us about the world of bird husbandry and some unique adaptations of sea birds. We tried our hand at counting how many common murres, horned puffins and tufted puffins there are in the aviary (a task the aviculturists do here everyday). It’s hard! If you ever stop by the ASLC aviary, give it a try!
Next, Lori Polasek, a marine mammal scientist at the ASLC, shared her research on belugas. We learned more about belugas by observing a skeleton. And what do watermelons and balloons have to do with belugas? Many toothed whales like belugas have a fatty melon in their foreheads to help with echolocation and communication. We used balloons to replicate beluga sounds and experimented with hearing those sounds through melons.
This week we encountered a ZOMBIE CRAB! Leah Sloan, a PhD student at UAF, shared her research on a parasitic barnacle (Briarosaccus callosis) that infects king crabs. This parasite will take over the body of a male or female crab and get that crab to take care of the parasite’s larvae, instead of its own, creating, essentially, a genetic death for that crab (or a crab zombie). Club members got to learn more about healthy king crabs by looking at one year old crabs under microscopes. Then they got to meet an actual king crab that has this particular parasitic barnacle. So, next time you look out to sea, know that there may be zombies out there.
Sadie Ulman, research coordinator, visited the club this week to talk about her research on Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Murres in Resurrection Bay. She is studying their productivity to help understand the health of the ecosystem. Club members had the opportunity to view videos of nesting Kittiwakes and photos of Common Murre nesting sites to try and identify incubation and brooding behaviors. Some of the kids could even pick out the eggs and chicks in the video and photos.
Vet technician Jane Belovarac and Dr. Elizabeth deCastro visited the Ocean Sciences Club this week to talk about veterinary sciences. Jane taught us about how our vets and vet techs anesthetize animals here at the ASLC and out in the wild. Club members got to test their skills at using a blow dart, a tool that is used to anesthetize wild sea lions. Dr. Elizabeth gave us the challenge of using sutures. We practiced on stuffed animals to try forming different knots and to get the feel for using new tools. Then we got the opportunity to see the vet clinic here at the ASLC and to view x-rays of some animals, including a walrus! We have several aspiring vets in our club, and Jane and Dr. Elizabeth were great at answering their many questions.
Since winter break, Ocean Sciences Club has been learning about marine debris. We have learned about the Pacific Garbage Patch, the problem with microplastics, why plastics don’t biodegrade and how debris can affect wildlife. Having discovered some of the ways in which plastics affect our ocean, we talked about what WE can do to face the problem of marine debris. We tried keeping track of how much plastic we use in a week and coming up with ways to reduce our plastic use. Some of the clubs suggestions were to:
- bring a container out to eat with you to take home leftovers.
- use reusable containers instead of plastic bags for lunch food.
- buy bulk instead of individual servings.
We also made our own butter and Heather baked homemade bread so we could have a snack that didn’t require plastic. Then, we talked about ways to reuse materials so they don’t end up in our oceans. In the photo above, club members show off their reused 2013 calendars.
Before winter break, the Ocean Sciences Club did a Nocturne at the SeaLife Center to get a night full of science. Our evening activities included a scavenger hunt full of riddles to challenge our Club experts, a game of marine themed Jeopardy and a dissection of a Giant Pacific Octopus. In the top photo, club members feel the arms and sucker disks of the octopus, as ASLC’s Aquarist Amy Sherrow guides them. In the bottom photo, club members Elena and Anna try to figure out the next clue in their scavenger hunt.
Alaska SeaLife Center divers Moorea and Terril Efird visited the Ocean Sciences Club to talk about scientific diving. First, we learned about the gear needed for cold water dives. Joel adorned Moorea’s down layers and dry suit to show how difficult it can be to move around suited up in full gear. We also learned several techniques of scientific diving, like biodiversity surveys, swath sampling to study density of invertebrates (modeled by Emma and Elena) and fish species identification. To finish off the evening, Terril shared photos from his dives around the world, from Australia to Antarctica.
This week we worked in teams to build 4 ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles). The challenge: construct an ROV that can pick up wiffle balls at the bottom of a tank. Each team had three motors with a controller, PVC piping, cable ties, weights and floats to create their vehicle. We will test them out in December!
Last week at Ocean Sciences Club we learned about buoyancy so we could understand more about ROVs. We talked about density, displacement, Boyle’s Law and experimented with each. The club tested their calculations and saw how much water clay cubes of different weights could actually displace. Finally, two club members got to pretend to be ROVs and the rest of the club tried to direct the ROVs remotely by camera.
Lots of exciting projects this fall in the ocean sciences club! Last week we met with Research Associate John Skinner to check out different data loggers and telemeters staff at the Center use to study marine mammals. Pictured here, Kjell, Roma and Jeremy and Anna try their hand at an egg dissection at this week’s meeting. Post Doc Researcher Katrina Edgar led the dissection and talked with the club about what sea duck research staff can learn from studying eggs.