The one-day sampling cruise in Mobile Bay coupled CARMMHA data collection with a field experience for Dr. Carmichael’s undergraduate Marine Invertebrate Zoology class.

Summers on Dauphin Island always seem to be a bit busier than other Gulf Coast beach destinations, with the research and educational activities of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) adding to the normal activities of beach goers and tourists. From May to August, the DISL campus experiences an influx of undergraduates interested in marine sciences from colleges across the state of Alabama and other interns from across the country.

DISL scientists working with CARMMHA were among the researchers who recruited interns during summer 2018. Clara Zubrick from the University of Mobile in Alabama joined the CARMMHA team to work with Co-PI Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael and post-doctoral researcher Dr. Carl Cloyed. As part of her work with CARMMHA, Clara and another intern, Matthew Harrison from Texas State University, participated in a sampling trip aboard the DISL’s RV Discovery.

The goal of the trip was to teach the students about the marine invertebrate community in Mobile Bay as well as to collect dolphin prey samples (e.g., fish, shrimp, and squid) and environmental data for the CARMMHA project. Zubrick and Harrison assisted with water sampling, specimen collections, and documented their experiences thanks to the CARMMHA project and internship opportunities through DISL.

Matthew Harrison, Flower Mound, TX, age 23

Matthew-CARMMHAInterning in the Carmichael lab was a great opportunity to expand my horizons in ecological research. Having conducted most of my undergraduate studies in the terrestrial systems of Texas, I was eager to add marine research to my tool-kit. While helping with the trawling trip, I learned new methods to collect data in the marine sciences and aided the Invertebrate Zoology class, where I learned a little bit about marine invertebrates.

Prior to our trip on the water, I worked on a project using Chilean Mussels to detect pollution, which consisted mostly of lab work. When the chance came to get on the water I was ecstatic. Our trip charted along a salinity gradient from the open Gulf of Mexico to the top of Mobile Bay. I helped sift through sediments and collected water samples and research specimens from the trawls, all of which provided me with insight into the techniques and equipment used in this type of ecological research.

This excursion was my first class-trip in which I wasn’t actually a student (at least not within the typical sense), and when coupled with the new field of study, created a “double-whammy” of perspective shift. While I was familiar with some of the nuances of marine science through my lab work, our trawling trip allowed me to actively learn and adapt to the challenges of a completely new study system. In addition, I was also given the opportunity to help relay new information to the undergraduate students aboard our vessel. As a former undergrad, I had always enjoyed helping out my peers, so transitioning to a more educational role was quite fun! Perhaps the best aspect of our trip was the great team I was able to be a part of. The evident passion and knowledge of our lab crew made picking up new skills a breeze. I remember shuffling through our trawling haul to help pick out the appropriate research specimens while also listening as Dr. Carmichael use the opportunity to give her students a lesson on the various taxa and the ecological trends evidenced in our samples. The trip provided a pertinent and meaningful expedition for research and education, for current and future scientists.

Clara Zubrick, Houston, TX, age 22

CARMMHA-Clara

I recently graduated from the University of Mobile and was elated to intern in Dr. Carmichael’s lab for the CARMMHA project. Our part in the CARMMHA project investigates how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected what dolphins eat. Up until our trawling trip, I had mainly worked in the lab processing tissue samples of dolphins and their prey. So, of course, I was beyond excited to be out on the water helping to collect prey samples that I would later process in the lab. The day started bright and early as we loaded the vessel with all our necessary equipment. Once students from Dr. Carmichael’s class started rolling in, space on the boat quickly filled up, and we set off for our day of sample collecting.

We visited four stations, starting offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and then we moved to the southern end of Mobile Bay, the middle of the bay, and, lastly, the northern tip of the bay. The weather cooperated with us at first while we collected our prey samples from the trawls and recorded environmental variables such as salinity, dissolved oxygen, depth, and temperature. As we moved further north into the bay, we experienced the characteristic summer storms of the Gulf coast that made for an adventure.

Due to the tempestuous weather, we were unable to record the environmental variables from the northern most site, but we were able to trawl. At this site, we pulled up an entire trawling net full of spotted gar, Lepisosteus oculatus, which, personally, made the trip. It goes to show you just never know what can happen during a day spent out in Mobile Bay. It was both exciting and gratifying to participate in some field work, and it helped me understand the broader picture of what goes into scientific research.

I am continuing to help process our samples in the lab and am excited to implement everything I have learned from DISL into new internships and career opportunities. While I have not quite decided on what my future plans are, I know the skills learned and experience gained from working on the CARMMHA project will prove to be valuable in furthering my education in marine science.

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