Recognizing individuals through repeated field encounters

By Kameron Strickland, MLML Ichthyology Lab & CSUMB Image Analysis Lab

Our pursuit for statistical power involves repeated trials and non-trivial sample sizes.  After hundreds of fish dissections or thousands of water samples, big data can become a big chore.  Once exciting field observations are converted to numbers, I find myself occasionally forgetting the amazing individuals we are fortunate enough to study.

I’ve enjoyed photographing both fish and birds for a few years.  Through repeat encounters, I’ve come to recognize specific individuals both on land and on sea.  If you have had the same experience, you will understand the excitement in recognizing these individuals time and time again.  Sexual dimorphism, unique behaviors, and physical markings are all indicators that can be used for identifications.  Here, I provide small anecdotes about some of the individuals I’ve met through my photography.

 

Scarred Kelp rockfish

I just logged my 400th dive in my SCUBA career.  A majority were around the Monterey Peninsula, most being in the Carmel Bay.  While studying microhabitat associations of Kelp rockfish in Carmel, I recorded more than 1,000 observations of the species.  Kelp rockfish display a wide range of color morphs and patchiness patterns, from a ghostly white to earthy greens and browns.  I recognized this specific individual across a few dives due to the distinct white scar its left side.  After an hour of deep depths and freezing temperatures, it was exciting to find this fish hanging around the same patches of kelp.  I’m not sure if the feeling was mutual!

 

Two Vermilion rockfish in Carmel, CA

Just across the bay live two large Vermilion rockfish.  The smaller of the two is much more orange, while the larger one has more complicated silver patches on its body.  These large, vibrant rockfish stand out from the other species on the reef.  When I dove nearly every day during the summer of 2018, I would see these individuals in almost the exact same places.  Because of their large size, I believe these two individuals could have easily outcompeted other rockfish for the best crevices along the rocky reef.  Since 2018, this kelp forest has turned into an urchin barren with only a few opportunistic Macrocystis and Nereocystis fronds remaining.  Yet the Vermilions remain – I just saw one of them last week!  It still feels as if these two fish purposefully come out to greet me on dives.

 

White-tailed kite

During runs, I’ve passed this White-tailed numerous times while it was perched on the same tree.  I’ve made it a mission to return with camera gear and try to photograph it, but have only succeeded twice.  Their bright red eyes have always fascinated me.  If my presence doesn’t scare it off, turkey vultures and crows seem to always chase it away.

 

Anna’s hummingbird in Moss Landing

I discovered this Anna’s hummingbird at a location I frequent weekly for shorebirds.  This individual favors flying back and forth between three perches.  It was shy when I first discovered it, not letting me approach very closely.  I began using my camera’s electronic shutter to shoot silently and minimize disturbance on its natural behavior.  After many weeks of returning to this individual, it has become more comfortable with my camera gear.  It now lets me move closer and will even return to me after flying away.  Over a the past few months, this bird has become a part of my weekly photographic routine; I like to think that I am a part of its week as well!

 

Pair of Eurasian collared doves in Moss Landing

Not far from the hummingbird I visit, two Eurasian collared doves that have claimed a tree as their own.  These two are inseparable.  Although I am no dove expert, I suspect they may be a breeding pair.  Since their tree is near the busy Moss Landing harbor, they sometimes have to other flying fauna.  In my opinion, these goofy doves have one of the most hilarious calls.  Unfortunately they are hesitant to drop down at eye level, which makes it difficult to capture photos.

 

Photographing wildlife is an enjoyable break from the hard science I feel is prioritized during grad school.  These small encounters have highlighted some of the interesting routines and personality traits of my subjects.  I hope you are able to recognize individuals across your scientific endeavors.  Happy research!

Where have all the abalone gone? The impacts of ocean acidification on abalone populations

By Kayla Roy, MLML Ichthyology Lab

 

When you think of sea food what do you think of? Do you picture a fish fillet, lobster bisque, or maybe fish and chips? These are some of the common seafood dishes you can find on the menu at your favorite seafood stop, but have you ever seen abalone steak on the menu? It used to be a common staple eaten up and down the California coast. Now abalone are almost impossible to find not only on the menu, but in the ocean. So why have these animals begun to vanish from our diet and seas? This is due to the many changing oceanic conditions including ocean acidification.

Abalone have disappeared from our diet because the oceans have become too acidic, which has greatly reduced their population size. Climate change, driven by human emissions of carbon dioxide mainly from fossil fuels, is changing Earth’s climate and altering ocean chemistry. One of these changes is ocean acidification, which is a process that makes the ocean more acidic because of an increase in carbon dioxide. Change in acidity impacts marine life like abalone by reducing population sizes through developmental deformities, shell dissolution, lowered reproductive success, and reduced survival. So why do we care about the impact of ocean acidification on abalone and their continued existence in our ocean? Besides their previous inclusion in our diets, abalone contribute to the ocean and to people in many ways.

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Earth’s Climate History

By Noelle Lewis, MLML Geological Oceanography Lab

 

How and why we study temperature changes in the past 540 million years

You may have heard the phrase that looking to the past can help us understand the present and predict the future; but you probably didn’t think it would be necessary to go back in time over 500 million years. Global Average Temperatures are increasing rapidly due to human greenhouse gas emissions. To understand what a warmer future will be like, we can compare warming today to warming in the past.

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The Pets of Moss Landing Marine Labs

By Lauren Cooley, MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab

At this point in the pandemic, I think we all know that working from home is a real drag, but for many of us, one of the few redeeming aspects is getting to spend way more time with our pets! From quarantine puppies to beloved bunnies to troublemaking cats, these creatures have brought us comfort and joy during these deeply stressful times. Sure our whole lives take place on Zoom now, but there is nothing quite like the thrill of seeing your professor hold up their cat to greet the class or watching your colleague's dog chase their tail in the background during an important meeting.

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Nine students defend thesis research in 2020!

By June ShresthaMLML Ichthyology Lab

2020 was a big year. We saw a global pandemic, protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and wildfires raging across the state. Despite all of this, we had nine students pull through to defend their thesis research in 2020! Please join me in congratulating the following students:

  • Lindsay Cooper, Phycology Lab
  • Kenji Soto, Geological Oceanography Lab
  • Amber Reichert, Pacific Shark Research Center
  • Mason Cole, Vertebrate Ecology Lab
  • June Shrestha, Ichthyology Lab
  • Dan Gossard, Phycology Lab
  • Jacoby Baker, Ichthyology Lab
  • Emily Pierce, Invertebrate Zoology Lab
  • Miya Pavlock-McAuliffe, Physical Oceanography Lab

Please read below to learn a little more about each student's research. As always, please also check out the posts highlighting student research from previous years as well at the following links: 2019, 2018, and 2017.

Special author note: As I am one of the students that defended and graduated this year, this will be my last post for The Drop-In. From writing about classes to conferences and student research, it's been a pleasure writing for this blog. Hopefully someone else will carry the torch forward in the new year to highlight and celebrate the research of graduating students!

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COVID-19 Vaccine Resources & Links

By Kali Prescott & Lauren Cooley

Hello from The Drop-in Blog team!  It's been almost a year since the first COVID-19 shutdowns and with the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine we may finally be rounding a corner. To help with the Vaccinate all 58 initiative by Governor Newsom, we have decided to provide links and information on vaccine distribution in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties in an accessible blog post.

Although it may be a few more months before many of us will be offered the vaccine, we wanted to ensure anyone in the MLML community that is higher risk has access to resources to answer any questions they might have regarding the vaccine and how and where to get one. We will continue to update this page as more information becomes available and as both counties move through the vaccine distribution tiers.

Monterey County COVID-19 Vaccine Resources

 

Active vaccination tiers as of 2/17/21

Santa Cruz County COVID-19 Vaccine Resources

Santa Cruz Vaccination Tiers as of 2/22/21

Marine science snapshots: Fieldwork, wildlife, and community at Moss Landing Marine Labs

By Lauren Cooley, MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab

While working on the latest Moss Landing Marine Laboratories Annual Report, my friend and fellow MLML student employee Caroline Rodriguez collected a bunch of amazing photos from the Moss community. While she used many of the best shots in the final report (check it out here!), there simply wasn't enough room for all of the great photos she had amassed. So Caroline reached out to me and asked if I was interested in compiling all these images into a post on The Drop-In blog. And as you can probably guess since you are reading that very post, I said yes!

After a year of mostly staring at screens and working from home, looking through these images of fieldwork, amazing animals, and beautiful scenery taken by my wonderful peers, professors, and colleagues over the last few years has been a great reminder of why I chose to come to MLML in the first place. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. So, without further ado, I present a glimpse into the highlights of life at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories as told by photos from the MLML community.

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Grad school: pandemic edition

By Lauren Cooley, MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab

I think it’s safe to say that before the start of this year, no one could have possibly predicted the truly wild twists and turns of 2020- and the year isn’t even over yet! The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has radically altered the world and for most folks, life over the past 8 months has been pretty chaotic and stressful. I never imagined that on top of all the regular day-to-day stress of graduate school, I would also have to deal with a deadly pandemic, but here we are!

So what exactly has life as a grad student been like during these very strange Corona-times? Lots of people have asked me that question since March, and I typically respond some variation of stressful/overwhelming/profoundly boring/way too much time spent on Zoom. If they happen to catch me on a good day where I have made some big breakthrough with my thesis or had a super productive morning then I might even tell them it’s not so bad. In truth, grad school during a pandemic is a lot like grad school during a normal year: highs and lows. Except now I (almost) never leave my house. So, without further ado, I present a brief Buzzfeed-style look into my life as a Moss Landing Marine Labs (MLML) grad student during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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How 4Ocean Made Recycling Economically Sustainable

By Kali Prescott, MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab

An estimated 5.25 trillion tons of plastic is currently adrift in the ocean having extensive deleterious effects on wildlife (Erikson et al., 2014). Reduce, reuse, recycle has been the battle cry of environmentalists and ocean clean up organizations since the public first realized the severity of marine plastic pollution. For decades plastic producing companies have touted recycling as the solution to plastic pollution in the ocean while simultaneously shirking responsibility—claiming that recycling “is not economically viable”. Continuing to produce virgin plastic unfortunately remains cheaper than producing products from recycled materials even with technological developments.

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Marine snow & climate change

By Annie Bodel, Plankton Ecology & Biogeochemistry Lab

Endings are Beginnings

In a forest when something dies--a leaf, a plant, an animal-- it likely settles onto the ground where it begins a process of decay and integration into the layers of earth beneath. Unless it's carried far away by a scavenger, it mostly stays local after it dies, becoming a part of soil nutrient and mineral cycles at most a meter deep.

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