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Students live marine life on biology field trip
It was “total immersion” learning for six Bowling Green State University biology students this May. Instead of beginning their summer break right after school was out, they spent a week in Gulfport, Miss., studying dolphins and sea turtles.
Thanks to Dr. Shannon Finerty’s previous post-doctoral work with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) following the BP oil spill in the Gulf, the institute allowed her and BGSU to conduct a pilot class on macro-ecology for juniors and seniors. The institute is dedicated to the preservation of marine life through research, education and conservation. To participate, students had to have taken the basic Life in the Sea marine biology course at BGSU.
The class comprised both classroom learning and fieldwork, giving the students not only content knowledge but also a look at the life of a marine biologist and contact with some leading experts. Typically, “we started our day in the classroom learning about a specific topic, whether it be dolphin behavior, turtle genetic analyses or anything about ocean life,” said class member Justin Grubb, a junior from Worthington. “We then went out into the facility and learned about animal care or nutrition or behavior or whatever else from the staff at the facility. We also had days when we went out into the field with the researchers to learn about data collection and research methods.
“I really enjoyed going out into the field and seeing how data collection was done and I also really enjoyed actually doing the data collection with the researcher,” wrote Grubb from Costa Rica, where he is further extending his education this summer by working at El Parque Marino del Pacifico, studying sharks and turtles, helping set up a reef tank and developing education plans and fundraising strategies.
Teaching the May class were Finerty and IMMS staff members Dr. Sharon Walker, director of education, and Dr. Delphine Shannon, director of research. One day’s excursion included a boat trip to nearby Deer Island for seining and sieving of water to examine the fish and invertebrate community and water chemistry as part of the marine ecology analyses. Another day, the students observed a necropsy of a baby dolphin that had been stranded on the beach.
Finerty said she was pleased with the students’ engagement with the material. “For a pilot class we did very well. We had a good mix of interests and experiences among the students. They were asked to keep a journal and an ID list in which they would identify birds, mammals, plants — really anything they saw. Even when the day was over and they were free, they would walk the beach looking for more things to add to their lists. And they always had good questions.”
Finerty and the institute’s staff are hoping the program will continue. “They’re already working on ideas for next year,” she said. The class also made the local paper. The Sun Herald quoted IMMS director Dr. Moby Solangi remarking on the success of the class and expressing hope that other universities would follow BGSU’s lead in using the facility for teaching.
BGSU biology students have annually spent spring break at the neighboring University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs (GCRL), where they focus on marine ecology and coastal ecology. The longtime relationship with GCRL enabled the IMMS group to live in the research center’s dorms and take their meals there.
“The IMMS class complements that trip, where they get a very different experience,” said Dr. Jeffrey Miner, chair of the biological sciences department.