Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Christopher Charles Reardon/ (Fabulous) Lovells Island Observation

On the final day of our first week in class, we had an opportunity to spend the day on The Belle where I—along with my classmates—had a chance to touch things and do things that I never thought I would ever have an opportunity to do: even things I did not necessarily want to do. We boarded The Belle at 8:30AM. The tide falling and there was a slight breeze and warm humid temperatures hovering around 80° even at that early morning hour. Shortly after we left the Courthouse Dock, Bruce discussed the color of the water which looked clearer and bluer that day than the previous one. Bruce explained that this could be due to the reflection from the blue sky (as the proceeding day the skies were cloudy). The boat crew instructed us to keep an eye out for birds, as flocks of birds are indicative of a fish population feeding below the surface.

When we arrived at a spot between Castle and Spectacle Islands the boat slowed and everybody began fishing. On the calm water, I could see bits of plankton and bits of brown foam on the water. Bruce directed us to look at the diatom algae that were busily pulling oxygen out of the water. Moments after we began fishing (and at Bruce’s urging, even I took a shot at fishing), one of my classmates caught a 15-inch Sea Bass. Shortly thereafter, somebody else caught a rare Sea Perch. We learned that the Sea Bass are a routine sighting in the harbor. A Mackerel was then caught. It was too small to eat, however, it was saved so that it could be used as bait later in the day in order to catch a striped bass.

Bruce then treated the class to a fish fillet and dissection session. As Bruce scraped off the scales, he gave us an opportunity to look at them. They were about the size of a dime, and whit/translucent with small vein-like structures running through them. Bruce discussed the order in which to clean the fish safely. First, he removed the fillet because he intended to eat the meat and avoided cutting open the stomach or the colon for fear of contaminating the filet. When Bruce found the stomach, he cut it open and found tiny shrimp: the Sea Bass’s last meal. Bruce stated that the shrimp in the stomach of the striped bass was Gulf of Maine Shrimp. We then learned that Sea Bass are actually hermaphrodites: starting off life with both male and female characteristics and as they grow older, transitioning to male identity. We were able to see from the hump on the Bass head, an indication that it was in the process of transforming to male.

Bruce showed the class a recipe for making charice. He cut the translucent fish up into small chunks and placed them in a cup. Then he covered the fish with lemon juice which cures (cooks) the fish, garlic paste, and hot peppers. After a few minutes, each classmate had an opportunity to try the fish. Because I do not eat seafood, I passed on this particular scientific observation. My classmates, however, stated that it tasted very good, lemony, and “garlicky.” After a brief boat relocation we stopped at a "fish haven" near spectacle Island. The captain explained that this area has been given back to the community after island construction. There are pyramids underwater that serve to protect sea life. Shortly after stopping at the Safe Haven, Bruce caught a striped bass measuring 36 inches, just over the legal limit. In order to prevent any suffering, Bruce immediately killed the bass and we observed the autonomic nervous system actions of the fish writhing for a few moments after it was killed.

When we arrived at Lovells Island, we walked across the landing and saw a sandy beach below. We then took a short walk down the trail to the rocky tide pool. We could hear many birds all along the walk and I commented to a classmate that I am not used to hearing the sound of birds, rather, I am more accustomed to the sound of car horns, squealing bus breaks, and sirens. On the island, it was hot and there was no wind. As we went down the trails, we looked for blackberries in the bushes. The rangers informed us that it is a carry-in/ carry-out island. Meaning, that there are no trashcans and one must bring all trash with him or her back to the mainland.

As soon as we got to the water, we had an opportunity to navigate the rocky shore and go in for a swim. The water was comfortable to swim in, however, due to the lowering tide, there wasn't much water to swim in. I imagine that once the tide returns to land, the swimming conditions are much better. As the tide came in, however, we witnessed one of the benefits of an incoming tide: the tide pool being refreshed. While I waded through the water, I made some discoveries including an ocean sail snail. It was a tiny snail, no larger than the fingernail on my ring finger and dark brown in color. I had an opportunity to observe the operculum that serves to close off the ocean snail when it is in a dry environment. I placed the snail on my hand and eventually, the snail began to explore the surface of my hand. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to look at the snail full-length because it never came out.

I found several crabs in the water and at Bruce's urging, I managed to flip over a rock and pick up a small invasive Asian Shore Crab. The crab was about the circumference of a fifty-cent piece. It was greenish brown. It moved quickly but made no effort to pinch me. In another tide pool I had an opportunity to look at something I had heard about and seen, however, never really explored. I touched (actually held) a hermit crab. The crab was in a white pointed shell only slightly larger than the eraser on a #2 pencil. As I held it in my hand, it splayed out its legs. I learned that the hermit crab travels from shell to shell and considers no individual shell its home for life. It goes from shell to shell whenever it wants.

On the way back to shore, we had an opportunity to watch Bruce completely clean the striped bass. Bruce made a point of not wasting a bit of it. After the captain was done removing the fillets, Bruce took over and cut off as much filet as possible so as not to waste a drop. The filet was white translucent and parts of the fish meat had tiny ribs in it. Bruce then removed the rope (the egg sac/ovaries) from the female fish. It was long dark yellow/orange and filled with red veins and sectioned-off sort of like an intestine. Later on, I had an opportunity to see the liver. The liver was a light brown color and surprisingly small: about the size of a Visine bottle only thinner.

Overall, this was an amazing day of science. Although I did not see as many individual species on the island as I did a the inner harbor, probably owing to he increased movement of the water at the mouth of the harbor as opposed to relatively placid and protected inner harbor. On this excursion, I had opportunities to see, do, and touch things I had never experienced before. Thank you so much for a wonderful experience Bruce. I learned more in the last three days in your classroom then I have ever learned in science class.

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