Constant Observers

Maybe the dock guys think we’re a little strange, but I’m willing to risk my reputation in order to spend a little quality time dangling my head over the side of the dock, looking.

It’s not that when I walk on top of things I completely ignore the surfaces beneath my feet.  I certainly look down at the sidewalk when I’m running to avoid tripping over weathered areas and to make sure I crunch every available dry leaf.  But wandering around with Jim makes me realize just how much I don’t notice.  How much time do you spend lying on your stomach or lifting up rocks or sticking your hand in rocky crevices just to see what’s there?

For Jim, I have a suspicion that the answer to that question would be, now really, how much time don’t you spend doing these things?  In Marine Ecology lab, we are constant observers.  On Thursday, we spent the afternoon observing fouling communities on some local docks.  The docks were deceivingly clean and sterile from the perspective of someone who does not look under things.  But Jim soon had us lying on our stomachs looking at the underside of the dock.

I’ll be honest: I was expecting some green slime, a few dark barnacles, maybe a fish or two.  I had no idea that under that regular dock in the estuary were bright orange sponges, patterned seasquirts, shrimp, little yellow anemones, baby barnacles, big barnacles, and bryozoans, all swaying together in the water.

Move down six inches on your belly, as the men who work on the dock glance at you out of their peripheral vision, and the whole underwater world changes.  There are all the same players, but now the anemone gang is rising up and the orange sponge is on vacation and the neighbors are noticing that the barnacle family is getting quite large.  If you watch for long enough, you can start to get an idea of the routine of the place.  The barnacle sweeps its cirri in time with the seasquirt’s wave, and the shrimp look on from the water, waiting for a tasty meal.

Maybe the dock guys think we’re a little strange, but I’m willing to risk my reputation in order to spend a little quality time dangling my head over the side of the dock, looking.

Trawler Trip

As many days do around here, yesterday dawned with “warm layers, a waterproof lab notebook, and rubber boots; foulies required.”

The truth of the matter: you have to be comfortable in your foulies.  In fact, it’s really best if, when you don them, you feel powerful and protected, like you can do anything.  After the five minute shower test and a stormy night aboard Cramer, I’d be surprised if you hadn’t cultivated some mutual trust, or at least felt a connection to the layer of grime that you added to your foulies, contributing to the layer of salt and dirt from students of semesters past.  But, if this feeling does not come naturally, it’s worth it to take some time to really appreciate the wonder of your yellow rubber overalls—they work better that way.

Williams-Mystic Foulies

As many days do around here, yesterday dawned with “warm layers, a waterproof lab notebook, and rubber boots; foulies required.”  The eighteen of us, along with several faculty and staff members, climbed into a bus, cameras in tow, ready for a day of fishing.  We headed north to Rhode Island where we spent the first part of the day on an educational fishing trawler and listening to a fisherman speak about fishing sectors.

Once on board the trawler, we watched as the crew members let the net out.  It was large and green, rolled around a spool that was controlled by a motor.  One of the crew showed us how to measure the size of the netting, an important method of regulating which types of fish get caught.  After a twenty minute tow, the crew began to bring the net back in.

As the net spun back around the spool, I watched starfish and crabs find a new home nestled in the green rope lattice.  Finally the cod end of the net came into view and was lowered onto the deck.  It was filled with bluefish, fluke, sea robins, several types of crabs, lobsters, squid, a couple of wooden traps, and various other ocean creatures.  We sorted the catch into buckets and threw the seaweed, shells and some of the crabs back into the ocean.  The lobsters were too small to keep, but not too small to be angry at their removal from their watery homes; one of them foamed at us as we examined its underside to see if it was male or female.  We looked at the blue crabs’ swimmer legs and the flat eyes of the fluke.  My favorite was the decorator crab, which picks up particularly nice bits of algae from the ocean and sticks them to itself, perhaps thinking, “Oh this piece of green algae would look so becoming next to my brown algae area.”  If only it had a mirror to see its handywork.

On returning to the dock, we watched with interest or disgust as a crew member showed us how to fillet each of the three types of fish we had brought in with us.  These skills would be useful later that evening, as our grandfathers could only explain so well what to do with the whole fishes staring at us from our refrigerator shelves.  We were enthusiastically informed by our Policy professor that Williams-Mystic tradition mandates a fish potluck the night after the trawler trip, so the evening found us hurrying to create different fish dishes.  Caroline and I pulled on our foulies to protect us from any stray fish particles and carried our fluke into the backyard to fillet it on Caroline’s desk chair.

Seven o’clock found Williams-Mystic students in the kitchen of Albion House, surrounding a table covered in six or seven varieties of fish entrees.  We were ready to eat the creatures that drive the characters in the novels we read, whose remaining populations mark the history of fisheries and are battled over in the world of policy, and which are integral to a healthy ecosystem in the ocean.  Sometimes it’s hard to escape class.

by Amy Shmania, F09

How to Fillet a Sea Robin