Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cassiopeia Jellyfish

The original purpose of this blog was to be educational to some degree, but the contents have slowly devolved into a series of entertaining videos and photos. In an effort to revisit some part of my original intentions, I give you this post:

Recently, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium had asked Jason (the Dive Safety Officer at HIMB, whom I now work for) and I to collect upside-down jellyfish for a new exhibit. What are upside-down jellyfish you ask? Why, they are the most beautiful ocean carpeting available!

Upside-down jellyfish are so called because of their tendency to plant their bells firmly on the bottom of the ocean floor with their tentacles floating upwards in the current. They come in an assortment of colors, but certainly the blues and greens tend to be the most stunning. Here are some pics:

As you can see, they are quite beautiful. Perhaps you can also see why I refer to them as jellyfish carpeting. They are everywhere!

This particular type of jellyfish is invasive in Hawaii, so collecting and giving them away is no real moral issue. The issue is--they sting. When these guys get disturbed, they release a cloud of mucous filled with pneumatocysts (the stinging cells in jellyfish). Lots and lots of tiny cells with barbed tendrils ready to burst out and puncture your delicate skin. When that happens, this is the result:

Red-Blotchy-Pain-Face! Jason and I used vinegar, hot water, and even pee (well, he did...) with no relief. We collected thirty of them, and obviously, in the process, they got pissed at us. We were pretty much as covered as you can be (hood, mask, wet suit, gloves) but anything that was left uncovered was stung. And this was the kind of stinging that is relentless. The wind slightly brushes your cheek--PAIN!! A small drop of dew lightly brushes your skin--PAIN!! Thankfully, it only seems to last a day. But the weird thing is that it doesn't seem to ebb, it just suddenly stops. Perhaps that is when all of the pneumatocysts have fired...

Anyway, the Monterrey Bay aquarium received our bounty of jellies and sent us a picture of the result:

Not bad. Not bad at all. Maybe I can get a free tour of the aquarium if I ever come to visit :)

On a different topic, today I went to a local conference for high school students where I taught a few sessions about DNA. What began as an ostensibly simple and fun task ended up being more akin to a clustercuss. Well, perhaps I exaggerate. But, it certainly wasn't as pleasant as I expected. I thought I was going to be in a room where I could set up the activity we were doing, but then I was quietly escorted to a sad, lonely table with one chair out in the hallway. I was placed next to a lovely, luxurious conference room where I could see all the splendiferous space to do many a productive and fun science activity. But, no. That was not for me. I was to sit outside the splendiferous place and try to do an science activity in the hallway for 45 minutes... Twice. What high schooler wants to stand for 45 minutes huddled around a table learning about the finer points of DNA extraction? Well, certainly not these high schoolers. (I suppose there were a few who may have feigned interest. One girl actually said she might like to go into marine biology now.) Anyway, I did my best. Eventually, I gave up on talking about DNA and just started talking about my own research. As soon as I said the words "octopus penis," I definitely recaptured the crowd. Who doesn't like a salacious story of octopuses being ravished?

Ok, definitely went off topic there. What I wanted to talk about was a moment during a lull when two elderly gentlemen approached my table and began asking questions about my research. They were both retired professors who were also in science and were interested in perhaps doing their own activity next year. As I was chatting with them, filling them in on my research, one of them interrupted to say "It's so nice to see a young girl who is interested in science," in the most horribly patronizing tone I've ever heard! I seriously cringed. I'm sure he saw me say "Ewww" in my mind. This was the first time I've ever actually experienced any sort of overtly weird discrimination about being a woman in science. It felt really strange. In that moment, I was so grateful that I had never encountered that before. I feel like it says a lot about how much things have changed. Perhaps I've just been lucky and have had good mentors who have never made me feel like anything other than a scientist. Whether or not I am a female scientist has had no bearing on my education whatsoever. Maybe it is also because I am surrounded by female scientists all the time and we don't sit around praising each other for being women in science. Why would we? "Oh how wonderful you decided to go into science, you funny little girl. How adorable and how unique! Who would have thought a girl would have been so interested in science?" Ewww.

Anyway, take home message: Upside-down jellyfish (otherwise known as cassiopeia, hence the title... maybe I should have mentioned that earlier?) sting and feel like bees stinging you repeatedly in the face, and when you volunteer for something, make sure you know your audience...