Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Deep Sea Bottom Trawling

My advisor has been on sabbatical for the past few months and during that time he has been on a crusade to save the oceans. There have been several articles featuring his campaigning to stop bottom trawling and recently, a French cartoonist made a little strip about it that has garnered the signatures of half a million people on a petition.  Check it out here.

While working at Oceana, I actually got to do a lot of research on the effects of bottom trawling (the most destructive form of fishing) and we wrote up a report on it, which you can see here.  Actually, the report is mostly about the wonderful organisms that live in the deep and why we should save them, but there is some information in there about trawling as well.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bioluminescence in Kaneohe Bay

Last week, due to many variables fortuitously occurring at the same time, there was a bloom of dinoflagellates in Kaneohe Bay. There had been many storms the week previously, which causes an influx of fresh water into the bay.  This can often lead to an algae bloom, and in this case it was bioluminescent dinoflagellates! It was pretty magical. On Tuesday, after ukulele practice, we stood on the dock and watched as the fish would flit around in the water.  As the dinoflagellates were disturbed, they would emit a bluish-green light.  Sherril (one of the coconut island residents) said that the night before they had seen an eagle ray in the water! They could tell because of the way it was moving. The water is obviously dark except for the outlines of the animals that were brushing past the dinoflagellates.  Dinoflagellates are single celled algae that have two flagella, little whiplike appendages that they use to move around.  They don't move very quickly though and so are dependent on the current to take them around the ocean.  Last week, we were clearly very lucky to have the current take them into Kaneohe Bay.  It has been in the local news and people are justifiably very excited by it. They are difficult to take pictures of because you need a long exposure time and I only had my phone. But I took a little video of the engine on the boat turning on and you can see a cloud of blue.

video

The next morning, on my way to work, I saw a baby turtle! It was no bigger than a basketball. What a great way to start the day :) Unfortunately, after that, things din't go so well since I am testing out my microsatellite primers and they are not cooperating. Oh well, hard to be frustrated for too long when I remembered the little turtle I saw. This morning, I went for a swim and saw a baby reef squid! Ahh! So many babies in the water of late... Must have been some good spawning seasons. 

Yesterday, Steven and I did the Kuliouou hike in Hawaii Kai.  It is a hike up to the ridge line and at the top you have a view of the entire south shore of the island. Also, as an extra treat, we found a female jackson chameleon on the path.  But first, I forgot that we went to the zoo last weekend and there was a giant carp tank that you could crawl through a tube to get to the center.  Here I am!


Here are the pics from our hike yesterday.






The area of the ridge that we were on is also known for the multicolored dirt.  They say there are seven different colors--here are a couple of pics.


And to end, a sunset picture of the Friday night sail boat races.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Animal Sex/Grad Student Woes

Animal sex seems to be a popular topic of conversation, lucky for me since that is what I study. But, unlucky for me, my dreams of having a show to talk about the exciting adventures of animal sex have been dashed by others who made it to the finish line before me.  I just became aware of this show, Wild Sex, that does a good job of making animal sex exciting, racy, and educational.  Check it out here.  Of course, I already knew about Green Porno and other short videos around the net that have approached this titillating topic, but I suppose I had hoped there still might be a place for me to talk about reproductive science in a fun and novel way.  Looks like I was beaten to the punch. Oh well, I will have to be satisfied with entertaining people at cocktail parties with scintillating tales from the bedroom of the animal kingdom...

Now that I am (hopefully) nearing the end of my struggle to get my PhD, I am definitely reevaluating what I want to do after.  It makes me realize how difficult this process has been for me. I used to think of myself as someone who is terribly driven and excited about life, but somehow I became bogged down in this one thing and forgot about what made me want to do it in the first place.  I used to be proud of what I was doing, but now I feel exhausted all the time. It is enough to finish something as mediocre, just as long as it is finished, when I know I would never have accepted that from myself in the past. I keep reading articles about how we are mass producing PhD's and there aren't the jobs for us when we graduate.  Take a look at this quote from University World News:


One consequence is that the number of Ph.D. graduates around the world is increasing at an ever-expanding rate but, unfortunately, "the job opportunities available for Ph.D. graduates and the security and remuneration these opportunities provide do not always appear commensurate with the opportunity costs involved in studying for a Ph.D., at least to the graduates themselves." 
Some Ph.D. graduates find that the openings they expected to appear once they had acquired a Ph.D. are not there or do not take the form they would like, Rymer says.
The jobs on offer may lack security or status, be poorly paid, not use directly the particular skills or disciplinary knowledge graduates acquired through the course of their Ph.D. training, or may not even require a Ph.D. qualification at all.

Or what about this quote from Nature:

The problem is most acute in the life sciences, in which the pace of PhD growth is biggest, yet pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have been drastically downsizing in recent years. In 1973, 55% of US doctorates in the biological sciences secured tenure-track positions within six years of completing their PhDs, and only 2% were in a postdoc or other untenured academic position. By 2006, only 15% were in tenured positions six years after graduating, with 18% untenured (see 'What shall we do about all the PhDs?'). Figures suggest that more doctorates are taking jobs that do not require a PhD. "It's a waste of resources," says Stephan. "We're spending a lot of money training these students and then they go out and get jobs that they're not well matched for."

So, while I know I am diligently trudging towards my goal, I may not even have the "reward" of a job waiting for me at the end of it. And there is the added kick in the pants that I may get a job I could have gotten right out of undergrad, effectively rendering my years as a graduate student a tremendous waste of time. I do feel that the accomplishment of gaining a PhD will be a reward in itself, but at this point I'm more embarrassed by what I haven't accomplished than proud of what I have. I feel like the years have passed by, my colleagues excelling around me, graduating, moving on to jobs, living lives that aren't totally absorbed by their PhDs, while I feel like I am left behind, struggling to make it through each day.   I just went to see a masters defense of a student who managed to get funding, get important and complicated research done, and get a job (one she wanted) in three years. I have been here five years and, if you look back at my blog posts, I was once incredibly excited about all of the science and potential research I might learn about and contribute to.  I'm still excited by science and I still love it, but I feel... defeated, burnt-out, disappointed.... Well, this was a totally self-indulgent blog post. On to attempting to dig myself out of this self-pitying hole I have dug myself into. I think I will try to get back to posting at least one science post a week to remind myself why I wanted to be a scientist to begin with.

To leave on a happier note, here are James Anderson and Kelly Williams on Coconut Island working with a baby female scalloped hammerhead shark.  She's waking up from being anesthetized and they were making sure she was getting her bearings.  Kelly is holding a hose with water pumping towards the shark's mouth and gills to make sure enough is passing along the membranes for oxygen exchange. That is why you commonly hear about how sharks have to keep moving or they will die--they need to pass water across their gills and some sharks (but not all) have to constantly swim in order to do so.  Other sharks are able to bring water past their gills by opening and closing their mouths and so can rest on the bottom of the ocean floor.

And here is the view I had on my way home from work. I thought it was pretty good :)

Thursday, November 7, 2013


We found a lizard in Steven's place, it's our new pet. Unfortunately, Steven then decided to vacuum and the little guy dropped his tail in fright... I think he'll be ok. They grow back, just like octopus arms! 

We went to Makapu'u during the day last weekend for some body surfing (same place we went at night a few weeks ago to look for tako). Turns out I am becoming more risk averse in my old age though.  I spent much of the time in the water terrified I was going to get pummeled and being a wuss.


Made some pepper jelly the other day. It's too spicy though. I think it might be inedible.  Yesterday, I woke up at 5:15 and drove to the east side of the island to go watch the sunrise with my friend Melanie. It was lovely. She has the most incredible place right next to the beach where she can wake up and salute the sun every morning.  It was a great way to start the day. Things went downhill from there ($500 later, fixing the O2 sensor in my car), but oh well. At least it was a nice morning. 



Monday, November 4, 2013


Can you spot the giant moth in Steven's hanging plant? I'm pretty sure it is a Black Witch Moth, which in Hawaii is a symbol of someone's soul visiting you.  Maybe it was Steven's grandmother :) I like to think that it was...

The other day on Coconut, I was feeling nostalgic and decided to take a walk around the island.  It is funny how I took it for granted everyday that I could live somewhere where I could take a walk and see sharks, beautiful coral reefs, exciting invertebrates, native birds, and of course the wonderful octopuses.  They seem to have acquired a new addition to the shark lab, a small tiger shark.  It was a bit skittish, but I got a picture.


 Here are the little sandbars they have inside the lab. I know I've taken pictures before, but I decided to do another batch.


I went to the touch tank and took a picture of my favorite hermit crab, the Hawaiian Zebra Hermit crab. I love their blue eyes and orange legs.  I even love their weird shriveled up posteriors.  Have you ever seen the back legs of the hermit crab? It looks like they stayed out in the sun too long and they got all wrinkly and dried out like a raisin.  I always feel sorry for a naked hermit crab, all vulnerable and scared looking.

Here is a ubiquitous feather worm, extending its feathery feeding tendrils in the water picking up particulates to eat :)

The last female I will keep in captivity has laid eggs. Here she is with her precious strands of pearl-like eggs.  She will protect them until they hatch, likely in early December.


The obligatory sunset shot...

Last week, I got some ceramic pieces back that I am a little happier with than those original hand built pieces.  There are two cups, the one on the left is obviously an octopus and the one on the right that looks like a bird pooped on it was supposed to be a dragonfly.  I really like my little bowl on the right too--I think the colors turned out well. It was one of those rare moments where I looked at the rack of finished pieces, thought "ooo, that's nice, I wonder who made that," and I picked it up and it was mine!


A little care package from my dad.  This made me very happy :) Back to work. I've got two chapters under my belt now (just terrible first drafts, but it's a start). Going to try to get the third one done this month and then I've got a committee meeting coming up next month. Then, one more chapter and I should finally be able to call myself a doctor...