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Journals 2003/2004

Deborah Field
South Windsor High School, South Windsor, Connecticut

"Age and Growth of Pelagic and Large Coastal Sharks Using Vertebral Growth Bands"
NOAA Fisheries- Narragansett Laboratory, Rhode Island
July 28 - August 8, 2003

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DAY 1: Monday July 28, 2003
Marine Fisheries

Since I didn't know a whole lot prior to coming in today, I did some internet research over the weekend. I found lots of information on NOAA's website about shark tagging, which is part of the APEX Predator Program. Apparently, all large game fish get tagged as part of this program (sharks, billfish, tuna, etc.). Six thousand volunteers worldwide participate in the tagging program, including sport and commercial fishermen, who may be catching fish with rod & reel or long lines. There are three different types of tag and each tag has a unique coding system. Fishermen who return tags or tag data receive a small reward. It strikes me that this is a good way for researchers to collect data, by making use of the people who encounter these animals on a daily basis.

Lisa and her grad students (Jeff and Brian) were very welcoming. Lisa got me started on data collection for 4 Mako sharks that had recently collected (one of them is "my" shark from the tournament). I spent the morning cutting frozen vertebral columns into sections. Since these were frozen with no fixation, things got pretty smelly by the time I was done. After lunch, Lisa showed me how to cut a cross-section of each vertebra with a gem saw. If it's done correctly, the section looks like a bow-tie. The sections later get magnified and photographed with a digital camera. A series of dark and light bands can be seen on the section and those get counted. When I'm done with all the wet work and microscope work, I will run a statistical analysis on my data to look for a relationship between accuracy of band count and where along the vertebral column the section was taken.

I managed to get about 20 sections each from 2 columns sectioned by the end of the day. It's kind of a pain because many times, the section breaks in half as it's being cut. As long as the 2 sections are complete they are usable, but each time one breaks, I have to stop and take apart the saw to get one of the sections, which falls into the water bath inside the saw. It's pretty tedious and I keep breaking them! If they break and the sections aren't complete, I have to go back to the wet lab and get the next closest vertebra and recut. On my first column I had to do 6 recuts. Hopefully I'll get better as I go along.

This is very similar to the histology work I used to do before becoming a teacher. Sometimes if I'm having a rough day teaching, I wish I was back working in the lab. This work today has been a good reminder for me about one of the reasons why I left lab work and became a teacher. One thing that can be said about teaching is that it's never repetitive!

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