Monday, August 15, 2011

End of an Era

So, Sunday was my last day at the aquarium for at least a year.  I know that it will always be there and I would be welcome back in a heartbeat, but I cannot help to feel upset.
For the last 2 years or so, the aquarium has been my weekly excitement that has kept me guessing what would happen that week (much like a good sitcom). Yet, as I left on Friday, I couldn't help but be sad.
The next year I will be away on three seas then, if I do decide to actively pursue vet school, I will have to spend my free time at a vet office and not playing with my favorite sea creatures (since only 1 school offers a marine vet program). I want to say I could do both, and maybe I can, but going into senior year with 4 lab classes a semester, this seems unlikely.
But, even though I am extremely sad, I do not want to make this a sad post. Instead, I want to highlight the last 2 years and the amazing times I have had.
Starting out in the freshwater gallery with Scott gave me my first year. During this time, I swam with catfish larger than myself, snorkled with anacondas, went on herring collecting trips, and assisted in an anaconda giving birth. This gallery truly allowed me to learn the basics of the marine world. Every day I was there, I learned more than I could possibly imagine and it solidified my desire to preserve the marine world.
Newborn anaconda
After a year of freshwater, I went to the other side of the building to work in Cold marine with bill. This gallery (although absolutely bitter in the winter), was a more advanced gallery that presented some more challenging creatures. Don't get me wrong, anacondas and electric eels are not docile but the animals in cold marine were more feisty, maybe it was the colder water. Here, I was exposed to a large increase in responsibility. My first 3 months, Bill was gone and I was in charge of the gallery every Sunday. This included learning to pick up lobsters with my bare hands, being the primary caretaker of red belly cooters (care and scientific measurement), working with some of the most opinionated fish I have ever seen, and, of course, taking care of the giant pacific octopus (Athena). While I was in this gallery for 10 months, I quickly learned the personalities of these creatures and their care. Freshwater and cold marine are completely different ecosystems and the creatures reflect this. It's nice to go scuba diving now and be able to identify what I see.
Me and Athena
Cold Marine also had me doing odd jobs in the temperate and tropical galleries. In temperate I was given the extreme honor of working with leafy and weedy sea dragons while in tropical I was exposed to my beloved coral.
Than, this past month, I have been working in the tropical gallery. This work solidified my knowledge of the tropical world and helped prepare me for three seas.
I also, outside of the galleries, was able to shadow a stingray neutering surgery. This was the first of its kind and allowed me to see what a marine vet actually does. I want in!

Looking back, although I gave a very basic over view, has produced some of my fondest memories and changed who I am immensely. I hope to be back in a year and, if I am otherwise pulled away, thank you New England Aquarium.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer in a nutshell

Well, it is quite obvious that I have been MIA. I am sorry, but it has been due to the busy work not due to a lack of interest!
Since I leave for Three Seas in less than a month (!) I thought it would be a good idea to wrap up the summer.

So, this summer produced some high and low points. The lowest was when my beloved octopus, Athena, passed away. She was 2.5 years old (they only live to about 3), was 10 ft across and weighted 22 lbs. The day I heard this I was at the scuba shop and started to cry. I want to thank my family and friends for all of their support through this time. I won't forget the first day I came in, about 3 days after she passed, and saw her beak on my bosses desk and her tank disassembled.  Naturally I was heart broken but I feel blessed to have had such a connection with her. I ended up switching galleries and spent the rest of the summer working in the tropical gallery.
This is the gallery I have wanted to work in from the beginning. The fish are all indo-pacific and we have some of the most beautiful coral I have seen (as well as nautilus)! The work has been surreal and it is such a beautiful swirl of color everytime I am in the gallery. I did cut myself badly on some coral which has led to a scar on my lower leg, but I like my battle wounds.

I have also, big shock, decided that I want to pursue veterinary school. After the episode with the horseshoe crab in Fortesque (see previous post), I have felt a real calling for marine veterinary care. As anyone who has looked into vet school knows, however, it is highly competitive. So, I have been working on raising my GPA (luckily its not in a bad place to start) and have been looking for veterinary possibilities.
Seeign as I am going away soon, I did not get a job with a vet but I was able to shadow the head vet at the aquarium for a day. During the shadowing, I watched as they preformed a stingray nuetering surgery. Yep, I didn't know it was a real thing either.
And apparently its not, well it hadn't been done before. So here I was, watching something brand new to the world. I won't get into the details of the surgery for the sake of the weak stomached but lets just say it was a difficult one. However, it was absolutely inspiring and furthered my decision.
I will keep everyone updated on the vet school procedure, even though it'll be quite a few years before I apply.

Well, that sums up the summer in a nut shell. I was taking classes once I finished in the lab so I have not had much water time. My only time scuba diving was getting my rescue certification 2 weekends ago (I passed). But I am not too upset because I realize that I will get more than enough diving in the Three Seas program.

Well I actually have to run to class but enjoy the rest of summer and I will try to write soon!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A trip into the past

Wow, so it has been a while. However, nothing super fascinating (at least to others) has really happened in the last few months.
Well, thats not entirely true...a few weeks ago I went to Fortesque, NJ with my Mom and her boyfriend. This town, located on the Delaware Bay, is usually pretty quiet except for a few weeks at the end of May when horseshoe crabs migrate their to lay their eggs. And I don't mean ten horseshoe crabs or twenty, I mean hundreds! It is almost impossible to not step on the trains of 5 they seem to form.
Along with these crabs are the thousands of birds who migrate from all over the Western Hemisphere to munch on the yummy eggs (they were green and kinda hard...sounds delicious, no?).  So, between the crabs and the birds, it is a crazy madhouse that is absolute heaven to a marine lover.
And while not everyone has to admit that horseshoe crabs are cute or anything, you have to give them respect. Here is a creature that, for much longer than humans have been around, has not changed. Like the nautilus, these creatures have been the exact same from the days when Babylonia was not even a twinkle in someone's eyes. When you pick up one of these harmless creatures, it really is like looking back in time. It is extremely primitive, but it has no reason to change. My mom and i were questioning the weird orgy-like breeding patterns and how on Earth they could possibly work. But they do, and it made me wonder how long they have been coming to Fortesque, and how the bay has changed, and how they keep finding their way back. It is fascinating.
It also makes one think of human's impacts on the ocean. I do not want to go off on a tirade but, these creatures that have been around for millions of years, are threatened by the warmer oceans, higher acidity, and technology that throws off their sense of the magnetic field.  It may sound dumb but, when you pick up a crab that is about the same age as you, you cannot help but want to save them.

It was fascinating and gave me, as the Ocean tends to do, such awe and respect.  I may still be unsure as to what I plan to do post Undergrad, but I am willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to try and restore the blue planet to what it was and allow the horseshoe crabs to keep coming back to Fortesque for another million years.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Clearly I am not too good at this blogging thing. But a promise is a promise and I promised I'd keep people informed of my life below the sea.

Now, where to begin. I work at United Divers now. It is a great job and I am learning all about scuba gear/ scuba. Its nice to know whats going on with gear that I entrust my life with. Turns out there is a lot to know (go figure) but I am slowly getting it. I can fill tanks like a pro and can find a mask that fits you like a glove. So if you wanna buy a scuba mask, this girl is your girl! They are also letting me take a dry suit class for free! I am getting certified next weekend and then can start diving again! Thank God because this fishy has been out of the water for far too long! I def prefer wetsuit but knowing how to dry suit dive is quite useful: especially for New England!

So yay scuba dubas!

But, on to the stuff that you are probably more interested in, the Phoenix Islands. WELL, I am so stoked because I am actually going to do things that will directly help the islands! I have three projects that will all be beneficial. The first is to draw together clips for a professor who is working with U of Miami to make a video about how coral reefs are a network all interlinked. Therefore I am using PIPA videos of before, during, and after the bleaching. If it actually happens, it will be shown to a large audience and will raise further awareness of PIPA, and coral reef sustainability in general!
Second, Les gave me the project to look at the PIPA video data from 2000, 2002, and 2009 to compare the sites and how they changed. I am using the videos to compare the same islands as well as dive spots to draw conclusions. This will basically present a  "what does this all mean" and could possibly be a paper! So far, the data from 2000 is as pristine as I have ever seen a reef to be. There is an almost perfect balance of predators to smaller fish, as well as thriving coral. While some bleaching is present, it is less than 10% of the total coverage. I am still working on the 2000 data so I do not know 2002 but I can predict that it will be a sad sight: a ghost town. 

However, the final project is the one that is the most exciting. After walking from NEU to Harvard and back today, I was wiped out and passed out. I woke up to a few e-mails and was instantly energized: Randi wrote to me with the best project ever. She has been collaborating with a scientist at Woods Hole to work on possible funding for the next PIPA trip. She needs videos covering a few different subject and these videos will be used to raise funds for the upcoming trips. I am in charge of making the videos and am going to do my best to find THE best footage I can. Isn't it crazy: my work could be used to send scientists to the Phoenix Islands in order to help conserve corals.

Yeah, I basically adore my job. :)

Monday, February 14, 2011


So, I have been bad about Blogging and keeping everyone updated: I am sorry, it's just that life gets busy sometimes.

Anyways, a lot has happened recently.
First, I got the official, written acceptance to Three Seas! I heard from the director of the program in early October that I had gotten in, but it's nice to have it in writing.

Second, I finished the PIPA data! Les, Randi, and I are meeting in mid-March to discuss some coral identification but I am done with PIPA, for now! So, now I am moving from Kiribati to Brazil!

So that is the third thing: with the PIPA data done, I am now working on video data from the Abrolhos shelf off Brazil. The video data is from Nitrox divers who went down about 80m to see sights that have never been filmed and/or seen before! And guess who gets to work with the data: this kid!

Sadly, I have not been able to see a lot of it because of some issues with computer programs but, from what I have seen, it is remarkable. On the Abrolhos shelf, there are corals that are found only on this one place on Earth. Also, the corals are built up from fossil corals. I do not know as much about the shelf as I should and will be doing research on it today but, in the mean time, here is a web page about it: Conservation International

I also have been given swipe access to the BUMP (BU marine program) lab. It is a hidden treasure in the basement of the building and it is full of fish, coral, octopi, and giant clam! I personally love the octopi and, on my first day down there, there were 2 day old babies! I brought my camera today and hope to put up photos asap!

Anyway, I have to run but I  realized I hadn't updated this in a while and felt I should. All the bests!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I have them, co-workers! And they're really cool!
back track: for those of you who do not know, for the past 4 weeks I have been virtually alone in the lab. BU didn't start till the 18th, so no one was here, then when classes did start everyone was too busy to come in. But today some did! All undergrad too. There was Lucas and Cara (freshman and sophomore), who I've met before and are really nice. Then there was Arjin (spelling?) and Zach, both seniors working on a sand lance project where they look at the fishes' ear bones. 
Anyhow, I was burning CDs today for Les (with the photo data) and both Arjin and Zach were in and I got to know them both better. Zach was kinda quiet and listened to music a lot but he's a pre-med kid hoping to finish the sand lance project in time. Arjin is a senior who is  an avid diver as well! We are planning to go to a sponge forest in Stellwagen bank (I did not know there were sponge forests there!) in the summer time!

I am so excited to be meeting the fellow lab members and I really like them all! :D

Monday, January 24, 2011

I. cannot. wait. to. go. to. the. Phoenix Islands

If every I have felt a desire to study corals, it is now. Woke up this morning to Boston being -1 but feeling like it was -20. I think that may be a conservative number because after five minutes outside I could not feel my legs. I feel like I like in Russia, not Boston.
Anyhow, I come to work and start editing videos again and, as I watch the divers swim in shorties and bask in only bathing suits on the boat, I cannot wait to get away from the cold. I think I'll just go to Panama next year and not come back, I make a raft and float around the Pacific. At least that was I can avoid 8' of snow every other day and I can feel my legs.

However, I think it'll be a while before I get to the Phoenix Islands, but I may be able to get to Fiji within a few years! On mornings like this, I keep that concept close to my heart.

But, so far, its been a fun week (well 3 hours) at work. Les, who has walking pneumonia,  came in the just talk with me and catch up. We ended up talking about photography the whole time and he promised to show me the "secret" lab with LOTS of coral and octopi! Also, he mentioned he'll take me out diving to his favorite spot to see the cold water coral, Astrangia. This coral is able to live in a symbiotic OR non-symbiotic state!
For those who don't really know coral, most corals live in a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, which is a dinoflagellate. These not only give the coral nutrients, but provide the coral with their color. Well, our special cold water coral can live without them! I will do a separate post about them, for those who are really interested. :)

But, back to photography, I learned something really cool! When the aquarium did an expedition to Fijim back in the fall of 2010, the published photos showed coral bioluminescencing. Well, I love bioluminescence so I asked Les about it. Turns out that all coral do it! The cynobacteria that live inside of the coral let off the light  and he is hoping to do experiments about if there are patterns tied to certain feelings that the coral is feeling.
He is currently doing a project that reads the genome of coral as they undergo certain stresses (if I understood this to properly present it, I would go more into detail), but he is hoping to use the filters on the cameras to be able to make the process easier to see. If so, I want part of it! Apparently its really easy to see when one used high energy lights (either a black light or a blue light) and places a yellow filter over their lens & mask.
A photo from the 2010 Fiji trip showing the bioluminescence

I ALSO found out that... wait for it...I will be working with Brian Skerry's images! Brian Skerry is a very well respected photographer for national geographic and recently gave a TED talk. I was supposed to meet with him last year but, due to a comedy of errors, was not able to. Now I get to work with his photos and will be able to see the type of photos that national geographic photographers take and will probably be able to meet him (since he and Les are friends). Exciting!

Anyway, back to videos and then a lab meeting! Bests

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Well, today I had a feat, I won't lie. As you all know, I have been working on my PIPA image mastery list for about two weeks now (Well this is halfway through my third...), and I finally got one of the two booklets completed!
Why is this so great do you ask? Well, on day one I was given about 1000 photos to do something with. period. Just that, no explanation as to what they were, what Les wanted with them, a due date, nothing.
So, after looking through a few photos, I decided to split the photos up into further sub folders to organize them (the folders being NAI'A, terrestrial, coral, and fishes). I then made an Excel spread sheet that said the file name of each photo, the original location of the hard drive, and described the photo. NAI'A was easy, as was terrestrial. However, I had to give the scientific name of fishes and I barely knew the common name (thank you to my cousins, Sam and Ariane, for both of the ID books!).
Well, today I placed the mastery list for fishes, terrestrial, and NAI'A in a booklet, typed up a cover page and into, as well as made a chart of every scientific name used and the common name. It may not sound like much...but it is!
Here it is!

The coral booklet has about 500 files in it and I need to wait till Les and Randi get back to finish IDing the corals. Without seeing the corals that is a very tough endevure.

BUT, that is another day! And now I am going to celebrate! I found Narnia for $4 and Bridgette Jones for $5 at a used DVD store and am going to have a mini marathon of this rainy January (oxymoron?) day.

Best to all!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

biggest adrenaline rush in a while...

So, Sunday I was at the aquarium as usual and that day started out as normal: clean the glass, take the temperatures, back wash, change filter bags, prepare copious amounts of food, take scientific measurements on our baby turtles etc. However, I decided to feed Athena, our giant pacific octopus, in the morning.

playing with Athena

Thus, when the afternoon came around, by 2:30 I was done with everything I could think of! However, there is always more work to be done at the aquarium so all I had to do was ask Bill and he found a project. And what a project!
Actually there was nothing too thrilling about it because all marine scientists can do it but I never had done this before: pick up fully armed (no rubber bands) lobsters with my bare hands.
I had to set up a new holding system for them and then move the lobsters: two big ones and two smalls. This is all fine and dandy except lobsters are some of the meanest creatures I have ever encountered and they will happily chop off a finger. So, as the lobsters at all coming within cm of my fingers, I start to try to move them. I pick up the first and have no issue, it doesn't seem to care. I then try and pick up our biggest but fear was holding me back. So I let her get more and more angry at me as I tried again and again (each time getting more scared of the claws that could take off a finger). I moved the two smaller ones but, when I lifted one of the smallers, it used its tail tp try and escape, which caused me to have to step back to balance myelf and therefore almost fall off the ledge that I was standing on. Hear= pounding at this point.
But, I had moved the two smalls and the smaller of the large lobster. Now I just had one large and angry female to move. I try three more times and fail, so eventually I take a big breath, reach in...and grab her. I lift her out of the water and, almost as shocked at the capture as I was, she didn't move. I quickly rushed her into her new home and marveled at my work. Sure this is a skill that is elementary, but it was scary, and my heart was racing and the adrenaline was pumping in excess.
The whole adventure took the entire afternoon so I left shortly after it, but it was so exciting and fun!

I start my biology of fishes class tomorrow at the aquarium and am looking forward to it! Will keep you posted.
I am sorry, I had to

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shot in the dark...

SO week two is over (wow) and it's been a really productive week for being in for only three days (thank you massive blizzard)!
I finished the still images project and called in Les to help me ID a few coral I didn't do...looks like my random, I mean educated guessing, or the types of coral was a bit more off than I though. I got the difficult ones but I mixed up my acroporas and pavonas and such (yeahhhh.....) But Les really likes what I am doing so he and I are going to sit down and really go over the photos so that 1) he knows what data is available 2)he can check my coral ID 3) we can flag photos that show interesting growth rate. I am not sure if I can put photos up from the data but, since they are recovering from the massive bleaching, there is a lot of really interesting data. You can see the healthy coral fighting with the dead, bleached coral and the results are some really interesting patterns.
Oh I have also officially learned a lot of scientific names of the fish, which makes me feel like a massive geek, but accomplished at the same time.

Some Acropora coral in the Phoenix Islands. (You can tell its Acropora by the type of branches and that it is lifted off the ground)

Thursday, January 13, 2011


So, I realized that I should probably give a "guide" to the names and such that I will be using, since not everyone who will read this will know who is who.

Bailey: Steve Bailey- the curator of fishes at the New England Aquarium
Les: Les Kaufman- professor at BU, PIPA scientist, and senior scientist for Conservation International
Randi: Randi Rotjan- A coral reef biologist scientist at the New England Aquarium and a PIPA scientist
Bill: Bill Murphy- The head aquarist of the cold waters gallery at the New England Aquarium
Rachel: Rachel Morrison- a PhD student at Scripps who started the project I am now working on

I think that's it for now? If anything I will always add more.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

week two!

So, week one FLEW by! As with most first weeks at a new job, it was a bit overwhelming but each day I was eager to come in.
By the end of the week I could tell you about 20 scientific names, can tell you the family a fish is in based on the body shape, and can identify Acropora, Turbinaria, and Fungia coral. Not bad for only four days!

Week two started like week one, going through the photos. But due to the lack of ways to identify the coral in the photos, I have but that aside for now and moved onto the videos. [Even though I started the videos last week I though I may have magically learned all the coral over the weekend so I'd try to ID the photos...not quite the case]. In the videos, I am watching them (and feeling quite jealous as it is cold here and people are all wearing shorties in the videos), describing notes of interest (such as ground cover, fish, fish activity, health of coral, etc), and giving a location. Not too hard just time consuming. It is really helping me learn the fish quickly though.
I also spend a good deal of yesterday (Monday) exploring our animal part of the lab. I though we only had cichlids and corals: boy was I wrong! In each of the coral holders is an animal: one has the cutest little surgeonfish, one has a clownfish/ his anemone, and the last has a mantis shrimp! There are also some other fish in a side tank that I cannot identify yet. If I am allowed, I will put up photos asap!

We also had our first lab meeting and 1) I really like our group. Everyone seems really passionate about what they are doing. and 2) I was named the chair of the party planning committee. I have no idea what that means but I am excited and will make sure the Kaufman lab is a sociable lab!

Today I am getting a late start and am about to start video editing. The sky is dark grey so I think I may have an early day (since yesterday was and 8-5 day) and try to beat out the storm!

If anyone is interested in the Phoenix Islands, I have a link here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Half way through week one

So I realized that I haven't written about my internship at all yet! Not much has happened but I figured I would take part of lunch to write about it thus far.

On Monday (day 1), I started right away with organizing the images from the 2009 trip. I placed the photos into four different groups: fishes, terrestrial,  coral, and NAI'A (the name of the boat). All are pretty self-explanatory and contain images from five different memory cards.
five FULL memory cards, aka a lot of data.

So now I had this massive collection of photos and I figured that I should organize them, so I made a mastery sheet. Using excel, I made a sheet for each of the four groups and made the columns; image name, original location, description.  Again, easy and straight forward (we scientists enjoy that since something always seems to be astray). On Monday I was able to finish NAI'A and part of fishes before Les came in.

He and I talked and was already really impressed by what I had done and thought of. He said "By the end of this you will be a valuable part of PIPA and I'll talk with Randi* about opportunities". I am not sure what that means but I know it's good! We also talked about me helping write/ edit papers, do coral research in the lab, go on local collecting trips, etc! SO EXCITING!

So Tuesday was basically a repeat of Monday except I worked on fishes and was shocked. I came into this internship not really knowing any indo-pacific fish that well (besides the basics that everyone knows) yet by the end of Tuesday I knew about 50 common names, how to identify this fish, could easily determine the family of fish based on the body shape, and have gotten down some scientific names (the first one I got was Black jack= Caranx lugubris). If this is day two and I already know that can you imagine how fantastic this co-op will be for me to learn!
Caranx lugubris: Black Jack

I also left on Tuesday feeling like I may sail through this too quickly: I have done all the groups except coral and had done so with ease. Then I came in today...

Starts out as usual, start up the computer, swirl around in the spiny chair, delete the e-mails about post-holiday sales (now that I have a Rugby gift card(thanks Mom!) maybe I should keep some of those ;]. Anyway then I figured it was a good time to start with the coral identification. So I wrote down the image titles of the 600 coral photos there are and look around the lab for a coral ID book. I found one for staghorn corals that is in black and white and found a scientific list of the Phoenix Island corals (no photos).

How is it coming? Well it has been about three hours and I know that a Faviidae is a mushroom coral and found 20 photos of those. I also know Acropora is staghorn, table, elkhorn corals. While this is a feat, identifying these corals is almost impossible. I honestly don't even know how to go about this and actually am having Les come save me this afternoon by helping me out. So I have my first real challenge and am excited to conquer it but this maybe harder than organic chem.  I am hoping by the end of next week I will have this down and move onto the videos, but looking at the whole process from the starting point, its daunting.

I do absolutely love this co-op though and am excited for the first lab meeting on Monday and for all of the BU students to return!

* Randi Rotjan is a research scientist at the New England Aquarium who specializes in coral and is one of the heads of the PIPA research group. I want to be her in that sense (which she knows and told me how to get there). We are also recent Facebook friends ;P

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Silence before the Joyride

Okay, so I promised people that I would make a blog about my co-op with Les Kaufman and my Three Seas program, so here I am! I will also be posting about the aquarium, since there is no such thing as a calm day there and there are always fantastic stories (anaconda birth anyone?).

My new years resolution is actually to keep this updated, lets hope it sticks! Right nowI don't have much to say since I start back at the aquarium tomorrow and start with Les on Monday. So exciting! I have no idea what to expect or what I'll be doing, but aren't those the most fun situations? They may not be super exciting to blog about but hopefully you'll enjoy some of them and feel free to leave comments (actually I love comments).

I am wishing everyone the happiest 2011that is full of laughs and love!