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SEA Days: Sustainable Seas

Thu, 10/15/2015 - 2:31pm

Written by: Lisa Gilfillan, Education Specialist

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days! As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego or local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

The oceans sustain all life on Earth and are vitally important to our own lives. Although they cover more than 70 percent of our planet, the oceans are not infinitely resilient, and our quest for more and more seafood has brought about some disastrous consequences. Sustainable seafood represents a healthy relationship with our oceans that can endure forever. Thanks to local scientists, like graduate student Lynn Waterhouse, we’re getting a clearer picture of fish populations and ultimately will be able to inform policy decisions regarding fisheries management. Below are a series of questions that Lynn answered that will give you a glimpse into her career path and areas of interest. Join us this Saturday to hear firsthand about her work.

Where did you go to school?

I did my undergrad at University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio where I earned a BS in Biology with a minor in Economics. From there I headed to Virginia Institute of Marine Science at The College of William and Mary where I earned a MS in Fisheries Science. After that I went to Pennsylvania State University where I earned my second MS in Statistics. Now I am at SIO doing a PhD in Biological Oceanography.


What is your area of research?

My area of research is in developing/modifying quantitative models for studying quantitative ecology, specifically population dynamics of fishes. My Dad likes to comment that I count fish for a living, which is essentially true, I count fish and work at getting better at counting fish.

Who or what inspired you to become involved in marine science?

I did a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. I got to go to Barrow and study ringed seals out on the land-fast ice. It was an amazing experience. I highly recommend that undergraduates in the STEAM fields check out REU programs, they are a fantastic PAID summer internship program that lets you find out if certain types of research are right for you.

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What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?

First off to be a scientist, you have to really be passionate about what you are studying. Part of that passion stems from being incredibly curious.  Beyond having this curiosity and thirst for knowledge about the world around us, math and statistics classes are so important.  I didn’t

realize this until I was finishing my MS degree in Fisheries Science and it is why I did a MS in Statistics at Penn State. I often hear people say that the science it is the easy part, it is the math, statistics, and computer programming that is hard. I would suggest any student wanting to

go into sciences to work on a solid foundation in those fields (or even just one of them) it gives you an upper hand in the field and honestly makes you a better scientist.

Why is your research topic important?

Understanding how many fish of a certain species exist is really important, both from a conservation point of view and from a food security point of view. I do research with the endangered Nassau grouper in the Caribbean, so knowing how many fish there are helps management and policymakers make better decisions to save the species from risking

extinction.  For a species like white seabass in the state of California, understanding how many fish there are enables us to make better recommendations to state policy makers so they can set limits for recreational and commercial fishers that ensure the species will be around for people to eat and enjoy catching for many years to come.


What will you be bringing with you to SEA days

Some tagging equipment, video from the REEF (Reef Environmental and Education Foundation), Dr. Brice Semmens, and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment Grouper Moon project, and lots of excitement.

What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research?

Learn math. I recently worked with some third grade students and 100% of them said they loved math. I don’t know what happens to students between third grade and high school, but just remember at some point in time everyone loved math, which means you can love it again.

What is your favorite ocean organism?

Trunkfish. They have such a unique body shape, and some of them are quite tiny. (I don’t believe Birch has a Trunkfish). My favorite ocean organisms at Birch Aquarium are the black sea bass. They have really amazing feeding mechanisms, I volunteer as a diver in the tanks and the suction they create with their mouths always impresses me.

SEA Days are 11 a.m – 3 p.m., are included with aquarium admission, and always free to aquarium members. Not a member? Join today!

SEA you there!



SEA Days: Fishy Friends

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 10:43am

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days! As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego or local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

“Fish are friends, not food.” We all remember this iconic line from Finding Nemo and while some fish are indeed food, we should first and foremost strive to keep our friends safe and happy. One way our actions affect our fishy friends is through the increased acidity in the ocean. An increase in carbon dioxide can increase the acidic environment of the ocean and this can have drastic repercussions for the organisms that live there. Scripps Scientist, Garfield Kwan focuses his research on the mechanisms that ocean acidification change fishy behavior. Below he gives us insight into his research and answers questions for future scientists.

Where did you go to school?

UC San Diego

What is your area of research?

When we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, some of it is mixed into the ocean surface and causes it to become slightly more acidic. I am interested in how this change in acidity is causing behavioral and physiological changes in our local kelp forest fishes.

Undergradaute student  Tsz Fung (Garfield) Kwan is one of the first graduating seniors from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Marine Biology major. (March 24, 2013)

Tsz Fung (Garfield) Kwan joins us for SEA Days Fishy Friends. 

What inspired you to work in your current field?

My first contact with marine biology was by eating it. Growing up in Hong Kong, I would always loiter at the fish markets and marvel at the diversity and intrinsic complexity of the marine organisms. I eventually stumbled into the marine biology field when I was looking for a part-time job. Today, I am a PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

What are some of the qualities that make a good scientist?

Be curious about the way things work around you. Research in science is about understanding things that we don’t know – and that requires more than just memorizing knowledge. Being smart definitely helps, but hard work, patience, luck, and being proactive is also necessary.

Why is your research topic important?

Current ocean acidification research on fish reveals dramatic changes in their behavior such as attraction to predators and unfavorable habitats. Scientists have narrowed down this dysfunction to a certain brain receptor in the brain. My research attempts to understand the mechanisms that link this phenomena caused by CO2 changes to the brain.

What will you bring to SEA days?

I will bring an experimental arena used to test for changes in fish behaviors. Samples of different kinds of preserved fish.

What is your favorite ocean organism?



All in the Aquarium Family

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 4:32pm

By Caitlin Scully

Birch Aquarium has a way of making employees feel like family. The common thread of being passionate about ocean science often builds lasting relationships between staff members and with Scripps Institution of Oceanography. There are people who have worked or volunteered at Birch Aquarium for 10, 20, even 30 years. Some, like Associate Curator Fernando Nosratpour, leave for other jobs only to return to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps family. Last week, we were proud to welcome Mark Ferguson, Bruce Blumer, and Harry Phillips, all former employees at the original Scripps Aquarium, which predates the 1990 construction of our current Birch Aquarium.


From left: Harry Philips (Scripps Aquarium 1969-1978), Mark Ferguson (volunteered in 1965 and employed at Scripps Aquarium 1969-1984), and Bruce Blumer (Scripps Aquarium1970-1976)

While visiting Birch Aquarium and looking “down the hill” at the site of the former Scripps Aquarium, Mark, Bruce, and Harry reminisced and told fun, emotional, and sometimes mischievous stories about what it was like working at Scripps Aquarium during the 1970s.

Birch Aquarium Associate Curator Fernando Nosratpour took the group for a special tour. Fernando started his aquarist career as a Scripps Aquarium volunteer and trained under Mark in the early 1980s. Mark left in 1984 to help open the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where he then worked for 20 years before retiring. Fernando and Mark reunited when Fernando was hired at Monterey Bay Aquarium 1990, where Mark was once again his supervisor. Mark, even in retirement, has continued to offer advice and wisdom. Fernando said,

Mark has been my mentor and many years later, during his retirement, he helped Birch Aquarium when we took the kelp tank down [for repair]. He provided lots of great advice on how to manage the filamentous algae, fish/community structure, and best ways to encourage kelp and seaweed growth. He’s been very active in the San Diego Tropical Fish Society and has a wealth of knowledge on native plants. He’s probably one of the best aquarists around.

Scripps Aquarium News Letter Spring 1975

Profiles on Bruce (upper left), Harry (upper right), and Mark (lower right) in the 1975 Scripps Aquarium Newsletter. Please click for option to enlarge.

Perhaps what was most special about Mark, Bruce, and Harry’s visit was seeing the camaraderie that was built through years or hard work and dedication to the Scripps Aquarium. Their efforts helped form what Birch Aquarium has become today. Thank you Mark, Bruce, and Harry for all you have done!

Associate Curator Fernando Nosratpour (center, blue shirt) joins Harry, Mark, and Bruce on Tidepool Plaza.

Associate Curator Fernando Nosratpour (center, blue shirt) joins Harry, Mark, and Bruce on Tidepool Plaza.