At 1 p.m. last Thursday, a group of CSUN students departed from Fish Harbor in Long Beach aboard the Yellow Fin vessel and headed out onto the choppy waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Dr. Michael Franklin of the CSUN marine biology department led students from his marine biology 421 class on an excursion from the Southern California Marine Institute in Long Beach.
As a requirement for this upper division course, the deep sea trip entails field study of the diverse organisms found on the ocean floor to intensify the understanding of the students’ class material. This field study highlights a contrast between the lectures students hear every week in class against the irreplaceable aspect of physical experience, said Dr. Franklin, former CSUN student and current professor.
For their first experiment, the aspiring marine biologists collected a sample of ocean water to determine the factors contributing to the surrounding environment, such as the oxygen level, water salinity, the depth of water reached by sunlight, and its coloration. These critical elements are most important in key biological processes such as underwater photosynthesis.
“The ocean produces about 85 to 90 percent of the oxygen that we breathe”, said Bob Adams, the accompanying instructional support technician on the trip. With a Bachelor’s degree from CSU Long Beach in ecology, Adams has been assisting Dr. Franklin and other CSUN faculty members on the Yellow Fin for five years.
“If people enjoy going outdoors and love science as well, I would definitely urge them into going into ecology as a field of study,” Franklin added.
He said that rather than being stuck behind a desk all day solving equations, he enjoys being able to work in the field as a career.
While unraveling the elements of an ocean water sample may be fascinating to some students, others appeared uninterested in the topic of the experiment.
They sprang to life minutes later when the crew of the boat lowered a large net into the water and let it sink to the bottom of the sea floor as the boat picked up speed.
After dragging it along the ocean floor, they raised the net back into the boat. They caught hundreds of animals to be studied by Franklin and his class. Curious as to what sea creatures were collected in such a short period, the students gathered around the tank of abundant ocean species and were astonished by the results of the catch.
The first collection of animals included a diversity of species such as spiny lobster, many kinds of flat fish, a round stingray, kelpfish, lizard fish, pipe fish, rock crabs, spotted shrimp, and even a paper bubble snail.
Student Gabriel Bautista, wasbedazzled by what he saw in front of him.
“Starting off I was ignorant about the whole trip. But seeing how much life you can catch in such shallow waters is just amazing”, said Bautista, a senior at CSUN.
The students quickly appreciated the beauty of these creatures as they observed them swimming around in the tank on the deck of the Yellow Fin.
With eight more collections from the ocean floor, the students were overwhelmed with the range and abundance of animal species. Other specimens included the California scorpion fish, the sand bass, blue-clawed hermit crabs, the long-spine comb fish, the rough back sculpin, squid eggs, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and even an octopus.
Each time the nets were placed, they captured different types of species as a result of the varying depths of the ocean floor.
“My favorite part of this trip”, Franklin said, “is the responses of the students to the collection of some species. The surprise, the intense curiosity…that is how science is suppose to work.”
While they can learn these things in the classroom, Franklin added, experiencing science in the field is an eye-opener for students, which increases their awareness significantly.
The practice of physical familiarity to these creatures allows the students to connect the animals with material learned earlier, including the water examinations.
After seeing the animals, Bautista claimed that he learned a lot about diversity according to the depth tools on the boat.
The students also examined the similar coloration of many of the species, noting that their murky, muddy appearances are adaptations to the environment in which they survive. The dark colors help to refract light in case of predatory danger.
The levels of oxygen in the water, determined by the initial water sample experiment, also contribute to the overall health of these many species.
With so much to gain from such an enlightening experience, the students walked away from the seven-hour trip with a new sense of wonder for the ocean and its inhabitants, as well as exhaustion from the long adventure.
Students from the marine biology 421 class will journey next month into Pacific coastal waters for a comparison study of the ecological changes from last Thursday’s discoveries.