Righetti High School science teacher Jenn Sportsman's marine biology class recently traveled on the NOAA R/V Shearwater to the Channel Islands to conduct scientific research. The vessel is made specifically for research in this area.
On their trip, they encountered humpback whales, common dolphins and even experienced a superpod of dolphins -- hundreds of creatures -- that swam and jumped alongside the boat and they rode the waves that the boat created.
“I had a blast!" said student Rebekah Whitten. "I learned so much and want to go back. Seeing the dolphins was amazing.”
Students also saw pollution in the ocean and stopped to pull trash from the water on several occasions.
“It was horrible to see trash in our ocean," said student Brea Cato. "Seeing the balloons at sea makes me not want birthday balloons anymore.”
While on the Shearwater, scientists assisted students in conducting a plankton tow. Students got to work with the scientific equipment used to collect this data. Plankton was collected into a condensed tube and looked at under a microscope.
NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary marine biologists led students as they learned about Emerita anologa, the Pacific mole crab (or sand crab’). The group used cores to collect the Emerita, measure, count and determine their sex.
This data gave them valuable information on the food chain, as Emerita are a good source for many marine organisms. Their population is counted upon and needed within the marine food web, Sportsman said.
Students also got to see the ocean floor through the use of a drop camera. They were able to see and understand the both sandy bottom and rocky ocean floors and the marine life that resides in the different areas. The scientists even pointed out an invasive seaweed species on the rocky bottom.
The Shearwater then took the students the Painted Cave on the side of Santa Cruz Island.
“This was a once and a lifetime opportunity all of the students will remember,’’ Sportsman said. “The water was a beautiful deep but clear color and the walls were colorful. Seals congregated by the cave and waved to us while we left.’’