Friday, October 5, 2012

A Tale of Two Catfish

As if I didn't see enough fish at work, I'm crazy enough to have two fish tanks at home.  I have a saltwater tank, which currently only has some estuarine inverts in it (need to re-stock), and a freshwater tank, which I've almost finished re-vamping and re-stocking.

I started with just a handful of fish in the freshwater.  I've had this tank for years, so it's already cycled, but I didn't want to throw in too many fish at once!  (That doesn't typically work out very well!)  For a few weeks, I've had 3 sunset platys and an albino corydoras catfish.  They've all been happily swimming around the tank, and today I added a handful of zebra danios and a green corydoras.
My freshwater tank
I had read that corydoras like to hang out with conspecific buddies, but these two have been inseparable since I added the green cory to the tank!  It's so funny to watch - it's as if they're long-lost friends!  They follow one another around - left, right, up down.

It's funny.  I work with fish all day, but watching them swimming around the aquarium at home is so peaceful.  Don't get me wrong - fishkeeping is a LOT of work.  Be prepared for water changes, filter cleaning, water quality testing, etc.  It's not cheap either!  The end result of a nice, peaceful aquarium to watch is worth the work in my opinion.

I'm looking forward to re-stocking my saltwater tank.  Both of my aquariums needed some work, and I just haven't had the time lately.  I'm ready to get this going again though!  Even though I don't currently have fish in my saltwater tank, I do have some invertebrate friends.  I hear my huge snapping shrimp (that I've had for over 3 years now!) every so often, various gastropods make their rounds, the sea stars cling to the side, and my red hermit sifts through the substrate.
My hermit crab chillaxin on the sand
Like any other critter, you have to look into what kinds of sea critters are compatible with each other!  In a saltwater tank, for example, you don't want to have fish who think invertebrates are a tasty snack if you want to keep your inverts around!  And sometimes, fish want to have my now-inseparable corydoras catfish.

Maybe the piece of seagrass that formed a perfect number "2" on my leg at work today was a sign.
Ah, the mysteries of the sea.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bunnies...and fish...and bunnies...

Haven't had much time to blog lately!  I've been on the water quite a bit at work!  Plenty of 4 day field weeks for me, which has been rather exhausting.  My brother came to visit a little over a week ago though, and he got to come out on the boat with me at work!  It was fun to have "bring your brother to work day".  He flies jets, which is pretty exciting, but I think he enjoyed his day with the fishes!
Me and my little bro at our lunch spot on North Captiva.
In between water sampling (lots and lots of water sampling...) and regular fisheries sampling trips, I finally got to run a sawfish research trip again.  It's been a while, but I haven't lost my touch.  We caught this cute little boy around the east side of Hog Island.  He was quite frisky.  We named him George.  He looked like a George.
Yes, that's me rocking the pink Buff.  I make science look good.
Today I put on the bunny rescue hat and attended an adoption event at the Brandon Petco.  I was up until the wee hours of the morning last night doing last minute things.  I thought I had pre-prepared the day before, but I kept thinking of more things we needed!  This morning I loaded up my trusty (FINALLY paid off) Hyundai with Hershey my foster bunny, a guinea pig I recently picked up at Suncoast Humane, critter pens, litter box, water bowls, and a bag of miscellaneous things that come in handy at events like notecards, pens, binder clips, and the like.

We actually had a surprising turnout!  We weren't expecting so many people!  Five (!) bunnies were adopted - two bonded pairs and a single who met his match with a bunny who was previously adopted from us.  Yay!

R.B. was one of the lucky buns to find a family!
Hershey, my foster, did remarkably well.  I thought he would be a little more freaked out.
So all in all, it was a good day!

I also recently took Halloween portraits of my fuzzies.  The piggies are easy to photograph.  They pretty much let me do whatever I want with them.  Chloe kept trying to beat up the pumpkin, and Kahlua just wanted to go do something else.  I got a lot of action shots of Kahlua trying to run away.  Hershey was a perfect gentleman.  Maybe he knew he needed a good Petfinder photo.
My girls were so well-behaved.
Chloe...not so well-behaved.  But look at that face!
Kahlua had better things to do.
Hershey was incredibly photogenic.
So...that's what's going on in my world of fish, bunnies, and guinea pigs.

Monday, August 13, 2012

R.I.P. Pinkie, Hello Stripey

Today was a sad, sad day.  My lunchbox, Pinkie, met its end today.  When I got to work, I realized that the zipper had had a blow-out.  I had nursed it along for a while, but it has now met a catastrophic end.  Of course I didn't see it over the weekend.  I was forced to improvise with a plastic bag.

Pinkie :(
Every field biologist has that special lunchbox or dry bag...that carryall that gets you through the hard days.  Pinkie had been with me for years.  Pinkie was actually Pinkie II - its predecessors were Greenie and Pinkie the First.  When Pinkie the First died (cause of death was also a zipper blow-out), I was devastated.  I never thought I would find a lunch box like that - it had great compartments and it was pink!  Then I found Pinkie II.  I use my lunchbox not for food (that goes in the cooler on the boat), but for all the crap that I find necessary to have in the field with me.  Pinkie was with me through many travels - from the Myakka River to Everglades City to Biscayne Bay.

My necessary crap
Now, a new day has dawned.  I went to Walmart in hopes of finding Pinkie III, but alas, it was not to be.  They had changed the design and all they had was black.  I need to have a few girly things in this male-dominated profession.  Then...I saw Stripey.  It was new.  It was different.  An insulated bag as opposed to a lunchbox. could work!  It was still Igloo brand.  I must give props to Igloo.  Those lunchboxes survived years of abuse and salt spray. 

And so, Stripey is joining the fold.  It's got a lot to live up to.  I need something to carry my titanium spork in, after all.

I transferred everything to Stripey after having a moment of silence for Pinkie.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fisheries Science: Not for Sissies

Every two months, we sample Sarasota Bay for three days...and pull an insane number of nets.  Last Tuesday, I got my bi-monthly day on Sarasota Bay.  A typical Sarasota Bay day goes like this: wake up in the middle of the night (okay, 5 a.m.), drive over an hour, pull nets till your muscles start bleeding, count fish until your head spins, crawl back into the truck, drive over an hour, go home, and collapse on the floor.

I was in the field on Monday, but luckily we had easy pulls and light catches - not to mention a nice view at lunch:
Those are the days of which office workers really can be jealous.  Every morning of field sampling, we stop at the gas station.  On the beautiful days, everyone says, "Wow, I wish I had your job - get paid to go on the boat!"  Of course, on the rainy, windy, stormy, freezing (or all of the above) days, people say, "Wow, you have to go out in this???"  And we do, as long as we won't die doing so.  I've been out in the outer rain bands of hurricanes, people.

So - back to Sarasota Bay.  On a typical sampling day, we might pull 4 600 foot seines, or 8 small seines and trawls.  For Sarasota Bay sampling, we have to cram as many samples into a short period of time as possible.  A typical Sarasota Bay day consists of perhaps 3 600 foot seines, 4 trawls, and 10 small seines.  I happened to be on the record-breaking trip where we pulled 20 samples in a day.  We were in chest-deep water at the last site, and I was so tired that I feared I would not be able to haul myself back aboard.  I told the rest of the crew to save themselves.  Luckily they were a selfless crew and helped me up.  That's the way we roll.  Biologists saving biologists.

Public interactions on Sarasota Bay are often interesting.  It's quite a busy waterway.  Four biologists hauling in a 600 foot net tends to attract attention.  Oftentimes people think we are illegal netters, which I find funny because we would have to be the stupidest illegal netters in the world to do it in broad daylight close to a busy channel.  We are also often mistaken for Mote Marine, which is located in Sarasota.  In fact, we often see Mote vessels out there!  Sometimes we do get questions that make us giggle just a little.  Last time we got asked if there were sharks in the water.  Yes, I'm pretty sure there are sharks in Sarasota Bay.

If you ever wondered if there are plenty of fish in Sarasota Bay, I can assure you that there are.  There is also quite a large diversity of fish.  I am usually weary of counting pinfish, mojarras, and anchovies after a day on Sarasota Bay.

When I get home, the first thing I do is treat myself to a nice hot shower.  It's always interesting to see what flotsam hitches a ride home on me.  This last trip clogged up my shower drain with shoal grass (a type of seagrass) and a bunch of dead leaves.  I then put antibiotic ointment on my wounds and collapse on my couch.

Okay, that's a little dramatic, but it is a really hard day.  And I always feel a little bit stronger and a little bit more empowered after surviving days like that.  Fisheries science is not for sissies.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The day I met Edgar Hansen

So last weekend, I was chilling at home when I saw on Facebook that none other than Edgar Hansen of Deadliest Catch was to be at the grand opening of a new West Marine store in Ft. Myers.  If you know me, you know that I am a huge Deadliest Catch fan.  I've watched since season 1, and season 8 just finished.  Edgar works on the Northwestern, my favorite boat on the series.

Well, needless to say, I ran to my trusty Hyundai and headed for Ft. Myers - about a 50 minute drive from my condo.  I tried to contain my excitement as I battled traffic on US 41.  Soon, my GPS announced I was "arriving at destination".  SQUEEE! 

I walked into the store.  I must say, the new West Marine on College Parkway in Ft. Myers is quite impressive!  Lots of fun stuff for anybody who spends time on the water.  I wandered a bit until I saw a line - yup!  There he was!  I may have bounced up and down a bit.  I met a nice lady in line, and we had a good conversation almost the entire time.  She had just moved down from up north, and lives on a boat at the yacht basin in downtown Ft. Myers.  She hadn't quite adjusted to the Florida heat yet!

It was pretty cute seeing kids meeting Edgar.  Everybody was laughing as he joked around with the kids.  The wait in line wasn't bad, and it was a good experience since everyone was happy and nobody was complaining about being in line! 

Finally it was my turn!  I walked up to the table, he shook my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Edgar" at which point all coherent thought fled my mind.  I'm a scientist, for crying out loud!  I could care less about meeting A-list celebrities, sports stars, or musicians.  Well, have me meet a genuine Bering Sea crab fisherman (admittedly a good-looking one!), and apparently I swoon like a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

I finally (sort of) got my act together, and he signed autographs and took a picture with me.  And yeah, while posing for the picture, my brain was screaming, "OMIGOSH Edgar Hansen has his arm around me!!!!!!!!!"  After the picture, I told him I was so happy to meet him, and to stay safe out there.  He thanked me for coming.  He was super nice, which I was glad to see.  It would be disappointing to meet someone you look up to and find out they're a jerk!  I wish I had had the presence of mind to talk to him a little bit more, but oh well.  I was just so thrilled to meet him!

I walked around the store for a little bit with a ridiculous smile on my face.  I made the entire drive home with the ridiculous smile on my face.  My autographed postcard and toy inflatable boat that he wrote "Northwestern" on are proudly displayed in my room.

Even though I don't exactly work on the Bering Sea, I think every person who works on the water feels some sort of camaraderie with others who work on the water.  Whether you're working on Charlotte Harbor, the Atlantic Ocean, the Bering Sea, the Great Lakes, or wherever else, you have to work as a team with your crew.  You've got a common goal - to get the job done.  No matter where you work on the water, there is always the potential for danger.  Granted, Charlotte Harbor is no Bering Sea, but we still face potential hazards - lightning, boating dangers, and critters that can stab, poison, or eat you.  Whether you're working on a 24 foot mullet skiff or a 110 foot crabbing vessel, things break down, and you have to pull together to fix them.  While it can be frustrating at times, I am glad to be part of this big conglomerate of people who earn a living on the water.

Deadliest Catch is awesome.  Now shut up and fish.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hard Truths in Rescue

Recently at the rescue, we had to put a moratorium on intakes.  We were very much at our capacity.  It's difficult, because you want to save them all.  You want every unwanted animal to be safe and cared for.  However, every rescue organization has a responsibility to know its limit.  It is the first and most important lesson that every rescuer needs to learn. 

This year has been terrible for numbers of surrendered rabbits.  We receive dump calls and emails nearly every day.  As much as we want to, we cannot take them all.  The bulk of these calls are from people who bought a rabbit on a whim, and got tired of it after a few months.

"We got the kids a rabbit for Easter, and they're not taking care of it any more."

"We bought a baby bunny, but it's started biting and it smells."

"I have a rabbit, but I'm tired of it."

"I'm getting a puppy, and I don't want to take care of the rabbit too."

Oftentimes when we explain to people that we cannot take in their unwanted pet, they become irate.  "Isn't that what you're here for?" they ask.  Sure people.  Like it's our fault that they made an irresponsible decision, and we're terrible for not fixing their mistake.  They want to feel good about getting rid of their pet.  They don't have to feel as guilty giving it to a no-kill organization as opposed to the pound.

Well, the sad truth is that we cannot take them all.  We take in the ones we can.  A lot of time, we do squeeze in "just one more" - such as a special case of a splay-leg bunny or a bunny in danger of being PTS.

What would happen if we did try to take them all?  A rescue is supposed to be a sanctuary.  It's not a forever home, but it's a means to reaching one.  An animal in a rescue should by all means be in a sanitary environment, provided daily nutritional needs, and necessary vet care.  If this cannot be provided, there is no point to taking in the animal.  It's going from one bad situation to another.

Everyone likes the feel-good stories of rescue, but the fact that we cannot save them all is one that people would rather ignore.  You are the good guy if you can take in unwanted animals, but if you have to say no, you are the bad guy.  Rescuers can feel like the bad guy when saying no.  You come to the realization though, that you are not the reason this animal is not cared for.  Rescuers saying "no" are not the problem.  They are being responsible.  It is the irresponsible decisions of people that put these animals in jeopardy in the first place.

Will the overpopulation of animals ever cease to be a problem?  I highly doubt it.  As long as there is greed, ignorance, and poor decision-making on the part of the general populace, there will be unwanted animals.  We combat it by trying to educate people.  Don't breed your rabbits or other pets.  Don't buy a bunny for Easter.  Please be a responsible pet owner and research a potential pet's needs before acquiring one.  Adopt.

When we do say no, we offer alternatives.  We try to keep animals in their homes.  Correct behavioral problems by spaying/neutering.  Provide advice for destructive behavior.  Help people understand the needs of their pet.  We offer alternatives to taking their pet to the pound.  We suggest species-specific forums to re-home pets.  Give advice if they must use Craig's List (which we don't recommend - always ask for a re-homing fee if you use a website like CL).  Sometimes, that is all we can do.

People need to be more understanding when we must say no.  If you don't like it, then make a commitment to foster.  The more foster homes there are, the more animals rescues can save.  Donate toward vet care and daily needs.  Rescuers fund much of what they do out of their own pockets, and funds are sadly limited!

Please be a responsible pet owner.  Spay and neuter pets.  Don't make impulse purchases.  Above all, get it through your head that you are taking on the care of a living, breathing, feeling creature who deserves love, attention, and a healthy environment.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

And Nerds Shall Rule the World

Life at the lab has been pretty boring lately.  Fish catches have been less than stellar, and there's only so much excitement to be had at the lab.  Of course, as scientists, we get excited about some pretty nerdy things.  Last Friday, you should have heard us exclaiming over the 58mm standard length Microgobius gulosus we caught.  "Holy crap!"  "That's the biggest gulosus I've ever seen!!!"  "Put it in the bucket so we can observe it!"  Yes, we did actually put it in the bucket to observe it.  It was spectacular.  And for anyone who actually cares to know, the common name is clown goby.

They're awesome and you know it.
Well, I had some excitement at the lab.  We have had the same old LI-COR instrument since before I started working here.  It's a little persnickety at times.  It's been used and abused as only boats and saltwater can do.  We do our best to take care of things, but in the field...well, things get beat up, corroded, and bounced around.  So...*drum roll please* the agency that pays for our water sampling grant just got us a whole new setup to use!!

What is LI-COR you ask?  Okay, maybe you're not asking, but I'll tell you anyway.  The sensors measure photosynthetically active radiation (PAR).  Oooooooooh ahhhhhhhhh.  Why is this useful?  Well, in an estuary where seagrass is important, it's good to know how much light those little blades of manatee food and fish nursery are getting.  The actual data gets put into complicated equations that I don't understand.  That's for those math nerds to figure out.  I just put the stick in the water and write down the numbers.

My brand new beautiful lowering frame built by Scotty, the resident PVC genius at the lab.
My glorious new data logger.  I don't care who you are.  Pulling plastic off of new electronics is awesome.

  Yesterday, I got to take it for a spin.  I must say, it did a fabulous job of measuring photons.  We still have the old one.  It does still work, even if I have to whisper sweet nothings to it sometimes to coax it into working.  It will be nice to have a spare, since we have to send the sensors off the the company every 2 years to be calibrated.  The old one is due this year, so at least I don't have to schedule sampling trips around that!

Why do you care?  Well, you probably don't.  That's okay, because you're probably excited about things that I'm not excited about.  You should care that we're collecting this water quality data though, because it helps maintain a healthy estuary!

The LI-192 Underwater Quantum Sensor.  It accurately measures Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density!  It's cosine corrected!  It's corrosion resistant!
Turtle grass says, "Gimme photons!"
All hail the nerds.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

March Madness!

Whew, it's been a long couple of days!  As usual, my days have been full of fish and furry critters.  Yesterday I finally got to go on my first sawfish sampling trip of 2012.  Lately, my work schedule has been full of water sampling.  I am in charge of the water sampling project at our lab, and our grant was just expanded - so I've been running double the amount of water trips.  That means more sampling trips, more data entry and proofing, and a lot more time prepping trips and then breaking down equipment.

But anyway...water is boring.  How about those sawfish?  We were having a rather uneventful morning.  The tide was quite low, so our first set was in a deeper area.  We had just checked the net when we received a phone call from another crew out on the water.  They were pulling 600' seines, and guess what they caught?  Yup, a little sawfish.

We hurriedly picked up the nets and motored a bit downriver to where the other crew was waiting.  They transferred the sawfish into our loving care so we could work it up and they could finish their seine trip!  The sawfish was just a little guy - less than a meter in total length.  He was very well-behaved.  We decided to name him Edwin.  Not sure why, but that's his name.  We measured him, tagged him, counted his teeth, admired him, and pulled a couple of leeches off of him, since there are people out there who want to study sawfish leeches.  SCIENCE!

We finished working him up, and then sent him on his way (after taking a couple of photos).
How cute is this little sawfish?  The tag on his 2nd dorsal will help contribute to sawfish movement data.

Come Saturday, it was time to put on the small animal rescuer hat.  I did a LOT of driving today!  My first stop was Suncoast Humane Society, where I picked up 4 ferrets who are all in need of homes.  My thanks to the fine folks of Suncoast - they are great to work with!  Next I drove up to Venice to meet another volunteer who had picked up a couple of guinea pigs from Sarasota Animal Services.  Those two needed to go up to another foster home.  I headed up to Sarasota to meet Amber, who had 2 guinea pigs to give me, since they were getting adopted!  We traded critters and continued on our respective journeys.

I ran home to grab a couple of things and print out an adoption contract, then I headed to the piggy pair's new forever home!  It was a joy meeting their new family - they were so excited and immediately fell in love with the piggy girls!  It's always so refreshing to meet people who are truly interested in giving the best care to their small pets!

My next mission was to visit Otis at Petco.  I brought him some veggies and some love!  I'm surprised he hasn't been snatched up by someone yet, because he is just the cutest little thing.
How could anyone resist this little guy?
Exhausted, I headed home.  I still had to clean my potentially pregnant foster guinea pig's cage.  Brienne was dropped off at Suncoast with 2 boys (who went up to Brandon today), so she is on pregnancy watch for a couple of months.  She is just a little cutie, but never wants to come out of her pigloo!  I still don't know if she's actually pregnant, but it seems like a good bet.  The rescue sure doesn't need any more piggies (just took in a bunch!), but baby piggies are sure cute.  So - we'll wait and see what happens!  If she does end up being preggo, I will certainly post pictures of babies!

Meet Brienne.  The million-dollar question: is she pregnant?

The rest of the month shall continue with madness!  I've got 3 water sampling trips next week, a scientific manuscript in pre-production stages, my good friend will be visiting from Orlando, and then I am helping out with our huge guinea pig adoption and rabbit awareness event at the Brandon Petco on April 1st!  Uh oh, should I be worried that it's April Fool's Day?