Jordan [LASTNAME] drawing a sample from brine cultures grown at Cal Poly Humboldts' Marine Lab Feb. 11

Students dive into oceanic research

Take a look at Cal Poly Humboldt’s lean marine learning machine

by Nina Hufman

At Cal Poly Humboldt’s marine lab, graduate students run between the workspaces and laboratories, students stir beakers of brine shrimp instead of cups of coffee, and Percy the giant pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) tugs on the fingers of the lab tech feeding him.

Photo by Morgan Hancock | Percy the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini)

Percy’s isn’t the only interesting face one can see at the lab. Other notable critters include Gaia the red octopus (Octopus rubescens), Eleanor the Wolf Eel (​​Anarrhichthys ocellatus), and Butters the Albino Dungeness Crab (Cancer magister). Sea stars, baby jellyfish, sea urchins, clingfish, nudibranch, sea cucumbers, and anemones are among the lab’s other aquatic residents. There are also rockfish older than most of the people working at the lab.

“There’s so much potential at this place for doing even more than we are now,” said Lab Director Rick Zechman.

Although it’s currently closed to the public due to COVID-19, the students and staff of the Telonicher Marine Lab are offering guided virtual tours and virtual educational programs. Cal Poly Humboldt students also have the option to visit and explore the lab in person.

If they want more experience than a visit will offer, students can sign up for courses in oceanography, fisheries biology, and marine biology, which all include instruction at the marine lab.

Marine naturalist Jordyn Neal is in charge of tours.

“Most of my job is public outreach,” Neal said. “I try to inform the public on the fish here, and conservation.”

Neal gives guided tours of the lab and is in charge of the summer school program. She says that one of her main goals is to bridge the gap of scientific literacy.

Neal is a fifth year marine biology major who is currently doing shark research outside of her degree. She takes CT scans of shark species living at different depths in the water column and looks at the morphology of their ears. Neal’s focus is on how the depth of the water in which a species lives impacts the structure of its ears.

Photo by Morgan Hancock | Eleanor the Wolf Eel (​​Anarrhichthys ocellatus)

The marine lab also hosts a number of grad students doing research projects, including Rose Harman. Harman is currently working on her master’s thesis and grant applications to fund her research. This summer, Harman will be studying habitat usage and predation of leopard sharks in Humboldt Bay.

“Our new plan is to do field work combined with lab experiments,” Harman said. “One of my goals is to publish my research.”

Graduate students Marzia Fattori and Kalani Ortiz are doing their research on growing bull kelp in Humboldt Bay. Ortiz’s project is focused on kelp as an agricultural product. She is currently growing the seaweed on string, and will be outplanting it to kelp farms in the bay until it reaches a harvestable size.

Fattori’s project is focused on conservation. She is growing bull kelp on gravel and on ceramic tiles to see which substrate is more effective. In the second stage of her research, Fattori will grow the bull kelp in warmer water to examine the impact that rising ocean temperatures will have on kelp populations.

The marine lab has two classrooms, a running seawater system, and access to the Coral Sea, a 90ft research vessel. Lab director Zechman says the lab is situated on an important part of the Pacific coastline, where students can expect a learning experience that is unique to Cal Poly Humboldt.

“Our intention is to be a different kind of polytechnic,” Zechman said. “How many CSUs have a marine lab and a research vessel?”

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