This summer I was so lucky to intern at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center in my hometown, Seattle, Washington. I was working with research biologist Correigh Greene, and divided my time helping out with two of his projects. The first of these was a monthly monitoring of the Chinook Salmon population at different sites throughout Skagit Bay, observing their response to a number of efforts to restore estuary rearing habitat. We spent three days a month boating around the Skagit Bay, and taking fish samples from roughly 30 sites by townetting – drawing a large net between two boats. We counted, measured, and weighed all the fish caught, then throw them back overboard. I helped record and analyze this data back in the office.
The second project was researching the effects of jellyfish aggregations (dense masses of jellyfish, sometimes up to several million) on the nearby ecosystem, specifically looking at the species Aurelia labiata, commonly known as ‘moon jellies.’ The study is a combination of research done in the field looking at moon jelly aggregations in Puget Sound, as well as in a controlled environment, setting up tanks at a local aquarium and observing jellyfish predation on plankton, and their effects on water chemistry. My work on this project was something different everyday – from ordering pvc pipes and jellyfish tanks, to feeding brine shrimp to baby moon jellies, to taking a flight over nearby inlets looking for aggregations from the air, to going out in a boat to take jelly and plankton samples in the aggregation, and most of all cleaning out a lot of jelly tanks.
I learned so much from this internship, more than I ever anticipated, and while it had its ups and downs – from getting to befriend an octopus to long frustrating hours on excel – I experienced truly life changing moments, met incredible people, grew an even deeper love for my Pacific Northwest home, and gained insight into my own strengths and abilities. The highlight for me was definitely being out on the water: sailing across the Skagit Bay with the mountains in the distance and harbor seals swimming alongside us – there’s truly nothing like it, and I learned about the Puget Sound ecosystem firsthand by handling so many different species of fish. One magical morning a pod of orcas swam within 10 yards of our boat – an absolutely breathtaking moment, especially poignant knowing the Southern Resident orcas in Washington are critically endangered. Though I don’t know whether marine science research will be my career path, I have newfound confidence in my passion for marine wildlife conservation, and the tools necessary to discover my place in the field should I choose to. I will forever be thankful for my summer with NOAA, and feel blessed to have been a part of their vital work.