Lab rotation: Fish Ecology
The OCG Fish Lab leader: Michael Sipes
Peer counselors: Lindsey Keim / Delaney Crandall
Written by, Michael Sipes, Science Mentor
This is the sixth year that I’ve had the pleasure of leading the Fish Ecology Lab and every year it’s a blast. As both a lifelong fisherman and a fisheries scientist, this lab has always been very important. to me because not only do we learn about fish and why they are important but also how to protect them for future generations to experience and enjoy.
The goal of the lab is pretty straight forward: To learn about fish and why they are important. The first day of the lab starts off with trying to answer the intuitively simple question “What is a fish?”. However, we quickly learn that trying to describe the most abundant and diverse group of vertebrates on the planet with over 30,000+ species proves to be a bit more challenging than expected.
To help us to answer our question, we quickly dove right into analyzing numerous different species local to Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Although it’s wise to never judge a book by its cover, I guarantee you’d be surprised at how much you can learn about fish just by observing their external features. By identifying different body types, fin shapes, and mouth position/tooth shape we can gain insight in how these species interact with each other and their environment. However, to truly understand what makes a fish a fish the girls had to get their hands slimy. Hair went up, gloves went on, and we plunged right in into our samples quite literally. Using knives and saws, we cut into our fresh samples to reveal the internal physiology in order to gain further insight into how the fish live and their feeding patterns.
On Day 2 campers stepped up their science game and became Fish Biologist themselves. As part of the Fort Desoto Field Trip, the girls caught, measured, and counted fish using the seine net at both the Mangroves and Seagrass Station. Taking the data they collected this year and combining it with previous years, Campers analyzed about a decade’s worth of fish data to calculate both Species Richness and Biodiversity for these locations. On the last day of camp, we will combine those calculations to see how/if the fish populations have changed over the years and why it’s important to monitor these potential changes to ensure that fish populations remain healthy.