In the course of a summer packed with long hours in labs sketching marine invertebrates and dissecting squid, senior biology major Whitney Grover discovered that she wants to go to graduate school in marine biology. Whitney, a Washington native, decided to pursue a biology major at UW because biology was her favorite subject in high school. She discovered that she had a passion for marine biology while taking her biology major pre-requisites. During her sophomore year, she added Biology 250 – Introduction to Marine Biology to her schedule as an elective. In the marine biology course, she noticed that, “it covered a lot of material, but it all kind of interested me and made me think that this is what I should be focusing on.” Last fall, she added the marine biology minor to continue taking marine biology classes.
As part of her marine biology minor coursework, this summer Whitney studied at Friday Harbor Labs (FHL), the UW’s marine station on San Juan Island. Whitney took Biology 432 – a marine invertebrates class. This five-week class is offered during June and July in summer quarter. Students live in the FHL dormitories for the class. This class was Whitney’s first experience working in a lab setting. She said:
“FHL showed me that I can work in a lab. Going up for even that one term was beneficial for answering questions about me, what I’m capable of doing. Lab was so interactive that even though it was like 8 hours a day; it wasn’t as dry as I anticipated.”
As Whitney described it, each day at FHL was rigorous, including three hours of lecture covering sponges, jellyfish, worms, and up the phyla from there. Labs corresponded with lecture. Students would collect samples from the docks and bring them back to the lab. They would dissect the organisms and sketch them in their lab notebooks which could take up to eight hours a day. In describing the lab experience, Whitney said, “we were never pushed to finish lab, but you wanted to keep up with lecture. People would go to dinner and come back and continue sketching invertebrates in their notebooks because they really wanted to learn the materials.”
Before Whitney left for FHL, she had responded to an ad on the marine biology minor Facebook group page for squid research help. In 2007, walleye pollock fisheries were seeing a huge surge in squid by-catch in the Bering Sea at a spot north of Unalaska Island. UW’s professor John Horne, in collaboration with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, was called in to do a survey. Horne saved half the samples of the squid for a student project. When Whitney returned to Seattle, she arranged to spend August working in Horne’s lab processing the squid samples. She decided to use the squid research credits to finish her minor requirements by writing a hypothesis-driven paper using the squid data and then giving a presentation on her findings.
In Dr. Horne’s Lab, Whitney and fellow marine biology minor, Nick Kennedy, processed 236 samples of the species Berryteuthis magister, also know as the Commander Squid. They laid out each squid and took external and internal morphological measurements and recorded their data in a spreadsheet. Measurements including mantle length and circumference, tentacle length, fin width and length, gonad length and egg maturity. They also weighed the specimens and saved the heads and stomach contents for other researchers. Whitney enjoyed the research process:
“It was a good experience for the first time working in a lab on our own and working with data. No one knows about this species, what they eat and where they live; people just found out that they had a one year life cycle. We hope to fill in the gaps, but it’s just the beginning of finding answers.”
This fall, Whitney and Nick will present their paper at a local venue and continue in Dr. Horne’s lab. As Whitney notes, “this paper and presentation have to be good – people will build on it and repeat the experiment.” Through her lab experiences, Whitney has come to the conclusion that, “I have to go back to school for marine biology. I don’t want to wait too long and will apply next fall. I feel like I‘ve just now gotten into it and now I’m graduating.”
- Photos from top: Whitney with blood stars, by Alia Osseiran; tray on FHL boat, by Whitney Grover; FHL invertebrates lab by Whitney Grover; Berryteuthis magister samples by Whitney Grover