Discover Science Weekend guest blog #1

To gear up for Discover Science Weekend, November 11–13, we’re putting together a guest blog series featuring some of the researchers who will be joining us for the event. Our first post comes to us from Amanda Phillips of The Puget Sound Marine Fish Science Unit at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Starry group

Starry flounder caught by beach seine with Puget Sound Marine Fish Science Unit members Phil Campbell, Will Dezan, Amanda Phillips and Lisa Hilliard.

The Puget Sound Marine Fish Science Unit at the WDFW employs various techniques to preserve and protect our marine ecosystem. Conducting research on the 258 fish species in Puget Sound is complex and challenging; in a given month, the 16 members of the unit may have a dozen research projects in progress to address various management needs! Fish that inhabit Puget Sound are diverse in both habitat and ecosystem requirements, necessitating a range of methods to adequately study.

Remotely operated vehicle (ROV)

Remotely operated vehicle for exploring underwater habitat and fish species in Puget Sound.

This fall, members of the unit will engage in activities ranging from using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV ) to examine deep-water habitat used by rockfishes and lingcod; to assessing mid-water species like forage fish and jellyfish using trawling and hydroacoustics; to conducting scuba surveys in search of juvenile fish settling in nearshore habitats.

Yellow eye rockfish.

Yellow eye rockfish.

We begin surveys by determining the best method given the particular species, and questions, at hand. For example, our ROV can survey complex habitat that could easily snag a net while ensuring species found in rocky habitats are minimally impacted, making it ideal for studying endangered rockfishes. Conversely, our annual trawl survey is well-suited to enumerating flatfish—found on flat, muddy substrate throughout Puget Sound—that are difficult to identify with submarine cameras because they are very good at camouflage.

Puget Sound Marine Fish Science Unit

Puget Sound Marine Fish Science Unit members Erin Wright, Dayv Lowry, Courtney Adkins, Jen Blaine, Andrea Hennings, Pete Sergeeff and Bob Pacunski completing the bottom-trawl survey.

Once a survey method is selected, a field crew is gathered, boats are staged, and gear is loaded onto one of our vessels. On some surveys, scientists spend a week sleeping in bunks aboard ship, while other surveys involve spending the morning exploring sunken ships occupied by giant Pacific octopuses, massive lingcod and hundreds of black rockfish—and still getting home in time for dinner.

Giant Pacific octopus

Giant Pacific octopus seen on scientific dive surveys.

The unit collects a treasure trove of data throughout the year, and after field operations are complete these data must be compiled and analyzed. This season, we are analyzing 15 years of scuba and trawl survey data to publish several reports, defining population structure and abundance using genetic analyses, and engaging heavily in permit writing to ensure research continues into the foreseeable future. And that is all before Halloween!

Contributing to research used for conservation of Puget Sound resources is richly rewarding and the Puget Sound Marine Fish Science Unit at WDFW is excited to share more about what we do during Discover Science Weekend at the Seattle Aquarium. Come by and see us!

About Amanda:
Amanda has worked as a scientific technician with the Puget Sound Marine Fish Science Unit at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for the past three years. She is currently focused on piloting and reviewing videos collected by WDFW’s remotely operated vehicle and examining the spatial and temporal distribution of plankton in Puget Sound. Prior to WDFW, she worked with the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, utilizing scat-detection canines to collect and analyze southern resident killer whale scat; she also spent a year at sea as an on-board fisheries observer for the West Coast Groundfish Bottom Trawl Fishery.

Off the water, she can be found outdoors, backpacking, rock climbing or snowshoeing in Washington’s wilderness areas.


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