Friday, May 30, 2014

I'm on a Boat!

Today was boat day. Our first boat trip of the semester! The first of four. I was excited about it, truly. I was a little worried that I might get seasick because of my tendency to get sick just riding in the back of a car. But I didn't take any medicine beforehand. I had taken Dramamine once and that had made me really sick. So I just decided to not take anything before.

We got there at 8 AM. I felt great. I was pumped. By the time we started trawling some nets, I was feeling a little iffy. (That was barely an hour into it.) So by the time we were done trawling, I was white as snow, no color in my face or lips, leaning over the side of the boat looking like a hot mess. I was so sick. Thank God I didn't puke everywhere, but I was done for the day. The rocking side to side was what did me in. I couldn't stop myself from feeling nauseous. I was pretty much on the brink of puking from then on until we stepped off the boat. (That was at 4 PM.) Eight. Hours. Yes, you heard me. Eight long hours of me on the back of the boat in an upright fetal position sipping water and praying for the pain to go away.

Other than that, however, we did see some awesome stuff out there. I may have not been 100% but I did enjoy being out there just because you won't get to experience that in the classroom. We caught an Atlantic stingray in one of our trawls. That was the only elasmobranch we saw, actually. The rest of the organisms we saw were fish and birds. (One guy accidentally hooked a seagull while fishing. Oops. Don't worry, it lived.) Oh, and the dolphins.

YEAH. DOLPHINS. Bottlenose dolphins. Man, I was so frickin pumped. You should've heard me when we were out there. I was the geekiest person ever. I was gasping and pointing and laughing and shouting. So geeky. At one point while we were going at our fastest speed there was a pod of 6 dolphins following behind us. Oh, goodness. Oh, man. I'm just getting excited talking about it. It was so amazing. That right there was the highlight of my day. Actually, we had a few encounters throughout the day so I had multiple highlights.

Maybe I won't get sick next Friday?? I have a feeling that I will, but let's just have wishful thinking.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shark Lab 5/29

We got more elasmobranchs classified today! 11, to be exact. Some were more photogenic than others. That brings the grand total up to 30 specimens. We're halfway there!

Blacktip shark

Lemon shark

Arrowhead dogfish

Bonnethead shark

Olsen's winged skate

Great hammerhead shark (this poor guy was all jacked up)

Rounded skate

Shortfin mako

Lesser butterfly ray

Leafnose spineless skate

Bluntnose stingray

There you have it, folks. Another day in the life of a shark biology student. 

Tomorrow more than likely will be an all day boat trip. We may meet up in the morning just to call it off because of the weather. Who knows. If we go, we'll be fishing for elasmobranchs and maybe using a trawl as well. Here at the Gulf Coast Research Lab, we do science rain or shine!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shark Lab 5/28

So. Many. Sharks. Everywhere. On the floor. On the tables. In buckets. In jars. Everywhere.

This afternoon (1-5 PM) was dedicated to just working on cataloging species. Yes, 4 hours of classifying dead sharks reeking of alcohol. It was fun until you started feeling the effects of the strong stench of alcohol in the room. I have to admit that I got a little light-headed after a few hours.

We classified a lot more than 3 specimens today! We classified I think 16 today. Yeah, be amazed. We were flying through those things. And we still have around 40 to go...

Cownosed ray

Sharpnose sevengill shark

Atalantic sharpnose shark

Sandbar shark

Atlantic guitarfish

Atlantic stingray

Scalloped hammerhead shark

Bancroft's numbfish

Chain catshark

Finetooth shark

Spiny dogfish

Spinner shark

Southern stingray

Silky shark

Tiger shark (smallest tiger shark I've ever seen; it was so cute)

Gulper shark

Phew, that was a doozy. Those were the specimens from today! I hope you get a kick out of them! Many, many more to come.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

First Shark Lab

The first shark lab is done. I can now say I've handled preserved specimens with my bare hands, which isn't as gross as you'd just smells really rank. Like really, really jacked.

We have to keep a species catalog of every specimen. We classify them, learn their common name, and jot down defining characteristics of that species. We did a few today. We have to do about 60 in all. It's only just begun, ladies and gentlemen.

Wanna see what I classified today?? Okay, here you go!

This was the spotted eagle ray. So heavy. So, so heavy, y'all. Maybe he was extremely heavy because I didn't expect him to be. Or maybe I'm just not strong enough to lift spotted eagle rays. Whatever.

This was our night shark. It wasn't too bad. Weight-wise, I mean. I was able to lift this one no problem. Notice the large eyes for night hunting...

This was our gulf smoothhound. He wasn't very photogenic. He wouldn't stay on his side long enough to take the picture. So it looks a little wacky compared to the night shark. Hopefully there aren't any points deducted. 

Oh, quick story from lab. This girl decided to put her fingers into one of the sharks' mouths. She apparently had good reasoning. Hmm, what do you think happened to her? Her hand was bleeding for a little bit. So, kids, the moral of the story is: shark teeth are just as dangerous when the shark is alive as they are when it's dead. Don't stick your hand in a shark's mouth ever, even if it's dead. They don't magically turn into blunt objects.

Hopefully I'll be posting the rest of the specimens we catalog. Stay tuned.

Let the Games Begin

The new term has started officially! Shark Biology, here I am. I can't think of any other class I would rather be in. 

There are 5 other classes going on along with ours. Most have 10-15 students in them. Ours has 22. You can imagine the utter chaos on this little campus of ours. The term before had like 4 classes and only one was truly filled to the max. I liked having my own bathroom to myself! Now I'm sharing it with God knows how many people...

The shark biology schedule is a doozy. We'll be taking trips every Friday out onto the boat. Those last all day, 8 AM til 5 PM. Those will consist of literally fishing for sharks. How much more thrilling can it get? We might be taking a trip down to New Orleans to the aquarium for a day as well. Hopefully that works out. That would be cool. 

Wish me luck. I'll be extremely busy. And covered in shark grossness most of the time. It's gonna be great.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Time Flies

That's it. My first class here at the Gulf Coast Research Lab is over. Yeah, I can't believe it either. Who knew 2 weeks would fly by that quickly?

Looking back on it, the herpetology class I took was a bunch of fun and filled with adventure. I wouldn't have changed any of it. I'm glad I took it, even though it wasn't exactly what I thought it was going to be. I met genuine, fun-loving people from all over the country who enjoyed similar interests. I caught wild snakes and lizards and frogs and salamanders while out in the field. And let's not forget that beautiful alligator we caught from Wednesday.

Looking back, I don't regret a thing. Looking forward, I can't even begin to imagine what kind of craziness will happen in my Shark Biology class! I hear that we will be going out in the boats a lot. Almost every day. So that's exciting stuff. 

Stay tuned for some fin-tastic posts in these next 4 weeks!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cane Bayou Pictures

I promised pictures of the bayou (and the alligator), so here are some!

This was our view kayaking yesterday. It blew my mind! I always thought the bayou was gross and dark and scary. But it's absolutely gorgeous.

We may have caught an alligator with dipnets...don't tell the lady we rented our kayaks from! She knew we were herpetology students so she probably knew better. 

 Uhm, yeah. That may look like a little guy but he was a thrasher. He was hissing the whole time we were handling him. He actually had part of his tail bitten off. It's a rough life being an alligator in the Louisiana bayou. I called him Nubs. (That one's for you, CJ.)

Another view of the bayou. How beautiful is that? It just couldn't have been prettier. Really. I enjoyed it so much. Except for the 3 and a half hours of rowing. That was less enjoyable. But, man, was it worth the view.

Part of the kayaking route was over a bridge. It was pretty cool.

The area apparently has been known for manatee sightings as well. The last one spotted was a couple of weeks ago. We didn't see one, though. Sadness.

Another awesome view of the bayou.

There's another close-up view of the gator we now call Nubs. He was a sweetie. Look at that adorable face. Irresistible.

Who knew that even the scary bayou we hear all kinds of sketchy stories from is yet another corner of the world that God's beauty stretches out into. Overall a good day of worship.

Guess What...

Yesterday. Was. Crazy. Like so crazy. 

We travelled down to Louisiana by Lake Ponchartrain to have out last camping trip. So we spent the night in Fontainebleau State Park. It was a lot fancier than the last park we stayed at, so I didn't complain. I actually had a bed to sleep on and not outside in a tent on the cold, hard ground. Apparently that night the carbon monoxide alarm went off but I slept through it. It was taken care of, don't worry. But seriously, that would have been horrible if everyone were like me and slept through that...We're living on the edge in herpetology.

That next morning, which was yesterday, we did our usual and checked traps and stuff. Then, we rented kayaks and rowed down Cane Bayou. This was the highlight of probably the whole class for me. I'll post pictures hopefully soon for everyone to see how pretty it was. It was very secluded and quiet. We all wanted to see a gator. Our eyes were on the lookout for at least one. And guess what...we saw a total of 6 alligators. Six!

I was in a tandem (2-seater) kayak with a classmate and we decided to try to catch one with our net. And guess what...we did! Yes, America, I, Claire Elizabeth Robinson, resident of the snooty suburbs of Nashville, caught an American Alligator in the bayous of Louisiana. And I did it all while in a kayak. How redneck and legit is that?

Of course once we got back from this 3.5 hour kayaking trip we were all sunburned to a crisp. Me especially. It hurts to bend my knees. Have you ever felt that feeling? You're so sunburned that you can't bend your knees. It's horrible. Don't do it. I'm applying aloe every 30 minutes and praying that it won't peel like crazy. 

It's gorgeous. But you know what? It was worth it. I got to see wild alligators and I have the battle scars to prove it!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Week 2

This morning consisted of the last lecture! (Hallelujah!) And we also discussed a total of 3 scientific papers. I almost shot myself. It was so boring. But I got out of it without damaging myself or anyone around me, so that's a win for today.

We went on a little trip to the edge of the Mississippi-Louisiana border this evening to set some more traps near the Stennis Space Center. Apparently this place is known for having gators...I'm crossing my fingers that we will find one tomorrow morning in one of the traps!

We also went dip netting a little afterwards. Dip netting is pretty much how it sounds. It's dipping a big net into the swampy habitat and seeing what you can get. We actually got some frogs and a ribbon snake. Not too bad. One of the frogs we caught was a bull frog; it was the biggest frog we have caught to date. Exciting stuff. I obviously had to get a picture with the big guy.

This place is a frog's paradise.

We'll be camping tomorrow night through Wednesday afternoon, so pray for me. Again. Hopefully I won't kick someone's head off. I'm not making any promises, just like last time. I'm still a loose cannon. Who knows what will go down. I think at one point we will be taking a 4 hour kayaking trip into alligator infested, yeah. I hope I can make it back alive and in one piece!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

His Love is Like an Ocean

I can't help but be reminded of God's love when I see the ocean. Is that weird? Maybe it's just me. But really, think about it. The ocean is as close of a worldly example of His love that we can get. I don't know about you, but I can't say that I always feel God's love. Like fully, 24/7. I feel His love more intensely when I am actively seeking Him and running after Him. I only feel the ocean's full beauty and atmosphere when I flock to it. When I see it in person, that is, with my toes in the sand and the breeze in my hair.

I only see the surface, the top layer. I don't realize the full extent of how deep and how wide and how expansive this ocean is. I have absolutely no idea what is below the surface. It's mysterious and inviting. It perks my curiosity. I want to get closer. The Lord's love is so deep and mysterious that I can't even fathom it all. I probably will never be able to.

The ocean is powerful. Its waves crash. Its currents can carry things far away. Its storms are frightening and deadly. It overwhelms me. It compels me to look closer. How powerful is His powerful is God himself? His love is extreme.

I could probably go one for a while about how they correlate so well, but I don't want to bore you too much. I just thought about that the other day. God may have given us the ocean as a reminder of how expansive and mysterious and powerful and unfathomable and beautiful and vital His love is for us. Just something to think about.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Sovereign in the mountain air
Sovereign on the ocean floor
With me in the calm
With me in the storm

Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
With me in the dark
With me at the dawn

In Your everlasting arms
All the pieces of my life
From beginning to the end
I will trust You

In Your never failing love
You work everything for good
God, whatever comes my way
I will trust you

God, whatever comes my way
I will trust You

All my hopes
All I need
Held in Your hands

All my life
All of me
Held in Your hands

All my fears
All my dreams
Held in Your hands

God, whatever comes my way
I will trust You

"Sovereign" by Chris Tomlin

Brain Overload

This herpetology class is only 2 weeks long. I knew it was going to be a lot of information in one small time period. But geez, this is a lot! There is so much information it's ridiculous. 

Every time we go out in the field to herp as a class, the species we find are added to an ongoing list. This list is our master list. We are responsible for those. We are required to learn the family, genus, species, and common name of those organisms we have found, and also be able to visually distinguish them. That might not sound too bad, right? Well, it's been one week and we have found almost 50 different herp species. Who knows how many we will have by the end of next week! 

We also are responsible for knowing the information from lectures as well. Oh, and we have to memorize 15 distinct frog calls. And keep a field notebook every time we go out in the field. It tells what and how many we found, where we found it, when it was, who we were with, etc. And we have class discussions on scientific papers every other day of which we are supposed to read and participate in discussion. And, on top of all that, we have a class project!

It's safe to say that I'm pretty swamped.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Herp Selfies

Just in case you haven't seen these pictures, I am posting all of my herp selfies. Herp = herpetology, by the way! Don't get any weird ideas. I'm not that kind of girl.

This is my eastern glass lizard selfie!

Another eastern glass lizard selfie.

Black pine snake selfie!

Another smiling black pine snake selfie!

American alligator selfie!

Another alligator selfie!

Another black pine snake selfie!

Red-eared slider and river cooter selfie!

Last, but not least, crawfish selfie. It's not a herp, but he was the biggest crawfish I have ever seen. So yeah!

Take away message: herps like to take selfies.