Fish At Night Symposium – Day 1

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The Bulletin of Marine Science hosted an international symposium aimed at shedding light on all things, fish at night. The conference drew scientists, as well as delegates, from around the world to share their findings and discuss what fish do in the dark. The conference was held in Miami from November 17-20, 2015. Talks were, appropriately, given at night!

As a Pisces myself and a student in marine science, how could I not be intrigued by the Fish at Night logo and the conference? This was my first time attending a scientific conference as “Media.” I even got the badge to prove it!



The first session I attended was about larval fish at night. Erica Staaterman, a Rosenstiel School alumna, made an accidental discovery during her Ph.D. research. She was trying to listen to the reef at night, but heard “knocks” and “growls” within her instrument. It turns out that the Gray snapper larva was making sounds. The sounds are similar to what the adults make, but interestingly, are only heard at night. Could it be the group trying to stick together in the dark? It certainly opens up for a lot more research in the future.

A recording of Gray Snapper “knocks” and “growls” looks something like this:



The other ballroom had talks all focused on Deep and Polar Sea Fish and Fisheries. These regions have “Perpetual Night,” if you will. Tiffany Sih studies fish communities on deep reefs by installing “security cameras” on the reef. These cameras are called Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations (BRUVS). Her feeling is, “If we don’t know how much we have, how do we know how much we have to lose?” That is why she is monitoring these deep reefs on the Great Barrier Reef. Sih watches the videos, creates new records of fish, and sometimes even identifies new species.

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After a short break, it was back to the ballroom to hear about nocturnal fish behavior and ecology.


Christopher Koenig talked about the spawning behavior of Goliath Grouper. (I think the name “Goliath” is fitting for these massive fish, don’t you?)

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Spawning requires perfect conditions for the Grouper, with the peaks being at new moon in August, September, and October. Koenig collected embryos to examine in the lab, and joked with us that these 1mm embryos are “the smallest Goliath Grouper ever caught!”


I noticed throughout the talks that some fish prefer new moon phases, while others are most active or spawn during full moon phases. There are lots of interesting components to the night.


Did you know that Nassau Grouper can migrate hundreds of miles to spawn on a specific coral head? The predictability of Nassau Grouper aggregations for spawning makes them very susceptible to fishing. Kristine Stump studies their movement and behavior throughout the Bahamas in order to better understand, where they might go to spawn and how to then protect them.


A recurrent theme throughout the talks is conservation. Many of the scientists’ goals are to better understand their respective locations and species to better conserve and mitigate the area.


Have you ever tried performing surgery underwater? Did I mention that it is surgery on a lionfish? Most would steer clear of such a task, but Michael McCallister is familiar with this kind of surgery.


Lionfish are collected and tagged with acoustic tags, underwater. This makes it possible to track their movement throughout the Florida Keys. Michael has been interested in what these lionfish are doing at night, since so little is known about the invasive species. This behavior information could be useful for lionfish management.


The evening was an exciting first day of the Fish at Night Symposium! I realized the importance of having eyes in the water to understand what happens beneath the surface. Studying fish at night requires special technology and unique field practices. It also requires passion and patience.

The scientists who presented today have made great advances in their field, but there is still a lot more to do. NOAA estimates that as much as 95% of the world’s ocean is unexplored. Time to get wet and get exploring!


Back in 1951, FG Walton Smith, the founder of RSMAS, founded of the Bulletin of Marine Science, with the goal of furthering scientific knowledge of the world’s oceans. The Bulletin publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed science research from around the world. Next year, the Bulletin will publish a special issue for the “Proceedings of the 2015 International Fish at Night Symposium.”

-Viki Knapp

Viki Knapp is pursuing her Masters of Professional Science at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Weather, Climate, and Society in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.





The Science of Weather led me to RSMAS

When people ask about my career aspirations I often say that I want to be the link between climate science and society. What that means is, I’d like to use my science background to provide people with the most accurate scientific information available and educate them about the realities of climate change, so they can make informed decisions about how it will impact their lives.

But how did I get interested in climate change? It all started in high school physics class where I enjoyed learning about everyday physical interactions, such as dropping an apple on your foot or sliding a book across a table. Although it doesn’t seem like it, several forces interact to allow us to perform those actions. I was fascinated that I could observe objects in motion that we studied in labs also in my daily life without having to peer through a microscope.

It was this same curiosity about how objects move that made me question how weather forms and moves over an area. Growing up, weather had always fascinated me because it is part of our daily lives. I also thought there must be lots of jobs in this field because weather affects everyone in every part of the world, and we are forced to live with it. This is what led me to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in meteorology from San Jose State University in California.

After finishing my bachelor’s degree I was ready for more. I applied to graduate programs in meteorology but was apprehensive because I wasn’t excited about narrowing my interests to one topic or committing my life to studying the details of that specific problem. I was more interested in building on my meteorological background and expanding my knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of climate change. After researching Professional Science Masters programs, I found RSMAS. When I read the description of the Weather, Climate, and Society track in the Meteorology & Physical Oceanography division, I felt like it was specifically written for me. The purpose matched my goals to build upon my scientific background and to learn the skills desirable for employers through an internship project.

Even though there are few Professional Science Masters students in Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, I am excited to be part of this new degree program. I look forward to completing my degree and cannot wait to see the program flourish over the years.

This blog post is part of a series of stories written by RSMAS graduate students enrolled in the Spring 2012 Scientific Communications (RSM 545) course.

Amanda Short
Master of Professional Science: Weather Climate and Society
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Don’t Panic: There is a Perfect Research Field Out There for Everyone

Some people have known exactly what they wanted to do ever since they were a little kid. Some people can’t imagine doing anything other than what they are doing right now.

I am not one of those people.

Hi, my name is Kristen. I am a Master of Professional Science student at RSMAS, and I am an indecisive person.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in science. However, within that broad spectrum, I’ve wanted to do pretty much everything at some point.

I always loved nature. Growing up, I was constantly climbing trees in my backyard. Captain Planet was my favorite TV show, and my favorite time of the year was the week I went to the beach. I liked playing with bugs, and every so often my friends and I would go to parks to pick up trash for fun.

It was from all these interests that I determined my ideal profession was to be an environmentalist- botanist-entomologist-marine biologist-policy maker. By the time I applied for graduate school, I had at least narrowed it down to just marine biology.

Last month, I had to sit down with my academic advisor to discuss my internship project. I was asked a question that has plagued me for many years: where do I want to go from here?

I choked up. I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do, let alone the field I wanted to work in, so I said the first thing that came to my mind. Uh, mangroves?

Dr. Evan D’Alessandro and I slowly work our way through the entangled branches during my first trek through the mangrove forests in Broad Key.

Somehow, in my moment of absolute uncertainty I managed to figure out exactly how to combine all my scientific and job related interests into one specific field.

It was perfect.

My main professional goal was to find a job where I would be in high demand and have the opportunity to travel. Mangroves are found all over the tropics, so mangrove researchers can work around the world. Also, very few people in the United States are involved in mangrove research. When I went to talk to my would-be research mentor to express my interest in studying mangroves, I was welcomed into the project like a baby gazelle that walked into a lion’s den.

From a research perspective, I always imagined myself working out in the woods conducting research. But I also wanted to do marine research, which is why I applied to RSMAS. Fortunately for me, mangrove trees evolved to live near the ocean. Now I can snorkel and climb trees out in the field to collect data.

I am not writing this to tell you how great mangrove research is. Mangrove research is definitely not for everyone. Instead, my message is three-fold. First, I want to let you know it is okay to be an indecisive person. Second, as impossible as it may seem, there is a way to combine all of your seemingly diverse interests in your professional career. And finally, don’t lose hope if you think there isn’t a field of research perfect for you. It’s out there waiting for you somewhere, so go discover it!

This blog post is part of a series of stories written by RSMAS graduate students enrolled in the Spring 2012 Scientific Communications (RSM 545) course.

Kristen Mastropole
Master of Professional Science: Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management
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How I Survived the Bering Seas: A Journey to RSMAS

I am standing on the deck of the Mothership. It is Alaska’s largest fishing vessel capable of processing 55 tons of Pollock every 90 minutes and is 800 feet of pure processing power. I am waiting for the next delivery to arrive from a smaller boat transferring full nets to the mothership for processing. My role is a fisheries observer, the person responsible for collecting fisheries management data for the U.S Government’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

My journey began when I saw an ad for “observers” to collect fisheries data for the National Marine Fisheries Service. Within ten days, I found myself on a plane heading to Anchorage for a three week training class. As a female, I had no idea what to expect from working on an all-male fishing boat for up to three months at a time. The safety training was nothing short of terrifying and the prospect of dying in the freezing waters of Alaska loomed over my head and invaded my dreams. Then, three days after I had completed the training, I got the call to duty and was heading to Dutch Harbor, the largest fishing port located in the middle of the Aleutian Islands, to board my first vessel. My first assignment was in 20-foot seas and was terrified as I mustered on deck to sample my first Pollock trawl, and, my career began as a North Pacific Groundfish Observer.

I worked on fishing vessels in Alaska for more than five years and accumulated over a thousand sea days working on trawlers, longliners, pot boats, pelagic trawlers, longline pot boats, set nets, and gill nets. I endured days with 30-plus foot waves and days of glassy seas. I experienced being truly scared for my life to being overjoyed from living and working on the water. I witnessed the tragedies of losing men to the Bering Sea and the triumphs of fishermen making incredible paychecks to feed their families back home on land. I have created friendships that will last a lifetime. These have been the most powerful and impactful years of my life.

Through the years, I had gained so much knowledge about how the fishing industry works, collecting good data, and fishery regulations. I saw firsthand how dynamic and emotional the fishing industry can be, meaning, heated debates and fighting about this year’s quota prices, long periods spent away from family, losing crew members to the sea, and the constant fighting of the elements. Being apart of this lifestyle not only took courage but a sense of humor and the will to keep going strong until the end of the season, and I loved being apart of it.

There are so many different people involved in the fishing industry, from the fishermen to industry stakeholders, scientists, processors, marketers, and the public. They all rely on healthy fish populations not just for their livelihoods, but for food. When fish stocks are improperly managed or are overfished, everyone involved is affected. During my time as an observer, so many questions about fisheries were left unanswered. Where does all this data go? How is the data utilized in the regulatory process? How do new policies and regulations get implemented? What other kinds management strategies are available to improve sustainability of the stocks? Why are other fisheries doing so poorly? How are catch quotas set? Why are we still overfishing?

I was hooked on fish and realized that a higher degree was needed in order to answer my questions and further my career in fisheries management. My wild journey led me from the Arctic north to Miami and RSMAS. I can now say proudly that I have learned the answer to my questions about how stock assessments work, uses of observer data, strategies NMFS employs to manage stocks and prevent overfishing while understanding the socioeconomic impacts of regulating fisheries both commercially and recreationally. I come to school with a smile on my face knowing that I will learn something today that may impact fisheries tomorrow. Looking back on where I have been able to go with a biological degree has been great but knowing where I am about to go in the future is even more amazing. If you can survive the Bering Sea in winter then I feel that you can survive anything.

This blog post is part of a series of stories written by RSMAS graduate students enrolled in the Spring 2012 Scientific Communications (RSM 545) course.

Sarah Stelter
Master of Professional Science: Fisheries Science
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SCUBA Diving Like James Bond

Little Salt Spring. Photo by Curt Bowen

Nothing wakes me up like the taste of sulfur water in the morning. Welcome to Little Salt Spring.

Little Salt Spring is a natural sinkhole and an important archeological site owned and operated by the University of Miami. Most people might think that spending a week in Little Salt Spring would only mean being dirty, considering that the living conditions consist of a trailer and a port-a-potty. However, my experience during my Scientific Diving class at the University of Miami was definitely worth roughing it for few days. I spent time learning amazing SCUBA diving techniques that most people only see on the big screen.

Dive team preparing for surface supplied air dive with the Florida Aquarium assistant.

Have you ever seen a movie like The Abyss or Deep Blue Sea where divers talk to people on the surface as they explore uncharted territory underwater? That’s exactly what we did. Florida Aquarium divers taught us how to use full-face masks with surface supplied air. With the full-face mask on we could talk to people on land and to our dive partner. Talking underwater was so much fun, but understanding each other at first was difficult since our breathing made us all sound like Darth Vadar because we were so excited. But surface supplied air is used for purposes other than reenacting classic Star Wars scenes. Research divers use surface supply to extend the amount of time they are able to spend diving because it eliminates air consumption restrictions, which is a limiting factor for underwater research.

Just when I thought I had learned the coolest dive technique, the professor brought out a new toy: underwater scooters. Researchers use scooters because they allow divers to cover a greater area while consuming less gas, making data collection more efficient. Once in our SCUBA gear, we clipped onto the scooter, pulled the trigger, and ZOOM! My body was being propelled through the water effortlessly as the lake bottom passed under me. All of a sudden I was in James Bond’s movie Thunderball racing around underwater by scooter. Thankfully, unlike James Bond we were not fighting a battle against underwater henchmen but learning how to dive with this new piece of equipment. Scooters have various speeds, from cruising to flying, so I spent my time flying! It made me never want to swim with fins again.

Between breathing surface supplied air with a full-face mask and diving with scooters, I hardly had time to notice the taste of sulfur in the water. Nowhere else but the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science could you find a class that spends a week diving like they do in the movies.

This blog post is part of a series of stories written by RSMAS graduate students enrolled in the Spring 2012 Scientific Communications (RSM 545) course.

Christina Vilmar
MPS: Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management
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How to Survive on a Stranded Island: A Marine Conservation Guide for Students

“Imagine you are stranded on an island. The only items you have are an empty bottle, a piece of paper, and a squid you recently caught. You think, “AH-HA!” I can write a message in a bottle! Yet, you immediately realize you are missing an integral item, the pen. You glance at the squid and all of sudden you remember your squid anatomy and most importantly, that squids have ink and a pen! You write your message in a bottle and are soon rescued!”

This is the scene that I described to the kids that attended the “Art by the Sea” 2012 event on Virginia Key Beach Park. The Art by the Sea event, hosted by the Big Blue and You Foundation, is an annual event that focuses on inspiring and educating children on marine conservation. Several RSMAS students led two marine science booths including a plankton booth and a squid dissection booth. I volunteered at the squid dissection booth, teaching squid anatomy and sharing fun facts with kids. Many of them were surprised to learn that giant squids have the largest eye in the animal kingdom and that some squids can reach speeds up to 25 mph. Of course, they were most surprised to find out that all squids have ink and a pen. At the end of the dissection, each kid would “write a message in a bottle” by dipping the squid’s pen, which is actually a long and thin shell, into the squid’s ink sac. Once the “squid pen” was ready, they wrote a message on a colorful flashcard.

Volunteering for the squid dissection booth gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge and passion for ocean conservation with aspiring young scientists. It was great to see kids handle a squid for the first time and to see their excitement as they learn the insides and outsides of a squid. I believe that experiences like these are critical for children as it not only instills them with conservation awareness but also inspires them to learn, dream, and best of all, believe that they can be whoever they want to be. As I continue to pursue my career in marine biology, I hope to continue to inspire kids and to make a change, for both the ocean and for people.

This blog post is part of a series of stories written by RSMAS graduate students enrolled in the Spring 2012 Scientific Communications (RSM 545) course.

Hada Herring
MPS – Marine Mammal Management
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