Summer Term @Ross: Marine Science with Jack Szczepanski

DSC_8971 Summer Term @Ross Marine Science students have been busy researching the East End’s coastal ecosystems and marine life with instructor Dr. Jack Szczepanski. During the first week, Jack introduced them to the inhabitants in the lab at Ross, including cuttlefish and red-eared slider turtles (rescues from local waters), and discussed the wild sea life found in Long Island’s oceans and bays.

Jack, who brings extensive experience leading oceanography and ecological studies, says the class is heavily focused on getting “hands on” with marine science, both in the lab and in the field. For example, students dissected a dogfish last week to get a closer look at a shark’s anatomy.

They also keep informed about current happenings in the waters, near and far. The students recently watched Jaws as well as news footage of a great white shark attack on pro surfer Mick Fanning, and then discussed shark behavior and being safe in the water.

Jack is also introducing the class to topics of especially local interest, including efforts to restore Long Island’s bays and fisheries. He is currently working with Stony Brook University scientists on the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Project, and recently helped plant eelgrass and start up an oyster bay.

Out in the field, the class has explored Fresh Pond in the nearby town of Amagansett, and gone “behind the scenes” at the Long Island Aquarium with the aquarium’s cofounder, Joe Yaiullo. “It was great to have this kind of access to see the many different species of marine life, as well as how the experts care for and cultivate the habitats,” Jack said.

The trips are an opportunity for the class to observe diverse marine environments and communities and learn how weather can impact them. “After our recent rains, we may see different life-forms when we return to Fresh Pond,” Jack said.

The students are also relating the experiences to their own lives. One student realized that he had been swimming with cuttlefish on a vacation in Croatia. Others are talking with Jack about how to start their own marine tanks at home.

Next up, the class will tag along with the surfers at Sagg Main ocean beach to spot stingrays. They’ll also visit Clam Island, where they are likely to see the huge ospreys (fish-eating raptors) that often nest in nearby sanctuaries; and the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery.