Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fish Otolith Catalog

I am finally published. On fish ears! If you have any fish otoliths that need identify, my catalog may help you!





Monday, September 29, 2014

Bill's Bike Tour: Helgoland, Germany

Bill's Bike Tour: The Hamburg Fishmarket and Helgoland.
This is the second installment of my research trip to Germany!

You could buy just about anything that comes from the sea at the Hamburg fish market.  Eels, pike, rainbow trout, smoked cod roe, shellfish, whole octopus, pickled tentacles, oyster shooters, crab claws, fresh fish, smoked fish, fish sandwiches, herring rolls stuffed with i-don't-know, already filleted fish carcases and heads... did i say pickled tentacles yet?  My ferry to Helgoland was leaving at 9am, so I had plenty of time to explore and look for some breakfast.  The market is only open on Sunday morning - it opens at 5am.

 If i were a crab at the Hamburg fishmarket, I would be nervous too. 

I was walking around the displays trying to decide what to buy when a seller behind one of the counters unexpectedly handed me a bag of smoked fish.  He took it upon himself to solve my indecisiveness with a smoked fish sampler for 5 euros.  Not a bad deal really.  It wasn't the nicest cuts of fish, but it was a very generous portion.  I was quite pleased. In fact, it was more than I could eat for breakfast. I ended up sharing with Timo and a couple of his friends, who happened to stumble by me as I was eating my fish at the end of the pier. They had been up partying all night and gladly took a few smoked fish samples.

They sold much more than just fish at the fishmarket.  The flowerstand at the bottom of the picture was actually a live auction.
And of course there was coffee with your choice of liqueur. 

At 9am, I caught the ferry to Helgoland. It was a fairly long trip - around 4 hours.  Do not the let the photo below fool you. The weather was actually very windy and rainy. Several folks lost their breakfast in an unpleasant way once we left the Elbe river delta.

Helgoland is comprised of two islands. A larger main island and the smaller "Dune". The Dune is home to the airport, cute seals, and nice beaches. The mainland has a lower and upper portion - separated by 184 steps.

  Oddly enough, I ended up in what is likely the only place in Europe that doesn't allow bikes... no cars or bikes are allowed on the island (only a few small electric cars for trash/deliveries). So unfortunately, I cannot give you a bike tour.  However, the island is only a few kilometers across so walking is not a problem.   Pictures of Helgoland from the upper level.

The north end of the island is uninhabited, besides a few sheep. The island is famous for its red cliffs. 

 During WWII, the British bombed the crap out of Helgoland. This was to prevent Germany from setting up a large naval base. The entire island is covered in craters. Some are very large!

I am here on the island as part of the Alfred Wegener Institute summer school course on time series analysis.  Clearly, it has been a blast so far.  The course has been very informative and will help me as I work towards completing my PhD.  As part of the summer course, we did a quick u-turn trip on the UThorn (U-turn in German) to take some ocean samples. 

We also explored the Dune!  

The Dune is famous for its blood red flint. It cannot be found anywhere else in the world.  Most of the stones on the island are actually flint - but the red variety is very rare. I was fortunate to find a couple of pieces (I did search for a bit). Many of the shops on the main island sell polish red flint as jewelery.

The island is a very popular getaway destination for Germans so there are tons of tourist shops.  ALL of them sell alcohol (no taxes on Helgoland).  You can only buy perhaps 3 types of beer, but ANY type of hard liquor.  No joke. The tourists stock up. Although, it isn't cost effective to visit just to buy booze since there is a limit on how much you can carry back and the ferry ride is ~83 euro.

 I hope you enjoyed my photos!
I wave good bye.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bill's Bike Tour; Hamburg, Germany.

In the Name of Science (more on that later), I have traveled from San Diego to Helgoland, Germany. I will be abroad until Oct. 7th. I will try to post periodic updates on my blog while I am here as part of “Bill’s Bike Tour”. Here is my first bike tour post! These are all pictures from my exploring Hamburg on my bike in less than 24hrs.  Read on for part one of my trip to Germany.

German towns seem to have very old churches and important old looking buildings on every corner. Europe’s history and architecture is no match for America.  Although, sometimes the churches look the same. Perhaps I was doing circles.

Maybe I don’t window shop enough in the US (I don’t), but these window displays seemed a bit off to me…
 I saw many beautiful canals and rivers on my bike tour. The canal shown on top was very striking with the buildings acting as canal walls.  Below, I would have jumped into the water if it hadn't looked older than the stonewall itself.

Beer and cupcakes? While it may be satisfying, it’s a bit lame!
This is HAMBURG.
We want to finish our all night rock concert with BRUNCH.
In the same building.
Sleep isn’t recommended in Hamburg – you’ll miss too much.

Part two will be the Hamburg fishmarket and an introduction to Helgoland.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fish Ears

What is a blog named 'The Fish Ear" without a post about actual fish ears?

This past academic year, I had the opportunity to teach at a local high school - Mission Bay High.   I was paired up with a marine science teacher, Steve Walters, and we had a blast designing lesson plans based on my research expertise.  Steve was awesome to work with in the classroom.  Not to mention, he took me sailing a couple of times.

Steve and I.
Photo bombed of course.

Two of the lessons we taught stood out.

First, we raised white seabass in the classroom.  How cool is that?!

More than a billion people world-wide depend on fish as their primary source of protein and, unless you've been very out of tune with your 4th-grade-I-want-to-be-a-marine-biologist-self, you've at least hear of a few examples of poorly managed fisheries (orange roughy, bluefin tuna, "save the whales"... there are literally hundreds of species that could be on this list).  The sad truth about many of these over-fished populations is that they haven't bounced back, even after fishing pressure stopped.  What am I getting at here?  Well, humans are doing some good.  Raising white seabass is one of them. Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute (HSWRI) releases thousands of white seabass every year as part of a 'stock-enhancement' program. Basically, they are helping rebuild the white seabass population by releasing extra baby seabass into the wild in the hope that more will survive to adulthood.  By raising white seabass in the classroom, the high school students become a part of the solution!

Cute juvenile white seabass!

A student measures the length of a juvenile white seabass.
In early June, the students got to release the seabass into Mission Bay - literally right outside the doorstep of the school. The students will now go on to save all the world's fisheries so that your children's children will know what fish tastes like (i hope).

In the News!

 The second lesson that stood out was a fish head dissection lab. The purpose of the lab was to look at how humans directly impact fish populations. More specifically, we were looking at how two different fishing methods (nets used to catch Alaskan chinook salmon vs. pole/line used to catch Lake Michigan chinook salmon) results in the removal of a group of fish that have a different size distribution.   While not a perfect case study, it is a cool example - especially since Alaskan salmon are considered a well managed sustainable fishery.  Students dissected otoliths (fish ear bones!) from wild caught Alaskan salmon fish heads that were donated by a local seafood company. Once they got over the fish smell, most of the students enjoyed the lab.

Otoliths can tell a scientist about the size and health of the fish it came from.  There is a direct relationship between otolith growth and fish growth, so the students were able to reconstruct the original fish length by measuring the length otolith.  They then compared the size distribution of fish caught in nets from Alaska and fish caught using pole and line from Lake Michigan. SPOILER: Nets target schooling fish, so all of the Alaskan salmon were very similar in sizes, whereas the Lake Michigan salmon displayed a wide range of sizes (or a "normal" or "gaussian" distribution).

In closing, I do not discourage you from eating fish. Quite the opposite actually.  Fish are delicious and can be very healthy! I would, however, encourage you to aim for wild-caught well managed species.  A great list of 'good' species to eat can be found here: (they also have a phone app).

Even though many lists like this exist, when it comes down to it (i.e., you're staring at a menu in a restaurant or looking at the fish on ice at the local market), it remains very difficult to know where the seafood is coming from exactly. Where the seafood come can make all the difference. Many species can be on both the 'avoid' or 'ok' list depending on where or how it was caught because different country/regions do not follow the same regulations.  Unfortunately, this make choosing sustainable seafood difficult.  Do the best you can (and always avoid farmed salmon)! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 Collegiate Nationals Race Report.

My collegiate nats race write up for the UCSD Tri website:

Sorry it is not a race comic - but I hope it is still a good read.