Sunday, March 25, 2012


Last week I was invited to be a speaker at the Girls Interested in Real Life Science (GIRLS) Program at the Ocean Explorium in New Bedford - a great aquarium and education center with a shark and ray touch tank and a huge salt-water fish and coral tank. GIRLS is about getting middle school girls interested in marine science and giving them something positive to do after school. 
My talk was about the importance of mentors for women in science. I also had an inspiring amount of support from women in science friends and colleagues around the world who let me use them as examples to show the students the range of what science careers are possible. Thank you ladies! 
Before the talk, the girls and I got to learn more about local fisheries. The ocean and Buzzards Bay have been of great importance to New Bedford’s economy throughout the city’s history. During the 19th Century, New Bedford was a whaling capitol. Now, the city is known for bringing in the majority of scallops in the fishing industry worldwide.
We had a speaker from the School for Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth who gave us a fisheries presentation, walked us through the fishing docks explaining the different types of boats and equipment, and then led a scallop dissection.

Each student got to dissect an Atlantic Sea Scallop (Placopecten magellanicus). There are several types of scallops; you can see them both in the market and both are important to New Bedford’s waters and economy. Sea scallops have smooth shells and are relatively large. Bay scallops are smaller and have “scalloped” shells.
We were guided through identifying all the parts of the scallop. The adductor muscle is the large muscle that connects the two shells – it’s also the part that you eat. Along the edges of the shell you’ll see little black dots along the mantle. These are the eyes of the scallop. They aren’t as complex and developed as our eyes but they do sense light. Scallops have a large black liver that they use to filter feed. You can also see the gills they use to get oxygen out of the water.

The students had to tell us whether they had a male or female scallop too.  The males have a white sex organ and in the females it’s pink. How appropriate!

After we finished the dissection, we cooked up the scallops and had a snack. Since we only ate the adductor muscle and didn’t want anything to go to waste, we fed the fish at the Ocean Explorium with the rest of the scallop. The fisherman at sea do the same thing, they shuck out the adductor muscle and throw the rest overboard so it goes back into the food chain.
Scallops are an important food for us as people (as long as the fishery uses sustainable practices) and for other marine animals like sea stars. Sea stars can actually push their stomach outside their own body and through the two scallop shells to digest the meat! In addition to being a yummy source of protein, scallops are also critical to the Buzzards Bay ecosystem. They feed by filtering the water and help keep the Bay clean. Unfortunately, human actions are effecting the scallop population in the Bay. Increased nitrogen in the water from septic systems and overall development are causing a decline in eelgrass – an important environment for scallops.

You can learn more about the nitrogen pollution in Buzzards Bay and how people can help mitigate the problem at the Buzzards Bay Coalition. Take a trip to visit the Wheeler Learning Center in downtown New Bedford or check out the resources on their website -

If you’re in New Bedford be sure to check out the Whaling Museum for a real history lesson -

You can also learn more about the School for Marine Science and Technology here if you’re interested in their programs -

Photos and anatomy diagram by Sara K. MacSorley

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