Inspiring The Next Generation of Marine Scientists

The sea raven, a bottom-dwelling fish with spiny scales and sharp teeth, lay on a slab in room 346 of the Curry Student Center, its innards exposed. Six Boston-area high school students hunched over the specimen, one probing for its ear stones, called “otoliths,” with the dissecting knife.

“They’re learning about fish age and growth,” said Scott Elzey, an aquatic biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, who was overseeing the workshop. It was one of 18 underway last week as part of the second annual Boston High School Marine Science Symposium, presented by Northeastern’s Marine Science Center and the Massachusetts Marine Educators.

The otoliths—calcium carbonate structures that fish use for hearing and balance—grow in rings, with each ring corresponding to a year’s worth of growth. The experiment called for the students to remove the otoliths and view them under a microscope, counting the rings to gauge the age of the fish.

“Knowing the age distribution of fish in a particular area along with other measurements, including historical data, can provide a sense of the health of the stock,” explained Elzey. “That assessment can then be used to help set management guidelines.”

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