Post by Ryan D’Errico (Colgate ’25)
While the focus of our fieldwork was collecting marine bivalves, I was pleasantly surprised to see numerous other types of marine animals! When the crew brought up the very first box core on the RV Acadiana in Louisiana, a crab crawled out of the mud and started walking on the deck. At that moment, I assumed it would be a rather rare occurrence to see crabs and other sea life during our time in the gulf, but throughout our weeks in the field, I came to see much more than the clams that we were there to study. Minutes after all of the box core samples were on the boat, Paul demonstrated how to sieve the clay-rich sediment. He quickly pulled something out of the mud which he told us was a polychaete worm. I hadn’t even considered that I would see worms on this trip, but they were one of the most common types of animal besides bivalves that we found in our samples. I will admit that I was a bit squeamish about touching the worms to throw them overboard when it was my first time picking through the samples, but this soon became second nature.
Sieving and picking through seemingly endless samples on a constantly rocking boat was truly exhausting in a way that I had never previously experienced (even despite the fact that my watch repeatedly reminded me that my daily steps were at a record low). During moments when I was most drained, looking at different types of wildlife was the perfect break that gave me the energy to continue to work. One of the best examples of this was on one of our last days in Louisiana when I was feeling a bit nauseous and took a moment to stare at the horizon. I soon spotted a sea turtle swimming in the waves, not believing my eyes until others confirmed my observation.
Other times while picking through samples we found shrimp, which we placed in plastic containers filled with water, watching them swiftly swim around before releasing them into the ocean. Another type of organism that I found to be particularly cute was the olive snails that we came across in Alabama. When these snails appeared in the samples, they appeared dead, hiding in their shells. However, after placing them in water, the little olive snails would emerge and zoom around the containers at a speed much faster than I ever imagined a snail could. In my opinion, the craziest animal we found was part of an eel, which still wriggled despite being detached from the rest of its body. Holding it in my hands was both cool and creepy as it slithered in my palms.
During our 3+ hour-long journeys back from the sampling sites in Louisiana, we knew we were nearing land when seagulls and pelicans began to follow the boat, hoping we had fish to feed them. Like clockwork, a few minutes after our first bird sightings we would regain cell service. Every day as we entered Terrebonne Bay, we experienced a grand finale of dolphins that would swim in front of the bow of the boat, mere feet away from us. It was breathtaking to see them, often 4 or 5 at a time racing underneath us and breaching for air. Sometimes I even waved at the dolphins and wondered if they could see me.
Now that I am back at Colgate reflecting on my last 3 weeks it is hard to believe this experience really happened, considering how different it was from anything else I have ever done. I don’t know if I will ever participate in similar fieldwork again, so I am trying to record and hold onto the memories that I made while on the Wilson and Acadiana.