On a bright Wednesday morning at Popham Beach, in Phippsburg, two Bowdoin research fellows were drawing the attention of beachgoers. As they pulled ashore a fishing net, they fielded questions from the onlookers. “It doesn’t so much predict, but it looks at change,” said Jesse Dunn, ’20, after being asked about the relevance of his study. “Within a single year you can only look at what is here now, but if we or somebody else comes back, we can see how it changes.”
Dunn and Patrick Warner ’20 are conducting research in the Kennebec Estuary and Harpswell Sound this summer. Collaborating with the Portland-based Gulf of Maine Research Institute, they are expanding a long-term sampling study of Casco Bay.
Work is divided into two portions: seine netting, which uses a buoyed net to sample the shoreline water column, and rod fishing, to examine larger, offshore predators. During the netting process, the pair maneuvers the seine into a u-shape from a boat, and then hauls it to shore, sweeping up fish in the process.
After this, they count each one, measuring the first 25 to get an estimate of size. They must work quickly, so as not to kill the fish. “If we can’t [identify] it, we will take pictures, or keep the fish and preserve it to look at it in the lab, and figure out what it is,” Dunn said.
Warner and Dunn are alumni of Bowdoin’s Marine Science Semester, and both credit this program as drawing them to Bowdoin. “I knew I was into fishing…and wanted to learn more about the academic science side of things,” said Warner, who is an earth and oceanographic science major concentrating in fisheries. “[The Marine Science Semester] went to Baja, Calif., for two weeks, and we looked at reef fish and reef ecology in general. That was awesome…I was able to start studying fish directly.”
Dunn, a biology major concentrating in the newly offered ecology section, echoed the statement: “I was always super interested in oceans, and that is part of why I came to Bowdoin. I knew about Marine Science Semester beforehand and about the Coastal Studies Center…I knew that was something I wanted to study.”
Their mutual interest in marine science landed them a joint Rusack Coastal Studies Fellowship from Bowdoin, which supports students engaged in summer research at the Coastal Studies Center or nearby locations. The fellowship is not strictly limited to scientific research. Of this summer’s cohort of four students, one is conducting a visual and literary arts project on the development of the Maine Coastline. The other three are doing scientific research.
The research the two students are doing is increasingly critical now, with sea temperatures in the Gulf of Maine rising faster than ever. “Really, [the Institute] is looking at how the inshore fish dynamics change in relation the Gulf of Maine warming because this area of the ocean is warming faster than 99 percent of the world,” Warner said.
These enviornmental issues motivate the two students. In addition to a love of the ocean and marine studies, they enjoy doing work that could help make a difference. “I hope that our research can set a baseline to see how [overfishing and global warming] are affecting local fisheries,” says Dunn. “That knowledge could then theoretically help with fish management and preservation.”
In the future, there may be one more scientist on the front line of this environmental investigation. Warner sees this kind of work as a potential career path. When asked if Bowdoin helped him get to this place, he lights up: “Oh completely, yeah. Bowdoin has provided me with a ton of resources to pursue my passion for fishing and studying fish.”