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Squid Squad Interning in the BIOS Cephalopod Lab

By Rowena Day, 2006 BIOS Intern

Images by Rowena Day, James Wood and especially NSF-REU intern Jared Kibele
Edited by James Wood
Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea).
Row Herding the Squid Towards the Stationary Seine Net.
The Squid Squad in action, immediately after scarring squid into the seine net.
Squid holding tank.
Squid Inside the Holding Tank.
Tagging the Squid with Coloured Elastomer.
Measuring the Mantle Length.
Squid Lab.
Whalebone Bay Field site.
The Spanish Point Field site at Sunset.
The Pirate Lab… I Mean Squid Lab (From L to R; James, Row, Abel, Jared).
The Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS).
Wright Hall (dorms and kitchen).
Row on a night dive to catch and tag Octopus macropus
Pink Bermuda Bus.
Row snorkelling off boat after diving (NSF-REU intern Jared Kibele creating bubble and taking picture from below).
Row Scuba Diving Upside-Down!
Row Giving Some Lovin’ to her Octopus macropus
Jared (NSF-REU project researching Squid Communication) Kissing a Squid.

I invited Rowena Day, CABBS 2006 summer intern, to write about her experience working in my lab so that future interns would realistically know what to expect at BIOS in general, and in my lab in particular. This article not only includes Rowena’s work, but also some of the fun things she did as well as the day to day logistics of living in Bermuda.

Rowena’s hard work, determination, subject knowledge and persistence were critical in both my selection of her over many other intern applicants, and her staying on for an extra semester in the fall.

Dr. James Wood

A little about me and my project: Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea)

Taking the Wet Weight
During my final year of my biology degree at Queen’s University (Canada) I longed to get my nose out of textbooks and get my hands wet in the field. My interest in conducting research specifically on cephalopods was first sparked when I chose to write a report and give a presentation for my Neuroethology course on how the nervous system controls their body patterning. With their diverse range of camouflaging behaviours, unique body plan, and sheer intelligence, I found cephalopods to be one of the most fascinating classes of animals I had ever researched. While researching extensively on this project, I stumbled across various journal and popular articles, lesson plans and websites written by or associated with Dr. James Wood. His work fell right in line with my interests and after 6 months of corresponding with him about the intern position and fighting to secure some funding, I finally received my official acceptance letter.

From June – November 2006, I conducted research on the impact of temperature on the growth rates of Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea) in captivity and in the wild. This process involved finding, capturing, tagging, releasing and recapturing the squid. Each task had its fair share of challenges.

I arrived in Bermuda at the beginning of June 2006, however unseasonably cool waters delayed the arrival of juvenile squid until July. This meant that an entire month was spent snorkelling for hours without seeing any squid. I realize that snorkelling in Bermuda for hours at a time is not something to complain about, but when you are trying to conduct research and you can’t even find the species you are trying to study, it can become quite frustrating. Once we could consistently find squid in the wild and had mastered the art of catching them, we still could not tag them because the squid were just too small (< 2 grams). The tags used are a coloured gel that is inserted subcutaneously – larger squid can handle this injection but it can be quite lethal for juveniles. By mid-late July, the squid were growing to be a taggable size and we were able to find and tag small schools of squid (2-8) at various locations around the island. By the end of July and throughout August we caught schools of squid between 30-95 individuals, sometimes tagging for 12 hours straight until 1 or 2 am. It was really rewarding to be making this sort of progress. However I would not have any concrete data until I could obtain some final growth measurements from recaptured squid.

My internship was officially over at the end of August, but because I had not gotten any recaptures I was determined to see the research through to the end of the fall. Choosing to stay was somewhat of a financial risk as I would not hear about possibly receiving funding for another 2 months. Thankfully, my donors agreed to continue to support my project through the fall semester and the financial burden was lifted from my shoulders.

My First Recaptured Squid!

During the fall semester, everything started to pay off. With the help of many committed volunteers, we began to catch recaptured squid! Over the summer and fall 344 squid were tagged and during the fall a 30.2% recapture rate was obtained!

I also ran some trials within the lab to compare growth rates in the field with those in captivity.

At the end of my research internship in December 2006, I presented my results and complex confounding factors for the scientific community at BIOS along with the NSF-REU students.

My exposure to this animal group in the wild has only deepened my fascination towards them. This experience has opened my eyes to wonders of marine ecosystems, its creatures and to the exciting opportunities that wait. I am hoping to return to Bermuda this summer to work at BIOS and assist James in his Squid Lab once again.

In the future, I would like further my education in the field of marine biology by pursuing a Master’s degree in the area of animal behaviour and communication with a broader emphasis on wildlife conservation. But for now, I would like to give you some insights into applying for an intern position at BIOS, what to expect from your research experience and on the island in general.

How to Apply for an Intern Position at BIOS

Choosing a project that is the right match for you.

The first step in being a successful intern applicant is to choose a project that you are genuinely fascinated and excited about. Don’t get sidetracked by the fantasy of living on a tropical island and lazing about on the beach. You really have to be serious about what you want to study and realistic about what to expect. If you can read multiple journal articles in a row about your subject of interest and still be really excited about the topic then that subject is a good match for you. Reading journal articles will also help you to express your interest in the subject and communicate your knowledge to your potential supervisor. Keep in mind that the hands on field based faculty members at BIOS receive approximately 100 intern query emails a year. To make yours stand out, you need to demonstrate your knowledge and interest in their specific research area and in the broader field. In addition, mention any related experience you have. For instance, mention things like your swimming ability, comfort level in the water, scuba certifications, previous experience working with animals in the field or lab, boat handling experience, engineering skills, computer skills, and basic resourcefulness skills such as sewing, use of duct tape and screwdrivers. Previous experience in video and photography, knowledge of statistics and excel and the ability to write effectively are also skills to mention that will make your application much more appealing. You need to give your potential supervisor some good reasons to take your application seriously. Whatever you do, do not tell James if you hate cephalopods, soccer or coke.

Another important issue to be aware of is how much time your project will require you to be in the lab and in the field. If you are stuck in the lab every day of the week when really you want to be out in the field or alternatively, if you are out in the field when you don’t like swimming in salt water with barracudas when you would rather work in the lab, you are not going to be happy. My education thus far had been severely lacking field experience so when I read about James’ work I knew that what I was expecting and what I was actually getting myself into were in congruence.

It is also important to recognize in advance that there are going to be really challenging days. Even for those that love field work, there are also going to be really rainy, windy days when the water is cold (such as during the fall) and you might not feel like getting in. I am happiest with my face in the water but sometimes after many long consecutive days of this I would have preferred to have to remain dry. Some field days have gone on for 14 hours with the majority of time being spent in the water searching for and catching squid followed almost immediately by a night dive for octopuses. These days are incredibly rewarding and fun but extremely exhausting, especially when you know that the next day you will have to get in the water again to catch hundreds of silverside fish to feed your captive squid.

Choosing a supervisor that is the right match for you

Octopus macropus
Secondly, it is important to make sure you and your supervisor are a good match. For instance, what is a typical day for your supervisor? Do they work strictly 9-5 every day or is there more flexibility with the hours. James is flexible with time and does not operate on a 9-5 schedule. Other supervisors strictly follow a 9 to 5 workday. James also allows free time to explore the island with visiting friends and family as long as you are organized and get all the work done. Sometimes there isn’t much to do in the morning but often times I was working during the evenings and on weekends. However, the workload is highly dependent on external factors. You will not be required to search for squid in hurricane force winds and torrential downpours. Sometimes there are beautiful, clear and calm days but squid are nowhere to be found. Some days you catch 4 squid, sometimes you catch 90. In general, when the research requires a high field component, operating on a strict 9-5 schedule is impossible while in the lab it is much more likely. Pick a style that suits you best.

How much support or independence are you expecting to receive from your supervisor and how much do they usually give? This has a lot to do with their personality type. Supervisors can either suffocate you with constant supervision or may be completely absent and seem unavailable and too busy to help you in your time of stress. James provides a healthy balance between the two, letting you work independently but offering assistance whenever you need it. James’ lab also tends to be quite informal. He expects his lab to be highly motivated and work hard but also enjoys partaking in some crazy shenanigans.

For instance, it was a common occurrence for our lab to go wakeboarding after snorkelling all day or go sailing in James’ 41 foot sailboat (where he lives!) or shipwreck hunting!

The Never-ending Quest for Funding

This is by far, the most challenging and frustrating component to science and was one of the biggest lessons I learned. Securing funding money in marine biology, but more specifically in areas such as animal behaviour, is extremely difficult. Molecular and oceanographic programs tend to be much better funded. Volunteer interns at BIOS not only don’t get paid, but have to find some way to cover their expenses (room, food, and facility fees). There are a few different funding sources offered in conjunction with BIOS and some intern applicants are able to obtain funding from external sources. For Canadians there is the CABBS (Canadian Associates of the Bermuda Biological Station) scholarship. Americans can apply for an NSF_REU grant. Florida Eckerd college students can obtain funding through the Galbraith scholarship. Partial and variable funding options are available for UK students.

For some intern programs like CABBS, BIOS is more likely to offer an internship position to someone who has secured partial funding money from an alternative source. Look for scholarships available through your university or government or write letters to businesses asking for support. I strongly believe that there is always a way, you just have to be determined enough to find it. Be determined and creative and don’t give up!

Once you arrive, there are possible opportunities to make a bit of extra cash. The development and education departments often need help with preparing for luncheons, stuffing envelopes, and assisting with labs for middle school groups.

Living and working in Bermuda

The best and worst thing about working at BIOS is that you live and work in the same place. It is an amazing place to conduct research and meet people from around the world. The majority of days, you will appreciate the constant social atmosphere around you and the convenience of rolling out of bed in Wright Hall and walking 100 feet to get to your office. Other days you might feel suffocated with an intense need to break free from station. But then feel even more trapped on station because everything on this island is incredibly expensive and regardless of whether you are male or female, will feel sketched out by a small subset of Bermudian men that like to lurk about and make inappropriate comments.

Some of my favourite things about BIOS were playing soccer (offered at least twice a week) outdoors in the hot sun or pouring rain and having extremely competitive and rowdy foosball games at BIOS’ bar, The Passing Wind. You may be terrible at foosball when you arrive but I guarantee that you will leave with significant improvement but also a serious foosball addiction problem. Movies are usually played every Monday on a large screen in a lecture hall.

It is fantastic to become involved in the scientific community at BIOS. There are always great lectures to attend to educate yourself, or ways to be involved to educate the general public. For instance, tours around the BIOS occur every Wednesday – this can give you a chance to tell the public about your research project. In addition, BIOS holds a Marine Science Day in September free to the Bermudian public or visitors.

As a TA for James’ Marine Invertebrate Zoology course in September, I had the opportunity to work with a group of students in the lab and out in the field. One student, Ray Deckel, chose to test the escape response of Octopus macropus from a plastic container with various sized holes on the lid. I assisted Ray as an octopus wrangler to get the octopus inside the container between trials during many night dives. Visit the following link to view the video.

Another interesting project I participated in involved counting the frequency of bioluminescing female glow worms (Odontosyllis enopla) within a 3 x 3 metre square. These worms appear 56 minutes after sunset on the third and fourth day following the full moon. Their precise internal clocks enable them to coordinate leaving their homes in the substrate to meet conspecifics midwater to mate.

The kitchen staff at BIOS work extremely hard to feed over 80 people every day. They do a good job but keep in mind it is not going to be the same as a home cooked meal. There is always fresh salad and selection of fruit (unfortunately, good grape days are rare). The kitchen staff are very kind in catering towards any special dietary need. If you like to cook, there is a primitive but functional kitchen that is sometimes available. Because virtually everything is imported, groceries are extremely expensive but sometimes it is great to cook a meal with some friends.

The bus system in Bermuda is reliable but does not operate as frequently as you might be used to at home. Generally it is one bus every hour. Some parts of the island do not offer service past dinner time, so you may find yourself stuck and have to take a taxi. Taxi rides from the capital, Hamilton, to BIOS are expensive and will cost you about $ 35-40 US. A one day scooter rental is $50 US while a 5 day rental is $175 US.

Things you must do while in Bermuda:

Bermuda is a beautiful lush island with endless places to explore both on land and underwater. Some popular activities are beach trips to the south shore, ferry trips to Dockyards, pizza outings at the Wharf in St. George’s, cave excursions and Swizzle Inn trivia nights. Two additional activities I highly recommend doing are going scuba diving and renting a scooter. Both are very expensive and potentially dangerous but extremely worthwhile. Snorkelling is fun, but being completely submersed and surrounded by underwater life is an incredible and unforgettable experience.

Try to get certified before you come and bring your own equipment. If you can’t, Bermuda is a great location to get certified but keep in mind it is going to be more expensive.

And, lastly, if you’re really adventurous, or just plain weird, kiss a cephalopod!



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The Cephalopod Page (TCP), © Copyright 1995-2018, was created and is maintained by Dr. James B. Wood, Associate Director of the Waikiki Aquarium which is part of the University of Hawaii. Please see the FAQs page for cephalopod questions, Marine Invertebrates of Bermuda for information on other invertebrates, and and the Census of Marine Life for general information on marine biology.