Cluster 3: Under the Sea: Exploring Marine Organisms and Oceanography

Cluster 3:  Under The Sea – Exploring Marine Organisms and Oceanography

In this cluster, students will learn how different marine organisms are able to cope with their unique environments through studies of their physiology and ecology. All animals eat, reproduce and survive to the best of their ability; yet there are so many different ways that animals find food, produce offspring and avoid being eaten. How they do this will depend on their physiology, life history, habitat use, as well as interactions with the other marine organisms around them. You will explore the life history, physiology, and conservation of marine mammals (seals, sea lions, dolphins, whales, sea otters) living off our shores. You will also study how the ecology of marine animals can help us understand differences among many different marine species, why they do what they do, and how to protect them. Through hands-on investigations of marine organisms, from barnacles to whales, students will gain an understanding and appreciation of what life in the ocean world is like. This cluster involves field-intensive research for those who enjoy working in nature.

Prerequisite: Students must have completed one year of high school biology.

All students in this cluster will be enrolled in the following courses:

Marine Mammal Biology

Similar to humans and other terrestrial mammals, dolphins and seals must breathe air and maintain a stable core body temperature in order to survive. Yet living in the ocean creates a paradox: marine mammals must hold their breath to forage and their aquatic environment rapidly steals body heat. Over evolutionary time, marine mammals have acquired amazing physiological adaptations to endure these challenges. In this class we will explore the life history, physiology, and conservation of this fascinating group of mammals. Field trips may include a marine mammal survey in Monterey Bay, and trips to Año Nuevo State Beach, Long Marine Laboratory, Marine Mammal Center, and/or the Oiled Wildlife Center.

Biological Oceanography

This course will examine the biotic oceanographic processes that occur within the Monterey Bay region. Students will learn about the role of phytoplankton, zooplankton, and higher level predators within the bay’s food web, how physical/chemical oceanographic processes influence the organisms within the bay, and how environmental data you collect can be analyzed to make research decisions. Questions that will be addressed in this course include: What causes phytoplankton blooms? Why do some seabirds come all the way across the Pacific Ocean to feed in the bay during the summer? How can blues whales live on krill alone? Why is the leatherback turtle a jellyfish’s worst nightmare? And how did a harmful algal bloom provide Alfred Hitchcock with the inspiration for the movie The Birds?


          Marin Mammal Biology:  Shawn Noren, PhD, Associate Researcher, IMS-UCSC

          Biological Oceanography:  Baldo Marinovic, PhD. UCSC Biology and Ocean Sciences Department