Cluster 8: Marine Mammals and Oceanography: From Prey to Predators

Located in one of four major upwelling regions of the world, the Monterey Bay is a wealth of marine biodiversity. This cluster will give students an active-hands-on approach to exploring key concepts of oceanography and marine mammal biology in the Monterey Bay. Students will spend time in the lab and on the bay exploring the physical, chemical, and biological processes affecting marine ecosystems. We will examine the rich ecosystem that allows blue whales, one of the largest animals ever, to feast solely on schools of tiny shrimp-like krill. Students will also investigate the life history, physiology, and conversation of marine mammals (seals, sea lions, dolphins, whales, and sea otters) living just off our shores. From the tinniest of plankton to the largest of whales, this cluster will cover the fascinating and diverse group of creatures forming our marine ecosystems.

Prerequisite: There are no course prerequisites for this cluster.

Preference: Completion of Algebra I.

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

Biological Oceanography

Instructor: Baldo Marinovic, PhD (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Institute of Marine Science Departments)

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 and furthermore how physical/chemical oceanographic processes influence the organisms within the bay. 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?

Marine Mammal Biology

Instructor: Shawn Noren, PhD (Institute of Marine Science Department)

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. Virtual field trips with real scientists will bring us to the Arctic, Año Nuevo, Long Marine Laboratory to participate in a necropsy of a marine mammal and watch how scientific data is collected on live dolphins, and the Marine Mammal Center (a marine mammal hospital to rehabilitate sick and injured wild marine mammals).

Transferable Skills: Tools for Success

It may or may not surprise you that being a university researcher requires a whole host of skills outside of the specific scientific knowledge required of your chosen discipline or specialty. It requires communication skills such as the ability to present your work in writing and orally. It requires competencies in the realm of information technology including the ability to find and judge (the validity of) information and use a variety of hardware and software tools (e.g. spreadsheets, databases, statistics software, other data manipulation tools). It requires all of those skills to effectively conduct research such as data collection, analysis and interpretation, critical thinking and problem solving as well as the ability to conduct laboratory and/or field work. And, of course, a baseline competency in English, science, mathematics and computers is critical. 

The governing mission of the UCSC COSMOS Transferable Skills course is to promote students’ future academic (and professional) success through the exploration and development of transferable skills: i.e. those competencies that students develop while in school which facilitate academic achievement, the eventual transition into the work-force and which are applicable in many other life situations.