Tracking Sheepshead Growth and Spawning in the Gulf of Mexico

Hey! My name is Samantha Vanderhoof, I mostly go by Sam and I am from New Jersey.  I’m an upcoming junior at Stockton University. I first attended community college for a year as a biology major but after one year transferred to Stockton to pursue a degree in Marine Biology. For the longest time, I thought I would go to college to be a teacher in math or science, but in seventh grade I became enthralled with the ocean. I always enjoyed going to the beach, but as I got older and learned of the dangers the marine organisms face due to our life styles I choice to become a marine biologist. After I graduate I hope to work in conservation and outreach to teach other people about the dangers of plastics and chemical runoff has on the animals and the water itself, and try to preserve the biodiversity in the ocean. The other REU students are super friendly its been great so far hanging out and getting to know everyone

I am super excited to have gotten accepted to this REU to conduct research on how age and growth correlate in Sheepshead fish here in the Gulf of Mexico at UTMSI. I will be working with Dr. Erisman and his lab team to determine the age of hundreds of sheepsheads by examining each individual’s fish’s otolith. An otolith is an ear bone that is in a little sac in the fish’s head. Like a tree trunk an otolith has rings that can be used to determine the age of the individual. To get an otolith, it needs to be extracted from the fish. Then it gets mounted on a wooden stick, and a cross section taken then placed under a microscope to view the rings. The length of all individuals is taken; all I need to do is put the right age with the right fish and length.

Not only will I be doing otolith analysis, I will also be assisting in determine what stage of reproduction the fish is in by looking at a section of its gonad. I have already read a few articles about studies similar to this one in different states, and can’t wait to get started in the lab.

Can’t wait to see how everyone’s research comes out, and the fun adventures that are ahead for all of us!!!

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