Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The hatchery

Friends, while I was out diving last week, other members of my lab were undertaking their own experiments. Some of you may remember the oyster research that has been conducted in the Mullineaux lab over the past few summers. When I first started here, I was responsible for analyzing some of the data from past oyster experiments, and I submitted a manuscript for publication based on that analysis. Then last summer, one of the interns conducted her own experiments to examine how oyster larvae behave in different environmental conditions. 
Algae tanks at the Aquacultural Research Corporation. Photo
by Brooke Torjman.

Well, this year, we're at it again, exposing oyster larvae to a range of conditions in the laboratory and observing how they respond. The first step in the experimental set-up is to obtain larvae, and for that, I was sent on an expedition of sorts - a field trip to the hatchery. The oyster larvae we use in laboratory experiments are supplied by the Aquacultural Resource Corporation in Dennis, MA, about an hour's drive down-Cape from Woods Hole. I gathered up a cooler for the larvae, a flask for the algae to feed them with, and a fellow lab member for company and headed out to the hatchery. 

Oyster larvae settling on bits of adult shell at ARC. Photo by
Brooke Torjman.
Truth be told, I had never been to an actual hatchery before. It's an operation of massive proportions, with tens of millions of larvae growing at once. Giant conical tanks billow with oyster babies, while floor-to-ceiling columns bubble with algae in various shades of green and brown. 

The hatchery staff were kind enough to show us around, and we were deeply impressed by their cultures. Larval cultures in a research lab usually involve just tens or maybe a hundred individuals in a dish, so the giant tanks at ARC were on a completely different scale. 

Once the larvae are competent to settle, they are transferred into still-water tanks and allowed to attach to ground-up bits of adult oyster shells. The shell bits looked almost like sand, and the larvae looked like darker sand grains on top. You would never guess that they were living creatures when just walking by!

With a cooler of larvae and a flask of algae safely stowed in the car, we bid the ARC employees farewell and headed back to the lab. It was very neat to see the hatchery!

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