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Can you help us identify this pipefish? Three high school students go to Ocean Sciences 2016 looking for answers

Do you have experience with pipefish identification? These high school students haven’t found anyone who could identify the fish they captured. If you think you know what it is, or have suggestions, put them in the comments!

This article has been re-posted from the PLOS SciEd blog. The guest post was written by Kaelen Novak, one of three high school students who attended OSM ’16 in New Orleans. 

The Saint Stanislaus High School student team at OSM 16: Michael Sandoz, left; Kaelen Novak, center; Beau Girard, right.
The Saint Stanislaus High School student team at OSM 16: Michael Sandoz, left; Kaelen Novak, center; Beau Girard, right.

The 2016 Ocean Science Meeting (OSM) of the American Geophysical Union took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 21-25. This international event is the biannual meeting ground for Marine Biologists, Oceanographers, Environmental Scientists, Biochemists, Geologists, Archaeologists, Avian Specialists, and many other experts who come together to discuss the state of the world’s oceans and even some phenomenon on other planetary bodies. In addition to keynotes and panels, over three thousand posters spanned a display floor, as far as the eye can see from a skywalk.

And in the middle of all this were two friends and I from Saint Stanislaus, in Bay St. Louis, MS, the lone high school students in the crowd, having the experience of a lifetime.

We were there to present our own research as a poster at a Tuesday evening OSM ‘16 Youth Symposium, where we hoped to get some help with some unresolved questions in our study of a species of pipefish.

Polar clouds, made of methane, on Titan (left) compared with polar clouds on Earth (right), which are made of water or water ice.

But before Tuesday night, we got to go to any of the other OSM sessions. I started with a panel discussing underwater hypoxic tidepools in West Coast kelp forests. Following a quick break for lunch, I then attended a fascinating lecture about hypoxia and the methane seas of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

The highlight of this talk for me was hearing of the strange qualities of the methane seas on Titan, which showed that oceanography changes drastically on different planets and showed a way that astronomers and marine scientists can continue to collaborate.

Then it was time to present our own research.

Set up in the Great Hall lobby, the Youth Symposium was composed of fourteen students ranging from kindergarten to high school seniors presenting on a variety of topics, including: sea turtle night time orientation, jellyfish tracking, water quality data logging and other research projects.Picture3

Our poster, available in its entirety at the bottom of this post, represented work that Beau Gerard, Michael Sandoz and I had done over six months to positively identify a species of pipefish caught in front of our school in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi during a regular day of fieldwork. Since then, we’ve made observations and done research to determine its taxonomic name, to no avail. It was my science teacher at Saint Stanislaus High School, Mrs. Boudreaux, who suggested that we create an OSM ‘16 poster to get more scientific ideas on what procedures we could employ and people/places we might go to for help.

Even though the Youth Symposium posters were quite out of the way of the main poster hall, a large number of scientists from different fields ended up visiting our poster, including the Director of Education of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Liz Rom, and George Divoky, an expert on arctic birds. We received plenty of feedback and a few suggestions for determining the precise identification of our unknown pipefish. As a result, we are now seeking help from the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans, who, it turns out, just opened a pipefish exhibit. We also got the names of other taxonomic services, such as EcoAnalysts Inc. (, we could consult to see which species it may be, or if it could be a crossbreed, or even a new species.

Got any ideas?

If anyone reading this wants to help by making a suggestion of where to go for further information, or if might be able to tell us which type of pipefish we’ve found, please leave a comment after this post. Here, in the center, is an image of the pipefish we have, with the two other known species we’ve been comparing it to.

Chain pipefish – Syngnathus Louisanae
Dustry pipefish – Sygnathus Floridae
“Lofwyr” – Our mystery pipefish


A bonus day at OSM ‘16

After completing our Tuesday evening poster, my friends and I returned on Thursday, when the day’s theme was the global environment and various factors harming it. Plenary talks I heard covered research on the possible effects of undersea mining, the dangers of Pseudo nitzschia on the West Coast and elsewhere, and the effects of microplastics and their biodegradability in the ocean – compared to on land.

Along with these interesting topics, other posters were open to our perusal. My favorite by far was one titled “Where Wild Microbes Grow” by Kevin Kurtz (available for free download here). He has created a set of interactive pdf-based children’s books based around the various levels of the marine ecosystem. This creative approach to spreading scientific knowledge to the younger generations through interactive media will encourage children and adults alike to learn about our marine environments and foster a love for them, paving the way for the marine scientists and environmentalists of the future, much like the live-streams that the Nautilus crew conduct during their expeditions do.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at OSM ‘16, both presenting and exploring other research presented at the convention, along with meeting new people from all over the world who were equally as enthusiastic about their personal research. My colleagues and I hope to attend the next Ocean Sciences Meeting in 2018, this time as sophomore college students, when we hope to present more of our findings to the world.

The Saint Stanislaus High School student team at OSM 16: Michael Sandoz, left; Kaelen Novak, center; Beau Girard, right.

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