Hands-on, immersive learning experiences in and outside of the classroom deepen and enrich a Beach education.
Shoreline Research Shapes Future Scientists
The shorelines of Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach are known for the swarms of stingrays that are drawn to their warmer shallow waters. While the “stingray shuffle” is still the best way to avoid them, a group of Cal State Long Beach marine biology students are studying these vertebrates to improve beach safety and avoid stingray-related injuries.
The students, under the guidance of Benjamin Perlman, Ph.D., a lecturer in the Biological Sciences Department, studied how to step on a round stingray without getting stung by their barbs.
“What we've noticed during our tests is that they strike, in most instances, when they are completely restricted from movement by being stepped on in the middle region of their body,” said Anthony McGinnis, a marine biology major. “If you step on their pectoral fins or snout, they generally look to escape or swim away.”
Perlman and his student team use ocean seines – large nets that capture fish that are dragged past the surf – to collect round stingrays. While a graduate student uses her catch to study the density and abundance of round stingrays, others transport the fish back to campus. Using a fake foot to simulate stepping on the rays, they measure the speed at which the tail moves and the acceleration at the end of the tails and estimate the force it generates when it strikes.
With a donation from an anonymous alumnus, the marine biology students are also studying the kinematics or locomotion of the tail-strike behavior with a group of engineers to produce a protype of stingray-resistant neoprene surf boot that will prevent the barbs from penetrating.
Perlman’s students attach stingray barbs to a machine to repeatedly poke at the neoprene material and test its strength. They measure the sharpness of the barbs, the number of serrated notches, the differences between males and females and their behavior.
These learning experiences, both in the lab and along nearby shores, are some of the many immersive Beach opportunities that provide applicable instruction beyond the classroom and prepare students for advanced studies and the workforce.
McGinnis is gaining valuable training through this opportunity and his work in the university’s Shark Lab.
“I’ve learned how to conduct field research, how to analyze data and have also gained vital computational skills,” he said. “I’ve learned to do shark tagging, how to handle and de-barb rays … all those things have definitely benefited me.
“With Dr. Perlman’s help I was able to get a scholarship from the Aquarium of the Pacific and be a part of their African American Scholar program,” he added.
This trajectory also led McGinnis to pursue his American Academy of Underwater Sciences certification in scientific diving so he can conduct underwater research. The collection of opportunities and skills learned along the way will round out his academic qualifications as he pursues a master’s degree at The Beach and, eventually, a Ph.D.