In the summer of 2016, two incoming Seniors, Mira Lion and Carly Hill, had the opportunity to dive deep into a dead sea otter. They had the chance to dissect a sea otter at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with a group of dedicated volunteers to understand why more and more sea otters seem to be dying of unknown causes.
Mira and Carly both heard about this opportunity through Ms. Orbuch. The Monterey Bay Aquarium had asked Ms. Orbuch if she had any willing students that would volunteer for this task. Mira and Carly were both chosen by Ms. Orbuch to help the Aquarium. Mira and Carly were working on another project with Ms. Orbuch that had a direct connection with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s research, so the experience was a great fit for the two.
For both Mira and Carly, this experience was meaningful and very informative about the lives of sea otters around the Bay Area. Before the dissection, the girls were working on a project of their own looking for acanthocephalan parasites inside of sea otters that had possibly eaten sand crabs and contracted these parasites through this way. Their project was mentored by Ms. Orbuch, along with funding from SLVHS. Both Mira and Carly hope that these two projects will help them to get into the college of their choosing.
The Acanthocephalan parasites are members of phylum family and they are described as spiny-headed worms. The parasite needs a host to grow, and usually the parasite’s first host are sand crabs. This affects other animals because sand crabs are prey to most animals and when the predator eats an infected prey, it will most likely kill them. But if the infected animal doesn’t get eaten or die, the parasite will reproduce in the animal’s feces. Sea otters in the Bay Area often eat these sand crabs and when the parasite enters into a sea otter’s system, the parasite kills the host and is not able to reproduce.
Mira and Carly both have had a passion for marine biology, but marine biology is not what they want to study in college. They both want to go to medical school and work towards becoming surgeons straight out of medical school. This project helps them get hands-on experience with performing an autopsy, which will help them further their medical careers. Mira and Carly are both taking AP classes and are working their hardest in their last year of highschool. With the information from Mira, Carly, and the Monterey Bay there will be more information on these parasites and how they affect the environment around them.
By Remi Dirck