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August 20, 2015
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

visitors take water samples
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Tamara Holzwarth-Davis had visitors taking water samples from the rosette to show how salinities and nutrient samples are collected. Photo Credit: Shelley Dawicki, NEFSC/NOAA

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Woods Hole Lab “Open House,” Tours of NOAA Ship Bigelow Attract Large Crowd at Woods Hole Science Stroll

“It was awesome!” was a familiar comment heard during the day August 9 as visitors toured the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, spoke with scientists about how to age fish and study sharks, and learned about whales, sea turtles, ocean currents and water chemistry, and much more.

The displays and activities were all part of the Woods Hole Science Stroll, a free, family-oriented opportunity to learn about the research and educational program conducted at five participating science institutions in the village of Woods Hole. NEFSC had more than 15 research displays under tents on the Woods Hole Laboratory parking lot, plus exhibits at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium, which is normally closed on Sundays.

Despite cool temperatures and drizzle at the start of the day, hundreds formed a line before the gate at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) dock opened at 11 a.m. The line for ship tours remained throughout the day but moved along, and by the afternoon’s end 760 people had been aboard the Bigelow. The gate closed at 3 p.m. to new visitors, and the last tour group left the Bigelow at 4:40 p.m.

Another 1,077 visited NOAA’s Woods Hole Science Aquarium, and an estimated 1,000 to 1,200 viewed the exhibits under tents on the laboratory’s parking lot between 11 a.m. and the event’s official close at 3 p.m. Soon after displays were packed away and the tents were taken down.

“It was so much fun, “said Heidi Marotta, who led the first and last tours on the Bigelow and many in between as one of ten tour guides. “Everyone said the ship tours were worth the wait. Visitors were interested in the sophistication of the automation on our data collection systems at sea."

Visitors were also amazed by the size of the bridge and the equipment used for the ship's navigation and operation, and interested in the living conditions aboard ship. Some asked about the NOAA Corps and career opportunities, while others were interested in how to join a research or survey cruise.

Many of the Bigelow visitors were from Massachusetts, but they also came from 27 other states and 7 foreign countries. Falmouth residents were well represented in the group, which included residents of more than 45 cities and towns in the commonwealth.

“People seemed truly interested in the research being done at NEFSC and were engaged and inquisitive. Visitors of all ages loved all the hands-on displays and asked great questions,” said Grace Simpkins of the NOAA Outreach and Education on Protected Species (NOEPS) program. “There seemed to be people from all over, including overseas, and they had some wonderful insights into what we do.”

Emilee Tholke and colleagues Dave McElroy and Mark Wuenschel at the Fish Reproduction Resesarch exhibit had lots of questions about fish anatomy. They had fish on display and could demonstrate where the heart, stomach, liver, gonads and other organs were located.

"Kids liked touching the fish, and the adults asked about anatomy. They wanted to know what flounders eat, why they are flat, and where the fish were caught," Tholke said of the constant flow of visitors at the booth. "They also asked about declining fish stocks, and in what way does researching reproductive biology help. They were curious."

In addition to learning about research underway at NOAA Fisheries, visitors on the Science Stroll saw the submersible ALVIN and unmanned ocean robots at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution dock, learned about culturing marine animals for research at the MBL’s Marine Resources Center, and spoke with the Sea Education Association about its educational programs and research on plastic in the environment. Climate research was the focus of the Woods Hole Research Center, which joined the Sea Education Association at booths on Waterfront Park.

Sales of Bigelow merchandise were brisk under a tent on the dock, and many in the crowd were spotted wearing ship T-shirts and sweatshirts during the day.

Feedback from other village organizations participating in the event was also very positive. An estimated 900 to 1,000 visited the WHOI ocean robots on display at the WHOI dock, and an estimated 600 visited the MBL's Marine Resources Center. Sea Education Association had plenty of foot traffic as an estimated 300-400 stopped by their booth on Waterfront Park. Woods Hole Research Center also had lots of visitors to their display nearby.

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The Northeast Fisheries Science Center conducts ecosystem-based science supporting stewardship of living marine resources under changing climatic conditions. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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