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How to dissect a squid, squish seaweed, and find your friends like whales do

Students test their homemade plankton to see which can stay in the water column the longest. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Krystal Stevenson held a squid in front of her like an ice cream cone. She folded back its eight arms and two tentacles and dug her thumb and index finger into the circle of flesh in between them.

“This is where that beak is,” said Stevenson, who is an educator at the New England Aquarium. “You can already see that little black dot poking out. We’re going to take that whole section out.”

To a chorus of gasps and giggles, she drew out the squid’s beak and the surrounding tissue and muscle, trailing a 3-inch-long esophagus. The watching high school students on the third floor of Northeastern’s Curry Student Center quickly followed suit with their own squid, though some with more gusto than others.

While Northeastern students were on spring break, 275 high schoolers from 16 different schools gathered at the Boston campus to dig their hands into squid, seaweed, and paint; meet marine science professionals; and learn about challenges facing the ocean.

Students at the High School Marine Science Symposium dig their hands into squid, seaweed, and paint; meet marine science professionals; and learn about challenges facing the ocean. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The High School Marine Science Symposium, co-hosted by Northeastern’s Marine Science Center and the Massachusetts Marine Educators, featured workshops and activities led by representatives of 25 ocean-oriented groups around New England. Students explored the problems of ocean acidification, plastic pollution, and sea level rise; built and tested their own versions of plankton; and practiced using sound to find one another the way whales do.

“By participating in these events, you get a new perspective, and you get exposure to skill sets that are going to help you in your future, regardless of what career you take,” said Geoffrey Trussell, director of the Marine Science Center, addressing the assembled students. “And maybe you’ll develop a passion for effecting some change on this planet.”

During the four-hour symposium, students had a chance to explore the “ocean fair” of activities set up at tables on the first floor of the Curry Center.

Students explored the problems of ocean acidification, plastic pollution, and sea level rise; built and tested their own versions of plankton; and practiced using sound to find each other the way whales do. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“Biology is such a broad spectrum,” said Yonalis Rosario, a senior at Urban Science Academy. She had just finished an activity run by the Ocean Genome Legacy Center that showed students how to identify fish species with visual keys and DNA sequences. “It’s not just medical fields—it’s also the ocean. It was just interesting to see another side of bio.”

The event also featured a keynote speech from David Wiley, the research coordinator for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, about the feeding styles of humpback whales. Wiley shared several videos taken from cameras suction-cupped to a whale’s back and explained how fishing gear and noise pollution from ships were affecting the animals.

He could research whales in a more remote location, Wiley said, but he said he believes the most interesting problems are where people and animals overlap.

“We have such a connection to the ocean,” said Emily Duwan, an outreach instructor at the Marine Science Center who organized this year’s event. “We can have such a big impact on it, and it can affect us so much,” she said.

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