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R/V Weatherbird Log-Dr. Shannon O’Leary

R/V Weatherbird Log-Dr. Shannon O’Leary


I recently discovered that an important component of my research is the fact that I am engaged in a real-life version of Go Fish.

As a postdoc in the Marine Genomics Lab at TAMUCC I study the molecular ecology and conservation genetics of exploited marine fish.

In less science-y terms that means that I use markers in the DNA to identify patterns of connectivity between fish population (so whether fish from one area breed with fish from another area) and explore the interaction with and adaptation on a genetic level and determine how this applies to marine conservation and management of fishes.

Especially when I am looking at population structure I need fin clips that I extract DNA from ideally from fish throughout their entire range.

OLeary Eel
Shannon measures the length of a squirming pale spotted eel

For example, currently I am looking at population structure of golden tilefish which can be found from New York to Florida and throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico, similarly I am looking at  patterns of local adaptation in southern Flounder. So I spend a lot of time emailing people from various Universities and state/government agency that perform regular surveys and I say: “Do you have any tilefish?” and “Do you have any flounder?”. Sometimes they have samples from previous years other times they will start collecting samples for me in which case they put them in vials with DMSO, a fixative and send them to me – which admittedly takes longer than just handing over a stash of cards. If I cannot get samples in this way, well then I just have to Go Fish.

I spend most of my time in a molecular/genetics lab or at a computer doing bioinformatics and other data analysis and I will jump at every opportunity to get out into the field, which is why I am excited to be on my third cruise with C-IMAGE on the R/V Weatherbird II.

My role is to weigh and measure every fish as it comes on board and to then take a fin clip for future genetics work. So really you can see it as my opportunity to build my hand of cards for future games of Go Fish. Being able to sample in the southern Gulf of Mexico has allowed us to expand the geographic range of our samples. At our lab we are currently building a tissue repository, last year we added about 1,000 samples from C-IMAGE cruises alone and I already have over 500 samples to add from our first few days of fishing. Every sample we collect ourselves or that is sent to us for specific projects gets a barcode and is entered into a database that can be queried any time somebody asks us “Do you have any [insert your favorite fish here]?”.

OLeary Mako
In Olympic fashion, Shannon has been practicing her Shortfin Mako deadlift and clean with cooler assist. She is the current ship record holder.

Cover Photo: Shannon holds a Golden Tilefish caught in the southern Gulf. She takes a fin clip for her studies, then passes it onto the dissection table for further samples to be collected. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Herdter.

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