Each spring, striped bass begin a 600+ mile migration from as far south as coastal North Carolina to Cape Cod and further north. As the striped bass arrive in Woods Hole in early May, their coastal ecosystem comes to life as many migrating predator and prey species join resident members of a complex food web. Just as abruptly in the fall, migrating species that form the backbone of a summer community reverse direction and head south.
Striped bass in Eel Pond, Woods Hole. Credit: Steve Zottoli
Steve Zottoli, a retired professor from Williams College and a longtime summer scientist at the MBL, has developed an outreach initiative using the striped bass, their predators and their prey as a way to engage middle/high school students and teachers in doing science, and, in the process, generate excitement about the ecology of Cape Cod. Since 2015, the Mary E. Groff Charitable Trust has funded these efforts with support from the MBL, Williams College and many volunteers.
Using a dedicated resource platform, stripedbassmagic.org, students propose and then conduct research projects at their schools and/or at the MBL. The results of these projects are incorporated into lesson plans that can be used in curriculum development and posted on the website to share with others.
Several public and private schools have contributed to ongoing studies on striped bass ecology, including environmental changes that trigger migration, local migration patterns as reported by acoustic tags, the effect of magnetic fields on feeding behavior, food preference, and the effects of human activity on the striped bass fishery and on the ecosystem as a whole.
This outreach initiative can be broadly applied to other fishes that, like the striped bass, live in saltwater but breed in freshwater, such as Atlantic and Pacific salmon, smelt, sturgeon, lamprey, shad, herring, sea-run cutthroat and steelhead.