SEA Days: Mollusk Madness

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days!

As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego scientist or other local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

Name: Jenny Hofmeister

Hometown: Pleasant Hill, CA

Schooling Background: I received my Bachelors in Marine Biology from UCLA (Go Bruins!) and my Ph.D in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley (Go Bears!).

One word to describe a characteristic a scientist must have: Perseverance

Dr. Hofmeister at sea.

Dr. Hofmeister at sea.

Why are Octopuses so important to the Southern California ecosystem?

Imagine a raccoon with 8 arms, the ability to turn invisible, and an insatiable appetite, and you will begin to understand the Octopus. Octopuses are great problem solvers, can get into and out of anything, manipulate their environment with impressive dexterity, eat pretty much anything they can catch, and have an unparalleled ability to camouflage. All these characteristics mean they are formidable predators and can respond to changes in their environment very quickly and learn how to cope with these changes. Their uniqueness as predators, not only in Southern California but globally, allow scientists to understand how ecosystems function and what might throw marine communities out of balance.

Dive in! Dr. Hofmeister searches the waters for Octopuses.

Dive in! Dr. Hofmeister searches the waters for Octopuses.

How did you decide to work on this particular issue?

When I was at UCLA, I tried to learn as much as I could about the ocean. The more I learned about invertebrates, the more I became fascinated by their diversity and complex adaptations. I became an intern at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and started working with their Octopuses and my brain went into hyper drive. After completing my Ph.D studying Octopus behavior and ecology, I started collaborating with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Abalone restoration. Since Octopuses are major predators of Abalone, my two interests seemed to match up perfectly!

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How do you predict the story of Octopus and Abalone will change in the future?

I think once we learn more about why Octopuses move, what habitat they prefer, and how they utilize and interact with the environment around them, we will be able to understand the impact Octopuses could have on recovering Abalone populations. I hope once we help the Abalone populations grow, Octopuses and Abalone will have a more balanced interaction and we won’t see the extreme impact Octopuses are currently having on small Abalone. 

Want to learn more about Dr. Hofmesiter’s work? Visit her blog!

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego