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 or local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.
In the closing of our Easter themed month of fun, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is featuring the egg-citing science of Camryn Allen. With a Ph. D. in Wildlife Reproductive Biology, Camryn’s research focuses on the mechanisms that lead to gender differentiation in sea turtles. Like many reptiles, the temperature at which the turtle egg incubates influences if it will hatch as male of female. This is called temperature-dependent sex determination, and it is critical information to understand for sea turtle sustainability. Below Camryn gives us insight into her research and advice for future scientists!
Where did you go to school?
I am a local. I grew up in East County San Diego and graduated from Granite Hills High School.
I went to UCSD thinking I wanted to be a medical doctor and decided it wasn’t for me. I wanted to study animal behavior instead so I majored in Bio-psychology.
I then went to Brisbane, Australia with plans to do behavior research on koalas but instead I conducted studies related to artificial insemination. These studies resulted in a Ph.D. in Wildlife Reproductive Biology.
What is your area of research?
Sea turtle conservation.
Who or what inspired you to become involved in marine science?
Hmmm. Probably studying abroad in Australia and taking marine biology courses there on amazing islands in the Great Barrier Reef.
What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?
An inquisitive mind, attention to detail, thinking outside of the box, and a little bit of perfectionism.
Why is your research topic important?
Sea turtles do not have sex chromosomes and their sex is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs, therefore, you cannot use genetics to determine the sex of turtles. I use hormones (specifically testosterone) to assist us in determining the sex of juvenile turtles. Knowing the sex of turtles is important for determining population sex ratio, sex-based survivorship, and if climate change may be feminizing sea turtle populations (warmer incubation temperatures produce more females).
What will you be bringing with you to SEA days?
Turtle carapaces and skulls. Video of sea turtle behavior in San Diego Bay. Sea turtle ID handouts. Sea turtle info/activity booklets.
What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research?
VOLUNTEER. This is the best way to get experience in marine biology and to see if you even like it.
What is your favorite ocean organism?
The critically endangered Vaquita! There are less than 100 left and they only live in the northern Gulf of California in Mexico. Their numbers decline each year due to drowning in nets used to catch shrimp. So if you eat shrimp that comes from Mexico please make sure it is Vaquita safe shrimp.
Join us on Saturday, April 18th for SEA Days: Traveling with Turtles—there’s something for everyone!
SEA Days are 11 a.m–3 p.m., are included with aquarium admission, and always free to aquarium members. Not a member? Join today!