Scholarship support helps UW junior reel in research from the deep
Snailfish aren’t exactly the darling of the deep ocean. Long and pink, with a gelatinous coat that makes them more squishy than scaly, the females have a curious habit: they unceremoniously inject their eggs into the body cavity of Golden King crabs. UW junior Jennifer Gardner suspects it’s a small quirk of nature that could have a large impact on Alaska’s crab fishing industry.
For a month last summer, Jennifer trawled the waters off the Aleutian Islands studying snailfish aboard a research cruise with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Her job was to figure out which species of snailfish were leaving their unsolicited calling card.
“Whether the relationship between snailfish and crab is parasitic is still up for debate,” says Jennifer, an Aquatic and Fishery Sciences major. “These fish are grossly under-studied, but my research determined the Careproctus genus of snailfish were the main culprits. What they are doing may impact Pacific fisheries.”
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Thinking about the bigger picture is what inspired two fellow fish enthusiasts—Georgiana Stanley and Robert William “Bill” Peterson, ‘77—to support Jennifer’s passion. Like her, Bill was an out-of-state undergraduate. He excelled in UW business classes and quickly earned a job in the oil and gas industry. In his free time, Bill delighted in catch and release expeditions. And he developed an interest in sustainable fishing after witnessing the constant struggle of the heavily harvested Gulf of Mexico.
Recognizing hope in research, Bill founded a UW scholarship for fisheries students with Georgiana in 2011, the year before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Calling himself a proud Husky “papa” to their two scholarship students, Bill passed away in December 2012.
“When you don’t have any kids of your own, you can spend money on yourself for exotic trips and that’s fun,” says Georgiana. “But Bill felt the scholarship was a way to give somebody we didn’t even know a chance to make a difference with something he cared about.”
Though they’ve never met, Jennifer shares the couple’s soft spot for fish. As a kid, her father would take her sailing on the Great Salt Lake in Utah, she felt drawn to what lived beneath the surface. The UW appealed because of its inroads in healthy oceans research, small class sizes and broad opportunities to work in marine labs.
One of those opportunities led Jennifer to the Burke Museum Fish Collection, a library of Northwest fish specimens. Since her freshman year, she’s helped maintain the Collection’s 145,000 jars of fish pickled for posterity, snailfish included. She relishes her job cataloging, labeling and looking after this peculiar collection of natural history. “It’s fun because there are so many similar species to organize and I can study the differences in DNA.”
Jennifer’s work in the Fish Collection is an opportunity to gain expertise and is helping prepare her for a career solving marine mysteries, like the snailfish.
“After learning so much about snailfish and crabbing on the NOAA cruise, I want to become an observer on fishing boats and study bycatch—the extra species that nets accidentally drag up,” she says. “I want to go to graduate school for a PhD. I just feel grateful for people like Bill and Georgiana who support ambitious nerds like me.”