Monday, December 10, 2012

Animal Athletes Train for Research Season

Triple respirometry experiments with our animal athletes at the TRCC

Tuesday the 5th of December, 2012 saw three simultaneous respirometry experiments at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center.  One 78cm Pacific bluefin swam well in the large flume for 6 hours, and two 30cm long Pacific Mackerel cruised along in the smaller flumes on a 48 hour run.  It was this tuna’s second time training to swim in the flume, but it handled the challenge like a seasoned champ, swimming perfectly in the center of the tank for the entire training period.  This performance earned him the nickname “Rocky”, after Sylvester Stalone’s award-winning role as a hard-training heavyweight boxing champion.  Indeed, the team has trained three other champion tunas this month, with nicknames like George Foreman, Oscar de la Hoya, and Mike Tyson. 
These champs have been stepping into the respirometry ring day after day at the TRCC in preparation for a series of upcoming physiological and hydrodynamic tryouts.   To quote head tuna trainer Robert Schallert, “The tuna are looking great- they’re really stepping up their game and performing for us.  They’re going to be putting up some great stats in no time.”  Team nutritionist Alex Norton keeps the athletes on a strict high-protein diet of sardine, squid, and protein gel to build muscle while keeping them slim and in the right weight class for the flume. 

A Pacific Mackerel trains in one of the small flumes

On the mackerel team, graduate student Dane Klinger is pushing the fish forward on a tough training regime to examine their Specific Dynamic Action, or SDA, after mealtimes.  The fish eat heavy meals in-between flume runs, and Coach Dane is able to examine their consumption of oxygen as they digest during workouts in the flume.  They swim at a speed of one body-length per second for about 48 hours with oxygen and temperature probes in the chamber to study O2 consumption and subsequently metabolic rate.  Earlier in the season, some of the mackerel were wearing specialized heart rate tags to monitor their cardiac output during flume workouts.  These approaches and others are being employed to improve our understanding of scombroid fishes and how they perform under different stressors, from exposure to oil spills and warming seas. 
Yes things are heating up here in Pacific Grove as the fish prepare for the winter research season.   With luck, many of our animal athletes will continue to perform swimmingly to deliver great results for team TRCC.