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Beachcombing for Data



Allie Cutting

Seattle Pacific University senior Alli Cutting had an amazing summer on the beach but she wasn’t swimming or relaxing. Instead, rain or shine, she spent hours taking notes and video, watching seagulls dine on starfish.

During the summer of 2012, Cutting (an ecology major), and Associate Professor of Biology Ryan Ferrer regularly traveled to one of six Puget Sound beaches to observe glaucous-winged gulls’ behavior attacking a specific breed of starfish.

Cutting’s summer field research project contributed to a larger ecological study Ferrer is doing to see how paralytic shellfish toxin –– a naturally occurring chemical caused by algal blooms –– affects starfish in the rocky intertidal areas of Puget Sound. For Cutting, this experience, designed in collaboration with her professor, confirmed her love for field work.

Ferrer encourages his students toward research opportunities that fit their particular interests. “I knew Alli enough to know that she loved the outdoors, so to stick her in a lab with a microscope for hours on end didn’t seem to suit her,” he says. He helped Cutting set up the experiment and encouraged her to strike out on her own, even as he worked on the same beaches, collecting data for another starfish-related project.

Running her own experiment made Cutting “a bit nervous at first,” she says. But she also believes it built confidence.

“It made me feel like a scientist.”

––Beth Douglass ’10
Excerpted from the winter issue of etc magazine.

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