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Stop and Smell the Tide Pool

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

An Ode to the Copepod

by Lindsay Wood, creator of Wild Tales.

Have you heard of copepods? I learned about them in my introductory marine biology courses. They are a type of zooplankton. Whale food. But nothing I learned in class could have prepared me for…

ZOOM! A copepod darted across the field of view of my dissection microscope. It was my first job as a research assistant and I was supposed to count the zooplankton in the water sample in front of me. Daphnia (“water fleas”) darted around and ostracods (“seed shrimp”) puttered along under the scope. But these copepods were different. I needed to hone my reflexes to be able to respond – pipette in hand – quickly enough to catch them. Soon enough, I was charmed. I admired their feathery antennae and tiny armoured bodies. I looked forward to seeing them hurtle by.

A couple of months later, I stood on a large boulder on the rugged coast of Nova Scotia. Armed with a small, handheld plankton net, I had come looking for more rock pool invertebrates, like the ones we kept in microcosms in the lab. I was looking for wild copepods. My labmate pointed to a couple of dirty puddles, indicating that I could start sampling those rock pools. I was aghast. THAT’S where my lab critters came from? These were the “rock pools” that we studied? I bent down to take a closer look. At first, I saw nothing. Brownish water, a blend of the salty spray from the ocean and the freshwater drops that fell as rain and gathered in these rocky crevices. An interface between land and sea. Then, I saw a dart of movement. Sure enough, my critters were present! I got to work filtering the water to collect my sample.

It was an important experience for a young scientist. For a person. It was a lesson in observation, in making assumptions. I learned to not just stop and smell the flowers, but to stop and look for beauty, even in places where you might not expect it to be found.

by Kayla Hamelin, a Nova Scotia-based marine researcher and educator. Kayla is currently pursuing a PhD in fisheries science.

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