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Discover Monterey Bay through Oceanography, Ecology, and Literature

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Monterey Bay supports an amazing diversity of marine life and important fisheries. There is much to explore here, from the near-shore rocky reefs and kelp forests to a submarine canyon that rivals the Grand Canyon in scope. A day on the Bay can reveal a fleet of purse-seine vessels searching for squid, sport fishermen seeking salmon and halibut, and humpback whales breaching and feeding on anchovies – all within a relatively small area. What are the oceanographic and biological processes that support these creatures and human endeavors? How do they vary in different parts of the Bay? How are these processes linked to the fog that controls the coastal climate and is critical to local agriculture?

We will address such questions through lectures, discussion, and field work using the restored Western Flyer – the ship John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts took to the Gulf of California in 1940, resulting in publication of Sea of Cortez. You will collect oceanographic and biological data at sea using a variety of scientific instruments, including remotely operated video platforms, echosounder (sonar), water-column profiler, plankton-imaging microscopes, and aerial drones. And we will relate these data to the life of the Bay, moving all the way from wind to whales. We will also dive into Monterey Bay’s rich cultural and literary history. This program will reveal a dynamic ocean from new viewpoints and will  build teamwork skills that are essential to working at sea.

Our base of operation will be Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove. We will make several relevant field trips on land. On seven days, we will use the Western Flyer as our classroom (these are all day trips--we will spend all nights on land). Four days of ship time will be devoted to studying spawning squid and feeding whales and carrying out an oceanographic transect across the Bay from kelp forest to canyon. Two additional days of ship time will be devoted to collecting data for team projects of your own design. Teams will present their projects at a symposium on the second last day. The last day of SoCo will feature a final morning of reflection on the Western Flyer before you return to Stanford.

Important Logistics

This course will be held at the Hopkins Marine Station in the Monterey region (COVID permitting), and housing will be provided nearby. Students will arrive at Stanford on Monday, September 4 (Labor Day) the same as on-campus students, and will be transported to Monterey as a group after dinner on campus. Return transportation to campus will be provided on the Saturday before autumn classes begin, one day later than SoCo officially ends.  Do not bring everything you need for the year to Soco! Additional storage will NOT be available on-campus or at the location where you will stay in  Monterey to accommodate your fall belongings. Plan to have your fall belongings shipped or delivered to you after the class returns from Monterey. 

Meet the Instructor(s)

William Gilly

Professor of Oceans

Professor William Gilly

I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania surrounded by woodlands, fields, and streams – fishing, camping, and diving into amateur radio. As an Electrical Engineering major at Princeton, I became interested in how nerve cells worked and decided to study the electrical properties of nerve and muscle in a PhD program in Physiology and Biophysics at Washington University in Saint Louis. During my second summer there, I went to the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island to study invertebrate neurophysiology and discover the ocean. During that summer I also went to the Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole to participate in the Excitable Membranes Training Program, a ten-week immersion into the squid giant axon. That summer changed me – it introduced me to squid and marine stations, and there would be no going back.

After finishing my PhD, I went to the University of Pennsylvania as a post-doc and was able to work with squid giant axons in Woods Hole from May through September. One day I read of an assistant professor opening at Hopkins Marine Station. Then I found out there was a squid fishery in Monterey Bay right behind the lab. I’ve been catching squid there with students for our research ever since.

Although I spent many years studying molecular biophysics of squid axon excitability, doing this at Hopkins altered my career arc. The richness of Monterey Bay, a group of amazing invertebrate zoologists, and a stream of inquisitive students has led to a far deeper appreciation of squid and their ocean world. The most influential step in this process was studying squid at sea on research cruises --  this has led to creation of this Sophomore College of ocean exploration.