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Jessica Glass, TM ‘15

Jessica is a brand new Term Member and also among the 2015 awardees of an Exploration Fund Grant.

The line suddenly goes tight and I feel a sharp pull on the rod, which is quaking strongly and bending into a long arch. Fish on! Now comes the battle of reeling up as quickly as possible, keeping the line tight while not breaking the rod, and trying to stay balanced as waves rock me back and forth. Many of us enjoy the thrill of fishing. Not all of us are lucky enough to call it their job. I’m writing from Grahamstown, South Africa, where I’ve just begun a year-long fellowship at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity. There is a rich history of exploration at the institute, which was founded by J.L.B. Smith, the man who described the first living coelacanth, a 400 million year old cave-dwelling marine fish thought to be extinct until a live specimen was discovered in South Africa in 1938.

I’m earning my PhD at Yale in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, studying the genetics of marine fish known as kingfish or trevallies. The giant trevally, my main focus species, can weigh up to 176 lbs. and is found throughout the Indo-Pacific. I’m researching how genetically diverse this species is in the Western Indian Ocean. Along with colleagues who tag trevallies to track their movement, I’ll be exploring remote locations in South Africa, Mozambique and Seychelles, collecting samples for DNA analysis. The reason I study fish is to promote sustainable management and conservation, including sustainable consumption. Trevallies and their close relatives are targeted by recreational, commercial and subsistence fisheries across Africa. By understanding their genetic diversity, we can design reserves and fishing regulations to maintain healthy populations.

In addition the traveling to beautiful places, one great aspect of being a scientist is the opportunity to form collaborations with other scientists. As an exciting ancillary project, I received the 2015 Exploration Fund Grant to investigate the origin of The Explorers Club “mammoth.” Amazingly, the Yale Peabody Museum has a preserved sample of the meat served at the 1951 ECAD dinner and I’m sequencing the specimen’s DNA to see if the meat is truly woolly mammoth or if it is extinct giant ground sloth (the original label on the museum specimen). I’m working on this project with TEC Student Member and paleontologist Matthew Davis in Yale’s Geology and Geophysics Department, and it has been an incredibly fun experience. Best of all, this project introduced me to The Explorers Club, whose members I’ve met so far have been unbelievably nice, creative, brilliant, and inspiring.

Besides promoting sustainable fishing, my dream is to run the Iditarod sled dog race. At my home base of Juneau, Alaska, I spend my free time fishing, hunting, skiing, and playing polo and the violin. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity for exploration and research than being able to split my time between the Alaskan ice and South African sun. You can check out more information about my research on my website.

Published by : Julia Knobloch

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste