An Unusual Collaboration Between the Arts and Sciences
It’s not often that the arts and sciences have the opportunity to unite in a cross-discipline collaboration. But, that’s exactly what happened when a 100-pound ocean sunfish (Mola mola) washed up on the shore of the Tide Mill Organic Farm in Edmunds. Unsure of what they had in front of them, farm owners Jane and Bob Bell loaded the fish into the back of their pickup truck and delivered it to the University of Maine at Machias, where marine ecology students were eager to dissect the specimen and learn more about it. The students placed the fish into a cold room overnight in preparation for its dissection the next morning.
The heaviest of the bony fish in the world (they can reach a ton in weight), the Mola mola is usually found in tropical waters, although they can be spotted in the Gulf of Maine during the summer. The ocean sunfish is characterized by its oval, flattened body and apparent absence of a tail.
Before the dissection, UMM art professor and paper maker Bernie Vinzani, along with his wife, Patti, were invited to make a rubbing of the unusual fish. On a large sheet they were able to make a “fish print,” an impression of the outline of the fish. The result was a magnificent piece of art in which you can easily identify the fin and eye of the rather flat creature. Vinzani has made impressions of many objects, but never a fish of this size.
A large crowd of curious students, staff, and community members gathered to catch a glimpse of the fish and the rubbing process. One student instantly came up with the idea to order t-shirts stamped with the “fish print” to promote the University.
During the dissection, which took place shortly after the rubbing, Gayle Kraus, professor of marine ecology, and Gerry Zegers, assistant professor of biology, along with several students, analyzed the specimen to try and determine its cause of death. Neither Kraus nor Zegers had had an opportunity to examine a Mola mola closely before. Although the cause of death was not determined, it was discovered that the species eats gelatinous plankton. The fish’s skeleton was saved for future use in the classroom.
The collaboration was a perfect example of what Environmental Liberal Arts is all about. Two academic departments and an entire campus community came together for a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity. Whether your passion lies in fine art, marine biology, or business and entrepreneurial studies, the UMM experience is interwoven with a common appreciation for the environment and unique hands-on learning experiences.
Professor Gayle Kraus extends her warm thanks to Jane and Bob Bell for providing such a great opportunity for UMM’s students.