On the second of January, Dr. Ed Zalisko departed from Blackburn with eight of his students headed towards Georgia. They went to the Georgia Aquarium where they saw whale sharks that were 22-26 feet long. The next day they finished the drive to Tampa, Florida to attend the SICB conference, previously known as the American Society of Zoologists.
While they were in Tampa they spent their days in meetings at the convention center learning about different studies that graduate students had worked on. Each student chose a different study that interested them most and presented their findings at dinner that night. Dr. Zalisko says this trip was funded by “a new endowment that has been established and called, and boy I can never get the name right, I’m pretty sure it’s the Edward Zalisko endowment.”
The trip was made possible by Dr. Bryan Myers, who donated $100,000 from Washington University to take students to the SICB conferences every other year. Dr. Zalisko said, “This was the first time we were able to use the money for one of these trips.” In off years, the money is used to train staff at Blackburn how to advise students concerning health professions. After the conference, Dr. Zalisko and his students went to the Everglades, the only place on Earth where crocodiles and alligators live together. Dr. Zalisko knew where to find a specific crocodile that he had seen back in 2002 at a boat marina and took the students there to show them. “It was big, and we were close,” said Whitney Runyon, referring to the crocodile. “It was a 18 foot croc, no kidding; he was probably close to a hundred years old,” Dr. Zalisko said.
The next day they drove all the way to Key West and spent hours going through all the Florida Keys. Runyon said “There was just an abundance of animals there that we were exploring. We found a couple big sea stars, some cool nudibranchs or sea slugs, just a lot of stuff we talked about in zoology and evolution.” She continued,“It was really cool to see those animals in their natural habitats.” The students saw some upside down jellyfish, sea stars, and slugs. Dr. Zalisko elaborated on the sea slugs, saying that they had to have found at least 50 of them. “When you handle them, they might get defensive, and what would they do? They would bite wouldn’t they?” It was a good thing Runyon paid attention in zoology because she then answered, “no, they ink… it was purple, it was a pretty purple. One of them did, we didn’t want to disrupt them to the point that they inked but one of them did.” Dr. Zalisko purchased one pair of heavy duty gloves for everybody so they could handle the animals without worrying about getting poked by anything like a sea urchin.
It was later stated by Dr. Zalisko that the day that the group was in Key West was his birthday. “That was a pretty good day for birthday”said one of his students which he answered with “can you make it better? Only if I had my wife.” Minus his missing wife, Dr. Zalisko really enjoyed his birthday this year.