The Side You Don't See, Research At The Rodeo

BILOXI (WLOX) -- They're not exactly marine scientists, but some of the smallest fishermen at the deep sea fishing rodeo did their own brand of research. Kids became dolphins during a mock dolphin rescue to learn how they're affected when litter builds up in their habitat. Parents say this brand of kiddie research was time well spent.

"It gets them in the habit of doing what they're supposed to do, and when they grow up, they become more responsible about how they behave when they're out on the water," says Tegan Sexton of Ocean Springs.

At this rodeo, the research goes beyond dolphin rescues. Thanks to Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and Department of Environmental Quality, research behind the scenes is helping fish and people live healthier lives.

"Being able to come to these deep sea rodeos, we actually, now, get to sample so many types of species that we really don't get to sample in our regular routine," says Barbara Viskup, Department of Environmental Quality.

DEQ test for mercury levels in fish during the rodeo.

"The Blue Marlin, for example, the levels are extremely high, and we're trying to get it out to the public don't eat blue marlin.  But, if you get to something like a King Mackeral, where the levels are high, you can still eat King Mackeral but only limit your consumption," says Viskup.

DMR's research involves finding and looking at ear bones in fish.  Once cut open, the bone has rings on it similar to rings on a tree telling researchers the age of the fish.

"We know how long they live and how fast they die," says Mike Buchanan with the Deparment of Marine Resources.

They say the information gives them a better idea of how quickly populations of fish are producing or dying in the Gulf.

Although this research remains more behind the scenes, the work may very well be the reason why the fishing rodeo is still going strong.

The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport sponsored Saturday's dolphin rescue, and research through DMR and DEQ will continue throughout the weekend.