The winners of a statewide fifth-grade essay contest were recognized by Dr. Carolyn Thoroughgood, dean of the College of Marine Studies, and Valerie Woodruff, Delaware Secretary of Education, in a special ceremony at the University of Delaware’s Coast Day festival on Sunday, October 3, at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. The essay contest is sponsored by the Delaware Sea Grant College Program and is designed to spark youngsters’ interest in the ocean.
The winning students, who were selected based on the accuracy and originality of their essays, received savings bonds and other awards. The teachers of the winning students also received resource materials for use in their classrooms. This year, students were asked to describe a day in the life of one of the many ocean critters that live in the Delaware Bay and answer questions pertaining to its life history and predators among others.
Jonathan M. Rosenblatt, of Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington, earned the top prize of a $100 savings bond. In his winning essay, he was able to learn more about one of his favorite animals when he wrote about a day in the life of the dogfish shark (Mustelus canis). The dogfish shark grows to an average length of 3 to 4 feet and is found in great numbers in summer in the Delaware Bay.
According to Rosenblatt, the most interesting thing that he learned about the dogfish shark was that, unlike other sharks, it can survive in waters of different salinity. “The other sharks think they are so cool, but a little change in salinity, and they can’t handle it. A bit more salt or fresh water flowing into the bay, and those guys ... well, let’s just say you never see them again,” he wrote.
This was the first time that Rosenblatt’s teacher, Karen Bradley, has had her class participate in the essay contest. “The essay contest sounded intriguing, and the children were very interested,” said Bradley. “The students learned research skills, how to take notes while reading about a subject, and how to write an essay that adhered to certain guidelines. We absolutely will do it again.”
Joe Garvilla, a student in Robin Hall’s class at East Millsboro Elementary School in Millsboro, won the second-place award of a $75 savings bond. Garvilla, who dedicated his essay to the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, wrote about the puffer fish in his essay, “Blown Up!” He described how this unusual fish, which is covered with small spines, can suck in water to “puff up in size” and intimidate its enemies.
Winner of the third prize — a $50 savings bond — was Marcus Hastings, a student in Heidi Thielemann’s class at Laurel Intermediate School in Laurel. In his essay, Hastings described how the basking shark, which is the second largest shark in the world, is “not an aggressive shark” and “is generally harmless to people.”
Lorenzo Diaz, Ellen Peters, and Maggie Saylor received honorable mentions. Diaz is in Tim Werbrich’s class at Bayard Elementary School in Wilmington, and his favorite ocean critter was the horseshoe crab. In his essay, he described how shorebirds such as the red knot, dowitcher, and ruddy turnstone threaten the life of the crab, especially if the horseshoe crab is on its back. “Birds usually just stop, eat, and go,” wrote Diaz.
Ellen Peters and Maggie Saylor also are in Robin Hall’s class at East Millsboro Elementary School. In her essay about the moon jellyfish, Peters described how this animal eats with its “250 sticky tentacles.” Saylor chose the diamondback terrapin, “the most gorgeous turtle in the salt marsh,” as her favorite ocean critter. She described how the light brown coloring of the turtle’s shell also acts as camouflage to protect it from danger.
For information about next year’s competition, teachers should contact Bill Hall, marine education specialist for the UD Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service. Hall’s number is (302) 645-4253, and his e-mail address is email@example.com.
First Place Essay — 2004 Coast Day Fifth-Grade Essay Contest
“A Day in the Life of the Dogfish Shark (Mustelus canis)”
by Jonathan M. Rosenblatt
Teacher: Mrs. Karen Bradley
Albert Einstein Academy, Wilmington, Delaware
Don’t stick your feet in the Delaware Bay unless you look carefully into the water! Sharks like me could be lurking. I am a young dogfish shark. Some of the other sharks in the bay call me a “wimp.” I’m not very tough. They also say that I’m a “shrimp,” because I only grow three to five feet long. It doesn’t matter though. There are more dogfish sharks in the Delaware Bay than other kinds of sharks. The other sharks think they are so cool, but a little change in salinity, and they can’t handle it. A bit more salt or fresh water flowing into this bay, and those guys ... well, let’s just say you never see them again. Some of those sharks chase me until I swim upstream into a river or creek. I can survive there while most species of sharks cannot except the bull shark. This shark can be found in rivers, marshes, and creeks, and if the bull shark is around, I am “toast.” That’s right, dinner. Thank goodness this shark is not in this area often.
Whoa, I can feel a vibration in the water! Feels like dinner is near. There it is, a crab. Crabs are my favorite food. I like lobster also, but not as much as crabs. I just blend into the background and surprise the little critters. It is getting harder to catch crabs and lobster. I have to compete with commercial fishermen. Sometimes there aren’t as many crabs and lobsters because of all the pollutants that contaminate the Delaware Bay and estuaries. Pesticides, herbicides, oil, and livestock manure flow into the bay because of run-off from the land. I remember stories from the 1950s when parts of the Delaware Bay were considered “dead” because it was so polluted that the wildlife was almost destroyed.
Me and the other dogfish sharks have been swimming in this bay since about mid-April, and it is starting to feel crowded. Once the water temperature hits over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, we migrate from North Carolina and enter the Delaware Bay, New Jersey, and New York beaches too.
I think it’s time for me to keep moving. I heard rumors that our population has been decreasing. We are easy to dissect and humans like to study our reproductive and sensory systems. We are popular in zoology and biology classrooms. Dogfish sharks have become a favorite item on the menu these days, shark fin soup.
Yikes! I think it is time for me to head back to North Carolina.