by Ruth Murai
At 5:00 am on Sept. 12, the San Jose airport suffered what seemed to be the real zombie apocalypse. Although the one hundred moaning, groaning, and shuffling creatures occupying the Southwest Airlines check-in point seemed to eerily resemble the undead, the beasts were none other than LGHS’s own AP Biology and AP Environmental Science students on their way to Catalina Island.
AP Biology teacher Steve Hammack has been taking students to Catalina for 24 years, and although the annual journey might seem to grow repetitive, Hammack assures that each group he takes offers a unique experience. Even so, after 24 years students can be expected to act predictably. However, the wildlife on the island does not abide by the same rules. Soon after arriving to Catalina, one of the natives surprised even experienced veterans like Hammack. “We had the closest approach of a bison to the entire group that I have ever seen,” said Hammack, “When we were all gathered at the picnic tables getting ready for a program a bison slowly walked within about 2-3 feet of the group. It was a great start to our weekend.”
After a worryingly close encounter with the American Buffalo affectionately nicknamed “Mike Bison” by Catalina staff, students split into groups to begin highly anticipated activities like squid dissections, snorkeling, and plankton observations. Each group was led by a Catalina staff member who works on the island year-round. “The instructors were one of the highlights of the trip for me,” said senior Sara Merg, “They were really knowledgeable about everything they were teaching us, but were also super fun to be around.”
The instructors were not only instrumental in leading snorkeling expeditions, they also taught labs in classroom-like settings to provide insight into Catalina’s unique ecosystem. One lab focused on identifying different types of plankton, while another provided students the opportunity to learn about the truth behind the media portrayal of sharks, and then allowing students to get up close and personal with some of the shark species that habitat Catalina’s waters. Although certainly rough on the outside, touching the sharks allowed students to gain a new perspective on these misunderstood creatures. Senior Mats Menhardt said of the experience, “Once you started touching them they were almost like dogs and would sit still and let you pet them.”
After getting close with creatures in their tanks, students were anxious to observe the organisms they had learned about in their natural habitats through snorkels. During the day snorkeling allowed students to see amazing native-to-Catalina fish like the Garibaldi, all while cooling off from the extreme heat. After the sun went down and the air grew colder, the ocean offered a much different view to students who participated in the night snorkel. Nocturnal creatures like octopi and lobster could be seen scuttling about, but the tiniest creatures were the most exciting for many students. Senior Ronda Hassouns said, “it was really cool because we all turned off our flashlights and got to see the bioluminescent plankton sparkling in the water.”
On their last day at Catalina, students woke up bright and early to watch the sunrise atop a mountain called “The Shrine” before participating in their final hikes and labs before heading home. Although off the island, the fun didn’t end, as students participated in a spirit-filled “8-Clap” on the plane back to San Jose. In an e-mail to Hammack, one flight attendant wrote, “Your students were probably the most well-behaved and polite high school students I’ve ever had on a plane, and I just really am thankful to have met you! It was such a pleasure to make the end of their field trip fun,” proving that no matter how far from LGHS these students might go, they bring with them a spirit and attitude that fosters learning, adventure, and allows for truly incredible experiences.