Biology professor Dr. Takashi Maie and two students traveled to Japan last month to experience the country’s culture and also study the goby fish, an “evolutionary marvel” known for its ability to climb waterfalls during upstream migration.
Ben Giustiniani ’18, Kierstin Reid ’17, and Dr. Maie studied bioethics and also visited many historic sites in Japan. They experienced the metropolis of Tokyo, the sacred shrines in Kyoto, and the pristine beauty of the Kushimoto, Wakayama area.
“My goal of this trip for students is to help them develop self-awareness, cross-cultural competencies, lasting memories, and life-long connections with Japan,” said Dr. Maie.
The trip had the intended impact for Ben, a transfer student majoring in biomedical science and minoring in biology. “Going to Japan was an incredible opportunity for me because I got to immerse myself in a culture that is extremely different from the one I am used to” he said. “I strongly believe that experiencing things that are outside of your comfort zone leads to a strengthening of character and personal beliefs that is hard to find anywhere else. … I recommend that every student take the time to visit a foreign country because it truly will change your life.”
While in the Wakamaya area, Dr. Maie led a field research project in which he and the students dove to collect goby fish.
He explained that the goby fish has a unique life cycle, “hatching in streams and rivers, being swept down into the ocean, spending up to 6 months there to grow a little bit, and then starting to come back to the freshwater to spawn,” he explained. “Along the way to the spawning site, this goby species climb vertical surfaces of many waterfalls. Hawaiian species have even been known to climb 300-foot-tall cliffs.”
After scouting an area downstream from the Takinohai waterfall in the Koza River to ensure safety, Dr. Maie and his student searched the water for the fish. The water was shallow, but the current was strong. “That’s what this goby likes,” Dr. Maie said. After catching enough goby, they took the fish to Tokyo for further study.
“My research centers around understanding in how musculoskeletal system (bones and muscles) work in vertebrates and how that is reflected in ecology and evolution of the animal,” Dr. Maie said. “This particular research allows me to explore questions like how they overcome obstacles such as vertical surfaces of waterfalls during upstream migration, how body parts work during climbing, how much suction force is generated to be able to attach to the rock surface, how the suction force generation changes as the fish grow, and how they are specialized in diet and feeding habits.”