YouTube series marks third year documenting Rosario research

Each summer, biology students head to the Walla Walla University Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory in Anacortes, Washington, for eight weeks of field research. A centerpiece of the program is the octopus research lab, led by Kirt Onthank, assistant professor of biology. When Onthank realized the teaching potential that vlogging (video blogging) about the lab could have, he picked up a camera and created Octopodium, a YouTube series that ScienceAlert recently ranked one of the “5 Amazing Marine Biology YouTube Channels You Should Subscribe To.”

Onthank published the first vlog in June of 2015, and this September marked the end of season three. Octopodium not only earned subscribers during its first two years—it earned its own staff. Initially, students gathered most of the footage, and Onthank and his wife did the editing. Last summer, Alex Bauer, senior communications major, spent the summer at Rosario to manage filming and video production, which allowed Onthank and his students to focus on research. During underwater dives, the research team gathered GoPro footage while Bauer stayed back to prepare the episodes.

Only a handful of people work in the octopus lab each summer, and the small-group dynamic adds raw dialogue and comedic flair to every episode. In the most recent season, Bauer hangs out with the team and asks questions while filming. “So is it octopuses or octopi?” Bauer asks a student on the way to a dive. Octopuses, she tells him. “If you saw a bunch of buses, would you say, ‘Look at all those bi’?”

“The primary goal of Octopodium is to show people how scientific research is done in the real world, by actual scientists,” Onthank says. “Science is a story that is constantly unfolding, so there will never be a lack of content.” Octopodium reveals just how complex octopuses are, and when the cameras turn on, the students get a chance to explain those complexities with visual aids at their sides.

Historically, science has been passed on through lab reports and seminars, but the new era of vlogging has given students at Rosario a platform for sharing knowledge remotely. Onthank hopes to continue demonstrating the scientific process through Octopodium for years to come.

Catch up on the latest episodes of Octopodium and subscribe to receive notice of new seasons at wallawalla.edu/octopodium.

Posted Dec. 27, 2017

Kirt Onthank, assistant professor of biology, wearing a red and white polka dot bow tie, plays with one of the octopuses he studies.
Kirt Onthank, assistant professor of biology, with one of the octopuses he studies.
A group of students dressed in their scuba gear pose for the camera with Alex Bauer, the film and video director for the Octopodium.
Senior communications major, Alex Bauer, on the right in the front row, managed filming and video production for Octopodium last summer.