|She noticed two children on the beach turning
over rocks. "I said, 'Hey, what are you kids doing,' and they
said 'we're playing with the baby lobsters.' . . .
I flipped out because I know as a biologist studying lobsters that
there weren't supposed to be baby lobsters on the beach."
That discovery led Cowan to her life as it is today:
researching lobster nursery grounds and moving here to more easily
During low tide at Lowell's Cove, Cowan's bright orange
gloves and blue wind pants stand out against the dark green mounds
of seaweed, dark brown muck and the gray pools of sea water.
"Small green crab. Limpet. No lobs," Cowan
said into a tape recorder one morning last week as she looked
under a rock. "Barnacle spat. Coral. Algae. Small green crabs.
About 10 times a month she comes here, working specific
strips of squares called quadrants. She makes careful notes about
what she sees and if she sees a baby lobster that she hasn't tagged,
injects a teeny metal tag into its muscle tissue.
This is the fourth year she has studied the cove. "Last
April, this was just full of lobsters. This April, they're not
there, but the little guys move around."
Last fall, she began a two-part study of nursery grounds
all over Harpswell. Wednesday night, she is scheduled to present
the findings from the first part -- designed to find out
where the baby lobsters are in Harpswell --at 7 p.m. at the
Orr's Island School House.
Thirty-five volunteers combed 12 coves last fall and
found lobsters at eight of them, along a distinct line running
across the two fingers of this coastal town.
Her conclusion is that baby lobsters are found in places
that are most exposed to the open ocean.
The second part of the study is to recruit volunteers
and lobstermen to study the life cycle of the lobster, "egg
to plate," all over Harpswell, using tagging, said Cowan.
"If you take one little chunk of some place and
figure out what's going on, then you're going to know something
valuable. That's never been done and why not?," said Cowan,
whose Harpswell studies fit into a life devoted to learning about
lobsters to preserve the traditional trap fishery.
Every year, Cowan, 35, celebrates May 18 -- the
day she officially began studying lobsters in 1983 -- as
her personal new year. It's the time when she reflects on where
her lobster research has been and where it's going.
Her interest in lobsters began when she was a seventh-grader
in New York looking for a marine animal for a school assignment.
"I would always find these obscure beasts photographed
once," said Cowan. So she decided to pick a creature that
was well-known and had a lot written about it. There seemed to
be a lot of information about lobsters.
"It just somehow infected me. I don't know why,"
By the time she was in high school, people were signing
her yearbook "to the lobster lady." She learned to scuba
dive and once she got her driver's license, spent her weekends
travelling to the Connecticut seashore and diving for lobsters.
She graduated in 1992 with a Ph.D. from the Marine Biological
Laboratory, a Woods Hole research center associated with Boston
University, then taught at Bates College in Lewiston.