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Released September 3, 2004

By Angela Cutrer

OCEAN SPRINGS - Lauren Byrd is not one to stand around doing nothing all day long. She keeps herself busy - a little studying here, a little working with snapper in Florida there, a little tagging of sharks at times, and don't forget the whale watching way out … somewhere. Yes, this 20-year-old from Biloxi, the daughter of Anita and Scott Byrd, dabbles in many surprising, and seemingly unrelated, things. But looks can be deceiving.

"I like variety," Byrd says matter-of-fact. "I like being busy and each year it gets more in-depth."

Some of Byrd's work can be found in the seas of summer. Through the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, where she's volunteered for five years, Byrd has helped collect data and specimens of fish over the years. "This summer, we studied the age, growth and development of fish," she says. By analyzing various biological samples of different offshore game fish, they studied the fish biology "using the second anal fin and the stomach content of the Wahoo to analyze what they liked to eat."

What's interesting is not only that Byrd knows what a Wahoo is ("a tropical marine food and game fish (Acanthocybium solanderi) of the mackerel family, having a pointed snout, narrow body, and long dorsal fin"), but that she also enjoys getting her hands on shark, yellow fin and mai mai.

"I started volunteering because I originally wanted to go into marine biology, the study of fish," she says of her unusual summer job. "I've always been one to have a camera in one hand, a fishing pole in another."

Byrd combines her love for photography and history with her desire to become an outdoor and wildlife photographer to "promote the educational aspect of marine research and ecology through photography."

But that's not all that keeps Byrd busy: For all four years of high school, two years at Jones County Junior College, and now her first year at Southern Miss, Byrd has been a featured baton twirler on the fall football field. She's been twirling for 12 years, but she still gets butterflies before a performance: "I'm nervous every time I get out there" on the field, she says. "But I've been told the day you aren't is the day you should quit.

She's a little apprehensive about this new year because it will be more demanding here at Southern Miss, "those higher-level classes," she says, "and (the precision needed) on the field," too.

GCRL fisheries biologist Jim Franks doesn't think she has much to worry about. "She's a very capable young lady who enjoys a good challenge," he says with confidence. "We were very happy to have her as part of our research team this summer - she basically had so much energy that she kept us all on our toes around here. She contributed in many ways and she did a little bit of everything."

Franks says Byrd not only worked in the lab and out in the "field," working on boats in coastal waters, but she also communicated with the public about the facilities work. "She's even good at that, too," he says.

Franks says that Byrd's work is excellent and they were pleased to have her around. "We hope she comes back to work with us," he says.

No doubt it won't take much to convince her to make plans to do so, once the fall football season is done.


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September 9, 2004 11:03 AM