The question came to Rhys Gaida in the heat of competition, a victory for Santa Monica High School at stake: What are the three polyp types that make up the Portuguese man o’ war, a venomous sea organism?
Gaida furnished the correct answers — gonozooid, dactylozooid and gastrozooid — to cap a convincing victory for Samohi at the National Ocean Sciences Bowl regional competition Feb. 27 at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
By taking first place at the 17th edition of the Southern California contest, the Samohi team earned a trip to Morehead City, N.C., to battle dozens of other regional winners April 21-24 at the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.
It was not an entirely new accomplishment for the local high school, which has earned seven regional titles in the history of the event. But Samohi had finished in second place in each of the previous three competitions.
“It’s good to be back on top,” said science teacher Ingo Gaida, Rhys’ father, who has been coaching the school’s Ocean Sciences Bowl squad for 12 years.
The coach spearheads Samohi’s academic competition class, members of which participate in Science Bowl, Quiz Bowl and Science Olympiad events as well as the annual Ocean Bowl. The 18 members of the class spent recent months soaking up material provided by Gaida, holding mock competitions and vying for five spots on the Ocean Bowl team.
This year’s squad features Ryu Akiba, Amy Amata, Rowan Cheung, Rhys Gaida and Sam Youngs.
“They were pretty well-prepared,” the coach said, noting the students’ previous Ocean Bowl experience. “They know their stuff, they studied hard, and they’re a pretty dedicated group. They really like the stuff.”
In a “Jeopardy!”-style competition that features round-robin game play, team challenge questions and a double-elimination tournament, Samohi demonstrated it was up to the task. Students answered a wide variety of questions about ocean science, including marine biology and geology as well as chemistry and physical oceanography, including waves, currents and atmosphere. They also had to know about ocean history, including navigation and human exploration on the high seas.
A sample question: What is the name of the Hawaiian seamount that will surface and become the next Hawaiian island in about 50,000 years? (Answer: Lo’ihi.)
Another sample question: Why did the U.S. outlaw krill fishing in its Exclusive Economic Zone? (Answer: To maintain a plentiful food supply for many species of marine life.)
After tying Los Angeles-Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet in its first head-to-head battle, Samohi won eight consecutive rounds to take the regional Ocean Bowl championship. The team’s push to victory included a close win over Irvine-University High in its final round.
Now the group turns its toward the national competition, where Samohi has earned third place twice but never come away with top honors. Last year’s national champion was Boise High School in Boise, Idaho.
“I think this group has a shot at it,” Gaida said.