Underwater pumpkin carving brings Halloween to the seabed

On a brisk, sunny late October morning, a group of scuba divers in wetsuits and scuba gear could be seen heading down to Canoe Beach in Nahant, Massachusetts. They carried bright orange pumpkins about the size of a basketball.

Soon both the divers and the gourds disappeared into the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean. For about half an hour, only a half-dozen red “Diver Down” flags with a diagonal white stripe several meters apart could be seen on the undulating blue surface, surrounded by pieces of pumpkin.

When the first pair of 20 divers finally came back to shore, one of them carried a freshly carved jack-o’-lantern and spat out the salt water.

“It’s kind of a tradition that our program has been running for years,” says Andrea Jerabek, a dive safety officer at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center in Nahant, referring to underwater pumpkin carving competitions that have taken place among participants in the Three Seas program that before was established about three decades ago.

Three Seas is an immersive and field-intensive graduate program in marine biology that prepares students for careers in marine science, applied marine sustainability, conservation and restoration.

“Three Seas definitely has a distinct culture,” says Jerabek. “There are some things that alumni will always remember regardless of the year, whether you did Three Seas in 1990 or 2020. And I think this is one of them.”

Jerabek, who carved her gourd underwater as a Three Seas student in 2014, oversees all program operations and runs a course called Diving Research Methods, which trains graduate students, graduate students and sometimes postdocs to conduct science underwater with confidence and safety. During this course, students complete a minimum of 12 dives and learn navigation, night diving, and rescue skills.

“They started the Three Seas program in September,” Jerabek says of the divers who completed the pumpkin carving assignment that year. “It’s amazing to see how quickly students learn and improve throughout the semester.”

The pumpkin carving contest is a healthy non-competitive activity, she says.

“First of all, it’s fun and in the holiday mood,” says Jerabek. “Our PhD students work exceptionally hard. They’re also taking 20 credits for graduate-level courses at the same time, so I think it’s important to make sure we’re having fun again sometimes.”

In the past, students have come up with some fun designs, Jerabek says, like vomiting pumpkins; clever designs like “P>.05,” a joke about statistical probability and hypothesis testing; and complex designs like an octopus with all eight arms.

“Actually having to carve something underwater is quite a challenge,” she says.

Person with their head in a jack-o-lantern
Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

For this year’s pumpkin dive, the students worked in pairs. The guts of the gourds had to be taken out before the dive to avoid fish congregating around them underwater, says Jerabek.

Each pair developed their own design, which they drew with permanent markers on land before donning their scuba gear. Cheerful music helped the divers set the tone and warm up before the jump.

“We’re trying to achieve a scary anglerfish look,” says Hannah Bauriedel, who wants to start protecting marine ecosystems and wetlands after the Three Seas Program. “I’ve carved pumpkins before, but I think it would be really fun to see how much more difficult it was in the water.”


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