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Teens vie for whale of a win in ocean sciences bowl

| Sunday, Feb. 24, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

Can anyone explain Darwin's theory of coral reef formation•

Students at the Penguin Bowl on Saturday had three minutes to answer that question in writing. Darwin reasoned that reef-building corals would continue to build reefs upward toward the sunlight even if the bedrock below was sinking.

The Penguin Bowl, held at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, is one of 25 such regional competitions across the country this month and next leading up to the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Winners of each regional contest travel to the final competition in Seward, Alaska, in April.

Some 120 students from 16 schools in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky participated in the Pittsburgh competition yesterday.

"These questions can be hard. Others study a lot. We just come here to have a good time," said Harry Sekovich, 15, of East Palestine High School in East Palestine, Ohio, a member of the school's four-person team.

Having fun is perfectly fine with Sekovich's 10th grade biology teacher, Bonnie Sansenbaugher, who is particularly proud that one former student who attended the Penguin Bowl is now studying marine biology at the University of Hawaii.

"We do not have ocean science in our school. There are only 400 students in the school," she said.

Other teams, like the two teams from State College Area High School in State College, put more time into preparation for the bowl. The school's A team won yesterday's event and will travel to the Alaska final. Students from State College have traveled to final competitions in Long Beach, Calif. and Stony Brook, Long Island, N.Y., in past years.

"We have been meeting after school since August to prepare for this," said A team member Molly Kozminsky, 15, of State College, who says she likes the rapid-fire game show formant and even tried out for Jeopardy once.

Even the best prepared teams are sometimes stumped by a curveball nonscience question.

Yesterday, students were able to quickly identify Jules Verne's underwater science fiction book featuring Captain Nemo -- "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."

But last year students were speechless when asked to identify J.M.W. Turner. He is a 19th century British artist renowned for his paintings of the sea.

Said Kozminsky, "How were we supposed to know that?"

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