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Posted by on in Teachers

Yesterday was another beautiful day on the Blazing Seven.  We’re still running across a significant amount of sargassum while using the neuston net.  Our captain, Thomas Tunstall, tries to avoid the floating masses during the tows. 

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Deploying her own plankton net at every other site is Jillian Gilmartin.  She came to Texas A&M (TAMU) from NC State with degrees in Meteorology and Marine Science.  She just brought up a sample with lots of jellyfish.  She explains that this area, the middle of the loop current, is warmer and has low biological productivity.  Jillian is collecting the plankton samples for her thesis.  Her research focuses on tropical species found in the Gulf of Mexico that arrive there via the loop current off of the Yucatan. 

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When I asked what I should tell my students who are interested in pursuing a career in Marine Science she suggested getting involved during your undergraduate degree by interning or working in a lab. The work she did outside of her major is actually what led to her current research with Dr. Rooker.   

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Cori Meinert is a brand new graduate student at TAMU.  She is an Environmental Science major from Ohio that worked in a freshwater lab last summer.  She came across an article by Dr. Rooker during her studies, emailed him, and then made the decision to start her Masters degree at TAMU.  She had just arrived in Texas and then traveled the very next day to the ship for this research cruise.  What a way to dive into your graduate degree!  In the picture below Cori is recording the pH, salinity, and other characteristics of the surface water at each site. 

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Near the end of the day the sargassum started to clear.  This time the neuston net sample contained the billfish that we had not seen in the previous tows.

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One of the goals of this cruise is the research done by Jay Rooker, PhD and his lab on pelagic fishes, such as billfish and tuna.  This ties in the data being collected by DEEPEND with information from the epipelagic zone.  When I picture a billfish what usually comes to mind is the adult stage that recreational fisherman target for sport.  It’s easy to forget that they all start out as zooplankton, and we’ve been finding a few in each of the tows. The image below depicts a sailfish on the top and a blue marlin on the bottom. 

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Attached to each of the plankton nets is a flowmeter, which looks similar to a rocket.  

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It measures the volume of water flowing through the net.  This allows researchers to calculate the number of fish and other organisms collected per unit volume of water and make estimations about a larger area. 

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Since the neuston net is towed at the surface, it frequently contains large amounts of sargassum.  Dr. Rooker explained that areas with high amounts of sargassum usually yield low amounts of these epipelagic fish. We saw evidence of this during our last tow. 

This floating macroalgae is carefully searched for specimens by the group and then weighed.  It’s been very impressive to see the sharp eyes of those around me pick out fish from a heap of sargassum no more than 1 mm long. 

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The tiny dot below is on the finger of Maelle Cornic, a PhD student.  Maelle looks at early life stages of tuna in the Gulf of Mexico.  She’s got some of the sharpest eyes on the ship and is consistently finding the smallest critters hiding in the sargassum.  Maelle is from France, where she says being around water sparked her interest in fish from an early age. 

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Another PhD student in Dr. Rooker's lab is Mike Dance, an avid fisherman.  Part of his research uses acoustic telemetry, a tracking technology using tags, to monitor the behavior of juvenile red drum in Texas estuaries.  In addition to finding out where the fish are spending their time, Mike determines the type of habitat (oyster bed, seagrass, etc.).  Mike focuses on red drum ages 2-18 months.  Models based on the data collected will shed new insight into the nursery habitats of the fish.

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Our last plankton tow of the night once again yielded a diverse group of organisms.  Among those collected was a viperfish, Chauliodus sloani.  Kendall is busy counting the photophores using a stereoscope that projects onto the computer.  This allows pictures and video to be collected of organisms before they're preserved to help with identification later on.  

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Posted by on in Teachers

When I left last we one more site to sample from, which was done at night with the help of flood lights on the deck.  Once again the bongo and neuston nets were deployed.  This last stop of the night stood out from the others since we deployed a bongo net this time reaching a depth of 500 meters.   This sample was taken in the middle of the mesopelagic zone which spans vertically from 200 to 1000 meters.  This zone is sometimes referred to as the “twilight zone”, because some light still penetrates. Fellow Floridian, Kendall Lord, has been a big help identifying the deeper living fish. He is graduate student and research assistant at Nova Southeastern University. He works with Dr. Tracey Sutton, his advisor and the DEEPEND Consortium Director. Kendall is working on his Masters degree in Marine Science. His thesis will cover the history of research in the bathypelagic zone (> 1000 meters below the surface).  He’s using research starting with the 1870’s with reports from the HMS Challenger all the way up to the Census of Marine Life from 2000-2010. 

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One of the first organisms pulled out was a purple jellyfish that Kendall informed me was a Periphylla  periphylla, the helmet jellyfish.

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We also found a bristlemouth fish (Cyclothone sp.), the most abundant vertebrate on Earth! Some of these little guys are serial hermaphrodites, specifically protandrous, meaning they are males first and then turn into females. Clownfish change their sex in the same way.

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Many of the zooplankton collected were either clear, red, or black. This is part of their camouflage to help them hide from predators. The red shrimp pictured below stands out amongst the other organisms on deck, seemingly a contradiction. The reason some organisms in the deep are red in color is because it doesn’t penetrate as deeply as the other colors.  Those bright red shrimp actually appear black in the mesopelagic zone where we are sampling. The clear organism that you can see only part of in the picture above is a larval eel, or leptocephali. 

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Perhaps the most exciting organism collected was a heteropod.  In hand it appeared to be a gelatinous blob.  When placed into a small tank for observation we were able to observe the mollusk’s unique swimming behavior that earns it the nickname “sea butterfly”.  You can see video here.  This unique gastropod is quite the predator! We later witnessed it feeding on the eel larvae which was easily 10 times its size.

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After collecting the samples we went into one of the labs to take pictures and sort the organisms into Whirl-Paks.  The fish in the picture below is a hatchetfish.

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We began again this morning around 6:30 am.  The weather is fully cooperating and the plan is to get through 12 sampling sites today.

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Greetings from the R/V Blazing Seven! I'm your current teacher at sea from Sarasota, FL.  I'm very excited to be joining scientists and students from Texas A&M Galveston and Nova Southeastern University to sample the larvae and juveniles of pelagic fishes using plankton nets.  You can read more about the research done by Jay Rooker, PhD here. 

We left Port Fourchon, LA early this morning and just made it to our first sampling site to collect plankton.  Plankton are tiny (usually) plants or animals that drift with the currents.  The focus of this cruise is animal plankton, referred to as zooplankton. The basic design of a plankton net is a large area of mesh that ends in a collection bucket. The two nets we will be using during this cruise will sample at different depths and have different mesh sizes. 

The first net, rightfully named a bongo net, is deployed from the stern. The reason it has two nets is that one net has a mesh size of 333 microns and the other has a mesh size of 500 microns allowing us to sample two different sizes of zooplankton. The bongo net is hoisted off the back of the boat using a winch.  After entering the water it sinks down to a depth of 100 meters (328 feet)! When the nets are brought back up to the surface they are carefully rinsed with seawater to ensure that all of the organisms make it into the collection buckets at the bottom.

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The second, a neuston net, is deployed from the side of the ship and samples at the water's surface. 

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Each sample from the plankton nets contain algae and a wide variety of of organisms from copepods to larval tuna. The samples are placed in a freezer for identification at a later date. We collected a larval tuna and a sargassum fish! 

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In addition to targeting larval and juvenile pelagic fishes, we are collecting samples for other labs involved with the DEEPEND Consortium for their research as well. I’ll get into that more later.  Our next stop is coming up soon! 

 

 

 

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Posted by on in News

Jeff

Blog posted for Jeff Plumlee:


Howdy from the Blazing Seven!

Success! We have completed our mission, with all gear intact, and two days ahead of schedule. We finished 12 stations today towing both the neuston and bongo nets. Our day started at station 37 at 06:00 hours and finished at 21:00 at station 48. Sargassum mats were still very present throughout the day but diminished towards the end. The majority of the fishes we had found in previous trawls, however, a few fish expanded our list of families, such as porcupinefish (Diodontidae) and pipefish (Syngnathidae). We continued to find billfish and flying fish larvae when sorting through the Sargassum mats.

Another group of people, aside from the scientists, that needs recognition for our success is our crew. Warm meals, posh rooms, and a fully functioning vessel, all are attributable to the hard work of the crew of the Blazing Seven.

Thomas Tunstall - Captain
Stephan Tunstall
Brandin Busch
Eric Castagnetta

All of them played many different roles  throughout this trip, and all of them have put forth their best efforts to get us home safe and sound. Thanks again guys.

Well, this is my last update. We head home to Galveston, TX tomorrow morning with samples in hand. Stay tuned for our second ichthyoplankton cruise in July - we can only hope that it goes as smoothly. Cheers!

Jeff

 

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Jeff

Blog posted for Jeff Plumlee:

Howdy from the Blazing Seven!

Day three turned out to be another beautiful day to be a scientist on the Blazing Seven. Flat seas, blue water, and warm sun have been a constant this trip, to our enjoyment. We began our day after making the trip from N 27 to N 28 and arriving at station 25 at 0600. Sargassum was yet again present in every tow save the last two and brought a bounty of fishes. It was the most we had seen yet, but with some new faces, including tripletail (Lobotidae) and Bermuda chub (Kyphosidae). We continued to find billfish larvae as well as flying-fish larvae. Our last two sites had an amazing amount of diverse larvae from families like Bothidae, Carangidae, and Synodontidae. We are hoping this exciting trend continues!

 

One of the important, sometimes overlooked, aspects of any expedition is the hard work of the field researchers that help to collect the enormous amount of specimens and data. Today's post is about recognizing the folks out here keeping the wheels turning.

 

PhD Student Larissa Kitchens
Graduate Technician Carlos Ruiz
Undergraduate Technician Chris Steffen
Undergraduate Technician Josh Bowling
Undergraduate Volunteer Jason Williams

 

Without these students and technicians putting forth their best efforts and working together as a team, these projects would run far less smoothly.

 

Tomorrow we hit the last leg of our journey, Stations 37-48, followed by our trip back to Port Fourchon. It's been fantastic so far but there is still a good deal of sampling left to do, so stay tuned!

 

Jeff

 

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Blog posted for Jeff Plumlee:

Howdy from the Blazing Seven!

 

Today was another rousing success with an early 500-m midwater trawl at 04:00 followed by our 13th station at N 27 W 89 36' at 06:00. Our midwater trawl consisted of shrimp, squid, jellyfish, and of course, lanternfishes (Myctophidae). It was another beautiful day with clear blue water, a gentle breeze, and 1 - 2 foot seas. We progressed through twelve stations today and continued to have Sargassum at every one. However, with Sargassum, comes abundant diversity, including filefishes (Monacanthidae), triggerfishes (Balistidae), Sargassum fish (Antennariidae), flyingfishes (Exocoetidae), dolphifishes (Coryphaenidae) and others, along with shrimp and crabs. We also found several billfish and flyingfish larvae as well in our neuston and bongo nets.

Flying Fish  juvenile flying fish 

One of our primary objectives on this cruise is to collect ichthyoplankton, primarily billfishes of the families Istiophoridae and Xiphiidae, tunas of the family Scombridae, dolphinfishes (Coryphaenidae) and flyingfishes (Exocoetidae). Dr. Jay Rooker from Texas A&M University at Galveston and many of his students utilize larvae and samples collected from these trips to create a better understanding of these pelagic fishes. Through the utilization of techniques such as otolith chemistry and genetics, along with the collection of oceanographic parameters, researchers can understand in detail the life history of these fishes as well as habitat preference, spawning locations, and population structure. Continued quantitative sampling using multiple gear types, with replicated sampling, allows detailed analysis over seasons and years, revealing long-term trends which are crucial to understanding pelagic ecosystem patterns.

Tonight we are making the trip from N 27 to N28 to begin our second leg of the trip, the westward transect back towards Port Fourchon. We have finished our last midwater trawl so sampling begins tomorrow at 06:00 with neuston and bongo net tows, so stay tuned for more updates!

 

Jeff 

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Jeff Plumlee

Blog post from Jeff Plumlee on the Blazing Seven:

 

Howdy from the Blazing Seven!

We have had an incredibly productive day! This morning we woke up at 0300 as we arrived on our first site at N 27 W 91. Shortly after, we completed our first 500m mid-water tow with a ring net. In the tow we collected several deepwater species including, lanternfish (Myctophidae), deepwater shrimp, and various fish larvae. After the 500m tow we rested and prepared till 0600 to start our first site for neuston and 100-m bongo nets tows looking for billfish and tuna larvae. The most abundant feature of today was Sargassum, and there was plenty of it, a pattern we are very familiar with in Galveston, Texas. However even with the Sargassum we were able to find plenty of jacks (Carangidae), f ilefish (Monacanthidae), and a good number of flyingfish larvae, among other pelagic species. Despite the potential setbacks Sargassum can cause, we were able to complete 12 sites from N 27 W 91 to N 27 W 89.5 which, according to Captain Thomas, is a TAMUG Billfish cruise record for site sampling productivity, WHOOP! 

 

In addition to towing nets, we also filtered water at several select stations to help aid fellow researchers at TAMUG. Dr. David Wells of Texas A&M at Galveston, and his soon-to-be PhD student, Travis Richards, are focusing their efforts as apart of the DEEPEND Consortium on pelagic organisms and their trophic connectivity. One way that this can be accomplished is through stable isotope analysis. Looking at the ratio of heavy isotopes (Carbon 13 and Nitrogen 15) can help researchers understand the contributions to an organisms' diet. Specifically, contributions from primary production (using Carbon 13), and trophic position (using Nitrogen 15). Gathering the contributors of the base of the trophic web as well as the estimates of their associated locations and oceanographic features is crucial to applying effective models to the system. That's where we come in. Filtering water and analyzing the phytoplankton collected in the filter, along with collecting vegetation from the site (like Sargassum) is an easy way to create these regional maps and is crucial to understand food web dynamics.

 

Tonight we will complete our second 500-m mid-water tow, and tomorrow we hope to finish our N 27 transect as well as a third 500-m mid-water tow. We are continuing to run into new and dynamic oceanographic features, so stay tuned for updates!

 

Jeff

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After a few delays and a change in available crew, the Blazing Seven is back in action! I am unfortunately not out there with them, but I will be posting blogs and updates on the cruise tracker for them. Jeff Plumlee, a researcher from Texas A&M Galveston, will be sending us updates from sea. Unfortunately, they will not be able to send pictures or videos during the cruise, but we will post some in our picture gallery after they get back. Here is the first blog from the Blazing Seven!

Jeff Plumlee Jeff Plumlee, Shark Biology and Fisheries Science Lab, Texas A&M Galveston

Howdy from the Blazing Seven!
This morning, at approximately 0700 hours, The Blazing Seven left from Port Fourchon, LA with six Texas A&M at Galveston student researchers, and four Blazing Seven crew members, to begin our first Ichthyoplankton cruise looking for billfish and other pelagic fish larvae. This research team is conducting this survey as part of the GOMRI initiative as members of the DEEPEND Consortium to study pelagic fish ecology and trophic connectivity. This is our second attempt at the cruise after being stalled on June 1st due to a mechanical malfunction, but after some repairs, we're back! Today was designated primarily as a travel day, as it will take us about 20 hours to arrive at our first site, but we were still able to start collecting data.
Dr. Kevin Boswell and his Research Technician Adam Zenone, of Florida International University, have equipped the Blazing Seven with three separate SONAR transducers that they will use to monitor the DSL (deep scattering layer). The DSL is a layer of fish and zooplankton that gather at between 300 and 500 m depth during the day, and within the top 200 m at night. This mass aggregation of fishes can cause an anomaly in SONAR estimates of depth, due to the sound bouncing off of the many fishes' swim bladders, and represents a very large amount of biomass in the open ocean. Dr. Boswell will use the information gathered on the cruise to observe the intricacies of the DSL, as well as the diel vertical migration of fishes and zooplankton, and use these techniques to better understand the ecology of deepwater ecosystems.
Today we were able to deploy these three transducers as well as calibrate them for our six-day cruise throughout the Gulf collecting several cycles of the movement of the DSL. We also were able to get our first glimpse of pelagic fishes! Jacks, Tuna, Mahi, and Flying Fish galore, along with a very curious Silky Shark that was attracted to the calibration device we used for the SONAR transducers. 
Tomorrow morning we start very early with our first nighttime deep water tow using a ring net at 500m. So make sure to stay tuned for what we find!

Jeff

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Hello, everyone!  Report from the Education-Outreach Team on our first Teacher-at-Sea, Carol Gordy, preparing for the DEEPEND Ichthyoplankton Cruise heading out in a couple of days.  Carol joins our team from Sunlake High School in Pasco County, Fl where she teaches marine science classes.  She has been teaching for 25 years  and will be sharing her experience at sea with us through her daily blog posts.  Follow her journey and ask lots of questions!  Check out the DEEPEND main page and news for more details about this cruise and it's role in the DEEPEND program- safe travels, Carol!

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Heteropod snails by Mike Vecchione

                I am out here on the R/V Point Sur primarily to study cephalopods, the squids, octopods and their relatives. However, I have decided to write about a different group of very interesting animals. The swimming snails called heteropods are a group about which most people know nothing and nobody knows much. They are not closely related to the other, and somewhat better known, group of snails that spend their entire lives in the pelagic environment, the pteropods.

                Heteropods are active visual predators and, although most are small (planktonic), some can get quite large -- up to a half meter in length. I studied them many years ago and am now becoming reacquainted because we have been catching them regularly in our samples from the upper water layers. Three families exist, which seem to show a progression of evolution into pelagic life. Animals in the family with the smallest animals but most species have a coiled transparent shell into which they can withdraw their body and seal it off with a standard snail trap door, called an operculum. The shell has a keel on it, similar to what you might see on the bottom of a sailboat. The second family gets much larger but still has a keeled shell; for most species in this family the shell covers the guts like a hat. The third family loses the shell during transformation from the larval stage. They are streamlined and can swim quite fast. They should definitely be considered nekton rather than zooplankton.

                All heteropods have well developed, but peculiar, eyes. They have a narrow retina that the can rotate up and down. They probably form an image much the same way that the image forms on a TV screen, aggregating one line after another rather than the whole picture forming at once. Another characteristic of all heteropods is a single fin on the belly. They normally swim by undulating this fin. Additionally, the larger species can swim in rapid bursts by eel-like undulation of the entire body, which is shaped somewhat like a fish including a flattened tail. The bodies, especially in the larger species, are remarkably transparent except for the eyes (which have to catch light), the guts, and the organs of the mouth. Often when we are sorting our catch, the only way you can tell that there is a large heteropod is by the eyes, guts, and mouth.

                The mouth, located at the end of a trunk-like proboscis, has a structure characteristic of snails and most other molluscs, a tooth-covered tongue called a radula. This is used to grab and tear the heteropod's prey. The proboscis is why these animals are sometimes called "sea elephants". What they eat varies among the three families. The small species in the fully shelled family eat other snails, especially pteropods. They have a sucker at the base of the fin and use it to hold the shell of their prey. Not much is known about the natural prey of the other two families. It has been proposed that they eat a variety of prey, ranging from jellyfish to arrow worms, perhaps even including small fishes. Incidentally, the sucker is reduced in the other families and seems to be used to hold a sexual pair together during mating, so that the male can transfer a packet of sperm (spermatophore) to the female.

                We are finding that these active predatory snails are quite common out here, It will be interesting to figure out their importance in the pelagic ecosystem of the open Gulf of Mexico. 

Carinaria lamarcki is an example of heteropod from the family Carinariidae (top image).

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A close-up of the shell of Carinaria lamarcki

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An example from the another family of heteropod - the Pterotracheidae.  This is Pterotrachea coronata.

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An example of the heteropod family Atlantidae.  This is Oxygyrus inflatus.

 

                For more imformation, see http://tolweb.org/Pterotracheoidea/27801

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Seed shrimp are crustaceans (related to shrimp, crabs, and lobsters).  They belong to a group known as ostracods.  There are roughly 8,000 extant (living) species.  Ostracods have five paired appendages on their heads and one to three pairs ​of appendages on their bodies.  Another common name for the group is “mussel shrimp” because they have a two part, hinged shell (known as a carapace) that envelopes their bodies…like a clam or a mussel. 

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Giant ostracods, Gigantocypris sp., are deep water seed shrimp.  Members of this genus appear to be among the largest of ostracods on earth, reaching a total size of 32mm diameter.  This one was the size of a green pea.  The eyes of these crustaceans (“nauplius eyes”) are divided into two lobes and have reflectors built in.  The eyes can detect bioluminescence from potential prey items, such as is produced by copepods.  Prey items include copepods, mysids, chaetognaths, medusae and other small invertebrates – even very small fish.  Gigantocypris store their eggs internally, in a brood pouch.  The eggs develop there until they hatch (as miniatures of the adults).  Juveniles are released into the pelagic environment.  This individual is brooding purple eggs inside its carapace.  Populations that have been studied are biased with 3 to 6 times more females than males.  Roughly five species have been described inhabiting all of the world’s major oceans.

More Soon!

 

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Wanted to share a few images from the last couple of days.  This Waryfish, Scopelosaurus smithi, has an impressive set of teeth.  This specimen came up in beautiful shape.

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This is a Deepwater Flounder (Monolene sessilicauda).  It is in an immature phase and is still developing toward the adult stage.

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I have always loved the group of deep water crustaceans which are sometimes referred to as "Blind Lobsters." These crustaceans pass through their immature stages in the water column. Once metamorphosis is complete, the animals descend further to live a life on the sea floor, often at abyssal depths.

 

More soon......

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Hello everyone,

My name is Ruth A. Musgrave and I write for kids and teach about the ocean. My favorite place is the deep. My favorite kind of animal...a deep sea animal. Why? The deep is a beautiful, complex, and mysterious part of our world. It is filled with weird and wonderful creatures. 

As Dante shares the photos of this first cruise, you might think it must be Halloween 24/7 down there!  But once you understand the purpose of massive teeth, a see-through head, or bulging eyes, then you'll see why all of us with DEEPEND find these creatures fascinating, enchanting, and sometimes even cute! Really! (Okay, cute might be a bit of a stretch with some!)

Before we wade in to the science and animals of the DEEPEND, you should meet our science team.  The DEEPEND project is so exciting and has so many extraordinary scientists all with different areas of expertise that, I admit, I was a bit awe-struck and overwhelmed at our first meeting earlier this year. For a person who would brush past a movie star to have a chance to talk to scientist, it is exciting to be a part of this three-year mission and share it with kids and teachers.

What kind of animals do you like? Fish, squid, shrimp, jellies? You name and we have an expert! What if you're a technology enthusiast, don't worry, we have experts for that, too! Acoustics, optics, genome research, and other kinds of technology are an essential part of the DEEPEND research. Oh, and we have people, like me, who will take the exciting discoveries and share them with you through this blog, programs like Postcards from the Deep, Creep into the DeepTeacher workshops, fun activities, and other Education and Outreach opportunities.

But first, meet our science team by clicking on this link: www.deependconsortium.org/index.php/about/the-team/scientists

Thanks for joining me at the DEEPEND!

Ruth

WhaleTimes, Inc.

 

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 Working as a wildlife photographer on board a research ship provides endless opportunities.  What I think I enjoy the most is capturing the detail in a specimen.  For example, this beautiful Threadfin Dragonfish (Echiostoma barbatum) has an amazing pattern and texture to its skin.  The photophores (light producing organs) add to the pattern.  The detail of the barbel, with its glowing end, fascinates me.  I wanted to take the opportunity to share a series of images I took trying to highlight the detail of a dragonfish.

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The red photophores (light producing organ) behind the eyes of the fish generate red light.  This is significant because most deep sea life can't see red light.  This fish makes red light and can see it.  Potential prey items are illuminated by the red light and don't know they have been spotted!

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The feathery gills of the fish extend out from behind the gill cover (opercula).  The circular objects behind the opercula are photophores.  Dragonfishes may use photophores on their sides to recognize fishes of the same species, even the opposite sex, in the dark.

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The barbell of the dragonfish has an end that glows in the dark.  Similar to anglerfishes, dragonfishes attract their prey using glowing lures.

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The sides (or flanks) of dragonfishes are decorated with lines of photophores.  These light producing organs may convey important messages between members of the same species.

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Even the tail end of the dragonfishes can be adorned with photophores.

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Lots more to come but I wanted to share the detail of a particular fish today.  Working on this ship is really a wildlife photographers dream!

 

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Wanted to post a few quick images of the work going on in the labs.  Folks are busy!  Here is how it all starts...  The nets are opened at specific depths and there are multiple nets on the Mocness - so you can trawl different depths with the same trawl.  The work in the lab starts once a batch of deep sea life is brought in from a net.  The first job is sorting the catch by taxonomic group and then getting each group of organism to each specialist.

 

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Fish identification

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Crustacean identification.  After an ID is provided, further data/materials may be collected - such as a DNA or stable isotope sample.

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DNA samples being collected from specimens.

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Data is also collected for the physical conditions in which each trawl is made.

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April keep everything organized and manages the master database.  Everything goes through April and is recorded.  

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Sometimes a specimen is sent to the photographic lab for further documentation.

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The photographic lab is located on the front deck of the ship.

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This is the inside of the photolab.

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The specimen is documented photographically and then returned to the main lab for preservation.

 

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We have had some questions come in about the MOCNESS that we are using to collect our deep-sea animals. “MOCNESS” is an acronym for a Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sampling System and it comes in a variety of sizes. The one we are using is called a 10-meter MOCNESS because it samples an area of about 10 square meters. It has a rigid frame and six different nets with codends attached that can be opened and closed at different depths through the touch of a button on the MOC10 operator’s computer. We know the exact depth of the net due to the conducting cable that attaches the MOC10 frame to the ship. This allows information to be sent back to the ship from the many sensors mounted to the frame. In addition to depth, the MOC10 sensors include temperature and conductivity (salinity). The multiple codends allow us to sample within particular depth zones so that we can learn where the organisms live. For example, whalefishes, like the one pictured here, live only below 1000 meters and the lanternfish is only found above 1000 meters.

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                                  Whalefish                                                                                    Lanternfish

The nets only fish one at a time and are attached to the frame in such a way that as one net closes it opens the next net. The MOC10 is sent down to its max depth of 1500 meters with the first net open which is called an oblique trawl since it samples from the surface to depth. At 1500 meters, a signal is sent through the conducting cable to tell the MOC10 frame to open the next net, which closes the first one. Our sampling plan is to target the following depth layers: 1500-1200 m, 1200-1000 m, 1000-600 m, 600-200 m, and 200 m-surface. Keep an eye out for a later post on the layers of the ocean to find out why!

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The long drive from San Antonio, Texas, to Gulfport, Mississippi, gave me plenty of opportunity to think about the various deep sea creatures I hoped to see on this trip.  You could cut the excitement with a knife by the time I crossed the border from Louisiana to Mississippi.  Loading gear onto the Point Sur brought all of the anticipation to reality, and then we were off.  The seas have been calm and we made it to our first trawling station without incident.  Then we started to fish as the trawling nets disappeared into the depths.  A few hours later and the biologists on board, including me, were giddy – a net full of deep sea species was hauled on deck.  It always seems like Christmas morning when a net is hauled up; you really never know what you are going to get…and these first few trawls have not disappointed.  Cup after cup of great wildlife were handed to me.  One of my jobs is to photographically document our encounters, which included a beautiful Johnson’s Abyssal Seadevil, Melanocetus johnsonii.  These small predators have enormous teeth for snaring other small animals.  Anglerfishes are also known for the glowing lure that they use to hunt. The technical term for the lure on an anglerfish is an “esca,” the fishing pole that connects it to the anglerfish’s forehead is an “illicium.”  Anglerfishes are among my favorite fishes…hopefully more of these!

 

Another of my favorite groups of fishes, the dragonfishes, has made several appearances so far.  This Scaleless Blackdragon, Echiostoma barbatum, is a deep-water predator.  In contrast to anglerfishes, dragonfishes have a “fishing rod” hanging off of their chin with a lure attached.  The entire structure is known as a barbel. 

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The DEEPEND cruise on the R/V Point Sur is underway and currently at their first station!  We are out in the northern Gulf of Mexico until May 8th where we will be hoping to hit 8 stations during our journey.  This is the first time out for the ship's crew, first time using this MOCNESS net system on this ship, and first time to try out all of the science protocols that we have set up for our cruises. The first cruise of a survey is usually called the "shake down" cruise, designed to work out glitches that may come up during the trip with quick troubleshooting and lots of problem solving by the DEEPEND Team which is extremely important to set the stage for efficient future cruises.  We have quickly discovered, for example, that the internet is currently not reliable and Dante (on board) has sent me pictures to put into this blog so you can share our experience with us!  I am not on board but can relay questions to the DEEPEND Team if you've got any!  Post them and we can answer!

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-Point-Sur-GOM-Cruise-May-2015-LR-C.jpg The R/V Point Sur at the dock in Gulfport, MS

The team is at the first station working through the deployment of the MOCNESS net (Multiple Opening/Closing Net Environmental Sensing System) which is a multi-net system that drops into the water at the same time with each net settling at different depths from the surface down to 1500m..  We are going to collect all organisms from each of the 5 nets and take tissues samples, identify the crustaceans, fishes, and cephalopods, and freeze some animals for lab studies back on land.  We will detail our projects as the days progress. Stay tuned!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Checking-the-nets-GOM-Cruise-May-2015-LR-C.jpg  One of the MOCNESS nets being checked before assembled on the deck

 b2ap3_thumbnail_Prepping-the-spool-No1-GOM-Cruise-May-2015-LR-C.jpg  Team checking the spool of wire that will deploy the net system....  SO much cable!

So, post any questions you have about our journey!  Anything about life on a research ship, the science we're doing, what the crew does to run the ship, you ask it, we will try to answer the best we can!  There will be great pictures of the other equipment and of course, the animals once these nets come up!

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The first GOM Exploration Teacher Workshop (grades 6-12) through the DEEPEND Program was held Saturday, April 18th at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and was a great success!  Teachers joined us from Florida and Alabama for the day-long workshop and learned about DEEPEND projects, background content and classroom activities they can take back into their classrooms. Activities included exploring the dark with bioluminescence, exploring cephalopod and plankton taxonomy as well as practicing with DNA extraction methods!

They also received details about the first DEEPEND cruise that is scheduled for May 1- May 8th where they will be able to follow the DEEPEND crew as they begin their science adventures.  Teachers and their classes can follow along, ask the scientists questions, and receive feedback from the crew as the cruise progresses on the Point Sur, our vessel for this year which calls Gulfport, MS home.

I am thrilled that the first workshop went so well with only a few minor things to adjust for next year's workshop for grade 6-12 teachers which will be in Dania Beach, FL at the Nova Southeastern Oceanographic Center.  The group was enthusiastic and I was excited to share our upcoming experience with them all!  Out of this first group, 3 teachers will be selected to join us at-sea.  There is an application they submit, the DEEPEND team reviews the applications and will be announcing the teachers by May 2nd.  Stay tuned to hear who will be joining us!

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