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Teachers at sea blog category.

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Cephalopods (squid, octopus, cuttlefish, and nautilus) are considered to be the most complex and intelligent of the invertebrates. They are the most diverse in size of the molluscs. These elusive critters have evolved many adaptations that make them successful in the ocean, such as suction cup tentacles to capture prey (some squid have little hooks on the end which allows them to hunt more efficiently), venom (blue ringed octopus), bioluminescence (firefly squids, bobtail squid), dark coloration to live in the depths (vampire squid), chromatophores on their skin (can function in defense / alarm displays and courtship rituals), and the ability to change colors so that they can blend into their environment (mimic octopus). To date there are approximately 900 species of cephalopods worldwide, and those are only the ones we know about. I have had the chance to see some beautiful specimens while out here on the Gulf. 

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Mastigoteuthis agassiz, Whiplash squid                              Japetella diaphana, Octopod

b2ap3_thumbnail_Heteroteuthis_dagamensis_female_Bobtail_squid.JPG      b2ap3_thumbnail_Grimalditeuthis_bonplandi_.JPG

Heteroteuthis dagamensis, Female Bobtail squid                  Grimalditeuthis bonplandi



Abralia redfieldi, Hooked squid

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Sargassum is a type of brown algae that comes from the Sargasso Sea, located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not slippery or slimy like most people think of seaweed; it’s actually rather coarse and comprised of dense leafy branches with little round floats on them called air / gas bladders. This is a unique feature of Sargassum. The air bladders help the algae float on the surface of the water which exposes the algae to sunlight. This specific algae forms huge islands called rack lines, and within the Sargassum and underneath is a unique habitat utilized by many organisms that are similar in color. This habitat provides crucial food and protection for animals such as the Sargassum fish, species of triggerfish, filefish, shrimp, crabs, and even sea turtle hatchlings. Of course all of these organisms are camouflaged so when you go to pick up a clump there may look like there is nothing there, just look a little closer and you will see a mini community inside. 

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Sargassum, the little round structures are the air bladders that allow it to float. 

Here are some of the organisms that we found in just one clump of Sargassum!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Sargassum-Fish.jpg      b2ap3_thumbnail_Sargassum-fish-2.jpg

Sargassum fish

b2ap3_thumbnail_Sargassum-ecosystem-1.jpg      b2ap3_thumbnail_sargassum-3.jpg

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The R.V. Point Sur was built in 1980 and was originally called the R.V Cape Florida before Moss Landing Marine Laboratory purchased the vessel. Moss Landing utilized the vessel for 28 years before they retired the ship due to downsizing.  The vessel was purchased in the spring of 2015 by the University of Southern Mississippi, but is operated by Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. The vessel is equipped with many labs, heavy operational equipment, and scientific equipment for all operations.  The vessel is also equipped with 28,695 gallon fuel tank which costs roughly $46,000 to fill up. When the ship is steaming at 9-10 knots (1 knot=1.15 mph), 35 gallons of fuel is being used every hour. On this specific cruise we are averaging about 416 gallons of fuel per day, which is low due to sampling one station per day.  You can read more about the logistics of the R.V. Point Sur at

To date we have been on board the R.V. Point Sur for 12 wonderful days and it has been a pleasure getting to know all seven of the crew members that make the vessel function with ease and efficiency. The crew is comprised of Captain- Nick Allen, Chief Mate -Justin Collett , Engineer -Joshua Jansen, Deck Hand –Jamison Chauvin, Marine Tech- Marshall Kormanec, Head Steward- Alex Forsythe, and Assistant Steward- Jack Bonnington.


Life at sea is not an easy occupation; the crew is away from their family and friends for weeks on end, they work ten months straight out of twelve, the hours are long, sometimes the conditions are rough, but they all love what they do. Many of them used the term “I’m married to the sea” to describe their feelings about their work. They all stated that the benefits outweigh the hard times. They really enjoy meeting a variety of scientists, building relationships with repeat clients, the amazing food, and always being a part of something different, there is no monotony at sea for them.  I had the opportunity to sit down with each crew member and get to know them a little bit better and listen to their personal stories. I am excited to showcase the group  for the hard work that they do because without them I wouldn’t have been able to experience the adventurous ship life on board the Point Sur.

The vessel is operated by Captain Nick Allen, originally from North Carolina, graduated with a Biology degree from East Carolina University and then went on to Cape Fear Community College where he studied Applied Science and earned his Captains license. Shortly after he became the Captain of the R.V. Pelican for a few years and then moved over to the R.V. Point Sur when it was added to Southern Mississippi’s fleet in spring of 2015. On the vessel Captain Allen wears a lot of hats; he oversees all major operations, coordinates cruises with the Chief Scientists, makes sure all of their needs are met, communicates with clients, and takes the safety of the lives of all the passengers and crew very seriously. He works 12 hours a day, but not at once. He alternates with the Chief Mate eight hours on / eight hours off and four hours on / four hours off. The schedule may seem irregular to some, but it’s extremely important that the hours are broken up to ensure proper functionality in the wheel house. Captain Allen truly has a deep appreciation for the sea and loves supporting current research and learning new information about his own backyard.

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Captain Nick Allen

The Chief Mate, Justin Collett, originally from North Carolina, graduated from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington with a Bachelors degree in Marine Biology and then went on to Cape Fear Community College for a degree in marine technology. He decided to pursue marine technology because he was searching for a way to use his marine science background in a way that would make him think and would expose him to a variety of research.  Justin’s love for ocean started when his dad would take him on beach vacations as a little kid, and from that moment he wanted to know more.  As Chief Mate his duties include being a helmsman, operating the winches, assist scientists on cruises, and helping wherever help is needed. He stated that every ship works best when everyone works as a team, no one ever says “that’s not my job” and that is how the R.V. Point Sur operates.


Justin Collett, Chief Mate

Joshua Jansen is the Chief Engineer on board.  He grew up in multiple locations around the United States due to his father’s active duty status in the Navy. Prior to the R.V. Point Sur Josh was working construction in Florida and was going to go into the Peace Corp. After many conversations with his dad about becoming a Merchant Marine he looked it up, fell in love with the idea of being out to sea and working on the water, and has been doing it ever since (2004). He really enjoys boat life, the on the job training he receives, learning new skills, the remarkable food, the great people, but always misses his family. On board Josh is in charge of propulsion, power generation, crane operating, water, HVAC, and many other operational tasks that keep the vessel moving forward.


Joshua Jansen, Chief Engineer

The Marine Tech, Marshall Kormanec, originally from North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelors degree in Biology from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and earned his Masters degree from Louisiana State University in Oceanography. Prior to working on the vessel he was a Fisheries Observer in Alaska for six years. Marshall loves being a part of the science on board the vessel, he finds it interesting, challenging, and exciting to be able to learn about all of the current research and he gets to be exposed to a variety of topics. On board he is the main science and IT liaison customizing items for each science party, assisting in planning research trips, and maintaining all of the scientific equipment such as the CTD. For example, for this DEEPEND cruise he prepared the CTD so that it was able to descend 1500 meters as well as placing chlorophyll sensors on it.


Marshall Kormanec, Marine Tech

Deckhand Jamison Chauvin was raised in Chauvin, Louisiana where he grew up on boats his entire life. Prior to joining the R.V. Point Sur family in May 2015 he worked in several shipyards, on his dads shrimp boat, and was also a mechanic at Nissan. Jamison loves life at sea because it’s quiet, the food is delicious, and it’s like a second home with all of his brothers. On the vessel he assists the Chief Engineer, performs maintenance when needed, runs deck operations such as running equipment, and is the main safety officer on deck.


Jamison Chauvin, Deckhand

Alex Forsythe is the Chief Steward, originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone and has spent the majority of his life creating fabulous meals on planes, trains, and yachts. Chef Alex prepares food for the guests promptly, is the king of hospitality, and is always looking out for his fellow crew members. He takes great care and pride in all of the meals he prepares for everyone and is always checking in to make sure we are content, which has definitely made us all feel welcome. Over the last 12 days he has made amazing meals including cedar plank salmon, grilled sea scallops, homemade pizza, char grilled ribs, Chicken Caesar salad (dressing was amazing), roasted vegetables, flank steak, bacon wrapped shrimp,  grilled hangar steaks, roasted chicken, German chocolate cake, and many other mouth watering desserts. You can follow all of Chef Alex’s wonderful creations on his Facebook page- Point Sur Cuisine.


Alex Forsythe, Chief Steward on the right and Jack Bonnington, Assistant Steward on the left.

Jack Bonnington, originally from Washington, is a recent graduate from the University of Washington where he earned his Bachelors degree in Zoology. This is his first time working on the R.V. Point Sur as well as being out to sea for an extended period of time. Jack is the Assistant Steward on board and works closely with the Chief Steward, Chef Alex. Together they make a great team and Jack is learning a lot from his leader.   When I asked him what life was like living on a ship, he stated that he relies on a lot of Dramamine to keep him going. He also enjoys all of the science and being able to engage and talk with the scientists. Ultimately he wants to increase his maritime experience and work on yachts.

The crew on the R.V. Point Sur has gone above and beyond to make all of us feel warm and welcome. They have been accommodating to all of our needs and have been kind enough to let me interview them! It was a pleasure to get to know each and every one of you. I think I can speak for everyone at DEEPEND by saying that your hospitality and hard work is greatly appreciated, thank you for a great cruise.



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There are five amazing graduate students on board the R.V. Point Sur that are assisting with the DEEPEND cruise. The five students are diligently working each day to make sure that samples are processed correctly, DNA is collected, and stable isotopes are managed properly. The five graduate students are Katie Bowen, Lacey Malarky, Travis Richards, Max Weber, and Laura Timm.

Katie Bowen, originally from Pennsylvania, is a graduate student in Dr. Tracey Sutton’s Oceanic Ecology Lab at Nova Southeastern University Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences, and is currently pursuing her Masters in marine biology. Her thesis project focuses on juvenile reef fishes collected in the northern Gulf of Mexico from a 2011 cruise on board the M/V Meg Skansi. She is interested in the species composition, biomass, as well as the horizontal and vertical distribution of the juvenile fishes within the water column. On this DEEPEND cruise, Katie is assisting with fish genetic processing and is enjoying her first research cruise on board the R.V. Point Sur.


Katie Bowen

Lacey Malarky, originally from Kansas, is a graduate student in Dr. Tracey Sutton’s Oceanic Ecology Lab at Nova Southeastern University Halmos College of Oceanography and Natural Sciences.  She is currently pursuing her Masters, studying the faunal composition, distribution and abundance of larval flatfishes in the open ocean Gulf of Mexico.  While adult flatfishes are generally found in coastal areas, their larvae develop in offshore surface waters, and are a dominant component of the oceanic ichthyofaunal composition in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  She is contributing to the DEEPEND science team on this cruise by quantifying and measuring all fish specimens collected and managing the biological and environmental database.



Lacey Malarky

Travis Richards, originally from Alabama, is a graduate student working on his Ph.D. in marine biology at Texas A&M University Galveston. His research interests focus on aspects of community ecology and food web dynamics with an emphasis on predator-prey relationships, spatial and temporal variation in food web structure, and the role that animal movement and migration plays in connecting habitats. For his dissertation he will be working with Dr. Wells to determine how the daily vertical migration of fishes and invertebrates serves as a trophic link between bathypelagic (1000-4000 meters), mesopelagic (200-1,000 meters), and epipelagic (0-200 meters) zones. He is contributing to the DEEPEND science team by helping deploy and retrieve the MOCNESS trawl and CTD rosette (sensor for measuring salinity, temperature, and depth), processing samples, and filtering sea water to collect particulate organic matter (POM) which will be used for future chemical analyses.



Travis Richards

Max Weber, originally from California, is a graduate student working on his Masters in marine biology at Dr. Eytan’s Lab at Texas A&M University Galveston. This is his second DEEPEND research cruise and he has been working on the fish genetics portion of the project. He is hoping to take tissue samples from 15 individuals of the 500 known species present in this region. The tissue samples collected will allow the team to “DNA Barcode” the individuals, essentially looking at the sequence present on specific regions of each species genome. Very little is known about the species DEEPEND is studying, therefore genetic information will provide a tool to answer questions related to life history, genetic diversity, and population connectivity. While on the ship, Max assigns each individual fish a unique identification number, cuts a small piece of tissue out for DNA extraction, and then stores the individual. He has greatly enjoyed his time on the ship and considers himself fortunate to have been offered the opportunity to see fishes that are typically inaccessible and viewed by few.



Max Weber

Laura Timm, originally from Minnesota, is a graduate student working on her Ph.D. at Dr. Heather Bracken-Grissom’s Crustacean Genetics Lab at Florida International University in Miami, FL. On the cruise, she collects shrimp, krill, and other crustaceans for genetic barcoding and population genetics studies. Back in the lab, she will extract the DNA from every individual and sequence the COI gene to barcode the individual. This results in a long list of sequences unique to each species. Her Ph.D. research focuses on gene flow and population connectivity in the Gulf of Mexico. Many of the species she collects are very important to the ecology of the Gulf. Laura uses next-generation sequencing techniques (namely RADseq) to analyze gene flow and characterize population structure. This informs us as to how much genetic diversity exists within a species and how that diversity is distributed in the Gulf. Understanding this helps us gauge the risk and importance of crustacean species living in the deep pelagic of the Gulf of Mexico.


Laura Timm


Some candids of the grad students!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Lacey-pouring-the-bucket.jpg    b2ap3_thumbnail_laura1.jpg





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A day in the life of a scientist

The day for a scientist is a good mixture of work, sleep, more work, more sleep, and food in between. We sample each site twice, once in the evening and once in the morning, and the reason for this is to allow the scientists to study the vertical migration of the animals and to enable them to better understand their behavioral ecology.

Each night and afternoon the nets go out between 9-10 p.m. coming back at 3 a.m. and then again the following morning at 9 a.m. coming back at 3 p.m.  The nets are “fishing” at predetermined depths for about six hours. Gray is our MOCNESS operator and controls and monitors the net while the rest of us get some sleep. Everyone on board arises from their slumber around 2:30 a.m., fumbling around in their state room, with their eyes half closed; they get dressed, brush their teeth, grab their morning coffee, and head to the lab for setup.  During setup Gray fills us in on how much time we have and from there we begin our countdown until the nets hit the surface of the water. Once the nets are on board the vessel the scientists are cleared and may enter the net area. The whole process is very succinct; Tracey, Max, Travis, and Dante pull the nets up while Tammy, John, Heather, Laura, Katie, and I process the cod ends into the holding containers and bring them inside where they are placed in the refrigerator immediately. The holding containers are very cold because we want the specimens to stay as fresh as possible. The cod ends are then washed by Lacey with freshwater and organized for the next trawl. 

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Gray monitoring the MOCNESS from inside the lab.                                Gray operating the MOCNESS manually, bringing the nets up with the                                                                                                                help of the R.V. Point Sur crew. 

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The cod ends, where all the samples are.                     Tammy and Heather waiting patiently for the nets to reach the deck. 


                                                                                        Lacey rinsing the cod ends. 

The nets are processed in order from zero to five (Net zero 0- 1500 meters, net one 1500-1200 meters, net two 1200-1000 meters, net three 1000-600 meters, net four 600- 200 meters, and net five 200 meters to the surface).  Sometimes the stations are shallower in depth; therefore the depth of each net has to be adjusted. Once all the scientists are in the lab the sample in emptied into a large white shallow container and each scientist grabs their forceps and begins picking out the animals that they specialize in (Tracey Sutton- fish, Jon Moore- fish and leptocephalus, Tammy Frank- crustaceans, and Heather Judkins- cephalopods). After they have collected their specimens from the sample the identification process begins. They meticulously analyze the specimens by looking at them under the microscope, utilizing dichotomous keys, and field guides. Once they have identified the specimens to the species level they are processed through a variety of lab stations: DNA sampling, length/weight/quantity, standard isotopes, and contaminants.  The procedure is the same for both the morning and afternoon trawl. Following a strict procedure allows the scientists to maintain consistency and prevent errors from happening. 

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Tammy, Jon, Tracey, and Heather observing                                          We use these laminated tags to keep track of the processing. 

and sorting the sample.

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The identification process begins!                              Heather identifying the octopus that came up in that sample.

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Dante and Heather double checking the sample!                                 Lacey, Travis, Katie, and Max are eager to process the samples!

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Laura is really excited about processing DNA!!!!                                  Tammy utilizing an identification guide to ID her crustaceans.

The other projects that are occurring simultaneously are quantitative acoustic profiling that looks at the distribution and scattering of oceanic nekton and chemical analysis of the water in which the trawls are occurring.  Dr. Joe Warren and Dr. Boswell are working on the scattering of nekton by listening to the reflection of sound waves in the different ocean layers. By studying the scattering layer it also allows the scientists to study the vertical migration of organisms (organisms rise to the upper layers of the ocean at night and retreat back to the depths during the day).  Charles Kovach and Travis Richards are administering the CTD (measures conductivity, temperature, and depth) after each trawl. This information will allow them to understand the chemical composition of the sea water and how it directly affects the biotic factors in the ocean. 



The CTD!

A quick snapshot of life around sampling times.

After the early a.m. processing,  6 a.m. breakfast is served in the galley, and we try to catch the sunrise if we are finished processing the current sample. When the sample is complete we all take a nap until lunch at noon, and then afterwards all of the scientists are assiduously working on their laptops inputting data, researching, and checking emails. Around 3 p.m. in the afternoon we process the second sample. Dinner is at 6 p.m. and then it’s time for a little rest and relaxation which could be a movie, reading a book, or just resting up and going to bed. 


Hanging out in the galley between trawls. 

This is the day of a DEEPEND scientist on board the R.V. Point Sur. Of course there are always situations that pop up such as unpleasant weather or technical difficulties with equipment. At the end of the day the cooperation of all of the scientists is like no other. They all collaborate and assist one another with ease and everyone enjoys each other’s company.  It has truly been a pleasure to be a part of this research cruise. 

Until next time,

Alisha Stahl, Teacher at Sea

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