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Teachers at sea blog category.

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Laura, a PhD candidate from Florida International University, and Megan a graduate student from NOVA Southeastern University head the crustacean team on DEEPEND 04.  Most people are familiar with shrimp and crabs, but Team Crusty is concerned with much more.  Crabs, lobsters, shrimp, krill, and even mantis shrimp are points of interest. 


Both Laura and Megan are trying to establish the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 on the overall health of the Gulf crustaceans.  After the oil spill, species may have been completely wiped out, but may be supported by other crustaceans migrating from other areas like the Atlantic or Caribbean.

Laura is gathering her last specimens for her study on the crustacean genetic population in the Gulf after the oil spill.  She is trying to collect genetic data that may support that other crustaceans from the Atlantic and/or Caribbean may be migrating to the Gulf. And if so, are they helping to replenish the population that was lost after the oil spill? 

Megan is gathering data for her thesis which is focusing on the abundance and diversity of crustaceans.  She is also using that data to compare to the past DEEPEND cruises. She uses morphology rather than genetics to identify her specimens.  Her animal of interest is krill, but is very passionate about Phromina sedentaria (shown below).  This creature lives in this tiny barrel in order to capture its prey and to lay its eggs.




One area of focus that is becoming more predominant are parasites.  Below is a parasite attached to a Benthesicymidae.  This specimen will be sent to the lab for further study.



One of the coolest crustacean pulled up was a Cystisoma.  This deep sea, alien looking creature is transparent and are fairly rigged compared to its appearance.  Laura and Megan pointed out that it has 2 large lens on its head to detect light very similar to the way eyes do.




Team Crusty is definitely a joy to work with in the lab, even when they “bother me” for station net tags!


Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea

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Today I spent some time on the bridge of the Point Sur and Captain Nic Allen was very generous to show me the ropes.  He helped explain some basic features that are needed for a smooth ride.  He was first to point out the Furuno X band radar which came in handy during the storm that was rolling in.  He was able to make adjustments to the ships course according to the weather system.  He also pointed out that with this machine, he is able to locate other vessels within a18-25-mile range.  Along with the position coordinates of the vessels within that range, the radar is capable of giving great detail about them as well.  He was able to tell me the ships origins and final destination, how many crew were on board, its speed, and the closest distance between it and us if we continued the same trajectory.  This comes in handy because Capt. Allen is constantly walking from one end of the wheel house to the other.  Many times he is checking instrumentation and other times he is overseeing the crew as they manipulate the heavy machinery needed aboard the Point Sur. 

The Furuno X band radar system.



Captain Allen was able to give me a rundown of the ship’s throttle and steering controls.  He said that this ship is easily guided because it is equipped with great electronics and a great crew.  I plan on spending more time with Capt. Allen as the trip continues so he can give me a detailed tour of the ship’s navigational capabilities. 

Captain Allen explains the throttle system on the Point Sur.





The command center.



Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea

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Last night, after the Soul Train excitement in the laboratory, we decided to use an hour of down time to play with the “Green Magnet”.  I’ve been hearing the crew and the scientists speak about it, but I had no idea what they were talking about.  I learned the Green Magnet is a green lighting system that is placed in the water next to the boat.  This light attracts a wide arrange of animals including cephalopods and fish.  Almost simultaneously, the squid and fish began gathering toward the green light as soon as it entered the water, which was a sight to see.  Swarms of small schooling fish began hovering around the Green Magnet as squid would jet from one side to the other.  A few of us even dropped some fishing lines in the water in the hopes of catching a fish or even jigging a squid.



Nice catch Travis!



In the early afternoon today I had a chance to remember why I love teaching.  I was able to Skype with students from the Florida Aquarium Summer Camp.  The students were elementary aged but were full of energy and questions.  Dr. Judkins and I started off the video session by introducing ourselves and explaining our research goals at sea. 

After learning about our mission the students were very eager to ask questions, so we opened it up to the floor.  Many great questions were asked and it was apparent these students had knowledge of the ocean.  Many questions were asked about cephalopods, particularly cuttlefish and giant squid, which is Dr. Judkins’ specialty.

Students were also very eager to ask about life at sea, specifically on the vessel.  They were in shock when they learned the DEEPEND team will spend 16 days and nights at sea.  With that in mind, they inquired about what the staterooms looked like.  They were excited to hear we have bunk beds aboard the Point Sur, and they even started laughing when I told them I hit my head sitting up in bed.   Then they asked about the number of people on board and Dr. Judkins answered “23” and the student replied “so it’s like a party” and immediately all the kids started dancing.  I even caught a student in the back doing the Whip and Nae Nae (I loved this and my COAST students will tell you I often Whip and Nae Nae with them in class). 

After the camp counselors settled them down, they became very intrigued with anglerfish and blobfish.  It was at that exact moment Dr. Moore peaked his head into the Skype session to give detailed answers being his expertise. We all had a great time educating and laughing with the students while we Skyped.



Good folks, the excitement for today did not stop there…


With storm clouds rolling in, and 2 AUV’s to be picked up, I was to experience something really cool!  The weather became stormy and the waves were too great to deploy the zodiac to retrieve the AUV’s so the captain decided to position the Point Sur to use the crane on board to assist with the retrievals.  I quickly put on my hard hat and PFD, then witnessed the intense process of the retrieval.  I was on deck with the rain beating down and the waves crashing over the stern of the vessel.  I truly felt an adrenaline rush as it reminded me of episodes of The Deadliest Catch.  The ship was rocking consistently by the large waves from the storm.  After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, the ECOGIG’s AUV, the SALTY DAWG, was successfully retrieved from the stormy ocean.  The SALTY DAWG and the MODENA (retrieved yesterday) are safely onboard heading back to land with us.  Even though these AUV’s are not operated by DEEPEND, this shows the dedication and collaboration of the science community to work together in achieving our goals.




This experience was so amazing and heart throbbing; I will remember it for time to come!  I am looking forward to more amazing experiences as the ones I was able to experience today!



Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea






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With stormy weather on the horizon, the 3am MOCNESS net pull showed some really great and unique fish.  For the first time, I saw a Red Velvet Whalefish.  I asked many questions about this fish as it was the first time I have seen or heard of it.  This fish occurs in deep tropical waters between 200m – 2,000m. To the touch, it felt fragile and not as hearty as it looks but it was still very impressive.

Below is a picture of the Red Velvet Whalefish.


Another cool catch was this juvenile Strawberry squid. Dr. Judkins quickly called me over to her station so I may take a look at it. If you look closely, this magnificent specimen is very tiny but what it lacks in size, it makes up in appearance.  This squid species can grow up to 0.5m in length and has 2 different sized eyes.  1 regular eye which is responsible for the positioning of the body’s trajectory and another telescopic eye that sits on top and constantly searches for food. 

Below is a picture taken through a microscope. My daughter says it looks like Minnie Mouse, what do you think?



The afternoon nets seem to pull up even stranger things.  With a completely full net 0 (254 fish specimens), Dr. Cook and Dr. Judkins completely transformed in to 90’s hip hop/pop queens!  They turned on the radio and the mood completely changed.  With records like Ice Ice Baby, Salt-n-Pepa’s Push It, and MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This, the laboratory was almost like a karaoke party.  Everyone was singing along to every word without missing a beat.  I even got my partner Mike to jump in with a few verses.  But the total shock value increased when Dr. Sutton began rapping Snoop Dogg lyrics while sporting a backwards DEEPEND hat.  Everyone was filled with laughs and smiles, which helped overshadow the daunting task of many specimens to process, hence the title of this blog – MOC-MOC Baby!


Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea



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Wow, what a day it has been aboard the Point Sur!  After what would seem to be a regular MOCNESS sort, I was told that the SLOCUM glider was ready to be launched.  I was very excited for this news because I have only seen this done on television shows and now I had a chance to be a part of it in real life!   

The SLOCUM glider is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that can dive up to 1,000m to record different data including temperature, conductivity (to calculate water salinity and density), currents, and bio-acoustical data. As is rises from the depths, it synchs with satellites so data can be downloaded.  This particular AUV can spend up to 2 weeks roaming the ocean before it is ready to be picked up.  I was told that later on our cruise, we will be picking up 2 other SLOCUMs that were deployed about 2 weeks ago.  That data will be instrumental to our understanding of the ocean’s depths. Below is a picture of our crew launching the SLOCUM.  You may notice in the last picture the tail of the glider is pointing to the sky.  This is the data uplink communicating with the satellite above.  After a few moments, the glider was on its way.

Below is a diagram of the SLOCUM's inner make up.



Below is the crew loading the SLOCUM into the zodiac.  



Below is the crew deploying the SLOCUM as it begins its data up link to the satellite.



After seeing the SLOCUM start its journey, I smelled a great odor in the air.  The smell that your olfactory nerves usually react to on the 4th of July…barbeque! As I walked around the deck I saw Chef Alex grilling steak. It smelled delicious and tasted even better.  He said he wanted to cook a Brazilian inspired dish in honor of the Rio Olympic Games. 

Chef Alex stopped for a quick picture before getting back to the grill! 



After dinner, the science team was to witness a magical and very rare specimen!  The Linophryne is a type of angler fish. This angler fish is the only one to use both intrinsic and symbiotic bioluminescence.  This specimen is so rare the entire team stopped working to take photos with the magnificent creature.  Dante also was able to work his magic and take the incredible picture below! If you look closely there is a male Linophryne (called a parasitic male) attached to the bottom side of the female that is used for its sperm for reproductive purposes, while its circulatory system is infused with the female.  The other impressive characteristic of this specimen is its size.  According to Dr. Sutton, he has never seen one of this magnitude.  We all were in awe just looking at this beautiful creature!

Below is the specimen caught today.



Below is the transformation of this species from juvenile to adult.



I am definitely looking forward to more moments like the ones I experienced today.  I am always learning something new and I love that I am able to actively participate in these moments.


Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea

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