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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.
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!
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 https://www.usm.edu/marine/rv-point-sur
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some candids of the grad students!
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.
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.
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.
Tammy, Jon, Tracey, and Heather observing We use these laminated tags to keep track of the processing.
and sorting the sample.
The identification process begins! Heather identifying the octopus that came up in that sample.
Dante and Heather double checking the sample! Lacey, Travis, Katie, and Max are eager to process the samples!
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.
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
We finally saw dolphins this morning! They graced us with their presence around 3 a.m. as they were foraging for flyingfish. We did get the Go Pro in the water for a few moments and were able to get a few good clips; one even came up and checked out the camera! We were in the middle of working up a sample so we weren't able to hang with them for too long. After breakfast we went to the bow of the boat where they were riding and playing in the waves. It was daylight out so we were able to get a better look at them and we think that they were Spinner dolphins!Last modified on
The eels and their relatives (Elopomorpha) have larval stages known as leptocephali (singular is leptocephalus). They can be leaf shaped (bottom of figure, top most whole body image) or they can be more elongate and eel like (bottom of figure, middle whole body image). The fishes that are related to true eels include the halosaurs and the ladyfishes (bottom of figure, bottom whole body image). Head shapes can be elongate and serpent-like or rounded (top images). We have been intensively surveying the leptocephali of the Gulf of Mexico during our cruises. I have about 50 species photographed so far.
A full body shot of the Orangeback Flying Squid (Sthenoteuthis pteropus). This species can jump out of the water and glide, just like flying fishes.
A deep water marine ostracod, (Gigantocypris sp.). Ostracods are related to crabs, shrimp, lobsters, etc. Both individuals are brooding eggs. The specialized eyes detect bioluminescence in the copepods that they hunt and eat.
Brought up some more Bobtail Squid (Heteroteuthis dagamensis) in a trawl. This is as big as they grow.
A Bobtail Squid (Heteroteuthis dagamensis)
Moonfish (Selene sp.)
Another immature shrimp from this morning's trawl...perhaps an Atlantic Coral Banded Shrimp?
So folks ask me all the time about the size of the deep water wildlife we see. Most are really small. One exception can be found with several species of dragonfish (this is Echiostoma barbatum). Pictured here is Katie Bowen with the dragonfish.
The Orangeback Flying Squid (Sthenoteuthis pteropus). This species can jump out of the water and glide, just like flying fishes.
A "Swallower" (Pseudoscopelus sp.) - they have greatly expandable stomach tissue and can eat fish twice their size. Also called a "Snaketooth."
The Sargassum Triggerfish (Xanthichthys ringens)
A larval flatfish (Bothus sp.)
I Love me some squid (Abralia redfieldi)
Female anglerfish, larvae (Linophrynidae). Still has her jelly coat.
Leptocephalus (eel larvae)..and a cool species at that - the False Moray(Kaupichthys hyoproroides).
Happiness is shooting anglerfishes day in and day out. This is an odd one (Oneirodes carlsbergi). A close up of the esca (lure) is in the upper corner. The lure glows and attracts prey items. Only females grow to this size and have lures.
Another (Centrophryne spinulosa). Close op of the esca to the upper left....
The past few days have been absolutely beautiful and the water has been so calm that it looks like glass. Yesterday after breakfast we went outside for our morning ocean air and observed a waterspout form, grow larger, and then dissipate. The sunset last night was amazing as well, with bright magenta hues accompanied by schools of flyingfish everywhere. We have been so fortunate with the weather this week. The samples the past few days have also brought in some really awesome specimens including a fangtooth or "ogrefish" and several dragonfish.
The fangtooth, Anoplogaster cornuta, is one of the coolest fish I have seen. At first glance you can't help but notice its large fang-like teeth and its armored body and you just know that this fish has to be one of the biggest predators in the deep. The two large fangs on the lower jaw are so long that it has a pair of opposing sockets on either side of the brain to accommodate the large teeth. Its body feels rough, almost like sandpaper, whereas the other deep sea fishes feel a bit more slimy and smooth. This fish is not like any other that we have seen thus far on the trip! Truly an incredible find!
We also had a few dragonfish swim into our nets, Photostomias guernei and Echiostoma barbatum. The dragonfish also have fang-like teeth which allows them to grab onto their prey more efficiently. They are also covered with gorgeous photophores such as the one below.
Echiostoma barbatum Check out that beautiful photophore!
We are all really enjoying ourselves and having tons of fun! Although we miss our families very much, we talk about you all the time! Much love from the R.V. Point Sur. Thank you so much for reading!
Your Teacher at Sea,
Happy Thursday from the middle of the Gulf!
Phronima, a deep sea hyperiid amphipod, is a type of crustacean that looks like an alien! We have been pulling these little creatures up in the nets the past few days and they are quite intriguing looking. I can’t help but think of my son Noah and how excited he would be to see one of these, I’m pretty sure he would be mesmerized! It’s amusing how the inner child comes out in all of us when we bring in the nets and look over the samples; it’s like Christmas morning!
Phronima is considered an ambush predator with really large claws in relation to its body size. It uses large claws to tear apart its prey and its tiny mouth to shred. This organism likes to maintain its secrecy in the deep sea by hiding inside a semi-hard gelatinous barrel. This barrel seems to serve as its habitat and protection from others by camouflaging itself. The amphipod feeds on organisms such as salps (gelatinous zooplankton), jellies, and siphonophores, but it doesn’t just eat them. Some sources say that the Phronima reuses the gelatinous material from its prey and builds a barrel. Somehow the amphipod harvests some of the living cells from its prey and builds the structure.
So why would an animal do this is? What is the benefit? The barrel could possibly provide protection by allowing the animal to flawlessly blend in. If a predator attacks it will first come into contact with the barrel, not the amphipod, increasing its chances of survival. Energy efficiency could be another possible benefit. The barrel may allow this organism to maintain buoyancy, which could allow the amphipod to travel farther, and in turn be exposed to a variety of food sources in the water column. There is some research that suggests that their barrel behavior may be a type of symbiosis as well.
Another cool feature on these amphipods is their enormous compound eyes. There is recent research that in the species Paraphronima gracilis, their compound eyes have 32 retinas, 16 in each eye, which scientists have never seen in any other arthropod species before, the function is still unknown. This could be an evolutionary adaptation as a response to living in the deep sea. You can read more about it at the link below.
There are many more cool stories to tell about the amazing creatures we are finding! Keep checking back for more!
Crazy weather this morning....this right next to the ship.
The life and death of a waterspout.
Although the weather was crazy it didn't' stop us from pulling up some really cool animals like this larval shrimp.
And this Dragonfish (Photostomias guernei).
And this Joubin's squid (Joubiniteuthis portieri)
A fish I have wanted to see for years (Inops murrayi). This deep water species is usually found between 1,460m and 3,500m. This is a juvenile we caught in the water column. Instead of functional eyes, what remains of photoreceptive tissue lies beneath bone in this species. The "eyes" have no lenses but can detect light.
We also captured a beautiful shrimp today. She is "in berry" or brooding eggs beneath her tail. The inset to the top left depicts the eggs beneath her tail. I am holding her to show size.
Happy Tuesday from the middle of the Gulf where the temperature is hot, the water is like glass, and the sun is shining!
The past few days have been early mornings for all of us on the R.V. Point Sur. The nets come up around 3:30 -3:45 a.m. and the processing begins immediately and lasts between three to five hours! The scientists methodically sort out the specimens according to their specialty and the lab is flowing with scientific names! At first it was a bit overwhelming because I had no idea what all of the scientific names were (I was only familiar with the common names), but after a few days, multiple samples, and seeing the same organisms over and over, I’m beginning to recognize the various species.
We have been catching some pretty awesome fish, crustaceans, larva, cephalopods, and jellies. The colors of the animals are mostly black and deep red with many bioluminescent capabilities. The organisms are full of extraordinary photophores, tiny and complex light emitting organs, which allow them to emit bursts and pulses of light, whether it is for communication, mate attraction, or predator avoidance. Some of the photophores were still emitting light when we looked at them under the microscope! I will post some of those pictures tomorrow so stay tuned!
Below are pictures of some of the amazing critters we have been fortunate to observe. Some pictures I took and some were provided by our amazing photographer on board, Dante Fenolio.
The picture on the left is the cod end of the net where all the organisms are, and the picture on the right is an example of one net sample. Once it is poured into the container all of the scientists go through it and sort out the species they study.
Deep sea crustaceans! Deep sea squid, Abralia redfieldi
The picture on the left is of a female anglerfish! The females are the ones that have the lures, not the males. They typically use the lures to attract prey. The picture on the right is what happens when a styrofoam cup is submerged into the ocean 1500 meters! The pressure is so great that it crushes the cup to this minute size.
Tiny anemone larvae that we found in several of our samples today!
I will post more amazing pictures and information tomorrow! Thanks for following the teacher at sea blog!
Catch of yesterday morning...a lobster larvae.
Another encounter in the afternoon trawl. A Dragonfish (Idiacanthus fasciola). This Dragonfish is sexually dimorphic. Males don't get the barbel and bioluminescent bulb hanging off of their chins. They have short lives and last just long enough to breed. This is a female. Note the bioluminescent photophores on her sides. Those spots glow in the dark and most likely aid in recognition of same species individuals and even recognition between the sexes. The bulb at the end of her barbel glows and attracts her prey items.
A deep water fish (Scopelarchus analis) with upward facing eyes that are adapted to see faint light or to key in on bioluminescence.
Yesterday morning we deployed our drone - an "autonomous underwater vehicle or AUV." The unit will move to various ocean depths across the next two weeks and collect water parameters. When we are ready for it, we will signal for it to stop and go to the surface. It will then start "pinging" using a GPS unit and we will locate and retrieve it.
The sunset last night was gorgeous!
Our morning began nice and early at 2 a.m. with the deployment of the MOCNESS! This was our trial run to make sure that the apparatus works correctly. The net was down for about two hours and fished the top 200 meters. When the net surfaced it was safely secured on the vessel, the samples were collected and taken into the wet lab, placed in the sample tray, and the specimens were all processed. In our trial sample we found several species of fish including dragonfish, lanternfish, eels, over two hundred crustaceans, pteropods, a cephalopod, and many planktonic larvae. The trial run was a great snapshot of what is to come, which is extremely exciting and leaves me just wanting to learn and see more. The diversity that I saw this morning was simply incredible! To be able to see these organisms firsthand and not on a documentary or in pictures is such a rare opportunity and I can’t wait to share more with you over the next two weeks! There will be more cool species to report tomorrow once our sampling continues. We ran into a few technical difficulties that occurred this morning so hopefully we will be up and running tonight!
Emptying the trial sample. Pteropods, also known as Sea Butterfly's.
Over 200 Crustaceans were collected. Ceratoscopelus warmingii
After our trial sample and breakfast it was time to deploy the AUV. Charles Kovach, a research scientist at USF College of Marine Science, successfully deployed the University of South College of Marine Science AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) Glider into the Gulf of Mexico. Chad Lembke is the leader of the Gulf Glider Task Team at USF College of Marine Science and works collaboratively with GCOOS / GANDALF (Gulf Coast Ocean Observing System) which is based out of Texas A&M but operate regionally.
The Glider will be roaming the waters of the Gulf for the next 14 days and will be retrieved at the last site we sample. You can follow the AUV at http://gcoos2.tamu.edu/gandalf/. The AUV is programmed to surface every three hours and will travel up and down in the water column between 200-1,000 meters in the Loop current. The AUV provides scientists with real time data on key abiotic and biotic factors in the ocean such as chlorophyll, temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, conductivity, turbidity, and dissolved organic matter. The overall goal is to show a correlation between the chemical and physical composition of the ocean and how it directly relates to the strength and success of an ecosystem.
Until tomorrow my friends!
Greetings from the R.V. Point Sur! My name is Alisha Stahl and I’m your teacher at sea from Ellenton, Fl. It is such an honor to be chosen for this position and to be given the opportunity to work with some of the most distinguished scientists from Nova Southeastern University, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Florida Atlantic University, Texas A&M at Galveston, and Florida International University. The research we will be focusing on over the next two weeks is developing a quantitative taxonomic assessment of deep sea pelagic species of the northern Gulf of Mexico in the region surrounding the Deepwater Horizons oil spill.
The R.V. Point Sur diligently set sail around midnight on August 8, 2015 with all 15 scientists and a multitude of crew members on board. Prior to our departure everyone spent the first few hours setting up their bunks or state rooms and getting settled in for the next 15 days. The rooms are spacious and comfortable with ample storage to keep all of our items, while the swaying of the Gulf’s waves rocked each of us into a deep slumber.
The first site is roughly 200 miles offshore resulting in about 20 hours of travel time on this gorgeous Saturday afternoon. The waves are about three feet high, the sun is shining, and the water is gradually taking on a gorgeous deep blue hue with sporadic racks of Saragassum floating by. The day was spent resting, going over protocol, and setting up the MOCNESS (Multiple Opening and Closing Net and Environmental Sampling System) net.
The MOCNESS is a unique apparatus consisting of several nets stacked on top of one another in a single frame which is then towed behind the boat. The scientists can manipulate the nets to open and close based on the depth in which they want to measure. During this research trip the net will be broken up into six different nets labeled 0-5. Net zero will be deployed, remain open, and sample the first 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. Each tow will last six hours and then the samples will be processed according to protocols set by the chief scientist (Tracey Sutton). The benefit of using a net system such as the MOCNESS is that it allows scientists to study specific depth ecosystems more efficiently especially since the organisms living in the deep move a lot slower, making them a little easier to catch.
Can’t wait to share what we collect tonight during our first tows!!!
We finished up the last few sampling sites yesterday. Kendall and I can’t thank the group from Texas A&M and the Blazing Seven crew enough for making the cruise so enjoyable. I’ll miss my time on the boat, but I’m excited to return to my position at Sarasota High School and share my experience with my students!
Though it may take longer to sort through a sample inundated with sargassum, we’ve been seeing some really unique organisms. Pictured below is a sargassum fish, an ambush predator, that has the perfect camouflage.
We’ve also been collecting filefish, crustaceans, and jellyfish that are taken out of the samples by Carlos Ruiz and Veronica Quesnell.
Right after they help pull up the nets they search each sample for organisms to take back with them to the Texas A&M Galveston Shark Biology and Fisheries Lab run by David Wells, PhD.
Carlos came back to his alma mater of TAMU after finishing a M.S. from Auburn University. A research technician, he has an integral part in the lab and assisting graduate students on their projects. The position allows him to take part in a wide variety of research and to be out in the field frequently, which he enjoys. It would be a great opportunity after graduation for any student with an affinity for research .
Veronica usually isn’t out on the field, and instead gets samples for her research on swordfish from NOAA and commercial fisheries. Along with other courses she’ll be teaching fisheries techniques in a field ichthyology course. In addition to being a researcher, student, and teacher, Veronica is the mother to a beautiful girl named Abby.
We’ve had some exciting visitors in the past 24 hours. Last night we saw two pygmy whales, and a sperm whale and this morning a pod of dolphins.
Onto the fish! Picture the excitement of pulling up a Mahi mahi, the same thing happens here, but instead of holding up the fish with two hands these guys fit on a finger.
This tuna is distinguishable by the dark mark on its dorsal fin. When the fish is too small determine the species by sight scientists rely on DNA analyses.
The fishes below didn’t need DNA identification. The sailfish on the left, and swordfish on the right are starting to display characteristics of the adult fishes.
Each sliver of silver below is a fish to be sorted and collected.
Scattered in the samples are these copepods. Familiiar shape, but a striking color!
I’ve previously written about the large amount of sargassum in the water around us. As Jay Rooker, PhD predicted before we towed, when we were in clear water with a high salinity we started to see the billfish. On the left is clear blue water where we found mahi, tuna, and billfish. On the right the water in this picture is heavily influenced by the freshwater input of the Mississippi river which gives it a greenish hue. The salinity in this area has dropped down to 21 ppt even though we’re still quite a ways offshore (remember you can see where we are here).
Water from rivers brings with it nutrients creating prime environment for algae. We’ll be in this “green water” for the rest of the trip.