Rachel Eckley

I am a Master of Science student at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) studying the ecology and structure of deep-sea ecosystems. My thesis involves studying the faunal composition, vertical distribution, and diet of whalefishes (suborder Stephanoberycoidei) in the bathypelagic Gulf of Mexico. The male, juvenile, and larval life forms of several whalefish species have yet to be described or properly classified. For my project, I will be developing an identification guide that includes all whalefish life-history stages in order to aid in future identification purposes. Whalefishes are considered bathypelagic species; however, typical sampling methods of open net trawling make it impossible to determine their vertical range. The specimens in the DEEPEND/ONSAP collections were captured using a MOCNESS, sampling targeted discrete depths from the surface to 1500 m depth, so I will be able to determine the vertical range of each species and life-history stage. Much of the necessary dietary information on whalefishes is unknown; by performing a gut content analysis, I will be able to determine the most recent prey items for each whalefish species and life-history stage.