April 14, 2006

Specimens, specimens, and more specimens

Today was Martin Angel's 69th birthday. We celebrated on the launch deck with red velvet cake. The cake was slightly comical because it turned our teeth and lips red. It was never the less quite tasty. Martin is the lone Brit along on the trip and one of what he says are five of the worlds last ostracod experts. I enjoy his British accent, plethora of knowledge, and dry sense of humor. I have always enjoyed a dry British humor. Martin would like to pass on the knowledge he has amassed over his long career. He offered his records to anyone interested. Since the molecular/genetic revolution in science the funding for ecologists and taxonomists has dwindled and few new scientists study in these fields. In the future it may become a dilemna for science. The DNA is really of no value unless a person knows what organism it came from and the role that organism plays in the ecosystem. This project combines ecologists, taxonomists, and geneticists.

It is now around midnight and we just completed site one. The nets and equipment are being stowed and tied down. Much work was completed on this calm Friday. The team did a night dive, collected MOC 1/4 samples, MOC 10 samples, and MOC 1 samples, as well as vertical plankton tows. The lab was busy processing samples by rinsing zooplankton from the buckets and into sorting trays. From there they were placed in preservation jars. Some went into formaldehyde and others into ethanol. Ethanol samples can be used later for DNA analysis because ethanol does not destroy the DNA but formaldehyde is better at preserving tissue and structure. Several unidentified organisms were collected amongst or fishing efforts. I spent much of the day helping record data, preparing nets, and helping in any way I could in order to free time for the taxonomists to focus on identifying the specimens before the next tow came in. I did stop long enough to enjoy crab legs for dinner; it was our Good Friday meal. Many of the people here are working at least 20 hours/day while on site. When a haul comes in or the divers return it is enjoyable to see the passion and enthusiasm these individuals have for their work. They are like school children examining pond water for the first time. It seems they never lost their passion for such wonder as I observe them peer into buckets and candle plastic jars overhead.

We will leave late tonight and arrive at site in fifteen hours. Many people will finish up their work and get rest before the next series of collecting begins. The ship will be traveling near 20 knots. We will travel south. I look forward to seeing more concentrations of sargassum and the biologists are hoping to find different species as we move into warmer waters. It was another peaceful end to an active day. Standing on deck before finishing this log and heading to my cradle, which does rock, I looked up at a full moon and Venus and enjoyed the way the light made the water sparkle. It was a strange feeling looking up because the moon and stars appeared to be moving rather than the ship. Perspective is in deed relative.


Daily Question: Martin Angel challenged me with a question, which I was pleased that I could answer, after a little mental exercise. A good teacher however does not share the answer to a good question with their students, but passes the good question on. Below, students, you will find your question of the day. Some deep-sea fishes still possess swim bladders, but they do not seem to use them for buoyancy because of intense pressure. In addition, these deep-sea fishes expend considerable energy adding gases from their blood into the bladder. What other role do you think a swim bladder could serve these fish lurking in the pitch darkness of our ocean's waters that would be worth such cost?


Picture 1: Martin Angel about to be surprised with velvet cake.

Picture 2: Retrieving zooplankton from the MOC 10 net and shuttling to the sorting lab.

Picture 3: Bow of the Ron H. Brown over looking the Atlantic Ocean.

Picture 4: A cool copepod posing for a close up.
(Photograph by Russ Hopcroft)

Picture 5: Bright red decapods waiting for identification.