April 26, 2006

Sinking Cups

A few days ago one of the scientist's arm turned red, welts appeared, and her arm burned. She had just finished helping haul in the plankton net. The welts looked and felt much like the sting of a jellyfish. Perhaps a tentacle had been stuck on the net and she was stung. The first scientists to study the sting of a jellyfish were two Frenchmen, Charles Richet, a physiologist, and Paul Portier, a physician. While traveling on a merchant ship they were asked by Prince Albert of Monaco to study the toxic effects of a jellyfish. Floating along with the ship were Portuguese Men-o-War. Richet decided to expose the dogs on board to their venom and discovered that the venom produced a rather toxic effect. Once the two scientists returned to France, they continued their studies. They had expected dogs that had been stung to build immunity to the venom, but to their surprise the dogs became hypersensitive to the toxin. They called this response anaphylaxis. Jellyfish were the first animals to be used in anaphylactic shock studies.

Fortunately for Barbara, the red-armed scientist, her reaction to the sting was mild. Most likely it was not a Portuguese Man-o-War. I have seen several of these blue beauties sailing along in the wind. These animals are also known as Australian Bluebottles because of the color of their sails. Often this animal is incorrectly called a jellyfish. In reality they are colonial animals and belong to a group called siphonophores. This is a term I hear numerous times as we are sorting samples. The Portuguese Man-o-War is made of four different types of individuals, called polyps. The four types of polyps are the pneumatophore or the float, the tentacles, gastrozoids or stomach polyps used for digestion, and gonozoids, the reproductive polyps. The tentacles harbor specialized stinging cells called nematocysts. They contain a coiled microscopic harpoon that can inject a toxin made of proteins and phenols. The proteins are the cause of the hyperactive immune response discovered by Richet and Portier.

http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/02sab/logs/aug15/media/man_o_war.html -- image of Portuguese Man-o-War.

http://www.glaucus.org.uk/Moonjell.htm -- information on jellyfish

We have been swamped today collecting and processing samples. It will be a wild rat race to finish the next three nets, process the samples, and pack up before we arrive in Puerto Rico to unload the ship. Hold on to your hard hats!! Here we go. We did however take a break to decorate Styrofoam cups. These cups were placed in a nylon stocking and attached to the MOC 10 net system frame. They will take a ride to a depth of 5000m.

Daily question: What do you think will happen to the cups? How deep is 5000 meters in miles?


Picture 1: Styrofoam cups prior to ride on the MOC10.

Picture 2: Wyatt's cup waiting for its trip into the abyss.

Picture 3: Cups attached to the MOC10 while housed in a nylon stocking.

Picture 4: Martin Angel explains how to hammer a grommet.

Picture 5: Martin Angel and I waiting to launch the MOC10 meter net.

Picture 6: Specimen jars chilling in the walk-in cold room.

Picture 7: Not a Star Wars' character, but a pelagic gastropod posing for Russ Hopcroft's camera.

Picture 8: Pristine hatchet fish collected in the MOC 1 meter net.