Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jenna and Mandy on a Boat (Part 2 of 2): Science at Sea

Now let's do some science! As I mentioned in the previous post. Jenna and I were on the trawl shift from 8-noon and 8-midnight. During each 4 hour shift there were between 3 and 5 trawls. Each trawl had 10 minutes of bottom time and several minutes going down and coming up. A trawl is basically a giant funnel shaped net with wooden doors at the front that keep the net open as it is being pulled through the water along the ocean (or whatever body of water) floor. I can't tell you too much about the physics of it, but when you pull the net up, you untie the narrow end of the funnel and dump out the critters. This is when the biology part begins. As we sorted through the critters on deck the fish could go together in one or more giant fish bucket(s), but the invertebrates were sorted by level of aggressiveness with swimming crabs and stomatopods (mantis shrimp) being separated from more delicate animals like squid.

If you're studying fish, most of your animals ended up nicely grouped at the end of the net near the closure; if you're studying invertebrates then many of your animals have limbs for grabbing, and are probably scattered throughout the net. In the picture below Jenna and are are going through the net to remove animals that didn't make it through to the tied off end, usually starfish and crabs.

Anamar needed specific information for each trawl including total wet weight, number of species, number of individuals of each species, and measurements of some molluscs and arthropods. Starfish were a common theme in every trawl, as were juvenile Penaeid shrimp (also known as eatin' shrimp). In one trawl Jenna had the privilege of counting 453 Penaeids! Animals that we were keeping for the museum went into relaxants, which were different depending on the critter in question.

Most of those animals were photographed and had a tissue subsample taken. Below are some of the lab photos we took of an anemone and a worm with a portion of the shell-covered tube he constructed.

We kept a running illustration of the "Catch of the Day," one for invertebrates and one for fish. Jenna had the invertebrate illustration well in hand, but Jason (the fish expert on board) wasn't confident in his artistic abilities so Jenna volunteered to give the fish illustration a go. It looks accurate, based on the ID, but we're not fish taxonomists so there may be a few errors.

One of our Catches of the Day was this huge Pleuroploca gigantea. It is the largest species of marine snail in this hemisphere. The ruler in the picture with him is one foot long.

Not to be outdone, during the last trawl of the trip the fish team pulled up this giant stingray, which is also the record-holding species for the Atlantic.

He was so big that they couldn't weigh him using the winch and the largest scale available on the boat. All we know for sure is that he weighs more than 100 lbs. He was so big that the crew all gathered at the back deck to get a glimpse of him, although since it was April Fool's Day some people didn't believe the report when they heard it. In contrast to my usual liberal application of random gender assignments to the animals we caught, we actually know that this guy was a male due to his claspers. The females get even larger!

So after our evening shift we usually stuck around the lab and fished up the processing of the specimens for the museum: relaxing, photographing, subsampling, fixing. After our morning shift we pitched in with some of the other activities. During the 12-8pm shift there were several different sampling methods being employed. One of these was a bottom grab which got two different treatments. One sample was homogenized for chemical analysis, and one was sieved and bagged to be sent to another institution. Jenna and I did some sieving to give the usual sievers a dinner break.

We would also take turns catching up on sleep and manning the radio so we could root through the leftovers from the chemistry sample. We found some cool stuff in there including lots of worms and a cool sea biscuit.

Also during this time they would deploy the CTD. I'm sure its full name is very descriptive of its function, and might be useful for me to know now. In any case it took water measurements such as salinity, temperature, depth, current. It can also take water samples, but we didn't take any on this trip.

A few people also did some diving to get a direct observation of the bottom conditions in certain areas. Here they are waiting for the smaller boat to be set in the water to take them to the dive site.

They also had a cool camera thing that they could send down to the bottom that would take video footage of animals within the sediment using refraction, but it's a sensitive piece of equipment and opted not to work this time, although much of the last day was spent staring at it in an attempt to bend its functionality to our will. This picture was taken when we had nearly accepted defeat.

So we had a great time and saw a lot of really interesting stuff! We also found some animals that are new to the collection. Thanks to Anamar and the EPA for including us (hat tip to Jason). Hopefully we can get in on another trip in the future. In the group shot below that's not the OSV Bold in the background; it's just a boat that happened to be at the same dock.

:) Mandy

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jenna and Mandy on a Boat (Part 1 of 2): Life at Sea

So this week (Sunday through Friday) Jenna and I accompanied a team of scientists from Anamar, an environmental consulting firm in Gainesville, who had been hired by the EPA to do a survey for a future site for dredge dump materials. Part two of this post series will describe the work we did, but first I want to describe our life at sea on the OSV Bold.

Any sailor knows that safety is of the utmost importance on a boat. If something hits the fan it's important to know that you can remain calm, get to your muster station, and look good doing it. Enter the Gumby Suit:

The Gumby Suit (or Immersion Suit if you're a stickler) is designed to keep you alive if you are so unfortunate as to find yourself in the water for any length of time. I personally felt like I was drowning in the suit itself and was grateful they didn't feel the need to add water for this particular exercise.

In addition to the safety briefing, during our first day at sea we also got our shift assignments. Jenna and I were on the trawl team and our shift was from 8-12 both a.m. and p.m., additionally chipping in when extra help was needed or when people needed relieving at meal times which were from 7-8, 11:30-12:30, and 4:30-5:30. Of course food was available in the galley and break room 24 hours a day as Jenna and I quickly discovered.

Several crew members told us about the ice cream available in the freezer. We thanked them, but didn't feel the need to tell them that we had discovered at least one of the ice cream stashes within a few hours of our arrival.

Also within a few hours of our arrival (or rather our departure from the dock)...seasickness. I did not capture on film the image of me vomiting over the side of the boat (collective sigh of relief), but afterwards I lay down for a few hours and was fit as a fiddle for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately my bout of seasickness did cause me to miss one meal, but I more than made up for it over the course of the trip. Throughout the day Jenna and I made frequent trips to the galley for what we termed "fortifying cookies," candy, coffee, and water. This room really was central to our seafaring life. The chef was amazing and we didn't want her to feel unappreciated.

In fact, Jenna and I probably spent more time in the galley and the wet lab (where we did most of our work) than we did in this room.

And it had nothing to do with the fact that over the course of the week the room became filled with clothes covered in fish scales and invertebrate goo, and the cryptically named "vomit sweatshirt." We were just really busy! The room was actually very nice and pretty spacious for a ship cabin. To the left of the above picture there was even a desk where we could catch up on some informative reading.

As you can see Jenna and I took our new roles as sailors very seriously. I'm thinking of getting a subscription to WorkBoat to add a touch of the sea to my landlubbing existence. I think that the rest of the crew could tell how committed we were, because after a brief tutorial...

They let Jenna and I drive the boat! Although I think the engineers in particular were unimpressed with our driving. During my turn at the helm they called up to the bridge to make sure that everything was ok and that the chief mate (who was on shift at the time) hadn't been hijacked or drinking on the job.

Also during our last days we did manage to grab a few moments of downtime on the steel beach on the bridge deck. In this next shot, the part of Jenna and I will be played by our echidna traveling companion.

We had a great time, but we also worked hard. Next post I'll talk about the work that we and the other scientists conducted during the trip. In hindsight, maybe I should have posted about the work part first, but I was just trying to set the stage. I promise we did work Gustav!!

:) Mandy