Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2012 bioluminescence and biodiversity expedition

Day 2 – National Geographic crew records the expedition
September 29, 2012

Along with the scientific research team and the ever-supportive crew of the R/V Western Flyer, there are the rest of us: me (your grants person), and members of a National Geographic team consisting of an outstanding photographer, David Liittschwager and his assistant Zach Kobrinsky, and their equally impressive writer Olivia Judson. So why are we here and more importantly why should we care about what these scientists are researching? That, my fellow MBARIans and future potential external funding agencies, is the (if we are lucky) million dollar question.

It’s a hard day’s night—as the song goes—as the collections from the first day’s ROV dive get handed down bucket-brigade style into the wet lab and are prepped, tagged, and fawned over by all of us. A lovely squid that Henk-Jan Hoving, waiting ashore, has graciously agreed to keep alive, is prepped for his potential pictorial debut in an upcoming National Geographic article on bioluminescence. As Meghan Powers stimulates the squid Octopoteuthis with a pair of tongs, the squid cleaves its tentacle tips like a lizard dropping its tail—except that these express a brilliant blue light in the process. Meghan, because she is professional and thorough, agitates half of the tentacles so that she and Henk-Jan can observe them grow back. Steve Haddock and David photograph the expressions of bioluminescence in our retrofitted darkroom and work their way through the squid, siphonophores, Tomopteris, a bell jelly, and a ctenophore before heading off to sleep around 1 a.m. (an early night according to the chief scientist).

David Liittschwager photographs the action in the lab for an upcoming National Geographic story.

Day Two begins with a 7 a.m. ROV dive and we have an early encounter with another Octopoteuthis, to which I say “swim away” because we are doing a deep dive to 3,600 meters and that’s a long day for the squid to be in the sample jar. Thankfully, it listened, inked, and split. A morning blue-water scuba dive is cancelled due to steering issues on the dive boat and crew members Andrew McKee, Matt Noyes, Perry Shoemake, Randy Prickett, Fred Peemoeller, and Knute Brekke do their best to hide rope and other jerry-rigging materials away from Steve, who is excited to get into the clear blue water that surrounds us. They distract him with hopes of future shiny things in the ROV control room and Steve leaves the MacGyver skills to the experts who have a functioning dive boat by early afternoon (thanks guys!), leading to a successful blue-water dive. We have many options on our ROV dive and fill the containers with many creatures (five green-bomber worms, a Sphaeronectes christiansonae, a giant Flota, several radiolarians) to the point where Meghan agrees with the executive decision to skip the trawl for the night.

Octopoteuthis deletron, the octopus squid.
Lynne Christianson in the control room looking at Octopoteuthis deletron.

As the ROV is lifted out of the water and we wait with anticipation for another night of work, creative tactics, and a new mystery mollusc photo, I ask for the National Geographic team’s perspective on the antics, science, and methods thus far:

Olivia Judson is a glamorous, fun-loving, self described minimalist who has recently had the Santa Cruz experience of disc-golf. Her professional credentials include being an evolutionary biologist, and a writer for the New York Times and the Economist. She has penned the best-selling “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation” and, in addition to the article, she is currently at work on her next opus.

“It’s amazing to watch as the ROV travels through the depths, revealing beings that seem more like magical concoctions than real animals—angler fish with glowing lures, bright red squid, and a huge variety of gelatinous organisms," Olivia said. "Incredible!”

David Liittschwager is a free-lance photographer for National Geographic magazine and is the recipient of the Endangered Species Coalition Champion award. He takes great care to capture faithful portraits of diverse creatures ranging from those underfoot to those in the sky. He is best known for his One Cubic Foot series for National Geographic, recently collected into the book “ A World In One Cubic Foot: Portraits of Biodiversity” (University of Chicago Press 2012).

“This is a fantastic opportunity to observe the leading edge of the scientific study of bioluminescence because nobody else but MBARI can give me this experience,” he said.

Zach Kobrinsky is the photographer assistant extraordinaire.

“I find it fascinating that so many different facets of the taxonomic tree have developed many different and unique mechanisms of bioluminescence independently from one another over the span of time,” Zach said.

I empathize with our researchers who have to put into words and photos what they do every day because it’s not easy (and they still have to do it). I wish everyone could experience what it’s like out here and what is seen in the depths of the ocean because it’s exciting—we can’t wait to tell you about what we just saw! I find myself wondering what else is out there and how do we affect it?

— Danielle Haddock

Olivia Judson, Zach Kobrinsky, and Danielle Haddock try on their immersion suits. Safety first!
Olivia Judson captures a ctenophore on the first blue-water dive of the expedition.
Previous log Next log


Day 6 Day 6
October 3, 2012
Light's out, it's a wrap

Day 5 Day 5
October 2, 2012
Best laid plans

Day 4 Day 4
October 1, 2012
Nocturnal nature

Day 3 Day 3
September 30, 2012
So many mysteries in the deep

Day 2 Day 2
September 29, 2012
National Geographic crew records the expedition

Day 1 Day 1
September 28, 2012
First day of diving


R/V Western Flyer

The R/V Western Flyer is a small water-plane area twin hull (SWATH) oceanographic research vessel measuring 35.6 meters long and 16.2 meters wide. It was designed and constructed for MBARI to serve as the support vessel for ROV operations. Her missions include the Monterey Bay as well as extended cruises to Hawaii, Gulf of California, and the Pacific Northwest.

ROV Doc Ricketts

ROV Doc Ricketts is MBARI's next generation ROV. The system breaks new ground in providing an integrated unmanned submersible research platform, with many powerful features providing efficient, reliable, and precise sampling and data collection in a wide range of missions.

Detritus sampler

Detritus samplers are large plexiglass containers with lids that can be controlled by the pilot of the ROV and gently closed once an organism is trapped inside.

High frequency suction sampler

This sampler acts like a vacuum cleaner sucking up samples and depositing them into one of the 12 buckets.

Blue-water scuba rig

Blue-water diving is a highly specialized mode of scientific diving that lets researchers observe, experiment, and collect delicate midwater organisms in situ. A weighted line is suspended from the surface for the divers to attach the "trapeze" to which they attach their individual safety lines. Divers are attached to their safety lines by quick releases and a safety diver watches over all of them from near the trapeze throughout the dive.

Two-meter midwater trawl

A midwater trawl collects specimens while being towed behind the Western Flyer. Researchers have the option of trawling with the net open (as seen in this photo) or keeping the net closed until a particular depth is reached and then opening the net. The net can then be closed prior to recovery. This provides scientists with a discrete sample from a particular depth.

 Research Team

Steve Haddock
Chief Scientist

Steve Haddock studies the biodiversity and bio-optical properties of gelatinous zooplankton (various types of jelly-like animals). He uses molecular methods along with morphological traits to examine the relationships of rarely-studied, deep-sea comb jellies and other open-ocean drifters, many of which are new to science. These animals also are able to make their own light (bioluminescence), and Steve is interested in the genes involved in light-production.

Lynne Christianson
Senior Research Technician

Lynne works in Steve Haddock's laboratory. Her research focuses on exploring the biodiversity of marine zooplankton, especially cnidarians and ctenophores (jellies) and phaeodarians (radiolarians). She uses the tools of molecular biology to aid in the identification of these animals, to study their evolutionary relationships, and to investigate the origin and function of bioluminescence and fluorescence. In addition to assisting in the collection and examination of animals from ROV dives, trawls, and blue-water scuba dives, her main job will be cruise logistics. Her goal is to make this cruise as successful as possible for all the scientists on board!

Danielle Haddock
Senior Grants & Accounting Specialist

Danielle has a background in biology and grant writing and handles all external funding at MBARI which includes managing grants, negotiating contracts, monitoring subawards, making people talk to each other... awake still? When she is not enforcing sponsor and MBARI policy, she likes to cook, climb mountains, travel, and hang out with her nephew. She is still floored by the seafaring life.

Kyra Schlining
Senior Research Technician

Kyra is a senior research technician in the video lab at MBARI. Her main responsibility, both on shore and at sea, is to manage and annotate the video footage recorded during MBARI ROV missions. Kyra specializes in identifying deep-sea organisms and describing their behaviors as well as recording observations on habitat and equipment. On the ship she will also assist with processing biological samples and writing up the cruise logs. Kyra's duties in the video lab also include assisting scientists with accessing the data from the video database for publications, editing video from our archives using Final Cut Pro, and presenting current MBARI research to the public, mainly through our sister organization, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Meghan Powers
Graduate Research Assistant

Meghan is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, working in Steve Haddock's lab. Her research is focused on understanding the molecular biology and evolution of bioluminescence in a variety of deep-sea zooplankton including cephalopods, chaetognaths, and jellyfish.

Warren Francis
Graduate Research Assistant

Warren Francis is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, working in Steve Haddock's lab. His work focuses on understanding the molecular biology and chemistry of polychaetes and other luminous animals, as well as general computational approaches to annotating functions of proteins for non-model organisms.

Freya Goetz
Research Assistant
Brown University

Freya Goetz is the research assistant to Casey Dunn at Brown University. Her interests are very broad and include phylogenetics, invertebrate symbioses, bioluminescence, chaetognath morphology, intertidal ecology, and scientific illustration of marine invertebrates (especially gelatinous zooplankton). She is currently working with Stefan Siebert to characterize gene expression spatially within a siphonophore colony, Nanomia bijuga. She is crossing her fingers for calm seas and quiet wind to maximize blue-water diving possibilities!

Stefan Siebert
Postdoctoral Fellow
Brown University

Stefan Siebert is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dunn lab at Brown University and is interested in the developmental complexity of siphonophores, a group of colonial animals belonging to the Cnidaria. He is looking forward to collecting specimens for descriptive work and for the molecular characterization of colony formation.