Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2012 bioluminescence and biodiversity expedition

Day 5 – Best laid plans
October 2, 2012

One thing about working at sea is that you have to learn to go with the flow. Today started out with a normal remotely operated vehicle (ROV) launch at 6:30 a.m., but less than an hour into the dive the ship's crew noticed a problem with the ROV tether. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a showstopper, and we had to recover the vehicle so the ROV pilots could work on the problem.

Fraying of the external sheath on the ROV tether.

ROV pilots, Knute Brekke, Ben Erwin, and Bryan Schaefer, clip off the frayed wires. The pilots worked all day to remove 300 meters (985 feet) of damaged cable and reterminate the tether.

Without ROV operations to count on for animal collections, our blue-water dive team, consisting of Steve Haddock, Meghan Powers, Freya Goetz, and Olivia Judson, sprang into action. The National Geographic photographers, David Liittschwager and Zach Kobrinsky, used the opportunity to catch up photographing some specimens from last night's trawl and clean their camera gear. The rest of us took some time to inventory the lab and catch up on other projects.

The blue-water divers assemble their gear on the back deck. The ship's crew prepares the small boat for launch.

Perry Shoemake drives the small boat a short distance away from the Western Flyer. Steve Haddock will deploy a dive buoy and all the divers will be clipped onto a line as they collect organisms in small jars.

Over the past few days we've highlighted many animals that are bioluminescent, but the Haddock lab is investigating both bioluminescence and fluorescence in marine organisms. Bioluminescent animals are able to create light using internal chemical processes, i.e., they produce their own glow, like a firefly. There is a wide variety of ways that animals use bioluminescence for both defensive and offensive purposes.

Fluorescent animals can absorb light from a source (for example, blue light in the ocean) and reemit the light at a longer wavelength (more green or red). But, when the light source is taken away they do not glow. Steve has attached a blue LED array to the ROV so we can shine blue light only and search for new fluorescent animals in the field. Recent research by Steve and Philip Pugh gives an elegant example of how fluorescence may be used to attract prey by the siphonophore, Resomia ornicephala. We know from lab dissections that this animal eats krill. When we encounter it in situ, its long tentacles are slowly jigging up and down, and its lures are fluorescent. This animal has been nicknamed "R-200," because it is found in a very narrow depth range around 200 meters (650 feet). Steve suggests that "R-200" lives at this depth because the lures are adapted for a particular light level coming from the surface and fluoresce in such a way that they mimic a yummy dinner item for a krill. When the predator (the krill) comes in to feed, it becomes entangled in stinging siphonophore tentacles, and instead becomes prey.

Blue light is cast upon the viperfish, Chauliodus macouni, to look for evidence of telltale fluorescence indicating light organs. We observed fluorescence in a close relative of this fish during our recent research mission to the Gulf of California, but we did not see anything glow on this viperfish. Steve is still working on the correct configuration of the blue LED array, so we will try again another day.

The beautiful green siphonophore, Lilyopsis fluoracantha, was described by Steve and his colleagues in 2005. It exhibits brilliant green fluorescence under blue light conditions.

Fingers crossed for a successful ROV launch tomorrow morning! In the meantime, here's more information on bioluminescence vs. fluorescence, and some amazing images of animals that emit light.

—Kyra Schlining

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.