Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2012 bioluminescence and biodiversity expedition

Day 1—Out to sea
July 10, 2013

Today we set sail at 11:00 a.m. The timing of the departure and return of each cruise on the research vessel Western Flyer depends on the tides. The slip where the ship docks has relatively shallow water, so we need to wait until the tide is high enough to safely maneuver out of the harbor. Despite this late start, we had a very successful day at sea!

Second mate Miriam Anthony keeps watch on the back deck as the Flyer pulls out of from its slip in the harbor. The fog partly obscures the Moss Landing power plant’s stacks in the background.

We steamed to a site in the Monterey Bay that is about 2,000 meters deep. The ship’s crew and science team participated in a safety drill, to ensure that everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency. As we approached the site, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) pilots were getting ready to deploy ROV Doc Ricketts, to get it in the water as soon as possible. We had a very successful ROV dive, sending the vehicle quickly down to 1,250 meters and working its way up, collecting target organisms as it ascends. As the ROV was diving, Lynne Christianson and Alexander Jaffe deployed a plankton net to collect plankton for a colleague at MBARI. They also collected water with a bucket and filtered it for analysis of phytoplankton.

Left: Lynne and Alex look at the results of their plankton tow. Right: The bottle on the left contains the water from the bucket. The bottle on the right contains the concentrated plankton from the tow. The concentrated plankton is brown and contains many plankton surface dwellers, big and small.

The seas were flat calm and winds were down, so as the ROV worked in the deep midwater, our blue-water divers got ready for a SCUBA dive. There are many animals that are interesting to the scientists on board within SCUBA depths. Because of the tether it drags behind, ROV Doc Ricketts is not allowed to operate in shallow water (above 200 meters). There are also many shallow animals that are too small to observe with the ROV, so to collect shallow animals, the science team sends out SCUBA divers. A blue-water dive is one where the divers launch a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) from the back deck of the Western Flyer. A crew member drives the RHIB and up to four divers can go on the dive. The divers hook onto a line that is attached to the RHIB, so they drift together as the divers collect animals.

Yesterday, a few of the divers did a “check out” dive in MBARI’s test tank. The MBARI dive safety officer, Kim Reisenbichler needed to make sure the divers from other institutions understood and were capable of following MBARI’s blue-water dive safety procedures. The divers attach to these lines, one diver staying near the central “down line” as the safety diver. The other divers are tethered to this main line like spokes on a wheel, and they swim away from the line to collect animals. When the dive is over, they all return to the main line and ascend together. On today’s SCUBA dive the divers collected 50 specimens of one of the high-priority jellies — an efficient use of 30 minutes!

divers in test tank

Steve Haddock and Stephan Siebert practice setting up and attaching to the line for blue-water diving in MBARI’s test tank. Danielle Haddock took these photos through the windows of the conference room adjacent to the test tank during the check-out dive.

Below are some frame grabs from the ROV video taken on today’s dive. Clockwise from top left: Phronima sedentaria is clear amphipod that eats the inside out of a salp and lays its eggs in the left-over barrel.  This cydippid comb jelly with red tentacles is yet to be described by scientists. Three of the scientists on board the cruise have submitted a paper describing this long Apolemiasiphonophore. Bargmannia amoena is a beautiful orange/red siphonophore.

divers in test tank

This is just the beginning of the cruise, yet we have already collected many species of interest. With each dive, we will get closer to understanding and enumerating the diversity of gelatinous animals in the deep midwater. Documenting the diverse assemblage of animals in the deep ocean will help answer questions about their evolution and will help us understand large-scale changes to the deep-ocean ecosystem.

—Susan von Thun

Next log


Day 6 Day 6
July 15, 2013
The last day (in more ways than one)

Day 5 Day 5
July 14, 2013
Friends and interns

Day 4 Day 4
July 13, 2013
Tribute to an inspiring mentor

Day 3 Day 3
July 12, 2013
The spectacular diversity of siphonophores

Day 2 Day 2
July 11, 2013
The best bang for the buck!

Day 1 Day 1
July 10, 2013
Out to sea


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!

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.

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. She is still floored by the seafaring life.

Susan von Thun
Senior Research Technician

Susan works in the MBARI video lab, where her primary responsibility is to watch video taken with MBARI's remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and make observations about the organisms, behaviors, equipment, and geological features that she sees. While annotating video, she's become adept at identifying numerous deep-sea organisms, specializing in midwater organisms. She also works on MBARI's social media outlets. On this expedition, she will be in charge of the daily reports from this expedition and will assist with other science crew tasks.

Alexander Jaffe
Summer Intern

Alexander is an undergraduate at Harvard College, where he is majoring in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. This summer, he is working as an intern with Steve Haddock on a project examining the ecology and diversity of midwater organisms, focusing specifically on a set of krill-eating, gelatinous zooplankton and patterns of their spatio-temporal distribution in the Greater Monterey Bay.

Casey Dunn
Assistant Professor
Brown University

Casey is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University. His lab studies the evolution and development of siphonophores, a group of colonial jellyfish that include the Portuguese Man of War. Many siphonophores live exclusively in the deep sea, and ROVs are the only way to collect them intact. Casey's lab also studies the evolutionary relationships between animals. See for more.

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.

Jamie Baldwin-Fergus
Postdoctoral Scholar
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Jamie primarily studies topics relating to visual ecology. Currently, Jamie is studying how vision physiology, optical environment, and ecological associations shape visual adaptations in hyperiid amphipods. Hyperiid amphipods are small crustacean invertebrates that are abundant from the surface down to the deepest depths of the oceans, with particular abundance in the twilight zone (200-1000 m). At twilight zone depths, available light is limited to increasingly dim and blue down-welling light and bioluminescence. In this zone, the competition to see and not be seen is a matter of life or death. As a result, hyperiids have huge variation in the shapes and function of their eyes, likely an evolutionary response to the complexities of the midwater optical environment.