Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Midwater Biology Logbook
Day 10: Over already?
February 26, 2012
The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) launched at sunrise for our last dive on the midwater leg of this Gulf of California expedition.

From Stephanie Bush: A few months ago, I went to pick up a few books at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography library. It’s a nice, new building with a gorgeous view of the Narragansett Bay. But what caught my eye as I walked out with my new reading material (on midwater animals!) were a few monitors tucked into a hallway. They were displaying ROV video footage, and I stood watching a purple sea cucumber that was laying on the seafloor flex its body back and forth in order to propel itself into the water column. I hadn’t watched footage like that on such a large, crisp monitor in a couple years, and I was blown away. All over again.

You see, with a bit of talent, a whole lot of luck, and the help of numerous people along the way, I spent my graduate career doing research with the Midwater Ecology group at MBARI. For six years, I studied the behavioral ecology of midwater squids. I still can’t believe I was able to get a doctorate trying to figure out why squids that live in complete darkness release dark ink and change their body coloration, but I’m not going to ask too many questions.

So, what brings me back to the R/V Western Flyer? Squids of course! And boy, did we see some squids!

After further examination in the lab, Stephanie Bush and Henk-Jan Hoving discovered that what they thought was a “new” squid on the first day turned out to be one of the glass squids (Leachia). It was a mature male, which had not been described before, and it had a few unusual characteristics that kept them from making the initial identification.

However, I was not only interested in squids this time, but also some of their smaller relatives, the pteropods. Pteropods (“wing-foot”) are snails that have greatly reduced or completely lost their shells, allowing them to live their entire lives in the water column. They have modified the foot that their ancestors used to crawl along the seafloor into flapping wings that propel them through the water column, especially when a certain scuba diver tries to collect them in a jar to study them. I am interested in studying pteropods because many species are thought to have world-wide distributions. Really? Well, there is only one ocean so the water is mixing together and the plankton goes along with it, right? Well, I have a hard time picturing a centimeter-long pteropod from the Gulf of California getting all the way to Hawai’i to mate with another pteropod. There is probably some truth to both of these views. Yes, pteropods get carried around by ocean currents and probably have large, interbreeding populations, but there are likely some barriers to reproduction, though scientists have very little idea of what they are. That is part of what I am trying to find out.

Two of the many different pteropods that Stephanie Bush and Karen Osborn collected during this cruise. Lab photos by Karen Osborn.

You might wonder why that is important. One environmental factor that is of great importance to a marine animal is the temperature of the water it is living in. The higher the water temperature, the higher the metabolic rate of the animal, the more food the animal has to eat. And finding food in the open ocean is often not an easy task. But there might be some species that are better able to handle higher temperatures than others. However, in order to determine whether or not this is true, we need to know whether what we currently think is one species is actually more than one or not.

Anyhow, I was quite successful in getting some pteropods for this project. We got some with the ROV and some from the trawl, but the most we collected were during today’s very successful blue-water scuba dive. It’s exciting, but also a little weird for me to be interested in something other than cephalopods.

Stephanie Bush and George Matsumoto head out for a blue-water diving adventure. The boat is driven by Craig Heihn.

When I tell people that I am going on a research cruise, I think they often only hear the word cruise. But the emphasis should be on the research work involved. The crew, ROV pilots, and scientists all put in very long days to keep the whole operation running smoothly. I commonly work 16-hour days, seven days a week, when I am at sea. Such is the life of a marine scientist. But this cruise was the kind that motivates me to be a scientist. I never forgot, but this trip helped to remind me that deep-sea animals are really, truly awesome—and that the people that I get to work with are great—and that MBARI is an amazingly unique and wonderful institute.

Water temperature is definitely one environmental factor that differs between Monterey Bay and the Gulf of California, but what about the oxygen minimum zone?

From Henk-Jan: Looking back at the observations from MBARI’s cruise to the Gulf of California in 2003 and from this past week, it is interesting to note the strong differences in the animal abundance and diversity between here and Monterey Canyon. Factors contributing to this difference may be related to the striking difference in the size of the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ). In the Gulf of California the OMZ starts relatively shallow and continues over 600 meters (from 200 to 800 meters deep), while in the Monterey Canyon this zone is only about 200 meters (between 600 to 800 meters deep). Above and below these depths diversity and abundance are notably higher than inside the OMZ.

You can see the extended oxygen minimum zone in the CTD trace from 0-1,400 meters (4,600 feet) in the Gulf of California (left) compared to Monterey Bay (right). The oxygen trace is the green line.

The ROV has been recovered and we have a few hours of steaming into port to finish working up or putting away our samples from 10 ROV dive days, seven blue-water dives, eight midwater trawls, and three towed-camera deployments. We will also need to pack and clean the science labs and our staterooms to prepare the ship for the benthic biologists who will be heading out to sea on the next leg. Steve Haddock’s research team will be flying back home, but the crew of the R/V Western Flyer and the pilots of the ROV Doc Ricketts have just three days in port before they head out for more adventure.

Group photo from Leg 2 (from left to right): Henk-Jan Hoving, Randy Prickett, Bryan Schaefer, Knute Brekke, Karen Osborn, Kyra Schlining, Meghan Powers, Stephanie Bush, Steve Haddock, Lynne Christianson, Rebeca Gasca, Mark Talkovic, Eric Martin, George Matsumoto, Ben Erwin, Erik Thuesen.
We promised we would show you what animal was attracted to the lighted lure on Henk-Jan Hoving’s towed-camera system.
It was Dosidicus gigas, the Humboldt squid.

—Kyra Schlining

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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.

Blue-water SCUBA diving 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 down 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.

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.


R/V Western Flyer

Ian Young


George Gunther
Relief Captain, Legs 1 & 2


Matt Noyes
Chief Engineer


Andrew McKee
First Mate, Legs 1 & 2


Shaun Summer
Relief First Engineer


Paul Ban
Second Mate, Legs 1 & 2


Olin Jordan


Craig Heihn
Relief Deckhand


Jason Jordan
Relief Deckhand


Dan Chamberlain
Electronics Officer


Patrick Mitts


ROV Doc Ricketts

Knute Brekke
Chief ROV Pilot


Mark Talkovic
Senior ROV Pilot


Randy Prickett
Senior ROV Pilot


Bryan Schaefer
ROV Pilot/Technician


Eric Martin
ROV Pilot/Technician


 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 and 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); Steve is interested in the genes involved in light-production.

Lynne Christianson
Senior Research Technician

Lynne works in Steve Haddock's laboratory and 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! She's looking forward to seeing how the diversity of midwater animals in the Gulf of California compares to those in the Monterey Bay.

Henk-Jan Hoving
Postdoctoral Fellow

Henk-Jan is a postdoc in the Midwater Ecology Group of Bruce Robison, Ph.D., investigating the life history strategies of pelagic cephalopods. Cephalopods have one reproductive cycle after which they die. Henk-Jan is interested in how long deep-sea cephalopods live, and how different species shape their reproductive strategies to optimize their single reproductive event. During the expedition in the Gulf of California he hopes to collect various pelagic cephalopod species and determine their age using their statoliths. Statoliths are hard, calcareous masses in the squid's organs of balance in which increments are periodically laid down (similar to rings in a tree). Additionally, a baited camera system will be deployed over the side of the ship to attract and record midwater fish and squid. The species seen by this camera system will be compared with the species encountered using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

George Matsumoto
Senior Research Specialist

George works in the fields of research and education. He is interested in a wide variety of gelatinous organisms and is focusing on Bathochordaeus—a large larvacean that has been studied in Monterey Bay using ROVs, but one that we hope to find and work with on scuba while in the Gulf of California. As a senior education and research specialist at MBARI, George's role involves several different projects: seminar coordinator, summer internship coordinator, livelink mentor, distance education, links between the research institute and other partners, and other projects that haven't begun yet. He is interested in the open ocean and deep-sea communities with particular emphasis on invertebrates. Specific areas of interest include: Ecology and biogeography of open ocean and deep sea organisms; Functional morphology, natural history, and behavior of pelagic and benthic organisms; Systematics and evolution of ctenophores and cnidarians (molecular phylogeny).

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 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.

Stephanie Bush
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Rhode Island

Stephanie joined the Seibel Lab at the University of Rhode Island as a postdoctoral researcher after finishing her graduate work in MBARI's Midwater Ecology Lab and the Caldwell Lab at University of California, Berkeley. She is broadly interested in marine organismal ecology, and her current research explores animal physiological adaptations to living in oxygen minimum zones and how we can predict the response of marine organisms to ocean warming. Additionally, she is part of collaborative effort to study animal camouflage in open water, focusing particularly on the polarization components. She is also interested in the connectivity between populations of planktonic animals and how it relates to speciation and biodiversity in the open ocean.

Rebeca Gasca
El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Unidad Chetumal, Mexico

Rebeca's research is on the biology and ecology of zooplankton, especially of siphonophores and hyperiid amphipods. She is interested in community changes related with water masses and environmental phenomena like El Niño. Also, the symbiotic associations between gelatinous zooplankton and hyperiids have been among her main interests and this kind of expedition represents an opportunity to observe those behaviors in situ.

Karen Osborn
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

After completing her Ph.D at UC Berkeley and MBARI, then a postdoc at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Karen received a scientist position at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Her research focuses on the evolution of pelagic invertebrates, primarily polychaete worms and isopod crustaceans. During this expedition she will be working on drifting acorn worms, systematics of tomopterid polychaetes, and the feeding and population genetics of munnopsid isopods.

Erik Thuesen
Evergreen State College

Erik Thuesen is a member of the faculty in Zoology at The Evergreen State College. His research focuses on the ecological physiology and biodiversity of marine invertebrates. He has studied many kinds of gelatinous zooplankton, including chaetognaths, ctenophores, and medusae. He is particularly interested in the physiological and biochemical adaptations to life in marine environments, such as the deep sea and estuaries. He received a B.S. from Antioch College, a M.A. from the University of Tokyo and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara. At Evergreen, he teaches invertebrate zoology, symbiosis, biodiversity and marine science.

Last updated: Mar. 02, 2012