Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Midwater Biology Logbook
Day 4: Night ops
February 20, 2012

The water today at our dive site just off Alarcón Seamount was crystal clear blue; beautiful to look at, but also indicating that there was a lower abundance of animals for our blue-water divers. The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive brought its own excitement, and the sub was recovered with 23 out of 24 samplers full—some with three or more specimens inside—after a busy 12-hour dive.

The underside of the small waterplane area twin hull (SWATH) vessel, R/V Western Flyer.
Measuring the large medusa, Deepstaria, using lasers on the ROV. The lasers are 29 centimeters apart. This jelly was too big to collect with the ROV samplers.

After dinner was over and the ROV was back on board and unloaded, the action on the ship did not stop. Each night, with assistance from the ship’s crew, Meghan Powers, a Ph.D. student working in Steve Haddock’s lab, oversees the deployment of a large midwater trawl net. It can take an hour or more for the net to reach depth (trawls are deployed at depths from 50 to 3,000 meters). Once the net is down, Meghan opens it by sending a “messenger”—a brass weight that triggers the spring-loaded mechanism. Then the net is towed for two hours, a closing messenger is sent, and the net is hauled back up to the surface—which can take another two hours. This process, coming after a full day of ROV and scuba diving, makes for very late nights sorting zooplankton.

Meghan Powers runs the trawl operations every evening.

From Meghan Powers: On this cruise I’m interested in collecting many different groups of bioluminescent organisms like ctenophores, cephalopods, and radiolarians. My research is focused on identifying the genes involved in luminescence within these organisms to better understand the evolution of bioluminescence in the ocean. I use molecular techniques to sequence the DNA from the luminescent organs of these animals. Many animals of interest, especially ctenophores, are gelatinous and often fragile, so we collect those specimens with the ROV. However, we also use a net called a Tucker trawl to collect midwater organisms that can withstand more force. We deploy this two-square-meters net off the stern of the boat and as we tow it slowly through the water, animals are filtered into a plastic tube at the end of the net that we empty on deck. I’m interested in collecting a species of squid called Pterygioteuthis that migrates up closer to the surface at night to feed on prey. These squid are bioluminescent and have light organs called photophores along their mantle and eyes. While we haven’t seen any in the trawls yet, I’m optimistic we will find them since we have collected them consistently in this area in the past. We have collected many other animals with the trawl, including pteropods (pelagic snails), marine worms called polychaetes, and luminescent crustaceans like ostracods and copepods.

The ctenophore, Bathocyroe, is one of the animals Meghan Powers has been studying.

While Meghan, unfortunately, has not yet found her target animals in the trawls, several of the other scientists on board have been able to use the majority of the trawl catch for their research. Erik Thuesen is doing respiration experiments as part of a collaborative project with Steve Haddock looking at the physiology and biodiversity of jellies — how they come to occupy many ecological niches in the vast and seemingly featureless deep sea. More on Erik’s research tomorrow…

Meghan Powers, Steve Haddock, and Henk-Jan Hoving deploy the Tucker trawl off the stern of the Western Flyer.
Meghan Powers empties a bounty of zooplankton from the trawl bucket.
Rebeca Gasca, Steve Haddock, Erik Thuesen, and Karen Osborn are eagerly waiting in the lab to sort through the trawl.
Erik Thuesen scoops out tiny ctenophores (comb jellies) to use for his respiration experiments.

—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: Feb. 27, 2012