Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Midwater Biology Logbook
Day 5: Carefully collecting comb jellies
February 21, 2012

This morning after collecting five small Abraliopsis squid for Henk-Jan Hoving and Stephanie Bush, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was descending past 850 meters (2,800 feet) when several of the samplers malfunctioned. To fix them, we had to recover the vehicle, which is a pretty large effort for all the ROV pilots and ship’s crew. Luckily, our pilots are almost always able to diagnose and fix the problem right on the ship. By 9:30 a.m. the ROV was ready to relaunch and we continued our dive down to 2,000 meters at another location close to Alarcón Seamount.

ROV pilots, Knute Brekke and Randy Prickett, work with the ship’s crew Andrew McKee and Olin Jordan to relaunch the ROV. All the pilots and crew are needed to assist during the daily launches and recoveries.

We noted a relatively greater abundance of animals as we passed through the upper 200 meters (656 feet) of water this morning than on previous dives, including a large assortment of comb jellies, or ctenophores, which means a very busy day for Erik Thuesen. Erik was the first scientist up this morning, by far. His alarm was set for 2:00 a.m. to run some oxygen consumption experiments as part of a larger effort to understand the biodiversity of this group of jellies.

Erik Thuesen measures the oxygen consumption rate of a Beroe ctenophore.

From Erik Thuesen: Many ctenophores are extremely fragile and need to be collected by hand, either by the human hands of scuba divers or the robotic “hands” of the ROV. Some species are so fragile that very little research can be done on them because they dissolve into pieces once they are held in a container for any length of time. But using very careful collection techniques, we are able to get specimens of many species in excellent condition.

I’m investigating the diversity of metabolic characteristics of ctenophores by measuring their oxygen consumption rates and activities of metabolic enzymes. In order to measure oxygen consumption, I place the animals into small chambers and keep them for a day or so while I measure the oxygen levels in the chambers using a fiber-optic oxygen probe. Glass syringes make great chambers, because they come in lots of sizes and allow me to customize the chamber size to the shape and size of the animal. I’m running experiments around the clock, 24 hours a day, so I often have to wake up in the early hours to check on the animals. Being on an oceanographic research expedition isn’t anything like being on a pleasure cruise.

The ctenophore, Beroe forskalii.

Steve Haddock and I hope to combine studies of metabolic diversity, locomotory capabilities, bioluminescence, and DNA to piece together an overall view of the evolution of these beautiful animals. Most ctenophores use their rows of cilia (tiny hair-like projections) to swim elegantly through the water, and actually they are the largest animals on the planet to move using cilia. However, some of them swim by flapping lobes and "flying" through the water or jetting around like jellyfish. These animals live all throughout the oceans from the floor of the deep sea to tropical surface waters to polar waters.

I’ve previously investigated ctenophores that live in estuarine hypoxia (very low oxygen waters) and one neat aspect of the Gulf of California is that the oxygen goes practically to zero in the midwater oxygen minimum zone. Some ctenophores can survive for many hours at zero oxygen and others die immediately. I hope to learn more about how ctenophores can live at extremely low oxygen levels by studying their metabolic enzymes, so I am also freezing lots of specimens from this research expedition in liquid nitrogen for later analyses back on shore.

The ctenophore, Beroe cucumis.

Some other projects that I’m working on during this cruise include measuring oxygen consumption of surface copepods that use vision, such as the sparkly copepods called Sapphirina. I hope to test the idea that these copepods with eyes may have higher metabolic rates than the majority of copepods (that don’t use vision). I’m also collecting specimens of undescribed species of deep-sea arrow worms (chaetognaths). We’ve already found a very rare one that is the same species we found previously in Monterey Canyon.

ROV frame grab of the sparkling layer of Sapphirina copepods at about 40 meters (130 feet). The triangular animal on the left is a Beroe forskalii.
Can you spot the differences between these two deep-sea chaetognaths, Eukrohnia fowleri and Caecosagitta macrocephala?

—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