Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2012 midwater ecology cruise

Day 6: Back in our element
October 27, 2012

It's the last day of our week-long dive series. Yesterday, strong winds forced us to end our dive with the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts a couple hours early, so we were a bit concerned about how much we could get done today. The wind calmed down overnight and the day dawned beautifully sunny with only a light breeze—a perfect day for two ROV dives!

We began the day as we often do, by asking the ROV pilots for a special, last-minute piece of equipment not on the dive plan. They love it when we do that, so we try to accommodate them at least once a dive series. Actually, this request was not too out of line, and, in no time, Marko Talkovic built the best "spatulator" we could have hoped for.

The spatulator. This highly technical device (a spatula) could make all the difference when attempting to capture benthic organisms—something we, as midwater ecologists, do not often do, and something the tall toolsled that our lab group often uses on the ROV Doc Ricketts is not designed for.

Our colleagues from the Monterey Bay Aquarium are perpetually on the lookout for cephalopods, and this includes benthic species. So when we first came upon the octopus Graneledone boreopacifica, the spatulator was used to gently lift, then nudge the animal up in the water column, where the pilots attempted to position it into one of our detritus samplers. No luck. A little too large and a little too mobile, the octopus strolled across the top of our samplers and drifted back to her rock on the bottom.

The ROV pilots use the spatulator to nudge this benthic octopus up into the water column.
The octopus Graneledone boreopacifica strolled across the top of our samplers.

Sometimes we sit for hours staring at marine snow as the ROV slips through water seemingly devoid of life. Other times, things happen fast. At about 600 meters (2,000 feet), over the 1,500-meters-deep (4,920-feet-deep) bottom, we were back in our element. Nancy Burnett was really put to task operating the suction sampler, recording data, and making annotations as the pilots quickly captured two different species of squid: Octopoteuthis deletron and Chiroteuthis calyx. The pilots then followed that up with collections of the shrimp Sergestes similis for ongoing respiration studies. The Octopoteuthis was collected in a sampler that Alicia Bitondo and Chris Payne from the Monterey Bay Aquarium had stayed up late to modify so that it would block light, hopefully stressing the animal less. Not wanting the squid to remain too long in their samplers, we ended dive one.

With the ROV on deck, we hastened to take care of our samples, putting them in special aquaria designed for animals who aren't used to walls. Before going in for our second dive, I had time to glance at email. Back at home our families and friends are putting on costumes and getting ready for Halloween parties.

And it struck me that, while not exactly in costumes, mesopelagic animals have evolved crazier getups than most of us ever dream of: Octopoteuthis deletron has bioluminescent arm-tips that twinkle with light; Chiroteuthis calyx, the swordtail squid, is dressed up to look a lot like the very common, but unpalatable (at least to predators of squid) siphonophore, Nanomia bijuga.

Nanomia bijuga on the left, and the imposter Chiroteuthis calyx on the right.

Other critters, like the medusa Aegina are not what they seem. They scoot through the water, arms over their bells looking like innocuous, little, white turnips. Yet, lion-like, they prey on much larger lobate ctenophores, five or more times their size.

Aegina medusa feeds on a lobate ctenophore.
This medusa, Solmissus incisa, has just eaten a salp chain—or, wait, maybe it's only a bag of Halloween candy.

—Rob Sherlock

Previous log


Day 6 Day 6
October 27
Back in our element

Day 5 Day 5
October 26, 2012
Monterey Bay Aquarium at sea

Day 4 Day 4
October 25, 2012
Two experiments

Day 3 Day 3
October 24, 2012
Some amazing organisms

Day 2 Day 2
October 23, 2012
Squid sightings

day one Day 1
October 22, 2012
A great start


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, the 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.

Midwater respirometry system (MRS)

The MRS conducts oxygen consumption rate measurements in situ gauging the metabolism of animals without subjecting them to the stresses of transport to the surface. The MRS has been modified to operate in deeper water with an expanded capacity, enabling respiration studies on animals that live deeper than 1,250 meters.

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.


The CTDO is mounted on the ROV and takes in situ measurements of environmental parameters such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and oxygen concentration.

High-frequency suction sampler

This sampler acts like a vacuum cleaner sucking up samples and depositing them into one of the 12 buckets.

 Research Team

bruce robison Bruce Robison
Senior Scientist, MBARI

Bruce Robison's research is focused on the biology and ecology of deep-sea animals, particularly those that inhabit the oceanic water column. He pioneered the use of undersea vehicles for these studies, leading the first team of scientists trained as research submersible pilots. At MBARI, his research group has focused on the development of remotely operated vehicles as platforms for deep-sea science.

kim reisenbichler Kim Reisenbichler
Senior Research Technician, MBARI

Kim's general area of interest is the study of midwater and deep-sea animals. He has developed many tools and techniques to observe, manipulate, and collect these organisms, and to maintain the animals in the lab.

rob sherlock Rob Sherlock
Senior Research Technician, MBARI

Rob is interested in the ecology of midwater invertebrates. He has worked in the Robison lab and been involved with the Midwater Time Series since he came to MBARI in 1996, identifying and quantifying mesopelagic animals and the changes in that community over time and depth and relative to other physical factors.

George Matsumoto George Matsumoto
Education Research Specialist, MBARI

George works in the fields of research and education. As an education specialist, George is involved in several different projects including coordinating MBARI's summer internship program and seminar series and fostering links between MBARI and other partners. As a researcher, George is interested in the ecology of a wide variety of open-ocean and deep-sea gelatinous organisms, as well as the functional morphology, natural history, and behavior of pelagic and benthic organisms.

kris walz Kris Walz
Research Assistant, MBARI

Kris works with the midwater ecology group, analyzing ROV video transects between 50 and 1,000 meters in depth to identify biological organisms from all taxonomic levels, most of which spend their entire lives in the oceanic water column. Kris started working at MBARI in 1996 after finishing her master's degree at University of California, Santa Cruz. She's looking forward to returning to sea this month to collect video transects and search for deep-sea lobster larvae from the family Polychelidae.

henk-jan hoving Henk-Jan Hoving
Postdoctoral Fellow, MBARI

Henk-Jan is a postdoc in the midwater ecology group of Bruce Robison, 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.

Nancy Burnett
David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Bret Grasse
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Bret is an aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where his job is to highlight and display a wide variety of marine organisms by providing the best possible conditions for each individual in captivity. Bret specializes in tropical systems and cephalopods.

Alicia Bitondo
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Alicia is an aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where she specializes in the care and display of cephalopods and jellies. She is also a graduate student at Moss Landing Marine Labs, where she is focusing on ontogenetic changes in the ecology and morphology of midwater cephalopods.

Paul Clarkson
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Paul is a curator of Husbandry Operations at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where he manages husbandry staff and live exhibits. He is currently part of the team developing the aquarium's next temporary gallery that will focus solely on cephalopods. With support from MBARI cruises in 2012 and 2013, this team will attempt to keep midwater cephalopods alive and on public exhibit for the first time.

Chris Payne
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Chris has been an aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for two years now. His focus is mainly on the husbandry and rearing of syngnathids—the family of fish that includes seahorses, pipefishes, and leafy and weedy sea dragons—though he also works with jellyfish and cephalopods.