Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2013 midwater ecology cruise

Day 6 – Stayin' alive!
November 12, 2013

Whenever I give talks to the public about our work with ROVs, I'm always asked, "How do you keep the animals alive after you collect them?" The truth is that many of the animals we collect are photographed in the lab, dissected, and preserved for further analysis onshore. Many specimens are sent to colleagues around the world. These are valuable collections that will help us answer many questions about deep-sea animals and how they live. The midwater lab has successfully kept a variety of animals alive in our seawater lab back at MBARI and gleaned information about behaviors that would be nearly impossible to study in situ.

On this expedition, Stephanie Bush is working on this with cephalopods. Stephanie is a postdoctoral fellow at MBARI working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium husbandry staff in preparation of a cephalopod exhibit set to open in April 2014. The exhibit, called Tentacles: The astounding lives of octopuses, squid, and cuttlefishes, will include many live animal exhibits and the hope is to add a deep-sea species to that list.

Needless to say, it takes a lot of careful work to keep any marine organism alive in aquaria, but deep-sea animals are especially challenging. It is very important to keep the environment conditions as close to "normal" as possible. They need dark, cold water (about five degrees Celsius) and low oxygen because the deep waters they inhabit are lower in oxygen than at the surface. Also, some of the target species inhabit the oxygen minimum zone, requiring especially low oxygen. On this expedition, we've collected two vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), three Octopoteuthis deletron, and one Japetella diaphana.

Top, Vampyroteuthis infernalis is called the vampire squid, but actually is not a squid at all. It is the ancestor to squids and octopods, and more closely related to octopods. Middle, Octopoteuthis deletron, although a squid, only has only eight arms. It also has glowing arms tips. Bottom, Japetella diaphana is an octopus that, unlike other octopuses, lives exclusively in the midwater.

We have had entire cruises when we didn't see any of these cephalopods, so we've been incredibly lucky this week. Stephanie has successfully kept alive all of the collections, except for one Octopoteuthis, which actually came on board the ship already dead. You win some, you lose some.

The Western Flyer's wet lab has a small and dark cold room where we can keep collections. Stephanie has each animal in a plastic bag floating within coolers. She displaces oxygen in the seawater by bubbling it with nitrogen. This means Stephanie has to change out each animal's water all week to keep it fresh and low in oxygen. Now that she has the animals' environmental conditions under control, she has started to try to feed them. In the evenings, we conduct trawls so we have lots of small crustaceans, such as krill and shrimp, to feed them. So far, each animal has grabbed the food, but she'll have to wait to see if they actually eat and digest it. Hopefully, you'll see the fruits of her labor at the aquarium next spring.

Research cruises are fun but also hard work. They involve working long days and often staying up late into the night. For Stephanie, it also involves working in the cold room for long periods, so with warm clothes, hat and red headlamp, she steps into the cold room to keep these little guys alive. The next challenge, with the help of the aquarium cephalopod husbandry team, will be transferring them to aquaria back on shore and continuing to care for them for as long as possible.

Left, Stephanie bundles up for a stint in the cold room, red headlamp at the ready. The animals aren't disturbed by red light because they can't see it. Right, Sign posted outside the cold room for all of us to know the status of each cephalopod. The headings read animal, status, and anthropomorphic status. When spending a week at sea, we have to entertain each other. Luckily for us, that Stephalopod is a funny one.

— Susan von Thun

Previous log Next log


Day 7 Day 7
November 13, 2013
Last day

Day 6 Day 6
November 12, 2013
Stayin' alive!

Day 5 Day 5
November 11, 2013
What's for dinner?

Day 4 Day 4
November 10, 2013
On the hunt for deep-living animals

Day 3 Day 3
November 9, 2013
Deep midwater respirometry system (MRS) deployment

Day 2 Day 2
November 8, 2013
Expansion of the oxygen minimum zone

whale's fluke Day 1
November 7, 2013
Why study the midwater and what the heck is OMZ?


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.

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. 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 and he led 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
Research Specialist, 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.

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. Kris started working at MBARI in 1996 after finishing her master's degree at University of California, Santa Cruz. She's looking forward to going to sea this month to collect video transects and to search for deep-sea lobster larvae from the family Polychelidae.

susan von thun Susan von Thun
Senior Research Technician, MBARI

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 works closely with the midwater ecology group and the bioluminescence lab to expand her knowledge of the fish, jellies, cephalopods, and other groups in the midwater.

Stephanie Bush
Postdoctoral Fellow, MBARI

Stephanie will be collecting squids and octopuses for the Monterey Bay Aquarium's upcoming cephalopod exhibit "Tentacles". She will also continue her research on deep-sea cephalopod behavior and population connectivity in planktonic animals.

goetz Freya Goetz
Museum Technician, Smithsonian Institution

Freya is collecting hyperiid amphipods, polychaetes and sampling of other animals for Karen Osborn at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. The animals collected will be for a variety of projects including the study of amphipod eye structure, animal microbiomes and population genetics.

burford Ben Burford
Research Assistant

Ben's undergraduate degree encompassed terrestrial and aquatic zoology, ecology, and botany. He has become fascinated with and engrossed in the study of deep-sea ecology and behavior. This focus comes after recently completing an internship in the Robison Midwater Ecology Lab at MBARI where he examined the behavior of the deep-sea cephalopod, Chiroteuthis calyx.