Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2013 midwater ecology cruise

Day 5 – Let's descend fast to the bottom – wait, no STOP!
March 26, 2013

Today, our dive site was the deep Midwater Respirometry System (MRS) site again. Each morning we start our dives at 6:30 a.m., which means the ROV pilots are prepping for the dive before 6:00 a.m. This morning, we started descending quickly to a depth of 2,700 meters (8,800 feet). This poses a conundrum for us because we want to get to depth quickly, but we also want to see all of the cool things along the way. It is a delicate balance between going too fast to see anything of interest and going just fast enough that when we see something interesting, the pilots can stop the ROV before the animal is long gone.

Today, we must have hit the sweet spot in our descent speed because at 1,700 meters (5,500 feet), Bruce Robison (at the science camera) spotted a large squid, Gonatus sp. brooding an egg sack. The pilots were able to stop the descending vehicle in time to watch this amazing find. This reproductive strategy was first described in 2005 by MBARI midwater scientists. It was the first squid described to brood eggs.

Shallow-water squids lay their eggs on the seafloor, but since mesopelagic squids spend their entire life in the water column and there is no substrate where they could lay eggs, some species, like Gonatus onyx, encase their eggs in a gelatinous material that allows them to carry thousands of eggs in their arms. Since that research was published, we have seen a few more brooding Gonatus sp., and another species, Bathyteuthis berryi brooding eggs. It is possible that many other mesopelagic squids brood their eggs, but these are the only two genera that we've observed brooding eggs in MBARI's 25 years of ROV exploration.

This brooding Gonatus sp. is holding thousands of eggs in an eggcase in her arms.

After observing the brooding Gonatus sp. for quite a few minutes and getting some great video, we continued descending at our fast pace. Within minutes, we yelled "STOP" again and the pilots were able to stop in time for us to observe another rare animal in the midwater. We call it the "Mystery Mollusc" because when the midwater lab first observed it years ago, they didn't even know what group it belonged to. Bruce Robison has since been working on describing it and has discovered that it is a mollusc, closely related to snails! We watched this animal and collected it so that Bruce can use this specimen to answer a few more outstanding questions before he publishes the description and gives our mystery a name!

I'd like to personally thank our ROV pilots Knute Brekke, Mark Talkovic, Randy Prickett, Bryan Schaefer, and Ben Erwin, who put up with our constantly changing wishes in the control room (let's go fast down to 2,700 meters, no, STOP, no never mind, it wasn't interesting, no STOP!, etc.) We have high expectations of them because they always deliver!

This "Mystery Mollusc" is related to snails, even though it has no shell. The pink part in the middle of its body is digestive gland and stomach. The oral hood on the left surrounds the mouth and the "tentacles" to the right undulate when it swims.

— Susan von Thun

Previous log Next log


Day 7 Day 7 - Patience and the money shot
March 28, 2013
How do we define a species? And how can we tell which individuals belong to a given species? Those may seem like simple questions, but in fact, sometimes they are not.

Day 6 Day 6 - Finally, a vampire squid (or two)!
March 27, 2013
For those of you who have been following the midwater lab’s blogs over the last couple of years, you know that one of our target animals is the vampire squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis.

Day 5 Day 5 - "Let's descend fast to the bottom – wait, no STOP!!!!"
March 26, 2013
MBARI has some great pilots - we certainly put them to the test today with: "Let's go down fast... Wait.... Stop...Okay, keep going...Wait... "

Day 4 Day 4 - Collecting Octopoteuthis deletron.
March 25, 2013
Today we collected two Octopoteuthis deletron.

Day 3 Day 3 - Here's looking at you!
March 24, 2013
It was a great day today as we filled up the MRS and made some collections.

Day 2 Day 2 - Cephalopod Day
March 23, 2013
Cephalopods! The ROV Doc Ricketts got into the water today where we completed our midwater transects and found some animals.

day one Day 1 - Setting Sail
March 22, 2013
Alicia Bitondo sorting through the trawl specimens for squid. The wind was high enough to keep us from collecting with the ROV, but not with the trawl net!


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
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.

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
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.

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.

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 where she is focusing on the developmental changes in the ecology and morphology of midwater cephalopods.

Kat Bolstad
Auckland University of Technology

Kat is a lecturer in the Earth & Oceanic Sciences Research Institute at AUT (New Zealand), where she leads a cephalopod research group, focusing largely on systematics of deep-water Pacific species. She is also interested in ecology of and vision in deep-water squids, and is a science moderator on the cephalopod enthusiast website

Stephanie Bush
Postdoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Institution

Stephanie is currently working in the lab of Karen Osborn at the National Museum of Natural History. She is broadly interested in marine organismal ecology, and her current research explores the connectivity between populations of planktonic animals and how it relates to speciation and biodiversity in the open ocean. During this expedition, she will be collecting pteropods, a group of midwater snails with reduced or absent shells and a pair of wings that propel them through the water column.

Chris Payne
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Chris has been an aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for two years. 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.