Here’s looking at you!

March 24, 2013

Today we moved to a deeper site in Monterey Canyon (about 2,800 meters or 9,100 feet). First, we collected small shrimp-like animals called mysids with the Midwater Respirometry System (MRS). The MRS is designed to measure the respiration of animals at depth. Many deep-sea animals don’t even survive when brought to the surface, so this is often the only way we can learn about how much oxygen they consume. We filled five samplers on the MRS with mysids, one sampler with an eelpout, and left two of the samplers empty as controls for the experiment. The MRS was hung on the mooring at 2,700 meters (8,800 feet) depth and we will return tomorrow to recover it and download the respirometry data.

The MRS was attached to the mooring, then the pilots backed away from the mooring.

The MRS was attached to the mooring, then the pilots backed away from the mooring.

After deploying the MRS, we ascended to look for more target animals. We found many squids including Stigmatoteuthis dofleini, Chiroteuthis calyx, Octopoteuthis deletron, and Galiteuthis phyllura.At the risk of sounding like a jaded marine biologist that has seen more than her fair share of cool cephalopods, I’m going to say that by far the coolest thing we saw today was a rare fish called the black swallower. Chiasmodon niger is a fish that can literally eat something that is larger than itself. Yes, I said LARGER THAN ITSELF! As you can see in this awesome frame grab, its mouth is quite large, with sizable teeth that allow it to impale prey and engulf it whole. Its stomach can distend to accommodate its large prey. Incidentally, Rob Sherlock found out that these teeth are quite sharp and we’re waiting for results of the toxicity experiment.

Chiasmodon niger can eat prey larger than itself. This specimen is about 15 centimeters long.

Chiasmodon niger can eat prey larger than itself. This specimen is about 15 centimeters long.

—Susan von Thun

A closeup image of Taonius in a shipboard tank. Photo by Kat Bolstad.

Of all the squids we’ve seen so far—and there have been many—surely the cranchiids, the “glass” squids, are some of the most spectacular. Their bodies are entirely transparent most of the time, showing off pulsing blue hemolymph (blood) and the narrow iridescent column of the digestive gland, but they can also become a dark intense red, or fill the mantle with ink to change their appearance completely. Their eyes are relatively enormous and also iridescent, and they glow with strange and spectacular-looking light organs. For someone like me, whose work revolves around preserved museum specimens, it can be difficult to remember what these animals look like in their natural habitat. They are beautiful and so very alien, and the condition in which I usually see them bears very little resemblance to what we’re seeing out here. Each time we encounter one, I feel I could watch it for hours, but there are always more squid to see. Hopefully a few of these still photos capture their essence for you, and for me once I am back at my desk in Auckland, sorting out their relatives’ systematics by looking at much-less-magical specimens in dusty jars.

Galiteuthis in the shipboard tank. Photo by Kat Bolstad.

Galiteuthis in the shipboard tank. Photo by Kat Bolstad.


A closeup image of Taonius in a shipboard tank. Photo by Kat Bolstad.

A closeup image of Galiteuthis in the shipboard tank. Photo by Kat Bolstad.

—Kat Bolstad