Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Press Room

Behind the scenes - 2015

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la paz departure

Distressed sea lions in Monterey Bay

If you’ve visited beaches in the Monterey Bay area earlier this year, you may have seen young California sea lions stranded on the beaches, weak and emaciated from lack of food. Recently, the Marine Mammal Center has reported that juvenile and sub-adult sea lions have also been stranding on beaches as a result of domoic acid poisoning. Domoic acid is a neurotoxin produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, a phytoplankton that can form toxic algal blooms. Consuming domoic acid can lead to lead to seizures, brain damage, and sometimes death in marine mammals. Because this toxin accumulates up the food chain, sea lions can be affected by eating fish that have been feeding in toxic algal blooms. MBARI scientists studying the water in Monterey Bay have been observing local algal blooms. The Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System conducts predictive modeling of domoic acid. If you see a distressed marine mammal in Monterey Bay avoid getting too close or making any contact. Notify the Marine Mammal Center at 831-633-6298. You can help marine biologists tracking ocean animals by reporting stranded marine life to JellyWatch

Image: This sea lion was on the beach, lethargic and swaying its head, typical of domoic acid poisoning. MBARI staff called the Marine Mammal Center, which sent a team to rescue this animal. Later, this sea lion was sent to the organization’s Sausalito hospital for treatment.

—May 26, 2015


la paz departure

SeeStar camera system displayed at Maker Faire

Scientist Steve Haddock, Electrical Engineer Chad Kecy, and Mechanical Engineer François Cazenave introduced the SeeStar camera system at the Bay Area Maker Faire, a large festival held May 16th and 17th to celebrate invention and creativity by showcasing creations that relate to science, engineering, or art. The SeeStar camera system was originally built for Haddock, who wanted a cheap and easy way to document jellyfish blooms. MBARI engineers, led by Kecy, developed the SeeStar system using inexpensive, off-the-shelf components. It is available as an open-source project so that others can easily learn how to build their own SeeStar system. Haddock and Kecy introduced SeeStar to thousands of visitors at the Maker Faire including engineers and technologists with great ideas and suggestions. Read more about the camera system.

Image: Steve Haddock and Chad Kecy debut the SeeStar camera system at a booth at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, California. Photo taken by François Cazenave.

—May 19, 2015


la paz departure

Western Flyer departs the Gulf of California

The Gulf of California expedition is nearing its end, with one more leg led by Chief Scientist Charlie Paull starting on May 7. The R/V Western Flyer and its crew have been in the Gulf of California since early February and have completed six research cruises, each for a different MBARI science team and their collaborators with different research goals. Between each cruise, the Western Flyer made port stops in La Paz, Mexico, for the crew to take a short break and restock the ship, and for science teams to swap out. This week, the Western Flyer made its last departure from La Paz, Mexico, for a six-day transit to San Diego, California, where Paull and his science team will hop onboard to study how tectonic faults create change in the seafloor structure.

—April 29, 2015


Fishing line wrapped on strut between hulls of Western Flyer

Divers remove line caught on Western Flyer

On March 17, MBARI's research vessel Western Flyer returned to the dock in La Paz after a two-week midwater-biology cruise. While the ship was at the dock, researcher Steve Haddock and ROV Pilot Randy Prickett dove underneath the boat to clear a line that had become wrapped around part of the boat. The ROV pilots spotted the offending line during an ROV launch when visibility was particularly good. Earlier in the Gulf of California expedition, MBARI's mapping AUV became tangled in a fishing line 450 meters (almost 1,500 feet) below the surface.

Top: Steve Haddock and Randy Prickett prepare for a SCUBA dive to remove the line from the hull. Bottom: Still image from ROV Doc Ricketts showing a line wrapped around the strut between the Western Flyer's twin hulls.

—March 23, 2015


Johnny with ship's propeller

Recycled propeller installed at MBARI front entrance

MBARI has a new art piece in front of its main entrance—an old propeller from one of its research vessels, the Rachel Carson. The bronze propeller is five feet across and weighs 1,000 pounds; a crane was required to install it in place. The R/V Rachel Carson originally operated as an oil field supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. MBARI purchased the ship in July 2011 and transited it from La Rose, Louisiana, to Alameda, California, for extensive refitting at the shipyard. The propeller was removed during the refit.

Image: top, Louis Martinez, Eric Fitzgerald, and John Ferreira position the propeller as Greg Voogd operates the crane. bottom, John Ferreira tightens the nut into place.

—February 27, 2015


pH meters in test tank

MBARI engineers compete in third phase of XPRIZE competition

Last fall, MBARI hosted the first two phases of the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE competition. The competition challenged teams to design robust pH sensors that could accurately and affordably measure ocean acidification. Eighteen teams participated in the first phase of the competition; 14 teams made it to phase three. The third phase took place earlier this month, when instruments that survived the first two phases were tested in challenging coastal conditions in Seattle, Washington. The instruments were placed in a test tank built near the Seattle Aquarium, with continuously pumped seawater from Puget Sound. The purpose of this phase was to test the instruments’ resistance to biofouling. Ken Johnson, a senior scientist at MBARI, and Hans Jannasch, a senior research specialist, are members of Team DuraFET, one of the teams that participated in the phase-three testing.

Image: An XPRIZE photographer took a photo of some members of Team DuraFET with the three pH sensors they submitted to the competition. (top row, from left) Ronnie Van Dommelen of Satlantic, Phil Bresnahan of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Hans Jannsach. (bottom row, from left) Yui Takeshita of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dave Murphy of Seabird. Photo taken by Matt Huelsenbeck of XPRIZE.

—February 18, 2015


FOCE in Antarctica

Ocean acidification studies in Antarctica

Ocean acidification poses a threat to the life and diversity of marine ecosystems. MBARI scientists and engineers have designed a sophisticated tool for studying the effects of ocean acidification that can be applied to various marine environments, from shallow-water kelp forests to the deep sea. This tool, called the Free Ocean Carbon Enrichment (FOCE) system, allows researchers to study the impacts of ocean acidification on marine animals in their natural habitat. The system is available as an open-source package to researchers wanting to use FOCE technology in marine environments of interest. The FOCE system developers at MBARI help researchers install systems in these environments. Outside of Monterey Bay, the FOCE system has been installed in the bay of Villefranche-sur-mer (France) and Heron Island, on the Great Barrier Reef. Recently, John Stark and Glenn Johnstone, of the Australian Antarctic Division of the Department of the Environment, sent word from Antarctica that their system (called antFOCE) was installed successfully and is functioning properly.

Image: antFOCE is deployed in 14 meters of water under ice in O’Brien Bay approximately five kilometers from Casey Station, Antarctica. 

—January 14, 2015


Last updated: May. 26, 2015