February 10: Day three – Sargassum!
Sargassum! Just after sunrise we began the hunt for patches of Sargassum seaweed that we could collect from the ship. We didn’t have much time as more rough weather was on the way. Weather plays into our plans every day at sea, especially when the work involves putting instruments in and out of the water.
I was finishing some computer work when I looked out the window and saw some small pieces ofSargassum floating by. We were in luck! The scientists and crew grabbed nets and began dipping clumps out of the ocean into buckets as more pieces came past the ship. The pieces seemed small but it didn’t take long to fill several buckets with the brownish-gold seaweed. I spotted a few crabs as samples were moved from net to bucket, but in general it looked like we had captured only seaweed. I was thinking that the rough seas had probably shaken out a lot of the animals when the patches got broken up.
But there is more to a piece of Sargassum than meets the eye. We found an assortment of mobile animals when we began sorting through the buckets: shrimps and crabs, nudibranchs (shell-less snails) and worms, attached hydroids and barnacles. We spent several hours picking through the seaweed to separate the mobile animals hiding inside. Many of the animals looked just like pieces of seaweed with their coloration and textures. Most species were tiny and took a lot of concentration to separate. As the winds picked up we moved into the ship’s lab where work continued on identifying, sorting, and saving specimens for further study.
On other research fronts, the baited camera system will spend an extra night on the seafloor in hopes that the weather improves for us to recover it in the morning. We’re all excited to see what the camera recorded at the depths of the Sargasso Sea.
— Debbie Nail Meyer