Exploration and discovery
Exploration inevitably leads to discovery. MBARI is uniquely positioned to explore the deep-sea realm and its connections with the ocean surface. Easy access to Monterey Bay’s deep submarine canyon provides a natural laboratory for scientific research and engineering innovation. Developing and expanding our access to this undersea laboratory has been a primary theme since MBARI’s founding. Platforms and sensors for observing the deep ocean and for conducting interactively controlled in situ experiments are hallmarks of MBARI’s achievements. The continued use, development, and creative integration of these assets permit MBARI research teams to transcend many of the limitations faced by other scientists and engineers who endeavor to study marine environments.
Squid graveyard—a boon for deep-sea animals
MBARI video describing the discovery of the “squid graveyard”
Researcher Henk-Jan Hoving, former postdoctoral fellow at MBARI and now a biologist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany, usually researches the midwater (the zone between the surface and the bottom) for deep-sea squid, but this time he went to the seafloor. Hoving and the MBARI Midwater Ecology Group discovered 64 squid carcasses and remnants of squid egg sheets scattered on the seafloor in the Gulf of California. Because food is so scarce in deep water, the appearance of these squid and their egg sheets would seem to be a stroke of luck for animals on the seafloor. The scientists noted that the recently deposited squid carcasses had already attracted ratfish, acorn worms, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, crustaceans, and sea stars.
The team’s research illustrates a link between animals in the midwater and the seafloor. Sinking squid carcasses are part of what oceanographers and biologists call the “biological pump”—a process by which carbon is transported from the surface of the ocean to the depths. Conventionally, most carbon is assumed to drift slowly downward in the form of marine snow. But if large numbers of squid collect food in the midwater and then sink, this could speed up carbon transport in some areas or times of the year. “Squid may die almost simultaneously, so there may exist pulses of dead squid falling to the seafloor,” said Hoving. “This could have a big impact on the biological carbon pump.”