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Bioinspiration Expedition 2019 – Log 2

This undescribed physonect siphonophore has a “curtain of death”—stinging tentacles—splayed out around its tail, ready to capture unsuspecting prey. The Bioinspiration Lab is interested in learning about how these colonial animals swim.

Bioinspiration Expedition 2019 – Log 2


MBARI’s Deep-Sea Guide is a tool that allows a user to search for concept names (for example, animal species) that have been used to describe observations in MBARI’s video database. There are over 4,000 concepts in the database and over 6 million observations from the 30 years of remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations.

I’m Susan von Thun and I work in MBARI’s video lab. The video lab is the group that takes all of the video produced from the many MBARI video platforms and archives it in a centralized video library. We watch the video, recording observations about the ocean life, habitat, equipment, and anything of interest that we see. Over three decades of video observations has yielded a database filled with incomparable deep-sea knowledge. We also created MBARI’s Deep-Sea Guide, which we use to help our scientists identify what they find. Using the public version of the Guide, you too can peruse this valuable resource to learn more about the life we see during ROV dives.

Working in the video lab at MBARI, I’ve watched and analyzed thousands of hours of video from our ROVs. I’ve also spent countless hours in the ROV control room spotting tiny, transparent animals that most people don’t notice until we stop and zoom in with the camera. My expertise is in midwater animals—the ones that swim well below the surface, but never touch the seafloor. Kakani and her group have come up with a list of animals that they would like to study with  the imaging tools they’ve developed, and I’m here to help them find those animals!

In addition to spending lots of time in main ROV control room on the Western Flyer, it has been fun to work with Dale Graves and the ROV pilots in the MiniROV’s control van on this expedition. The MiniROV is a small, portable underwater robot that can be shipped with its control van anywhere in the world.

One of MBARI’s missions—to bring the lab into the ocean—can be seen in action everywhere I look on this expedition. We’ve got experts in biology, physics, mathematics, and engineering collaborating on challenging problems to learn more about how life on our ocean planet thrives. They are bringing tools used on land into the harsh environment of the deep sea—a formidable challenge. The high-tech tools, when integrated with underwater vehicles like ROVs, are allowing us to study these animals in their habitats and get insights we never could gain in the lab.

I’m also MBARI’s social media specialist, so be sure to check out our Twitter and Instagram accounts (@MBARI_news), which we’ve been updating while at sea. The science team on this cruise is especially adept at using Twitter to communicate their work in a an informative, yet entertaining way!