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Gulf of California 2015, Leg 3 – Biodiversity and Biooptics – Log 5

Gulf of California 2015, Leg 3 – Biodiversity and Biooptics – Log 5

Diving for Jellies in Mexico

A drone operated from the Western Flyer by Captain Andrew McKee and ROV pilot Ben Erwin captured this image of the blue-water SCUBA divers as they entered the water.

Wyatt Patry writes: At the Monterey Bay Aquarium we collaborate closely with our sister institution, MBARI in many diverse ways. As a Senior Aquarist my primary goals are to find new jellies to display and develop innovative ways to share them with our guests. I jump at every chance to participate in MBARI research cruises because they are a unique opportunity to gain experience working with deep-sea animals.

One of the ways we collect new specimens on the Western Flyer is by blue-water diving—SCUBA diving in a small group in the deep ocean where there is no bottom in sight. We use a trapeze-like system of lines and clips to orient ourselves and keep us all together, preventing anyone from drifting away or diving too deep. We take turns acting as a “safety diver” where one of us takes a break from collecting samples to watch over the other divers and ensure the safety of the group. Our dives last about 40-50 minutes and we almost always come up with our glass jars full of interesting specimens. On our last dive we were even visited by a curious juvenile sea lion.

The blue-water divers are hooked into a safety line at all times. Divers from left to right: Steve, Cat, and Wyatt. The red mesh bag clipped to Wyatt is filled with glass sample collection jars. The divers use complex hand signals to communicate underwater. For more information on blue-water diving see: Photo by George Matsumoto.
Wyatt collected this beautiful ctenophore (Eurhamphaea) on the blue water dive today. The brilliant sunlight and crystal-clear water make these small transparent animals extremely difficult to spot. Photo by Steve Haddock.

Another important, yet indirect, way we benefit from collaborating on MBARI research cruises is by spending time in the lab together and getting to know each other. Learning about and understanding what other researchers are working on can lead to breakthroughs in husbandry, such as new sources or methods of acquiring jellies for display, and even insights into jellyfish biology, which can positively impact the way we care for the jellyfish collection at the aquarium. This trip has been a perfect example; I was on board for only about 10 minutes before meeting a colleague for the first time and learning of a new way to culture comb jellies! I’ll be putting that knowledge to work immediately upon my return to the aquarium.

Wyatt custom-built a modified kreisel for the jellies in the wet lab on the ship. Here he is adding three large ctenophores (Ocyropsis) to the kreisel. He feeds them tiny larval fish that we catch in the night trawls.
The blue water divers assemble for a safety meeting at the beginning of the cruise to go over the proper standard operating procedures for the dive. Safety is critically important when you are nearly 120 kilometers from land.
Our location today is right between Mazatlan on the mainland and the tip of Baja.
The water was so calm and clear today we were able make a visual inspection of the Western Flyer’s hulls with the ROV! The visibility was over 40 meters. And the water was warm (24 degrees C) — a nice treat for the blue-water divers.
We went all the way to the bottom (3,200 meters) with the ROV today. This ethereal white medusa was living in the layer just off the seafloor, the benthic boundary layer. The benthic boundary layer is an important zone of biological activity in the ocean due to the physical and chemical processes occurring at the water/sediment interface. The researchers in the control room were completely captivated, as we have not seen this particular jelly before.

– Wyatt Patry