Latitude: -64 22.12 S Longitude: -61 58.67 W
It’s been about 2 and a half weeks since we arrived in Antarctica and began sampling and it has truly been a whirlwind of activity. Entire shifts spent relentlessly working broken up by hours of inactivity and staring at the ship tvs to see when we’ll arrive at our next site and get to do it all over again! At each new site we typically have a series of equipment we put out in a specific order. First is the multibeam (a sonar that emits sound waves to map the seabed), then the yo-yo cam (a camera attached to a frame with a weight on it that takes a photo each time the weight hits the ground) then the Blake trawl (a metal frame with a net attached that’s dragged across the bottom of the ocean), the CTD (sensors that measure Conductivity, Temperature, Depth, and other physical properties of the seawater around it), and finally the multicore (a series of cores attached to a frame that can take samples from the seafloor without disturbing them). All of this equipment is very important to the work that we do but the one that many of us pay attention to is the Blake. Because that’s the one that will bring up many of the specimens we are collecting. The first few trawls were a bit rocky, trying to figure out exactly what needs to be done and the best way to do it but after the first few we’ve really started to get into the swing of things!
Roughly 20 minutes before the trawl comes up, we all layer up and gear up; float coats, baklavas, steel-toed boots and all (as someone from Florida I’ve never been so bundled up before!). Out on deck we fill up buckets with sea water which we will then use to sort out the animals into large groups such as Ophiuroids, Crustaceans, Bryozoans, etc. The trawl itself can be pretty variable so we have to be ready for anything. Sometimes we get nothing but tunicates and mud, while other days we get a clean, high diversity trawl with a little bit of everything in it! Those are my favorite although I’ll admit getting really muddy to the point where we have to hose ourselves down is pretty fun too! After a while of sorting a few of us go in to set up the lab with ice bins so that the buckets of animals can be further sorted into morphospecies and preserved how we want them.
In the beginning everyone helps out with the initial sorting but once we get into the lab, we often have specific jobs that we do. We try to switch things around every once in a while, so people can get a chance to do it all, but we also fall into our own niches. Caitlin Redak for example is a pro at taking muscle samples from the sea cucumber, Bathyploites, while no one knows the Bryozoans better than our very own Megan McCuller. Michael Tassia takes photos of all the animals, Kyle Donnelly fixes them, and I am the bookkeeper. Everything we do to the animals is recorded in the books (see pic) and I am the one who keeps track of it all. Each specimen gets a unique number and it’s my job to keep track of that as well. Once we have separated the animals into morphospecies, I give it a number, Mike takes a photo, and then I let whoever is in charge of the animals know exactly what we are doing with them. How many are we taking? Will we take whole individuals or tissue samples? Will we be freezing them or putting them in ethanol or formalin or any combination of the three? It’s my job to stay in communication with our Chief Scientist to make sure we are getting the specimens we need and preserving them correctly. Some days things are pretty slow while others I feel like I’ve been running around for the full 12 hours. I love those days the most, especially since we usually get a visit from our very own candy fairy, Kenneth Halanych, with chocolates and jolly ranchers and the occasional Halloween leftovers like candy corn to keep us going!
Auburn University Museum of Natural History