Latitude -63 39.4 Longitude -55 11.7
Waking up shortly after the sun has set to briefly join the members of the opposite shift for a meal, it often feels surreal. Midrats, the 11:30 pm-12:30 am night meal is what I start my day to, while for others it is their last meal of the day. This often causes minor confusion as to the correct way to discuss time. While some greet each other with good mornings, simultaneously good nights can be heard. I have even heard greetings simplified to “how is?” to be inclusive of different circadian rhythms.
Once on shift my day can be simplified to a few faucets: obtaining samples, sorting samples, and processing organisms. Though this sounds straight forward, each day does bring new surprises. When sampling via trawl, for example, it is hard to know what exactly will be in the net when it comes up. The only data we can receive about what is going on when the trawl is in the water is based on how much cable is out and what sort of force is exerted on the cable. No matter how many trawls you experience coming up, there is always a nervous excitement of what the next trawl will bring. Sometimes the net comes up overly full, sometimes it comes up practically empty, sometimes it is filled with primarily large fauna, and sometimes it comes up with what appears to be just a giant ball of mud. Despite this process being a near daily occurrence, the excitement occasionally still brings out scientists from the other shift, who want to at least see what was brought to the surface, despite the need to sleep.
Once the net comes up and the fauna is emptied from the net, scientists all gather around to coo at the various amazing animals that are seen. These animals then get sorted and processed. For the much smaller fauna, microscopes are needed. When sampling, there is often mud that comes up with the animals. This mud has a treasure trove of unique organisms as well. For some people, myself included, the mud is where their target animals reside. While some scientists groan at the muddiest samples which come up, other scientists rejoice. While from the exterior, muddy samples may not look like much, under a microscope a whole other world can be seen. There is huge amounts of biodiversity from animals that spend their lives between the sand grains. Some of these animals are younger ones of a larger, full grown counterpart, like baby brittle stars (pic). Others look far different than anything that you would expect to see of larger organisms, like Terrebellids (pic) or Aplacophora (pic).
After samples are sorted and are about to be processed, the scientists work together to try to ID the animals to the best of their abilities. Everyone has slightly different knowledge of different organisms, and no one is truly an expert in all the taxa seen. Though it was much different even only a few decades ago, many scientists rely heavily on the ability to use DNA to “barcode” animals after the cruise is complete. Though sorting based purely on morphology can be useful for processing and organizing samples and data, using DNA to identify animals is the most reliable.
Sampling the deeper reaches of the ocean is costly and time consuming. In comparison to terrestrial fauna and their ecology, marine benthic organisms are relatively unknown. With new terrestrial species being described every year, it’s no wonder why new invertebrate species are often able to be described from most sampling cruises that focus on benthic invertebrates. This cruise is unlikely to be any different. There have already been a few taxa which have been questioned as being new, but all of these will have to be further analyzed in the lab along with a thorough comb through past literature to be certain.
Ph.D. student in the Kocot Lab
University of Alabama