Latitude: -64 11.459 Longitude: -55 07.999
Thanksgiving looks a little different this year for those of us aboard the NBP, but we did decorate via a Secret Hand Turkey exchange (picture- this is only a sampling)! We are currently ~64 degrees south of the equator in the Weddell Sea, and though it’s a holiday, we are still sampling the ocean floor and finding more invertebrates! For me, that means today I am eagerly sorting through buckets of mud, searching for bizarre animals that are too small to see, moving samples with my trusty “macropipette” … which is an oddly appropriate tool for Thanksgiving (picture)! I use mine to suck up subsamples of sifted sediment and look for animals living between the sand grains. And no, I do NOT use the same one to baste turkeys back home.
When this crew of scientists met on our way south from San Francisco, each shared their sampling hopes and scientific dreams for the cruise with one another. All of us have things we are excited to see, but each has that ONE animal or group, our “if anybody finds this, call me, wake me up, scream it from the bridge, I NEED IT”. The best feeling in the world, better than finding your own samples, is handing a fellow scientist a dish or bucket that fulfills a sampling dream. We are a diverse group, so part of the joy of this cruise has been learning enough about one another’s favorite taxa to help.
Many of the animals we are pursuing here in Antarctica are understudied groups. “Understudied” is a self-perpetuating phenomenon in science- the animals are rare, and the scientific experts in the same animals are rarer. The only way to get to know these more uncommon animals is to sit with them for a while, ideally with an expert nearby to answer questions. This requires both animals and experts, in a conveniently confined space. Perhaps, say, a boat?
On the NBP, I can wander into other labs holding petri plates and always find somebody willing to help. I find tiny worm-like aplacophorans for my lab-mate Emily and in return learn what family they belong to. I’d never met a cumacean crustacean, and now I know how the handle them properly as I gather them for Sarah. My lab-mate Will patiently comes to my microscope to help me learn to identify tiny annelid worms, or to see yet ANOTHER phyllodocid annelid that I just have to show him (they have the cutest faces; picture). Before this cruise I’d never held a live sea spider; last night I got to run up to Andy and overly-excitedly (and thus not very articulately) tell him that I’d found three of the species he was hoping for in last night’s trawl (see picture). And I am amazed by the sharp eyes of my peers as they supply me with more and more of the tiny chitons (picture) I was most hoping to find for myself and collaborators!
But this week held melancholy moments as we got the news that the next two research cruises aboard the NBP had been cancelled due to COVID complications. It was a sudden and sharp reminder that we are incredibly blessed to be here, meeting animals and fulfilling scientific dreams, during this difficult time. We are doubly thankful for every trawl, every sample, every bit of ice we can break through, and more determined to make every moment count. So we are all happily working on Thanksgiving. Today is a day most of us would spend with family back home. But today, I am thankful for my scientific family at sea, and all I am learning from all of them.
Ph.D. student in the Kocot Lab
University of Alabama