The Marine Ecology class embarked on a seafaring adventure last Monday on the Moss Landing research vessel the Point Sur to observe the biota of the Monterey Bay. The class was joined by members from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, MBARI and even Professor Emeritus Greg Cailliet who arrived bright and early for a 7am departure time.
After braving choppy water and a bit of rain we began our day with a beam trawl, designed to sample creatures from the ocean floor at 600 meters depth. Unfortunately we were left empty handed when the net returned to the surface with a hole caused from large rocks lodged in the net.
Despite our first strikeout, our second mid-water trawl yielded a wide array of fish, crustaceans, jellyfish, and a plethora of other gelatinous creatures. Once on board the Point Sur, each animal was classified into separate glass dishes and recorded, giving the students a chance to practice their species identification and exercise their Latin nomenclature.
The highlight of the trawl (quite literally) was a group of fish called the Myctophids, or Lanternfish. These fish have light emitting cells called photophores that help camouflage them in the deep ocean waters in which they live. Lanternfish regulate the photophores on their flanks and underside to match the ambient light levels from the surface, rendering them nearly invisible from predators below.
The last tow of the day was called an otter trawl; but don’t worry, we didn’t catch any sea otters. This net is name for the ‘otter’ boards positioned at the mouth of the net designed to keep it open as it travels thought the water. The animals are funneled to the back or ‘cod’ end of the net and are brought to the surface for the class to observe. We saw several species of flatfish including the Sand Dab, Dover and English Sole, several dozen octopuses (or octopodes depending on your dictionary) and even a pacific electric ray.
After a long day of sunshine, high seas and amazing sea creatures the Marine Ecology students were excited with their discoveries, but also ready to be back on solid ground.