There are few times that I would willingly wake up while it is still dark outside. The day of our ichthyology field trip aboard the R/V Point Sur was one of those days. Not only would it be my first time aboard the Point Sur, it would also be my last before its retirement after 28 years of service at Moss Landing Marine Labs. Suffice to say, I was pretty excited to have this opportunity.
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Imagine you are a scientist about to begin researching the density of a type of Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. Let’s pretend you have already spent hours and hours doing the background research necessary and now you are tasked with collecting the data. You create a list of all the tools you’ll need; meter tape, data sheets, flagging tape etc, and now you’re ready to go into the field to sample. A quick drive up to northern California will put you right in the middle of the Redwood forest where you can easily collect your data. Now picture that your next project is to collect the density of blue rockfish, Sebastes mystinus. It sounds pretty similar to your previous study but with an added challenge; your site is underwater. This added challenge will require a completely different method to collect your data. You’ll need to actually see these rockfish in order to count them, but how?
by Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab
When Jacques-Yves Cousteau gave the world its first video footage of the ocean in color, he named this documentary The Silent World. Perhaps as a result, most of us think of the ocean as a quiet refuge, punctuated by occasional humpback whale songs or clicks from a passing pod of dolphins. In recent years, scientists have dipped microphones into the water and discovered that this could not be further from the truth. (more…)
Two weeks ago, my fellow labmate Jessica Jang and I headed to Newport, Oregon to learn how to survive the high seas in preparation for some trawls in which we will be participating later on this year. The FRAMD trawls (Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Divison), associated with NOAA Fisheries, survey groundfish along the Western US coast, collecting age (using otoliths), sex, and length information on 90 groundfish species, as well as more limited information on other species collected in trawls, and more detailed information for scientists conducting special projects. Students in our lab (Pacific Shark Research Center) have, in the past, gathered specimens and data from these trawls for their thesis projects, and both Jessica and I are hoping to collect specimens for our own theses.
We arrived in Portland, and first made a pitstop to obtain some good food and the famed Voodoo Donuts. At the time, I didn’t realize I would be eating donuts nonstop for the next 4 days. We then drove to Newport, only getting lost a few times…
The next day, we started off the day with some extreme videos of ships crashing and sinking, then had some lectures about safety, which emphasized the main objective of the course: develop the will to survive! Being prepared for the situation, being able to stay calm and respond efficiently to any circumstances that might arise, and knowing when to abandon ship would strongly enhance our chance of survival.
Next, we went outside, where the Coast Guard taught us about the balance and period of a ship’s roll, and then showed us how to pump water out of a boat in the case of a flood. We took turns in their special training trailer, which was filled with leaky pipes and crevices that would begin spouting water at any given moment. I was Captain of my boat, and gave the Mayday! call to the Coast Guard while communicating with my crew members, whose job it was to plug the leaks with rubber wrapping, pieces of neoprene, and variably-shaped wooden wedges.
Later that day, we took our only test – unwrap and don our immersion (or survival, or gumby) suits within 60-seconds, which required multiple rounds of practice. The hardest part was doing anything that required fine motor skills (like zipping up the suit) with your fingers in a giant inflexible glove/ mitten. Some of us also tried the 60-s test in darkness, which was a whole other challenge. Although I wasn’t the suit’s biggest fan during the training, I came to appreciate it when we entered the water in our suits the next day (really toasty and kept me dry!), and understood how important it would be in the case of an actual sea emergency.
Later in the day we put out some fires (set on a grill), learning to work in a team and stay low to the ground, and tested some expired signal flares, one of which lit up the sky with orange smoke.
The following day, we had some role-playing drills, one person in each group being selected to fall overboard, while the other teammates worked on communicating with the Captain, Coast Guard, and each other to make sure the person was safely rescued. A second drill started out with a fire (which was hidden somewhere, represented by a glowstick, and simulated with a smoke machine), and quickly escalated into an abandon ship procedure. We had to grab the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, which is one of the most important pieces of equipment during an emergency, sending a signal to the Coast Guard alerting them of its position), a box of signal flares, and deploy the life raft, then hop into a demonstration raft.
The gap between the ship and water was substantial – but somehow everyone succeeded! Unfortunately, I lost both my team’s EPIRB and flares when I turned my back on them to get into my survival suit and a “rogue wave” (aka Dan, one of our instructors) swept them away. Both our teams got Bs for the day, but we did successfully get off the ship and “survive”!
After the demo, we went into the water in our suits, and practiced our safety positions (in case we were being located by helicopter or other boats), and each practiced overturning the life raft in case it deployed incorrectly.
On the final day, we had biological training. We learned about the high-tech equipment we would use out at sea (magnetic strips would send the lengths of the fish to a computer, instead of us having to read and manually record each measurement), the giant multi-ton hauls we would potentially recover (which could supposedly include anything from military and medical waste to fully packed suitcases to sheep and cats), the species we would likely observe (rockfish, chimaeras, skates, urchins, flatfish, sea stars, squid), and then practiced sorting, sexing, and taking otoliths out of a sample of a discarded haul.
After a long 3 days, we enjoyed some fresh seafood with some fellow scientist-survivors and said goodbye to the beach, knowing that this was only a gentle preview for what was to come in the open ocean. Jessica is currently at sea, traveling in Washington and Oregon, and I won’t be deploying until October – hopefully these survival skills will stick until then!
By Melissa Nehmens PSRC
This past weekend, Moss Landing Marine Labs opened our doors and welcomed everyone to our annual Open House event. For those of you new to Moss Landing traditions (as I am as a first year student), it is an event we hold every year in the Spring that is organized by the student body and hosted by the students, faculty, and staff.
We take Open House as an opportunity to share our research in a fun, yet educational way. Just to name a few exciting activities: the Invertebrate Zoology and Molecular Ecology lab had an invertebrate touch tank where you could see, touch, and learn about all of our interesting local invertebrates.
by Ben Yair Raanan, Physical Oceanography Lab
For nearly a decade the Friends of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have generously awarded a $5,000 summer internship at MBARI to an MLML student in the name of Drew Gashler, a former MLML student and MBARI employee. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, it may be impossible to offer this incredible opportunity to one of our students this year.
by Catarina Pien, PSRC Lab
If you’ve ever visited our lab, you’ve seen the beautiful waters surrounding us, often bobbing with a variety of marine mammals. The main body of water that surrounds Moss Landing Marine Laboratories is Elkhorn Slough, which is an estuarine embayment that drains into the Monterey Bay.
Elkhorn Slough has evolved greatly in the past few centuries. Since the dredging of Moss Landing Harbor in 1946, the slough has become directly connected and thus heavily influenced by the Monterey Bay. This connection has led the slough to change from a freshwater-influenced estuary to a predominantly saltwater-influenced and erosional body of water. A great deal of research has been done to study how these changes have influenced habitat structure and biological communities in the slough.
My own thesis research will focus on Elkhorn Slough, and how various oceanographic variables have changed and are influencing elasmobranch (shark and ray) populations in the slough. I am hoping that the class will be beneficial in showing me how to measure chemical variables, and analyze values in terms of how they influence biological communities.
Last week, our chemical oceanography class was split into five groups and deployed to various water bodies around our school to take some measurements and water samples. It had just rained earlier that week, so we were hoping there would be some visible differences in salinity and nutrient content in the regions we were sampling. Although the main channel of Elkhorn Slough is heavily influenced by the Monterey Bay, and thus oceanographically similar to the ocean, the upper reaches of the slough are often less saline (depending on the season), and more influenced by precipitation. One group went offshore to Monterey Bay, two groups went into Elkhorn Slough, one drove around to Salinas River, Carneros Creek, and other connected sloughs, and my group sampled in Moss Landing Harbor.
We took one of our school’s whalers on a beautiful sunny morning, excited (though some of our facial expressions may not be representative) and ready to sample.
We motored slowly through the harbor, observing sea lions sunning themselves, and being observed by harbor seals and a portly sea otter.
Once at a station, we used the CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) to measure salinity, temperature, and pH at eight stations within our region.
We also recorded GPS coordinates, and collected water samples with a syringe, and filtered them into a bottle to bring back to the lab.
Many of the changes to Elkhorn Slough have been anthropogenic, including the construction of levees, dikes, tide gates, salt ponds, and railroads. Some of these were constructed early on for agriculture and ranching, whereas others have been created to remedy erosional problems we have created. These barriers have altered tidal flow within Elkhorn Slough, and created distinct oceanographic areas. In order to determine differences between these areas, some stations required us to leave the boat to sample adjacent areas that were separated by a barrier.
We passed by the lab, hoped we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves in front of the whole lab, and successfully finished our collections near the tide gate leading to the Old Salinas River.
Combined with the rest of the teams, we now have oceanographic measurements and water samples all around Elkhorn Slough and the surrounding bodies of water. Over the course of the semester, we will learn how to measure phosphate, nitrite/ nitrate, oxygen, silicate, and alkalinity of the water samples. The measurements will tell us something about how how the stations differ from each other, how Elkhorn Slough is partitioned, and the outside influences to each station.
As marine scientists, many of us spend a substantial chunk of time in the field. While field work can be frustrating and tiring, on a beautiful day like this, encountering a multitude of wildlife and puttering slowly through the beautiful waters, it is easy to remember why we went into the field of marine science.
If you’re like me and take long walks on the beach, you may have noticed more mounds of algae along the shore. These mounds are called beach wrack and can contain kelps as well as seagrasses. Other types of seaweeds including red and green algae are also found, but not as often.
by Liz Lam, Biological Oceanography Lab
Ballast water treatment and testing is a big focus here in the Biological Oceanography lab, and this is no exception even when it comes to class projects. Last semester, I started a project aiming to improve one of our counting techniques. I’d previously written about IMO’s restriction to 10 organisms per 1,000 liters of discharged ballast water and counting zooplankton under a microscope in order to check for these results. But when it comes to even smaller organisms, such as algae and other even tinier phytoplankton, different methods are called for.
We already have a pretty clever way of quantifying such microscopic organisms by using a few chemical and optical tricks. The first key ingredient is fluorescein diacetate, or FDA. One of the special features of this molecule is that it can only be cleaved by certain proteins in live cells. Once FDA is split, what remains is fluorescein, a compound that glows bright green when excited under blue light. We can then use an epifluorescence microscope to both shine the right wavelength of light and magnify a sample in order to count any green organisms. If it glows green, then it means it’s alive! This allows us to quantify the number of live organisms that are extremely small and difficult to see.
By Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab
If you are a marine scientist, you may have had the same experience that I did over the recent holiday break – all of my relatives want to know if I think our seafood is safe from Fukushima radiation. If you aren’t a marine scientist, you and I may still have something in common – this topic is not my current focus of study and I will (probably) never be one of the “experts” on this matter. However, I have started to do some extra research. I may not be an expert on food safety inspections or the dispersal of different types of radiation, but I do have some ideas about where to look when I don’t know all of the answers. This is what I told my relatives: