Archive for the ‘What’s Happening at MLML’ Category

Whalefest: Not Just a Tale of Whales

February 3, 2014

By Melissa Nehmens, PSRC

Whalefest banner 2014

Whalefest banner 2014

On January 25th and 26th, the Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf held its 4th annual Whalefest event to celebrate the migration of grey whales. Thanks to the efforts of fellow Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) student, Kristin Walovich, the PSRC and Friends of Moss Landing Marine Labs, hosted a booth at the event, speaking to attendees and passersby about what Moss Landing Marine Labs is all about!

Table attractions for the PSRC included a dehydrated Mako shark head and shark fin from our museum collection, and an anatomical model of a great white that allows you to see the inside of a shark. An interactive matching game, created by PSRC student Jessica Jang, was another favorite allowing people to test their shark knowledge by matching a shark to its description and name. We also showcased a story done by Central Coast News, interviewing PSRC director, Dave Ebert, about the lab’s role in international shark research.

How well do you know your sharks? PSRC student, Vicky Vasquez, helps a girl figure it out.

How well do you know your sharks? PSRC student, Vicky Vasquez, helps a girl figure it out.


May the Flow Be With You!

January 22, 2014

Scott GabaraBy Scott Gabara, Phycology “Seaweed” Lab

Circulating seawater systems are very important for marine laboratories as they need to keep organisms from the ocean alive and use the water to aid in conducting experiments.  We have recently had our Moss Landing Marine Laboratories offshore intake upgraded and we went on a dive to inspect its current status.  The large meshed cylinder sucks in water and supplies our lab with flowing seawater.  We routinely inspect and clean the surface of the grates and the structure. 

One of our MLML intakes rising from the sand.

One of our MLML intakes rising from the sand.

It is interesting to see what invertebrates recruit or move onto the structure.  With sand surrounding us we create a small oasis of life concentrated on the hard substrate.  One of the issues we have to deal with is that seawater contains invertebrate larvae and some species will settle on the inside the pipes and eventually constrict and clog our flow, similar to plaque buildup in an artery.  We have to force a Pigging Inspection Gauge (PIG), a tool which is usually a piece of cylindrical foam, through the inside of the pipe to clean and clear the walls.  It’s great we can get routine cleanings so our seawater system continues flowing and our lab doesn’t have a “heart attack”!

Diana Steller inspects our intake line.

Diana Steller, Dive Safety Officer, inspects our intake line.

Ballast water and epifluorescence microscopy

January 13, 2014

by Liz Lam, Biological Oceanography Lab

The Golden Bear Facility, home to MLML's ballast treatment testing team

The Golden Bear Facility, home to MLML’s ballast treatment testing team

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.


Small Boats, Great Resource: Student Small Boats Course

November 13, 2013

By: Scott Miller, Ichthyology Lab

One of the perks of being an MLML student is that we get to utilize the lab’s fantastic diving and boating resources – provided we get proper training first.  While “training” sounds like a drag, it can actually be quite a lot of fun!  For example, the lab recently offered a course to get checked out on the small boats.  Getting checked out on the small boats allows us to take the boats out for thesis-related work and other lab-approved reasons, so a number of students met up at the harbor to get certified.  After confirming that we had previously taken our online boating safety course, we began learning about nautical navigation and the basics of an outboard motor.

Nautical charts and tools to plan a route.  We'll be navigating the high seas in no time!

Nautical charts and tools to plan a route. We’ll be navigating the high seas in no time!

After learning all about the boats and procedures in the morning, after lunch it was time to take to the sea.  We separated into two smaller groups and went out on our Boston whalers.  The helpful staff at Marine Ops guided us as we practiced maneuvering in the bay.  Although I have boating experience on lakes, driving in-and-out of ocean swells was quite different and I had a blast learning the techniques.  After braving the ocean, we headed back into the harbor to practice docking.  While there wasn’t too much boat traffic inside the harbor, we still had to drive carefully to avoid the otters and seals that are abundant in the area.  We each took turns docking into different spots and under different conditions, then we took the boats back to the dock and cleaned everything up.  Spending a beautiful afternoon on the water got at least one student excited about having the opportunity to use the boats more frequently to help with his future research!

Heading home to the Moss Landing harbor.  While we technically could have asked for better weather, it really just would have been greedy.

Heading home to the Moss Landing harbor. While we technically could have asked for better weather, it really just would have been greedy.

Diving the MLML Seawater Intakes

October 25, 2013

By Diane Wyse, Physical Oceanography Lab

Earlier this week I volunteered to dive on the MLML seawater intakes, located about 200 m due west of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and 17 m below the surface.  The intakes supply seawater to multiple sites around Moss Landing, including the aquarium room at MLML, the Test Tank at MBARI, and the live tanks at Phil’s Fish Market.

Location of the intake pipes offshore.  Image: MLML/Google Earth (2013)

Location of the intake pipes offshore. Image: MLML/Google Earth (2013)

The purpose of the dive was to attach a surface float to a subsurface float located at a depth of about 15 feet.  A secondary objective was to visually inspect the intakes, which can be viewed in the video below.

The view from approximately above the intakes. Photo: Diane Wyse (2013)

The view of Moss Landing from approximately above the intakes. Photo: Diane Wyse (2013)

So how do you find an intake system 50 ft below the water?

To execute the operation, Assistant Dive Safety Officer Scott Gabara and I took a whaler from the MLML Small Boats with the assistance of boat driver Catherine Drake.  We used the best GPS coordinates previously called upon to locate the intakes, then threw a spotter surface float attached to a line and weight that unraveled to the seafloor.  We followed that line to the bottom and practiced our circle search skills until we found the first of the two intakes.  While anchoring the search line I saw a pipefish, a couple flatfish, and not much else.  During our descent and ascent we spotted half a dozen sea nettles, but on the sandy bottom it appeared pretty desolate.  The intakes, on the other hand, provide a hard substrate for sessile invertebrates and their predators to form a lively little oasis in the sand.  The first thing you notice when you come upon the intakes are the large white Metridium anemones.  If you take a closer look at the video, around 15 seconds in, you can spot a little octopus scurrying for cover.  After inspecting the first intake we moved to the second, that’s right, completely submerged by sand, with the line extending up to the subsurface float.  Though the video is short you can see some of the organisms residing on the line include seastars, Metridium, caprellids or “skeleton shrimp”, and my favorite marine invertebrate: nudibranchs.  Hermissenda (opalescent) nudibranchs, to be exact.  I wish I had a chance to take still photos while I was out there, but we had a job to do.  We successfully tied the surface float to the line and removed old line, thus making it much easier for future divers to study sediment movement and perform maintenance on the intake pipes.


A Sandy Situation

October 20, 2013

Diana Steller (left) and Angela Zepp (right) warm up in the sun after a dive at the intakes.

We want to go with the flow when it comes to supplying seawater to Moss Landing Marine Labs.  The incoming water is used for research and husbandry so we keep a close eye on and maintain our seawater intake system.  In efforts to better understand why sand has been building up around our intakes over the years our diving safety officer, Diana Steller, and a new student, Angela Zepp, have started to take cores of the sediment in that area.  We hope to learn more about the sand movement and/or retention from cores by continually taking them and comparing the sediment size over time.  Sand seasonally moves onshore and offshore during the summer and winter seasons, respectively.  We hope to learn why this buildup is occurring over time.

Ballast Water Creature Counting

October 7, 2013
The Golden Bear Facility at the Cal Maritime Academy is the site of all our ballast treatment testing

The Golden Bear Facility at the Cal Maritime Academy is the site of all our ballast treatment testing. Photo: CMA

Although I’m only a first-year graduate student here at Moss Landing, I’ve had the pleasure of working on the ballast water testing team with the Biological Oceanography lab for over a year now.  Aquatic invasive species have become an increasingly large problem across the globe and one of the ways organisms make their way to non-native waters is through the ballast tanks of ships.  The IMO (International Maritime Organization) is now requiring all ships to reduce the number of live zooplankters in their ballast tanks to only 10 in every 1000 liters.  Since most zooplankton are microscopic, you can imagine that this is an incredibly challenging thing to accomplish!

Samples are carefully collected so we can compare the treated water with the control

Samples are carefully collected so we can compare the treated water with the control. Photo: GBF Staff

But another huge challenge that our team directly faces is determining whether certain treatment methods have worked.  How do we do this?  With some good old fashioned counting!  First, samples are filtered through a net that catches only organisms that are greater than 50 um in size (which is the size class we count by eye).  Then, 5 mL of that sample are pipetted into a serpentine tray, which allows us to count what is in the sample row by row.  We can then look under a microscope and manually count every single living zooplankton found in that 5 mL sample.  This is sometimes known as the “poke and prod” method, since we may not even be sure if a zooplankter is alive or dead until after we’ve poked them with a small poker stick.  Afterwards, we can use our 5 mL sample counts to extrapolate how many total organisms were found in 1000 liters of the treated water and determine whether the treatment method passed.

Counters use microscopes and serpentine trays to count every zooplankter in a 5mL sample

Counters use microscopes and serpentine trays to count every zooplankter in a 5mL sample. Photo: Kevin Reynolds

In order to make sure our zooplankton counts are as reliable as possible, we have to count samples multiple times.  Although the work is time consuming and sometimes back-straining, it’s fun and fascinating to discover all of the tiny, microscopic organisms found in just a few drops of water.  Everytime I count a new sample, I wonder what kind of alien-like creatures I’ll find swimming around!

Sea otters participate in coastal restoration

September 16, 2013

by Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

There’s a new reason to love the world’s smallest marine mammal species – so let’s talk sea otters!

These voracious predators are again making headlines in the science world as a new paper comes hot off the (virtual) presses.  Hughes et al. (2013) published an article in PNAS entitled “Recovery of a top predator mediates negative eutrophic effects on seagrass”.  This paper is truly a local collaboration, with scientists from UCSC’s Long Marine Lab, the Elkhorn Slough reserve, USGS, CSU Monterey Bay, and MBARI.

The headline? Sea otters may have saved the Elkhorn Slough seagrass habitat by doing what they do so well: eating crabs.


How long is that tail?

September 8, 2013

On Labor Day weekend, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’ own Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) had the opportunity to dissect a 14.7 feet long common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus). The female shark was found washed up on the beach on Moss Landing already dead.

Program Director, Dave Ebert, PSRC students, and UROC students posing with the thresher shark

Program Director Dave Ebert, PSRC students, and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) students posing with the thresher shark

The PSRC is part of the National Shark Research Consortium for the West Coast. Currently there are 7 students enrolled in this department led by the program director, Dr. David Ebert, also a MLML alumni, and a handful of undergraduate volunteers from San Jose State University and California State University: Monterey Bay all who are ready to learn more about elasmobranchs!

The students were pretty amazed to see such small teeth on such a large shark. Thresher shark head The teeth on this animal say a lot about what it eats. Schooling fish such as sardines and anchovies, as well as cephalopods are its preferred prey. Thresher sharks are part of the mackerel shark order (Lamniformes) and excel at speed and long distances. A few examples of this order include, the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), the makos, shorfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), longfin mako (Isurus paucus), the salmon shark (Lamna ditropis), and the porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus). These species in particular are endothermic, meaning that they can thermoregulate their own body temperature to several degrees warmer than the ocean water, allowing better foraging opportunities.

Large gills for breathing

Large gills for breathing


New Recruits to Moss Landing

September 7, 2013


by Heather Fulton-Bennett, Phycology Lab

The fall semester has brought the return to classes, gorgeous weather, and most excitingly, a new crop of students to Moss Landing Marine Labs. This year we welcomed 15 new marine scientists to 8 of the labs, and their past adventures and new ideas for theses are inspiring already. Potential thesis projects range from molecular ecology of invertebrates in Indonesia to sediment movement at the head of the Monterey Submarine Canyon to the life history strategies of deep sea sharks.

New students meet for orientation with staff and student body officers

New students meet for orientation with staff and student body officers

Check out the Meet the Students page to see how they came to Moss Landing Marine Labs, and check back as several of the new students will be writing for the Drop-In in the future!


MLML’s small boats coordinator explains the program to the new students during a facilities tour


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