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Current position of the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Click on the vessel to view position history. Use the tools, top right, to change the map style or view data layers. Dates and times use GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans

March 07, 2019

ABCs of the Robert C Seamans: Apple Crisp, Bioluminescence, and Companionship

Anika Thomas-Toth, C Watch, Carleton College


Anika posing with her favorite sieve in the science lab.

Ship's Log

Current Position
40 degrees 56.98’ S x 177 degrees 24.64’ E

Ship’s Heading & Speed
101 degrees and 6.2 knots

Sunny and clear skies with winds from the NE at 15 knots, seas NE at 4-5 ft.

Souls on board

“Glowing dolphins!” was how I started my day. A little after 0000 I woke up to Fin murmuring to those awake that dolphins were lit up by bioluminescence in the water off the starboard bow. For this rare opportunity I slid out of bed 30 minutes early, pattered up on deck, and draped myself over the rail where I hung staring at the water, dazzled in amazement. Tiny sparkling dots outlined the edges of seven dolphins, illuminating their smooth grey and white skin sliding in and out of the water with their undulating movements and splashes. Moments like these are one of the perks of being back underway.

We were all excited to have our sails fully aback again, rejuvenated either from a few days of exploring on land in Napier or from Sarah, Captain Greg, and Jimmy Buffett’s theory: “changes in latitude, changes in attitude.” Either way, no amount of time on land, changes in latitude, or number of glowing dolphins could have initially excited me for a 0000 wake-up before my 0100 to 0700 watch. However, the morning went by surprising quickly as we busied ourselves conducting science, and Hannah G. and I each got to help lead the deck operations as a part of “Shadow Phase” in the Junior Watch Officer training.

I was happy to learn that we’d be doing a Neuston tow because I knew it would offer another opportunity to see more bioluminescence. I always volunteer to “babysit” the Neuston net - a job that entails watching the net for its 30-minute tow to make sure that it maintains the correct positioning in the water. Truthfully, though, I use this time to watch the bioluminescence in the water (while keeping half an eye on the net). Bright dots of neon blue shimmer, illuminating the edges and end of the net, starkly contrasting the deep, dark blue water. My anticipation and excitement grow as waves of cloudy turquoise light occasionally wash through the net providing a peek at the organisms we’ve caught and will process.

When our chief scientist Deb is there, I use the 30-minute window to bombard her with questions about the fascinating, lit-up creatures. How and why do they produce light? Do they make light constantly, even in the daylight? I learned that most organisms have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria who are actually the ones producing the light. Some organisms use light to attract prey and do so all the time because they are at greater, darker depths or are catching prey that can see at different wavelengths than we can. Most importantly, however, I learned that you can put these bacteria into yogurt and make it glow (glowgurt!) and theoretically, you could put the enzyme the bacteria use into the cells of your tongue and have a neon tongue, too. I stood at the edge of the quarterdeck in awe at the vastness and light in the ocean below me and the stars above me.

After watch, I went back to bed and slept until the afternoon. When I woke up, I was ready to complete my portion of Project Pie (which morphed into Project Crisp). In Woods Hole Sarah and I bonded over our love of baking and devised a plan to make treats at sea. Making the apple crisp became a tag-team operation because of our staggered watch times. Sarah and Katey prepped apples in the morning while I was sleeping after watch, and I finished it up in the afternoon. Finally, after afternoon class, everyone was awake and could all enjoy it together!

Starting my day with bioluminescence and ending it with apple crisp is a seemingly unusual amalgamation of events, but a day that is truly representative of life on the ship. The forty of us are the crew and have to fulfill all the roles that tending to the ship and its crew require. We jump from job to job, handling lines, completing daily chores, writing papers, conducting and analyzing science in lab, helping in the galley, and napping in between it all. Despite the early wake-ups, I am appreciative of the busy days and the diversity of tasks and I am thankful to be here learning about the new, complex mechanisms of the ocean and its organisms while simultaneously enjoying the familiarity of teamwork and apple crisp.

Mom, Dad, Elek, Grandma, Grandpa, Nagymama, and Nagypapa: I love and miss you all and can’t wait to share more (especially about the bioluminescence) when I’m back!

- Anika Thomas-Toth, C Watch, Carleton College

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