SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
March 18, 2016
A Very Charismatic Cephalopod
80 miles from Dunedin
mostly cloudy, light rain, nothing we haven’t seen yet
If someone told me 10 years ago, "You'll be spending your 20th birthday in the middle of the South Pacific," ten-year old me would've stared at them in bewilderment.
1. In the middle of the ocean?!
2. That sounds too good to be true
3. I'm going to be twenty years old?
Indeed, I lived the dream, and it was nothing short of phenomenal. Lucky me, I had dawn watch so I started living the birthday dream at the brisk of the day-at 0030. Even luckier me, I was assigned to the warm, windproof laboratory! The science crew wasn't cut any more slack than that, though, we had a completely booked dawn watch schedule filled with testing pH, Chlorophyll-A, Alkalinity, and Nutrients from all 12 Niskin Bottles attached to our Hydrowinch, which travels over 500 meters during every one of its voyages! We also rinsed, filtered, and processed small critters from the Neuston Tow and our beloved one-meter net tow.
I didn't exactly imagine spending my birthday staring at a chlorophyll filter or handling tiny, eccentric marine creatures, but the early morning took an unexpected turn when I made several astonishing discoveries while processing the one-meter tow. After rinsing the bucket through a 33 micrometer net, I was suddenly face to face with a very charismatic cephalopod (octopus), three medusa and last but not least, three worm-looking pyrosomes. What the heck are pyrosomes, you ask? Don't worry, I asked my assistant scientist the same thing. Apparently, they're a living, mobile water colony! Tiny organisms up to 17mm live on the outer layer of the pyrosome and together, they feed, live, and pump water in and out, propelling themselves through water. I don't know about you, but I was quite impressed.
After flipping through a book on invertebrates to do some research, I came across a section on the mighty interesting pyrosomes. During 1964, in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam, American soldiers suspected an increase in torpedo attacks and proceeded to deploy more soldiers into the area. A few years later, after scientific research in the area, bioluminescent pyrosomes were discovered, and a realization dawned upon the American forces. The "torpedoes" were in fact large pyrosomes! With that said, I should mention that the word, "pyrosome" itself means fire-body. I bet the 1964 soldiers wish they had known that.
In retrospect, if I had known what a pyrosome was before yesterday, I might have dreamed of encountering one on my birthday.
P.S. Thanks, Mom for the birthday card! Xoxo