SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
November 02, 2015
What’s In Your Net?
31° 20.8’ x 173° 36.9’ E
240 nautical miles from Opua
Course and Speed
190 degrees per ships compass, South to New Zealand. 7.5knots
Bright and clear with a light breeze. Winds from the South East at a force 3, seas from South bye East with waves of 3-4 ft.
I’m a Sociology student; science is not my most comfortable field. But creatures of the ocean fascinate me, and this is one of the reasons I’m here on this boat, 430 nautical miles from nearest land. I’ve always lived on the coast in the UK, but braving a dip in the North Sea can often be more of a frigid in and out affair than your Florida resort lazeabouts – there’s little time to ponder the life swimming around you. I’ve also grown up scuba diving, where the fish you are trying to identify stare you straight in the face, suspended in a rainbow arc. Here on the Seamans, species categorization requires a microscope and a pair of forceps.
We generally do two net tows a day – one at midnight and one at midday – to collect samples of the biological matter found in certain sections of the ocean. The most common is the Neuston Tow, which involves dragging a meter wide net through the surface of the water (the Neuston layer) for 30 minutes at two knots. As mentioned, the miniscule members of our waters are not my forte, and I kid you not when I say I’ll think twice before sea swimming with my mouth open again. Our nets are made of a very fine mesh, and when you bring them up they are flooded with minute but fantastically coloured clouds of jellies and zooplankton and nekton and, as our aquarium currently displays, the odd crab. At night the sample is alive with twinkling bioluminescence, competing with the spangled sky above. We also tow deeper nets, and the creatures increase in size the further you descend.
I didn’t expect to see myself so excited about biovoluming stacks of squishy salps, or poking my way through the first 100 zooplankton I can identify through the microscope – I haven’t set foot in a lab since high school. But there’s something undeniably exciting about peering into the tow bucket and realising you’ve scooped up over 27,000 megalops (crab larvae), or learning that the movie Alien was actually inspired by phronemid amphipods (Google image them, I dare you), or that the halobates genus is the only species of all insects that can live in open ocean. I’m finding myself critter smitten.
As with all things, everyone onboard has their favourite. The rest of this blog entry gives a snapshot of who likes what, and why. I recommend some Wikipedia searching – some of these Latin names get a little out of hand. And my favourite? Polychaete Worms are red-eyed dragons in miniature, enough said.
Adrienne – Palolos – They make me feel like I’m in Men In Black because ALIENS!
Bea – Micro Plastics – So a cute marine creature doesn’t have to ingest it.
Amanda – Phronemid amphipod – They’re barrels of fun! They barrel out salps to make ‘lil homes.
Ali – Squid – Because somebody’s gotta be the squid of the 100 count.
Meredith – Copepod – Because they’re something to fall back on at the end of a long night.
Chris – Zoea – They look like a Pokemon!
Rachael & Mike – Valella Valella – Just like us they’re sailing.
Todd – Portuguese Man ‘O’ War – The sting wakes you up during mid-watch.
Nick Dragone (3rd Scientist) – Nudibranch – They look like something from an alien movie.
Coleman & Rob & Mairin – Copepods – Because they’re the only thing I can successfully I.D.
Hannah – Siphonophore – I identified a species called Hippopodius hippopus and that is fun to say.
Kevo (2nd Mate) – Leptocephali – Because invisible eels are spooky to identify.
Cordelia – Anything Bioluminescent – Because they remind me of stars.
Bex (Steward) – Gooseneck Barnacles – They remind me of dissecting barnacles on my student trip which is when I fell in love with this sailing world.
Seán Bercaw (Capitan) – Porpita Porpita – They’re bright blue and it’s FUN to say their name.
Elsie – Shrimp – Because we play odds with them.
Sharthak – Shrimp Larvae – It’s colourful… and I’m a big fan of eating shrimp.
Lord Nelson (1st Scientist) – Pyrosomes – They’re so bioluminescent. They light up the night and they light up my life.
Sadie – Ctenaphore – At the right angle they’re iridescent and at night the squigglies light up.
Erin – Hyperiid Amphipods – I like looking at their size of eye to body ratio.
Brit (2nd Scientist) – Heteropods – They’re really rare and they look like elephant angels.
Annelise – Anything we haven’t caught before – Exciting!