North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Life on the Edge: Exploring Deep Ocean Habitats - NC Museum of Natural Sciences Website
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Questions & Answers

08/22/03

Several people have asked:
What kinds of creatures have you found? Or Have you seen any x (whales, turtles, sharks, etc.)?

To keep up with the different animal species we have seen or collected, check the daily logs and data. If you are looking for something specific, try the search link at left. Rather than repeat them all, here are a few highlights: squid, pufferfish, needlefish, dolphin fish, flyingfish, jacks, loggerhead sea turtles, dolphins, some type of whale (too far off to identify), crabs, lobsters, brittlestars, starfish, jellyfish, tetrapods, cephalopods, sea urchins, sea anemones (including Venus' fly trap anemones) and eels.

Norman, a 5th grader in Raleigh, N.C, asked:
Where do you sleep on the boat?

The Seward Johnson is like a floating home, equipped with a kitchen (called a galley) complete with food storage areas (walk-in cooler, freezers and refrigerators), a dining area, a lounge (for meetings and relaxation), many workrooms (from electronics and a machine shop, to navigational, to our labs), a laundry room (two washers and dryers), a public toilet ("head"), and on two different deck levels, the "staterooms." These are like small hotel rooms with bunk beds ("berths") that are either permanently attached to the wall, or hang from chains (number of beds vary by room), storage areas (mini-closets and drawers), and a sink with hot and cold running water. (The ship has its own desalination capabilities on board). Some rooms also have a built-in desk which may or may not have drawers, and a chair. Depending on the room (who it is assigned to— for example, the captain, a deckhand, or a scientist), it either has its own head and shower, or shares one with an adjoining room. The shower also has both hot and cold running water. Compared to most boats, this is living in the lap of luxury. But keep in mind that it is also the home to all crew members, many of whom stay on board for months at a time. Since all people aboard have to work at some time (usually for more than a traditional eight-hour day), sheets can be hung down in front of the beds to close off light when a roommate is up. Most roommates work opposite shifts, so when one is sleeping, the other is working, and vice versa.

Shane, a 5th grader in Wake County, N.C., asked:
How did you catch the marine life, and what kind of experiments are being made?

Sampling techniques for catching marine life vary. They include deployment of different types of nets:

  • Plankton nets— circular in shape and relatively small, these can be cast over the side railings of the ship.
  • Neuston net— large, aluminum-framed rectangular net; deployed over the side of the ship with the aid of an A-frame and mechanical hoist.
  • Tucker trawl— large net with cylindrical metal tubing at top and bottom of opening, small collection container at end; uses a "messenger" to close collection container at desired depth; a mid-water sampling technique; requires large, stern-mounted A-frame and hoist to deploy.
  • Otter trawl— flat, triangular net with doors that angle away from it to combat water resistance; used to fish bottom; requires large, stern-mounted A-frame and hoist to deploy.
  • Dip nets— same as seen in pet stores for scooping fish out of an aquarium, but much larger; operated by individual holding at edge of ship.

Then there is the submersible: the Johnson Sea-Link II, which carries two pilots (one in the fore, one in the aft compartment) and two "observers" (usually scientists), one at either end. The sub is equipped with a pair of jaws for grasping large items, such as coral and maybe large fish, and also a suction device that is not too different from a vacuum cleaner, which sucks up critters from the bottom. Any captured organism is then placed in one of many clear, plastic, lidded tubs or, depending on size, in a large basket, all of which are mounted to the front of the sub.

This mission is primarily one of exploration, therefore no experiments are being conducted. Some photographs are being taken of various samples, and some critters are having tiny bits of their flesh removed for isotope sampling. In a nutshell, isotope sampling tells you about the nitrogen and carbon content of an organism. This can help determine what trophic level the organism fits into (nitrogen testing) and where it is derived from (carbon testing). The larva of one type of eel must be examined under microscope in order to identify its species, so that is another "test" that has been conducted.