08/22/03 - Coral beds & Sargassum
Following late night Tucker trawling, many more transects were drawn in preparation for today's dives. At four o'clock this morning, the sonar reading completed, sampling finally resumed. Two plankton net and three Neuston net deployments caught more sargassum and a small jack. The ship then steamed ahead to the morning dive site.
The nighttime sonar readings revealed what appeared to be steep cliffs, with shallow plateaus in an area of Lophelia coral beds. What the sub's main observer, Chief Scientist Ken Sulak, found was an area of coral rubble which supported an immense diversity of life. Samples from this dive included coral, brittle stars, Venus fly trap anemones, galatheid crabs, a glass sponge, starfish, and a Laemonema barbatulum (a cool species of fish with dorsal and caudal fins running the length of its body, and a chin whisker!). What was seen but not caught was equally exciting, including scorpion fish, angler fish, other starfish, an ink expelling squid, and a healthy-sized dusky shark. Doni Angell, Educator at Sea, was fortunate enough to experience her first dive this morning.
As the second dive crew gets their safety briefing, others work at computers compiling data, creating maps, and writing web logs. Some transcribe voice (taped) data to paper; a few catch up on sleep to be ready for night watches. Breaking up all of this daily ongoing work are three delicious meals which continue to amaze us all. If this is 'brain food' we should have no problem getting over any obstacles along the way.
Now that the submersible is on its second dive of the day, some dip netting has taken place over both the port and starboard sides of the ship. Sargassum mats (clumps of seaweed) were netted along with a myriad of critters that find safe harbor within the mass of blades. Unfortunately, the matting quality of Sargassum, so important to sea life, can also be their demise. Floating dunnage (packing materials including those made from Styrofoam, legal to dump beyond 25 miles from shore) and plastics (illegal to dump) can get trapped by floating sargassum and thereby create a hazard for those animals dependent on these floating oases. Two baby loggerhead turtles were seen while dip netting. Adult sea turtles have been known to die from eating plastics at sea, mistaking them for their favorite prey— jellyfish.
Late night update:
The plan is to begin steaming to our new site - the Northern Lophelia Banks - at midnight. We should arrive around 4:30 a.m. when we will begin doing fathometer surveys to determine our best dive site. We hope the weather up there is fair!
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