North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Life on the Edge: Exploring Deep Ocean Habitats - NC Museum of Natural Sciences Website
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2005 Questions & Answers

10/21/05

Mrs. Oakes’ second grade class asks:

How long do you stay underwater?
The submarine stays down about 4 hours. The length of the dive is dependent upon the current in the area. If the current is strong then the battery wears down faster. We always hope for very little current during the dive.

How do you decide who goes down?
The dive rotation is determined by the lead scientist. With input from the other Principal Investigators, Steve Ross lets the sub crew know who will be diving every day. Of course, he also has to modify the schedule if we miss dives according to the weather. Right now we are anticipating losing some dives when we head into port to avoid Hurricane Wilma, so we are shuffling the dive rotation.

Olga, Helen, Audry, and Sergey, ninth graders from Voronezh, Russia, have several questions.

When did you see the ocean for the first time?
This question was posed to several people on board, and most of us saw the ocean before we were one year old. We all have fond memories of experiences at the beach such as chasing the waves, playing in tidepools, collecting shells and fossil shark teeth, and watching the seagulls. I know Voronezh is about 350 miles from the Azov Sea, an inland sea, so I would imagine most people in Voronezh don’t get many chances to visit a large ocean.

Where would you like to live, on the earth or in the ocean?
We all agree that we like living on land but visiting the sea. Most of the earth is covered by ocean but we have not explored very much of the sea. It would be difficult to live in the ocean for very long.

What are your favorite animals in the ocean?
We all have different favorite animals. Martha Nizinski, our invertebrate specialist, really likes Galatheid crabs. They are shaped a bit like little lobsters. Most are small enough to sit in the palm of your hand. They have long skinny claws with white tips. When we see them sitting on coral they frequently wave their claws over their heads. Not much in known about their biology and Martha is excited to learn more by using the submersible.

What interesting things have you seen?
This is a tough question because everything we see is interesting! As we collect specimens and get to look at them closely, we constantly ask questions: How does this eat? What does it eat? Does it only live here? What is it? It seems that the more we learn, the more we want to know. It has been quite interesting to see several types of crabs, sea urchins, and starfish. We have also been looking at the way the coral grows and how some animals seem to prefer being on living corals while others prefer being on dead corals. There is so much more we want to learn!

How many times a day do you go in the deep ocean? Is it difficult? Do you like it?
We can put the sub down twice a day if the weather is good. If the seas are rough we can’t put the sub in and will simply use nets. It does not appear to be difficult to go down in the sub but it is actually a complicated process. The sub crew makes certain that everything is taken care of before the dive: the battery is charged, the scrubbers are ready to clean the air, and the lights and cameras are working. When we actually launch the sub, it takes several of the ship’s crew to run the A-frame that lifts the sub. We all like to watch the sub go down. It is a bit like watching someone take off into space. We all like to go in the sub. It is a fascinating world that few people have seen. We feel so privileged to be able to explore this unique habitat.

Spencer from Mecklenburg County asks about the vision of deep-sea creatures.
Many of the deep-water animals that we observe have fairly big eyes. It would appear that they have no use for them, but there are several kinds of bioluminescent organisms in the deep sea, and having big eyes probably helps the fish see the bioluminescence. There is a group of researchers studying your exact question about how eyes of deep-water creatures work and how they are impacted by things such as the sub light. We suspect that they might be at least temporarily blinded, like people are when coming into bright sunlight after leaving a dark movie theater. We don’t know if the sub’s lights damage to their eyes. Explore the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic websites and look for more information on work being done by Dr. Edie Widder.

Kyle, a third grader from Randolph county, wonders how dark it is in the deep ocean.
It is very, very dark in the deep ocean. It looks black to our eyes when we turn off the sub lights. Any light in the deep ocean is from bioluminescent organisms—creatures that can make their own light

Lena, Nastya, Alex, seventh graders from Voronezh, Russia, have several questions:

What was your first impression when you saw the ocean world?
We all come back with a sense of amazement and wonder when we return from submersible dives. It is incredible to see the diverse habitats and life forms. Several people are amazed by the colors. We often picture the bottom of the ocean as being gray and brown and hazy. Most of our work is in areas with bright white corals, brilliant orange-red crabs, orange and pink anemones, brightly colored fish, and distinctive sea urchins.

Nastya likes sharks. Do you see them? What do you know about sharks?
We do see sharks while we are out here. Sometimes we see them during the dive, sometimes we see them off the side of the ship when we are nightlighting. Sharks are cartilaginous fish, which means that their skeletons are made of cartilage instead of bone. There are about 300 species of sharks. Sharks have lots of unusual characteristics including gill slits rather than a hard flap over their gills like bony fishes. A shark’s skin is very rough. It is covered with tiny scales called dermal denticles. These scales are very sharp and pointy like miniature teeth. If you rub a shark’s skin in the direction of its head, the skin feels like sandpaper. Some sharks lay eggs in leathery cases and others carry the fertilized eggs inside their bodies until they hatch. Sharks are predators and have a very good sense of smell for finding prey. They are also able to sense electrical impulses with a special pores in their heads. Sharks take a long time to mature and are very poorly understood. We hope our work will help other people learn to appreciate sharks.

Can you see seahorses?
Yes, we occasionally find seahorses in the Sargassum weed floating at the top of the ocean. The seahorses are well camouflaged and very interesting to watch. We have not found any yet this trip but have many more days of work before our mission ends. If we find a seahorse, we will be certain to post a picture of it!

Cassie, a college student from NCSU, sends:

In your 10/18/05 log, you described the large ray you saw during a dive. What are the two large projections on the front of the ray’s head that you described?
Most devil rays live in warm waters. They fold the two large projections on their heads to create a “scoop” which directs plankton and small fish toward their mouths. Most of the time large rays are spotted near the ocean’s surface. We were surprised to see them at great depths.

Lucinda from Tennessee noticed that several students in Russia are following the mission. She wonders if other countries are involved with research similar to Life on the Edge. If so, do you share information?
It has been quite exciting to get questions from the students in Russia. We have had people from a lot of different countries download the curriculum but have never had questions during a mission. It is also exciting because our Marine Technician from the University of Miami is from St. Petersburg. He was able to show us where Voronezh was on a map and give us information about how far it is from the ocean.

There are several researchers all over the world researching similar topics. This year we have Murray Roberts from Scotland traveling with us. We have several collaborative proposals with him for future projects. Usually scientists from other countries can help us learn more about the habitats closer to their own homes.

Madilyn, a kindergartener from Randolph County, wants to know what is the size of the biggest fish you’ve caught.
The chanaux fish we caught a few days ago was the largest fish so far. It was about 14 inches long and ten inches from pectoral fin to pectoral fin (or side to side). It was bright orange with a bright blue/white spot on its forehead.

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