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2005 Questions & Answers


Rachel, an eighth grader from Orange county, wonders what you enjoy most about your job.
Despite the differences in jobs, the attraction to those jobs appears much more similar than one might originally guess. The answers received are as follows: the chance to find something new; the opportunity to work with something you enjoy; seeing species that few people in the world ever have the opportunity to see; being involved in the conservation of species; being self-sufficient and on your own; the "toys," (i.e. all the cool electronics, robotics, machinery, etc.); the people I work with; being out at sea; being out of the office, yet still doing my office work while at sea; traveling.

Justin, an eighth grader from Orange county, asks, "What is your favorite thing to do when you are out on the ocean?"
A quick poll of some of the science crew resulted in these choices: three enjoy watching the sunset, one prefers the sunrise, two like to go sailing, a few enjoy watching the sea life, two more like to scuba dive, one likes to dive in the submersible, and another loves to lie on the bow of the ship at night and stare up at the night sky, so much brighter and more brilliant than anything you can see from land.

Several students want to know what is your favorite sea creature that you have seen on your trip.
Doni Angell, Educator at Sea, writes: It's hard to pick a favorite since everything I've seen is special: from the tiny shrimp and the miniature urchins and crabs, to the sharks that investigated the sub, to the birds seeking refuge on the ship. If I had to pick what I've found most intriguing, it would probably be the diversity of corals. From a distance, they all look like chunks or stems of odd-colored branches. Up close, it's amazing to see their colors and how in one 2 cm section, that coloration can change dramatically. Some bamboo coral is a striking white with horizontal black bars, reminding me of a zebra. When brushed vigorously, many corals bioluminesce. Octocorals look like they'd be at home in tropical waters, with their fan shapes standing like sentinels on the ocean floor. Some corals are large, some are tiny; some have miniscule polyps, some have large, bushy looking polyps; some are pink, some are tan, some are yellow, some are white. Aside from the important role they play at the ocean's bottom, they are an incredible sight to behold.

Justyce, a third grader from Randolph county, wants to know what your favorite meal was.

Doni Angell: We had Alaskan king crab legs one night that was quite a treat! Eating seafood at sea made it taste especially good.

MT Palmer: We had meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and steamed vegetables one night. It was true "comfort food." Additionally, at each meal, we are served fresh bread with butter—a combination too tasty to resist.

Mrs. Byrne's fifth grade class from Wake county asks, “How have you liked being near the bottom of the ocean for the past two weeks?”
MT and Doni have only been near the ocean's floor one time each—when we descended in the Johnson-Sea-Link. The rest of the time, our trips to the bottom of the ocean have been lived vicariously through those who have experienced their first, or thirtieth, dives. Just being out at sea however, is an awesome experience. After a couple of days of rockin' and rollin', it is hard to imagine life on solid ground. The noises from the ship are constant, but they are soon overlooked as they become part of the background of life at sea. The sights—whether a shimmering sunset, a waterspout, or the seas gushing over the sides of the ship during rough weather—are all incredible in their own ways.

Several students want to know if you have had any breakdowns on the submersible?
Thankfully, the sub crew does an impeccable job of keeping the submersible "ship shape" and it has run smoothly. Unlike the weather, the equipment is something we do have control over!

Gabrielle, a sixth grader from Guilford county, asks, "What did you learn during this mission and how do you think it will help in future discoveries about life forms in and out of water?"
As mentioned in a previous question, the challenge of discovery does not end when the mission ends. All of the samples collected will return to various laboratories to undergo further analysis. It may be months, or even years, before the scientists identify all that they have collected and are aware of the implications of their findings. Everything learned and collected during this mission helps to place one more puzzle piece in the ever-increasing database of information about the ocean's floor.

Weston, a college student from NC State, would like to know about the range and habits of manta and devil rays.

The Atlantic manta ray, Manta birostris, ranges from the Northern Georges Bank and southern New England to Bermuda and Brazil. They also probably inhabit tropical waters worldwide. They tend to be oceanic, usually near the surface over deep water and can be found in estuaries and in inlets. They have a habit of leaping from the water, often in the wake of fishing boats, landing with a deafening smack. They will rest at the surface of the water, with the tips of their "wings" curled above the water. Their food consists of zooplankton, small pelagic crustaceans, and ray-finned fishes.

The range of the devil ray, Mobula hypostoma, is somewhat smaller than that of the manta ray, stretching from North Carolina to Brazil. It is also found off the coast of New Jersey, though rarely in summer, as well as off the coast of northern Florida, but only in summer. Devil rays can also be found in the eastern Atlantic. They are pelagic and highly migratory, swimming in surface waters by flapping their wing-like pectoral fins. Unlike the manta ray, devil rays travel in schools. They feed on larger zooplanktonic organisms and small schooling fish.

Addison, an eighth grader from Orange county, asks, “How long is a typical sub dive?”
Start to finish, a typical sub dive usually lasts about three hours. Since it takes 20 to 30 minutes to reach the bottom of the ocean, and the same amount of time to surface, there is usually around two hours actually spent examining the ocean bottom. Dive time is dictated by the sub’s batteries, which allows the submersible to move and operate under the ocean. When the battery cells start getting weak, there is no option but to come up. In between each dive, the batteries are recharged so that the sub is ready to go when we are.

Toni, a sixth grader from North Carolina, wants to know how long preserved specimens will last without getting rotten.
Depending on the organism, it is preserved in either alcohol or formalin. Those placed in formalin will eventually be placed in alcohol as well. These liquids are used to ensure that the specimen will last as long as possible. The specimens we have collected should last indefinitely, as long as their method of preservation is not compromised (i.e. lids remain air tight on specimen jars, etc.).

Christina, a sixth grader from Guilford county, wonders if you ever see dead animals when you dive down to the bottom of the ocean.
Dead animals do not last long on the ocean floor. Many deep ocean species are opportunistic feeders and will quickly make use of this easy protein. Even tiny bits of dead animals, detritus (the "sea snow" that forever falls through the water column), are consumed by any organism capable of eating them.

Several students wonder what you will do with the specimens you collect during this mission.
Depending on what the specimen is, it will either travel to the Smithsonian (invertebrates and voucher samples of coral from which DNA has been collected), to the USGS’s Leetown Science Center in West Virginia (coral samples), or to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (fish).

Several students want to know what is the strangest organism you have seen on this mission.
From Doni Angell, Educator at Sea: The strangest organisms I have seen are probably the glass sponges. Resembling nothing that one would be familiar with, and looking like modern art sculptures, they are captivating and yet dangerous, as a brush with their bodies will leave its prickly mark.

Shakira, a sixth grader from Guilford county, wonders if you have seen any sunken ships during your dives.
No sunken ships have been seen on this mission, but the "Snowy Wreck" was confirmed a ship wreck by photos taken from a remotely operated vehicle on the Life on the Edge 2003 mission. Snowy groupers had long used this particular wreck as an artificial reef structure.

Several students want to know if pollution is a problem in the area of the ocean where you studied this year.
The scientists on board have not seen any effects of pollution in the deep ocean habitats. There has been no sign of disease nor distress in the ecosystems. However, they are not taking chemical readings of the water so cannot say for sure that pollutants do not exist there. There is often trash found during the sub dives. During this mission, we found beer bottles, t-shirts, and even a chair. The trash found is unfortunate, but does not seem to be negatively impacting the habitat at the moment.

Millie, a sixth grader from North Carolina, wants to know, "Why do hagfish make so much slime?"
Hagfishes are benthic fishes, often burrowing in mud, and are found from inshore to deep sea. They are known to scavenge on dead, dying, or trapped fishes, or on those caught in gill nets, set lines, or traps. They are also quite good hunters and can catch live prey. They rasp their way into a fish and eat the flesh. Due to the large quantities of slime that they all produce, secreted from two ventrolateral rows of slime glands, they are nicknamed "slime-eels." It is thought that the slime helps them to move through the sediment on the ocean floor and helps them in capturing and consuming their prey.

Joshua, a college student from NC State, wonders what the range and habits of wreck fish are.
Wreck fish, Polyprion americanus, can be found from the Gulf of Maine and the Grand Banks to North Carolina (though rare in the western N. Atlantic), as well as the northeast and southern Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, and off of New Zealand. In the Atlantic, they are most likely found on rocky ledges and outcroppings, and around shipwrecks, from the deep part of the continental shelf to 600 meters (2,000 ft). As juveniles they drift in the surface waters and are often seen floating in debris or Sargassum mats. That is why they were called wreck fish. Later they descend to the deep sea floor are usually found around rocky outcrops, or deep sea coral reefs. They are a commercially important species on both sides of the Atlantic.

Elizabeth, a sixth grader from Guilford county, wonders if there are any unusual minerals in the ocean.
The ocean contains a myriad of minerals. On this mission however, we are only interested in the biological aspects of the deep ocean: what lives there. A geologist or physical oceanographer could better address this question.

Evan, a sixth grader from Guilford county, asks, "Does the sun affect the organisms you bring up from the bottom of the ocean?"
The sun will dry out the organisms, as will the lights shined on them for photo sessions. Some damage to tissue can occur with any drying, so we try to get specimens in cold water (bucket with ice block) and then preserved as soon as possible after collection occurs.

Hailey, a sixth grader from Guilford county, wonders if you need to do anything special before going down in the sub.
Prior to going down in the sub for the first time, you go through a safety briefing with the pilot who will be in charge of the dive. A safety check is always a part of the procedure prior to launch. Depending on whether you will be in the bow or stern compartment, you need to dress appropriately (it's warm in the bow, cold in the stern). Finally, you need to make sure that you have all the necessary equipment you will need, such as tape recorder, video recorder, extra tapes, clipboard, log sheets, etc.

Hailey, a sixth grader from Guilford county, wonders what kind of equipment was used to collect the toxic sea urchin on 10/30/05.
All specimens collected by the Johnson-Sea-Link are either grabbed with the robotic arm, or sucked up in a vacuum hose. From there, the specimen is placed in a covered or open bucket, a tray, or a basket. The toxic sea urchin was sucked up with the vacuum hose as it would have been too difficult to grab it with the robotic arm.

Jasmin, a sixth grader from Guilford county, asks, "How many people a year are in the ocean looking at scientific things?"
There is a multitude of persons worldwide who are constantly investigating some aspect of the ocean. Scientists working for corporations look to see where drilling for oil can occur, or where cables can be laid, among other tasks. Oceanographers, geographers, biologists (marine, fisheries, surveyors), geologists, paleogeologists, paleobiologists, limnologists, hydrographers are but a few of the disciplines from which these people come who are studying some aspect of the ocean. Within each field are many specialties as well. There is no way to know how many people at any given time are in the ocean "looking at things," but suffice it to say that worldwide, there are many fields of science and technology that involve ocean studies.

Marisa, an eighth grader from Orange county, asks, "How was the team of researchers, educators, and technicians formed?"
The science team for the Life on the Edge missions has evolved over the years. The lead scientist, Dr. Steve Ross, has worked to develop a cohesive group that has the skills and knowledge to meet the goals and objectives of the research. Working collaboratively allows us to maximize the impact of our research from our limited time at sea. The researchers’ interests reflect the diversity of topics we study at sea, from fish to invertebrates to habitat characterization. Our studies have expanded to include the genetics of the corals, so we now have a geneticist on board. We have educational objectives so we have educators on board. Many members of the research team come from UNC-W where they are involved in processing the samples back on shore. There are also opportunistic occurrences that bring people on the mission. For example, Dr. Murray Roberts, who studies deep ocean coral habitats near Scotland is new this year and has contributed greatly to the team. Dr. Ross is developing future studies with Dr. Roberts to compare deep ocean habitats on both sides of the Atlantic.

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