10/21/05 - Processing specimens
We are off the coast of South Carolina, about 120 miles from Myrtle Beach. It is absolutely beautiful. The seas are calm, the sky has been dappled with clouds, and the air is perfect for shorts and a t-shirt. We saw dolphins off the bow this afternoon, and watched a bright planet appear as the sun set and the sub returned. It is difficult to imagine the seas near Hurricane Wilma and the threat that she is to this area. It makes us think of the early oceanographers who had no warning of impending weather. At the moment we are still planning to head into port this weekend, but are still watching the weather closely.
Murray was in the bow and Cheryl in the stern for the morning dive. We are visiting an area that we have not seen before. We have data that suggested coral mounds were spread throughout the region and today's sub dives confirmed it. Cheryl collected lots of Lophelia samples for her DNA studies as well as a few crabs and urchins.
When the sub arrives everyone comes out to help carry the buckets back to the wet lab. Every bucket has a label identifying the dive number, the date, the bucket number, and the equipment used to catch the sample. This means we can track every sample back to its exact location and start constructing a more complete picture of the habitat. Collection data is what makes something a research specimen and not simply a pretty piece of coral in a jar. Next we choose what needs to be photographed and make a special photo label for it. Cheryl takes the DNA samples and keeps a voucher specimen. The rest of the specimens are placed in jars with their labels and preserved in alcohol or formalin. Some times this process takes nearly three hours and we finish just in time for the next sub dive to return.
We had another first time diver today-Jennie McClain. An undergraduate student at UNC-Wilmington, Jennie has been volunteering in Steve Ross' lab helping analyze videos taken during previous dives, sorting plankton, and making labels. While she is out here at sea she is also completing all of her assignments from school! Jennie was very excited to see first-hand what she has been watching on video. Steve Ross and Jennie returned with an excellent collection, including several different fish, including a chain dogfish (a type of shark). It is about 10 p.m. and we have just finished processing the last dive's samples. The night crew is nightlighting tonight. They mount large lights along the stern and use long-handled nets to try and catch fish and squid that are attracted to the lights. Read NOAA Ocean Explorer's 10/21/05 log about nightlighting.
We hope tomorrow will be as fair as today.
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