Saturday, 4 June 2016

Week 3 at USFSP

This past week was packed with knowledge about the open ocean. Tuesday consisted of a full day of lecture and activities in order to build the foundation for Wednesday's cruise. Wednesday as a whole was exciting because we were able to be included as a team of scientists doing real research. We worked with the crew and were responsible for operating equipment, taking data, and handling the organisms. One of the most exciting things about the cruise was that I saw dolphins, mostly bottlenose. Yes, I am a sucker for the charismatic megafauna. Three of them rode alongside the boat, gracefully jumping in and out of the waves made by the boat's wake. Dolphins are so beautiful to watch and are one of my favorite animals. I rarely get to see them in the wild, so this experience was awesome.
my new dolphin friends
(original photograph)
One challenge I faced while on the cruise was being the data keeper for the otter trawl and dredge. My job was to be ready with the data sheet on a clipboard and write down the species name, common name, total number, and length of each organism collected. The process of collecting the data for the Site 2 dredge was more challenging than for the Site 1 otter trawl because of the increased level of organized chaos at the time of the collection. When the dredge was pulled up and dumped, we quickly realized that there were cool organisms like fish and urchins present. However, time was of the essence because the fish needed to be put in water, identified, weighed, measured, and thrown back into the Gulf ASAP. Once the rest of the inverts were placed on the sorting table, my job got a bit hectic. As people were counting and sorting inverts I would hear multiple voices simultaneously saying, “Smallz, I got an ID for you.” I would have to choose someone, tell the other people to hang on for a minute, hurry over to get the data, and jump to the next person. During one such instance, Melissa was trying to give me measurements for 20 of the 31 urchins. I kept having to leave her and come back because the fish group needed me to come get their data, and the fish get priority over the inverts. Overall, trying to keep my head on straight and get accurate numbers with many people yelling for me at once was challenging, but I got the job done and actually enjoyed it.

these critters did not want us to know who they were
(original photograph)

The whole day on the boat was great, even though it was long. Aside from conducting the research, I had fun looking out onto the open water, spotting birds, avoiding seasickness, watching a movie, eating delicious food, spending time with my classmates, getting some homework done in a quiet, shady spot, and watching the sunset. Hopefully I will be able to have a similar experience in the future. 

our lovely vessel
(courtesy of Melissa Betters)
Surprisingly, the thing I found most interesting about the week was the plankton we observed on Thursday. It blows my mind that organisms so small exist in the first place and play such a crucial role in the earth’s food web. Moreover, the plankton we looked at were originally floating in the water right alongside our boat and we couldn’t even tell. Plankton are such a diverse group of organisms and take many different shapes and sizes. It was interesting to look at them under a microscope, compare their similarities and differences, and try to identify what they were. Even though I do not see myself pursuing plankton research as a career, I do have a greater appreciation for the scientists who devote their lives to studying the sometimes minute differences between plankton species and promote their importance in the world.    

a planktonic shrimp
(original photograph)
Overall I really enjoyed this week. I learned a lot about the open ocean, had an amazing research experience, and realized that I am capable of doing this type of fieldwork.  


  1. Did you ever find out what those snails were? They have a really pretty banding pattern on their shells.

  2. Did you ever find out what those snails were? They have a really pretty banding pattern on their shells.