Friday, July 6, 2012

Harry the Seahorse Whisperer

Harry Masters opening Nikin Bottles
Harry Masters is here helping Michael Gonzior prepare the Rosette CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth device) for a 4700 meter cast down into water that is thousands of years old. Water that will take centuries before it returns to the surface.  Michael is looking at the water disolved organic matter or profile.  Like fossils, water has distinct elements that can provide insight into the past.  In the photo you can see Harry opening up the Niskin bottles on the CTD wrapped around the circular frame like horses on a carousal.  The bottles will capture the ancient water.  The marine techs and deck hands will use an electronic winch to lower the CTD until it reaches the designated depth.  The bottles will then receive a signal to snap shut and the CTD will make its way back to the surface.  The entire process takes several hours because it travels about 15 meters a minute. 

Harry, born and raised in Bermuda, recently graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill with a degree in Environmental Studies and Public Policy with a minor in Entrepreneurship.   This is his first open-ocean cruise on a research vessel and says he is loving every minute of it, from helping with the CTD to keeping the ever-growing collection of biota alive that we net from our surface sampling. 

Harry has grown particularly fond of a 6 cm Histrio histrio also called a frogfish or Sargassum fish. I have come to calling it “King Pin.”  Notice how its coloring mimics the Sargassum.  Another unique characteristic is the way it can use its fins like hands - grabbing on to the Sargassum as it perches in the weed waiting for food to swim by.  We have been able to observe the eating habits of many of the species due to the Sargassum ecosystem we have created in our 10-gallon fish tank, for exampe, crabs eat not only the abundant shrimp found in the Sargassum, but also eat each other.   But they are not the only ones cannibalistic.  Harry was trying to catch a smaller Histrio histrio for Maureen Conte for the purpose of studying the lipids in this species.  Harry ended up having to find another one to catch. When the little fish swam past King Pin it abruptly disappeared like a fly on the tip of a frog’s tongue.  Now we know, Histrio histrio also eat it’s own kind.  Because we have quite the collection, Harry managed to collect three for Maureen.  This has been a particularly good hands-on experience for the graduate who, toward the end of his undergraduate studies, became interested in Marine Biology.  During the last few months of college he worked in a lab studying the gene expression in diatoms under different iron conditions. 

Harry and I compared being on this ship like the life support in the Sargassum ecosystem.  Everyone has a role or purpose.  Each supports each other from the cooks preparing awesome food to the deck hands that make the science happen, to the captain and crew that get us where we need to be safely.  It is the science that provides the jobs and it the science that perpetuates better understanding of how we can be amiable stewards to the sensitive ecosystems we depend upon.

Recently, while hanging out at the beach with some friends, Harry looked down at something moving in beached Sargassum.  It was a 4” seahorse heaving for air.  He and his friend worked together to get it out to the reef.  Harry held it gently in his hand underwater, the seahorse wrapped its tail around his finger, and his friends towed Harry on his boogie board to the reef.   Science works the same way.   It begins by opening your eyes to the world around you and then asking a question like, “What is this?” and then attempting to find the answer.

Later we will show pictures of the plastic we are finding in our samples as well as the main event, the retreaval of the OFP mooring.  

1 comment:

  1. I guys,

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    a comprehensive catalogue of marine species to sea lovers.