Going to sea

So far most of the interns have had a chance to go to sea on one of MBARI’s ships.  These trips, whether they last for a day or for months, are usually referred to as ‘cruises’ and not to be mistaken with the type that involves lounging around, sipping on a cold drink and being entertained.  Going to sea usually entails long hours, hard work and, unfortunately, often dealing with nasty weather.  Sea sickness pills are a must as most of us have discovered by now!  But having some experience at sea is great for your CV if you want to go into oceanography or marine science – and it’s not all bad either!  You get the chance to see some amazing wildlife, get experience at practical work you could never do on shore and normally have a really good time with the crew and other scientists.  Last week I went out on the R.V. Point Lobos, here’s what I got up to…

R.V. Point Lobos

I had to get up at 5.30 am so I was at the dock for 6.30, the ship was due to leave at 7 am sharp so you want to get there a bit early.  I had taken all the sickness pills I was advised to but they make you drowsy!  Adding that onto my early start made me pretty dopey for the steam out but luckily I didn’t have any jobs to do.  The kitchen on board is full of food so after a good breakfast and a large cup of coffee I was feeling myself again.  Just in time to see the dolpins!

The purpose of the cruise was to study midwater animals from the surface down to 1000 m.  To do this we used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the Ventana.  This is the world’s most successful ROV with over 3000 dives under her belt!  There’s a small crane on the back of the ship that lifts the ROV into the water, it can then be piloted from the control room below deck.  The ROV was made to run in a horizontal direction for 10 minutes at every 100 m down to 1000 m and a video of each of these ‘transects’ was recorded.  These videos will later be looked at by scientists at MBARI who will record all the animals that come into view.  This gives an idea of what kind of animals there are at each depth and whether their numbers increase or decrease depending on the depth.  When this type of study is done over a long period of time patterns are often seen.  For instance, one species may be found to increase in the area as the years go by, or may be found at a different depth than they were when the studies were started.  This often relates to changing conditions in the sea, like rising temperature, so the scientists get an idea of how the marine life is responding to changes in their habitat.

The ROV Ventana being lifted into the sea

The ROV also has collection pods to take animal samples that can then be studied back in the lab.  This is especially useful if something rare or unusual is seen.  Although it takes some pretty skillful piloting to catch something wriggling through the water!

At 3 pm, with the videos all completed and most of the collector pods full of critters, we headed for home and I went to bed pretty early that night…..

Later in the internship both Melissa and Izzy will be going on longer cruises, spending about 10 days each on MBARI’s largest ship the R.V. Western Flyer.  They’ll be posting up what it’s like to stay at sea for almost 2 weeks.

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