Census of Marine Life Blog

Summer 2009 cruise to the North Atlantic

Come aboard as VIMS researchers blog about their 6-week expedition to the deep waters of the North Atlantic. The expedition is part of the Census of Marine Life, a global, 10-year study of the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the oceans. Aboard the 208-foot NOAA Fisheries vessel Henry B. Bigelow are professors Mike Vecchione and Tracey Sutton, as well as graduate student C.J. Sweetman. They join a team of scientists from around the nation and world.

The goal of the expedition is to further explore the deep-water ecosystems of the northern mid-Atlantic Ridge, an area last visited by Vecchione and Sutton in 2004 as part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge Ecosystem Project (MAR-ECO). MAR-ECO is a 16-nation effort to survey the waters around the mid-Atlantic Ridge from Iceland to the Azores. It is one of 14 Census of Marine Life field projects.

Vecchione, a NOAA Fisheries researcher and adjunct faculty at VIMS, will serve as the expedition’s Chief Scientist. A world-expert on deep-sea squid, he will be on the lookout for new and unusual squid species to compare to those collected during earlier MAR-ECO cruises. Sutton is aboard the Bigelow as the lead investigator on an NSF-funded project to better understand deep-sea food webs. Sweetman will focus on a food-web analysis of a group of mid-water fishes known as "pencil smelts."

A Big Dumbo

We just caught several cirrate, or finned, octopods, including a very large specimen of a rarely caught species—the dumbo octopod.

Bottom of the World

Trawling the bottom of the mid-Atlantic ridge is an arduous task. Think of trying to tow a large net from an airplane along the side of a mountain.

What have you eaten lately?

I am especially interested in the diets of a group of mid-water fishes that includes dragonfishes, lightfishes, hatchetfishes, viperfishes, and loosejaws.

Not in Georgia Anymore

All of my reading about deep-sea ecosystem structure and diversity could not even remotely prepare me for what I’m seeing out here in person. I’m definitely not in Georgia anymore.

What a Deal!

In perhaps the best trawl to date we capture deep-sea squids, a large octopod, sawtooth eels, angler fishes, and the seldom-seen dealfish.

Sheer Abundance

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the expedition thus far is the sheer abundance of critters collected along the abyssal plain adjacent to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.


After a week of steaming, a port call for a replacement part, and three events in the Bigelow Olympics, we have finally arrived at our first sampling station in the North Atlantic.

Steaming to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

We departed from Newport, RI on June 12th and have been steaming ever since. Our destination: the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone on the mid-Atlantic Ridge.