R/V Henry B. Bigelow

Latitude 51.53 N, Longitude 42.13 W

After a week of steaming, a port call in Newfoundland for a replacement part, and three events in the Bigelow Olympics, we have finally arrived at our first sampling station in the North Atlantic, west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and south of Greenland. On the way we have seen icebergs, Cuvier’s beaked whales, seabirds, and extended sunsets (a function of our high latitude).

North Atlantic iceberg.But that is not what we seek—we want deep-sea creatures. In anticipation we have been setting up a sample-processing protocol for what we hope are exciting catches. We have the world-famous nature photographer David Shale on board, so the first step will be to remove specimens for him to image. Jellyfishes will then be removed, and then time-sensitive samples for molecular analyses. Then the long task of processing every specimen from 5 consecutive deep tows will commence. Mike Vecchione, our Chief Scientist, will work up squids and octopods; Tammy Frank, from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, will work up shrimps; and I will work up the fishes, with the help of a team of scientists and students from around the world.

We will identify, measure, and weigh all specimens, with data entered via a computerized hardware/software system on board. Much of this methodology has to be developed on the fly, as fisheries survey techniques have only recently been applied to ultra-deep ecosystems. John Galbraith from the National Marine Fisheries Service is our expert in this endeavor.

After an initial no-go on our first deployment, we are now sending the trawl back down. We will fish from 3,000 m (nearly two miles deep!) to the surface. The trick will be to avoid the rocky terrain of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge with our gear (we are fishing midwater, so we DO NOT want the gear to touch bottom), but this is not easy, as we will register the water depth under the vessel but the trawl will be up to 3.7 miles behind the vessel to reach these great depths. Since our gear is on loan from the Institute of Marine Research in Norway, we think we probably would be nice not to lose it…

A high-latitude sunset.

Now we wait eight hours to see what creatures are down there. Anticipation is high for all parties. Some here have never seen the bizarre forms at depth (pictures to follow in later blogs), and even for the experienced, the possibility of seeing species new to science (common on surveys at these depths) creates an air of excitement. Here’s hoping for a successful tow!