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March 31, 2003: Leg 3, Day #21

Cerralvo Trough. Bringing home the bacon. 

Mar31_02_25_11_14.jpg (51435 bytes)Today's dive started out as a snoozer. We launched just before 0400 hours, and for the first few hundred meters of our descent, it seemed that we were the only ones awake so early. Eventually things began to pick up, and we were glad we had the videotape running after all. For all of us who were in the control room, this dive will forever be defined as the one where we found that funny squid. And funny is just the right word because pilots and scientists alike were giggling, and then laughing the whole time it was on screen. It is a cranchiid squid of the genus Helicocranchia, but it doesn't fit the description of any species covered in the literature we have with us. What are different, and so interesting to us are four structures that that hang down from the squid's dorsal arms, which it typically carries up over its head. The four were very reflective in ROV Tiburon's lights, which suggests that they may be bioluminescent. Edie Widder and the rest of us are very eager to see if she can stimulate them to produce light. Then we'll try to figure out how they are used—as bait, as a warning, or come hither? 

Mar31_02_27_48_24.jpg (52053 bytes)
This is everyone's new favorite animal (above and left). It is a cranchiid squid, probably
Helicocranchia. But out here it is being called the rastafarian, pig-nosed, helicopter-tailed, hippo-squid, depending on who you ask, of course.

We ran a vertical profile to the bottom at 1,600 meters, counting and identifying animals and measuring environmental parameters like temperature and oxygen content. These profiles have been part of our survey in each basin we have studied, and they form the basis of our data set on the effects of oxygen concentration on the vertical structure of the Gulf's midwater communities. 

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Serrivomer, a slender midwater predator, sculls with the tip of its tail to hold itself vertically in the water column. We assume that it scans the water above for prey, but its eyes seem too small to be very effective at these depths. Maybe it's tuned in with another sensory system.


Today is our last one at sea. The next two days will be spent disassembling our equipment, organizing our samples, carrying it all off the R/V Western Flyer, packing it into pallet boxes and containers, and somehow keeping track of it all. Then we've got to clean the labs and our cabins and help to make the ship ready for the next group of scientists, who are surely chomping at the bit just as eagerly as we were only three weeks ago. 

This expedition has been a long time coming. We first began to plan it seriously in 1996, and it was on the schedule for 1998 and again for 2001, but it was bumped for legitimate reasons both times. The origin of the Gulf Expedition goes back even further to MBARI's early days when Dave Packard, Chuck Baxter, and Dick Barber talked about where we would like to take our new technology when we finally had a ship with long enough legs. I think the R/V Western Flyer was destined to make this trip as soon as she got her name, and she and her crew have more than lived up to our early aspirations. This leg has been a big success for us, and we thank Ian Young, Buck Reynolds, and their respective crews for the hard work and expertise that carried us through. 

I first visited the Gulf of California so long ago that John Steinbeck was still alive. It was aboard Stanford University's research vessel Te Vega, a 136 ft. white-hulled, two-masted schooner so beautiful she took your breath away. Ten of us students joined her in Mazatlan, and we spent the next three months studying the biology of the Gulf from the subtidal to the deep sea. The most valuable aspect of that experience was our intimate association with the sea. We lived and worked so close to the water that it became our own habitat as well. Today, with MBARI's advanced technology, we have extended that intimate association through the water column to the bottom of the Gulf's deepest basins. 

We have explored the Gulf from an entirely new scientific perspective, and the kinds of things we are learning are themselves brand new. I feel very fortunate to have a career that has taken me from the deck of that sailing ship, to the very cutting edge of modern oceanography. The Gulf of California is a special place for me, but I know that every one of my colleagues on this expedition feels the same way. There is no substitute for experiencing the ocean directly...

Bruce Robison

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