• 13 - 19 June 2011


Day 5 – The intriguing vampire squid
June 17, 2011

Location: Oxygen minimum zone of Monterey Canyon
Latitute: 36º 41.8792 N
Longitude: 122º 2.9929 W

Vampyroteuthis infernalis is high on the list of target species of our cruise as we are interested in many aspects of its biology; one of them is to determine the function of the unique long (up to nine times the length of the animal) filaments these animals have in addition to their eight arms. Our search for these animals brings us right into the center of the oxygen minimum zone of the Monterey Canyon, which is around 700 meters of depth. Living in an environment with low oxygen levels, gives animals like the vampire squid the advantage of a relatively reduced predation risk, as not many other animals are able to endure these circumstances. However, on June 14th we came on a vampire squid that had been unlucky, and had not been able to outsmart its opponent despite its dark appearance, the variety of bioluminescent displays this animal uses to startle predators, and its relatively fast escape response using jet propulsion. We found a Vamp that had been bitten in half! An arm crown with one filament was floating in the water column, and was lacking the rest of the body. Using the suction sampler, the pilots collected the half vampire squid. Back in the lab we obtained good information from it regarding the morphology of the filament.

Another goal of this cruise is to expand our plans for deployment of a baited camera system on the mooring. We hope to attract and record mesopelagic organisms using this system, and perhaps detect animals that we do not see with the remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Towards that end we tested the performance of a low-light black-and-white camera using red illumination (LEDs emitting light of a wavelength of 680 nanometers) on June 15th. This camera belongs to the Autonomous Tissue Sampler a project led by MBARI engineering associate, Erika Raymond. Both the camera and the lights were mounted on the ROV. At a depth of 500 meters, the ROV pilot held a toy Vampyroteuthis in front of the penlight camera using the manipulator arm and we were all amazed by how well-defined the image was. This test gives us confidence that deploying a similar camera with red lights and bait will enable us to identify organisms that are attracted by the bait.

A toy animal is used to test a low-light camera system.
To test the low light photo system, we used a toy vampire squid to see how well we might see a real cephalopod.

Today was a great day for our search for vampire squid. Susan von Thun first spotted the biggest vampire squid we have seen this year, and the pilots collected this animal in a detritus sampler. It barely fit. Approximately 10 minutes later another, but much smaller, specimen was spotted and captured. This animal was getting out of its juvenile phase as its back fins were regressing (baby vamps have two pairs of fins). Both vampire squid are now in the dark cold room of the ship, in cooler chests. Tomorrow we have experiments planned with these interesting but poorly known organisms. We suspect that the big animal is a mature male, as females of this size would have a red structure in front of the eyes, which is the opening of a special pouch where sperm is stored.

large Vampyroteuthis
This is the first large specimen of Vampyroteuthis infernalis we came across today.
juvenile vampire squid
Juvenile Vampyroteuthis infernalis.
Visiting scientist Dick Young takes a turn in the chief scientist's chair on the <em> Western Flyer</em>
We have also been lucky enough to have one of the world’s foremost cephalopod experts on board with us. Dick Young is a researcher from University of Hawaii and it has been a great pleasure to learn from him and show him how we do our research using ROVs.

— Henk-Jan Hoving

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R/V Western Flyer

The R/V Western Flyer is a small water-plane area twin hull (SWATH) oceanographic research vessel measuring 35.6 meters long and 16.2 meters wide. It was designed and constructed for MBARI to serve as the support vessel for ROV operations. Her missions include the Monterey Bay as well as extended cruises to Hawaii, Gulf of California, and the Pacific Northwest.

ROV Doc Ricketts

ROV Doc Ricketts is MBARI's next generation ROV. The system breaks new ground in providing an integrated unmanned submersible research platform, with many powerful features providing efficient, reliable and precise sampling and data collection in a wide range of missions.

Midwater respirometry system (MRS)

The MRS conducts oxygen consumption rate measurements in situ gauging the metabolism of animals without subjecting them to the stresses of transport to the surface. MRS has been modified to operate in deeper water with an expanded capacity, enabling respiration studies on animals that live deeper than 1,250 meters.

Detritus sampler

Detritus samplers are large plexiglass containers with lids that can be controlled by the pilot of the ROV and gently closed once an organism is trapped inside.


The CTDO is mounted on the ROV and takes in situ measurements of environmental parameters such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and oxygen concentration.

High frequency suction sampler

This sampler acts like a vacuum cleaner sucking up samples and depositing them into one of the 12 buckets.

 Research Team

Bruce Robison
Senior Scientist, MBARI

Bruce Robison's research is focused on the biology and ecology of deep-sea animals, particularly those that inhabit the oceanic water column. He pioneered the use of undersea vehicles for these studies and he led the first team of scientists trained as research submersible pilots. At MBARI, his research group has focused on the development of remotely operated vehicles as platforms for deep-sea science.

Kim Reisenbichler
Senior Research Technician, MBARI

Kim's general area of interest is the study of midwater and deep sea animals. He has developed many tools and techniques to observe, manipulate, and collect these organisms, and to maintain the animals in the lab.

Rob Sherlock
Senior Research Technician, MBARI

Rob studies the properties and organisms of the ocean's largest habitat, the midwater. His research group is learning more about the ecology of midwater organisms; their abundance and seasonal patterns, depth ranges and who eats whom. Rob enjoys watching mesopelagic animals with the HD (high definition) camera; animals that once would have come up as glop in a net can be seen to have delicate structure and complex behavior (e.g., squid inking or changing color, fish eyes that rotate to keep prey in sight, an amphipod carving up a pyrosome to make a home).

Kris Walz
Research Assistant, MBARI

Kris works with the Midwater Ecology group, analyzing ROV video transects between 50 and 1,000 meters in depth to identify biological organisms from all taxonomic levels, most of which spend their entire lives in the oceanic water column. Kris started working at MBARI in 1996 after finishing her Master's at UC Santa Cruz. She's looking forward to returning to sea this month to collect video transects and search for deep-sea lobster larvae from the family Polychelidae.

Susan von Thun
Research Technician, MBARI

Susan works in the MBARI video lab, where her primary responsibility is to watch video taken with MBARI's remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and make observations about the organisms, behaviors, equipment, and geological features that she sees. While annotating video, she's become adept at identifying numerous deep-sea organisms, specializing in midwater organisms. She works closely with the midwater ecology group and the bioluminescence lab to expand her knowledge of the fish, jellies, cephalopods, and other groups in the midwater.

Henk-Jan Hoving
Postdoctoral Fellow, MBARI

Henk-Jan received his Ph.D in Ocean Ecosystems from the University of Groningen. Henk-Jan has developed an experimental program of both laboratory and in situ research that will chemically mark increments in the deposition of squid statoliths. Using the marks as temporal reference points, the pattern of deposition should allow him to determine the age of any squid.

Karen Osborn
Postdoctoral Fellow,
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Karen's research interests include evolution of pelagic life, phylogenetics of marine invertebrates, and mechanisms of speciation in the open ocean and the deep sea. Karen is a former MBARI graduate research assistant and is currently a University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow at Scripps.

Richard Young
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Richard is Professor Emeritus of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii. His research seeks to increase our understanding of cephalopod phylogeny and biodiversity, focusing in particular on cephalopod beaks, one of the more under appreciated features of all cephalopods, and their potential usefulness in phylogeny and identification.

Alexis Walker
Summer Intern, MBARI

Alexis is working with the Midwater Ecology Lab as a summer intern. Her interest in deep sea research has brought her to MBARI from UC Santa Cruz where she received her B.S. in marine biology, and more recently worked as a research technician.