MEZCAL Cruise, July 2018
The MEZCAL (MEsoZooplankton in the northern CALifornia current) research cruise on the RV Sally Ride was both invigorating and demanding for everyone on the ship. Over the 10 day, 24/7 operation there was a routine of sampling and analyzing, but no iteration of deployment or sample processing was the same as the next.
This NSF-funded project is a collaboration between the Cowen-Sponaugle lab at OSU and the Sutherland lab at UO. Photos and text by Isabella Garcia, summer undergraduate journalism intern.
One major part of the sampling is the Multiple Opening and Closing Net and Environmental Sampling System (MOCNESS), a metal frame rigged with 10 fishing nets that are remotely opened and closed at different depths by a computer. The frame is deployed off the back deck where the water flows through the nets, catching krill, phytoplankton, jellyfish, fish larvae, and other organisms. The MOCNESS is then pulled on deck and the nets are processed.
Once the nets are sprayed down, the cod ends are processed. Some nets are picked through for specific species that are preserved for biomarker testing like gut contents and lipids, while others are rinsed and preserved as is. Pyrosomes, colonies of individual organisms called zooids that form rubbery cylinders, are new to Oregon waters and while they weren’t a focus of the cruise, they were still counted and measured before being thrown back overboard. Not all marine biologists get to engage with their subject matter so up close and the uniqueness of this opportunity is not lost on the team.
The samples collected during the cruise serve several different purposes, including gaining information on understudied organisms and collecting data for future student projects. For Jessie Masterman, the cruise provided her a space to collect species for her first experiment as a PhD candidate. Masterman, a marine biologist who’s new to jellyfish research, collected Pluerobrachia for biomarker analysis—a topic that may inform the next six years of her life and future career.
Field work comes with the added challenge of unpredictability. Equipment breaks, conditions change, and plans must adapt. Taking these challenges in stride and seeing the adjustments as success in spite of adversity rather than failures is a necessary perspective.
Curiosity is at the root of the cruise. Through the trials of field work, the desire to learn more about their passions keeps the team of marine biologists going.