Happy Hump Day! (Now with Photos!)

Apparently, when I published this blog from the ship,  none of the photos made it!  For Shame!  So here it comes again.

We have a cruise tradition of celebrating the halfway point of the cruise.  We call that day “Hump Day” and Tony,  chief of morale,  plans fun activities.  As luck would have it,  we had a 6 hour transit that night  as we switched survey lines.   That gave us 6 hours to party!  Whoop Whoop!

When we got hired onto the cruise, Tony told us that we would have a silly hat/ wig party on hump day.  Night shift  brought their A-game.  Angela was feeling “crabby”,  Tony was rocking out Axel Rose style,  R2D2  (that would be the second Ryan D),  was a proper penguin, Kim D was feeling monstrous,  Shaun had chicken and beer on his mind, Kim B was a prim little which, and I was an enormous rainbow squid.  Keep in mind, we all brought these hats with us to Antarctica.  They got some precious real estate in our luggage.


There was fun.  There was music.  There was a very serious blind gummy bear taste test.  I sadly do not have pictures of this because I ran it.  Tony and I each brought 10 pounds of Haribo Gold gummy bears to share on the cruise.  They were a HUGE hit.   We have been trying to ration them  so that they don’t disappear too fast.  The day before hump day our ration for the week ran out.  The new week started on hump day and the bears came back! To celebrate, we did the 7 bear taste test challenge.  We each had 7 bears, one of each of the five colors  and two random bears.   We did not know which 7 bears we had.   One by one we tasted the bears and guessed the flavor.   Tony was the reigning champ with 4 correct guesses.  I only got two.  That test was hard!

After gummy bears R2 taught us how to make origami krill.


We got very excited about  origami krill.  See that blue bowl? That is where the gummy bears live.  It is a sad sad day when it is empty.



We got so excited, we made a krill cavalry complete with mounted gummy bear warriors.


We might have been singing along to the gummy bear theme song while we built our army.  Of course after we made our army, we had “krill” in the lab. We were then obliged  to do what we do best.


Gah!  We are such zooplankton nerds!  Even when we have a party,  we bring krill along for the fun.

After all that excitement,  we played animal charades until  it was time to set the net.  You try miming a string ray and see how that goes for you.  It was a great ,  and super nerdy party!  Now back to work for me!

So Long and Thanks for All the Krill

Well the time as finally  come.  The 2016 Winter AMLR Cruise  and the whole winter AMLR program is over.

We have spent the last month  sexing and staging krill

And flipping through dichotomous keys  trying to identify critters we rarely  see.

We scienced the heck out of this cruise!

And we had heaps and heaps of fun!

But the time has come to pack away the microscopes.  We are exhausted after completing more than 100 tows.

The metaphorical sun is setting on our time in Antarctica


Until we meet  again.  May the weather be always in your favor.

Things on ice

We made it back to the Bransfield  and there was ice.  Actually there was a rather  impressive amount of ice for only two week’s growth.  Some pieces of ice were big enough to support seals and penguins.  But compared to my last two years on this cruise, the ice was sparse and weenie.   There was plenty of room for the ship to avoid the large pieces of ice that held seals and penguins.  So, my wildlife spotting this year was from rather large distance.  Ah well, them’s the way the bergy bits crumble.

Crabeater seals are the most abundant seal in this area,  but they are ice dependent  creatures.   They need good solid ice to haul out and rest on.   They also forage (look for food) better in icy conditions.  Fur seals on the, other hand,  are perfectly happy to rest on shore and forage in open water.   Given  how weenie the ice has been in the Bransfield Strait this year,  it is no surprise that I saw more fur seals and fewer crabeater seals than in years past.

Adelie penguins  remain in Antarctic waters year round, so we often see them swimming in the water and resting on ice.   Like the seals,  most of the Adelie’s I saw were from a distance,  but it was still nice to see them.


Pretty much all of my  penguin pictures look like this.   Penguins from a distance running away from the big orange ship. Ah well,  at least I got to see them and know they were there.

I am going to end this post with a snow petrel,  a bird that soars and forages in ice covered water…and also  a plea to my photographer husband that I really do need a bigger lens….

Enter the water, enter the food chain

Usually when people say “Enter the water, enter the food chain”  they are talking about big aquatic predators like sharks.    But I think it applies equally to itty bitty teeny tiny things.   After we pick all the big things out of our sample,  we sieve the water.  This concentrates all the tiny animals.  We then use a microscope to count all the little critters.   Every  year it amazes me how many super tiny animals live in the sea water.  It also makes me wonder what things swim inside my ear every time I go swimming in the ocean.    If they are swimming in my ear, are they  also taking little nibbles in there?

The most abundant little critters in the water are copepods.  Copepods have a huge range in size.  Some we can’t see at all without a microscope, others we can see as little flecks of color with the naked eye.


In the picture above you can see   Paraeuchaeta,  the biggest critter in the photo.  Paraeuchaeta  is a rather large copepod that we can often see as a orange dot  flitting around the large sample.  Under the microscope  we can see that it has two huge  arms that it keeps curled up under its mouth.   Next to Paraeuchaeta you can see a bunch of smaller clear copepods.  These are Metridia and they are the most common, and abundant copepod  we get in our nets.    Also in the pic above is a chaetagnath (it looks a bit like a weird arrow coming in from the right side of the photo).  You might remember me holding a huge one at the end of my last post.  This small size is much more typical for chaetagnaths in the world oceans.

Copepods have a fun diversity of shapes. Two fun ones that are easy to recognize are  “orange brushy feet”  and Heterohabdus sp.  Oddly enough we don’t know what species orange brushy feet is, but the orange brushy feet are unmistakably adorable.  The Southern ocean copepod keys are also unmistakably difficult to work through,  so the exact nature of good old orange brushy feet remains a mystery.


Heterohabdus sp is a nice big copepod.  It usually has beautiful orange oil droplets inside of it.   It also has tremendously long antennae and  a long cetae (hair)  coming off its tail.  Female Heterohabdus have “lady lumps”,  or   a bulge on either side at the base of the tail.  You can see one of the lady lumps on the copepod pictured above.

In earlier blogs I have shown you what grown-up  krill,  T. mac, Frigida, and Triancantha look like.  Well, we also get very small early larval stages of these guys.  These early larval stages look nothing like the  shrimp like creatures they will grow up to be, but we can still tell them apart.   The most common larvae we get this time of year is the C1 stage of Euphausia frigida.   We also get the C1 stage of E. triacantha.  As is true for the adults, the triacantha larvae are bigger and more colorful than the frigida larvae.  The triacantha larvae also have a rather conspicuous spine protecting their tails.

Another cool thing we get in our samples are radiolarians.   These are crazy looking spikey balls.  If these things were larger they would be terrifying weapons.  But since they are small they are beautiful and really fun to find in the sample.

Another class of animals that we find using the microscope are polychaete worms.  We can identify about 5 species of polychaetes,  but there are so many more species here.

I really do love  looking at all these little critters under the microscope.  We all do.  You can frequently  hear us greeting the animals,  telling them they are gorgeous, and calling other team members over to look at  particularly cool critters as we do our microscopic counts.   Zooplankton are just amazing… but I still don’t want them in my ears.

Some of my Favorite “weirdos”

When we pull in our net it is usually filled with euphausiids (mainly krill or T. mac) and then a few other things in much lower numbers.  We call these other things “weirdos”.  This is a very comprehensive scientific term that covers everything from gastropods, to amphipods,  to  arrow worms and jelly creatures.  I love the weirdos! They are always so much fun to look at and try to identify.  So without further ado,  let me share some of my favorite weirdos with you…

Its no secret.  I just love Clione limacina,  or Clione to her friends.   These guys are pteropods  and are sometimes called sea angels or sea butterflies.  They are little snails that don’t have shells,  but rather flap through the ocean  using wing like extensions of their mantle.  Also, they are gorgeous in their  lovely shades of orange, yellow and coral.

Most of the weirdos we get are amphipods.   Amphipod morphology (their shapes, what they look like)  can get pretty crazy.  Some are adorable like  this guy who comes with his own,  home grown boxing gloves.


Some grow their own swords.  This is Scina sp.  We call everything in this genus  swordheads, for obvious reasons.   This guys are just too hard for us to identify to species so we leave it at genus.

Other weirdos are all lovely and starry in purple.   

Sometimes you look at these rather tiny amphipods and wonder how they survived the net all in one piece.  And then you look at their complex structures and think  “surely I can identify this to species” , but  you don’t get very far as the keys are not comprehensive.  We had one tow that was within a few meters of the bottom.  We  usually keep the net much higher in the water column and catch pelagic species and we mostly can identify.  However on this near benthic tow, we got a bunch of super neat looking benthic (bottom associated) critters that we had never seen before.  Sometimes we could identify the critter down to family.


Other times we pull up something that is not in the key  and defies all expectations.   When we first saw this guy,  we thought it was a pycnogonid (sea spider),  but then we took a closer look under the microscope  and the legs were all wrong for a pycnogonid.  So we have zero clue as to what this thing is.  We stuck it in its own jar and will consult with experts back at home.

Speaking of legs…  we tell a lot of amphipods a part by the size,  and shape of their legs and leg segments.   Let me show you an easy example.   There are two closely related species  that we frequently catch.  One Cylopus magellancicus  has a nubbin leg that is round (convex) or flat on both sides of the leg.  The other Cylopus lucasii has a nubbin leg that is concave on one side.

You may have also noticed that in the pictures above the C. magellanicus is blue while the C. lucasii is a reddish brown.   Only C.  magellanicus has a blue form,  but not all C. magellanicus are blue.   So, if we have a Cylopus that isn’t blue,  we need to look at the nubbin leg every single time.

One critter that we get every tow, that is super easy to identify is the chaetagnath (arrow worm).  These guys are serious predators.  They will try to eat anything they can bite,  no matter how big.  In more temperate oceans these guys are pretty small and you need a microscope to see them.  In the Antarctic,  cheatagnaths grow surprisingly large.


Well  I hope you enjoyed learning about zoo lab weirdos.  They certainly are fun for us to look at!

Utterly Useless Ice

I love sea ice,  in all of its manifestations.  I really do.  This trip we had so much open water, I longed for the day when the ship would be surrounded by ice- preferably  thick first year ice with seals and penguins on top.

Well  that day finally came- sort of.  For the past few days we have been slogging through ice.  Science has slowed to a snail’s pace

We are trying to get some sampling  done.  We have taken water samples with our CTD  (Connectivity, Temperature, Depth  sensors and it has an array of water bottles to collected samples).  The CTD is fragile   but we can usually blow a hole in the ice,   drop it in,, and trust the rigid frame to protect it.

So have this chunky ice.  We can’t get the net in, because the ice will shred it (we already shredded one net in ice this trip).   We try to get the CTD in,  and the whole time the cast is going on we are fretting, worrying that we will lose or destroy,  a very expensive piece of equipment  in the ice.  And every waking (and sleeping moment) Captain and his bridge crew are fretting about hitting hidden icebergs, so we are going glacially slow.  We actually had to stop dead still for four hours while the engineers  repaired  a shaft that sprung an internal leak after we hit some ice.  (Big tough icebreaker, eh?)

So this ice is frustrating and pretty useless.  I mean big chunky  ice  could be could for krill.  And big flat pieces of ice are preferred resting spots for seals, but there are very few  upper level predators here.  We haven’t caught krill in days.  It’s just been T.mac and friends in our tows

So we are going slow-  catching no krill,  the bird  and mammal team are seeing few animals,  and the phytoplankton team is terrified that their equipment is going to get destroyed.

But as this blog title says. this ice is useless.  It slows us down,  doesn’t have penguins or seals on it,  and there is no krill lurking underneath.  The chief scientist made the decision to turn the boat around and head back to the Bransfield.  If we are going to get stymied by ice, it may as well be good ice. We can see from the satellite imagery that there is more ice there now- but it is the useful kind of ice.  There are krill in the Bransfield.  And the ice may even be thick enough to support the weight of seals and penguins!  Here’s hoping that when I come on to shift tomorrow, there are seals on ice!

T. Mac and Friends

We have entered the part of the cruise that the Chief Scientist refers to as “mowing the lawn”.  We are in a region where the sampling stations are relatively close together and there is very little  Antarctic krill (Euphuasia superba).  Instead we get small euphausiids (relatives of krill). The catches in this region are often dominated (in terms of number and biomass) by the charismatic small euphausiid  known as T. mac  (Thysanoessa macrura).

I love T. mac.   T mac is the absolute best!  It is the only euphausiid we get that has bi-lobed (kidney bean shaped) eyes.  That means that we can pick them out of the catch without needing a microscope.  There is no way that we could confuse T. mac with another critter.  T. mac is so courteous that even after it loses its eyeballs, we can still identify it at a glance.

T. mac has a  “racing stripe”,  a solid stripe of  bright red from the tip of their head to the tip of their tails. No other euphausiid has such a cool stripe.  T. Mac also has a ginormous leg that only critters in the genus Thysanoessa have


Considering how  abundant T. mac are,  and how easy they are to identify   you would think that heaps of people study them.  But you would be wrong.  These little shrimp like guys are everywhere,  but no one reports them in diet studies.   Seriously,  stuff must eat T. mac.  They look like they would be a great snack- or you know if you snack on them all day you might not need dinner.  But sadly when folks find pink mush in something’s stomach down here they  call it   “krill” and  poor T. mac’s ecological role remains undescribed

Some people get distracted by T. mac’s flashy cousin  Euphausia triacantha,  which I must admit is gorgeous  and looks a bit like a krill made from sugar.

Triacantha has a lovely  read spot that makes the adults easy to identify.  We find them to be  so pretty that we often make neat rows of triacantha in our sorting dishes.  Triancantha’s beauty demands that sort of thing.  Every other species just gets counted and piled. But triancatha is ordered and appreciated.

But triacantha has round eyes,  and little triacantha may not have an obvious spot.  Actually little triacantha can be easily confused with other round eyed euphausiids without the aid of the microscope.  Under the scope we are looking mostly at differences in the rostrum, the pointy bit above the eyes.   Here let me show you.


Ok on the left we have Euphausia frigida another small euphausiid that we don’t get in large numbers.  It has a rather blunt rostrum.  There is no pointy bit that goes between its eyes.  Next to frigida is T. mac. You can see the bilobed eyes and racing stripe.  You’ll notice that its rostrum has a crease down the middle,  and extends to the midline of those enormous eyes.  Next to T. mac is Euphausia superba (krill).  Krills rostrum is  intermediate between frigida and T. mac, and doesn’t have an obvious crease.  Finally on the right is triacantha.  You can see the red spot.  The pointy bit of the rostrum extends further than krill’s, there is an obvious crease,  it has a different overall shape.   Yes these are subtle differences.  I need a reference picture in front of me every time I ‘scope out small euphausiids.  It takes me forever…which is why I love T. mac so much (hardly any scoping required).

Well this has been fun,  but now I must get back to counting a boatload (actually an accurate term in this instance) of small euphausiids