Earlier this month, I joined biologist Steve Haddock and his research group from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for a daylong cruise aboard MBARI’s R/V Rachel Carson. We left from Moss Landing, CA and travelled about 15 miles out into Monterey Bay, passing pods of porpoises and sea lions along the way. Haddock takes these cruises roughly every six weeks, and has done so for years: the charmed life of a scientist working at one of the world’s most sophisticated marine research facilities.
What were we searching for? Jellies. Haddock builds phylogenies, or family trees, of jellies to understand how this diverse group of animals has evolved through time. While most of us associate ‘jellyfish’ with domed globs and stringy tentacles, this broad term actually applies to animals with a much wider variety of shapes and lifestyles. Haddock collects at least a dozen samples each cruise, and then brings them back to the lab to parse apart their genes. He is especially interested in mapping out how bioluminescence — the natural ability to glow — has evolved independently in different groups of jellies through time.
The team uses different methods to collect jellies depending on the species of interest. Species that float near the surface of the ocean, for example, provide a great excuse to scuba dive and collect by hand. But this cruise aimed for deeper species, pulsing at depths of 400 meters, and required the help of an underwater robot retrofitted by MBARI engineers for these purposes.
The following slideshow documents the fieldwork: