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Bioluminescence Cruise: Science at Sea!: Blog 2

The first Bioluminescence cruise! So exciting! My name is Laura Timm and this is my fourth research cruise as Dr. Bracken-Grissom's PhD student. In my research, I focus on population genetics of marine crustaceans in the Gulf of Mexico. I use this information to draw conclusions about the health and resilience of species and communities in the Gulf. I am on this cruise to connect my sampling dots between the Gulf and the Atlantic.

Since arriving at the dock yesterday afternoon, we have spent a great deal of time getting our equipment set up. The tucker trawl, which is the net we use to catch all our shrimp, was set up this morning. After breakfast we went out onto the back deck and attached the net to the upper and lower bars and filled the weight bar with a number of heavy metal weights. This bar will weigh down the net, helping it to sink and maintain its position in the water. We have two tucker trawls, having brought a second in the unlikely event that the first net fails for some reason. Research cruises require a lot of this kind of thinking because if some piece of equipment doesn’t work, we could be a day’s travel away from shore.

That's me, in the red shirt!

After setting up the net, we began organizing the labs. Because of this cruise’s focus on vision, it is important that nothing is exposed to direct light while alive – not even moonlight. However, some of our work has to occur with light. The simple solution is: two labs! One is kept dark and the other is lit normally. In the dark lab, we will wear headlamps that have red lights. This light won’t damage the shrimp’s visual eyes, but it will allow us to see them well enough to identify their species. Some shrimp will be kept alive in this dark room until we can return to shore. The rest will be preserved and brought into the other lab.

In the dark lab, we’ve hung black plastic over the windows and made signs so no one accidentally opens a door and exposes the shrimp to light. In the light lab, we’ve unpacked our microscope and lab supplies and set up our cruise computer. On this computer, we will carefully record every shrimp we collect, including where it was collected from and when it was caught. Keeping this information straight is so important, we’ve come up with a shorthand way of recording it. For every shrimp we catch, collection data will be recorded on a small slip of waterproof paper and preserved with the specimen.

Our lab equipment has been set up and carefully tied down. While we are still at the dock, it can be hard to remember that the sea gets very rough. The rocking of the boat can, and frequently does, cause unsecured items to fly off of shelves and counters or slide out from under workspaces. Everything gets secured somehow: duct tape, bungee cords, rope. Not only can falling items be damaged, but they can also injure anyone unfortunate enough to be standing beneath them.

Research cruises require a lot of planning and organizing, but they are great for collecting the shrimp we’re looking for! For the most part, everything is set up and ready to go! Just tying up loose ends and double-checking that we aren’t missing anything important. We plan to be under way soon and on to the first sampling site!

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