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2010 Deep Sea Coral Cruise - east coast
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Mission Log: Apr. 10, 2010

Flexibility in the Field: On to Plan B...
By Natalie Kolleda Tarpein

A view of the map with Plan A and Plan B
With bright eyes and bushy tails, we set out on our week-long journey in which the goal was to explore a few different deep-water coral mound habitats and their associated fauna on the Blake Plateau.  Out of everyone, I might have been the most excited, as I am a new grad student on my first research cruise.  We are lucky enough to be utilizing this beautiful new NOAA vessel, which has state-of-the-art fisheries acoustics sampling built in, along with an ROV, named “Phantom.”  After an eighteen-hour transit to the first sites, we were disappointed to find a screaming Gulf Stream current, which was entirely too strong for the ROV.  Optimally, the current would have been less swift and we would have sampled all of the originally sought-after sites, but this is the great conundrum of field work:  collecting data in a natural setting and dealing with the unavoidable variations of the field with as much flexibility as possible.  As all of our originally-planned sites were in the middle of the Gulf Stream in about 400-600m of water, we revised the plan to sample shallower sites that were still deep enough to be considered deep-water habitat.   The ship headed due north towards our new set of sites, and although not as bright or bushy, our eyes and tails were still anxious drop Phantom in the water for the first time and explore the sea floor. 

redeye gaper.
Redeye Gaper. Click here for a larger image.
Finally, on our second day of the cruise, Phantom dropped down and began the 200m descent.  In my anticipation to see what lied beneath, I started thinking about fish identifying.  The previous day we had so cheerfully made one-touch species id-buttons, as an easy way to quickly record different species while watching the live-feed from the camera mounted on Phantom.   Making myself useful, I set out to make a quick guide with fish pictures and names so that it would be easy for anyone to quickly and correctly identify fish sightings.  As I began looking for a good wreckfish picture, it occurred to me that while we were expecting to see these at our first sites in 400-600m of water, it might be less likely to observe them in 50-200m of water.  After verifying this thought with the chief scientist, we made some minor revisions to the buttons and I made the quick-id guide for a somewhat different set of fish species.  Before long, Phantom had reached the bottom and we were utilizing our newly revised fish-id buttons to record all of the fish we were seeing and had been so anxiously awaiting.

Picture of the writer
Anemone. Click here for a larger image.
On this type of research cruise it is necessary to have the flexibility to make quick changes to the original plan because of the unexpected.  It would not be called “exploratory” if we knew what was out here.  This is why it’s important not to get too stuck on the plan when collecting field data- most likely, there will be multiple revisions to the original plan, no matter how many days of planning goes into it!

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