After our week with SponGES on R/V Bonnevie, Luis and I had a night back in Bergen before we headed out on our second spring adventure: a four day cruise (still onboard Bonnevie) of Sognefjorden, the longest (205 km) and (deepest 1308 m) fjord in Norway.
The cruise, led by Prof. Henrik Glenner from the Institute of Biology, UoB, was a multi-purpose one, with the majority of the projects being linked to the Norwegian Taxonomy Initiative (Artsprosjekt):
As for the University Museum, Luis was onboard collecting pelagic and benthic Hydrozoa for the HYPNO-project, whilst I was on the hunt for more species for DNA-barcoding through NorBOL (the Norwegian Barcode of Life). We have also re-sampled some polychaete type localities from the 1970’s, and attempted to retrieve more material from stations where we have found new species in more recent material (we need more specimens before we can formally describe them).
In addition, we had two Danish researchers onboard that were studying the bioluminescence and eye development of the starfish family Brisingidae. The story told in images:
We should maybe also add “one of the most gorgeous” to the description of the fjord
Velvet belly lanternshark, Etmopterus spinax
Henrik and Christoph sorting a shrimp trawl catch on deck
Eager pickings in the trawl catch
Not all trawl samples go according to plan… this one, taken in the open sea, ended up sampling *a bit* deeper than intended, so we got a lot of benthic animals – and mud. So. much. mud.
Most novel sampling gear yet? Collecting velvet belly lanternshark by monkfish! (caught in the “benthic” trawl)
The brisinga sea stars are very fragile – and live deep down.
We manged to get some not-too-damaged specimens with a small trawl
The plankton net going our for collecting
Luis an Marie studying a plankton sample
For some reason, my samples seems to involve inordinate amounts of mud – good thing I had good helpers to work through it all!
Cruising in a postcard!
Sadly, plastic pollution was prevalent in Sognefjorden as well – here’s a soda bottle from a sample taken at 911 m depth
Here is some of the plastic that we ended up with from our sampling, most of it recovered from over 1000 meters depth.
Our final night of the cruise was spent in the mud and the sunset – it’s starting to become a recurring theme!
Once again, thank you so much to the crew on Bonnevie for all their help!
I wanted to write a bit more abou the SponGES cruise, as we are currently entering Sognefjorden on the second spring cruise Luis and I have managed to sign up for (what a job!).
SponGES took us to Korsfjorden, Bømlafjorden, west of Bømlahuken and finally past Fedje and back to Bergen. We ended up with ~70 stations, using grabs, Agassiz trawl, plankton net, RP-sledge and ROV. For the most part the gear performed admirably, though we had some mishaps (and an epic final station, key word being MUD – Anne Helene will have more to say about that one).
The first grab of the new cruise is going down, so I have to be quick; here’s SponGES in pictures (not recorded: lots of laughs and horrible songs)
Call that a sponge?
Now THIS is a sponge!
Pretty, pretty Norway!
True stowaway – (s)he hitchhiked to Bergen after blowing onboard
We don’t have much internet out here, so updates will be sporadic – but here’s the tale of the first half of the two cruises that the Invertebrate Collections people have stowed away on this spring. The current cruise is part of the SponGES-project that is being coordinated by the University of Bergen, Norway (prof. Hans Tore Rapp).
We are currently midway in the six-day cruise (26th of April to 2nd of May), and are presently to be found at 59°63,000 N, 04°42,000 E – there are mountains on one horizon, and open ocean on the other. After a night of muddy (clay-y) sampling, the majority of us are relaxing and eagerly awaiting lunch, whilst some of the sponge-folks are huddled inside the big, blue container on the deck, surveying the sea floor with the ROV Aglantha (occasionally cherry-picking sponges with fancy scoops).
The ROV Aglantha, inside the Blue Box, and sponge-capturing device
At present we are at station #33; it has been three busy days so far! This is the first trip for all of us on the “new” R/V Kristine Bonnevie (formerly known as “Dr. Fritjof Nansen”, but that name has passed on to the new Nansen vessel), and we’re thoroughly enjoying it. The crew is amazing, the food is delicious, and the samples keep coming – what’s not to like? Even the weather has been good to us most of the time – though we have sprouted quite a crop of anti-seasickness patches onboard by now!
We had to take a break to admire this
Shenanigans on deck
In addition to the ROV, we are using van Veen grabs, Agassiz trawl, plankton net, and RP-sledge to collect fauna. We also stumbled across hundreds of meters of lost fishing line when diving with Aglantha – the operators were able to catch an end of it, and it was dragged onboard to be discarded properly. The rope was heavily colonized by sponges, hydrozoa and mussels, so we got a “bonus sample” from that – and we got to clear away some marine pollution. Win/win!
Old Fishing line being removed – and samples taken from it!
My main incentive for being onboard is to secure ethanol-fixed (=suitable for DNA work) material from locations that we have either none or only formaldehyde fixed. This will then become part of the museum collections – and we will have fresh material for DNA barcoding through NorBOL.
Ready to dive in!
The art of washing grab samples – get rid of the mud, keep the animals intact!
Scooping up top sediment from grabs for analyses
Sampling in the sunset
The samples we are collecting are gently and carefully treated on deck before being bulk (i.e. unsorted) fixated in ethanol. There is lab space onboard, but we don’t have the time to do much sorting here. It will be exciting to see what we find once we get back to the lab and begin sorting it!
Lab facilities onboard
But before we get to that, we have three more days with SponGES, and then we go on to the next cruise, which will also be with Bonnevie – this time we’re heading up and into the Sognefjord.
Untangling the diversity and evolution of Sea Hares
Aplysia parvula; Føllingen, Norway; Photo by Nils Aukan
Sampling and freezing at Askøy
Dr Carlo M. Cunha from the Metropolitan University of Santos in Brazil (Universidade Metropolitana de Santos), a world expert in the diversity and systematics of Anaspidea heterobranch gastropods, visited the Natural History Museum of Bergen for a month during January/February 2017 to study our scientific collection of these molluscs. The visit was funded by the University of Bergen´s Strategic Programme for International Research and Education (SPIRE).
The Museum holds a large amount of material from the Scandinavian region, but also from the Mediterranean, Macaronesia islands, Caribbean, and western Indian Ocean.
These marine molluscs commonly known by sea hares comprise around 90 currently known species and have long been of major interest to biologists because of their large and easily accessible nervous system, which form the basis of numerous neurophysiological works.
Preserved specimen of Aplysia punctata from Norway
Dissected specimen of Aplysia punctata from Norway
However, the taxonomy of these molluscs and their evolution are still poorly understood. Dr Cunha is using a combination of molecular and morphological tools to learn more about the worldwide diversity of anaspideans and their phylogenetic relationships.
Dr Cunha visit to Bergen has already resulted in the revision and update of the taxonomy of our Anaspidea collection. The Norwegian species of anaspids were revised and redescribed in detail using electron microscopy and DNA barcoding performed in collaboration with Louise Lindblom (University Museum / Biodiversity Labs).
SEM-image of jaws of Phyllaplysia sp from Florida, USA
Additionally several other species from around the world were studied and will be integrated in ongoing taxonomic revisions. Keep tuned!
We’ve also had Lloyd visiting recently, you’ll find a post about that on the Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa blog: click here
A whale recently had to be put down by wildlife management after it had repeatedly beached itself on the island of Sotra outside of Bergen. It was found to be a Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), a species with apparently no official previous records from Norway. The University Museum of Bergen therefore wished to include the whale skeleton in its collections (and future exhibitions, once the remodelling completes).
Arriving at Espegrend
The whale was transported to the Marine Biological Station of Espegrend, and a team of five people from the museum set to work collecting measurements of the whale, taking tissue samples for DNA-barcoding though the NorBOL-project, collecting ectoparasites, and doing photo-documentation.
We then began removing the blubber and muscle tissue off the whale so that the bones can be further treated (they contain a lot of oil which needs to be taken care of once the soft tissue has been removed), before the skeleton can be mounted for display.
Starting the work of removing blubber and muscles
Little did we know that what had so far been a local news matter would soon go viral…
Sadly, it became clear during the autopsy that the whale had been ingesting massive amounts of plastic – as much as 30 plastic bags, and many smaller pieces of plastic. The whale was emaciated, and we believe that the plastic had gathered in such an amount in its stomach that it had created a plug, stopping the digestive process.
The plastic in and from the whale stomach (photos: T. Lislevand, H.Glenner/C.Noever)
The images of all the plastic spread out on the ground became a potent reminder of the tragedies that marine pollution is creating, and has sparked a renewed debate on how we can limit the amount of micro- and macro-plastic that end up in nature.
The news of the whale’s stomach content became international news
What should the Cuvier’s beaked whale have been eating?
Occurring as solitary animals or in small pods, and preferring the deeper open waters, the Cuvier’s beaked whale is not an easy animal to study. We do know that the species have a more or less cosmopolitan distribution, and that it holds the world record for longest and deepest dive for any mammal: one was recorded diving down to 3000 meters.
What data we do have on the species diet comes from beached individuals, and suggests that the species may be a fairly omnivorous predator. From the limited number of Cuvier’s beaked whales that have been examined for stomach content, there are regional differences in the diet, but it seems to consist mainly of cephalopods (squid and octopuses), deep sea fish, and medium sized crustaceans (Santos og andre 2001).
Above are the suckers on the arm of a giant squid, Architeuthis. Below are scars on the skin of a sperm whale. Photo: E.Willassen
The cephalopods appear to be the dominant food source, but this interpretation may be influenced by the longevity of the hard parts of a cephalopod in the stomach.
The tough beaks of a cephalopod consist of chitin, and is used for tearing prey to pieces. Chitin is also found in the suckers of many cephalopods. The beaks can be used to identify the cephalod groups based on their size and shapes. Animals such as jellyfish would be much harder to document as part of the diet, as they would be digested much more rapidly and completely.
We don’t know how well resolved the information produced by the animal’s echo-location is, but it is conceivable that the plastic reflects signals in a way similar to the natural food of the whale, and is therefore “caught” and eaten.
Cephalopod beak, drawing by J.H. Emerton (from Wikimedia commons)
We did find some cephalopod beaks in between the plastic in the whale stomach – so far we have not had the time to attempt to identify these, but we will.
Amongst the plastic there are some cephalopod beaks (dark brown) and a bivalve shell (top left). Photo: C. Noever
The University Museum have extensive cephalopod collections, and long traditions for working with this group – from Dr. Jakob Johan Adolf Appellöf who began working here in 1890, to the material collected in the MAR-ECO project.
MAR-ECO workshop on cephalopoda
From the work of Santos et al 2001 we know that the following species are in the diet of European Curvier’s beaked whales, and are probably amongst the things our whale should have been eating:
Tewuthowenia megalops. Photo: Richard E. Young during MAR-ECO-cruise 2004.
Teuthowenia megalops is an odd squid that floats around in the open water with a propulsion system based on ammoniumchloride that the animal produces by digesting protein. The name “megalops” hints to the huge eyes, which also contain three light producing organs (chromatophores). The species seems to be common in deep water in the north Atlantic (Vecchione et al. 2008). For more information, see Wikipedia.
Mastigoteuthis agassizii was originally registered in whale stomachs as Mastigoteuthis schmidti, but from the work on the MAR-ECO project, three species of Mastigoteuthis were considered to all be M. agassizii. Some ambiguity remains about the species of this genus of oceanic squid with a broad distribution in the world’s oceans in depths ranging from 500 to 1000 meters. They have diurnal migration, and may be found hunting closer to the surface at night.
Taonius pavo seen ventrally (above) and dorsally. Illustration from Wikipedia.
This little squid is not very well known. It has been recorded from the Atlantic Ocean, but it may have a broader distribution. In this link you will find a video from the Bahamas at 850 m depth where the animal releases bio- luminescent “ink” to confuse a predator and escape.
Histioteuthis bonelli Photographed by Richard E.Young during the Mar-Eco-cruises in 2004
Histioteuthis bonelli, drawing by Ernst Haeckel.
Histioteuthis bonnellii has several names in English, one of which is “umbrella squid”. The name is due to the skirt-like membrane between the arms – when it splays its arms it resembles an umbrella. We don’t know much about the biology of H. bonellii, except that it has several close relatives in the world oceans, and that what has hitherto been considered one species (H. bonellii) may well turn out to be several species.
Todarodes sagittatus, the European flying squid, is one of the ten-armed cephalopods that may irregularly occur in schools along the Norwegian coast. T. sagittatus is subject to fisheries.
Vampyroteuthis infernalis – the vampire squid is a deep-sea squid with eight arms and a skirt-like mantle between its arms. It also has moveable wings on its body that it can use to manoeuvre with. The name “vampire squid” is not quite true – this is no blood sucker, but it traps organic material from the water masses using long, sticky threads. If threatened, it can invert the “skirt” over its head, resembling a hedgehog. It also has light producing organs towards the back of the body, and can create clouds of bioluminescence. Even with all these defences, it may end up in the stomach of a Cuvier’s beaked whale.
Pelagic crustaceans and deep sea fish are also amongst the recorded prey from Cuvier’s beaked whales. Amongst these we find the fairly large and shrimplike Gnathophausia, found within the order Lophogastrida, which has been studied extensively at the University of Bergen. We also found a bivalve shell in the stomach of our whale, which as far as we are aware of has not been recorded as part of their diet previously.
Plastic or food?
It may seem strange that the whale should ingest large amounts of plastic – why would it do that? If the whale primarily finds its pray by echolocation in the pitch black of the deep sea, it may well be that it is unable to differentiate between the reflected signal from a sheet of plastic, and that from one of its usual prey animals.
Unlike the sperm whales that hunt cephalopods in a similar way, the beaked does not have teeth to grab its pray. Instead they use a suction to ingest the food. Perhaps it is this feeding mode that becomes very unfortunate for the whales in a natural environment with an incredible amount of human garbage.
Polina Borisova, a first year master student from the Zoological Department of the Moscow State University (Russia), is coming to the Invertebrate Collections of the University Museum of Bergen with a 1-month research visit in January 2017.
Polina is going to work on the bristle worms from the family Lumbrineridae studying the collection from West Africa and Norway. Her project is jointly supervised by Dr. Nataliya Budaeva from the University Museum of Bergen and Dr. Alexander Tzetlin from the Moscow University.
Various Lumbrineridae from West Africa, scale 1 mm (Photos from BOLD).
Lumbrineridae are the worms with relatively poor external morphology but complex jaw apparatus. The structure of jaws has been traditionally used in the systematics of the family in the generic diagnoses. Polina is utilizing the methods of microCT to study the jaws of lumbrinerids in 3D.
Jaws of Scoletoma fragilis from the White Sea scanned using microCT showing ventral solid mandibles, forceps-like maxillae I and denticulate maxillae II and II, carriers of maxillae are omitted (Photo: P. Borisova)
Polina is also going to sequence several genetic markers to reconstruct the first molecular phylogeny of the family. This will allow testing the current hypothesis on the intergeneric relationships within Lumbrineridae and will aid in tracing the evolution of jaws within the family.
One of the cool things with the NorBOL-project is that it allows us spotlight animal groups that we don’t normally get to do much with. One such group is the sea spiders, or Pycnogonida. These spider-like critters wander around on the seafloor looking for other invertebrates to snack on (some also live on detritus and algae), and (presumably) for love. I certainly find a lot of them carrying egg sacks and young ones, so they must succeed every now and then! In the Pycnogonida, it is the males who care for the laid eggs and the young, rolling the eggs into one or several balls that he carries around on his ovigers.
Nymphon hirtipes with eggs. It was collected at Spitsbergen
Nymphon hirtum from the Arctic
Nymphon grossipes collected by MAREANO
Many, many juveniles on this Nymphon hirtum
The ones I photographed ranged from tiny to over 30 cm:
Colossendeis angusta, collected by MAREANO – this is bigger than a handful
Ammothea echinata from the day when we joined the local student dive club – the animal is only a few mm
Anatomy of a pycnogonid: A: head; B: thorax; C: abdomen 1: proboscis; 2: chelifores; 3: palps; 4: ovigers; 5: egg sacs; 6a–6d: four pairs of legs L. Fdez (LP) – digitization and colouration. – Own work based on External anatomy of Nymphon sea spider. After G. O. Sars (1895).
At first glance they look a lot like the spiders we find on land, but they are really a very different class of animals (literally!); The sea spiders are found within Animalia (Kingdom) > Arthropoda (Phylum) > Chelicerata (Subphylum) > Pycnogonida (Class) (from WoRMS), whilst “land spiders” are found within the order Aranea in the class Arachnida.
Extant memebers of the Pycnogonidae are found within the order Pantopoda, which translates into “all legs”, which describes them quite well! They have even moved most of their internal organs (of which they have rather few; respiration is done across the body surface, so no gills) into the legs.
The more I look at them, the funnier they look – but that may be in the eye of the beholder, as a few arachnophobes passing by the camera have declared loudly that there is nothing charming to find here – I beg to disagree!
Goofy looking Nymphon stroemi (note the chelipores/claws) and the eyes on a tubercle on the head – they have eyes facing both forwards and backwards
Some species, like this Nymphon gracile, can also swim: “…the swimming motions are the same as those used in walking, but more vigorously executed” King 1974
Nymphon hirtipes with hitchikers
Pseudopallene circularis from Spitsbergen
They are usually slow movers: Hover over the image to see a pycnogonid walking on the sea floor
To fill a plate with tissue samples from 95 specimens (1 animal = 1 specimen) of pycnogonida doesn’t sound too complicated, does it? Well, it turned out to be a bit of an adventure to gather enough animals that had been preserved in such a way that we could get DNA out of them (older material is usually fixated in Formaldehyde, which makes it unsuited for genetic work), and that was identified (had a name to them). Since we are in the process of building up the national (and international) reference library (the BOLD database) that the short DNA-segments (the “barcodes”) are to be matched up to later when someone wants to know which species “Animal X” belongs to, we need to know which species we are submitting for sequencing.
Our collection of barcode-compatible identified pycnogonids received a welcome boost when the shipment of processed material (identified, and measured for biomass) from MAREANO‘s beamtrals collected in 2013 arrived, as these had been fixated in ethanol – and identified by researchers who have worked extensively with the group.
Even so, I couldn’t fill a whole plate with only those specimens. Thankfully, I have skilled collegues that were able to put species names to almost all of the critters I could hunt down in our collections, and so now we have 95 animals ready from 26 different species! We also have some bona fide mysteries that we hope the BOLD-database will help us solve as well; animals that does not comply with any of the identification keys…!
Fingers crossed for a very successful sequence run and a lot of new information about the Pycnogonida of Norway!
Pseudopallene longicollis, collected by MAREANO
King, P.E. 1974: British Sea Spiders, synopses of the British Fauna (New Series) No. 5
Today we go mythological, and visit the Greek pantheon.
Medusa was one of three Gorgon sisters who all had snakes for hair according to the mythology – and one can certainly understand how the British zoologist Leach (1791-1836) came to think of the name when he formally described the genus Gorgonocephalus (Literally ” Gorgon’s head”) in 1815. They are found within the echinoderm class of Ophiuroidea (brittle stars).
In English they are known as basket stars, whilst Norwegians know them as “Medusahode” – head of the Medusa.
The English name refers to how they feed: basket stars are predators, and raise their bifurcated arms covered with tiny hooks, spines and grooves up into the current forming a basket to sift and entrap plankton and other small critters from the water as it streams past – then they use their arm branches (possibly aided by the tube feet) to guide the trapped food to their mouths, which is on the underside (like in starfish).