Hunting for jellyfish (and some hydroids) with the SponGES Project

Picking out interesting specimens from the catch

Picking out interesting specimens from the catch

Any opportunity to be in the sea is a good opportunity to go jelly-hunting, and the recent participation of HYPNO on a research cruise with the SponGES Project on RV Kristine Bonnevie this late April – early May was no exception!

To begin with, we got the chance to sample some hydromedusae and siphonophores  with the plankton net in Bømlafjord. As usual, towing the net slowly (~0.3 ms-1) resulted in happy jellies (they get damaged if the net is towed too fast!) that sometimes can be identified with ease. Over 15 different species of pelagic hydrozoans (plus some ctenophores and Tomopteris worms) were present in this vertical tow, with some nice looking critters such as the Eutonina indicans and Leuckartiara octona medusae shown below.

Eutonina indicans

Eutonina indicans

Leuckartiara octona

Leuckartiara sp.

But not only hydromedusae and siphonophores showed up this time; we also got our hands on benthic samples from grabs and trawls, and found hydroids growing on rocks and other sea creatures (mostly sponges and sea squirts). Abietinaria abietina and Sertularella gayi (pictures below) are among the most common hydroids observed so far, and they were hosting a whole bunch of other hydrozoan species growing on top of them: real mini animal forests from the Norwegian waters!

Abietinaria abietina

Abietinaria abietina

Sertularella gayi

Sertularella gayi

 

-Luis

Fieldwork with the SponGES project on R/V Kristine Bonnevie

20170428_143104

Greetings from the big, old blue!

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

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!

#bestoffice

#bestoffice

We had to take a break to admire this

We had to take a break to admire this

Shenanigans on deck

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!

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!

Ready to dive in!

The art of washing grab samples - get rid of the mud, keep the animals intact!

The art of washing grab samples – get rid of the mud, keep the animals intact!

Scooping up top sediment from grabs for analyses

Scooping up top sediment from grabs for analyses

Incoming trawl

Incoming trawl

Sampling in the sunset

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

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.

Stay tuned for updates!

-Katrine

ps: SponGES’ facebook page is here

Happy Easter!

Here’s a collection of some of the “easter bunnies of the sea”, aren’t they amazing?

Photos by Manuel Malaquias, and you can read more about the animals, the field work and the collecting by revisiting the following blog posts:

Sampling for sea slugs in northern Mozambique (East Africa)

Uncovering the origin of species in the Caribbean region – fieldwork in the Florida Keys

Fieldtrip to Mozambique – collecting sea slugs in the most diverse marine biota of the World

More about… Fieldtrip to Mozambique – hunting for seaslugs

AmphipodThursday: IceAGE-amphipods in the Polish woods

img_2610This adventure started 26 years ago, when two Norwegian benthos researchers (Torleiv Brattegard from University of Bergen and Jon-Arne Sneli from the University in Trondheim) teamed up with three Icelandic benthos specialists (Jörundur Svavarsson and Guðmundur V. Helgasson from University of Iceland and Guðmundur Guðmundsson from the Natural History Museum of Iceland) to study the seas surrounding the volcanic home of the Nordic sages. 19 cruises and 13 years later – and not least lots of exciting scientific findings and results the BioICE program was finished.

But science never stops. New methods are developed and old methods are improved – and the samples that were stored in formalin during the BioICE project can not be used easily for any genetic studies. They are, however, very good for examinations of the morphology of the many invertebrate species that were collected, and they are still a source of much interesting science.

Participants of the IceAGE workshop. Photo: Christian Bomholt (www.instagram.com/mcb_pictures)

Participants of the IceAGE workshop. Photo: Christian Bomholt (www.instagram.com/mcb_pictures)

The dream about samples that could be DNA-barcoded (and possibly examined further with molecular methods) lead to a new project being formed – IceAGE. A large inernational collaboration of scientists organised by researchers from the University of Hamburg (and still including researchers from both the University of Iceland and the University of Bergen) have been on two cruises (2011 and 2013) so far – and there is already lots of material to look at!


This week many of the researchers connected with the IceAGE project have gathered in Spała in Poland – at a researchstation in woods that are rumoured to be inhabited by bison and beavers (we didn´t see any, but we have seen the results of the beavers work). Some of us have discussed theories and technical stuff for the papers and reports that are to come from the project, and then there are “the coolest gang” – the amphipodologists. 10 scientists of this special “species” have gathered in two small labs in the field-station, and we have sorted and identified amphipods into the wee hours.

It is both fun and educational to work together. Everybody have their special families they like best, and little tricks to identify the difficult taxa, and so there is always somebody to ask when you don´t find out what you are looking at. Between the stories about amphipod-friends and old times we have friendly fights about who can eat the most chocolate, and we build dreams about the perfect amphipodologist holiday. Every now and then somebody will say “come look at this amazing amphipod I have under my scope now!” – we have all been treated to species we have never seen before, but maybe read about. We also have a box of those special amphipods – the “possibly a new species”- tubes. When there is a nice sample to examine, you might hear one of the amphipodologist hum a happy song, and when the sample is all amphipods but no legs or antennae (this can happen to samples stored in ethanol – they become brittle) you might hear frustrated “hrmpfing” before the chocolate is raided.

 

Isopodologists (Martina and Jörundur) visiting the amphipodologists... Photo: AH Tandberg

Isopodologists (Martina and Jörundur) visiting the amphipodologists… Photo: AH Tandberg

The samples from IceAGE are all stored in ethanol. This is done to preserve the DNA for molecular studies – studies that can give us new and exciting results to questions we have thought about for a long time, and to questions we maybe didn´t even know we needed asking. We can test if what looks like the same species really is the same species, and we can find out more about the biogeography of the different species and communities.

The geographical area covered by IceAGE borders to the geographical area covered by NorAmph and NorBOL, and it makes great sense to collaborate. This summer we will start with comparing DNA-barcodes of amphipods from the family Eusiridae from IceAGE and NorAmph. They are as good a starting-point as any, and they are beautiful (Eusirus holmii was described in the norwegian blog last summer).


Happy easter from all the amphiods and amphipodologists!

Anne Helene


Literature:

Brix S (2014) The IceAGE project – a follow up of BIOICE. Polish Polar Research 35, 1-10

Dauvin J−C, Alizier S, Weppe A, Guðmundsson G (2012) Diversity and zoogeography of Ice−
landic deep−sea Ampeliscidae (Crustacea: Amphipoda). Deep Sea Research Part I: 68: 12–23.

Svavarsson J (1994) Rannsóknir á hryggleysingjum botns umhverfis Ísland. Íslendingar og hafiđ.
Vísindafélag Íslendinga, Ráđstefnurit 4: 59–74.
Svavarsson J, Strömberg J−O,  Brattegard T (1993) The deep−sea asellote (Isopoda,
Crustacea) fauna of the Northern Seas: species composition, distributional patterns and origin. Journal of Biogeography 20: 537–555.

Aliens amongst us?

It certainly does not take a great leap of imagination to get from these Isopoda collected by the MAREANO programme to various science fiction monsters!

isopoda_images_resized

click to embiggen!

I just completed photographing and tissue sampling 95 specimens that will be submitted for barcoding through NorBOL  – we’ll send them to the CCDB-lab in Canada for sequencing, and upload the metadata and sequences in the BOLD database – fingers crossed for successful sequencing!

Guest researchers: Carlo

Untangling the diversity and evolution of Sea Hares

Aplysia parvula; Føllingen, Norway; Photo by Nils Aukan

Aplysia parvula; Føllingen, Norway; Photo by Nils Aukan

Sampling and freezing at Askøy

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

Preserved specimen of Aplysia punctata from Norway

Dissected 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

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!

-Manuel

We’ve also had Lloyd visiting recently, you’ll find a post about that on the Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa blog: click here

Plastic: The true junk food of the oceans

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

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.

Collecting measurements

Collecting measurements

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

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 and and from the whale stomach

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

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

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

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.

Amngst the plastic there are some cephalopod beaks and a bivalve shell. Photo: C. Noever

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

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.

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_agassizii1

Mastigoteuthis agassizi

 

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. Illustration from Wikipedia.

Taonius pavo seen ventrally (above) and dorsally. Illustration from Wikipedia.

Taonius pavo 

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.Youngduring the Mar-Eco-cruises in 2004

Histioteuthis bonelli Photographed by Richard E.Young during the Mar-Eco-cruises in 2004

Histioteuthis bonelli by Ernst Haeckel.

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

Todarodes sagittatus

 

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_-etter-chun

Vampyroteuthis infernalis

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.

Below are a couple of videos of  V. infernalis:

youtube 1 (same as above)
youtube 2
youtube 3
youtube 4

Other prey

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.

-EW & Katrine

Full house!

Busy workers

Busy workers

The lab is teeming with guest researchers these days, as we have these three lovely polychaetologists visiting to work on the MIWA (Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa)-material.

From the left we have Kate from Wales, Lloyd from Ghana, and Polina from Russia

From the left we have Kate from Wales, Lloyd from Ghana, and Polina from Russia

Kate is working on the polychete family Magelonidae, and has written a blog post about her stay. Lloyd is working on the families Glyceridae and Goniadidae, and Polina is doing her MSc thesis on the Lumbrineridae. You can find short project descriptions of these (and many of our other) polychate projects here.

Makes sure to check by our MIWA-blog for more updates in the time to come!

Door #24: Happy Holidays!

Today is Christmas Eve, and we have reached the end of our #InvertebrateCalendar – thank you so much to all of our contributors, and to you readers!

We hope you have enjoyed it!

To all of you from all of us:

christmas-greeting

Aurora borealis at the field station in Sletvik. How lucky we are who get to see these things!