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Field work with Nature Live

4 Posts tagged with the fish tag

After all that build up in my first post, the Scillionian boat trip wasn't that good and it wasn't that bad. So no sharks, whales, sunfish, etc but also no vomiting and I ended up spending most of the journey asleep.



The Scillonian after our arrival at St Mary's, Isles of Scilly


[I'm going to have to go off at a tangent slightly now and say that I've just this second been recognised by a small blonde lad as I sit here in the pub typing this. I will explain why in a bit.]


Anyway, we disembarked and trudged up and over a hill to the most western part of St Mary's which is called the Garrison or Woolpack. I've stayed in a few interesting places in my time but our current lodgings are the first that look like they could withstand a direct hit from a scud missile, being in an old military bunker. However, they are comfortable enough and we soon feel at home, although I can't help but feel sorry for the poor swallows who foolishly decided to raise their family in the corridor leading to the showers and toilets.


[I've just been recognised again, this 'fame' will start to go to my head if it carries on.]


Once we'd settled ourselves in, Mark Spencer, experienced botanist and exhibition leader took us for a walk around the island in the sunshine and points out all the parts of it that we can graze upon. Particularly nice are plants called three cornered leeks which have a spring onion/garlic taste.



The lighthouse at Peninnis Head.


The next day we rise early as one of my first obligations is to help with three talks for children (who seem to still remember me, hence the recognitions tonight as I write this) at the local Five Islands School. These go really well and Jon Ablett, Curator of Molluscs, steals the show with his squid dissection.


I don't have any props myself (apart from a baby pollock which is deemed unsuitable for hacking up in front of six-year olds, having proper red blood as opposed to the squid's green variety) so we find a few pictures of deep-sea anglerfish and sharks and I tell the children about those, and then attempt to identify various fishes that they tell me they've seen. I'm also getting a bit worried about the success - or potential lack of it - of my fish collecting at this point so I ask them to bring anything they can find up to our lodgings and give it to me.


My worries increase later as we spend a couple of hours fishing beside a sewer pipe with no results. Meanwhile everyone else is gathering buckets full of material - molluscs, plants - and diligently sitting around scribbling in notebooks and writing labels. Determined to get something - anything - of the fish variety, Jon, Tom Simpson and I head down to the beach at Hugh Town with our seine net, and after a lot of mucking about we finally catch our first, a baby sandeel. I hope things improve tomorrow...



Jon and Tom attempting to seine



My first fish, a sandeel


Yesterday, our collaborators at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) warned Dan that some of his specimens were leaking.  Not good news!


All of the lichen and invertebrate specimens (collected over the past 6 weeks of sampling in the forests of Borneo) are now at UMS, waiting to be sorted and packed and eventually loaned to the Natural History Museum (NHM) for further study and identification.




But the invertebrate specimens cannot be transported or stored safely while they are leaking alcohol (which acts to preserve the specimens) so it was all hands on deck this morning at UMS.



The container the specimens had been stored in was swimming in alcohol.


On arriving at the university we discovered it was one container in particular that was causing the trouble.  Inside were specimens that had been collected by other NHM scientists in Danum Valley, but instead of being stored in tubes they had been sealed in plastic bags…that were meant to be leak-proof.  But the bags had failed and now there was alcohol swilling around the container producing a particularly bad smell!  Left in this condition the specimens would soon rot.



The painstaking task of carefully emptying the bags and putting the contents into tubes.


So, one by one, the bags were opened and the contents removed and resealed in plastic, screw-top tubes.  A valuable lesson in the importance of reliable storing methods, without which weeks of collecting and hard work can be for nothing.  On the upside, it did give us the opportunity to see some different and interesting specimens including various ‘horned’ beetles, large cicadas and a crab!  The latter presumably having been collected close to a fresh water river.



An unexpected discovery amongst the collected specimens.


But it wasn’t just Dan, Kerry and Keiron (with the added help of Tony) who were kept busy with attending to specimens today.  Elsewhere in the university, Pat and Holger had discovered one of the main difficulties with storing specimens in the tropics – humidity.   The specimens of lichens had been left in closed, plastic bags, and consequently moisture had collected and was causing the lichens to become damp.  A dangerous situation that can lead to the growth of mould and the loss of entire collections of samples.  Needless to say, everyone was kept busy for most of the day.



Packing specimens for transportation involves lots of cardboard boxes and bubble-wrap!


Finally, once re-sealed and re-labelled, the invertebrate specimens were carefully packed by a removal company, ready for transportation to the UK.  Not the most common of courier requests!



Dan was particularly pleased when the last box was sealed!


Having rinsed the smell of alcohol and dung beetles off of our hands, we decided to spend what was left of the day exploring the city.  Kota Kinabalu is clearly a busy and bustling city and well set-up for tourists, with a multitude of restaurants to choose from and markets selling memorabilia and gifts. And it doesn’t all stop when the sun goes down…in fact it gets better!  By the waterfront is a massive, open-air night market, selling vast quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables and a wide array of fish.   At some stalls, you can choose the fish you want and they will cook it for you, there and then.  We had to give it a try!



One of the many stalls cooking fresh fish and seafood. 



I think Kerry managed to trump my tasty but tiny prawn!



What do you study at the Museum?

I study animals that live on dead whale skeletons and how this affects the formation of whale fossils. I am particularly interested in the Osedax bone-eating worms!


What are you most excited about seeing on the trip?

I am really excited about seeing what kind of animals live in the deep water of the Bahamas. I grew up nearby and have always wondered what was living beyond the shallow water that I could reach while diving.


Where have you been previously on field work?

I have been to California, Japan and Sweden on field work before to study what happens to dead whales in these areas.


What is your least favourite thing about going on field work?

I’m really lucky be to able to travel to so many places as part of my job and I love it. But my least favourite thing is the preparation involved. Going to another country and bringing back samples involves a LOT of paperwork and planning, especially if you’re dealing with specially protected animals like whales.


Is anything worrying you about the trip?

I’m a little worried about not finding all of the experiments we prepared last time we were in the Bahamas. We dropped one very near an underwater cliff so let’s hope it didn’t fall down into the abyss!


What advice would you give to someone going on field work for the first time?

Remember that other people have different cultural backgrounds with different norms that you should respect. This is easy to forget when travelling to English speaking countries.


Now that Tom has returned safely from his botanical trip to Costa Rica, I'll be heading off to the Bahamas with scientists from the Museum and the University of Southampton. Our destination is the remote island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas and most of our time will be spent on a boat.



(Click images to see them full size)


We’ll be using a Remotely-Operated Vehicle (ROV), called REX, to survey the fauna that live in this little explored part of the Caribbean. The really exciting bit is that in some cases this will be the first time that scientists have dropped a camera into these waters.


Aside from the observatory work, the team are also looking for a particular worm that likes to live on whale bones. Osedax worms have been found in every ocean in which scientists have looked for them, including the Antarctic, but will they also be found in the tropical waters of the Caribbean?


As part of the Museum’s Nature Live programme, I’m lucky enough be joining the trip and I’ll be sending back daily reports in the form of blog posts, pictures and videos. Get in touch with the field trip by using the comments section at the end of each blog.


For a chance to experience the trip come to the Museum's Attenborough Studio at 14:30 on 8, 9 and 10 March to see us in a live-video-link to the Bahamas.




Ivvet Modinou