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Field work with Nature Live

24 Posts tagged with the zoology tag
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Before our field trip to the Isles of Scilly, I conducted the following short interview with Jo Wilbraham, an algae and seaweed specialist:

GA: Can you tell me about your fieldwork methods when collecting seaweeds?

JW: When searching the intertidal zone, we aim to spot all distinct species and collect samples where necessary for identification/voucher preservation. It is important to get an eye in for spotting seaweeds that look different, which probably are (but not necessarily) different species. Observation is the key to finding and recording species diversity. Photos of species in situ and the general habitat are very useful as are notes on observations in the field etc.

 

GA: What do you do with the specimen after it has been collected?

JW: We Identify the samples. We tend to take a microscope and ID book to the field station with us if possible, and work on identifications in the evening before pressing the specimens.

 

GA: Can drawing help to tune the scientist’s observation, benefiting their scientific fieldwork?

JW: Observation is critical in fieldwork as you are trying to visually pick out the species diversity of the group you are looking for against a lot of background ‘noise’. This is where drawing is very helpful and delineation can show important morphology and omit surrounding details. We never have much time as we also have to press the specimens/change wet drying papers etc. So there is no time to do drawings or extensive notes.

 

Shared methods

 

During the trip, the field methods of exploring, observing and collecting were shared by the artist and the scientist. It is the motivations, selection criteria and outcomes of the fieldwork that differentiate what we do.

 

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Diagram showing where artistic and scientific fieldwork methods converge and diverge.

 

As an artist, I identify the morphological subset of forms within the specimen and then re-order and re-classify the specimen through drawing methods. I spend time with the specimen in it’s three-dimensional form, observing and drawing, building on my previous drawing and observational practice. The scientists take lots of photos of the specimen and then process it for the Museum collections, pressing plants into two dimensional forms and pinning insect material.

 

Although observation is still important in many scientific practices, the motivation behind observation in fieldwork is to identify the specimen (to name) and observational drawing is rarely prioritised in contemporary practice. I do not want to name the specimen, but to creatively explore it’s morphology through drawing methods in order to expand what and how I can know about the object.

 

Drawing the ‘uncollected’ fieldwork specimens

 

The collected fieldwork specimens are immediately pressed; their three-dimensional form squeezed into two dimensions before anyone - scientist or artist - has observed them in detail. It becomes clear that there is no time on fieldwork for the scientists to draw the collected specimens, or even for an artist to draw them!

 

But I am still determined to draw what the scientists have collected, and I decide to ask  if I can draw the specimens that  will not be taken back to the Museum - ‘the collected, uncollected’. These specimens, which have been brought together by the scientists, create a very unusual species combination at the field station. They are superfluous to the needs of this field trip, and would otherwise be thrown away as rubbish, so drawing them transforms them into a different material, it is a nice form of recycling!

 

etching-process700.jpgDrawing leftover specimens: the etching process.

 

I draw the specimens together to create a micro environment, where the work of the scientists and the artist combine. As an artist I am interested in how these specimens, which have been valued and subsequently devalued, can be re-valued and re-known through drawing practice; a practice which scientists are valuing less and less in contemporary scientific work.

 

finished-etching.jpgA scan of the finished etching: 'Collected, uncollected'.

 

I have explored these ideas further in my recent research paper ‘Endangered: A study of the declining practice of morphological drawing in zoological taxonomy’ (Published by Leonardo Journal, MIT Press 2013). I focus on the established drawing practice of three zoologists at the Natural History Museum in relation to my own drawing practice, adapted to the camera lucida device.

 

Posted on behalf of Gemma Anderson, an artist and PhD researcher who accompanied Musuem scientists on a field work trip to the Isles of Scilly between 17 and 23 August 2013.

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Today I am observing the fieldwork methods of Museum scientists Jo Wilbraham (algae, including seaweed) and Mary Spencer Jones (bryozoans). We depart on the boat from St.Mary's to St. Agnes at 10.15am in calm waters, under clear blue skies.

 

St. Agnes is a beautiful island, with many interesting locations to collect specimens. We arrive at low tide, which is ideal for finding a diverse range of seaweed and bryozoan specimens. Jo chooses a beach 10 minutes walk east of the quay, where it is possible to wade far out. It takes a while, and some skilled rock climbing to reach where we are going but once we arrive at the tidal interface the diverse range of species is quickly apparent. We see a wide range of seaweeds, sea anemones and polychetes patiently waiting for the tide to come back in and relieve them from the stress of exposure to the mid-day August sunshine.

st-agnes-seaweed.jpgJo Wilbraham examines seaweeds great and small at the beach on St. Agnes.

 

Jo seems quite happy with the spot and comments on the range of species whilst pulling collecting bags and knife out of her pocket and rucksack to begin collecting, making the most of the low tide. The method of exploring and collecting are surprisingly similar to the methods that I use when working in the landscape or on a residency, although the selection criteria and motivation differ considerably. Some of the specimens collected are Furcellaria, Bifurcaria bifurcata and Palmaria palmata.

 

By this point my walking shoes have flooded after being submerged in shin deep seawater and I am inspired to draw some of the collected species on dry land. I am also preparing for the drawing workshop of creative morphology (a method inspired by Goethe’s ‘Delicate Empiricism’) at Phoenix art studios in the evening.

seaweed-field-drawing.jpgDrying out my feet and drawing seaweed specimens on the beach.

 

The free drawing workshop is fully booked, and attendees will be almost exactly half Museum scientists and half St.Marys residents or visitors. Due to the demands of fieldwork some of the Museum scientists are late, which means they have a bit of catching up to do. The workshop builds up observational drawing techniques that prepare the individual for a creative exploration of the morphology of the specimen.

 

Creative morphology drawing workshop

 

The group produce some very interesting drawings and discussions. One scientist remarks that they did not expect drawing to have method, rather that it was something they associated with scientific work. This point was important as it helped the scientist to acknowledge artistic research and methodology.

 

Another scientist remarks that drawing helped them to identify important characters of the specimen, and to engage with it. This was helpful as it led to a discussion of the values of drawing and photography/SEM technologies in scientific work. We end the workshop by considering the relationship between the practice of creative morphology and creative evolutionary processes. 

herbarium-sheet-specimen.jpgSpecimens collected at the beach on St. Agnes are arranged on a herbarium sheet, ready for entering the Museum's collections.

 

After the drawing workshop I put a few questions to Jasmin Perera, an entomologist at the Museum:

GA: Do you feel the method helped you to 'know' or think about the specimen in a new or different way? If so, could you try to describe this difference?

JP: Yes the method did make me think a lot more about the specimen. It made it far more memorable structurally. There are parts that I would never have thought of analysing so much that I now know exist, which is great because I would feel far more confident in identifying the specimen if I came across it in future.

 

GA: Do you feel that the method helped you to deepen your engagement with the specimen?

JP: I think I did engage a lot with the specimen, however I feel I get a similar experience when identifying flies under the microscope as the keys we have to follow go into details as little as the length and direction of the little hairs on their body.

 

GA: Do you think this method could be useful in your scientific or artistic work? If so, how?

JP: I would find this method useful in a scientific environment as it would really make me remember any specimen I came across. Especially by pulling the specimen apart, figuring out all the bits that put it together.

 

After the drawing workshop I visit the Museum field station at the Garrison, St.Mary’s, where I find Jo sorting through the day's collections, soaking and pressing before carefully arranging on a herbarium sheet. The sun is setting, the team is tired and tomorrow awaits...the marvellous world of insects!

 

Posted on behalf of Gemma Anderson, an artist and PhD researcher who accompanied Musuem scientists on a field work trip to the Isles of Scilly between 17 and 23 August 2013.

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With the weather still glorious on Sunday I was very happy to hear that Mark had arranged a trip to the island of Bryher, north west of St Mary's.

 

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Bryher

 

The habitat here was a lot more sandy and less rocky than previous sites and also there were beds of sea-grass which provide an excellent nursery ground for young fishes. With the seine net we soon managed to get some nice specimens; a 15-spined stickleback (a marine relative of the 3-spined variety often found in freshwater), some sandeels, some baby plaice and a female dragonet. This last specimen was beautifully camouflaged and we were lucky to spot it.

 

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Dragonet (not sure which species yet)

 

After we had denuded the sea-grass of its inhabitants we transferred our attentions to some of the large stones amongst the seaweed. Lifting a few of these uncovered a wealth of invertebrates, including the most furious crab I've yet seen. As soon its rock was raised it scuttled forth with claws snapping and, although I have seen a lot of crabs come and go, this particular one really spooked me.

 

I mentioned it to one of the locals who had come to see us collect and they immediately asked, did it have red eyes? Yes, I said and they laughed and told me it was a velvet swimming crab - aka the devil crab - and they are renowned for being especially radge (dangerously mad) as they say in Scotland. Very gingerly I managed to grab both its claws and thus obtained the photograph below (you can see its swimming paddles on its lower legs):

 

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Devil crab (Necora puber)

 

Thankfully we managed to get some nice fish specimens too, including our first rockling and some butterfish.

 

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Shore rockling (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus)

 

 

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Butterfish (Pholis gunnellus) and head of 15-spined stickleback (Spinachia spinachia)

 

The following day Andreia Salvador and I stayed on St Mary's and went to the town beach near Hugh Town to look for molluscs, fishes and anything else interesting. As always, the first fish I found was a shanny but with a bit more effort a few nice rock gobies were captured.

 

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Rock gobies (Gobius paganellus) - how many can you see in this picture? *

 

After some more boulder hefting I found another fish that at first sight I thought was just another shanny but turned out to be the much more elusive Montagu's blenny.

 

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Montagu's Blenny (Coryphoblennius galerita)

 

These can be distinguished from the shanny by the small bristles on the top of the head, which shannies don't have.

 

On our final day of collecting, we went to Porth Wreck and back to Porth Hellick on the south-east of St Mary's. Porth Wreck was fairly barren apart from a decent sized rockling and a clingfish but Porth Hellick was much more productive. Using the seine net with deadly effect we got sand gobies, two-spot gobies, baby pollock and a big sandeel.

 

Previously sandeels never really meant that much to me other than as fishing bait and something that puffins like to eat but I have a whole new respect for them now. Firstly, they are beautiful to look at, a dark blue top blending into iridescent green and shining silvery flanks, but also extremely tenacious. Our specimen took a long time to capture as every time we had it cornered it would burrow down into the sand and we would have to dig it up and go after it again. Of all the fish I collected this trip, apart from maybe the wrasse, this was the one I felt saddest about consigning to the collecting pot. The photograph below doesn't begin to do it justice.

 

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Lesser sandeel (Ammodytes tobianus)

 

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Pollock (Pollachius pollachius)

 

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Two-spot goby (Gobiusculus flavescens)

 

And a couple of non-fish pictures to finish on. Maybe I really am getting too sentimental but I found the parental care shown by this centipede (I think) rather touching. We found it while helping my friend and colleague Jonathan Ablett look for snails.

 

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A centipede demonstrating rather touching parental care

 

 

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One of our toilet swallows, who will be very happy to see us go

 

So that's about it from me, it's been a pleasure and a privilege to take part in this field trip and have seen so many amazing things, not all of which were fish. If anything interesting turns up when I go through all the specimens back in London I'll let you know.

 

* There are 10 gobies in the picture

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I am very happy to reveal that I have now finally had success with obtaining some decent specimens. Over the past three days myself and various assistants have used a variety of methods (seine nets, fishing rods, hands) on three different islands (St Mary's, St Agnes and Bryher) and have collected at least 16 different species of fish. It's hard to say for for sure exactly how many until I can get back to the Museum and look at some of them under a microscope.

 

Most of them are on the list of fishes I made before I left but there are a few which will be new records for our collection from this locality. It's been a great pleasure to meet naturalist and local legend Rosemary Parslow, who collected most of our Scillonian fish specimens back in the 1970s and compare notes and get some advice about where to get certain species.

 

On Friday, despite grim weather conditions, we headed down to Porth Hellick on the southern side of St Mary's. At this point all I had to show was one baby sandeel so my joy was unconfined when our first drag of the seine net through a large rock pool produced tens of little bodies flopping about.  Most of these were sand gobies - some of the fattest I've ever seen - but there were also some juvenile flatfish.

 

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Fat sand gobies (Pomatoschistus minutus)

 

A few more drags produced some other species of goby and a very dark looking shanny.

 

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Shanny (Lipophrys pholis)

 

The best find of the day for me was a worm pipefish which I found underneath a rock. These are not very fast swimmers but are hard to spot as they look just like a bit of seaweed. A closer look at the specimen revealed something interesting, a cluster of orange eggs stuck to the belly of the fish indicating that this was a male specimen.

 

Pipefishes are in the same family as seahorses (syngnathidae), and like them, the male takes care of the eggs after they have been laid by the female.  I felt a bit guilty taking this specimen but I had never seen one like this before. I should point out that all the fish I collect are anaesthetised using clove oil before preservation so the process is as painless as possible (this also makes for nicer looking specimens).

 

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Male worm pipefish (Nerophis lumbriciformis) with eggs

 

The following day the weather had improved vastly and we boarded a boat for St Agnes, the island to the south of St Mary's. Rosemary had recommended a particular bay called Porth Killier so we headed there full of optimism. Upon looking at it my heart fell slightly as the whole area was thickly blanketed in various kinds of seaweed - lots of places for fish to escape and tricky to use the seine. Nevertheless, Tom and I carefully ventured forth and after about half an hour of rummaging about in the kelp I found my first ever clingfish!

 

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Porth Killier, St Agnes

 

Sadly this escaped a bit later due to an incident with the bucket and I did my best to be philosophical about this. We got some more pipefish and some rock gobies so all was not lost but then Tom developed some kind of clingfish sixth sense and within half an hour or so we had seven specimens of two different species (shore clingfish and small-headed clingfish).

 

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Shore clingfish (Lepadogaster lepadogaster)

 

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Two rock gobies (Gobius paganellus) and a small-headed clingfish (Apletodon dentatus)

 

If there's one thing I have really got out of this trip it's a greater appreciation of other people's specialities. Suddenly I find myself looking at flies and plants and shellfish in a whole new way (one of the other nice results from our trip to St Agnes were the discoveries of blue-rayed limpets and spotted cowries in the kelp). But in particular crabs.

 

Previously I thought there were shore crabs (the browny-green ones) and edible crabs (the pinky-purple ones) and that was probably about it, but my crab universe has now expanded exponentially. On St Agnes I found what I think were five or six different species, some of which were relatively benign when disturbed, some of which were furious. Every rock we turned over also revealed a wealth of fascinating creatures, and at times I almost forgot about fish.

 

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A strange crab

 

Returning home triumphant we decided to round off the day with a spot of fishing at Penninis Head. This was initially extremely successful and I caught a nice big ballan wrasse on a fishing rod that telescopes into something the size of a pen and Tom got a fine pollock. Although both of these are edible (although opinions vary about the wrasse) the national collection trumps our stomachs and they were placed in the freezer when we got back. I have never before seen the attractive blue inner lips of the ballan wrasse, another first for our trip.

 

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Ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta)

 

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The blue inner lips of the ballan wrasse

 

I'm afraid I have now run out of time and I think the limpet risotto is just about ready. More soon and I will leave you with this, one of the black rabbits - descended from escaped pets - that live just outside our bunker.

 

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Black rabbit of St Mary's

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I spent day 8 of our trip with Andreia Salvador, curator of marine molluscs, looking at some of the stunning creatures she has found here in Scilly.

 

PIC 1 (Custom).JPGAndreia Salvador collecting marine molluscs

 

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGMarvellous marine molluscs

 

A curator’s job is to ‘future proof’ their collection; in the future, a specimen may be researched using techniques we don’t yet know of and Andreia is keen to perfect preservation methods that allow for as much of a mollusc to be accessible as possible. The molluscs known as gastropods, (things like top shells and winkles) have a trap door called an operculum which completely seals the animal inside.

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGA firmly shut operculum

 

In the past, researchers who needed the soft parts of molluscs may have had to break the shell open, destroying the specimen. Andreia is keen to work out the best way to preserve both the shell and the soft parts intact. The process of encouraging the animal out of its shell is called relaxing. This may take anything up to 12 hours to do, but it is crucial in providing future researchers with the specimens they may need.

 

PIC 4 (Custom).JPGA specimen beginning to ‘relax’

 

We have found some exceptionally beautiful molluscs over the past few days. When I was out with James, we found these spotted cowries and blue-rayed limpets.

 

PIC 5 (Custom).JPGSpotted cowrie

 

PIC 6 (Custom).JPGBlue-rayed limpets

 

The limpets in particular, were exciting for Andreia because, in her native Portugal, they are know as beijinho, a ‘little kiss’. We found them inside the kelp forests and they have absolutely stunning, electric colors. Although not rare, they provided quite a challenge to locate, as they lived in the 'hold fasts' at the base of the kelp.

 

PIC 7 (Custom).JPGA blue-rayed limpet living in the hold fast of kelp

 

Andreia was delighted when we returned with the good news that we had got some. I felt a little left out but, as the bigger man, kept my feelings to myself ...

 

PIC 8 (Custom).JPGBitter? Me?

 

Last night we had a BBQ - organised by Jon and Tony, it was to make the most of the nice weather that has now turned for the worse. It was a very serious affair...

 

PIC 9 (Custom).jpgWho has a hat specifically for BBQ? Tony Vinhas!

 

... Tony put on his ‘BBQ hat’ and began to refer to himself, in the 3rd person, as the grillmaster.

 

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The grillmaster in the world's biggest barbecue pit - how long ‘til it’s ready?

 

He expertly worked his way through various meats and veggie options and as the sun set behind us we enjoyed a lovely evening all together.

 

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Relaxing on the Woolpack

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Today started dull and overcast - grey and gloomy - but we weren’t going to let the weather get us down because this morning we did our first, live video conference from the field with schools. Students from all over the country get to talk with our scientists and ask questions about what they are doing here in the Isles of Scilly.

 

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Tom chatting to Mark during a video conference with students at a primary school.

 

In the first VC, primary school students got to meet Mark Spencer, the botanist of the group and team leader, and Jon Ablett, Curator of Molluscs. Mark did a small tour of the wild flowers we can find here, explaining that the Isles are located at a crossroads between Mediterranean plants and northern ones.

 

The relatively mild climate of the islands mean that plants that are usually more typical of Mediterranean countries find a home here, while for other species, the Isles mark their southern-most limit. It’s an overlapping landscape, which is a delight for us to experience, and a joy for the many species of insects and birds who pollinate these plants.

 

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Museum scientists taking in the beautiful scenery, while Holger Thues (far left) is distracted by a rock covered in lichen!

 

Jon Ablett showed some of his slugs and talked about innovative ways of preserving specimens for the Museum’s collection, while the white vapours of liquid nitrogen made Mark and Tom (who was hosting the event) feel even more cold. Jon is looking mainly for land snails, but will also try to fish for some octopus and squid as we are not sure which species live in these waters. Keep an eye on this blog to find out what he discovers!

 

The secondary school students had the chance to meet lichen curator Holger Thues. Holger explained that lichens are composite organisms (comparable to corals), meaning they are a combination of a fungus and an algae living side-by-side in a symbiotic relationship (i.e. they both benefit from one another). Lichens are incredibly important indicators of the environment around them and are often used to study changes in the atmosphere and air pollution.

 

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Orange lichen on a rock, but how did it get its nutrients?

 

The orange lichen in the photo above only exists in places with high levels of nutrients, you will see them near the sea where the wind itself is loaded with nutrients. However, if you see them on a rock in land, wait and with time you’re more than likely to see a bird arrive ...  you’ll soon find out how the nutrients arrived there!

 

Thanks to all the schools for their many questions during the video conferences, it was great to speak to you all!

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The scientists I will be following over the next couple of weeks are already out in Borneo and working hard.....

 

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Dan Carpenter likes soil, so it is lucky that he works in the Soil Biodiversity Group in the Life Sciences Department of the Natural History Museum. Having completed a BSc in Wildlife Conservation, he went on to do a PhD in Soil Science jointly at the University of Reading and the Museum and studied earthworms and their effects on mineral weathering in soils.  He is now a Post-doctoral Research Assistant and he has been studying diversity patterns of soil invertebrates and their role in ecosystem processes.

Dan is particularly fond of earthworms, so much so that he played a large part in setting up the Earthworm Society of Britain and sits on its committee.  When he isn’t digging holes, Dan likes running around in mountains and swimming. He is also a member of the Berkshire Lowland Search and Rescue team, so he is a handy person to know if you get lost!

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Kerry Leigh studied Biology at university before moving to London.  After originally volunteering in the tropical butterfly house at the Natural History Museum, she began volunteering with the Soil Biodiversity Group, spending time in the New Forest with Dan and his team sampling different habitats. The enthusiasm of everyone in the group rubbed off on her and she’s been helping out in the lab ever since, sorting and identifying various invertebrates that the group have collected.


When not in the Museum, Kerry  works in a little butterfly house in West London where she looks after caterpillars, pupae and butterflies, and sends some of them off to other exhibitions. She loves travelling (particularly in Africa) and her favourite country is Sierra Leone, she hopes to move there one day and build a hostel and restaurant on a beautiful beach! 

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Keiron Derek Brown has been volunteering in the Soil Biodiversity Group of the Natural History Museum for over 2 years.  A biology granduate, with field work experience in the tropics, Keiron decided his dream was to work in the field on zoological projects and conservation.


Keiron's time at the museum has been spent looking down a microscope to sort and identify invertebrate samples that he helped collect on field trips to the New Forest.  In his spare time he enjoys going on courses to learn more about the amazing wildlife that live across Great Britain and is also a member of the Earthworm Society of Britain. Over the summer he has been working for the Bat Conservation Trust where he provides advice to many different kinds of people for all things bat-related! Keiron has always wanted to visit the island of Borneo and is excited about experiencing life in the rainforest.

 

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Holger Thues is a curator at the Natural History Museum. His focus is on lichenised fungi and their associated algae which makes him a part mycologist / part-botanist. Before he came to the NHM , he was working partly as a researcher and partly as an environmental consultant. This included work with lichens, mosses and seed plants but also with various animal groups:  from aquatic invertebrates, leafhoppers to hamsters and salmon.


Holger's previous fieldwork has been mostly all over Europe (particularly “rocky” habitats from coastal cliffs to alpine peaks – you can easily locate him in the field by the sound of his chisel). In the tropics so far two field trips to the Venezuelan part of the Andes (focussed on freshwater habitats in open areas with Paramo-vegetation) and earlier this year a month in the mountains of Costa Rica.


One of his hopes for this trip is to collect a rich selection of fresh lichen material from areas which have never been studied by lichenologists before such as the Maliau Basin and to enhance the collections both in Sabah and for our museum with poorly known taxonomic groups which will become a resource for further studies by researchers in Malaysia, at our museum and for other collaborators across the world.

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Following on from two amazing trips to Costa Rica and the Bahamas earlier this year, I'm preparing to fly out to Borneo in South East Asia this weekend! 

 

I'm going to be joining a group of Museum scientists who have already been steeped in the hot and humid rainforests of Borneo for the past four weeks, and have been blogging about their experiences so far.  I'll be reporting back on their research, giving you an insider's view on their ingenious sampling methods, keeping you updated on exciting wildlife sightings and recounting the highs and lows of life in the field.

 

You can join in by following our blog and using the comments section at the end of each daily post, or by visiting the Museum in person for some very special Nature Live events in the Attenborough Studio including live-video-links to Borneo:

 

Thu 11 October at 14.30: Biodiversity in Borneo

Sat 13 October at 12.30 and 14.30: Caught in a Trap: Borneo (the 14.30 event will be British Sign Language interpreted)

Wed 17 October at 14.30: Eaten Alive in Borneo

 

Time to get packing......

 

Charlotte Coales

 

P.S. We also have a special series of Nature Live in the Field videoconferences and live-chats for Schools. The first is on Friday 9 October so if you want your school or class to take part, contact us as soon as possible.

 

Image copyright: Tim Cockerill

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As you’re reading this I’m flying across the Atlantic home, to what I hear is a sunny London! I’ve had an amazing experience following the scientists as they look for new species and experiment with REX in the waters around the Bahamas.

 

The scientists will have a lot of work to do when they get back to the Museum with all their samples. They will be busy checking to see if the species they have found here in the Bahamas are actually undescribed and new to science and we'll keep you updated with any results.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed following the blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Highlights for me have been seeing the amazing footage that REX was sending back to the control room, helping the scientists sieve for worms in the mangroves, sharing in their ups and downs as they looked for the experiments and, of course, waking up with an amazing view every morning!

 

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Above: Our office for the last 10 days – not bad

(Click images to see them full size)

 

Now it’s time for the credits… there are lots of people to thank for making this happen!

 

Firstly to Stephen, Martin and Honor for allowing me to spend 10 days out of the office. To everyone in the Learning department for their support but especially my fantastic colleagues in the Nature Live team – Jo, Ana Rita, Natalie and Tom.

 

Extra special thanks to Tom and Natalie for hosting the shows so professionally and dealing with any technical problems so gracefully – I bet the audience had no idea what was happening behind the scenes! Also to Verity Nye, who came up from Southampton, and Museum scientist Geoff Boxshall who were our anchors in the studio during the live-links. Geoff, great news, we collected you a sample from Hatchet Bay and I have a big bruise on my leg to prove it!

 

Thanks to Adam and the special effects team for making sure the live-video-links back to London worked so smoothly.

 

To Jonathan for setting up the fantastic live-chat sessions and to Grace for organising the entire schools component of the fieldtrip. It was so great having that interaction with pupils.

 

In the Bahamas we have a lot of people to thank – firstly Janet and Harvey Higgs and the rest of Nick’s family for being so hospitable – no request was ever too much, and we requested a lot!

 

Big thank you to our fantastic skipper Howard, not only was he a great Captain, he’s also a great cook too – preparing freshly caught fish while we were busy with REX...

 

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Above: Howard making lunch as everyone looks on

 

Thank you to Kendra from the Bahamas Marine Mammals Research Organisation who supplied the whale bones that we sank for our experiments. I bet the sharks are grateful for that too!

 

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Above: Kendra joined us to see what we had done with her donated whale bones!

 

The science team have been amazing and so accommodating to my requests; whether that was asking to interview them, taking part in Nature Live and other events or my personal favourite, ‘how do you spell that again’?!

 

Big thanks to Diva, Leigh, Nick, Helena and Gill for being great field companions. Thanks to Tony for always being at the ready with the camera and making those live-video-links happen from this end.

 

Finally, a big thank you to Adrian for making this whole fieldtrip possible! I’ve had a fantastic time following science as it happens in the field – capturing their discoveries and sharing them with you - and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it!

 

I asked Adrian to sum up the trip for us…

 

 

Keep in touch with the Field work with Nature Live community and subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and you’ll receive updates whenever a new post appears.

 

And remember, you can meet more Museum scientists every day at Nature Live events held in the Museum’s Attenborough studio at 14:30 (and also at 12:30 at weekends and holidays).

 

I hope to see you at a Nature Live event soon!

 

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Above: Team Bahamas (except Tony, who was taking the photo!)

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Today we invited the local school children to SWIMS (Spanish Wells Institute of Marine Science, remember!) to have a look at what we have been up to. They really enjoyed sieving for worms in the sand but I think they thought we were all crazy for wearing summer clothes in March!

 

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Above: Diva and Leigh leading a sieving workshop on the beach

 

While we were sieving with the pupils we came across a tiger shark tooth. Yet more evidence that they are abundant in these waters ... but we still haven’t managed to actually see one on this field trip!

 

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Above: More evidence of sharks - but still no sighting

 

After the schools children left the team got back to work looking at samples under the microscopes. The big question on everyone’s lips was whether the goat skull we found yesterday had any Osedax on it.

 

The scientists spent a long time studying the skull and debating the findings. They can see tubes on the skull that belong to a worm but that doesn’t necessarily have to be Osedax.

 

Adrian is not convinced that it’s Osedax at all. He believes they may have found another polychaete worm from the family Terebellidae.

 

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Above: Terebellidae found on the goat skull

 

However, if it is Terebellidae then it shouldn’t be living on a goat skull. Usually they live in limestone crevices but the goat skull may be close enough for it to call home. Basically you can see how sometimes discoveries can create more questions than answers! I don’t think we are going to get a conclusive answer before we get back to the Museum.

 

We only have one day left here in the Bahamas but here are some of the great pieces of footage that REX has shot over the last week.

This is the moment that REX went over the Grand Bahaman Canyon that goes down to 3,000m …

 

 

For me, some of the most amazing footage we have seen was when REX went through the purple bacteria in Ocean Hole. Also, look out for when REX meets the goat skull…

 

 

Tonight is our last night in the Bahamas. We’re saying goodbye in an appropriate manner – a drink on the beach at sunset!

 

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Above: Our last sunset in the Bahamas

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Today we had an early start to begin the 200 mile round-trip to Ocean Hole on south Eleuthera.

 

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The inland lake called Ocean Hole

(Click images to see them full size)

 

Ocean Hole is an inland lake, a mile from the oceans, that rises and ebbs with the tides. When we arrived we attracted a large gathering from a local school and Nick spoke to them about what we were doing with REX and why.

 

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Above: Nick doing some educational outreach

 

Amongst the crowds that had gathered was Ronald Horton, who is the administrator of Ocean Hole, and I asked him his thoughts…

 

 

 

 

REX went in and immediately descended to 40m. He didn't see any mermaids but when it was looking at the rubbish littering the floor of Ocean Hole it stumbled upon a goat skull.

 

REX carefully brought the skull up to the surface and, although it’s not a whale bone, everyone was excited at the idea that Osedax maybe be living on the bones, albeit in the most unlikely of places. It would have definitely made up for the earlier setbacks with the sharks!

 

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Above: Helena inspecting the goat skull

 

The team will now spend the best part of tomorrow trying to determine whether the worms found on the goat skull are Osedax. I’ll keep you posted!

 

When REX went in for a second time he descended to 38m. As he ventured down he saw this amazing purple glowing layer. From where we were sitting in the control room it looked very similar to the aurora. We nicknamed it the purple haze but what it is actually a type of bacteria.

 

None of the team had ever seen anything like this before. We didn't record any difference in temperature as REX descended so Adrian thinks that this purple haze may indicate the point when freshwater and sea water meet. Either way, the bacteria looked amazing on film…

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow we’re going to be analysing the goat skull under the microscope to see if we can find any evidence of Osedax. If the worm is on the goat skull it wouldn’t have been how we expected to find it, but every cloud…

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After collecting so many samples over the last few days it was now time to sit down and sift and sort through all of them to see what species we found.

 

Diva spent the morning looking over the bits of wood that were brought up yesterday. She picked off as much of the fauna as she could and put them directly into salt water and alcohol to preserve them for the journey back to London. So far she has found crabs, shrimps, polychaetes and some hydroids growing on the worms.

 

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Above: Diva is trying to pick off all the animals she can see living on the wood

(Click on images to see them full size)

 

She also put the pieces of wood out to dry in the sun so that she can take those back with her and put them in the CT scanner. She will be looking for wood-boring molluscs but won’t have the results for a while.

 

We all got slightly preoccupied by seeing a grass snake in the bushes...

 

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Helena spent most of the day going over the only piece of whale bone the shark left behind. She has found lots of polychaete worms living on the bones but no evidence of any whale fall specialists, like Osedax, yet.

 

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Above: Helena shows us on the big screen the creatures she is looking at under the microscope

 

Helena has already spotted 2 potential new species of worm from the mangrove samples and once she's back at the Museum she’ll be able to say for certain. If they are, then that leaves one more thing. The name…

 

 

Tomorrow we're hoping to go over to Ocean Hole on Eleuthera to drop REX down to 200m and hopefully see lots of animals using the HD camera. Maybe sharks too. We’ll also be collecting some copeopods that Geoff asked us to collect for him from the Attenborough Studio during the Nature Live event last week! All weather dependent, of course...

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Our last Nature Live event from the Bahamas was a bioblitz with Helena and Diva. It was great fun as we trawled the beach, against the clock, to find whatever we could for the family-friendly audience.

 

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Above: Helena, Diva and 1 talk to the Nature Live audience in London

(Click images to see them full size)

 

With yesterday’s shark incident still at the fore of our minds, we set out to recover the 2nd package and to try and find and recover the 3rd package.

We made visual contact with the 2nd package late last night but it was getting too dark to bring it to the surface. So we returned to the spot today and hauled it up on to the boat.

 

The shark damage was obvious but we got a piece of good news…it hadn’t taken all of the whale bones! We found a small bone still attached to the basket which lifted everyone’s spirits. Helena was particularly excited – even though it was a small piece she will be analysing it under the microscope for any evidence of Osedax.

 

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Above: Helena was very pleased that some of the whale bones had been recovered

 

After lunch we moved on to the 3rd and final package which was perched on the edge of the Great Bahamian Canyon. If it wasn’t were we left it six months ago then it had slipped into the abyss, far out of REX’s reach. It took nearly 2 hours to locate it and the control room was full of people waiting to catch a glimpse of it in the blue. This is the moment Nick spotted it…

 

 

After the initial excitement of finding the package we quickly realised that it would be a challenge to recover. At 55m deep, it was too deep for divers to go down to get it so we had to make sure that REX had a good grip on it so as it didn’t drop as it came to the surface. We carefully raised it to the surface and Nick and Leigh jumped in to retrieve it.

 

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Above: Despite its appearance we were very glad to see our basket!

 

Using REX meant that we knew, even when the experiment was still on the sea floor, that it too had been visited by a curious/hungry shark as all the whale bones were missing. But this time all the wood was still attached to the baskets. We now know that sharks, if given the choice, don’t like eating wood! The best bit was seeing how many lionfish were surrounding the basket…

 

 

That wrapped up our time on the boat and it was great that we managed to recover all 3 experiments using REX, it’s just a shame that sharks got to the them before we could!

 

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Above: This sums it all up beautifully. Lesson #1: Sharks like whale bones.

 

Tomorrow will be a long day of microscope work but the day after we head out to Blue Hole to drop REX down to nearly 200m. Will we get to finally see sharks instead of just their bite marks?!

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We started the day early with another successful round of live-video-links to the UK to talk to school pupils and the Nature Live audience in the Attenborough Studio.

 

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Above: Adrian speaks to students back in the UK

(Click images to see them full size)

 

With the weather improving everyday, we got the news we'd been waiting for yesterday - that we could finally head out to sea and look for the experiments that were laid down six months ago. We left port full of hope for the day ahead and with a large supply of seasickness tablets.

 

It took nearly an hour to get out to the first site and there was a lot of waiting around but once REX hit the water, the excitement set in. I couldn’t believe I was getting just as excited about finding these whale bones as the scientists were. Would we find the first package and would we find Osedax?

 

 

It wasn’t long before we found the package however it wasn’t exactly how we left it…

 

 

When the remains of the basket were pulled aboard we saw that there were no whale bones left, let alone Osedax. I had no idea that whale bones were that attractive to sharks but the shark bite marks on the plastic basket were conclusive evidence!

 

Although everyone was a little disapppointed that the experiment had been lost they quickly started working on the other creatures found living on the basket. They found many different polychaetes and as I type they are still analysing them under the microscope.

 

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Above: Helena and Diva inspecting the remains of the experiment for any life

 

As we moved on to the 2nd site many in the team were left wondering, what state would the next experiment be in?!

 

Adrian did a great job of piloting the ROV and we found the second package in a relatively short period of time. But REX delivered some more bad news…

 

 

We were asked today by a student during our live video link if Jaws could happen. Well, I suppose if you’re a plastic basket it most certainly can!

 

We're heading out tomorrow to look for the third package which is deeper down at 55 metres. Will it be sharks - 3, scientists - 0?

 

And don't forget you can speak to Helena and Diva live in the Bahamas today at 2.30pm in the Attenborough Studio.

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Last night we got A LOT of rain. Bizarrely, it made all the frogs come out and they were so loud they kept us up most of the night!

 

 

We woke up bright and early (this is becoming the norm now!) and the sun was there to greet us. But alas, so was the wind. We set up a mock Attenborough Studio right on the beach – complete with chairs, coffee table and an audience! And after a few technical glitches, we video-linked live to London and spoke to Nature Live host Natalie and Professor Geoff Boxshall. Great fun and Geoff even put in a request for some specimens so we’ll be heading to the other side of the island later in the week to collect some copepods for him.

 

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Above: It's the first time I've ever done a Nature Live barefoot!
(Click images to see them full size)

 

Diva and I also live-chatted with some schools online – Bowhunt, Wigmore, Elmshurst and Ashcroft – who asked some great questions! We’re looking forward to the next session on Tuesday.

 

Helena and Diva showed how diligent they were; while the sun was shining they were hunched over their microscopes looking for new species. Extra credit for them!

 

 

 

 

After lunch we all headed out to the sea grass beds to see what we could find.

 

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Above: No Photoshop required!

 

This is an area of shallow sea grass that becomes visible at low tide and is home to an array of marine life. I was warned to wear shoes as the sea grass beds are teeming with lionfish - very dangerous. Nick, who grew up on the island, told me that they’re an invasive species, originally from the Indo-Pacific. The reason they’re so dangerous to fish in these waters is that some of the fish don’t actually recognise them as predators and there’s nothing around that predates them.

 

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Above: Beautiful, but beware of lionfish...

 

During our beach bioblitz we found anemones, sea squirts, conch shells, sea urchins…and 2 lionfish!

 

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Above: Leigh is beaming after finding her first conch!

 

The good news is that the weather is improving so we're going on the boat tomorrow! Hopefully we’ll find the whale bones and some Osedax!

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