Expedition to Galapagos

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Week Two

Identification of Animals from Tow Samples
16 June North/South Seymour Island (Mosquera)

Arrived here early this morning. A relatively quiet channel off Baltra, with several tourist vessels anchored nearby. Dave & Juan Carlos went into Puerto Ayora to look for another boat to rent for the 3-D operation. Al et al. dropped down to the sand bottom here in the channel to test both cameras. All went well, but no film shot because there was nothing to see! This afternoon, Michael, McCosker, and I dived a couple spots to check for potential filming sites. No luck -- visibility was awful -- 5-15 ft. at most. Our second dive spot was off N. Seymour, which is a sea lion rookery. After the short dive, in which I thought I saw one Acanthemblemaria (a tube-worm blenny that lives in small holes in coral or rocks), we dumped the scuba gear and swam over to a spot very close to the island where lots of young sea lions were playing. What fun! I'd come up to the surface and be face-to-face with a dozen sea lions, and then I'd go under water and another dozen would be darting around me. Dave Clark is concerned that I'm experiencing too much of the islands before the cameras are rolling. He's right in a way. But I imagine that swimming with sea lions will always be special.

Spent a little time after working out this morning identifying fishes from the tuna stomach from yesterday's catch. Found a Panama fang blenny (Ophioblennius steindachneri) and some perch-like fishes. Speaking of blennies, I’ve seen hundreds of the Panama fang blenny. Adults of this species are quite large (for blennies), 8-10 inches in length, and hang out on the tops of the rocky reefs. The juvenile fang blenny has two well-developed curved fangs in the upper jaw and four in the lower jaw. Apparently, they lose the fangs ontogenetically and use them only for defense when they have them.

The current was pretty slow tonight, but I made 3 plankton "tows" from the anchored ship. Got few fish larvae but got some really beautiful ones, including what I believe is Coryphopterus (a goby). It has a very similar pigment pattern as the Caribbean species I've collected in Belize, and this is important because it suggests that the Galapagos species is probably most closely related to the Caribbean species. Also, since the genus is restricted to New World waters, I can now look at larvae of gobies world-wide and look for a similar pigment pattern. Discovering a similar larval form may help determine the evolutionary origin of this New World genus.

The oddest thing in the sample tonight is what appears to be a gonostomatid larva that has yellow pigment at the bases of the central caudal-fin rays. I'd convinced myself that the presence of orange and yellow chromatophores is an important phylogenetic character at some level above stomiiforms, because most primitive things I've seen don't have them. I am now adding to my list of taxa that do or don't have orange and yellow color in the larval stage to see if I can determine at what stage in the evolution of teleosts this feature evolved. The "why" fish larvae might have orange and yellow pigments seems clearer to me each time I make a plankton sample -- fish larvae are the minority in my samples -- crustaceans such as crab larvae and isopods and amphipods and copepods, etc., dominate -- and all of these are usually colored bright orange. Why planktonic critters in general should be orange I don't know; but the presence of color is not unique to fish larvae. I'll just add that a blennioid that I collected tonight , a fairly advanced teleostean group, has bright yellow pelvic fins, but the lampridiform that I collected off Darwin -- a group surely more evolutionarily advanced than gonostomatids -- lacked color. This presence/absence of chromatophores in various taxa certainly needs more investigation.

Dave and Juan Carlos returned with 3 possibilities for boats, some of which Al will check out tomorrow. Al told me at dinner tonight about a book called The Beak of the Finch that won the Pulitzer prize a few years ago. I am anxious to read it but brought enough books about the Galapagos and Darwin on this trip to keep me plenty busy!

While I was working on plankton samples at the microscope tonight, Juan Carlos came in and told me that there was an endemic Galapagos owl on the bow. I (and just about the entire crew!) took my camera up and got a few shots. The bird, like all other animal life I've encountered here, let us get amazingly close. He was watching us, but we didn't rattle him with all of our noise and camera flashes as one might expect. Later in the evening, when the thrill of seeing the owl had worn off for most of the crew, I slipped back up to the bow and walked up to a point no more than a foot or two away from the bird. I didn't dare take a picture that close to him but just enjoyed standing there so close to an animal that I knew had evolved in the Galapagos. Knowing that you're looking at a species of life that occurs nowhere else on the planet is thrilling. I know that I have seen other endemic forms of life in other areas, but never have I felt so confronted with the origin of new life as I feel here in the Galapagos. Perhaps this is because you not only see these original life forms, but you are able to get very close to them. You sense that Galápagos is their world, and you’re a visitor, and this is both humbling and refreshing.


Encountering the Galapagos Animals

18 June Academy Bay/Puerto Ayora (Again!)

Steamed back here yesterday after having no luck in the morning finding good visibility to shoot some film. Went to shore late afternoon with Captain Vince, Don Liberatore, Michael and Scott Shaver for a few cervezas. Billy, Rod, and Randy joined us later. Went back to the ship for a late dinner and then back into town to experience the local night scene.

We'll be here all day and then hope to be on our way tomorrow back to Wolf and Darwin -- with the DAPHNE following along to serve as our camera/dive boat. It's a ca. 70 ft. dive boat that Giddings and Clark are renting for the rest of the trip. Al will supervise the construction of a davit today on shore that will be mounted on the stern of the DAPHNE for handling the 3-D camera. It's not clear exactly how we'll operate now, but my understanding is that we'll use the DAPHNE pretty much as a day boat for diving & filming and return to the SJ at night. The logistics are a little complicated since the compressor, chamber, etc. are on the SJ.

John Knebel left this morning. Sorry to see him go. Nice guy. Nothing much new on the science front. Got some tissue samples for DNA analysis from some fish McCosker caught off the stern -- a beautiful triggerfish (Sufflamen), a hogfish (Bodianus), a flying fish that landed on board, and a grunt (Haemulon). Have voucher specimens for these.

I have been thinking a lot today about the tameness of the animals here. I know I've mentioned this already in this journal, but I thought I'd try to list together all of the examples so far. Darwin wrote about the tameness of the birds in his diary of the voyage of the BEAGLE, and we've seen many examples of this. In Puerto Ayora the first time, I walked right up to a pelican. I could have reached out and petted his beak, but then I remembered the little poem about the "pelican, pelican, his beak can hold more than his belly can," and so I thought it wise to keep my hands to myself! I've also had close encounters on the ship with a red-footed booby and a Galapagos owl. The booby landed here and apparently couldn't take off. I was able to walk right up to it and lift it from underneath to free it. It did try to peck me with its pretty light blue beak however. The owl seemed a little more aware of the presence of people, yet it didn't fly away. What Darwin couldn't have known is that the underwater animals also show little fear of man. At the fish-collecting station we did off of Darwin, I had my head close to the bottom when I looked up to find a large green moray eel in my face. The jaws were gaping open and shut, and in this case, the "tameness" of the animal was a bit intimidating. Even more impressive to me were the jacks, Caranx sexfasciatus I believe. I actually reached out and petted one. In other places I've been underwater, the jacks are skittish and stay well away from divers. Other "tame" animals include the young sea lions, of course, and on land the iguanas and tortoises, although the last couldn't run away if they wanted to, so they hardly count in the tally. Anyway, all of these encounters made me start thinking about the evolution of fear in animals. It seems to me that all animals, including humans, are born curious. Babies and toddlers are into everything because they're curious, and all one has to do is swim with young sea lions to see the curiosity in their eyes. I'm tempted by the thought that all fear must be learned, but then I think there must be some amount of innate fear. You can scare a baby with a loud noise, and the baby didn't learn to fear loud noises. It just does naturally. Perhaps it's all best summed up by saying that animals are born with a wary curiosity, and what the animals are exposed to growing up determines their behavior later on. I firmly believe that the jacks in the Galapagos are not afraid of humans swimming underwater because humans swimming underwater don't shoot them in the Galapagos the way they do in other parts of the world. I brought my pole spear with me -- a valid means of collecting certain hard-to-collect-otherwise fishes; I will not be using it here.

20 June Darwin Island

Much calmer here now, but current still pretty swift. Did a rotenone station early this afternoon with McCosker, Michael, and Jorge. Got a blenniid that John didn't recognize. I think it might be an Entamacrodus based on divided dorsal fin.

Made several sets of the plankton net tonight after dinner and got more new larval fishes: a myctophid (lantern fish) larva -- the photophores are blue under reflected light -- beautiful!; also, what I think are gonostomatids, more dolphin fish, triggerfish, paralepidids, gempylids (snake mackerel), wrasses, and a few little things I'm not sure about. And also some bothids (left-eyed flounders). It will take some time to identify all of these larval fishes to species, and it may not be possible to identify them all. But these are the life history stages of fishes that are responsible for colonizing the remote Galapagos Islands (except for those species that swim here as adults), and it will be interesting to see if species of fishes are making it here in the larval stage but not surviving here once they've gotten here -- in other words, are there species represented in my plankton samples that are not known to occur here as adults? Surely, many that arrive here don't survive.

Well, we're still not in business with the 3-D camera. The davit that was built and put on the DAPHNE wasn't strong enough to lift the camera, so the SJ engineers (John and Stewart) have spent all evening working on it - welding additional steel into the existing structure to strengthen it. With any luck, this will work. Tomorrow, I understand that I'll be put in the front of the sub for some photography -- can't wait to see how this operation works. Hopefully, once the filming is finished, we can go to the bottom in the sub.... I'm anxious to see what it's like down there...

I sent a message to Camille today to read to Dad for Father's Day. I told him how much I wished he could join me on one of my adventures -- especially this one. I inherited my adventurous spirit from him, and he taught me so much -- it would be wonderful to share some of what I'm learning about the natural world with him.

I really like it here at Darwin. We saw a lot of Tursiops (dolphin) today, and the steep volcanic island is just full of birds. A masked booby landed on the ship tonight, and Ray Day helped him off.


First Submersible Dives

21 June Wolf

And into the sub I went! We cruised from Darwin to Wolf this morning in search of calmer waters. The wind blew up pretty strong last night, and it was too rough this morning for big-animal 3-D shots. John and Stewart (engineers) worked late into the night on the davit. Got it transferred back to the DAPHNE this morning -- and it worked! Anyway, this morning, I made my first sub dive! It was a "trim dive" - to adjust the sub to the weight of the passengers, which will be for filming, Don Liberatore and I in the front and John McCosker and Tim Askew in the rear. On the first dive, we went down to about 70 ft. and Don adjusted the trim, then we went on down to the bottom at ca. 300 ft. The whole experience was fascinating. I climbed a ladder from the deck of the ship to the top of the sub and entered a round opening on top. The hatch is closed and then the sub is lifted from the ship by an enormous hoist and plopped overboard. The ride up is like being in a car on a ferris wheel -- up and back. Once dropped into the water, you feel as though you're in a car in a car wash, with waves washing over the sub. I also thought this must be what Dialommus fuscus (a 4-eyed blenny fish) must feel like -- this fish can see both underwater and above at the same time. Once a seal in the sub is ensured (marked by the exclamation, "We've got a seal!" from the sub crew member in the rear chamber of the sub, who literally studies the seal around the bottom hatch door for leaks), the sub begins to descend. As soon as the sub is submerged, the ride is calm and peaceful -- mesmerizing even, with, in this case, lots of flocculent matter passing by. The view from the "bubble" is fabulous, and I felt no claustrophobia at all. On the bottom, I felt as though we were on the moon -- aliens in our protective sphere -- exploring another world. Although we were shallow, still, the chance that someone has been where we went today is minute. Because of our limitations in exploring the oceans with scuba gear, only the tiniest fraction of the world's marine environments have been observed. I've been trying to think of a good analogy to represent how much of the ocean bottom man has seen -- hmm, maybe a slice of pepperoni (or maybe just a grain of black pepper?) on an extra large pizza?! And this is just the bottom, the average depth of which is about 4000 m. -- there's all that water between the ca. 200 ft. scuba diving limit and the bottom. It is mind boggling how little we know.

While on the bottom, Don expertly controlled (with toggle switches no less!) the sub and mechanical collecting arm, and we picked up a batfish and a galatheid crab. We saw lots of other things, including some of my thesis study animals, sea basses of the serranid subfamily Anthiinae. They are beautiful! I have studied the intricate details of these fishes but have never seen them alive. In the lights from the sub, they were beautifully colored, with orange and yellow, red & purple pigments. In alcohol, in a museum, they are a monochromatic boring tan. Took some video footage of the anthiines. (We later collected several specimens of this fish, which turns out to be a new species of Anthias - the first record of this Atlantic genus in the Pacific Ocean!)

Anyway, it will take some time for me to get used to the fact that the curved nature of the "bubble" of the sub and our distance from it make everything outside the sphere appear much smaller than it is. A 1 1/2 ft. eel, for example, looks about 4" from the sub. The bottom at 250-300 ft. was mostly sand, and it was populated by lots of galatheid and spider crabs, as well as fishes living in sand burrows. I thought they were garden eels, but McCosker guessed they were jawfishes. We collected two on the second dive, which I'll get to shortly, and discovered that they are eels, but congrid eels, not garden eels. The ride up to the surface from the bottom was almost dreamlike, with bubbles from the sub rushing past all of the "windows." It reminded me of being in a car in a snow storm. The strangest part of the adventure was the ride back up to the ship from the water. Once the sub is on the surface, a diver (in this case Ben) swims over and hooks a line to the sub and then climbs on top. The sub is then maneuvered into place behind the ship, and the hoisting begins. After being underwater, and feeling almost weightless as we cruised along, the ride up to the ship seemed very harsh, with the sub swinging slightly and the sounds of the wench cranking up a lot of weight. I exited the sub jubilant and found Dave and Al waiting to hear my first impressions. I babbled on for a while about how much I loved it. I did love it and feel extraordinarily lucky that my role in this whole operation means that I'll get at least a little more time in the sub.

About 3:00 this afternoon, I made my second dive in the JSL sub, this time for the film guys to get some footage. The 3-D camera was hoisted off the DAPHNE and towed along by the zodiac over to where the sub had been set into the water. This time, McCosker was in the back, and he kept me laughing for a good part of the trip. We bobbed at the surface for a long time while the zodiac got into position and got divers into the water. This jostling about is in stark contrast to the smooth ride once submerged. We all (sub, 3 divers, camera) descended to about 50 ft., and Al started shooting. Initially we could hear him, but we lost his voice early on. I took some video footage from the sub of those guys (Al, Randy, Rod) coming towards us with the camera. Should be good stuff. So, my film "career" (ha!) finally began today. Not sure how I did because I didn't really know when Al was shooting. After a while of shooting, we noticed that Al was descending fairly rapidly. The camera had apparently begun to sink, and Al had to orally inflate a float to alter the buoyancy. Randy rushed down to help, and they got it neutral again. The 3-D camera in its underwater housing weighs about 1700 lbs., so keeping it neutrally buoyant under changing conditions of pressure (i.e., during descent) is critical. After the filming was finished, we headed to the bottom in the sub. This time, the bottom was coarse sand mixed with algal-covered rock and barnacle shells. We caught two of the eels, as I mentioned before, and also collected a big-eye, a scorpion fish, some Paranthias, a Chromis alta, and a nudibranch. Also collected several specimens of what appear to be a new species of wrasse -- we're calling it the 5-spot wrasse. Saw two Liopropoma that we weren't able to get, as well as an ophidioid that we can't figure out. Will have to review my video footage of it.

Tomorrow, we'll do roughly the same thing, except Al will shoot with the flat port rather than the dome port so that he can get even closer to us. A pretty exciting day for me again. And to end this fun day, I got a call from Camille. She said the note I sent to Dad through her made his day (today is Father's day), so I'm pleased about that.

22 June Wolf Island

I made two more sub dives today! Both for filming and then fairly shallow after that (to 417 ft.). The afternoon filming seemed to go the best so far, but we found out when we returned to the ship that the film did not advance in the camera. Tough luck... Got some neat fish today. Some more specimens of the new wrasse -- a real beauty this fish is -- all pinkish orange and yellow. We also caught an Aulopus on the afternoon dive, some more congrid eels, a Symphurus that we can't identify, and we also picked up some sea cucumbers, galatheid and portunid crabs, and some sea biscuit-like things. I shot lot of video today and am getting better with the camera controls. Watched some of it tonight, and it's not bad. The video is extremely important because it allows us to record the existence of large animals that we can't collect with the sub, and also it allows us to have a record of the natural habitat and behavior of the animals -- although their behavior in the face of a brightly lit "space ship" is most likely not particularly natural!

We pulled anchor this evening and are steaming to Tagus Cove to pick up the pilot for the ultralight and his engineer. These guys will build the plane on board this ship and fly it around the islands with the 2-D camera suspended from it. Seriously, the pieces for this plane are in a box on this ship! Amazing. Not sure how much of this I'll get to see since Al will be filming underwater while the aerial photography is being done.

23 June Fernandina

Arrived in Tagus Cove this morning about 6 a.m. and picked up six people and dropped off Marta (another female observer who had joined us when Paulina left). We now have Bill Raisner (the pilot of the ultralight), his engineer (Ed), Fernando from CDRS, and I think two more IMAX guys (Russel and Andy). One guy from the Park Service came on board for a while and then went to the DAPHNE. Ok, let's see. They built the plane today! A small thing really. Unfortunately, I won't get to see them launch and retrieve it -- at least initially. After a morning sub dive, I'll go to the DAPHNE for a couple days with the underwater film crew to film marine iguanas feeding underwater. The SJ will go off and work with Bill and the plane, and then we'll meet up again in a few days. Perhaps we'll see Bill and Noel fly over while we're on the DAPHNE.

Well, I went to 2075 ft. in the sub today. Wow! I was in the back, which wasn't nearly as good as the bubble, but it was comfortable enough and it's nice not to be in the "pressure" seat every time. It is very dark and cold down there -- another world really. And not particularly inviting. Nevertheless, I very much wanted to be out there, walking around and exploring. I was so amazed at how many animals live down there. Immediately upon setting down at the bottom at ca. 2000 ft., we saw sharks, chimeras, rattails, orange roughy, cutlassfishes, eels, and more. We made many collections and certainly have new species. The water column was full of flocculent matter, much of which appears to be gelatinous zooplankton, especially at shallower depths. On the ride up, we turned off all the sub lights and enjoyed a spectacular light show. The sub bumping into the gelatinous organisms apparently makes them fluoresce, and every now and then we must have hit something big because there would be a big blast of light. The experience is like being surrounded by billions of fireflies, or because the sub is ascending, like it's snowing fireflies! Suffice it to say that it was an awe-inspiring afternoon, and it’s remarkable how so many different life forms have adapted to life in the deep sea. Then again, if the recent theory of life originating in the deep sea is correct, what may be more amazing is how many life forms have adapted to live outside of the deep!

Tomorrow morning I go again for a deep dive with McCosker, and this time he's giving me the bubble seat! I think I was expecting 2000 ft. to be more depauperate -- like one organism here and then you have to cruise around until you see more. But the bottom was a pretty lively place, and I can't wait to get a better view from the front. The rear chamber has two portholes, each about 6-7" in diameter, so you can see out. And the size of organisms isn't distorted as it is in the front. But it's frustrating to see something you want to collect and then lose it while the guys up front try to maneuver into position to see what you've seen. A great ride nevertheless.

A busy day. Went to 3004 ft. this morning in the JSL! John let me take the front seat, which is wonderful. Unfortunately, the suction tube wasn't working nor was the bucket rotator, so we weren't able to collect fishes. I did get photographs and video of quite a few things, including a halosaur, a young Hoplostethus, and a notacanthiform(?). At 3000 ft., the bottom was much less populated than at 2000 ft. on the dive yesterday. All sand bottom with little in the way of rock, rubble, etc. On the way down, Don was shining a flashlight off and on through the bubble and enticing jellyfish to "fire." Great light show! Don is an easygoing guy and excellent at manipulating the sub. He warned me at the beginning of the dive that there might be some moisture dropping on us during the dive from condensation forming within the sphere and that there might be some cracks and pops from the pressure changes. He was right on both accounts, and it was a good thing he clued me in; otherwise I'd have thought the bubble was leaking and getting ready to cave in or explode from the pressure changes! I had one fleeting moment of terror in the sub today at 3000 ft. Odd that it happened not on my first dive but after I'd done several. I suppose it was the thought of being so deep and truly feeling dependent on the equipment around me for survival. The fear melted quickly into a feeling of vulnerability, and then I sort of got lost in thoughts about mankind and the fact that we might "rule" the terrestrial world (or a good part of it), but we're not part of the underwater realm. It's kind of humbling to realize that this whole system of underwater life exists just fine on its own, and that, like visiting outer space, we have to build expensive protective methods to visit it. About that time, I was feeling pretty "small," and then McCosker cracked another of his infamous jokes!

Following the sub dive, I got moved to the DAPHNE along with Giddings, McCosker, Jon Dodson, Randy, Billy, Steve, Stuart, Russel, Juan Carlos and Rod. McCosker and I did a shallow rotenone station mid afternoon just off the rocks at Cape Douglas, where we'll stay anchored for a couple days. Al is hoping to film iguanas feeding underwater, but they're not cooperating very well. There's not a lot of algae here for them to feed on because of El Nino (increased water temperatures led to a die-off of algae). We saw lots of marine iguanas on shore -- many of them hanging vertically on vertical lava walls(!), but we haven't seen many in the water. Al got some footage this afternoon of a turtle and a school of striped grunts. I will go with him tomorrow a.m. and swim with or through the grunts. The water is cold (60's) and I came out of the 30-minute collecting dive literally numb from head to toe. One of the DAPHNE crew had a cup of hot tea waiting for me when I came out -- these guys are going to spoil me for future field work if they keep this up!

Early evening here was spectacular. There was so much activity by wildlife around the ship. Boobies doing their kamikaze dives into the water, sea lions playing, penguins swimming, frigates soaring above, and off a little ways two minke whales breaching. All of this observed while watching a beautiful sunset light up the lava rocks behind us. And Mom always wonders if I'm homesick on these expeditions...!

I forgot to mention yesterday that while snorkeling with Al and John, we found naughty terns perched within a small enclave in the rock. Really beautiful faces on those birds. The birds here have not suffered from the effects of El Nino as many other animals have -- especially those that feed on plants. The increased rains from El Nino provide favorable conditions for plant growth -- in fact, many of the islands are quite green now -- apparently unusual as they're typically relatively barren. Anyway, the increased floral growth supports a lot of bird life, and populations of e.g., finches have flourished. Of course, when El Nino dissipates, and the quantity of plant life returns to normal, there will most likely be a large die-off of birds. A boom & bust kind of cycle

My room on the DAPHNE is fine -- no air conditioning! My room on the SJ is often freezing, so this is a nice change. And there is a fan in my room (which unfortunately will go off in the middle of the night when the generator is shut down...), and I have my own bathroom. Dinner was quite an affair. On the SJ, dining is sort of a run in, grab some food, shovel it down, and make space for someone else kind of affair -- all done in a very brightly lit galley. Tonight, we had folded napkins, wine, and a waiter! The employees on the DAPHNE are used to tourists, and they pay much attention to detail.

Dave Clark told me today that he may try to get Camille and Larry on the DAPHNE for a week. That would be wonderful! He's looking at the 6th-12th or thereabouts. Hope it works out.

We'll be separated from the SJ for a couple days while Bill does the aerial photography. Apparently, they did a test flight today and all went well.

 

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