Day Six – Layag-layag 7 December 2013

 Collecting day

Luiz Rocha of the California Academy of Sciences searching the deep reef for photo subjects

Luiz Rocha of the California Academy of Sciences searching the deep reef for photo subjects

In order to conduct valid genetic analysis on fish, our scientific team needs relatively high numbers of specimens of each target species. In the case of the deep fish, the desired counts are around 30 individuals. The challenges are many in achieving this goal, as many of the target species are not found in little convenient schools of 30, and often flee at the sight of our bright lights, especially in these murky conditions we have had so far. The

Robert Whitton collecting a fish on the deep reef

Robert Whitton collecting a fish on the deep reef

other main challenge is limited time where these fish are found. Even on a dedicated collecting dive (no real exploration) a good spear collector can probably collect 20-30 fish total, assuming they are discriminating in only targeting the desired fish. As a result of these challenges, Josh, the lead genetics scientist is getting nervous that we won’t hit his collecting targets. We dedicated today to only collecting target fish at one of our previously discovered ledges, and we cleaned up.

Sonia Rowley sampling a sea fan

Sonia Rowley sampling a sea fan

One of the more exciting collections was a deep goatfish that Richard had seen on two previous dives, and Brian corroborated yesterday. The fish was only 50-75m deep, which is usually shallower than most new large fish species are found. Anyway, just seeing a possibly new fish doesn’t help the new discovery process, we need a organism in hand. I was moving along the ledge looking for fish when I saw a goatfish that matched the description from Rich. I shot it poorly and stunned it, and while attempting to bag it, he ran. I gave chase and was lucky enough to get another shot before he disappeared. Unfortunately for him and science, the shot broke him in half. I collected him, but

Poorly collected goatfish, but collected is better than nothing...

Poorly collected goatfish, but collected is better than nothing…

mangled specimens are frowned upon for species descriptions, so we will have to be on the lookout over the remaining dive days to get an intact specimen.

Evenings on expeditions are time for the less glamorous aspects of scientific expeditions, the processing of the days specimens. Field labs are often unpleasant places to spend time – dead fish, rotting sea fans, ethanol, formalin and other chemical smells permeate the small area, with crowds of sweaty scientists trying to get their samples through their workflow in the least amount of time. I pitched in for awhile on the Gorgonian processing

Sonia Rowley processing Gorgonian specimens

Sonia Rowley processing Gorgonian specimens

workflow, and learned a few interesting tidbits about sea fans. First off, many of the species are covered in a thick mucous that slimes everything it comes into contact with, and is difficult to remove. Others just plain stink, especially after rotting in a plastic bag for half a day. Despite their unpleasantness, it is hard not to be excited about the new discoveries that Sonia has been making, as she has endless energy to simultaneously separate, photograph, document, sub-sample twice and repack for transport and keep up a constant stream of superlatives about each and every specimen. She is a kid in the candy store on these deep, relatively unexplored reefs, and has already identified over twenty new species of Gorgonias, and many range and depth extensions.

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