Dockside monstrosities

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We arrived in Stonington on Monday evening, after four straight days of good weather.  We'd knocked off four of our six transects already, and were feeling refreshed after a five-minute shower at the marina and some ice cream in town.  Not ready to call it a night, still with the thirst for scientific endeavor unsated, Pete and I poked our heads over the side of the dock to explore the ecosystem there.

A dockside ecosystem is a fascinating universe.  Small crabs were picking barnacles off the pilings, slinking away as we peered into the foggy black pool.  A headlamp illuminated a column of water that reached only a few inches in, before running into a wall of dense suspended sediment.  At first, we saw only specks.  We quickly noticed that some of the specks were moving--copepods.  Soon our patch of light was teeming and skittering with the little bugs, too numerous to count.

As Pete snapped photos, larger figures began to emerge from the shadowy border around our copepod city.  Mysid shrimp, zipping through the cloud of copepods, and disappearing into the dark.  Then other, larger crustaceans, eyes glowing in our light, each one dwarfing the last, until they were the size of fish.  Pete tried to catch one in a sieve, but it leapt from the water, and skipped ten feet along the surface to its escape.  And below those, just beyond the reach of the lamp's beam, still larger, ominous outlines glided silently by in a hazy blur.

Before the larger, man-eating crustaceans could creep in to catch us unawares, we were able to collect some interesting specimens to view on board in the lab.  Shown below are a couple of images of a caprellid amphipod--the skeleton shrimp.    This otherworldly creature latches on to other organisms with its rear legs, and snatches at passing prey with its (relatively speaking) massive claws.  We captured some eerie video of our skeleton shrimp squirming around the dish, gobbling up copepods one by one.  I'll post that later.  Meanwhile, here are a couple of stills.  

After a thrilling night of exploring the dockside ecosystem, we released all of the creatures back into the ocean.  To their freedom.  Except of course for the hoards of copepods that were mercilessly slaughtered by the skeleton shrimp.

Nick Record, signing off.


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This page contains a single entry by Nick Record published on July 20, 2010 11:38 AM.

Day 1: well-oiled machine was the previous entry in this blog.

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