This morning, I was fortunate enough to have morning watch, which usually means that I get a full night of rest. My fan, the most crucial aspect to my survival on this boat, decided otherwise. After a couple hours of turbulent sleep, my fan made the conscious effort to make my day much worse. It shut off, and through the overwhelming heat that is my life now, I immediately woke up knowing something was very wrong. I attempted to fall asleep right after, knowing I had watch in just a few short hours. After around 45 minutes and around a liter of sweat from the ambient humidity, I reluctantly took to fixing my fan, which after about 30 more minutes, I was able to get it running and fell into an intermittent sleep. By the time morning wake-ups came about, an overwhelming sense of exhaustion was all that I was, as well as a desire to skip breakfast for a half-hour extra of sleep. Begrudgingly, I pulled myself out of my bunk and set out to eat some French toast, which was a great call (they were quite good).
After getting my morning calories, I went to the bulletin board to see what was tasked to me this day. Thank god it was lab was my immediate reaction. I ran back to my bunk to throw on some close-toed shoes and hurried up to the lab, just in time for turn-over from the other watch. I was given the details of the action-packed day I had in front of me, as we were the first watch that was going to do all the deployments in one six-hour period. We started off with a phytoplankton net, which is a small net that trails the boat at the surface, scooping phytoplankton as we go by. Immediately after this was in, we got to work on sending in the Hydrocast, which is a carousel that has a bunch of tubes that collect water samples at different depths up to 600 meters. This process took a little over an hour and a half, in which, during the down time, I took to studying phytoplankton reproduction, and then once the hydrocast resurfaced, we filled bottles for later processing.
I also hurried back to the aft of the boat to retrieve the phyto-net, and cleaned off the glorious green goop I was going to examine later. With very little down time, we immediately went into the Neuston tow, which is our surface level zooplankton and larval fish collection. After about 45 minutes, this was also done, and we pulled it out of the water. While retrieving it, we noticed it was laden with bits of a Portuguese Man-o-war, so we carefully got the bottle off and did the preliminary hosing to get any large critters we missed. When checking out the bottle of goodies we collected, we saw quickly that there was a huge bubble-raft snail in there, eating some of our man-o-war. After marveling at the little dude for a bit, we got into our tucker-trawl, which is a deeper water net tow. We usually deploy two of these: one at 150 meters and another at 300 meters. We were particularly hard-pressed for time because a squall was coming our way, so we opted for only the 150 meter tow. Once we got it up, we were presented a bottle filled with pink goo. We took the bottle over to the lab, and began separating the fish larvae we found from the indiscernible gelatinous biomass that made up the majority of our findings. In total, we found 17 fish, all anchovies except for one tuna larva. We preserved them and then got to cleaning the nets, which may be one of the least enjoyable chores out there. Then, the watch was over; I ate an exhausted dinner, and went to sleep till the next time I was called upon. The next watch went in a similar fashion, so I will not bore you with the details. Instead, I will tell you about Fred. Fred is the mystery cephalopod that I saw floating on the surface of the water off the bow of the boat while I was on bow watch at the end of my rotation. He was quite large, about 2.5-3 feet long and about 1.5 feet wide with a tentacle to body ratio of about 2:1. He had thick, nodule laden tentacles (I cannot remember if it was eight or ten), and in between them was a thick membrane that acted as a webbing, holding them all tightly together. His body was that of U with an ever so slight flair outwards at the base of his tentacles, but quite far from the traditional V shape of many squids. He had large, round eyes on either side of his head, and above them were tiny little ear flaps. The most striking thing however, was his coloration. The top portion with his head was a muted hot pink with dark red spots littering it. His tentacles in their center were a bright pink, and then as they got closer to the membrane, changed to a light, arctic blue, then to a dark green. I am very confident that when I saw him, he was no longer with us for a couple reasons. First, on the non-colored parts of his body, they were that opaque white that is characteristic of dead squids. Second, I have the utmost belief that he was a deep sea creature that floated up somehow as he died. Third, there was no indication of movement and he was totally at the whim of the waves. However, all of this is inconsequential; after roughly 10 seconds of examination, the Bobby C. ran him over and we were motor sailing, leaving him to perhaps be reduced to a finely chopped calamari. If you want a solid reference to what he looked like, after a couple hours of searching taxonomy guides, I believe he is a type of vampire squid. He definitely did not look like a standard vampire squid, his features were much more rotund and friendly, but it paints a similar enough picture. Hello Mom and Dad, I hope things are going well at camp. Asher, I hope you are having a good time running the AC’s, tell them I say hello. To the rest of the family, I love y’all and can’t wait to tell y’all about the trip.
-Caleb Fineske, Middlebury College