Definitely no plans for today. But life on board is sometimes surprising and unexpected things happen. And today is one of these days. Just during breakfast time I received wonderful news… “at 9 o’clock there will be an AGT”…and only in a few hundred meters of depth…this means…Cnidarians!! I was really delighted and hopeful…maybe this time I will find the missing genus, the object of my PhD studies.
“Antarctica’s gorgonians. Evolution and biodiversity. Distribution and reproduction patterns.” This is the title of my research, focused on the family Primnoidae and mainly on the genus Thouarella, the best represented in the Southern Ocean. Around half of the species have been described from Antarctic waters, and most of them were found below 800 m depth. The typical Thouarella looks like a bottlebrush but we can also find fan-shaped forms, with simple or ramified branches where polyps rest single, in pairs or in whorls. This last character together with the presence of a thorn in their marginal scales lets us identify them and differenciate between the subgenera Parathouarella, Euthouarella and Epithouarella.
So when I found “my darlings” in our samples I couldn’t believe it! At 600 m depth they were waiting for me, and after a month working on board I could finally see the beauty of these animals alive, completely different from what they look like in the university collection, the forms, colours, all seems to be magical here. Excitement and the happiness are around me and make me work until 3 o’clock in the morning, sharing a special work moment with my colleagues, because today everybody in benthos team is happy, everybody has samples, a lot of sea stars and crinoids has been found, never mind the big amount of sponges that this time have appeared, it’s incredible!!
Although we worked close to 5 hours outside, under hard weather conditions, (fortunately now I can feel my fingers again!!) making a preliminary sorting, the atmosphere created has been wonderful. People helped us in many ways, bringing some hot tea, sweets, pieces of a delicious cake…we appreciate it very much. Good people, good moments.
Actually this work station wasn’t on our schedule program but a lot of things on this cruise hadn’t been planned. Thankfully Angelika Brandt, the leader of the SYSTCO-team, had applied for a permit to sample near Atka Bay- just in case! Due to the actual situation we are more concentrating on offering our help to make possible the building of Neumayer III, and all scientific work on board had been suspended…so thank you Uli very much for giving us the opportunity to continue the exploration of the wonderful life under the sea.
Rebeca Zapata Guardiola, University of Seville
Photos: M. Schrödl, Zoological Museum Munich and R. Zapata
gorgonian corals found near Atka Bay in 600 m
Location: 70°24'S, 8°19'W
Cnidarian specialist Rebeca Zapata sorting through gorgonians from near Atka Bay
Location: 70°24'S, 8°19'W
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Saturday, 12 January 2008 12:18
The great missingWritten by Polarstern Expedition
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