Mail Buoy

January 15 responses:

Does anyone ever go fishing during the research cruise?

Ms. Sheild's classes at Clarke Middle School, Lexington, Mass.

Ahoy, Riley.

I'm an Able-Bodied Seaman onboard the R/V Atlantis. I do enjoy fishing and try to fish daily. This cruise I have caught three Mahi, but they were too small to eat, so I returned them to the ocean. When we do catch a fish big enough to eat, we give it to our cooks to prepare for dinner.

Thank you for your question, and wish me luck the next time I cast my line!

Fair winds and following seas,
Kevin Roth
Able-Bodied Seaman, R/V Atlantis



Is there a doctor on board? What is the worst injury that has occurred?            

Ms. Sheild's classes at Clarke Middle School, Lexington, Mass.

Hi Millie,

Good question.
We don't carry a doctor, a nurse, or a medic.  The Chief Mate is tasked with medical concerns. Most cases I deal with range from seasickness to dehydration and fatigue. My motto is "Don't wait—hydrate.”  If we do have something of a more serious nature, I am just a phone call away from a whole team of doctors ashore who will give me a diagnosis based on my assessment of the patient, and will recommend some treatment.  We carry a lot of  different types of medicines on board in case of emergency. The worst injuries we’ve had on the ship have ranged from burns and blisters, sprains and backaches, to cuts and wounds that I need to suture or bandage.  If there is something that is hard to explain, I take a picture and send it to the shoreside medical team.

Mitzi Crane
Chief Mate, R/V Atlantis



Where do the cooks get the fresh food, such as eggs?

Ms. Sheild's classes at Clarke Middle School, Lexington, Mass.

Howdy Miyuki,

Between every leg (a trip out to sea) is a port stop somewhere in the world. An average leg is about three weeks for the Atlantis, so we can resupply our ship's stores. We have ample refrigeration space and a giant freezer, so loading up the ship for long periods of time is no problem as far as space requirements go. Generally, when we're leaving the U.S. for multiple port stops in other countries, we try to load our dry and frozen stores with as much American stock as possible to avoid contaminated meats or flour bugs. We load up our fresh produce, like fruits, vegetables, dairy, and eggs, in every port.  Sometimes it's a gamble as to what we actually receive, and we have to do our research as to what is available in certain countries, but generally we don't have any problems finding nice fruits and vegetables for our crew and scientist guests.

Keeping all that food fresh for weeks at a time is another challenge. We pump O3 (ozone) into our main refrigerator to keep things more fresh. We also repackage fragile vegetables like lettuce and spinach with newspaper and paper towels to help absorb moisture, which keeps them from spoiling too quickly. We also try to quickly use up the vegetables that we know will go bad first—we’ll use zucchini before butternut squash, for example, to stretch our supply of fresh vegetables longer before we have to start hitting the frozen corn and peas.

Interestingly enough, eggs actually last a really long time by themselves in their shells.  They can keep for months at a time as long as they aren't cracked open.

Brendon Todd
Cook, R/V Atlantis



Do the tubeworms eat the bacteria in their stomachs or just the food the bacteria make?  And what about the other animals down there, like crabs and clams?  Do they eat the worms or the bacteria or other things in the water?

Tova & Torsten
Mattapoisett, Mass.

Hi, Tova & Torsten,

Thanks for your question!

The tube worms are very interesting and clever (even though they don't have a brain!). Some years ago, scientists found that these worms eat the food the bacteria make and live happily with it. But they don’t actually have a stomach. The bacteria live in a special organ called a trophosome. The process of getting food from the bacteria is called translocation. The scientists found special molecules inside the tubeworm that act like a mailman, delivering food from the bacteria to the worm’s bloodstream.

A few years later, other scientists found that some bacteria get killed inside the tube worms. So they decided that the tube worms get their food both by breaking down the dead bacteria as well as by “eating” the nutrients the bacteria make. That way the worms can get all the food they want and also keep their helpful bacteria alive!

As for the crabs, they are very hardy creatures. You are right, they can eat tube worms, mussels, and shrimps, and some can even eat the bacteria growing like a thick mat at these vents. The crabs have very sharp eyesight and a keen sense of smell. Their strong shells protect them from many predators. These crabs sure do know how to survive!

The clams and the mussels are very similar to the tube worms. They also have bacteria inside their bodies making food for them. Some mussels can also eat the tiny little organisms floating in the water by taking water inside their shells and filtering it. But they really don't like to eat this way. They prefer to sit back and enjoy the food the bacteria make for them. It's a lot less work!

Ruby Ponnudarai
Graduate Student

[P.S. from the editor—to learn more about tubeworms and other hydrothermal vent creatures, see this interactive feature and our new Hot Topic on vent ecosystems.



Is there a "common language" on board?

Amanda, Memorial High School, Eau Claire, Wis.

Hi Amanda!

Thanks for your question and your interest! You are completely right with your thought that it would be helpful to have a common language on board! That's why we all speak the "science" language, which is English. (My native language is German.)

Indeed, a common language is not only helpful but rather necessary for several reasons. It is less time-consuming and avoids misunderstandings, which is very important because otherwise a lot could go wrong. It also prevents anybody from feeling excluded.

Best wishes,
Miri Sollich
Graduate Student