Mail Buoy: May 18

Question:

I was wondering if any instruments that you send out into the ocean have been eaten by other sea creatures. Do the instruments have certain attributes that discourage animals from eating them?

-Sophia C., Clarke Middle School

 

Answer:

Those are really good questions, Sophia! Oceanographers try to plan for anything that might happen, and there are sometimes incidents, like this great white shark biting an autonomous underwater vehicle. However, animal-instrument interactions are pretty rare. As WHOI senior research assistant Justin Ossolinski notes, the instruments don’t look or smell like anything, so animals wouldn’t be attracted to anything on them, aside from lights.

“There’s nothing tasty for an animal,” Justin says. “Animals are smarter than we give them credit for.”

Curious creatures might be attracted by lights, but oceanographers try to avoid disturbing or influencing them by using red lights on imaging instruments like the Underwater Vision Profiler or ISIIS, says Laetitia Drago.

After an instrument takes a dip in the deep sea, the science team is careful to clean them with fresh water so they’ll work just as well on their next deployment. Otherwise, microscopic plankton, tunicates, or even barnacles might start growing on them!

“I think anti-fouling is actually more important than animals eating these instruments,” says Jackson Sugar, an engineer at the University of Rhode Island who is responsible for the MINIONs. “This means keeping the sensors clear, keeping barnacles off, that sort of thing.”

Question:

If your MINIONs are not found, what will usually happen to them?

-Cindy J., Clarke Middle School

Answer:

Great question!! We have already lost a few and I wish I knew what happens to them. 🙂 The answer depends on what went wrong. If, for example, they were a little too heavy, then they could sink too deep and get crushed by ocean pressure. If they fail to drop their weight, then they would stay drifting at their "target depth" for a long, long time. If they reach the surface, but they can't talk to the satellites, they will drift at the surface until they end up on shore.

-Melissa Omand, University of Rhode Island

Question:

When they put MINIONs in the water, do other fish/organisms think they are food?

-Lucine O., Clarke Middle School

Answer:

Maybe! Some bigger fish might try to take a bite. My drifting instruments have also been attacked by a shark. Lots of little animals like zooplankton might just find it interesting. In fact, the top surface where the MINION collects sinking material to photograph is probably like a dinner plate for some zooplankton!

-Melissa Omand, University of Rhode Island

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