X-wings, Question Marks, and Corn on the Cob: Zooplankton from an astronomer’s perspective

Alex Fledderjohn gets his Bongo groove on while driving the winch to deploy a nighttime zooplankton net. Photo (and dance music) courtesy of Sara Rivera.

Alex Fledderjohn is a volunteer with the Ohman Lab on our current CCE-LTER Process Cruise. He participates on the night shift for zooplankton sampling, which means he helps deploy, recover, and process the Bongo and MOCNESS nets that go out in the middle of the night. Over the course of the cruise, Alex has become (somewhat) familiar with the zooplankton that his team sees. Here he recounts his attempts to describe them in ways that dont involve multiple convoluted Latin words.

From the start I was a little surprised that I was even accepted to participate on this process cruise, as my background is with astronomy and film. Therefore, my knowledge prior to this cruise was limited to little more than knowing the ocean was salty – although that limited knowledge has made this experience into the best free, hands-on course in oceanographic research that anyone could have hoped for. The influx of knowledge is not the easiest to keep up with, especially with the Latin and scientific names thrown around. So I made my own way of understanding what I was looking at when the nets came onboard (see below). The identification chart is part joke and part legitimate tool I can use to identify the animals.

Alex’s zooplankton guide employs descriptive nomenclature to convey the animals he sees.

What the chart cannot do is replicate the squishyness, the smell, or the bioluminescence of the animals we catch. Which can only be seen while on the night shift [Alex claims]. While working the night shift may not sound that appealing to most, seeing these animals glow a soft blue in the churning water of the propellers, or watching big schools of fish accumulate under the work lights on deck and then get attacked by a shark definitely make it worth it. Although to be honest the clear, dark night skies are the much more desirable byproduct of the night shift [spoken like a true astronomer]. I do also have to say that the night crew has the better crew [the day crew begs to differ]. Known for our nightly dance parties or sing-alongs, it is just a simple fact we have more fun [the day crew also begs to differ here]. Although being a person of science I do have to cite my biases. The people on this cruise are the other half of the fun. They mostly come from an oceanographic background, but there are a few other outliers like me. The ship’s crew is also part of the experience, keeping us safe while still facilitating the science. It is quite the operation to get all of this science done each day and night, and it would not be possible without all the great people that I have had the privilege to work with and learn from.

Also, the food/coffee that is necessary too.

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