Wednesday 5 November 2014

An absorbing post from our intrepid scientists....

After a rocky passage up the east coast of Scotland to Solan Bank, the swell has eased and we have made great progress with the survey. We are working like a well-oiled machine, with the usual dose of day-night shift rivalry over who has completed the most stations in a single 12-hour stint.

Our day kicks off at 00:00 hours when we begin our 12-hour night shift.  Our nocturnal team includes resident bird expert and survey ‘rookie’ Graeme, who is on his first trip, and scientist-cum-musician Megan, whose soon to be released marine concept EP has been inspired by her time at sea. The day shift takes over the reins at midday, with keen knitter Becca who, when not working, can knock up a whole pair of mittens in a few hours and fisheries man Declan, who lends a sense of gravitas to proceedings with his recently acquired  beard.

We spend most of our time in a small shipping container which houses a baffling (to the untrained eye) array of computer monitors, cables, buttons and switches. Here we control the video feed, lights and lasers to our underwater camera system, view the live footage as the camera moves along the seabed, and take notes. We are assisted by the ship’s crew who deploy and recover the gear, and the knowledgeable Marine Scotland Science engineers who help with all things technical. 

Many many monitors...
Occasionally, we leave our makeshift office to get some fresh air and help with gear deployments and recovery on the back deck. We’ve seen a nice sunrise breaking through the clouds over (the slightly alarmingly named) Cape Wrath, and watched flocks of brave migrating Redwings being buffeted in the wind as they pass on their way to the UK for winter. There are always a number of gannets gliding around the vessel, not surprisingly as the name ‘Solan’ is supposed to mean Gannet.

A gannet on the wing

We have recorded sponges at sites where they have been known to occur in the past. We have found cup-shaped ‘flabellate’ sponges that are likely to be the species Axinella infundibuliformis, which look like prawn crackers.

Two flabellate sponges either side of a blue encrusting sponge

Another common species is one we believe to be the ‘papillate’ sponge Polymastia boletiformis, otherwise known as the hedgehog sponge due to its spiky texture.

A yellow papillate sponge alongside an orange encrusting spongey friend
We have also recorded encrusting sponges in a large variety of colours. We’re not sure which species these are as encrusting sponges are generally impossible to identify accurately without a physical sample. We may have spotted the grey ‘elephant hide’ sponge Pachymatisma johnstonia too.

More news and life on the Scotia to arrive shortly...