Unwilling hitch hikers of the oceans

Authors: Leticia Barbero and Kevin Sullivan

It’s the little things that make the hard and long hours on these cruises worth while. Little breaks from the monotony of station after station and sample analysis after sample analysis for 12 hours each day.

Sometimes those breaks come in the form of a group of dolphins playing alongside our ship for a while, a whale or two in the distance (or sometimes close to us!) or simply a little time enjoying a gorgeous sunset or a series of shooting stars at night. These are the sort of big awesome moments on the ship.

But sometimes there’s little things that make your day too. A couple of days ago we had one of those moments when we found an unexpected hitch hiker that had boarded our ship using the seawater line. It is relatively common to see smaller organisms captured along with water (samples), but this one is a fighter, for sure. As part of Kevin Sullivan’s supervision of our underway equipment, he noticed a small crab in the filter enclosure of the UW pCO2 analytical system.  It was swimming around feeding on the materials trapped by the filter.

The underway pCO2 system. The arrow points at the filter where the crab was found. Photo credit Leticia Barbero

Try to imagine the ride this little crab went through: from the ocean, sucked through the seawater intake at the bow of the ship, on to the instrument chest, up through a sizable seawater pump, pushed along ~200 ft of piping into the hydro lab, then on through 3/8″ tygon tubing to the pCO2 wet box, an Evsco valve, and finally the filter enclosure. And he was still swimming up and down and around the filter enclosure! Talk about a spirit of survival!

Close up of the crab in the filter. Photo credit Leticia Barbero

Kevin stopped the system while we were on station and put him in a beaker along with some of his buffet. Our on board biologists have confirmed that it’s a “he”. His water is re-oxygenated frequently. Given his ordeal, Kevin has named him Jean Valjean after the character in Les Misérables. Discussions are happening now about whether it’s better to release him far from his original dwelling or have him moved to a seawater tank back in Miami.

The crab in its temporary new home. Photo credit Leticia Barbero



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