Sometimes, research has to venture out of the lab and into the wild. That’s the basis for a long-term Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) project to study how the ocean’s changing chemistry will affect marine life.
Ocean acidification is a change in seawater pH (and other elements of the ocean carbonate system) as the ocean absorbs excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This change will become more pronounced as people continue to burn fossil fuels.
“It’s important to try to get a better understanding of what impact that will have,” says George Matsumoto, senior education and research specialist at MBARI.
In a more acidic ocean, the minerals used to form calcium carbonate are less abundant, making it more difficult for marine species—from tiny sea snails to oysters and crabs—to build shells or skeletons. MBARI marine ecologist Jim Barry says researchers are working to understand the impact not just on individual animals, but also on broader ecosystems. Continue reading Field studies of ocean acidification
Unearthly, transparent and beautiful—and also exceedingly delicate. The spotted comb jelly is so fragile a creature, just waving your hand through the water could destroy it. Now, for the first time anywhere, animal care staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium have managed to culture these fragile, scintillating creatures.
The species, known scientifically as Leucothea pulchra—Latin for “beautiful sea goddess”—is “a clear football-shaped gelatinous animal” says Wyatt Patry, a senior aquarist who’s worked at the Aquarium for 11 years, and who led the culturing effort this winter.
“They’re ctenophores, not true jellyfish,” Wyatt notes. “Instead of stinging cells they have sticky cells called colloblasts.”
The spotted comb jelly’s common name refers to orange “knobs” or spots along its body.
“We don’t know what those do but we suspect they aid in prey capture,” Wyatt says. Two sticky tentacles trail behind it, acting like fishing lines.
“They also have cool whips called ‘auricles’ that they wave around—undulate—in this really cool slow wave motion, probably driving food into their mouths,” he says.
Try as she might, MacKenzie Bubel just couldn’t satisfy the baby comb jellies.
The aquarist was attempting to spawn a species called Mnemiopsis leidyi—ghostly-looking little creatures native to the Gulf of Mexico—in the Aquarium’s Jelly Lab. She tinkered with variables like water temperature, salinity and light exposure.
“We did some wacky stuff to get the conditions perfect,” she says, “but they weren’t doing as well as we’d hoped.”
That changed when our staff aquarists, in collaboration with University of Miami assistant professor William Browne, pioneered an efficient way to culture comb jellies en masse. The breakthrough—which we’re sharing with our colleagues—could eliminate the need for aquariums to collect comb jellies from the wild. It could also pave the way for deeper scientific study of these little-understood animals.