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All Things Fishy

August 31, 2012

Dr. Steve Ross is native Tar Heel who took to the water at a young age. He spent lots of time at the shore as a kid, and learned how to sail early on. He soon found his life began to revolve around boats. He started sailing more, handling the sheets on Sunfish, Flying Scots, and Lightnings.

Dr. Steve Ross sometimes has problems with authority.

Dr. Steve Ross sometimes has problems with authority. Photo by No One.

Dr. Ross did his undergraduate work at Duke University, and was first exposed to a career with fish when he got a summer job sampling fish for an environmental impact study. He soon earned a Master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, after which he worked for seven years for the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. It was during this time that he realized, to study the things he was really interested in, he would need a Ph.D. While living on a sailboat, he completed his doctorate at North Carolina State University, studying estuarine fishes’ survival versus habitat quality.

Everyone on the mission helped each other out. Here, Mike Rhode pours while Dr. Ross (center) holds the filter bag, purifying Gulf Stream water for Dr. Brooke’s coral physiology work. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

Everyone on the mission helped each other out. Here, Mike Rhode pours while Dr. Ross (center) holds the filter bag, purifying Gulf Stream water for Dr. Brooke’s coral physiology work. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

Much of Dr. Ross’s recent work has been looking at fish communities in deep-sea areas off the Southeast Atlantic. One study looked at fish populations in  sargassum beds, comparing those species found in the seaweed to those in open water around it. Another looked at species distributions off Cape Hatteras  compared to those in Norfolk Canyon. While it is common to think that the ocean is one big fishbowl, Dr. Ross showed that there are distinct biogeographic provinces in the ocean. This has implications for fisheries, as protecting habitat for one species may not provide protection for other species that may be found with it but do not use the same areas for spawning or nurseries.

A) A bythidid, a viviparous or live bearing cusk eel, found in Baltimore Canyon.  B) A similar looking species collected by Dr. Ross was found to be a new species and was named after him, Psednos rossi.  Photo by Eric Hanneman.

A) A bythidid, a viviparous or live bearing cusk eel, found in Baltimore Canyon. B) A similar looking species collected by Dr. Ross was found to be a new species and was named after him, Psednos rossi. Photo by Eric Hanneman, graphic courtesy of  Natalia V. Chernova and David L. Stein.

On the Deepwater Canyons Expedition, the fish sampling so far has used the ROV. Several sites have been surveyed, and in a preliminary fashion it can be said that different species of fish occur along the axis of the canyon and at different depths in the canyon. Each species finds the niche that it is most easily able to exploit for its survival. This again can complicate managing the area for habitat preservation.

A goosefish, also called a monkfish, which is a member of the anglerfish family.  These are common in Baltimore Canyon. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

A goosefish, also called a monkfish, which is a member of the anglerfish family. These are common in Baltimore Canyon. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

Dr. Ross is involved in all of the work going on literally 24 hours a day. We have been sampling substrate, the water column, benthic infauna, and with the ROV collecting corals, for genetic studies, and all manner of fish and other animals, to be used for isotope studies to determine food webs. These have all been preserved for identification. Other long term studies include the coral physiology studies with Dr. Sandra Brooke, and all the data on water and sediment that will be recovered along with the benthic landers a year from now.

A snake eel and a Primnoid coral share the ROV’s slurp bucket, symbolizing the collaborative work of co-principal investigators Dr. Ross and Dr. Brooke. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

A snake eel and a Primnoid coral share the ROV’s slurp bucket, symbolizing the collaborative work of co-principal investigators Dr. Ross and Dr. Brooke. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

Perhaps the most fascinating days for me were the two spent exploring the cold water seep. This area of the canyon is actively releasing methane into the water. Like the more familiar vents along the mid-Atlantic Ridge, the cold water seep attracts a whole group of animals that feed on the bacteria that use the methane as a food source. First discovered by Barbara Hecker in 1983 using a camera tow, the exact location was not known. But now there is a whole new methane seep to study, the most northern one on the US east coast found to date.

A cusk enjoys his home under a bed of cold seep mussels in Baltimore Canyon.

A cusk enjoys his home under a bed of cold seep mussels in Baltimore Canyon. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM.

I have enjoyed learning about the science involved in this expedition and meeting all the interesting scientists and NOAA crew members. I want to thank them all for putting up with my endless questions and letting me participate in their work.

This tonguefish liked to live buried in the substrate, but it was no match for the suction tube of the ROV. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

This tonguefish liked to live buried in the substrate, but it was no match for the suction tube of the ROV. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

I hear the first few days off the boat I could be landsick.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. lizbaird permalink
    August 31, 2012 9:38 am

    Great job Eric! We look forward to skyping with you and the crew into the SECU Daily Planet this morning and letting our visitors learn more about your work!
    And yes, you might be landsick – Driving is really difficult in the first few hours off the ship, and for some reason standing in the shower seems to be the worst place for getting the “rocks”

  2. August 31, 2012 12:03 pm

    Reblogged this on NC Museum of Natural Sciences Blogs and commented:

    by Eric Hanneman

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