Category: General Article
Monday, August 17, 2015
Summary: Dr. Tamara Frank discusses the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and how the science team is studying its impact on a basic component of the food web — crustaceans.
What is a crustacean? Shrimp, lobsters, crabs, and crawfish are example of crustaceans.
As part of Team Crustacean or “Team Crusty” as we lovingly call ourselves, I collect, identify, and count crustaceans in the deep. Why?
One reason involves a giant oil spill. In 2010, the DeepWater Horizon oil spill occurred deep in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the largest oil spill in United States history. What did it do to the environment? We don’t know. Why? Scientists didn’t have any data about the Gulf of Mexico deep-sea from BEFORE the spill.
Seems unbelievable, doesn’t it? It’s true. Did you know that scientists know more about the surface of the moon than the deep ocean? People have explored only 5% of the ocean. There is so much we need to learn in order to protect it.
The good news is, within a year after the spill we did a lot of studies. Now the DEEPEND Team is doing more studies. By comparing the information that we gather now with the data that we got 4 years ago, we’ll be able to tell 1) how badly the oil spill affected this ecosystem and 2) if it’s recovering from the spill.
While Team Fish and Team Cephalopod (the scientific name for squids and octopods) think that their animals are the most important, I think the crustaceans are the most important. That’s because there are so many and everything likes to eat them. Adult and larval crustaceans are a favorite meal of many ocean animals including fish, squid, seabirds, whales and more. As you might guess, crustaceans are an essential part of the food web.
We see some incredible crustaceans out here. They are definitely not your ordinary grocery store shrimp. Take a look at just a couple of the remarkable deep-sea crustaceans we’re finding (see the photo slideshow to the right). Because everything likes to eat them, you might notice that the bigger ones have spines and horns (known as a “rostrum” in crusty-speak). These horns and spines make them really unpleasant to eat.
I better get back to sorting and identifying crustaceans. Remember to send us your questions.
Talk to you soon,
Dr. Tamara Frank, Team Crustacean and Deep-sea Explorer