Part 5: Coping Without The Right Copepods

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The whales are hiding from me. Even when the fog lifts, there is only empty ocean as far as the eye can see. You can see why sailors used to think the open ocean was barren. That is, until you get nets in and actually have a look.

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Sampling began at 11pm last night, with a CTD followed by bongo nets. The CTD takes loads of measurements of the water as it is lowered and winched back in, including temperature, salinity, and an approximation of how much phytoplankton there is. There are also loads of bottles attached which we program to close at the depth we want, to collect water samples. The bongo nets are two nets joined together, with a mesh with 0.2mm gaps. Anything bigger than that gets collected and brought up for me. These two were the first of a chockablock sampling schedule, but only going to 200m depth. The later nets go much deeper, to 1000m, and the sediment cores go right to the bottom, about 3000m. I’m focusing on these shallow ones because I want the animals feeding in the sunlit zone. This means I’m on night shifts, but it doesn’t really matter, as the sun never goes down.

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Above: The bongo nets being lowered

Turns out, the waters here are SO productive. There were loads and loads of copepods, just frustratingly not many of the species I’m interested in! The ones in the buckets (see someone’s dead sample below) are a much larger species that only lay eggs in the deep water – not so useful for my egg laying experiments!

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So I spent all night in the cold store picking out tiny copepods from the net samples. I halved my experiment because of the lack of the species I wanted, but still got some useful samples. I also accidentally supplemented my diet with copepods; my concentration face unintentionally includes me sticking my tongue out, and the jumpy ones don’t hesitate. Following this oily nighttime snack, I had a breakfast of garlic breaded mushrooms and roast potatoes – meal timings don’t really fit with my shifts. Nevertheless, I’m loving the feeding situation. The chef is great, and the crew say that it’s okay that I’m an awkward vegan ‘because we like you’. They even made me falafel and coriander hummus the other day. So tasty.

 

Part 6 – welcome to my cold tin home

 

Part 3: Sea Sick?

So yesterday I learnt what being at sea is actually like. I don’t think many of the crew were bothered, but we were rocking around all over the place. It’s especially fun when nothing stays where you put it and you can play a game of human pinball through the corridors, having no control of the room you end up in.
The shakedown station was delayed for this reason; sampling in 6m waves is not the easiest. Instead, I focused on my plan for sampling.
However great our research is, we can’t really prove anything about the physical world. The problem lies in us being human. If you think about how easy it is to trick the human brain, or how much of an effect your previous experiences have on how you see the world now, it makes sense to be skeptical. That said, we can have confidence in the beliefs we have, if these beliefs are based on reason and repeated observation – science.
To test whether what we believe is right, we would have to try every single possible occurance and make sure the believed process happened in every one. Long, right? So the way we do it is to find just one example of where a belief doesn’t occur. Instead of trying to find if every vegan is starving by looking at them all globally, just look for one that isn’t (me – great, we can no longer believe that ALL vegans are starving).
So, we know that the changing climate is changing the proportions of different plankton species in the Arctic and the timing of their occurrence in the year. Copepods eat some of these plankton, so could be affected by these changes. To look into this, I’m going to look across different areas where we know there are different plankton populations. I’ll look for any differences in the amount the copepods eat, the amount of eggs they lay, and whether these eggs hatch. Some of the areas I’m looking at will have lots of food for the copepods, and some will have little. The quality of the food will differ too – some is more nutritious than others. Hopefully, I’ll be able to see what they’re eating.
I think I’m now finally getting used to the rocking ship, although the gym confused me. Rowing and running whilst swaying is¬† disconcerting for my poor brain, too many movements in too many directions. It has calmed down a bit now though, and will probably get calmer when we’re further north. Added I haven’t really felt sea sick so far, super proud of my inner ears!
Current status:
Meals skipped:0
Times cheated on vegan diet:0
Times tempted by desserts:infinite and constant temptation.

Part 4 – where are the whales?

Part 2: Not Mushroom For More Risotto

I’m surrounded by blue! I’ve contacted the whales through the language of willpower to let them know I’m about. But I think they’ll wait until after our stop by Aberdeen to visit us. I’m still doing regular checks for them just in case: it’s a good excuse to get out of the labs and go up to ‘monkey island’ on top of the ship.

In the labs, we’ve been using all our newly gained knotting skills to lash everything tightly to the benches so they are not mercy to the sea. Equipment is mounted on heavy boards by drilling in hooks, then wrapping them in rope. I know full well that I’ll regret my somewhat abstract wrapping technique and I know everything is going to be hard to detach at the end.

By now, with all the unpacking of heavy boxes and manual labour, I’m sure you’re assuming my strength is fading. I must be coming to the end of the energy reserves I boarded the ship with. Yet, low and behold, I have been fed! And the food has been unlimited, tasty, and, wait for it, vegan! Obviously, the starters and desserts have been avoided mostly, but the purser picked up on this and now brings me a fruit platter. I almost wanted to be able to go on about how difficult this experience is, but it’s like magic. You sit in the saloon, name the food you want from the three options, and it appears in front of you just like in Hogwarts.

I have eaten so much at every meal, enjoying stuffed peppers, mushroom risotto, vegan burritos and more. Chances of starvation are currently very small. Chances of obesity, exponentially increasing.

If you want to check our progress, check out this link, which uploads a photo every 15 minutes:

https://www.bas.ac.uk/data/our-data/images/webcams/rrs-james-clark-ross-webcam/.

We have fiveish more days before we reach our sampling area, but we are going to do a shakedown (practice) station on the 12th. We’re just stopping near Aberdeen to allow a boat transfer of engineers. So, we have plenty of time to get set up, enjoy the sun, and look out for the whales. I’ve heard the weather tomorrow is not going to be nearly as calm though… we’ll see.

Part 3 – Sea sick?

Part 1: An Introduction

It is said that 0.05% of the world’s population is vegan and of that world, 71% is ocean. So therefore, evidently, at some point, a vegan will end up in the ocean. But what would become of such a vegan? What will they eat? Will they cope? Is the ocean vegan friendly? These are the riveting questions that you will soon have the answer to.

For I, Holly Jenkins, a bold vegan, will be venturing into the Arctic ocean for 5 weeks on the RRS James Clark Ross. On the 9th May 2018 we’ll be sailing out of reach of any organic wholefoods co-op, and far, far away from hummus based snacks. However, this struggle is all for a good cause. I am working with a team on board to research the effects of climate change in the Arctic.
I am packed and ocean ready. I’ve arguably brought too much stuff, but I’m bringing excess layers to cover my starved skeleton after weeks of eating (or not) the vegan food the ship has to offer. Wish me luck!

Part 2 (to come) – not muchroom for more risotto