Extreme Research: DMNH’s Curator of Mollusks studies the creatures at the bottom of the sea

Extreme Deep isn’t the only focus of the Museum this summer. Studying the creatures of the sea is a major part of the job for Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D., the Museum’s Curator of Mollusks.

Dr. Shea has traveled on more than a dozen scientific cruises in the Atlantic Ocean with the Canadian Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as other organizations, to study squids and other creatures living at great depths in the ocean. Dr. Shea is a teuthologist, meaning she studies a type of mollusk called cephalopods, also known as squids.

Her expeditions have primarily focused on two places: Bear Seamount, an underwater mountain, and the Gully Marine Protected Area, a large marine canyon protected against commercial fishing and other disturbances. Scientists lower large fishing nets to gather specimens of sea life from various depths between 250 to 2,000 meters (820 to 6,561 feet). The nets are dropped at a variety of locations to ensure samples are collected from all possible environments. They are then hauled back on board, and teams of scientists and assistants separate specimens for analysis. Dr. Shea identifies the squids, octopods, and other mollusks to the species level, recording the length and weight of each specimen.
The specimens and data collected on the cruises are brought to the Delaware Museum of Natural History for further analysis. Participating in these research cruises is Shea’s favorite part of the year. Scientists work 12 hour shifts, from noon to midnight or midnight to noon, an effective way to maintain 24-hour operations and maximize the time the boat is at sea.“You leave land and so much of your day-to-day life behind, and you’re in a very intensive work environment, but it’s work you love to do,” she says.

In September, Dr. Shea is scheduled to travel to marine canyons on the Continental Slope off of the southeastern coast of the United States on the NOAA Ship Pisces (pictured on the right). This series of canyons have not been fully explored, offering fresh research possibilities. Instead of collecting physical specimens, the team will focus on video and photography in order to protect the delicate corals and sponges in the area.

2017-12-21T17:12:24+00:00 June 9th, 2016|Blog, DMNH Spotlight, Mollusks|