By Rachel Cavotta, Communications Intern

Experiencing our current exhibit Extreme Deep: Mission to the Abyss is not the only way to discover what lurks in our oceans’ greatest depths. Observe the process of deep water research first hand by following the Okeanos Explorer as it discovers what lies at the bottom of the extreme deep. The Okeanos Explorer is an exploratory vessel used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct deepwater exploration of the Marianas Trench. Live feed is streaming every evening on the Okeanos Explorer website until July 10, 2016. The live stream includes commentary from scientists onshore and at sea. The website includes information about the specimen and geological characteristics of the Marianas Trench.

DMNH’s Curator of Mollusks participates as onshore scientist

Liz SheaThis technology has changed field research drastically, allowing onshore scientists to identify species in real time via phone or instant messaging. DMNH’s Curator of Mollusks Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D, participates as an occasional onshore scientist for the project, examining the live feed and photos for cephalopods, including octopods and squid, and commenting via an online chat room. This technology has changed field research drastically. “This new type of research allows onshore scientists to collaborate and identify the organism found on a species level,” Shea says.

Field data can affect museum research

The type of data gathered by the Okeanos Explorer also affects museum research. “The research done at the Museum is usually specimen based (i.e. a preserved creature that can be held and dissected),” Shea says. “On the Okeanos Explorer, there are either no specimens or very few specimens. Instead, there are primarily pictures and video.” Images and video collected by the Okeanos Explorer can show enough information to identify the species, including location, depth and appearance. Scientists can create a virtual specimen to include with current data on reserved specimens, and shared with other researchers and museums.

High resolution data allows researchers to see a species in their environment

Okeanos-Explorer-3Though there are limits to only using picture and video, such as not being able to collect the specimen’s DNA or perform a dissection, high resolution video allows scientists to analyze behavior including functional morphology (how the specimens use their bodies) and biomechanics (how the specimens move), along with feeding habits, and how they react when threatened. However, scientists working with the Okeanos Explorer are trying to develop ways of collecting more specimens in the future.

Shea says some of the most fascinating aspects of being a part of the Okeanos Explorer’s discoveries includes the biodiversity of seeing new animals in their habitats. “This is basic exploration, it’s not hypothesis driven,” Shea said. “It’s looking at fundamental distribution, depth, and biodiversity. That’s natural history, that’s basic biology and exploration.”