1. What made you start a blog on deep-sea marine life?
Dr. M: In 2005, I started DSN with little concept of what a blog was. Originally DSN was a mere website where abstracts of recent papers were posted. My intended audience was fellow scientists in the field. Over the next months I began to add more news of the latest expeditions and colleague's papers making it to the big time in the popular press. However, I soon realized I could provide something more meaningful and was in a unique position to relay science directly to the public. I could remove the middleman and deliver deep-sea science as it was occurring through the eyes of scientist. Perhaps, along the way I could educate and convey passion for this unique environment. Maybe I could get a few laughs too. But more importantly, I felt as human demand on the deep sea continued to grow; I might provide a voice of protection and conservation.
Toward that goal, I invited other marine biologists, with a passion for the ocean and communication, to join me at DSN. I met Peter Etnoyer, a coral scientist, a year into this journey and Kevin Z, a hydrothermal vent researcher with an interest in describing new species, a year or so after that. I believed their enthusiasm and knowledge would prove an asset. I wasn't wrong. Peter and Kevin were powerful allies in realizing my original goals for DSN. This year, Kevin and I invited Miriam Goldstein, a biological oceanographer, to join our ranks.
Kevin Z: It was the perfect outlet for me to write about what I really loved - the ocean and its inhabitants.
2. What are your objectives with the blog?
Dr. M: At the very core of science is the communication of knowledge. Although the relay of scientific information is frequent between scientists, it remains rare between scientists and the public. Science blogging allows me an outlet to directly communicate to the public - the delivery of ocean science as it is occurring through the eyes of scientist. It's a responsibility we all at DSN take seriously. We can highlight important and exciting findings that would never make it to public view. People search the web for information and we can provide a reliable source for information. We can also increase public awareness of and participation in resolving conservation issues. Ultimately, I hope I can educate and convey passion for the ocean realm that I have. People protect what they know and love.
Kevin Z: I am most interested in raising awareness of ocean issues and instilling an appreciation of the deep and its myriad organisms. The deep-sea is the largest environment on the planet, yet we know very little about it. We are making new discoveries every time we take a look. It is important for the public to know how the ocean is connected to their daily lives - whether it is through their food choices, weather, sport or a marine lifestyle. Lastly, I hope that we can translate some of the research out there into a form that is accessible to the public. Too many secrets are locked up behind the jargon and journal access fees and often pass by the taxpayers who funded that research.
Miriam: The ocean covers more than 70% of the earth, and yet we know less about it than we know about Mars! There are underwater mountains and chasms to rival anything in Hollywood, and they teem with strange and wonderful life. We are in love with the ocean, and we want to share this with the world (in a humorous and accessible way).
3. With regard to the deep-sea life research papers you review, how do you choose which ones to show and which ones not to?
Dr. M: We simply write about research and news we are fascinated or concerned by. The research topics we cover are from new papers, science, and research questions we encounter during our daily lives as marine scientists. Posts often start with one us proclaiming how captivating a new study is and the urge to communicate this with the public. Sometimes our content is reader driven. Our weekly hot to tie a knot post comes from a question by a reader about the knots a burgeoning marine biologist should know.
Of course we cover a lot of other topics as well. Tying knots, mariner's songs and of course boats are part of the rich history of exploring the oceans and thus intertwined with ocean science. The fact that DSN is a science blog and maritime culture blog, reflects my co-bloggers' and my passions. We simply write about the things we are excited about and being scientists is just one part of who we are. We are connoisseurs of blues music, art deco, the Muppets, shipbuilding, floating houses, and often the reproductive practices of invertebrates. Even though ocean science always takes center stage, we have eclectic interests and they show at DSN.
I blame Jacques Cousteau for the blog and our eclectic nature. When I was younger, Jacques Cousteau inspired me like many other children. But the public's fascination with Cousteau was not just the science it was the ritual of exploration, practices of operating a vessel and scuba equipment, and camaraderie of the crew. I remember how that atmosphere made me feel and how I eagerly ingested this information and narrative. I have always wanted DSN to do that for our readers.
Kevin Z: Sometimes our colleagues and readers send us papers that they know we are interested in. Most of the time, I write about what I think is really cool. I am mostly interested in strange animals and evolutionary history, so I write a lot about that. Writing for the blog keeps me very up to date on the research being done out there since I am constantly scouring the journal feeds for new and interesting papers.
Miriam: I review papers that I feel are compelling stories. Of course, some papers are interesting to scientists and not to the general public, but for the most part everyone likes a good story, particularly if it has giant mega-predators or disgusting parasites.
4. How extensive are your connections to the deep-sea life research and intellectual community?
Dr. M: Kevin Z, Miriam and I are all marine biologists during the day, so we are embedded in the community of ocean scientists. I participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. I have an ongoing research program focusing on the exploring and documenting the astonishing biodiversity and the great variety of body size and form in marine invertebrates.
Kevin Z: Well, I am a deep-sea researcher in my day job! So I would say very connected. Most of the research community knows who we are and many have commented how they appreciate what we are doing.
Miriam: We are all active ocean researchers. I am a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography studying the ecological impact of plastic debris. My work is actually on the surface of the open ocean and not in the deep sea - what's 4,000 meters between friends?
5. Do you post your own research papers on deep-sea life? If so, who reviews them?
Dr. M: I echo Kevin's comment. We also often cover the oceanographic expeditions we participate in as well (http://deepseanews.com/category/new-research/expeditions/). Our goal is to not only focus on the end product of science, i.e. the published finding, but on the process as well.
Kevin Z: All scientific articles are peer-reviewed in accordance with the policies of the journals we publish in just like any other scientist. I write about papers that I have published in scientific literature because there is often a back-story behind every scientific article that is unsung. For example, I published a species description of new shrimp found near underwater volcanoes between Tonga and Fiji in the Pacific. I wrote about the process of describing that species (http://deepseanews.com/2009/08/shrimp-tails-describing-a-new-species/).
6. In your expert opinion, what major dangers are posing a threat to the existence of deep-sea life?
Dr M: I agree with Kevin Z that anthropogenic climate change is a major threat both in terms of increasing the acidity of the ocean and the disruption of natural biological cycles. As we use up resources elsewhere, we turn to the deep oceans. Deep-sea mining, drilling, and fishing are also becoming more frequent and alarmingly relatively common. People can help by staying informed by reading DSN and by making the right seafood choices (http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx).
Kevin Z: Its hard to pick one, but ocean acidification is huge because it affects so many different types of animals, including some that are at the base of some of the most important food chains. This is related to anthropogenic climate change. It is crazy to think how much we have changed the world by our industrious nature!
Miriam: The deep sea is a really harsh environment, and so a lot of the life down there has evolved to live for a long time at a very slow pace. Some deep sea fish live to more than 100 years old, and don't reproduce until they're 50. So deep-sea fisheries can totally devastate the population in just a few years since the fish can't reproduce fast enough to keep up. That's why we ask that people refrain from eating deep-sea fish like Chilean sea bass and orange roughy.
Fishing for deep-sea fish has also been compared to clear-cutting a rainforest. The nets used to catch the fish severely damage the rest of the sea-floor life, which may not grow back for hundreds of years.
7. So far, what's the most interesting and brilliant deep-sea related research paper you have reviewed? If picking one out of the lot is a hard ask, tell us about the top five.
Dr. M: So hard to pick just one! I love writing about the iron clad samurai snails. In 2003, researchers discovered a unique snail on a hydrothermal vent in the Indian Ocean. Unlike any other known snail, it has a series of armor plates covering the soft parts we often refer to as the foot. These plates and the snail's shale both contain iron sulfide granules, the stuff of fools' gold. This is the only known animal to use iron sulfide as skeletal material (http://deepseanews.com/2010/01/the-evolution-of-iron-clad-samurai-snails-with-gold-feet/). I was really excited about the new research on why hammerhead sharks have hammer shaped heads - it's to see better with (http://deepseanews.com/2009/12/hammer-time/). All the new work occurring in 2009 and 2010 suggesting that the deep sea was potentially the cradle of life not only for some crustaceans, corals, anemones, and even freshwater eels, but all life is definitely worth a mention (http://deepseanews.com/2010/02/reconsidering-the-origins-of-marine-life-and-all-life/).
Kevin Z: It really is hard to pick one, but I most enamored by the research being on the whalebone-eating worms in the genus Osedax. They were only discovered a few years back and we are quickly finding out there are actually quick common. The more that is known about these sessile worms the stranger they become. Osedax has no digestive system - that is, no mouth, guts, or anus! They have symbiotic bacteria that break down lipids in the whalebones for energy and provide the host worm nutrients. Females have dwarf males that live in harems inside their bodies which are essentially only sperm factories. Several species can be found living a single whale skeleton inhabiting different niches and have even been found on other bones (like cow and pig bones thrown overboard from ship's galleys). For more on this strange and fascinating worm you can see it all here http://deepseanews.com/tag/osedax/.