I am out in the Southeast Atlantic onboard the Norwegian Fisheries Research Vessel Dr. Fridtjof Nansen. Part of a team of researchers exploring the poorly known seamounts of the Walvis Ridge near the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, I am here to help assess the vulnerability of the marine ecosystems and the presence of non-target animals such as coral, sponges, and of course sharks!
The crew, including researchers from South East Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO), the FAO, and the R/V Nansen, are investigating the areas to see if they are vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) or if they can support sustainable fishing pressure. Fishing occurs in the area, but we have almost no information on the bycatch in some of these places. Since the bycatch are indicator species of the marine ecosystem vulnerability of the areas, learning more about them will improve the assessments.
We left Cape Town Thursday 15 January and arrived at our first seamount of our expedition a few days after. The investigation of this seamount took three steps. First we will deployed a drop keel with transducers on it in order to map the area. You know how we’ve mapped the surface of the moon more extensively than our own sea floor? Well we’re (slowly) changing that! We deployed the transducers and zigzagged strategically across over the seamount to create a map of the area. Next we deployed a video sled to view the local fauna. The third step is sampling with a deep-sea trawler, which we haven’t done yet. We need to scoop up some of the deep-sea fauna to see exactly what species are there and if they can handle the pressure of a commercial fishery.
I have really high hopes for the trip. It is an exciting new area that we don’t know anything about. Some things I have my hopes up for: a new species of weird blue ghost shark reported from the area, an unknown species of demon catshark referred to as the “black wonder,” and probably the most strange and “Red shark” which was reported from the area but the specimen was lost and nobody knows what it was. Holy smokes! Talk about a potential for discovery! Exploration here I came!
For more information on the project visit http://www.fao.org/in-action/eaf-nansen/en and follow #EAFNansen via @SharkUniversity and @FAOFish on Twitter.