“What on earth is that thing!?”

Hunching closer over the joysticks and toggle switches that control our Remote-Operated Vehicle (ROV), I stared into the monitor that showed what the little robot submarine was seeing on the floor of the Arctic fjord, hundreds of feet below me.  Gently urging the ROV forward a few inches, careful not to disturb the soft mud and silt of the bottom, I trained the camera on the little mushroom-like creature and zoomed in for a better look.  It did look a great deal like a small mushroom (not something you ordinarily find deep below the surface of the Arctic Ocean), but as I watched it slowly opened, unfolding a crown of delicate branched arms that formed a lacey up-turned cup about two inches across.  This was something new, something I’d never seen before in a decade of exploring these freezing waters!  There was more work to be done with the ROV that day, recording the strange marine life of the fjord for the guests on our expedition, but suddenly I was very eager to return to the ship and try to learn more about this strange creature.

An unknown animal on the floor of an Arctic fjord in Svalbard. Photo by David Cothran. All rights reserved.

My name is David Cothran and I am an Undersea Specialist for Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.  I think the best way to describe my job is to say that I act as the eyes of the expedition underwater.  It’s my responsibility to record, collect and present to our guests the incredible marine life in the water beneath our ships, all around the world.  To accomplish this I use a variety of really cool expedition technology, including underwater HD video cameras, plankton nets, hydrophones and of course the ROV, to record, sample and remotely explore the hidden world beneath the sea’s surface, all with the primary goal of making it a part of our guests’ experience.

An Antarctic feather star, Promachocrinus kerguelensis, swims through polar seas. Photo by David Cothran. All rights reserved.

Before I joined the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic team, I worked as conservation biologist, studying seabirds, elephant seals and other amazing species in an effort to gather information that will help us to preserve the wild animals and wild places I love.  I am a scientist and so the opportunity I have to use the tools of expedition technology to explore remote and beautiful places like the Antarctic Peninsula, Svalbard and the Mid-Atlantic is a huge thrill for me.  And, although my first priority is always to share what I discover with the guests on our ships, during the twelve years or so that I have been doing this, my colleagues and I have made some observations that have proved to be very important to other scientists working in these areas.  We work hard to share what we learn with researchers who will find it valuable and we are very proud of the contributions we have made to the understanding of these amazing places.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting a series of entries on our blog, describing some of the more significant milestones in science aboard the Lindblad/National Geographic fleet.  We’ll be looking at strange creatures and exciting projects in the seas of both poles and the tropics in between.  I hope you’ll join me.

And the weird mushroom-creature from the Arctic?  We still don’t know what it is, and we’re still working to find out.  I love a good mystery!

Categories: Science Milestones