The thing about being a zoologist, and actually working on an animal and not just on bacteria or DNA, is that I get to do outdoorsy stuff and call it work (sometimes). Now that it is summer it is most imperative that I get more animals. While I would love to spend all my time doing what I consider to be the more 'real' part of my work, which is the microscopy and actually finding stuff out, it is now important to have fresh, healthy animals that produce embryos and even more importantly - heaps of adhesive. So on that note, I will tell you about the first sampling trip of the year. Over the summer will be two types of sampling trip. Some will include going to the pier or maybe even on a boat as large data and navigation buoys are brought up, then scraping animals off them. And then whenever the chance arises, such as after good winds or a spring tide or storm, to go to beaches and look for animals that have washed up on the beach.
Well, on this occasion it was the former. The Marine Institute keeps data buoys and one was due for a service. So we went out to meet it. The pier we were headed to was a town called Castletownbere, down in County Cork. A 5 hour drive we were told. So we (that is, my PhD colleagues Vanessa and Paul, and Paul's Aussie mate Russel, none of whom know that I am putting their names on my very public website), anyway, we left friday morning, only a 45 minutes late at a quarter to eleven, quite impressive considering how plodding boys tend to be. And we drove for a very long time, over typical small twisting Irish roads leaving me feeling quite queasy. We had a GPS to tell us where to go and loads of food (mostly sweets) and the car was packed to the brim so it was pretty cramped in there. We finally made a proper stop when we reached a beach on Dingle Bay, which Paul thought may be a good place to look for washed up animals. We had a look around, I picked up bits of interesting things as I tend to do (on this occasion I found a huge sponge, a big spider crab carapace and a lot of pretty sea shells) and then we waited for ages because the boys had gone off on their own. Eventually we gave up and luckily for us they had forgotten to wind up the car windows, so we reached in and unlocked the door and at least after that we could wait in the warm car with all the food and entertainment. And our cell-phones, which eventually we remembered about and could give them a call and a hurry up. So about two or three hours later, we finally continued on our way. It was now 6pm and we were still 2 hours away from our destination.
On the upside, now that it is summer it will stay light until at least 11 at night, and even after that it is not so dark that it is pitch black. So we get to Castletownbear, with much complaining on my part because I really don't travel well, and now we have to find somewhere to camp. The idea had been to arrive earlier so that we could ask around, or at least not feel too tired and hungry. We hadn't planned this part of it very well because the guys reckoned we could just find a bit of woods or bog to camp by, as they have done time and again. But things are not so easy when you are not in your own region, and it was raining. But to make a long story short, we found a nice (empty) field beside a nice little lake with no farmhouses nearby. We pitched camp, lit a fire, pulled out the gas stove and had dinner in the semi-dark (it was about 11 or so by this stage). After getting some hot food into us the day was really looking up, except it was not longer the day and time to go to bed. And here in Ireland there is this horrible insect that they call a midge. You would think it is just like one of our sandflies but they are not, maybe they are worse, I am not sure because I have never been attacked by NZ sandflies. These midges though, they are really small, and they are just all over you like an itchy blanket, and you just want to yell and scream and jump about because they are biting you all over your face. We made the fire good and smokey and they sort of went away a bit. Not a very good experience though.
After only a few hours sleep I woke even earlier than usual, on account of the bright sunlight. Tents and bedrolls are not very comfortable so I got up thinking maybe I could lie in the sun and read my book until others awoke, or maybe even jump in the lake. But what would you know, the midges were still out and about. The sun was not yet hot enough to drive them away. So again I was attacked by the horrible biting animals. I figured movement would keep them away somewhat so I went down to the wee lake but it turned out to not be of the type that facilitates swimming - it was just surrounded by weed and marsh, with no clear cut edge and no stony bottom. Who knows what sort of things might have been in it. What a shame.
Sampling was supposed to start early, we were told that the boat would do its thing at 9am so we were there before 8, to be on the safe side. About 8.30 the crew got to work and we were told that it might be an hour or so while they set up so we went to have a hot drink. An hour later we go back and wait around for a bit, kept ourselves busy. Eventually we were told that it would all be happening soon, so we get our things ready. Then we waited. Then we had to move the car. And then we waited some more. The car had to moved again and then finally it looked like it was time to start, so we organised our equipment. The plan for the day was to prepare the fresh data buoy, lift the old one out of the water and replace it with a new one. Then they would drag the new buoy out to the open ocean. When the old buoy was on the pier we were free to take animals off of it.
After a lot of waiting the buoy was finally out of the water at about 11 am. And it had barnacles on it! Only my species unfortunately. I mean, it is nice for me to have fresh samples (although now I have to look after the bloody things) but the others still have nothing to work on. First we have a good look around, take some photos. Then it was time to begin taking animals, but they were not the only living things attached to that buoy. There was also a lot of seaweed inhabitated by many small amphipods which which kept dropping onto my hands and crawling on me, giving me the creeps. I tried to ignore it but I just couldn't. Luckily, we had rubber gloves with us, which was all the better because with the gloves on you look far more the scientist. Though the yellow hard hats did detract from the scientificness somewhat.
But then it was all go and I got plenty of animals. Embryos too. Finally was time for some more photos and saying goodbye to the crew. And what would you know but we'd been at it more than an hour and a half, it was nearly 1 o'clock! So much for sampling first thing and getting on the road nice and early in the morning. At that point we were hungry so to make us later still we went back to the camp site and sat down for a bit of lunch. I mean, the more food we ate the less we had to take back with us, right? Grabbed our things and hit the road, this time with no huge detours, only a few fuel and toilet breaks. Still, it was no five-hour drive. It was most definately more like a seven-hour drive at least. By the end of it we were all feeling pretty shattered and stupid.
But now I have had sleep and recovered. I am not so impressed at having a heap more animals to look after. But this week I will be getting a french work-placement student to help me out. Poor girl will be spending her days watching barnacles, trying to figure out if they are alive or dead, feeding them, keeping a very close eye on the larvae (we have had very poor success with getting them to survive). And she will work the weekend so I can finally have a break, yay. Sadlky, she will only be here a month. Still, it's better than nothing. I will spend the week working, but not to hard because my supervisor is on holiday (another yay, and lets hope she never finds this site, though surely pigs would fly before she bothered looking) and also because the week will be spent showing Vanessa, who is here from Vienna, a good time. And I get to play at being a tourist somewhat. Fun times.
And just now, looking at my blog, I found out that I have a follower! Who would have thought that anybody would find this and be interested in it? I was impressed enough to know that Linda follows it quite regularly, but now some random appears to read it aswel! How weird is that. And yes, that is a little hint to those of you that are not completely technologically disabled to give me acknowledgement that you are interested in what I get up to these days. Comment, or follow, or at least facebook or email me on the odd occassion. Come on people, writing is not so difficult as all that, and I know that it is NZ uni holidays right now so don't go giving me excuses.
And I will add pictures over the next couple of days so be patient.