By Jonny Veach
In response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, USF Professor Emeritus Dr. José J. Torres spearheaded a study to assess the oil spill’s effect on deeper, mesopelagic and midwater species that were migrating vertically through oil plumes – “RAPID Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Impact of sub-surface oil plumes on mesopelagic fauna”.
The “RAPID Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill” study obtained a wide array of mesopelagic fauna, including the deep sea hatchetfish, as seen above. Specifically, the Deepwater study sought to document the effects of the oil spill on the highly diverse and vertically mobile fish and crustacean species of the water column, since most species reside at depths below 600 meters during the day, but migrate into the upper 250 meters at night. Because of this migration, a large portion of the mid-water community would be migrating through oil plumes. Because of a very deep well-head and extensive use of dispersants, the chances that these organisms would encounter petroleum hydrocarbons was very high. The data collected in this project provides a stable isotope baseline allowing for evaluation of present and future subsurface oil impact.
Researchers at the FWRI are currently in the process of determining exactly what species are present in the Torres collection. Some of the groups represented in the samples are diverse species of fishes, shrimp, jellyfish, amphipods, pyrosomes, salps and more. Many of these species have bioluminescent organs or other adaptations for living in the dark. One of our FWRI interns, Vang Thach, is working through the invertebrates to definitively identify which species are present.
There is currently no active research involving these specimens, but by cataloging and inventorying the collection, they will be made available for research purposes. FWRI received the collection from Dr. Torres in April 2013. The Torres collection is particularly noteworthy because the FWC doesn’t normally collect at these depths for usual monitoring programs. These deeper water specimens are very valuable in part because of the expense of physically collecting these specimens. The Torres collection is here to stay as a permanent collection item for the FWRI, to serve as an important looking-glass into mesopelagic gulf species for the future.