Species Profile – Cutthroat eel
The dive site Thursday was a relatively shallow one for this mission (~250 m) but one that has been suspected to have species characteristic of greater depths. This may be explained by extremely cold water at this site — perhaps from upwelling of colder waters from deeper areas nearby — although no one knows for sure. Indeed, the ROV recorded deep-water species such as Lophelia corals and several Cutthroat Eels. The eels were spotted near some coral and were moving about in their characteristic sinuous swimming motion, staying near the corals that were gently waving in the current. The scientists decided to collect them as we had not yet collected any fish on this mission. The method chosen to collect these slender fish was to use the ROV’s suction hose (aka slurp gun). The suction hose looks like a large dryer hose that you can find at your local home improvement store, but this one is attached to a multi-million dollar machine. To collect a specimen using the hose, the manipulator arm grabs a handle on the hose and directs it toward the intended specimen. One of the crew inside the van pilots the arm while another controls the suction. When the time is right, the crew coordinate a giant gulp by Jason and the specimens are swept into a multi-chambered collection bucket monitored by a video camera. Inside the van, everyone can see whether the collection was successful.
The data is recorded and the specific collection bucket that the target was sucked into is logged and sealed.
The collection bucket rack is then rotated so a fresh bucket is ready for the next specimen. The suction hose is quite useful for delicate specimens or for quick ones that are tough to grab with the manipulator arms.
The eels are beautiful, bluish-silver in color, and range in size from 146-188 mm total length.
Cutthroat eels are in a family of eels (Synaphobranchidae) found worldwide in temperate and tropical seas. They are bottom-dwelling fish, found in deep waters down to about 3,700 meters (12,100 ft). The specimens collected during this mission will be taken back to the lab at UNCW as voucher specimens for this locale and habitat.