"Hey Kirstin!" she called, "I'm already bleeding in two places! That's how you know it's good field work!"
I rolled my eyes. Yes, we give blood, sweat, and tears for our science, but I'm not sure that bleeding should ever be considered a good thing. I looked at Caitlin's hands, then examined my own. Both of us had countless little cuts and scrapes, the inevitable result of getting friendly with barnacles. Because today, we had lots of barnacles.
|R/V Pluteus at OIMB's dock|
So I got creative. It turns out there's one other OIMB employee capable of driving the boat, and after a little convincing (read: bribery with baked goods), he was willing to spend a day offshore. By this point, my blocks have been underwater for 12 weeks, so I had no idea if they would even still be there. I grabbed some volunteers, took 2 Dramamine, and headed out to find them.
|Glassy and perfect.|
Even so, we were able to retrieve four of the cement blocks and remove the settlement plates from them. Everything was covered in barnacles. The plates, the blocks - even the rope and the zip ties. It was one solid barnacle cake. You know, when this experiment first started last year, I naïvely expected a variety of organisms, with clean, distinct patterns in abundance and diversity among stations. Not so. I guess if I owned a boat, I would have known better. I mean, barnacles are ubiquitous fouling organisms. My blocks were outplanted at 65 m depth, not actually that far offshore. I should have expected them to take over, right?
|One of my cement blocks (settlement plates already removed)|
covered in barnacles. The brown dots on the front side are
juvenile whelks, or barnacle-eating snails.
After seeing the dense barnacle recruitment today, I started to think it would actually make a pretty interesting story. After all, I observed high larval recruitment of a species that isn't very well-known, and the cement blocks with the highest recruitment were essentially located in the middle of a sand flat. That's weird. There are a number of ecological concepts I could draw on for a discussion of my findings, including the Desperate Larva Hypothesis (look it up!). Maybe all the barnacles settled on my cement block and the attached settlement plates because they just wanted to settle on something, anything, and it was the only solid object in the area.
In short, it feels good to finally have my settlement plates back, and I'm actually getting pretty excited about my findings. I doubted for a long time whether the data from my experiment would actually be useful, but I'm convinced now that they are. I'll end up answering a different question than I set out asking, but it's good data all the same.
Long live barnacles.