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Ocean Media Immersion

Hannibal Sea Mount

Expedition Details

Location: Coiba National Park, Panama

Date: March 31 - April 14, 2015

Who: WHOI, Alucia, University of Porto

Filmmaker: Brett Kuxhausen

The Hannibal Bank Seamount, 20 km west of Coiba Island, Panama, is an ideal natural laboratory to explore the processes that determine both bottom and water-column ecological hotspots. Internationally recognized for its abundant fish populations, this huge undersea mountain is a popular destination for sports fishermen; yet like most seamounts, the mechanisms that produce its biological richness are poorly known.
The goal of this expedition was to uncover how ecological patterns in bottom faunal zonation, water-column fish aggregation, and elevated biodiversity are determined. By collecting samples, extracting DNA to identify species, and researching how the location of marine life corresponds to environmental factors such as temperature, salinity, and currents, biologists now better understand the processes that make this underwater mountain habitat so unique. By sharing their findings with local and regional stakeholders, resource managers will have access to the information they need to work together to develop a sound management plan for this rich and diverse ecosystem.

About R/V Alucia More about the Alucia

The Alucia is a 56 meter research and exploration vessel built to broaden our scientific understanding of the ocean and illuminate its myriad natural wonders. Her launch and recovery platform facilitate a wide range of diving and submersible operations. She boasts the latest in technical diving, filming and scientific research equipment. She contains two subs - the Triton 3300/3 and the Deep Rover 2 – both of which are rated for a maximum depth of 1000 meters. The Alucia also features unrivaled film production capabilities and the latest in nautical expedition media technology, via her working relationship with Alucia Productions.

Length, ft 183
Range, nautical miles 7500
Speed, knots 11
Crew 22

From the Field

Panama - Week 1

It’s the start of a twenty-day ocean expedition in Panama for the WHOI research team. In the first week, the team is getting their high tech gear up and running. But some things are making the beginning of the trip a little tricky.

Panama - Week 2

Meet the members of the WHOI research team, and get an inside look at the cutting edge research being conducted on Hannibal Seamount.

Panama - Week 3

In the last week of the expedition, follow WHOI biologists as they use submarines to collect organisms in the deep and work to find new species around the Hannibal Seamount.

What is a seamount?

A seamount is very much what it sounds like: an underwater mountain rising from the seafloor. They are of particular interest to scientists studying ocean biodiversity. Seamounts, formed by volcanic activity, are often surrounded by flat, desert-like areas of the ocean floor, devoid of much life. But they are in fact magnets for marine life. Many deep-sea animals spend their entire lives attached to rocks and find those rocks by floating with the ocean current as larvae. Seamounts provide a convenient place for those larvae to settle and grow. In addition, due to their steep slopes, seamounts disrupt the currents and create upwellings of nutrients and planktonic food. This means that these ocean mountains have become areas of intense biodiversity where we can gather huge amounts of scientific data -- from the impacts of commercial fishing to the identification of new species.

Chief Scientist

Jesús Pineda

Our expedition to Hannibal Seamount, an underwater feature 8 miles long that raises from 1,500 to 130 feet water depth, set to unravel how ocean currents impact the biodiversity of deep-living bottom organisms, such as corals, sponges, and crabs. We also wanted to discover what types of organisms lived on different depth zones of this seamount in the Pacific coast of Panama. The deep waters of Hannibal lack dissolved oxygen and are acidic, and similar conditions are expected to prevail in the ocean in response to ocean climate change. Thus, exploring Hannibal offered us an opportunity to explore how communities might look in the future, in an ocean changed by humans.

Cruise work was intense from the beginning, and as the cruise progressed, we adapted to equipment malfunction and to our daily science discoveries by setting revised research goals. The balance of the expedition is fairly positive, and the cruise was thrilling. Adding to the excitement of having addressed successfully the broad expedition objectives, the cruise was punctuated by extraordinary encounters and findings made out from submarines and other observing devices, including patches like towers made out of millions of jellyfish, and mega-aggregations of crabs stirring the bottom sediments of the seamount. Some of these encounters were difficult to document rigorously. However, they have colored our consciousness, and impacted how we think about the ocean.

Ocean Media Explorer

Brett Kuxhausen

Hailing from The Heartland, Brett is a current MFA candidate in the Science and Natural History Filmmaking program at Montana State University. He studied biological sciences and film at the University of Nebraska, and has worked as a mortician’s assistant, educator, and researcher of tropical fish.

Brett has produced several short films focused on human interaction with technology and environment, and aims to impassion his viewers with the same amount of enthusiasm that makes him a geek for all things science. In his free time, Brett enjoys photography, hiking, and listening to music at unacceptable volumes.