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A day in the life of a marine scientist

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The first task takes two hours, filming two-thirds of a mile of the ocean floor at a depth of 200 meters. The distance and depth have to be precise, Whaling explains. "This tape will be compared to a tape of the same section taken on June 18, 2004." This way, they can find how life on the ocean floor is changing.

Whaling has been working at MBARI studying bottom-dwelling organisms for more than 15 years. "I go out two to four times a month on average," he says. "We get to the Smooth Ridge sites [where we are today] about six to seven times a year."

The researchers routinely place sediment tubes at different depths, leave them for a month or two, and then recover them. They analyze the sediment to determine what materials are flowing onto the ocean floor - and how much. The nature and stability of the ocean floor affects the life there. More than 95 percent of known marine species are bottom-dwellers. If there are any changes to those creatures, the ocean's food chain could be affected.

In search of a 'homer'

2:30 p.m. The next mission of our trip begins - to find and pick up a "homer" left in the area six years ago. A homer guides a boat toward it by "pinging" back when contacted. These devices are left with scientific experiments so that the experiments are easily found when it's time to get the results. The batteries that power the "ping" last about two years. Since the batteries in this device no longer work, "we are picking up our trash," Whaling says.

It is likely that the homer has shifted around quite a bit from its original spot, but we head out to where it was originally left.

Fifteen minutes later, ROV pilots Craig Dawe and D.J. Osborne Jr. use the radar to steer the Ventana probe to areas that look as if they might contain a metal object. Mr. Dawe thinks he's found it - and he has.

The mechanical arms are guided to grab the metal cylinder of the homer. When Ventana emerges, it is grasping a huge robotic fistful of sea anemones that were attached to the homer.

3:30 p.m. Our day's missions accomplished, we begin heading back to shore. The Point Lobos comes out four times a week carrying different scientists who are taking part in a multitude of projects. All of these researchers and engineers are working together and developing cutting-edge technologies to help solve the mysteries of the deep sea.

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