As I write this, approximately 2,500 lots of Invertebrate Zoology (IZ) museum specimens collected in the Gulf of Mexico, including deep-sea invertebrates like giant mussels and giant isopods (Bathynomus giganteus, pictured below) are making the journey along the interstate highway system from Baton Rouge, LA, to the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD. The collection of these specimens was funded in part by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM, formerly Mineral Management Service, MMS). Until recently, these specimens were in the custody of Dr. Bob Carney, retired Professor of Oceanography and Coastal Studies at Louisiana State University (LSU). Through the course of their research, Dr. Carney and his students have identified most of these specimens to the species-level. By donating this collection to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Dr. Carney is promoting the accessibility of these specimens to the scientific community after he retires.
The collection that Dr. Carney is donating spans more than 20 years of research in the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these specimens were collected with the use of the famous submersibles ALVIN and the Johnson Sea Link. In particular, many specimens were recovered from deep sea seeps and hydrothermal vent communities as part of CHEMO programs I, II, and III (1989 – 2006). Others were collected from settling plates that were fixed to oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico across the continental shelf (Characterization of Algal-Invertebrate Mats at Platforms, 1992-1993). These specimens, in addition to voucher specimens from these programs that have previously been deposited at NMNH, are of particular interest because they can be compared to organisms taken from the Gulf before and after the BP oil spill four years ago.
Preparation and Certification
Transporting thousands of scientific research specimens hundreds of miles is not an easy task. Specimens housed in preservative fluid are categorized by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) as “Hazardous Goods,” and must be packed and shipped according to very specific requirements. Additionally, the process of packing requires specialized training and a certification in shipping hazardous goods. Luckily for Dr. Carney, the Smithsonian has a number of technical staff with this certification, including myself and museum technicians Matt Snyder and Michael O’Mahoney.
Specimens were jarred in glass containers ranging from 10-mL vials to five-gallon pails, with the majority of the jars able to contain approximately 750 mL. Dr. Carney and his lab double-checked that each container was labeled with both the scientific name of the specimen and the data associated with its collection, and that the data on the label matched an entry in the collection inventory spreadsheet. Once that step was complete, Mike, Matt and I heat-sealed each container into its own individual bag and then concealed each specimen in bubble wrap. Over three days, we were able to pack the collection into nine 55-gal plastic drums, which were then appropriately labeled and tightly bound to wooden pallets using industrial clingwrap.
The nine drums of packed museum specimens have just arrived in Suitland. Now, we begin the task of unpacking the drums and photographing their contents. Our photographs and notes of how the drums were packed will be used as a guide for future packing trips. Next, we will organize the lots by program and taxonomic group and recurate the specimens in archival-quality glass jars. Then, the specimens can be cataloged, their data can be added to the database, and they can go on the shelves and really become part of the IZ collection. These specimens will then provide additional resources for future research projects by Smithsonian scientists or visiting researchers.