Elan Portner is a doctoral student at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. His research is focused on understanding the diversity and variability of open ocean forage communities, made up of the animals that are eaten by many top predators including tunas, sharks, and mammals. In particular, he is interested in the forage communities that live at midwater depths, 600-3000ft deep, and how these communities respond to environmental variability at the ocean’s surface. Elan uses a combination of sampling methods, including diet analysis, trawling, and scientific sonar (active acoustics), each providing a different perspective that can be combined to provide a broader understanding of these important oceanic communities. A better understanding of the dynamics of these midwater forage communities will provide insights into the behavior of top predators and improve our ability to sustainably manage and conserve their populations.
On this R/V Falkor expedition, Elan is broadly responsible for helping to examine whether the White Shark Café is also characterized by an abundance of midwater forage organisms. He will assist with midwater trawling operations, counting and identifying fishes, squids, shrimps, and other interesting creatures, and with operation of shipboard active acoustics to quantify the density and distribution of midwater communities, and to inform target depths for trawling. These data will be used to determine whether the abundance and diversity of midwater forage communities sampled in waters inside and outside the White Shark Café are different, and to examine what characteristics of their habitat might be responsible for the observed differences.