OSU Researchers Face Crabotage on the Pacific

Those who have lived in the Pacific Northwest for a while know that locals have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with fault lines and volcanoes. While it’s historically justified, the everyday PNW geek has nothing on the crew of the research vessel Thompson.   

Seeing as Thompson is 250 miles off the Oregon coast, research is a nonstop occurrence. Specifically, the crew is researching the undersea Axial Seamount, the most active submarine volcano in the Northeastern Pacific region.   

But surprisingly, the Pacific ocean isn’t the largest part of the struggle on the Thompson. Ironically, the largest struggle the crew faces: crabs.   

“We expect sabotage, crab sabotage. Because there’s obviously a battle going on between Jason and the crabs at Axial Seamount,” Oregon State University volcanologist Bill Chadwick, the head scientist on the ship, said to OPB.  

Among the pieces of equipment used to study the Axial Seamount is the ROV, short for “Remotely Operated Vehicle,” lovingly named “Jason” by the crew. Jason uses its titanium arms with small pinching claws to pick up items on the ocean floor, move about sensors and perform highly detailed, delicate tasks.   

“It looks kind of easy, but it’s actually really hard,” Chadwick said.   

Enter the Crab  

The issue began when Jason was tasked with moving a dome from the seafloor and dropping it gently over a seismometer. This shield is designed to prevent the currents under the ocean’s surface from affecting the readings of the seismometer.   

But an orange spider crab, roughly two feet across, had different plans. He set up camp on top of the seismometer – and if waves affect the readings, it’s certain that a two-foot crab would as well.   

“I didn’t put the crab into my dive plan,” said Chadwick.   

So they started working on solutions. The first option was “the Slurp” – Jason’s in-built vacuum hose, because his pincers could potentially damage the sensor when trying to extract the crab – who became known as “Moriarty,” and you’ll see why soon.  

And thus Tito Collasius, Jason’s pilot, uttered a phrase that would live in the halls of excellence for centuries to come – “Stand by to slurp.”  

“That’s for you buddy,” he said, as he moved Jason’s claw toward Moriarty.   

“We’re coming after you,” Chadwick added.  

But Moriarty scuttled, avoided “slurpification,” and evaded the claw as Collasius said, “His name is Moriarty.” An apt name for a villainous nature. 

Eventually, Moriarty’s mad genius was thwarted by the titanium claws of fate, and he was unwillingly removed from the seismometer.   

”They ended up grabbing it by the legs and flying away with it. It was so funny,” recalled Kelly Chadwick, the data logger on duty at the time.   

Moriarty is still alive and well, dropped roughly 65 feet away from the scene of his greatest crime. For you see, that was only the first step in his dastardly plan. Soon, Jason’s propulsion thrusters failed, and then the seismometer’s shield just … disappeared.   

Pete Liljegren, a Lamont-Doherty engineer, recovered the shield-less float – and Moriarty was suspect No. 1. “I think that was the same instrument where Tito got in the altercation with the crab before he put the shield on,” he said. “The motive is there.”   

Liljegren’s theory seemed to be at odds with other scientists and engineers aboard, each of which had their own theories.   

“It had to be the seal. Crabs are good – but they don’t have any strength. The seal, now, is a clever animal,” said another member of the crew.   

Engineer Ted Koczynski had a different theory. “Nah,” he said, shaking his head sagely, “It had to be the seal. Crabs are good – but they don’t have any strength. The seal, now, is a clever animal,” he replied.   

But Chadwick wasn’t sold. “At the last benchmark, there was a crab waiting for us there …taunting us.”    

By Ethan Hauck 

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