Stranded in Phoenix and Microscopic Snails

Quater Craig is away at a workshop and sent this message to post:

I am stranded in the Phoenix airport as I write this post.  I am about as far from the ocean as I could be in the continental U.S.  But this temporary delay is well worth what lies at the other end of my journey.  I won’t reveal what that is yet, but my thoughts for the last month have been consumed.  I am making a religious pilgrimage if you will.  Visiting something that marks a seminal moment in ocean exploration.   

Perhaps its the new home or my imminent proximity to deep-sea "Mecca", but I am left thinking about how I arrived at this place.  Not stranded in Phoenix, I have US Airways to thank for that, but rather studying, writing about, and exploring the deep sea.  Big moves always make me nostalgic.  So my first post at Discovery Channel is how I became a deep-sea scientist.

I never realized that someday I would actually be a deep-sea biologist.  I dreamed of being an astronaut, medical doctor, robotics engineer, fighter pilot, or an animator. My dream of exploring the ocean blue would not come till later.  It was not that the ocean wasn’t calling or that I wasn’t drawn to it. The most vivid memories I have child are vacations to the Gulf Coast, fishing with my father, exploring the beach, and of course Jacque Cousteau and the Calypso Club.  I have always been drawn to water: rivers, ponds, streams, lakes, rain, and the ocean.  For whatever reason, I just wasn’t listening.  In college, after a failed attempt at pre-med, here I am.

The story is not that simple and deep-sea biology is sort of a beautiful accident.  I learned how to scuba dive as undergraduate.  After finishing my open water course at a lake in Arkansas, I wondered how I could get paid to do this.  Well not necessarily paid to dive in a turbid man-made lake but scuba dive preferably in a wonderful warm tropical location.  To realize my dream I needed experience, so I applied to work with a researcher conducting reef fish counts in St. Croix.  As you might already expect, so did every other undergraduate and I didn’t get the position.  When I applied for the summer position, I needed to list other alternative researchers in the program to work with.  Admittedly, I didn’t read through the other descriptions too carefully. I instead scanned quickly for any description that even briefly mentioned the ocean. 

My "alternate" research advisor phoned me asking if I was interested in working in his lab for the summer.  I asked exactly what I would be doing.  He stated matter-of-factly that I would be measuring microscopic deep-sea snails all summer long.  The work would be tedious.  He wasn’t a very good salesperson.  But living in a big east coast city for the summer as opposed to living in the rural South working in a factory was an easy decision.  I spent eight mind numbing weeks measuring 100’s of tiny snails.  But my advisor’s passion for deep-sea science and scientific investigation was contagious.  To further solidify my geekiness and reference one of my favorite movies, it was the question that drove me. I could not consume enough deep-sea information to satiate my appetite.  I eventually became his graduate student and measured 1000’s of tiny snails. 

Here I am several years later with the same appetite, some of the same questions, a few new ones, and the opportunity to share them all with you.

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.