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Home > Research & Collections > News > Grab That Basket Star, Please

Grab That Basket Star, Please

The DISCO project sets sail with Exploration Vessel Nautilus

A basket star (Gorgonocephalus eucnemis). Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


It was 2 am. Dean Pentcheff was bleary, but still awake, watching the live feed from the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus on his computer.

One of the underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) was whirring away off the coast of the Channel Islands, streaming video from its front-facing camera. Pentcheff watched closely as it approached a vast field of basket stars (genus Gorgonocephalus), and he quickly logged onto the Barcode of Life Data System. Had anyone entered this species’ DNA into the database? Yes, but none from the West Coast, which was a significant gap in the data.

“Pick one up!” Pentcheff entered into the real-time chat log for the Scientists Ashore program, where researchers like him follow along and have the opportunity to use the rare collecting skills of these robots.

The ROV used its robotic arm to retrieve one of the basket stars, and in a few weeks’ time, NHMLA’s staff will be extracting a genetic barcode sequence from it for deposit in the Barcode of Life Data System.

This was all possible thanks to a new collaboration between NHMLA's Diversity Initiative for the Southern California Ocean (DISCO) and deep-sea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard.

Dr. Ballard's operation, the Ocean Exploration Trust, is sailing the Nautilus in the Channel Islands this summer, exploring the biology and geology of the area. The ship is designed to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, using remotely piloted vehicles giving a continuous video stream of the exploration, along with the ability to collect specimens and bring them back to the surface.

Pentcheff and other members of the DISCO team routinely go on collecting trips along the coast looking for marine invertebrates like sea stars, crabs, and worms.

DISCO Program Coordinator Dean Pentcheff will be joining the Nautilus on-board from July 20 to 23 as a visiting scientist. While there, he'll be learning more about the on-board operations and working to expand the relationship of NHM with the Ocean Exploration Trust.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to work with this great organization,” said Pentcheff.

You can follow along with the expedition, any time day or night, at As well as viewing the video feed in real time, you can listen to the discussion and dialog between the ROV operators and on-board scientists, and submit questions in real time to the on-duty staff.


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