International flavour enhances Japanese research cruise

Fish scientist, Masato Moteki, provides a Japanese perspective on the social aspects of ship-based research.

The Umitaka Maru off Dumont d'Urville Station
The Umitaka Maru off Dumont d'Urville Station
Photo: TUMSAT
The Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census (CEAMARC) research cruise onboard the Japanese vessel Umitaka Maru, was very different from the previous experiences of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology (TUMSAT) team. In particular, this cruise was coloured with both anxious (at least in the beginning) and glorious aspects, which were no doubt because of the multinational composition of scientific members on the cruise.  

Of the 28 scientists who participated in this cruise, 18 were Japanese, four Australian, three French, one Belgian, one Argentinean, and one Canadian. Foreign students and scientists alike had been onboard the Umitaka Maru several times in the past. However, this was the first time that such a diverse number of scientists from five countries were onboard at one time.  

First, from Australia, was Dr. Graham Hosie, the CEAMARC leader; this means he was a key player as well as chief villain in planning this cruise! He loved Japan and sake with a passion. There was also Dr Dhugal Lindsay, who worked for a Japanese institution, spoke Japanese fluently, and even wrote haiku in Japanese. Lastly were Margaret Lindsay and Andrea Walters, PhD students from the University of Tasmania, who had fantastic smiles and were popular among all the young Japanese students.  

A United Nations of scientists share dinner on the Umitaka Maru.
A United Nations of scientists share dinner on the Umitaka Maru.
Photo: TUMSAT
French scientist, Dr Philippe Koubbi, was an ichthyologist (fish scientist), like me. He was a reliable person and also a master of the Café de France (to be described later). Patrice Pruvost sent reports of our activities on the Umitaka Maru to France and published updates on a French website every day. Then there was Eric Tavenier. He was always very funny. Once we heard the sound of his laughter, it was not easily forgotten.  

From Belgium was Jean-Henri Hecq, the most senior but also the most determined to learn Japanese mannerisms. Upon embarking the Umitaka Maru, he quickly became the best among the foreign scientists at using chopsticks.  

Dr Russell Hopcroft, from Canada, was an expert at taking exquisite photos of beautiful zooplankton. Lastly, our Argentinean, Veronica Fuentes, was a young scientist studying gelatinous plankton with Dr Hopcroft and Dr Lindsay. 

You can imagine how interesting the meal times among this multinational group of scientists were. On the Umitaka Maru most of the meals were basically Japanese food; usually variations of steamed rice and fish. On a nearly one-month-long cruise, an unpalatable meal could be a source of stress. However, our stewards (cooks) tried hard to plan every meal and menu, even though such efforts were likely a bit inconvenient. The result was that every meal time was eventful, filled with the exchange of laughter and jokes in English, French, and Japanese.  

Dinner on the Umitaka Maru - chirashi sushi (vinegared rice with pieces of vegetable, raw fish, and thin strips of egg)
Dinner on the Umitaka Maru - chirashi sushi (vinegared rice with pieces of vegetable, raw fish, and thin strips of egg)
Photo: TUMSAT
Some research ships are 'dry ships' where drinking is prohibited, but the Umitaka-maru was a 'wet ship'. This is not to say that it had a bar (Umitaka Maru was a TUMSAT training vessel before she was a research vessel). However, secret bars were hosted in many cabins. The busiest place was the Café de France mentioned above. This bar opened between observations, and we knew it was open when we heard Eric laughing. English, French, and Japanese were spoken at Café de France. For the Japanese team members, who mostly spoke little English and French, this bar also served as a good foreign language class. 

After 26 days on 'the road to Antarctica', we arrived back in Hobart, Australia, on 17 February 2008. Consideration and respect for others are necessary in leading a multinational life. We could list what we accomplished scientifically on this cruise, such as 47 and 35 hauls by two types of trawl systems, which were great achievements. More importantly, though, the dependability evidenced among the scientists during this cruise expanded into international, cooperative sample analysis afterwards and resulted in the production of many important scientific contributions. This relationship is expected to continue during subsequent collaborative programs, such as the upcoming CEAMARC-2. 

MASATO MOTEKI

Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Japan

This page was last modified on 18 May 2010.