Earth Science Week Classroom Activities

Mystery Mollusc

Activity Source:

“Problem- Based Career Activity for the Mystery Mollusc NOAA Explore Poster”
Written by Joyce E. Patterson Stark, NOAA Office of Education and Sustainable Development

Problem-based learning is an inquiry technique that involves students working cooperatively in groups solving real-world problems. Students learn how to assess what they know, identify what they need to know, gather information and come to a conclusion. The teachers are the coaches or facilitators who give only guidance on how to approach the problem. This problem-based career activity follows similar steps used in problem-based learning models. Teacher note: If your computer lab is not available, copies could be made of the information and distributed to the groups. These sites were selected to help solve the problem more efficiently. The teacher needs to guide the development of the problem statement around a career theme. Mystery Mollusc Poster

Download the Mystery Mollusc Poster

Read and discuss the problem-based scenario. Discuss it with your group (2-4 members)


In February 2000, Dr. Bruce Robinson organized a marine science expedition to study the organisms living in the Monterey Bay area. He invited scientists, research technicians, graduate postdoctoral and students from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute as well as scientists from U.C.L.A. A film crew was also invited.

The ocean is divided into upper, midwater and benthic regions. The midwater region is below the photic zone but above the benthic boundary. It is the largest living space on Earth. MBARI is one of the few institutions with the tools to study the unknown depths of “inner space”. This area is inhabited mostly by gelatinous animals that feed on particulate matter from the photic zone. The scientists’ objective was to explore the biological organisms that lived in the midwater region although some of the dives did go 3300-3500 meters to the bottom.

The research vessel, R/V Western Flyer is shaped like a catamaran and can carry the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) Tiburon in its belly. For launching, the moon pool doors are opened and the ROV Tiburon is lowered into the water by a crane. Once in the water, the submersible is controlled by an on-board control room in the Western Flyer. Pilots and scientists sit in the control room to view real-time video images as the ROV is maneuvered through different depths of water.

With the use of submersible vehicles, such as the ROV Tiburon, new creatures are continually being discovered. One of the highlights of this expedition was the discovery of a new mollusc!

In 2003, another exploration team led by scientists from the Monterey Bay Nation Marine Sanctuary (NOAA) collaborated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to explore an undersea volcano, Davidson’s Seamount . This seamount is as tall as the Sierra Mountains (9000’) and is located 80 miles southwest of Monterey. Their goal was to characterize the biological communities that live on or near the seamount. The mystery mollusc was found again and photographed “in situ” with the background later darkened in the photo lab. (Refer to the NOAA Explore Poster)

Your Mission:

  1. List what is known. Make a list of everything you know from the scenario and write it in one column. Observe the NOAA Explore Mystery Mollusc poster. Make a list of the characteristics which will describe this new species in a second column. What other information does the poster provide that was not discussed in the scenario?
  2. Develop a problem statement. In this case, each group is trying to determine which careers were involved in discovering and photographing this mystery mollusc. Another problem statement could also include which type of mollusc it could be or how the new species could be identified.
  3. Prepare a list of questions. Think of some questions that will help you solve the problem of determining which careers were involved. (examples) What does an oceanographer study? What is a marine biologist? Why would the scientists classify the new organism as a mollusc? How do scientists identify these creatures? Does the Western Flyer have a captain? Who pilots the ROV Tiburon?

The previous steps should be done before going to the websites provided for this activity.

Explore the websites looking for different types of careers that were directly or indirectly associated with these expeditions. Remember that expeditions are a team effort. One person is not responsible for the discovery of the mystery mollusc.

Make a list of the possible jobs associated with these expeditions and briefly describe them.

Choose two of the jobs that interest you the most. Create a Venn Diagram to show how these jobs are similar and how they are different.

Write a paragraph explaining why these careers were selected.

Make a hypothesis about which type of mollusc was discovered. You will need to know the characteristics of a mollusc first. Explain the reason(s) for your decision.

  1. After the individual groups have completed their analysis, each group should present their conclusions to the class for discussion.

Hints for Careers

Davidson’s Seamount NOAA/MBARI Expedition 2002

R/V Western Flyer
[R/V Western Flyer ]( western-flyer/)

Building the R/V Western Flyer

Virtual Tour of R/V Western Flyer

ROV Tiburon
ROV Tiburon 2

Crew of the R/V Western Flyer and Pilots of the ROV Tiburon

ROV Tiburon Improvements

OceanAGE Careers
Ocean Careers to Inspire, Another Generation of Explorers

SeaGrant Marine Careers

Southwest Fisheries Science Center
Careers in Marine Biology :Outlooks

Ocean Facts on Ocean Science Careers

National Marine Mammal Laboratory
Strategies for Pursuing a Career in Marine Mammal Science

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Careers in the Marine Science Field

University of Delaware SeaGrant College Program
Marine Science Center

Alaska SeaGrant Program
Marine Advisory Program

SeaGrant Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary
General Information about Marine Careers

Underwater Photography
MATE, Marine Advanced Technology Education Center

NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps

Ocean Science Career Information

Discovery of Mystery Mollusc, February 2000

Dr. Bruce Robinson, Senior Scientist
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Dr. William Hamner, Director UCLA Marine Science Center
MSC Site

Dr. George I. Matsumoto
Senior Education and Research Specialist
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Rob Sherlock, Research Technician
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Dr. Steven Haddock, postdoctoral fellow
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Dr. Kevin Raskoff
California State University, Monterey Bay

Film Crew (Jonathan Grupper, Mark Knobil and Kathy Turko)
Kim Reisenbichler, senior research technician
Jessica Silguero, graduate research assistant
Peggy Hamner, senior research technician

Hints for Identification of Mystery Mollusc

Midwater Ecology and Biology
Monterey Bay Aquarium and Research Institute

MBARI 1999 Projects: Midwater Research

Marine Biology Images
(Includes NOAA Photo Library)

Classification of Gelatinous Zooplankton

Bioluminescence Web Page

Ocean Link:Mollusca