Self-contained Hagfish Environment for Life-cycle Learning

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Project Type: 

Students Involved:

Lindsey Hathway UNH - Department of Mechanical Engineering
Aimee Oberhaus University of New Hampshire
Sara Thomas UNH - Department of Mechanical Engineering

Faculty Advisors:

Stacia Sower UNH - Department of Molecular, Cellular & Biomedical Sciences
Mickie Powell UNH - Department of Molecular, Cellular & Biomedical Sciences

Millions of pounds of Atlantic hagfish, Myxine glutinosa, are captured along the Atlantic coast every year. However, very little is known about the lifecycle of these primitive vertebrates and they remain one of the few animals that scientists have not been able to successfully breed in captivity. Many biologists, fishermen and environmentalists would benefit from information about hagfish reproduction and lifecycle. The specific objective of this project was to design and build a self-contained habitat that is suitable for containing hagfish for two to six months at a time in their natural environment, located 400 ft. below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

The team developed a habitat design that consisted of three 55-gallon plastic barrels contained in a truss framing system. A finite element analysis of the design was combined with data about material degradation in saltwater to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective framing materials. Ultimately, the frame was constructed of pressure treated lumber and secured together with stainless steel bolts. Holes were drilled in each barrel to allow the seawater to easily circulate through the barrels. An incident in which one barrel was damaged in transport prompted the group to add railings to the habitat to protect the ends of the barrels.

The habitat appeared to be adequately robust and functional in the ocean. However, the deep-water mooring/buoy system failed and the habitat was lost during the second trial period. The team has made several suggestions for improvements to the mooring system and feel that this habitat could be successful with an adequate buoy and anchor system.


Available from the National Sea Grant Library (use NHU number to search) or NH Sea Grant


  • Project S.H.E.L.L.: Self-contained hagfish environment for life-cycle learning (2002). Lindsey Hathway, Aimee Oberhaus and Sara Thomas. Advisors: Stacia Sower and Mickie Powell.