I awakened at 4am in my bunk to something strange. The ship was still. After enduring two days of pounding seas and gale-force winds, we had at last arrived at the island of Unalaska and were nearing the port of Dutch Harbor. A few hours later, juggling my cameras, I tried in vain to capturethe profound tranquility of that early Alaskan morning as dawn’s gentle glow painted small swaths of green across the surrounding mountains atop a canvas of deep blues and grays.An incredible journey was nearing its end, and I was reluctant to let go. So was the wildlife. In a moment, the morning silence was replaced by shrieks from the deck below. They were shrieks of joy as once again we were surrounded by whales as a pod of humpbacks divided itself evenly and passed closely along both sides of us, filling the morning air with their spouts and flukes. Read more
It’s the fantasy of many a marine biologist and explorer. To catch a glimpse of the giant squid, alive,and in its natural habitat: The deep ocean. Giant squid have been scientifically documented at a size of up to an incredible 43 feet long based on specimens that have washed ashore. I’ve seen one such specimen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Laying there pickled and motionless in its sterile white display case, it was hard to imagine this animal rocketing about the dark depths, living up to its reputation as a formidable predator. During one of his talks when I first met oceanographer Bob Ballard, he compared trying to find the giant squid from a submersible to trying to find an F-15 jet racing by, on a mountain top, at night, in a driving rainstorm, with a flashlight. Yesterday I had second thoughts about looking for the giant squid when one of its cousins, less than 2% of its size, disabled my sub and aborted my dive as I was descending through 1,300 feet.
They look strange, out of place — and they are. Because they’re not from around here. The odd-shaped stones and boulders that pepper the flat, dark, silty bottom here at nearly 1,800 feet look like meteorites, each surrounded by a wide, shallow crater. They’re not from outer space, but many have traveled a vast distance on Earth — hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles, over millennia. And now my sub is face to face with one of three I’d encounter on our first dive in Zhemchug Canyon yesterday (Saturday) afternoon.
Yesterday (Thursday) morning, Michelle Ridgway and I descended in the twin subs for our expedition’s penultimate dive on Pribilof Canyon.Michelle’s lights shone as tiny pinpoints in the distant green as the light from above slowly vanished and the cold darkness of Pribilof Canyon enveloped us.I had a rare moment amid the descent’s harried series of checks and radio transmissions to reflect on where I was, and Michelle’s lights reminded me of how tiny we were, trying to comprehend an enormous, complex tapestry in the darkness armed with only a pen light. But on this dive, some of those complexities began to tell a story. Read more
Continued favorable weather and few mechanical problems means that the team aboard Esperanza has been able to complete 14 manned submersible dives at Pribilof Canyon. On Saturday (August 4), Esperanza arrived at Zhemchug Canyon to explore this, the largest undersea canyon in the world, much larger than the Grand Canyon. Within the first few minutes of the deepest ROV dive yet, more than 3,000 feet down, the team discovered corals, including pink “bubblegum” corals along with other soft corals.
Earlier, during the final dives at Pribilof Canyon, the team documented numerous corals, but also evidence of extensive trawling damage in the area.
The Esperanza is carrying two manned submersibles, a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) and an international research team to the Bering Sea for a three week survey of Zhemchug and Pribilof Canyons,to map and document deepwater corals living at depths of more than 1,000 feet. The expedition was conceived of and is being led by Greenpeace.
Earlier in this blog I’ve confessed my darkest secret as a marine scientist: I get seasick. So my biggest fear of the Bering Sea is what the Bering Sea is fond of doing often — getting rough with the boats that dare to ply its waters. Yesterday, things got a bit rough for the Esperanza. A major front pushed through and seas kicked up from nearly flat to a confused sea state — wind-driven waves 4-5 feet heading one direction, a much larger swell, Penny the boatswain noting swells up to 12 feet, heading at a 45 degree angle. The result made for a rough ride. Awakened at 4am, I dashed up to my hideout, the video editing room, to make sure that our precious data stored inside several hard drives, were secured. I added some bungee to keep things from sliding. I tried to return to sleep, but it was fitful. Read more
Thanks to great weather, state-of-the-art equipment and a top-notch crew, it has been a productive weekend for the team aboard Esperanza which arrived on site at Pribilof Canyon Saturday morning (July 28) when David Guggenheim and Michelle Ridgway made the first tandem dive in two DeepWorker submarines into Pribilof canyon to a depth of just over 1,000 feet and began to document a fascinating diversity of life, including a variety of corals, anenomes, sponges and fish. On Sunday, the ship visited a second site in Pribilof Canyon where John Hocevar and Timo Marshall completed a successful tandem dive, documenting more corals and successfully collecting a number of specimens with DeepWorker’s manipulator arm for analysis by scientists around the world.
Already, the Greenpeace-led team has accumulated nearly 16 hours of bottom time (8 hours per sub), more than all of the previous research done in this region combined. The subs’ high-definition video cameras have already collected over 120 Gb of data. The subs are performing linear transects which will then be analyzed on the video. Twin lasers spaced 20 cm apart allow accurate analysis of the size of organisms encountered. Read more
When I used to teach marine science at Seacamp, a wonderful marine science camp in the Florida Keys, I always tried to impress upon my students (especially the ones reluctant to get into the water) that I always saw something new every time I went diving or snorkeling. This axiom has held true my entire life, but with a submarine and the deep waters it reaches, it seems that I see something new every 5 minutes. Read more
We departed Dutch Harbor at 4pm Alaska Time today. It’s after 11pm now, still plenty of daylight, as we head north to Pribolof Canyon for our first dive in the morning. I’ll be one of the pilots, so I hope to get some sleep soon. As we headed north away from the Aleutians, there was a steady stream of announcements from the bridge over the intercom: “Whales, port side. Whales, starboard side. Whales, off the bow.” Humpback whales in groups of ten. We also saw fin whales. Read more
The Expedition to the Bering Sea officially got under way as the M/V Esperanza departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska on Friday, July 27 at 4pm Alaska Daylight Time. The Esperanza will steam through the night — for roughly 15 hours — to its first destination, Pribolof Canyon near the Pribolof Islands in the Bering Sea. The first DeepWorker dives are scheduled for Saturday morning.
In June, an international team of researchers and conservation specialists recently completed a week of intensive training and preparations for this Greenpeace-led expedition to Alaska’s Bering sea. The Esperanza is carrying two manned submersibles, a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) and the research team to the Bering Sea for a three week survey of Zhemchug and Pribilof Canyons, specifically to map and document deepwater corals living at depths of more than 1,000 feet. Read more
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