Until that tranquil morning in late June 1974, the sum total of my SCUBA diving experience had been in a landlocked state, in a stifling, moldy indoor YMCA pool in the Philadelphia suburbs and a Pennsylvania quarry, flooded with icy soup-green water. Barely comprehending the new world of pungent humidity, mountainous afternoon cumulus clouds, and lush tangles of flowering succulents I experienced at water’s edge during my first visit to the Florida Keys, I was wholly unprepared later that morning when I found myself seated in sugar-white sand with 40 feet of warm, clear aquamarine water above my head. As impossibly multi-colored fish passed slowly within reach before my wide 15-year-old eyes, my gaze broadened as I marveled at the towering jetties of coral around us, living layer cakes of corals upon corals, brown and mustard rock-like structures, encrusted with brilliant red, violet and orange coralline fans and branches, swaying in the warm, nourishing current and, like eager spring blossoms, reaching toward the dancing sunlight scattered on the surface above. Read more
It’s hard to get a big smile out of Ken Lowyck, Greenpeace’s capable Action Unit Coordinator (and sub pilot) based in Toronto. I snapped the photo to the right and captured Ken’s pre-dive excitement last summer on August 1, just minutes before he was launched on the dive to 700 feet in Pribilof Canyon in the Bering Sea that resulted in one of the expedition’s most important discoveries. I imagine the modest smile that appeared on his face has returned today as Greenpeace has announced that the tiny, unassuming white sponge he retrieved on that dive was never before documented by Homo sapiens, and may well herald future announcements of other new species from the expedition. Read more
Read any authority’s advice about blogs and you’ll see at the top of the list: “Blog regularly.” Even for someone who enjoys writing as much as I do, I don’t believe in writing for writing’s sake — I like to share original experiences and ideas, not just rehash stale news. Still, I’ve experienced quite a few blog-worthy adventures in the four months since my last post shortly after the Bering Sea Expedition, but haven’t written a single word. Read more
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
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
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
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