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
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
In the 100-degree heat here in Washington, DC, the daily weather reports from Dutch Harbor, Alaska showing highs of 50 degrees seem surreal, yet in just over two weeks, that’s where I’ll be as we kick off the Bering Sea Expedition aboard Greenpeace’s magnificent ship, M/V Esperanza. In recent years, virtually all of my time aboard ships on research expeditions has been in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, so my wardrobe consisted of little more than a couple pairs of shorts and some thoughtfully-selected marine-themed T-shirts. But Alaska is different, and the Bering Sea is different still. The cool temperatures, wind, and damp chill of the fog combine to mean only one thing: Shopping. Read more
During our long road trip to the university where my daughter would soon begin her first year, I was recounting that same period of my life and the fact that my parents had really wanted me to be a doctor….an M.D., that is. I hated to disappoint them, but I tried to explain that I wanted to pursue my true passion, marine biology.They were troubled that I’d never be able to make a “real” career out of this passing fancy, but 30 years later, I suppose I have. My daughter chimed in, “But you are a doctor. You’re an ocean doctor!” Funny, but I had never thought of it that way. Yet I have spent much of my career studying and diagnosing what ails the oceans and advocating policies to heal them. So I looked at her and said, “I like that. I think I might use that some day.” So, here it is — please accept my warmest welcome to OceanDoctor’s blog, dedicated to the wonder of the oceans, being true to your dreams, and, of course, my daughter.
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