Into Pribilof Canyon
by John Hocevar
July 29, 2007
This weekend we piloted submarines into Pribilof Canyon for the first time. Ever.
Yesterday, Michelle and David made the first dives, and came across a dense school of squid between 800 and 1,000 feet. Once they reached the bottom, they found the seafloor to be soft sediments scattered with numerous species of sea stars, shrimp, crab, arrowtooth flounder and other flatfish, anemones, and an enormous number of tiny unknown invertebrates.
Today, Timo and I made deeper dives to a similar area – silt bottom, teeming with life just under the surface. The entire seafloor is covered with depressions, holes, tracks, and bumps created by marine life no one has ever laid eyes on before. Once believed to be nearly featureless and uninhabited, the bottom of the ocean is now known to be home to a rich and dynamic web of life.
We were excited to find dozens of sea whips, cold water corals that provide habitat for brittle stars, basket stars, shrimp, and even commercially important fish. Most fun – and most surprising – was an enormous school of bright red Pacific Ocean perch, which swarmed all over our subs. The fish got into every nook and cranny, checking out the lights, the cameras, the manipulator arms, and even the sampling basket. They also spent a lot of time seeming to look into the subs’ plexiglass domes, making US feel like we were inside fishbowls being stared at by the fish instead of the other way around. Well, we were on their turf, so I suppose that’s only fair!
We covered a lot of area this weekend, spending about twelve hours on the seafloor. After months of talking to scientists in the lead-up to this expedition, I was happy to see that we were able to get some of the images that researchers had told us they hoped we’d be able to obtain – from the Pacific Ocean perch that can be found on some restaurant menus to far more obscure creatures like bryozoans, hydroids, snailfish, and even a giant melon whelk.
Not bad for our first two days! Tomorrow, we’ll try using the ROV, a tethered robot which will enable us to collect video down to 3,300 feet – from the comfort of the ship’s bridge. One great thing about the ROV is that the whole crew can see it all on the video monitor as it happens, with a new discovery in every frame.
Stay tuned for more pictures!