Underwater flight

by Jessica Miller

August 8, 2007

Hi my name is Kenneth Lowyck, welcome onboard the Deepworker 6 and I will be your pilot for today. We will be traveling down to the bottom of the Bering Sea to a depth of 1200 ft or 365 meters. Please fasten you seatbelt; put your table in the upright position. The exits are nowhere. Sadly there will be no in flight catering service provided during this dive; the entertainment today is all around you.

Once we get the all clear from the Esperanza we start our decent, first by emptying the ballast tank and then by electrical rotors. Keeping visual on Deepworker 7 we leave the surface and start heading down together. After a few minutes the clear greenish glow around us starts making room for the darkness of the deep sea. At this point we switch on our big lights and keep heading down. We are now at 300 ft or 91 meters and are experiencing some turbulence; actually we are getting attacked by huge group of squid. Some are tiny some are about 50 cm long. They obviously feel threatened by the sub, or we interrupted their afternoon tea party, because all of them, big and small, swim quickly up to the dome and squirt ink at us. Some of the bigger ones actually try to bite and hold on to the sub.

We continue to dive deeper and after another 10 minutes or so we see on our sonar that we are approaching the sea bottom. Depth is now over a thousand feet or 305 meters. We start slowing our decent and once the bottom is visual we settle down on a clear spot. The water around us is teaming with all kinds of life forms, most of them no larger than our fingernail. There are plenty of comb jellyfish around and the amazing thing about them is that they make these florescent lights while they swim with the current. The bottom is rather flat with here and there a boulder or a rock. Moving the submarine around we see that there are corals and sponges all around, exactly what we hoped to find here. Moving the sub closer to one habitat we see that beside sponges and corals the bottom is covered with tiny starfish. Getting the camera in position we notice that the manipulator arm isn’t functioning properly, one of the joints seems to be blocked which means we can not extend the arm to its fullest. That will be a problem when we want to take some samples later. We first spend some time filming what is around us, some red rockfish come swimming by and here and there we spot a juvenile King crab. The occasional squid, now a bit less hostile, posses for the camera and we are getting some great footage from a place no one ever been down to.

e for some sampling
Opening the basket was relatively easy with the arm but taking samples will be something completely different now that we found that part of the arm isn’t working. However by maneuvering the sub to a nearly vertical position and driving the nose in to the soil (I’m sure this isn’t in the text books!), we manage to collect some great samples (it will turn out later that the coral we just collected will make the scientist on board quite ecstatic). After securing the samples in our basket, we are now getting orders through the underwater comms to start our transect, travelling at a certain speed keeping a fixed bearing. (If you look to you right you will see the lights of the other Deepworker some 100 meters away) We are now at 1200 feet or 360 meters and will start heading up on the light slope of the canyon.  Along the way we are filming constantly what we see in front of us. Plenty of corals and sponges around, loads of starfish, shrimp, we see cod swimming by, some Pollock (fish), different kind of flat fish and the occasional octopus. And then we go off transect to film something in more detail. We see a Skate(ray fish) hunting and we managed to film it as it jumps on its prey(probably a crab) and starts to devourer it. We also film some remarkable starfish (totally white with a pink-reddish hood) sitting neatly upon one of the stone (Later, the scientist told me that this starfish hasn’t been classified yet and that the only picture they had of it was on the deck of a ship after it came up with the by-catch. There was no footage, until now, of it in its environment.

There plenty of other fish around which we managed to capture on film, also some snails, sea cucumbers and we also spot some adult King crab (these crabs can have a leg span up to 1.8 meters)

Prepare for take-off
We are now about three hours in the dive and are at 875 feet (266 meters), when top side calls us to start preparing for our recovery. Apparently there is bad weather heading our way. So please make sure you seatbelt is properly secured, we are now starting our ascent. We leave bottom using our thrusters and we see the seafloor disappearing beneath us. Switching of all the lights we are now floating in total darkness. Now and then you can see light flashing up from squid, jellyfish and other underwater creatures, kinda like underwater fire works. After some time the darkness disappears which means we are now reaching surface,
time to switch of the camera.

Once on the surface we notice two things, one that there is some swell which means we are bobbing around quit a bit, and two that there are dolphins (Dalls Porpoise) swimming around the sub. Quickly I turn the camera on and manage to capture them playing around the sub, coming close to the dome and then quickly swimming away. Beautiful mammals that look in coloring rather like Orca’s with their distinctive black and white markings. A few minutes later they are gone, and many more minutes after that we finally get hooked on by the ships crane and lifted on deck of the Esperanza.

I hoped you enjoyed your dive and would like to thank you for choosing Greenpeace Diving Operations. Until a next time?

 – Ken

Kenneth Lowyck is the Action Unit Coordinator for Greenpeace Canada.  He is one of the sub pilots on this expedition, and is leading the SCUBA components of our work in the canyons.  We believe that Kenneth’s dive to 1930 feet in Zhemchug Canyon made him the deepest diving Belgian on record.

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