2300 feet before breakfast

“What time is it?” I mumbled, bleary-eyed and exhausted. “4:45 – time to get up!” Karl said cheerfully. I stumbled out of bed, still sleep deprived from Saturday’s late night dive. We had planned to do another dive on Sunday night, but both of us still felt wiped and decided to hold off until Monday morning.

At 6:12 am Karl closed the hatch, and we started our descent with the first rays of daylight still illuminating the surface at 1,000 feet. An eerie greenish-blue hue filled the viewport, and I craned my neck forward to watch the vanishing surface light turn to black as we reached 1500 feet. “So what depth are we going to level off at?” I asked, figuring it would be another 2000-foot dive. “I was thinking a couple hundred feet below 2000,” Karl replied nonchalantly. “Oh. Well, I really think we should have discussed this before,” I retorted with a perceptible hint of annoyance and apprehension in my voice. I continued, “How about 2100 and then we’ll work our way down? Don’t ask me why, it just makes me nervous to go straight to 2300, okay?”

Wonky-eye Jewel Squid

Wonky-eye Jewel Squid

At 2100 feet, Karl released the slightest bit of air into the ballast tanks. It was perfect timing as a squid appeared in front of the viewport, quickly drifting out of sight as the sub continued its descent. Karl blew more air into the tanks and as we reached eye-level, Karl called out, “It’s a wonky-eye!” referring to a wonky-eye jewel squid. This dazzling creature is the royal queen of the cephalopods; a cloak of photophores (light-emitting organs) gives the appearance of a diamond-studded squid. Although it at first glance appears to be a paragon of mother nature’s artistic form, the wonky-eye jewel squid possesses an unusually large eye that mars its otherwise perfect symmetry (not visible in the photo to the left).

We descended slowly with the squid’s movements and found ourselves perched just above the sandy slopes at 2200 feet. The topography at this depth is stark; for most of our dive, we motored perpendicular to a sharp slope that from my distorted view in the dome viewport, looked as though we were hovering over a giant globe of sand.

Gaper Fish

Gaper Fish

No less than two minutes after hitting bottom, Karl spotted a peach-colored gaper fish. Wearing a perpetual frown, the gaper glared suspiciously at the sub. A frilled, white beard outlined its face, which had been compressed sometime during its evolutionary history. As we inched closer, it lifted its flat pelvic fins and waddled awkwardly before settling down again.

Vertical Fish

Vertical Fish

Just beyond the gaper, a slender eel undulated towards the sub, rhythmically opening its mouth as it moved. A similar looking creature, just off to our left, lethargically slid through the open water. The abyssal shadows were also specked with bright flashes of light; fish hanging vertically in the water with silver coats of scales would eye us from a respectful distance before darting away, creating constant flares of light as we drifted along the sand. Octopus 1-wmKarl spotted a large octopus emerging from its creviced home. We patiently waited as it gathered its resolve to slither down the steep drop-off in search of the morning’s meal. After several minutes, the octopus curled its tentacles back and smoothly lifted itself off the bottom. Extending its arms forward, it effortlessly proceeded down the slope, disappearing into the shadows. This profusion of animals at 2200 feet was a pleasant surprise; it’s not uncommon for Karl to come back from long dives without having any major encounter.

Siphonophore 3

Partially coiled siphonophore

Siphonophore 6-wm

Extended siphonophore

We weren’t expecting bonanza to continue. But once again, our expectations were exceeded! While motoring along the sandy bottom, I heard Karl call out, “Siphonophore! Probably the biggest one I’ve ever seen of this kind.” Siphonophores are kinda hard to explain – they’re what you might call a superorganism. Although comprised of separate colonies, each one is a specialized organ that cannot function without its counterparts. An oddity for sure, and one that deserves further exploration in a future post. Anyway – as we approached it, the creature was coiled but slowly expanding. For most of the encounter, it remained fully extended with its blue, featherlike head, nodding as we filmed.

DSD 4-wm

Deepsea Spanish Dancer

During this time, we had managed to reach 2300 feet and continued on, just a little farther down the slope than before. It didn’t take long for another creature to greet the sub; a Deepsea Spanish Dancer waved hello as we motored past. Turning the sub around, we watched as its pleated flaps moved hypnotically up and down. Its body was so translucent that I  had a hard time finding focus; however, its orange intestines gave me something to latch on to.

In just the first hour of our dive, we had chanced upon the majority of the creatures we would see. It wasn’t until our ascent at 900 feet or so that Karl spotted a flurry of activity illuminated by the bright sunlight radiating from the surface. From the passenger sphere, I looked out on what appeared to be a gaping hole in a patch of sand; it was actually an enormous school of small fish. The furious cloud of fish darted aggressively to the left, pausing as if considering its options, then funneled itself into a river that streamed down the sandy slope before us. A sharp turn of its course, and our view was suddenly flooded with the blinding reflections of these gleaming fish. I kept waiting for them to disperse, but I had underestimated the colossal size of this swarming school.

Fish School 2-wm

School of fish at 900 feetFish School 6-wm

For the next thirty seconds, I half-heartedly tried to change the ISO and aperture on the camera to get a better shot, but I was enthralled by the scene before me. All of sudden, the cloud parted, and as I looked around – they were gone – disappeared, poof, outta here.  Karl drove around the area a bit more, but there was no sign of them, other than the murky water that was left in the wake of their torrential downpour. How is it that such a monstrous aggregation can materialize and disintegrate so rapidly?

In the past two dives, we’ve gotten more footage than we know what to do with. Luckily, we’ve got three weeks of down time since I’m visiting family back in the states. We won’t be back in the water until the second week of June. Until then, I’ll be posting video footage as it’s edited!

Tinselfish-wm

Tinselfish we encountered around 1500 during the ascent

Limestone 2-wm

Huge limestone boulder that harbored a colorful array of barnacles

Rattail mouth-wm

Rattail fish exhibiting odd behavior

Eel-wm

Small eel we encountered right at 2200 feet

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~ by twonakedapes on May 19, 2013.

One Response to “2300 feet before breakfast”

  1. Thanks for sharing. Awesome photos and descriptions. I felt as though I were down there with ya’ll.

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