What's Down There - The Unexplored!

View from camera sled Seirios of ROV Deep Discoverer (Picture Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer)

The NOAA Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition has drawn to a close. After 31 very profitable dives, the Okeanos Explorer reached her homeport of North Kingstown, Rhode Island on Saturday, August 17. Now what is left to do depends upon the scientists, analyzing the information gathered and cataloguing what they find. The geologists are fascinated, the biologists are enthralled, all in all it was a successful trip.

I can't help feeling a little down though. Sitting here at home watching the expedition from our 42" TV screen has been extremely exciting and enlightening. I wish it didn't have to end. There is just something about watching live footage of the least explored areas of our world and not knowing what you might see next. You can be one of the first ones to see a rare find or new organism. The advantage is incredible.

But the Okeanos isn't the only exploration vessel on a mission. The Nautilus is currently undergoing an expedition through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, with a mission to map the seafloor, collect geological and biological samples, and video it all via HD cameras. They are equipped with Telepresence technology as well which allows us the same ability to follow along as we had with the Okeanos. So when one mission ends another is beginning or taking place, drawing us closer to understanding more and more of the amazing aspects of the worlds' oceans.

Coral covering a canyon ledge (Picture Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer)

Specimens At Such Depths

During the first leg of the Northeast U.S. Canyons Expediton, ROV D2 began its exploration in Block Canyon. At first the location was flat and substrate fine and sandy. The most prominent specimens at this point were red crabs, cutthroat eels, and witch flounder. There were virtually no evidence of coral or other marine invertabrates of that kind. This was often the case in a variety of canyons until they moved on up. With a rockier substrate in view, beautiful corals and sponges were noted. Dive 3 of leg 2 was conducted in Oceanographer canyon where they observed deep-water corals covering the side of a rock face which was the case in many of the dives. The target area would be steep and rocky or clearly sheered off and the surface of the rock on every which side would be covered in many coral species. Bamboo and black coral were the most observable, as well as cup coral, various sponges and sea anemone. On leg 2, Venus flytrap anemone occupied scattered boulders over an otherwise barren seafloor, retracting at even the slightest disturbance in the water.

White glass sponge (Picture Courtesy of NOAA Ocean Explorer)

I must admit I was surprised at first by the lack of fishes. One often thinks of the ocean as full of fishes but in these depths of 1,000 or more meters, fish were rare. A certain fact is deep-water fishes are less attractive in most cases than their tropical relatives and often bear a grisly or caricature-like appearance. One fish I found interesting was the fathead. Its body was bulbous at the head and tapered at the back like a tadpole, while its mouth looked like big lips spreading the width of its body. Despite my studies of marine biology in the past, I had never encountered this fellow and I found him very peculiar.

Then there were Black-bellied rose fish, Tongue fish, salp, lovely sea stars (my favorites in fact), barnacles, and et cetera, all of which I hope to discuss, if only briefly, at a later date. But for now I will wrap this post up by reiterating my earlier feelings: it is amazing to watch live imaging of the seafloor and I am completely grateful to the people who made it possible for us to view!

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