Kaikoura, New Zealand
It was a perfect evening for a dive. The moon was shining brightly and the waters were calm and pleasant, a rare pleasure for us. The objective of this evening's dive was to descend to the canyon wall and explore the three main habitats in which we believe Architeuthis might lurk. The location was in The Hole, a rounded, steep-sided bowl that is not on any of the charts, but which juts northward towards the Kaikoura Peninsula from the northern wall of the main Kaikoura Canyon. Captain Evan has surveyed this interesting feature with the echo sounder over the past several days, so now we have a good idea of the details of the features and composition of The Hole.
The dive plan called for the sub to descend as rapidly as possible to 650 meters, explore the bottom and near-bottom habitats in detail, then move horizontally off the bottom to examine the mid-water. Then the sub would return to the slope face, ascend 50 m and repeat the process. We planned this stair-step exploration to continue for 5-6 hours as the sub gradually worked up into shallower waters of around 200 meters. What a great comprehensive plan! We thought..... The first step went exactly as planned. We watched hoki and rattails swimming without concern in their home waters. Some of the beautiful bivalves with orange frilly tendrils shown up at us. It was a great beginning.
Then on the second step, our constant friend and occasional foe, King Neptune, intervened. During the previous three dives the weak current had set us to the northward, taking us right where we wanted to go. Tonight just the opposite happened! The current was 180 degrees off, so instead of carrying us into shallower water and complying with our plan, it pushed the sub off the wall so far that it was impossible to drive back to the steep sided bottom. After several hours of exploring the midwater habitat, during which time we observed millions of planktonic organisms, we decided to call it a morning and finished the dive at 0200.
As disappointing as it was not to be able to follow our dive plan, we still got some good observations. For example, we saw a species of squid we haven't seen before. It was a beautiful, deep red, nearly maroon, juvenile Moroteuthis, about 30 cm long. The New Zealand fishermen call them warty squids, because the adults have a very lumpy skin surface.
As we ascended into the rich biological soup of the near-surface waters, we began to see lots of squid that were attracted to the bright lights of the sub. Soon dozens of the juvenile New Zealand arrow squid were dashing and jetting in a frenzy in our lights. They were feeding on the little euphausid shrimps that also were beckoned into the light. What a sight! Each little torpedo of a squid would zip at lightening speed, curl back its arm tips, shoot out its tentacles and ...ZAP!....another shrimp dinner! But this was just the beginning of the chain of events that is repeated billions of times over, every day, every night in all the oceans of the world. For suddenly, like a squadron of silver jet fighters, in swooped a school of famished barracouta! With flashing sides, big, intense eyes and glaring teeth they singled out their particular squid and engulfed it in one gulp. Snap!.....another calamari dinner!
As the sub rose through the 200 foot mark, Scott exclaimed that he could hear the clicks of the dolphins as they came swooping down to meet him and welcome him back to the surface. What a spectacular sight when the sub broke the surface and during final retrieval to see the dolphins circling and leaping around the sub, as if they were joyful participants in our explorations into the depths.