Kaikoura, New Zealand
The day is glorious! Where was all this wonderful weather when we needed it these past three weeks? We lost seven days here in Kaikoura because of adverse weather and sea conditions. Not that the weather was bad, its just that the submersible needs relatively calm conditions for a safe launch and retrieval. But today is a day made for sub launches and discoveries!
This is the last day of the expedition, the last dive. I am amazed and delighted at the high spirits and positive attitudes everyone shows. I swing aboard to the usual beehive of activity that always surrounds the sub during the countless pre-dive preparations. The air is electric with anticipation as Captain Evan, Mate Jo and I discuss today's dive plan. I am really pleased that colleague and friend Steve O'Shea could make it down from Wellington for the last dive, and I am anxious to select a dive site that will reveal a broad diversity of deep sea invertebrates for him, as well as answer our now urgent desire to find and film a living giant squid in its natural habitat.
We would never admit to being the least bit superstitious, but we do think it a prudent idea to produce whatever good luck symbols are available at a time like this. Consequently we have brought aboard a wonderful new squid lure designed by our Kaikoura friend, Ted. Originally we had planned to attach it to the submersible with the soda bottle loaded with deliciously glowing light sticks, but I could tell the instant I showed it to Jeff, the sub chief, that that plan needed to be scrapped in the interests of safety, quite correctly. We launch in mirror calm seas in an area called The Hole, a deep, narrow valley that penetrates into the northern wall of Kaikoura Canyon, just a few kilometers south of the peninsula and our anchorage in South Bay.
We have worked this area on several previous dives, we have it very well surveyed on the depth sounder and entered into the plotter, so we are comfortable with the bottom configuration and depths so far as safe sub operations are concerned. Furthermore, this comfortable little submarine valley has all the earmarks of a dandy Architeuthis hidey hole. Sperm whales are feeding only a short distance away, so the predator is in place. We know that the prey is in place, too, as recent dives have revealed hoki, rattails, arrow squid, possibly even a warty squid, all known items on a giant squid's menu. Bernard's acoustical data indicate that the depths to which we can dive are just where the whales have been diving lately. All the indicators are good.
Eyes glued to the monitors, we watch as the submersible descends deeper, deeper, deeper still. We seem to be willing Architeuthis to appear. Our plan is to go as deep as we can, then to slowly work up the slope of the drowned valley, checking out both the bottom habitats as well as the off-bottom layer that is so rich in organic material, food and feeders, a virtual seafood soup to sustain those animals adapted to live there. Architeuthis could be among them.
Then, at 13:59:20 hours (1:59:20 PM) on 26 March 1999, the Deep Rover runs out of tether at 670 meters (2200 feet), once again establishing a new deep diving record for New Zealand waters! But we have no time to celebrate, as the sub is being carried by contrary currents in exactly the wrong direction, off over water much deeper than we can dive. Finally, Captain Evan and pilot Scott are able to drive the ship and sub into the area we need to explore. I breath a sigh of relief....at least we'll be able to finish the dive, and the expedition, working in depths and habitats suitable for the elusive giant squid.
During the course of the 4.5 hour dive we see many of the wonderful animals we have seen during the series of seven preceding scientific dives we have been privileged to make in the past two weeks. We even see species we have not seen before, such as the delicate little tusk shells curving up out of the silt like snow white whiskers from Neptune's beard. And a magnificent medusa, a transparent jellyfish revealed only by its satin white skirt, billowing and swaying in its self-made propulsive current.
Jeff pokes his head into the science lab; I do not want to hear what I read on his face. Time to recover. The sub's batteries have given their all in this final thrust through the secret, until now, unexplored waters of Kaikoura Canyon. A final reward appears as the sub leaves the bottom for the last time....a chunky, frilly-finned, mottled star gazer fish lifts off the bottom and swims slowly ahead of the sub, its upward slanting eyes pointing towards the unreachable distant surface, as if to say, "That's your way home. But come back again; we'll all be here.... for eternity".
Following our final debriefing, Scott and I head for the bow where we have a bit of a celebration in appreciation for the privilege of being able to work together on such an interesting and rewarding endeavor in such a beautiful and hospitable piece of the Planet Ocean. Thanks for exploring along with us. Think "Deep Sea", and help increase knowledge and understanding of Inner Space.
All the best,