27 March 1999
Wellington, New Zealand

Final Dispatch

This is the final dispatch from the headquarters of the Deep Sea/Giant Squid Expedition. It has three objectives:

First, I wish to acknowledge and thank most sincerely and heartily all the organizations, individuals and participants who have done so much to help make the expedition become a reality never before accomplished and to insure its safe, successful conclusion. Thank you all ever so much! Next, I want to provide a brief summary of the Expedition to recognize the organizational and individual participants, as well as to note some of the achievements made possible by their contributions. I urge you to read the daily dispatches for the detailed accounts, however. Finally, we expedition members thank all of you who have followed our activities over the past weeks via the web site. Your interest, encouragement and good wishes have been very much appreciated. Thank you.

The international expedition to explore the deep-sea ecosystem in the cold, inky darkness in New Zealand's unique Kaikoura Canyon was successfully completed on 26 March, 1999. The principal objectives of the research expedition were to descend in a research submersible to depths never before explored in New Zealand waters to view and film the animals, including the giant squid (Architeuthis), that exist in the largest ecosystem on earth, the deep sea.

US flag New Zealand flag British flag Canadian flag

The multinational effort was comprised of scientists, technologists, film makers, and ship and submersible crews from four countries: United States, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada. The collaborating organizations were:

Funding, including in-kind support, for the expedition was provided by Discovery, NIWA, NASA Stennis through Natural Partners, SI/NMNH, NASA Goddard SFC, Cornell Bioacoustics Laboratory, Whale Watch Kaikoura, Department of Conservation, Rachel Carson Middle School, numerous private donors also supported the research and exploration.

The effort frequently was plagued by unseasonable weather and sea conditions unsafe for launching and retrieving the one-man submersible, DEEP ROVER, as well as by technical problems that are part and parcel of all pioneering oceanic expeditions. Nonetheless, a remarkable list of research and educational accomplishments was chalked up, a testament to the skill and commitment of all the members of the team, both at sea and ashore. The research was carried out aboard the NIWA Fisheries Research Vessel KAHAROA, Capt. Evan Solly, Mate Jo Richards.

The Research and Support Team consisted of the following participants: Dr. Clyde F. E. Roper, Chief Scientist and Expedition Leader, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

NIWA scientists:

- Dr. Steve O'Shea, Invertebrates, Cephalopods

- Dr. Di Tracey, Deep sea fishes and fisheries, orange roughy

- Dr. Peter McMillan, Ichthyologist, deep sea fisheries, rattails

- Dr. Alan Hart, Ichthyologist, deep sea fisheries, rattails

- Mr. Neil Bagley, Ichthyologist, deep sea fisheries

- Mr. Bernard Brennan, Cornell University Bioacoustician

- Dr. Gene Feldman, NASA Oceanographer, website support

- Mr. Michael Sweeney, Smithsonian, research support, cephalopods

- Ms. Ingrid Roper, Smithsonian, administrative and research support

- Mr. Don Tracia, Natural Partners Program, Smithsonian/Mississippi State University, Distance Learning Coordinator

- Mr. Sean Elwell, Natural partners Program, Smithsonian, video producer

It is not practical to list all the accomplishments of the Deep Sea/Giant Squid Expedition here, but the following paragraphs briefly describe some of the successes. The submersible repeatedly set and broke depth records for manned diving descent into New Zealand's waters, culminating on 26 March, 1999, the last day of operations at sea: 2200 feet (670 meters), in the Kaikoura Canyon off Kaikoura, South Island, NZ. The previous New Zealand record was around 1000 feet, (300 m).

Our direct observations, via real-time video up-link from the sub, revealed fishes and invertebrates never before seen in their natural habitat. These included fishes important to fisheries, including hoki, the leading species in New Zealand fish landings, seen near the bottom swimming gracefully with a golden sheen, almost in ballet fashion, as they foraged for food and inspected the submersible. A pair of prickly dogfish sharks, rarely found in net captures and never seen alive, were observed lurking just over the bottom, their humped backs giving a prehistoric, other worldly appearance. Researchers observed alive in their silent, black ecosystem for the first time, pastel colored sponges, chrysanthemum-like crinoids, dark-loving corals, sluggish hermit crabs, threatening lobsters, somersaulting squid, silt-puffing worms, all invertebrates mostly too fragile to survive in fishing and biological sampling nets. In a remarkable display of simultaneous food-chain reaction we saw a melee of plankton being slurped by euphausid shrimp, the euphausids being snatched by rocketing squid and the squid being engulfed by marauding barricouta fish.

The year-round resident sperm whales, which prefer to prey upon deep sea squid, including giant squid whenever they can track and subdue these elusive creatures, were studied intensely by our scientists listening to and recording their clicking noises. We believe these sounds are used to help the sperm whales navigate in the deeps where they forage for their squid meals. For the first time, numerous complete dive profiles were recorded, giving us a precise picture of what a sperm whale does when it leaves the surface: how deep it dives, whether it goes to a particular depth to hunt or to several different depths, or if it starts deep and returns slowly to the surface, selecting its prey all the while. In addition to providing critical new information about the diving and feeding behavior of sperm whales, the results helped us to determine the depths to which the submersible was sent to look for giant squid. Thus, the whales were used as marine hound dogs to provide clues about where the elusive Architeuthis might lurk. The data accumulated are important not only for our scientific understanding of sperm whales, but for our collaborating organizations Whale Watch Kaikoura and Department of Conservation, for whom the conservation and well-being of the whales is critical.

The physical geology of the Kaikoura Canyon was observed in situ for the first time, revealing a layer of very fine sediment, that appears to be characteristic for the region, overlying the basic rock structure. Because the Kaikoura Canyon lies so close to shore, descending to over 1000 meters deep (3300 feet) only 2 miles off shore, the silt that originates in the coastal mountains and plateaus washes into the sea via the numerous rivers, depositing the eroded sediment load over the sea bed.

We presented the progress of the expedition on the Giant Squid Web Site through a series of Daily Dispatches, so people around the world could follow our work, sharing vicariously with us the excitement of discovery and the frustration of delays imposed by weather and technological challenges. The web site addresses:

Through an innovative educational program at the NMNH called Natural Partners, the expedition was brought into partnership schools in Virginia (Rachel Carson Middle School, Herndon), Mississippi/Louisiana (NASA's Stennis Space Center, Stennis, Miss.), New York (New York Institute of Technology, Long Island), and New Hampshire (Littleton High School) via video conferencing connections. Because of the time difference between New Zealand and the Eastern US, making the real-time connections to accommodate the school hours and the expedition's long work day schedule was a challenge.

The Rachel Carson school in Herndon VA solved this by conducting a first ever all night Science Night Celebration (Science Sleepover) in the school gymnasium, where 120 students and their teachers and parent chaperones spent the night learning about science. The celebration of science was highlighted by the 1:30 AM video connection with the expedition headquarters in Kaikoura, where we provided an update of the expedition, shared some of our exciting new discoveries, and answered dozens of questions from the budding scientists. On that Friday night, science for these students was alive!

A second educational project by Natural Partners, was the filming of a 3-part Remote Sensing Expedition series on the search for giant squid; Cephalopod diversity, evolution and anatomy; and Deep-sea ecosystems. I am adamantly committed to bringing attention to and knowledge about Inner Space to students and adults by using the giant squid as an icon that represents the last and largest unexplored frontier on earth, the Deep-Sea.

We expedition scientists believe that many factors validated the selection of the site for the expedition, both in location, habitat and time. For example, a total of six specimens of giant squid were captured in deep sea fishing trawls during January-March, 1999 in the waters of eastern South Island, at depths investigated by the submersible. These depths were characterized by the presence of numerous organisms known to be prey of giant squid, principally hoki and grenadier (rattail) fishes, as well as arrow and warty squids. Sperm whales, the only known predator of adult giant squid, were observed hunting near-by during most dives.

In spite of these positive indicators, the giant squid remains an elusive, though real, mystery of the deep. Colleague Dr. Steve O'Shea and I will study several of the newly captured giant squid specimens during the coming weeks at the NIWA lab in Wellington. This investigation will undoubtedly uncover additional clues about the anatomy and biology of the largest invertebrate ever to live on earth, still elusive, still challenging. Think deep sea, the Inner Space key to our survival.

Thoughtfully yours,

Clyde Roper


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