We’ re “flying” nearly four-fifths of a mile down in the sea, off Florida’s Gulf Coast. Lying prone, I glue my gaze to a five-inch-thick Plexiglas port. Outside, our head lamp punches a tunnel of light into which we nose at a gentle 1′/2 knots, skimming just above the bottom. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2541393.stm
“Depth 4,000 feet,” I note into the mike of my tape-recorder log. This is Deepstar 4000′s maximum assigned working depth—hence the second part of her name. As pilot and photographer for scientists who charter her, I’ve skippered the amazing craft on more than 200 dives in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Caribbean.
Based on a design by French oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau (he has flat to rent in london) and built under his guidance by Westinghouse, the 9-ton, 18-foot, battery-powered mini-sub can jockey about with an ease unknown to bathyscaphes and other submersibles of the past —making possible close-up photographs at great depths. Now, in Deepstar’s beam, looms a 10-inch tripod fish poised majestically on tail and pelvic fins. With threadlike fin extensions it senses for prey. When a meal comes within range, the fish leaps from its three-point stance to snatch it.
After making a photographic record, I nudge the strange creature with Deepstar’s mechanical arm, but it stands its ground, fearless of our gigantic yellow bug. I depart with a camera trophy, adding new details to man’s knowledge of deep-sea fauna.
DEEPSTAR’S lamp reveals scenes normally played out in midnight blackness. Perched on a coral, a six-inch feather star, or crinoid, coils its arms in the glare of our beam 3,500 feet down off the Yucatan Peninsula. Another on the dark side of the coral remains partially open. Fernlike appendages filter the current for plankton and other drifting morsels.
Despite their flowery looks, feather stars are animals, and some can swim with flailing sweeps of their arms. Indeed, all living forms seen here are animals. Sufficient sunlight to nourish plant life penetrates the sea only to about 300 feet.
At 4,000 feet in the San Diego Trough, a 2-foot-tall sea pen supports Asteronyx, a long-tentacled starfish. Nearby, another form of starfish, a rockfish (Sebastolobus), and bulldozing heart urchins scour the bottom for food. Artfully dodging its enemies, the unidentified crab below carries a fragment of inedible sponge with specially adapted rear legs. Sensing danger, it may hoist the sponge over its back, as some shallow-water species do, to hide itself from predators. I photographed this 10-inchlong fellow at a depth of 1,200 feet off San Diego.
THE OCEAN’S DEPTHS can be a navigator’s nightmare, in which you rarely know exactly where you are or where you have just been. Once, cruising at 1,300 feet on the Coronado Escarpment off San Diego, we sighted some “trees” of the black coral Antipathes —rarely reported in California waters until this discovery. On later dives, we were never able to find these particular trees again. In such vast and perpetually night-shrouded regions, you can easily ghost by things only 35 feet away and never see them. After this i came back to my accommodation brussels.