Blog | Oceana USA


[editor's note, by Jason] Jon Warrenchuk is currently participating in NOAA's 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expedition.


August 13, 2004: Man... the combination of high definition underwater cameras and a submersible with dexterous mechanical arms is unbeatable. With this set-up, we're able to observe and record deep-sea corals alive in their natural habitat, then collect those exact same individual corals for physiological measurements. Research on deep-sea corals in years past had relied on opportunistic samples that arrived in a mixed haul from a deep-water trawl, or tangled in some other sampling equipment.

The corals were generally battered and broken, fleshy parts all sloughed off or crushed beyond recognition. And there was no context in which to interpret the samples, no visual picture of the relationships. Imagine aliens trying to interpret human society by scraping a giant net along the earth, scooping up a cow, a broken street lamp, a Starbucks, a nerf football, and a 1976 Plymouth Volare?

Being able to observe deep-sea corals in a natural setting has greatly expanded our knowledge of these organisms in just the last two weeks. Peter Etnoyer has discovered hitherto unknown "sweeper tentacles" on bamboo corals. Tom Shirley has found a suite of species living amongst the corals, observed some species that prefer certain corals over others, and some that even prey on corals. Amy Baco-Taylor has catalogued at least 30 to 40 different kinds of corals, some of which are sure to be new species.

I receive exciting news at the end of the day: I get to be an official Aquanaut on Sunday! Tom Shirley is giving me a precious seat on the Alvin to explore the slope of Pratt Seamount, 1200 meters below the surface. Rock on!!! (air guitar)


[editor's note, by Jason] Jon Warrenchuk is currently participating in NOAA's 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expedition.


August 12, 2004: Y'arr! It's been thirteen days without sight of land. In fact, we're so far offshore that we're nearing the edge of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the United States. The EEZ is the boundary that contains the sovereign ocean waters of the United States and extends 200 miles seaward from the U.S. shoreline. The next seamount to explore, Pratt seamount, lies just outside the EEZ in international waters (y'arr, it's in the high seas me'boy). The high seas are truly the last frontier on Earth. But since no individual country holds sway over this resource, it's relatively unprotected and unregulated.

There is a United Nations convention, the "Law of the Sea", and while we observe it as a matter of course, the U.S. does not endorse it. The "Law of the Sea" does address some extractive activities like deep-sea mining, but not others like high seas fishing. In some parts of the ocean, high seas bottom trawling is a real problem.

My organization, Oceana, supports a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling until there are agreements in place to protect special areas like seamounts. Seems reasonable, doesn't it?

So what happens once we cross into the lawless international waters outside the EEZ? Were there pirates, offshore gambling casinos, international intrigue, and debauchery? The answer is... no. Understandably, it's anticlimactic.


[editor's note, by Jason] Jon Warrenchuk is currently participating in NOAA's 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expedition.


August 11, 2004:Today was the last day on Welker seamount. Some interesting things have been documented during our 4 days of exploration. Huge fields of glass sponges, a fleeting glimpse of a deep-sea anglerfish, and corals, corals, corals. Bamboo corals, bubblegum corals, red tree corals, and black corals. Shortspine thornyhead, sablefish, scarlet king crab, grooved Tanner crab, spider crabs, squat lobsters, Pycnogonid deep-sea spiders, crinoids, grenadiers, and brittlestars (to name a few).

These names roll off our tongues easily now; we've seen varying amounts of these critters on each and every seamount. But on Welker seamount another creature left behind signs of its presence. Lying amongst the corals and sponges was a lost "longline"; commercial fishing gear baited with hooks. Was it lost during a scientific survey of fish populations? Or during exploratory commercial fishing activity?


[editor's note, by Jason] Jon Warrenchuk is currently participating in NOAA's 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expedition.


August 10, 2004: Last night a few of us made an amazing discovery: big squid will hit a "pixie" fishing lure! On light line, it's quite sporting. They're hard to keep on, and we fail to land one, but boy, its fun! These babies are at least 3 feet long, fast, and furious. I just wish we could get one in the boat!

I don't know what species they are; the closest I can think of are the "majestic" squid, Berryteuthis magister, but those only get about 18 inches long. The big squid below us are fun to watch, streaking through the schools of forage fish (sandlance? capelin?) attracted to the deck lights. Then something large and grey makes the squid scatter. Is it a salmon shark? It disappears too fast for confirmation, but it's a likely suspect. These smaller relatives of the Great white have been recorded throughout Alaskan waters, but much of their life history remains unknown.

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