[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)