August 15, 2004 (continued): Grenadiers (or rattails) are the most common fish at this depth. One swims directly up to my porthole to check us out. They have huge eyes and a long, undulating serpent-like tail; they’re halfway between cute and freaky. Thousands of tons of these fish are killed and discarded each year in Alaska as fishery bycatch. The fish are cool, but I’m keeping my eyes open for deep-sea corals.
The seafloor community at this dive site is diverse. The biomass isn’t as great as some of the other sites we’ve visited, but there’s a wide array of critters. Filter-feeding armored sea cucumbers are abundant, as are crinoids and sponges. But the most striking feature are the deep-sea corals. We find bamboo, Primnoids, Anthomastus, black and bubblegum corals, sometimes all growing on the same rock!
Atop a rock wall, a beautiful sight emerges. Growing atop a large boulder are several beautiful bubblegum coral colonies, bright pink and over a meter across. Galatheid crabs, shrimp, anemones, and brittlestars are festooned amongst the coral branches. It’s beautiful, it looks like Spongebob’s Christmas tree. It’s also a perfect sample for Tom Shirley’s coral habitat research, so Bruce breaks out the “slurp” vacuum and begins sucking the organisms off the branches. We also “slurp” several other species of coral, each with its own unique biota, and snip representative coral branches.
The sub batteries are used up, so Bruce drops the weights and we begin our trip to the surface. We’ve spent 6 unique hours exploring the flank of Pratt Seamount. The dive is definitely a success. We collected several organisms that had yet not been sampled during the cruise: a pink nudibranch, two predatory seastars, and a species of Galatheid crab. I’m sure much more will be revealed when we process the samples aboard the Atlantis. I’m very appreciative of Tom Shirley, who donated this precious seat which has allowed me to become one of the select few “Aquanauts” who have explored the ocean floor. Y’arr!