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August 4, 2004

Jon’s Journal: Day 4

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

Monday, August 2: We’ve finally arrived at our first dive site. The early morning is spent “pinging” the bottom with multi-beam radar. This will generate the first detailed topography of the bottom structure and will be used to select the dive site. The peak of Benson seamount reaches to within 1100 m of the surface.

This morning, a small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins frolicked in the wake beside the boat. They’re the first marine mammals I’ve seen other than some whale spouts off in the distance. We’re “standing down” for awhile to let the winds die down a bit before they launch the sub. The aquanauts for the first voyage will be Tom Shirley and Randy Keller.

Late morning and we’re ready to launch! It’s quite an operation. Alvin trundles out on a train track from the hanger and is loaded up with ballast weights. Divers don wetsuits. A zodiac is launched. Tom and Randy walk the gangplank and disappear into the sub. A giant A-frame crane lifts the sub and lowers it into the water. The divers ride the sub a ways and check that everything is ok, and then the sub slowly sinks out of sight.

Six hours (and a few ping-pong games) later and Alvin breaks the surface. The retrieval operation proceeds much like the reverse of the launch operation. The sub is lifted on deck and scientists gather around like over-eager children at Christmas. And it is Christmas! Presents from the deep! Slimy, spiky critters and rocks!

The collecting boxes and suction tubes are loaded with goodies. I retrieve some kind of king crab species from the collecting box for Tom. With identification keys, I confirm that it’s a female Paralomis verrilli. It’s not well-known enough to have a common name. It does resemble the more familiar red king crab, but is “spikier”.

We even find some unexpected critters in the corners of the collecting box and on pieces of coral: a delicate deep-sea spider on a small piece of bamboo coral, undescribed copepod species, and a small crab we couldn’t identify. All are preserved in digital and alcohol media and added to the body of science on deep-sea biology.