Blog entry by Luis Greiffenhagen
Hello again from Whittard Canyon. We have been out here for a while, and since we just finished our 10th ROV dive in the area, it might be a good occasion to give you an update on what we have seen so far. Besides the incredible habitats full of corals and clams, and spectacular geological features you might ask yourself the question: What swims around in these canyons? There are some wild, weird and wonderful creatures down there! While some are very shy, others are curious and attracted by the lights of our ROV!
On dive 388, just when reaching the bottom (1320m depth), our crew was greeted by a “dumbo octopus” (Grimpotheutis). This incredible species is famous for its cute looks, having fins above its big eyes that look like elephant ears. However, we still know very little about these creatures, which have been observed down to more than 7000m depth (deeper than our ROV can go!).
Look how our lights shine in her big black eyes! It was a truly amazing welcome to the bottom of the canyon.
During the night, when the ship is stationary, tiny fish and squids get attracted by the ship’s lights. This is when we see elegant blue sharks (Prioace glauca) circling the RRS James Cook. Blue sharks are pelagic sharks that occur around the globe and can grow up to more than 3m length. Worldwide shark populations are estimated to have declined by 71% since the 1970s, making it even more special and promising to see these predators beneath our ship. Last week, Nathan from NOC was able to film one of them passing by.
Shark video © Nathan Hubot, NOC
Talking about sharks: during our ROV dive in Explorer Canyon (Canyons MPA) we saw the only known relative of sharks and rays (cartilaginous fish): A chimaera – also referred to as “ghost shark”. Indeed, it looks kind of spooky and rather prehistoric. Fossil findings show that they are one of the most ancient groups of fish alive today, as they have been around for more than 350 million years.
We also had an encounter with a massive black (Norwegian) skate (Dipturus nidarosiensis) at around 700m which was rather distracting, at least for the ray. It graciously cruised around the ROV while we were taking coral samples. Perhaps still reflecting on what it just saw, it then bumped into a nearby rock. We hope he is doing okay. These things happen to everyone.
Last but not least, here is a little collage of other amazing fish we were able to capture in the last 10 dives, put together by Brian Bett (NOC).