My first trip out on an MBARI boat, the R/V Point Lobos, happened last week. We left Moss Landing at 7 a.m. amid pigeon guillemots and sea otters. Barely 3 miles off shore we were bobbing in calm seas 300 m above a humpback whale skeleton that Bob Vrijenhoek, Shannon Johnson, and other MBARI scientists have been watching for a year or so now.
Turns out there’s a wacky kind of tubeworm that lives off the bones. It’s called Osedax, a weird little pink frilly creatures that waves in the current like the topknot on a Fraggle. Turns out its closest relatives are deep down at hydrothermal vents, living in 400-degree water totally dependent on chemosynthetic bacteria. How they got here we’re not sure.
Three hundred meters is small change for an undersea canyon that drops to more than 3,000 m within a dozen miles of shore – but it’s still a bit far to send a human down to. That darn repressurization, you know. So down goes the ROV Ventana (that’s the robotic praying mantis thing you see at the top of this post). ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle, a submarine that two full grown men steer from under a battery of monitors belowdecks on the Lobos. A little bit like Jason.
Just to reassure you that it’s not all backbreaking labor, here we are on the way back to shore. Two interns (Shawn Meredyk and Sarah Rizk, plus the aforementioned Shannon Johnson) relax before the somewhat malevolent gaze of Ventana.