16 May 2013 – Nihoa Day One

This is the first cruise out for the NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai since last fall, so the first day of operations, which usually runs more deliberately than the rest of the trip, was especially deliberate. As a result, the afternoon deep dive team (with me!) got out to the site east of Nihoa fairly late in the date. We were limited to only 20 minutes of bottom time. Rough seas, and a lengthy pre-splash checklist next to a diesel engine made for a group of four divers very eager to get in the water. I am still amazed, and even laughed about it underwater, how one can go from being so miserable sitting loaded down, on a pitching small boat in the beating sun one second, and then roll to be weightless and cool in the calm ocean – a true pleasure.

We descended into a large school of large jacks (Caranx sexfasciatus) that hid a few other jacks – Seriola dumerili, Caranx melampygus, Carangoides orthogrammus and possible Carangoides ferdau. With such a short bottom time, I decided to split my mission into a little bit of filming, and some fish spearing for DNA sample collection. As usual, I stalked my pretty little reef friends with some misgivings, but scientists need specimens to analyze, so a hunting I went.

Our decompression was beautiful – crystal clear water, the schooling jacks, Galapagos sharks circling at a fairly respectable distance. Very photogenic. Two safety divers is a nice luxury, as they shuttle our deep gas cylinders and regulators, as well as the bloody fish up to the boat while we decompress.

We have another two days here at Nihoa – I recorded around 35 species on the first short dive, four of which are new to our database of Nihoa fishes. I will keep my eyes and camera peeled for tomorrow.

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