We finished up at Laysan today – the farthest north and west we will go for this cruise – days are longer out here at 171 west longitude. We start our day with a quick breakfast, and then all hands meet on the fantail (aft deck) of the ship for a safety briefing that reviews the boat launch order and any special operations details to everyone.
Once complete, the deck crew begins the orchestrated ballet of ropes and cranes that move four of the small boats from their snug cradles across the decks to the rail, where they are loaded with dive gear and eager scientists, then loaded to the water while the big ship makes it’s protective turn providing smooth seas. We have had some great weather here in Laysan as you can see from the topside photos.
Diving today started with a good and accurate drop on the ledge. Unfortunately for me, the drop included a drop of my large video light, which was not recovered. A painful loss to the wallet, but I am reminded of a story I think Jack Randall said. If you want to get into underwater imaging (I paraphrase here), climb to the top of the highest building in town on a windy day, and start throwing $100 bills into the wind, just to get used to the feeling…
Once down, we were greeted by the usual Galapagos sharks, and today, some of the largest Kahala (Seriola dumerili) I have seen; picture attached. The area was quite depauperate, compared to the first dive here a couple days ago. Lots of big predators, and lots of tiny fish – not much in between, mainly due we think, to the lack of protective cover. No real structure for the fish to grow up in, before they become shark lunch. One habitat we have not sampled before was sand, and John Earle would be proud of me (I hope) for I spent the bulk of my limited bottom time scouring for sand dwelling fishes. Xyrichthys woodi –
Wood’s Razorfish was my reward – an unusual sighting for us on Oahu, and a new record for our database here at Laysan. When other fishes lack a place to hide, a dive in the sand is a good place to go. They have an unusual red eye that is distinctive.
The little eel is Gymnothorax melatremus, and only really unusual for being an eel in a place where it is probably pretty dangerous to be an eel. We have seen very few eels, especially compared to Oahu, which I believe is in direct correlation to the large number of big Jacks and sharks. There is a reason Ulua fishermen use eels for bait… If you look closely at the picture, you see he is getting double cover from his hidey hole, and proximity to a Spanish Dancer nudibranch (the “naked gills” are visible), who is a toxic snack.
Greg McFall from NOAA took a few shots of me underwater which was nice, as I am usually the shooter. He is quite a talented photographer and dive safety officer.
We processed all of the specimens – mostly fish and some corals, for the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology students, who are expanding on their DNA database of Indo-Pacific marine creatures. My job is to make sure their data gets entered in such a way that as the specimens go through the processing protocols, we can always return to the original collecting events, and recall things like location, collectors, depth, date etc. It seems strange that this is not always the case, but human nature says people only record what they need, which may not be what others need… We recorded 20 new species for the database from Laysan over the three operational days, and that included two aborted dives.
We are well underway heading back south and east to French Frigate Shoals, which will take until Monday morning. One final day there, and then the big jump south to Johnston Atoll. Folks are all watching movies, and planning which tv show season they will start tomorrow, as well as planning a sleep in, which sounds fine to me.