Some Thoughts from Thom

The NIWA research vessel Kaharoa is described as having a “lively seaway”. I did not realise that these words are carefully chosen much like in real-estate. Technically true but putting quite a positive spin on the fact of the matter – she moves a great deal! This 28m long vessel will be home to 6 scientists and 6 crew for the next 5 weeks while we cross the South Fiji Basin and head out to the New Hebrides trench; a deep crack in the ocean bed that extends almost 10km down. We will be the first to explore this remote area with a high chance of new discoveries.

We set off from Auckland into an ominous stormy horizon. I am usually seasick for the first couple of days before I find my sea-legs but it’s rare that we would immediately head into such rough weather. I don’t think anyone was spared; scientist or crew, everyone had a few days pinned to their bunk – and I do mean pinned. Once we wriggle into our tiny bunk we have to wedge a board down the side to stop us being thrown from it. We emerged victorious from our ordeal and were straight to work. We are stopping off in the South Fiji Basin on our way to New Caledonia before we head on to the trench.

Check out our equipment section to see what we are using to explore this new area. Although we prepped everything as much as we could things are always a little messy on the first deployment. We have to figure out how best to deploy our gear quickly and safely and we will be continually tweaking how we do things.

Following an extremely long first day, all equipment was successfully deployed and recovered to 4,000m depth. I will be looking at the fish: both samples and video/photos during the expedition. Although I am quite familiar with the fish that we should find in this part of the world and at this depth I was surprised at how different these fish were once we got away from land and right out into the open ocean. The cameras recorded some very large cusk-eels; some over a metre in length. We were lucky enough to also capture some in the fish trap so that we could take samples and preserve some for museums. They were surprisingly jelly like, even for deep-sea fish. The flesh of these fish was a clear gel with individual muscle fibres visible within it. These fellas were clearly no athletes, geared more for a low energy life of cruising the deep. The liver was also very large, storing large amounts of energy to get these fish to their next meal.

We have all noticed a strange occurrence during a time on the boat. A boat is full of sound and rhythm. Your whole world is swinging to a beat and all sorts of noises at the edge of your hearing trigger memories. The result seems to be that you find the strangest songs stuck in your head. Songs you certainly don’t own and it’s unlikely anyone has been playing to get it stuck there in the first place. Such amazing hits have so far included: The Canadian national anthem, one of the songs from Mulan, Build Me Up Buttercup and Come-on Feel the Noise.

(Web Minion’s Note: Thom does a great side line in taxonomic illustration and happens to be the creator of the lovely Coryphaenoides armatus drawing featured as our background image.)

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