International Waters

One of the things that I find so cool about these types of cruises is that they bring together a group of people with radically different backgrounds and allow them to get to know one another very quickly. You are spending every waking hour with the same group, and they’re people that you might not otherwise have the chance to meet, or to really take the time to understand. This atmosphere encourages a lot of lively, interesting, and fulfilling conversations.

For me, it’s been very different being the only American aboard. With all these accents (though I guess I’m the one with the accent here) I become overly self-conscious of my haRsh AmeRican Rs. We’re constantly overcoming a major language barrier here. There are the few things that everyone thinks of – lorry (truck), boot (trunk) – but spending so much time on the ship together, we’ve just about run the gambit of conversational topics and have met quite the array of linguistic idiosyncrasies. There’s the bonnet (hood) of a car, the nappie (diaper) on a baby, and a lovely collection of curses too colorful (colourful) to be transcribed. My favorite (favourite) expression that I’ve learned is “to blank someone,” which, for all you Americans out there, means to ignore them. I’ll be taking that one home with me.

We’ve also taken the opportunity to really suss out our cultural differences by getting down to the hard-hitting topic of food. Ryan still won’t forgive me for revealing that in America, corned beef is a common Sunday dinner. On the other hand, I find it a bit odd that it’s commonplace to cook and eat a rabbit in the British Isles, so I can’t really begrudge him his shock.

In all sincerity, though, I really enjoy the cultural diversity part of the gig. The technical challenges and immense scale of deep-sea research provide unique opportunity and incentive for international collaboration. This collaborative energy is one of the things that attracted me to HADEEP and that really makes me excited to continue working in deep-sea science. Torben Wolff, one of the fathers of trench research, said it better than I can. “When frontiers are closed scientific research stagnates… No science can thrive without foreign contracts. And oceanography, concerned with the physical conditions of the oceans, their flora and fauna, and the utilization of these for the benefit of hungry man, is surely one of the most international of all the sciences. The sea affects us all, at once separating and uniting us.”[1]


Literature Cited


1.            Nielsen, K.H., Postcolonial partnerships: deep sea research, media coverage and (inter)national narratives on the Galathea Deep Sea Expedition from 1950 to 1952. The British Journal for the History of Science, 2010. 43(1): p. 75-98.


Amazing people and unfortunate crabs

It is common to get superstitious at sea. So much of our life on land is under control that the sudden feeling that you are small and at the mercy of these huge processes can come as a bit of a shock. Even the most logical minds can ascribe lucky and unlucky traits in a desperate attempt at making sense and taking some control of random and uncontrollable events.

We have been marred by misfortune at every turn and it is beginning to feel that there is some malicious and deliberate opposing force that is pushing against us. When you are just a few people, tiny against the forces you are up against, there is only so much you can have control over. This is the point where people really prove themselves however.

I am immensely proud of the people on this vessel, of the things they have managed to achieve with so little. Things have been forced to happen, have come into being through sheer acts of will: Deliveries that would have been late have been intercepted in transit (optional scientist as Adam Ant in Stand and Deliver sequence here), a -800C freezer has been found on a remote island and a abyssal depth rated vehicle has been constructed out of spare parts on the vessel, to name just a few.

These acts have yielded rewards. We have seen a slow trickle of data from the trench as we refuse to be beaten. The water is incredibly clean, allowing us to see our gear as far as 20m below the vessel. These clean waters don’t produce much life and so there is very little food raining down on the seafloor below. The photos we have taken have revealed a very clean seabed with golden silty sediment. In some areas there are large and irregular rocks lying on the sediment. Since they have not been burred they must have arrived relatively recently. Their dark colour and irregular shape would indicate they are volcanic in origin and we have seen a few signs of activity in the area.

Yesterday we passed over a ring of bright yellow/green water, in stark contrast to the clear dark blue of the surrounding water. There was a strong sulphur smell and also large amounts of pumice in the water; rocks that had solidified so quickly when contacting that cold ocean water that they were full of gas bubbles and floated on the surface. We have seen these floating blocks the size of footballs. These larger blocks become little floating islands as larvae in the water settle on them and grow. Many are covered in goose barnacles and we even recovered one piece with two crabs living on it. These were crabs that should have been living at the bottom and were not able to swim. They had obviously found their little island home as larva and grown there; if they were ever to fall they could never get back. The pumice is eventually over-colonised and sinks, likely killing all onboard. On a tough day in the middle of the ocean you can dwell on that. It can be a grim metaphor for all sorts of things. Poor little crabs.

We have covered a range of some 5,000m depth but the life we have found has been amazingly consistent. The same four fish species, in different proportions, have been found at all of these depths. These species are familiar; we found them in the Kermadec trench earlier this year. The Kermadec is closer to land and has a higher food input. In that trench we saw many species and several transitions with depth as one species took over from the last. Here in the New Hebrides trench the fish that we saw at about 4-5,000m in the Kermadec have expanded in both directions. This would suggest that in the Kermadec they do not occupy their narrow depth range because that is the only range that they can cope with but, at least on one side of their range, they may be limited not by depth but by competition with other species. The boisterous and greedy macrurids (rattails) may keep them out of the shallower areas in the Kermadec trench but here, with the noticeable lack of this group, they are free to spread and eek out a meagre existence on a seabed with very little food.

There have been a couple of species that have been mocking us for some time. Turning up in abundance for our cameras but refusing to enter a trap and allow us to know for sure what they are. Our deep-sea bullies were a large red shrimp and a very pale eel. We had our hunches as to what they were but without a specimen to look at it was all an educated guess. We have finally managed to capture a few examples of each. We have identified them as best we can on the vessel but in some species x-rays are needed. These specimens were left intact and will be examined at the Te Papa museum in Wellington. I am excited to finally put a name to the face that has been mocking me through a camera’s lens.

DAY 17 – Definition

So, we got everything back from 3500m, no problems at all.  The beard came off too, without incident.


Frank worked a treat, although there were no fish in it, the invert catch was very good.  The reason there was no fish in it is not related to Franks trapping prowess but rather the complete lack of fish species that are readily trapped.  Even at 3500m, we are seeing the same thing from as deep as 6200m.  Maybe a slightly shift in relative abundance, but all much of the same.


This now means I’ll have to put on a pretty dress and go even shallower, 2000m probably, but not tonight trench fans.  To compensate for reluctantly having to go bathyal, today we went hadal.  We shot the big hadal-Lander down to 7000m (ish, charts are rubbish round here).  This is the deepest spot in this sector of the trench.  The Abyssal-Lander and Frank were shot to around 5500m.  Happy days.


There is one thing that keeps going round in my head – whose idea was it to bring a 28m long trawler 1000 miles cross the South Fiji Basin in the devastatingly hot tropics, with a bunch of bespoke bits of gear?


I guess that was me.  I will deal with myself another time.


Having brunted the storm, lost some gear, turned New Caledonia upside down and shook it for liquid nitrogen, our luck isn’t getting any better.  We are running out of all sorts of things fast and are still having technical faults, you know, the ones you can’t reproduce on deck.


Anyway, so far the success rate is 72% out of 27 deployments, which is rather embarrassing.  Must do better.


The photo nicely demonstrates the effects that badly timed stretch can have on an old sea dog like Steve.

The photo nicely demonstrates the effects that badly timed stretch can have on an old sea dog like Steve.

Not much else to report I suppose, it’s all getting a little big ‘groundhog day’.  It is probably worth mentioning that we have nice new life jackets specially for this trip.  They are not solid sate ones like before, but rather inflatable-on-impact designs.  No one has yet accidentally inflated one yet, but Ryan almost certainly will before we’re done.  This new design, however, has a safety feature to prevent the jacket slipping over your head when you hit the water.  This feature takes the form of two tight crotch straps, which are rather embarrassing and if caught in the wrong posture provide a certain definition, shall we say.


Alan – 21st November

DAY 16 – Frank

Another stupidly long and hot day today, moan, moan, moan.

We brought in all the gear from 6200m and most of it was perfect.


‘Cusks’ and ‘pouts’ doing their thang at 6200m deep in the New Hebrides Trench.

‘Cusks’ and ‘pouts’ doing their thang at 6200m deep in the New Hebrides Trench.

I am still being plagued by technical issues on the hadal-lander, in that it seems to have evolved a mind of its own.  I am all for artificial technology and such, but in this instance I would prefer the lander to do exactly what it is told.


Anyway, there are loads of zoarcids at 6200m, which is a new find.  These eel pouts have never been seen this deep before anywhere.  The amphipod catch was good too, we are starting to pick up the hadal generas and they are much larger than we anticipated.  Amongst them all we are few that I don’t recognise, so there may be a few wee gems in there too.


Due to many reasons, most of which I simply can’t be bothered to explain, we went shallow today.  It pains me to have to stoop so low as to shoot the gear to a pathetic 3500m but we do need the shallow end of the depth range to make things comparable with what we have done elsewhere.


We deployed everything to 3500m, including the new lander we built yesterday.  It started the day called ‘FrankenTrap’ which later evolved into ‘Frank Trappa’.  A worthy name for a fish trap if there ever was one.


So off the popped, down to sickeningly shallow 3500m.


Besides my moaning about the depth, these shallow ones are becoming ever more important as the communities we have seen so far are more or less unchanged between 4100 and 6200m, which is very odd indeed.  Also, of the 6000 or so images we’ve taken so far, we have seen a single macrourid or any of the New Zealand usual suspects we see down there.  So on the whole – ‘here is different to there, because there isn’t the same as here’, and that’s science in a nutshell.


Alan – 20th November.


1 – Name and Rank

Ryan Eustace, Undergraduate student (4th Year), The crustacean kid


2 – What is your main objective on the voyage?

To enhance my knowledge and understanding of the capturing and sampling of abyssal and hadal fauna and learning from the Master.


Eustace, the crustacean kid.

Eustace, the crustacean kid.

3 – What is the most unexpected thing about being offshore on a trip such as this?

Quantity and quality of food – in a good way.


4 – What do you miss the most?

The cold Scottish days and nights.


5 – What has been the most interesting thing so far?

Seeing the gear deployed and recovered, also, the decapods from 4100m were pretty sweet.


6 – What is the first thing you’ll do when you get back?

Go down the Machar pub for a few pints and whiskey.


7 – What was your vomit count from the first 48 hours on board?

Six, just bile, average to strong intensity.


8 – What song is stuck in your head right now?

Mulan- let’s get down to business.


9 – What have you inevitably forgotten to bring?

My dissection kit


10 – What do you hope to find in the trench?

Something that is just bizarre, preferably crustacean or something green or better, a green crustacean



1 – Name and Rank

Heather Ritchie, PhD student (2nd Year), Morale officer


2 – What is your main objective on the voyage?

Phylogeographic relationships of abyssal and hadal amphipods (Crustacea) of the Pacific Rim.


Morale officer Ritchie, pretending to be serious.

Morale officer Ritchie, pretending to be serious.

3 – What is the most unexpected thing about being offshore on a trip such as this?

Finding Ryans underpants on the floor of my cabin.


4 – What do you miss the most?



5 – What has been the most interesting thing so far?

The decapod samples from 4100m in the SouthFijiBasin.


6 – What is the first thing you’ll do when you get back?

Have a long hot shower that doesn’t sway or flip from freezing cold to blisteringly hot every 20 seconds.


7 – What was you vomit count from the first 48 hours on board?

Two.  Average intensity. Lady like.


8 – What song is stuck in your head right now?

‘Steal my sunshine’ by Len.


9 – What have you inevitably forgotten to bring?

Conditioner and crisps


10 – What do you hope to find in the trench?

If and if so, what species of Hirondellea (Amphipod) live in the New Hebrides Trench.


DAY 15 – From the ashes

Today wasn’t any better than yesterday except for the cloud cover meant we didn’t spontaneously combust every time we stepped outside.


We had loads more problems that I simple do not have the time or patience to write down, but it was as Steve always says ‘been a funny old day’.


But what of the Abyssal-lander ‘who dares wins’ deployment to depths greater than it is rated, well, of course that went just swell.  It took about 1000 great photos without so much as frown, groan or a hissy-fit.  Again the interesting thing is that the scavenging community at 4100m, whether up here or in the SouthFijiBasin, appears to be exactly the same to as deep as 6200m. It’s all great quality data, but it is become somewhat monotonous, but then no one has been here before.


Anyway to compensate for the lack of Latis, we had to make up a bunch of new amphipod traps to lash to the hadal lander.  That sounded easy, but became a bit of an epic in itself, but that was nothing.


The ‘new’ Latis trap risen from the ashes by the power of 1000 bodges.

The ‘new’ Latis trap risen from the ashes by the power of 1000 bodges.

Myself, the Captain, Steve and Pascoe then spent all afternoon and evening making an entirely new Latis from scratch out of things from around the ship.  That’s right, using spare floats, an old acoustic release, every bit of netting and aluminium section we have on board, we built a 6000m rated free-falling death machine.  We eventually ran out of day light to test it, we’ll do that tomorrow.  It is so far fuelled on pure high-octane resentment and disappointment, both highly renewable sources of energy on this trip so far, but propelled with nothing but brute cunning and desperation the new lander with fly like an eagle (or even better, sink like a stone…and then float when we tell it to).


The conversation later turned to the cause of recent bad luck and we concluded it could only be one of two things.  It is either the horrendous beard I have cultivated (ginger and brown with a seasoning of salt and pepper) or Ryan is a Jonah.  I figured there is less paperwork involved in shaving than jettisoning an undergraduate, so tomorrow at first light, the beard comes off.


So, after 14 hours of working on deck I climbed into the oven for some sleep.


Alan – 19th November