Early in the morning of Day 1 of the cruise the water of the open Gulf of Mexico was like glass. There were no ripples on the surface, but it was rolling with small swells. The water was colored a deep cobalt blue – the Deep Blue of the open sea. As I glanced over the bow that first morning at sea after my 4-8am shift, you could see through the amazingly clear water. There were white flecks brilliantly reflecting the sun. I am not sure what they were, but the brightness was eye catching and, as you watched them descend deeper you got the feeling you could see 50 feet or more in this translucent world. It was beautiful, and mesmerizing.
Many of you reading this, have gone deep sea fishing before and experienced this Deep Blue. Some may have worked on one of the oil rigs and seen it. I have seen it before as well. In the 1980s I was working at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and we would venture to the Deep Blue to set our longlines for shark tagging. In the 1990s I attended the University of Miami for a summer session, and we did a cruise into the Atlantic Ocean – there I saw the Deep Blue. I think one of the most amazing places where I saw it was on the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The Big Island is an active volcano, and the “drop-off” is right by the beach. Just off the beach it drops to several hundred feet. And, as we took a sailboat cruise to a snorkel destination, we were in 1000s of feet within a few minutes. I had never seen a cobalt Deep Blue like that. We tried to take pictures, but they did not do it justice. And – to top things off – as we approached the cove to go snorkeling, I could see the coral reef below. I could tell it was deep but was not sure how deep. I asked one of the crew and he said it was 150 feet here… 150 feet of absolutely clear visible water. Amazing.
Leaning over the bow of the “O-2” it was no different. The sea slowly rolled as the ships bow quietly plowed through. With the engines at the stern, it was very quiet up there. I relaxed staring into the deep wondering how deep it actually was. For some fishermen who venture into this world, jumping off the top of the boat into the Deep Blue is a thrill. It is so deep you never have to worry about hitting bottom. For others, it is uncomforting. The bottom IS way down there, and there are big creatures out there roaming.
Big creatures do come to mind as you scan the surface. Large whales, sharks, and rays are often seen. This is the realm of the giant plankton feeding whale shark. There are massive jellies that drift by with tentacles 100s of feet long and some with “bells” a couple of feet in diameter. In the depths you find luminescent fish, eel-like creatures, and the giant squid. Though you do not see them, you know that out there somewhere they lurk.
The other thing that came to mind while I was surveying was the thought that, if you were a fish, there is nowhere to stop and take a break. Nothing but blue all around you. You can stop and rest for a bit, but you can’t hide while doing so. Just Deep Blue all around you. Schools of fish may pass by hiding amongst each other. Or schools of larger fish like tuna that do not need to hide – only hunt.
As this all went through my mind, I saw a orange-red colored object emerge in front of the bow. It was a large shark, a bull I think – but not sure. It was not moving fast and quickly the bow of the “O-2” slid past it. Most onboard were not even aware that it was there. Sightings of marine life out here are quick and then long periods before you see them again. Many think the ocean is full of fish, but actually it is not. Fish need smaller baitfish to feed on. Smaller baitfish need plankton. Plankton need nutrients and sunlight. Nutrients come from the rivers and so life tends to be closer to shore than many think. In another post we will discuss the life out here.
And then there is the bottom of the sea. It is deep out here and over the centuries people wondered what the bottom of the sea was like. This will be the focus of Part 3- Finding the Bottom.
You might recall that when I first arrived at the ship, other co-operators were running to get on board. I was curious as to why – what was the rush? I found out. Though there were plenty of cabins and bunks they were not assigned, and you wanted a bottom bunk. Sleeping in the top bunk while the ship is tossing and rolling in the seas makes for an interesting night sleep. So… when you park your car… you RUN for the ship so that you get a bottom bunk 😊