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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#409: A ROVing We Will Go!

This was to be the week I would be submerging to depths of up to 900 feet in Ocean Gate's submersible Antipodes with Expedition Catalina organizer Scott Cassell. I had hoped to observe first hand the marine critters well below any depths I've reached SCUBA diving here. In the recent past I've been pretty deep (200 feet) many times to film, but have mostly been a "shallow fellow" the past two years. I was looking forward to experiencing "The Deep" off our island in a truly dry state. Instead, this past weekend I had fresh water dribbling out of the clouds and little desire to descend even in the dive park! Our dives in the submersible were canceled due to mechanical issues. Fortunately, Ocean Gate and Scott kindly gave me copies of the video taken the past two weeks so I could review it, select out the highlights and write future columns and create TV episodes about what was observed by those lucky enough to descend prior to that.

I did spend a large part of three days with Scott, Guillermo, science coordinator Elizabeth, the crew and the other participants last week. We had a good time talking SCUBA diving, submersibles, marine critters... and poaching. Scott is also the brainchild of a program called SeaWolves that documents illegal poaching and turns the material in to local authorities for prosecution. The specific incident he illustrated was that of sea turtle poachers down in the Sea of Cortez. Too bad he wasn't here a few weeks ago to catch the poachers that were taking bugs out of the dive park and tailing them at depth well before lobster season began. Such behavior really rankles my feathers... er, fins?

Although the Antipodes was not operational, I was able to join the group for some ROV exercises. An ROV is a remotely operated vehicle... in this case one that submerges with a video camera to allow us to observe the underwater world while high and dry (if you don't count the few raindrops that fell). The ROV was operated by Ocean Gate's mission specialist Donnie, although each participant was given the opportunity including Avalon School's Colin Eubank who was one of the student winners present last week. I was amused to see the ROV was manipulated using a standard Logitech game controller. Perhaps playing video games on your computer can lead to a future occupation besides one of controlling unmanned drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

We gathered on float 5 and the ROV descended to no more than 30 feet, sending back video of the critters it encountered. A seal lion was curious about this strange creature... was it food? No! One garibaldi decided it had to "strut it's stuff" in front of the camera and kept reappearing to face off before the lens. It even chased off other fish like kelp bass and blacksmith that tried to steal the show. Don't they know who the real star in the kelp forest is? Why Gary, of course!

As a diver I've seen most of what we observed, but one thing surprised me a bit. A finescale triggerfish appeared in view for a few seconds. It was easy to identify from the way it propelled itself using its dorsal and anal fins. These triggerfish, normally found further south in Mexican waters, have been in Lover's Cove for decades. Of course if they could make it that far (most likely as larvae coming up from the south), it's no big deal to swim around Cabrillo Mole and enter the harbor. However, since the only time I dive Avalon Bay is during the annual clean-up in February, and we aren't allowed on that side of the harbor due to boat traffic, I hadn't seen any there before.

Ocean Gate's ROVs were not limited to such shallow depths. One unit is capable of descending to 1,000 feet and the other to a "mere" 500 feet. Some of the ROV footage I'll be reviewing went down to 500-600 feet giving us an interesting view of the marine life at such depths. I will share that with you in a future column. In addition to recording the video images, the ROVs are able to include depth and temperature data. I will be using those data in the future to create a graph of water temperature with increasing depth. Surprisingly, the temperatures recorded at depths of 500-600 feet were actually slightly warmer than the coldest (47 F) I've encountered in the first 100 feet of the water column. More on that later. I could dive in my 7mm wetsuit down there if I could find a way to carry enough gas to ascend safely in deco, and be able to eliminate the effects of narcosis and oxygen toxicity! Perhaps it is time to buy a rebreather? Ha, not on my dive bum budget! A good friend has offered to loan me his ROV so I can continue to explore the depths below 200 ft. Although I have a perfect driving record topside, I expressed concern I might not be so capable driving underwater!

Scientists are very curious individuals for the most part. I don't mean we are "curious" in the sense some people use the term... although of course some us do meet that definition as well. We want to know things about our world... things besides the football scores (the Bears and Harvard both lost last weekend) or who is ahead on "Dancing with the Stars" (a show I've never watched... hard to do without a TV). I'm talking about the natural world... the galaxies, the stars, the planets, the plants, and the critters. I've always had a sense of wonder about these things beginning with my first contact with the ocean as a five year old living in northern Florida, and my first telescope in 1957... the year Sputnik began orbiting.

I have spent my adult life trying to share that sense of wonder, and the things I discover about the real world around us all. And I do mean REAL... much more real than the one of mortgage derivatives and an economic system we humans devised and yet can't even control or even explain. It saddens me when someone appears to have no interest in such things, but I've found ways to create a sense of wonder even in the most recalcitrant of my former students at Toyon! As Einstein is reported to have said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." I choose the latter.

© 2010 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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The ROV and tether on dock, closeup of the ROV; Colin Eubank controlling the ROV with the
Logitech controller, and a simulated view of the finescale triggerfish on the ROV's screen

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2010 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia