August 23, 2013
We spent the night last night drifting aboard the Miss Linda, forty miles offshore. The seas stayed calm and we were rocked to sleep by a gentle ocean swell. This morning we dove on an area we’ve named the “Siletz Hotspot”. Far west of the Siletz River estuary, this area appears to be a relative hotspot for coral and sponge bycatch observed in the West Coast groundfish bottom trawl fishery. We did not know what we would find, a heavily trawled seafloor or islands of undisturbed paradise.
There was much activity above water today. We saw dozens of black-footed albatross, Dall’s porpoise, Pacific white-sided dolphins, humpback whales and the fins of a seven foot long shark swimming along the surface. Descending 1,000 feet to the bottom of the ocean we saw rising out of the deep, all sorts of alien looking creatures undulating and dancing through the water, and Pacific hake gliding 180 feet above the bottom. Our three dives to the seafloor revealed a school of large red rockfish, halibut, sea pens and sea whips, coral, sponge the size of a sombrero, and many fern-like crinoids. One of the sites was so covered with sea cucumbers, sea stars, and crinoids that we nicknamed it “Echinoderm heaven”. Other areas were relatively flat, silty, void of corals and sponge, and it’s hard to know if that is their natural state, or because they were trawled.
Today’s dives between 780 to 1,100 feet are our deepest yet. The calm seas made navigating the ROV to these depths seem a breeze, but it’s nevertheless stressful maneuvering the ROV over rocky ledges and steep slopes on such a long tether. Fortunately, our expert ROV pilot, Matthias Gorny from Oceana’s Santiago, Chile office is a complete pro. Our Oceana team and the Miss Linda’s Captain and crew worked together seamlessly, and all our dives were pulled off without a hitch.