On-board Diary: Crinoids in El Sabinar and cetaceans in the Almeria canyon

Author: Silvia García
Date: July 15, 2010



El Sabinar is a seamount off the coasts of Almeria, at the foot of a deep undersea canyon facing NE-SW that reaches depths of up to 1800m, so the presence of cetaceans in the area is guaranteed. The only information available is about this area's geology and cetaceans, given the importance of this area for these mammals, but no studies are available about its species and the habitats present on the seabeds. It’s the first time a camera films these seabeds, so we’re being cautious, we don’t know what we’ll find or if there are many remnants of fishing gear that’ll make it difficult for us to bring the ROV back up.

We put the ROV in the water and it takes us almost 20 minutes to reach the bottom, over one of the seamount's peak, at 300m depth. We fall right on top of a field of Leptometra phallangium crinoids.  This is good news because this habitat is considered sensitive and essential by the EU fisheries scientific committee because it is associated to the presence of juveniles of many commercial species, like mullets, monkfish or John Dorys, among others. Of these species, we had the opportunity to film a juvenile specimen of white monkfish, Lophius piscatorius. We continue sailing and filming the species that appear before us, including cnidarians, fish, sea cucumbers or shrimp, many of these are typical targets for trawling fisheries. So the presence of the trawling marks we've documented isn’t strange. In fact, there are so many that the seabed looks like a 25-lane motorway.

Later on we try to submerge the ROV in a rocky area with steep slopes, which would have been a very interesting area due to the variety of species that might live there, but the current does not allow us to fall in the right place, so we have to return to the flatter, muddier seabeds where trawlers operate.

On our way back to port, we are all on deck, eager to see the cetaceans that will surely make an appearance. Directly over the Almeria canyon, with more than 800m of water underneath us, we see a large group of striped dolphins jumping straight out of the water, full of energy. Shortly after, we see a group of pilot whales, at least 8 individuals. We head towards them to document them; we can perfectly distinguish the male, impressive, much larger than the rest, who comes up to us while the females and youngsters stay at a distance, keeping still at the surface of the water. After thousands of photographs and video images, we leave them behind to peacefully regroup and go on their way.