The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: deep sea

The Japanese Mini-Subs of the Pearl Harbor. Terry Kerby on a Discovery that Rewrote History. A Scuttlefish Feature.


Terry Kerby at the viewing port of the deep sea sub, Pisces V. He was looking through this view port when he found a tiny Japanese submarine that rewrote the history of World War II.
Photo: Chris Dixon

Last week, The New York Times published a story I wrote that posed a question: Do Humans Have a Future in Deep Sea Exploration? The story focused on a pioneering deep sea submersible pilot named Terry Kerby and the laboratory he oversees on Oahu’s windward coast. The laboratory, part of the University of Hawaii and better known as HURL, has been the most important United States deep-sea research outpost in the mid-Pacific since the 1980s. As HURL’s chief pilot, Kerby is perhaps the most experienced submersible navigator alive. With a crew of five, Mr. Kerby and his twin Pisces submarines have discovered more than 140 wrecks and artifacts, recovered tens of millions of dollars in lost scientific equipment, and surveyed atolls and seamounts whose hydrothermal vents and volcanoes were unknown.



Kerby’s discoveries, made alongside the likes of Dr. Robert Ballard and Dr. Sylvia Earle, have rewritten the history of World War II and changed our very understanding of the deep ocean. But in 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it would be cutting off the meager funding that helped keep HURL and its subs afloat. Today, Kerby faces the possible mothballing of his fleet – and the world faces the loss of ¼ of the planet’s human-piloted deep subs. The forces at play are the same as in many other realms of science — dwindling budgets – NOAA’s deep sea exploration budget is $26 million per year, while NASA’s space exploration budget is on the order of $4 billion. Then, of course, there’s the issue of robots.

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Last Man Off: Author and Shipwreck Survivor Matt Lewis Discusses Disaster, Survival and Regret in the Southern Ocean

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Above: Likely the last (recoverable) photo taken of the Sudur Havid. All of Mr. Lewis’ photos from the voyage lie beneath the South Atlantic, somewhere to the west-northwest of South Georgia Island.

In April of 1998, a 23-year-old marine biologist named Matt Lewis boarded the Sudur Havid, a commercial fishing vessel headed for the Southern Ocean in search of Patagonian toothfish (better known for its more common market name, “Chilean sea bass”). He was to be a scientific observer, documenting the vessel’s catch. It was his first job out of school.

The vessel was to spend several months at sea between the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties, great conveyor belts of wind and current, named in reference to the almost constant 40-60-knot winds and 40-60-foot seas that occur within those southern latitudes. It was an adventurous gig – the kind of thing a young, freshly lettered bachelor is supposed to get himself into.

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“With my mum and sister in Somerset before the trip, 1997. I know: bad hair, dreadful beard, but I was young.” Photo courtesy of Matt Lewis.

Two months into the excursion, the Sudur Havid was off South Georgia Island in a heavy storm, possibly overloaded, but continuing to fish, per usual, when the ship’s factory (where the fish are processed and frozen) began to take on water. The inboard pumps, which were used to drain the factory, became clogged, and stopped working. Slowly, the ship began to list, and the reality that she would have no chance of making port set in amongst the crew. South Georgia Island was 170 miles away–too far for helivac–and South Africa and South America were both well over 1,000 miles away.

Now it was a nightmare.

The ship, which Lewis, junior amongst the crew, had assumed was prepared for such an emergency, was carrying unserviced life rafts and no survival suits. The water over the rail was as good as freezing, about 32.5° fahrenheit (~0.25° celsius)–a temperature at which even a healthy human body can last no more than 45 minutes.

“When you’re in trouble, you pull together, fight together, try to laugh and keep your spirits up. But there’s only so much you can do when the water is so cold.”

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Do Humans Have a Future in Deep Sea Exploration? My Newest Story in The New York Times Story Poses the Question.


Terry Kerby, the head of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, peers through the porthole of a Pisces V research submarine. Photo: Kent Nishimura for The New York Times. 

This past Spring, I was honored to spend some time with a most remarkable oceanographer. Terry Kerby is the director of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory. The admiral of HURL’s Pisces deep-sea submersible program, Kerby is arguably the most experienced submariner the face of the earth. The discoveries he and his crew have made with the help of the of bug-eyed, mantis-armed Pisces submarines, have re-written the very history of World War II and changed our very understanding of the life on earth. Yet the future of Kerby’s operation is uncertain, thanks to budget cuts – and robots.

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An Extinct Volcanic Range Just Discovered off Australia Is Bristling with Weird Little Fanged Fish and Other Strange Life.


“The scaleless blackfish.” Photo: CSIRO.

While on a recent expedition off Sydney, Australia, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) discovered four extinct volcanoes, estimated to be about 50 million years old. What might be more interesting, however, is the life that they found. Roughly 200 meters below the surface of the Tasman Sea, they recorded some strange deep sea life, which—unlike the four extinct calderas—they’ve yet to make much sense of.

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Black Coral Discovered off Hawaii May Be Earth’s Longest Living Species, NOAA’s Carbon Dating Suggests


Above: This Hawaiian black coral (Leiopathes annosa) can live for over 4,000 years. Image: Chris Kelley/HURL/NOAA.

If this deep sea black coral (Leiopathes annosa) discovered off Hawaii isn’t the longest living organism on earth known to science, that is), then it is at least the oldest specimen ever discovered at sea.

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The Discovery of Sharkcano: An Undersea Batcave for Sharks Within an Acidic Hydrothermal Cauldron

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Scalloped hammerheads and silky sharks were swimming inside the Kavachi Volcano’s caldera off the Solomon Islands. Screenshot from NatGeo’s video, Sharks Discovered Inside Underwater Volcano”.

The last few years it has been hard to miss the ‘so bad it’s good’ trilogy ‘Sharknado’; a waterspout that lifts sharks out the ocean, dumps them ashore in Los Angeles, and apocalyptic chaos ensues. What you may not have heard of is the recent discovery of a real ‘SharkCano’, 147 feet deep in an undersea volcano in the Solomon Islands.

The volcano, known as Kavachi, is highly volatile (acidic) and extremely active, thus very hard to study. At an opportune time to collect data between explosions, Brennan Phillips and his National Geographic crew sent a camera into the sunken caldera. What they found there was a complete surprise; two sharks–and a sixgill stingray–seemingly thriving in the plume and a hot acidic environment with carbon dioxide and methane bubbles rising from the seafloor vents. Not exactly hospitable elements for biology, as we know it.

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Video shows the team watching the footage live with excitement seeing the sharks and stingray in their “cave-homey-thingy”.

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Above: The NatGeo team marvels at the discovery. Screenshot from NatGeo’s video, “Sharks Discovered Inside Underwater Volcano”.

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This Little-Known Prickly-Faced Fish Might Be the Most Abundant Animal on Earth, According to Scientists


Above: The bristlemouth, (genus Gonostomatidae). Photo: Rudie Kuiter/

This strange, spiky little mouth belongs to a fingerling-sized hermaphroditic fish that occupies the least explored depths of the sea, and may be the single most abundant fish on planet earth, scientists now say.

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Track the Fate of The Axial Seamount: The NE Pacific’s Most Active Subsea Volcano and the World’s First Underwater Observatory Station

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Axial Seamount base study site. Image from Interactive Oceans. 

The Axial seamount, located 300 miles off the coast of northern Oregon, is one of the best-studied underwater volcanoes in the world and is erupting for the first time since 2011.


The Axial Seamount is an underwater mountain that juts up 3,000 feet from the ocean floor, and is part of a string of volcanoes that straddle the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a tectonic plate boundary where the seafloor is spreading apart. Image credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University. 

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