The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: subs

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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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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This Is Russia’s Newest and Deadliest Nuclear Deterrent Submarine


One of Russia’s new Borei class submarine prepares for sea trial. Photo: RIA Novosti/RT.

Nearly 20 years in the making, Russia’s new “Borei class” (“North Wind”) SSBN (Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear) submarine is the Russian Navy’s first updated nuclear defense submarine since the end of the Cold War. Dubbed “Project 955,” these ultra-sleek black beauties will be replacing “Project 941” Typhoon-class submarines and “Project 667” BDRM Delta IV-class vessels.

These names may come across as arbitrary or irrelevant, and to an extent they probably are, though they do emanate a kind of fear-inducing chill reminiscent of the 50+ year nuclear stalemate between the former Soviet Union and the United States.


Photo: RIA Novosti/RT.

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Woods Hole’s Deepsea Challenger Scorched in Connecticut Truck Fire


Photo: Sean D. Elliot/AP.

While on her way south to Baltimore where she was to be shipped to Australia (on loan), the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) submarine, Deepsea Challenger, was damaged after the truck toting her down Interstate 95 caught fire.

Fortunately, the blaze doesn’t appear to have claimed the entire sub, which happens to be the deepest-diving machine on this big blue marble.

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Still Lost Beneath the Waves – A Visual History of the World’s Vanished Submarines


HMS Thunderbolt, under her second appellation (formerly HMS Thetis), with crew flying their Jolly Roger flag after a patrol of the Mediterranean c. 1942. Photo: Public domain.

Submarines are among the most dangerous vessels on earth to both finance and operate. Unlike boats that aren’t designed to sink, they are built with tanks (ballast and trim), through-hull fittings (which can leak) and valves to coordinate actions which cheat the laws of buoyancy. Of course, each of these components can and do malfunction, and they often prevent a submarine from resurfacing – at which point it is always hoped that the vessel is not resting 20,000 leagues under the sea with a full crew.

The life of a submariner is well associated with risk. Here, we present a brief rundown of some of the men – and vessels that went down to sea, and are still yet to be accounted for.

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How Calypso, Jacques Cousteau’s Famed Research Vessel, May Rust to the Ground

Aye Calypso the places you’ve been to,
The things that you’ve shown us,
The stories you tell.


Calypso sits sadder and lonelier than ever at the Piriou shipyard in Brittany, France. Photo: Olivier Bernard/Creative Commons.

In 1950, Undersea explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau leased a decommissioned Royal Navy minesweeper (then operating as a ferry to and fro Malta) from the Guinness family, for one franc per year. He modified the 400-ton vessel into a mothership of ocean science: additions included a state-of-the-art marine research lab and a film studio.

In the radio room of Calypso

Jacques Cousteau kicks back Calypso’s radio room. Photo: Musée Océanographique Monaco.

Jaques Yves Cousteau would spend almost forty years thereafter exploring the oceans, seas and rivers of the world at her helm. From Calypso he brought us “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” and influenced – and inspired – millions.

By the mid 1990’s, a long life of diving, filming and research at sea was starting to wear on Cousteau and his health. Calypso was in Singapore, and for once, fortunately Mr. Cousteau was not. In the year before his death in 1997, a barge accidentally rammed his 43-meter, 40-year-long companion and she sank to the bottom of Singapore harbor. She rested there for 17 days until being raised and brought back to the south of France, but she had to undergo extensive, expensive renovations just to remain intact. Now, per a settlement in a French Court which gave Francine Cousteau until March 11th of 2015 to settle a $300,000+ bill, the Brittany boatyard in which Calypso sits has the right to auction her off.

Take a tour through the Calypso with John Denver, who wrote the celebratory song about the famed research vessel that accompanies this video (above).

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How Nat Geo Is Filming Creatures of the Deep Like Never Before


Sending divers down to the Abyss is dangerous. Sending pilots down in subs like Alvin is dangerous and expensive. Sending Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to the ocean’s depths can prove to be catastrophically expensive, as was the case with Nereus, which was lost last year.

Now, National Geographic’s remote imaging team is probing the depths using what they call “drop-cams,” capturing images like the one above of a gulper shark, which had never been seen before in the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

In the video below, mechanical engineer Alan Turchik gives a rundown on the drop-cam after a January 2015 expedition to the Indian Ocean.

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For $1.7 million, You Could Have Your Own Personal Submarine

Amos copy reduced jpeg

Graham Hawkes and Sir Richard Branson diving with great white sharks in the new DeepFlight Super Falcon Mark II off Guadalupe Island, Mexico. Photo credit: Amos Nachoum, courtesy of DeepFlight

For the price of a brand new Bugatti or a beach house in Spain, you could place an order for a custom-built deep-diving personal submarine (which is remarkably reasonable when you think about it). Three have been sold so far…

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