Category: travel


kanaloa smiled on us

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while the views of the hawaiian landscape were mighty fine, some of our best memories are from the water.  we were able to snorkel right in front of our hotel on oahu, and it was warm enough to be in for an hour or more comfortably.  little pockets of reef hid darting butterflyfish and wrasses, staring triggerfish and bumbling boxfish, and even a white-mouthed moray eel.  large, intensely blue trevally wandered past while we dove down for glimpses of the shadow-dwellers, and it isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that i could happily have spent all day, every day in the sea.

luckily there was also a chance to show its wonders to the elf–we were walking distance from the waikiki aquarium, which offered arguably even better views of some of the same fish, plus seals, jellies, hermit crabs, and even the elf’s new favorite word, an OPOTUS!  (so.  proud.)

on kauai we also took advantage of a wide range of swimming opportunities, from a glorious snorkel along the na pali coast (one of the best i’ve ever done, and of course the camera was at home charging, so i can’t show you the sapphire depths or large sea turtle we ran into) to dark intrepid swimming holes in the forest, accessible by rope swing or zipline.  we kayaked up the huleia stream past the menehune fishpond (its alleged origins make a good story) and spent an afternoon playing with the elf in the shallows of another estuary.  some days we woke up, put on swim suits, kept them on all day never really got properly dressed…

perfection.

 

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oh, HI

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as usual at the moment, new material here means: recent travel!  we went to hawaii for our fifth wedding anniversary, bundling up the elf (well, actually, stripping her down since it was pretty warm, but holy CRAP does traveling with toddlers require a lot of luggage) to journey up to the sandwich isles, where we also met up with my mom and aunt.  we spent three nights in oahu — one of them not really a ‘night’ since our plane was delayed 5 hours and we got to the hotel at 4am — and four on kauai.  and it was BLISS.  lush forests, craggy mountains, dense and jungly vines, sparkling seas.  a little kid to introduce to sand and waves; babysitters on hand for when we wanted to to other things.  fresh fruit.  coffee-flavored everything.  shave ice!

i think i’m going to split the photos into a couple of batches, so i’ll start with what we saw on land.  we did some driving and some hiking, taking us along coastlines, through forests, and up mountainous terrain, so we got a nicely varied tour of both islands.

 

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what’s it like, then

Imagewell, the vampire squid is a hard act to follow.  although we did see some more very beautiful things, they’re all going to seem a little anticlimactic. so i’ll show you some nice photos of another squid anyway, Chiroteuthis calyx, which is more photogenic even if it doesn’t have the vampire’s notoriety, and i’ll tell you about something less sciency: life on the boat.

you can get a feel for the vessel itself, the western flyer (technical specs here) by taking a virtual tour.  my overall impressions, compared to other ships i’ve been on (the rainbow warrior and academic ioffe), are that it feels very stable (although it has an interestingly unpredictable pattern of rolling, which we experienced during the first two days as the wind gusted up to 30 knots; still, nothing like the conditions that inspired me to write full tilt in 2004, reposted at the bottom of my ‘about’ page) and runs very quietly, although the noise from the hydraulic equipment for the ROV is significant.  the common areas feel comfortable and spacious, while the cabins are extremely economical on space—the non-bunk floorspace in the double cabin i share is less than 2x2m, and that includes a sink and a desk.  toilets/showers are shared between two cabins, so four people, but we’ve never had any timing crises that i’ve been aware of.  maybe i’ve just been on the right side of the door.

the daily schedule goes something like this: ROV into the water around 0630, camera on and filming begins immediately.  observers trickle into the control room to watch what’s going on any time over the next few hours (and drift in and out in the meantime); the live camera feed can also be viewed in the dry lab (where everyone’s computers are), the mess, the bridge, and on monitors in each cabin, so if you see something exciting come into frame, you can rush to the control room to share in the mass hysteria.  breakfast is at 0730 and lunch at 1130; those operating the ROV (navigator, pilot, camera operator and video annotator) swap out about a half hour into each meal so everyone gets to eat.  the food is consistently superb, unlike on some other voyages.  the dive usually runs for 8–12 hours, depending on the goals for the day (sometimes there are two shorter dives), and that time is spent somewhere between  300 and 3000m on this trip, although doc ricketts can go to 6000m, with the entirety collected on film.  during this time the ROV operators take shifts and the science  crew are involved if data for their projects are being collected, or if they want to watch what’s going on (who doesn’t?!).  dinner is at 1700 and the ROV is usually back on deck shortly thereafter.  in the evening we’ve also been setting a short trawl down to 300–500m to collect pteropods, shrimp, jellies, and fish and squid that come to the upper layers as darkness descends.  the net is hauled somewhere between 2000 and 2100 and then anyone with samples to process takes care of those.  most people head to bed reasonably early after that, but i’ve been up late most nights, partly reporting here and partly because in my head it’s four hours earlier and it doesn’t make much sense to get readjusted for just a week.  that does mean that the early mornings begin really early though; i confess to arriving at breakfast one morning to hear that i’d already missed five squid sightings by ‘sleeping in.’  a mistake i have not repeated.

so that may give you an idea of what life is like out here.  it doesn’t convey—because words simply couldn’t—the overwhelming awe that this whole operation inspires, with its smooth running amid extremely advanced technology, innate expertise of those involved, and easy camaraderie among scientists and crew alike.  it is an incredible privilege to be here, and photos like these, that can almost convey the magic of seeing these animals alive, will serve as a reminder for me (long after we’ve returned to the shore) of this wonderous week.

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i vant to suck… a dead jellyfish

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today we saw one of the holy grails of deep-sea cephalopod research: the vampire squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis.  this animal is a living fossil, sole occupant of its entire taxonomic order (Vampyromorpha), and has changed very little in millions of years, still possessing many of the traits that ancestral octopuses and squid would have had.  it lives in the oxygen minimum zone (one of the few cephalopods to spend most of its time there with apparent success) and has recently been shown to be the only known cephalopod detritivore (eating mostly marine snow, the bits of organic stuff that rain down from shallower waters), making a small mockery of its name. it also has some very interesting defensive behaviors, which you can watch here.

the one we saw was at about 800m, and fully grown, about the size of a large grapefruit.  but i should say, the first one we saw, because a half hour later we saw a second!  these were the first sightings of this species in the monterey canyon in about a year and a half, and here were two of them.  what’s more, the second one was a baby, which was apparent not only from its size, but its second pair of fins.  baby vampires (how many people will find this post accidentally by googling that phrase, i wonder) first grow a pair of fins right at the end of the mantle, which they flap in a similar pattern to a swimmer doing elementary backstroke.  then they grow a second pair of fins closer to the head, which they flap in the more standard up-and-down motion, but for a short while they have both pairs at the same time (see here for more info on the transition), and this one was in that ‘puberty’ stage.  and mighty cute it was, too.

you may remember that we also encountered vampire squid on the mid-atlantic ridge in 2009. that was pretty cool, but they were small and in poor shape after being trawled from the depths.  in contrast, the sighting today (a good ten minutes of beautiful, clear video footage) ranks as a lifetime highlight.  thanks for showing yourselves, little vampires who aren’t really!

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in control

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today was another deep-diving day.  we went back down to about 2800m to retrieve the respirometry system deployed yesterday, and spent a bit of time looking around down there for a variety of things, mostly crustaceans.  on the way back up, i got my first chance to ‘drive’ the camera: the pilot controls the ROV, but the camera driver is in charge of spotting interesting things, calling out when to stop, and focusing on them.  during my time in The Chair, we didn’t see any squid, but we did see many beautiful Lampocteis comb-jellies (a kind of ctenophore), which are about the size of a fist, a dark blood-red color, and they have strips of cilia along the sides that ripple and refract the ROV’s lights prismatically, sending brilliant flashing rainbows along their sides.  you can see more photos here, but no still photo does it justice.  we also ran across a stunning Tomopteris polychaete worm (go look!).

these images are screen grabs from my little video camera, which was filming the live on-screen video feed of a couple of cephs we saw yesterday.  they aren’t as clear as the nice shots i get in the lab, but they’ll give you a feel for how the animals look when we encounter them at home in the deep blue sea.

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further into the deep

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this morning the ROV descended to about 3000m to search for mysid shrimp, to measure their rate of oxygen consumption.  after collecting enough to fill the test chambers, we hung the whole set-up on a mooring at about 2800m and left it, to be collected tomorrow when 24 hours of data have been logged.  this whole process astounds me.  drop casually down to 3km below the surface, maneuver an ROV the size of a small bus to catch individual shrimp smaller than your little finger, and then attach the whole set-up to a pre-existing cable and just come back later.  i mean: wow.

from there we headed up to relatively shallow depths to search for squid and other exciting creatures.  on the way up, we happened across this Galiteuthis at 1075m (still very respectable!), but then had about two hours of seeing absolutely nothing. fair enough, i guess; the ocean is huge and the deep sea is a pretty challenging environment.  but just as we were losing heart, we asked the magic 8 ball (i’m actually not kidding) whether we might (1) see Octopoteuthis sometime soon, and (2) see anything interesting within the next ten minutes.  it answered DEFINITELY YES to both questions, causing us to scoff a bit.  but then?  within three minutes a Stigmatoteuthis dolfleini swam directly in front of us (one of the largest histioteuthids, a beautiful family of ‘jeweled’ squids, and a species that they’ve only seen out here three times in 16 years).  and then, a half hour later, we encountered not one, but two Octopoteuthis deletron.  i did not get the chance to photograph these as the aquarium folks whisked them straight off to comfy dark boxes, but i can assure you that they were stunning.  and magic 8 ball, i’m sorry i ever doubted you.

let there be squid!

just so there’s no suspense: today was amazing.

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the ROV was in the water by about 9am and spent the morning and early afternoon doing transects of 10 minutes, every 100m down to 1000m.   these videos will later be annotated, databasing every animal encountered, contributing to a time series that’s been gathered here for sixteen years so far.  we saw jellies, krill, giant larvaceans (the size of your finger, which is huge for a larvacean), and yes, squid.   first a beautiful Histioteuthis heteropsis, all bejeweled and twinkly; then a few zippy little Gonatus; several ponderous Taonius paused to ogle us with their eerie alien eyes; and finally a similar-looking Galiteuthis, with lovely little hooks on the tentacle clubs.  we also visited ‘octopus rock,’ a site in about 1400m of water where deep-sea Graneledone are often spotted, and we were in luck: three of them were home!  i can’t fully explain what it means to someone who’s used to looking at these animals preserved in jars, opaque and shrunken with time (sometimes collected several centuries earlier), to have the chance to watch them drift by under their own power, flashing their chromatophores and light organs and watching you right back.  i think i could fall in love with them again every single day.

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at sea once more!

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ten days ago i was unexpectedly invited out to sea on one of MBARI’s research vessels, the western flyer.  i had been hoping to join a cruise later this year, but a spot opened up early and it was mine if i could get here on short notice.  a flurry of organizational activity ensued (encouraged by the saintly pebbles, who assured me he would be ok on solo-dad duty with the elf while i was away, perhaps with some local family support), booking flights, promising return favors to colleagues who could cover my teaching duties, and generally getting my head around the ever-more-real possibility of going to sea again soon, and in such prestigious company.

and here i am.  out over the monterey canyon, rolling around on the flyer in 30-knot winds, but with the unexpected boon of internet access.  today was too rough for the ROV doc ricketts to be deployed for its scheduled all-day adventures, but it was down for three hours, long enough to almost get used to the amazing feeling of sitting in its control room and watching the pilots maneuver it incredibly delicately around individual shrimp and other deep-sea beasties.  the control room actually feels a bit like the bridge of the starship enterprise (no accident, i’m told), complete with the hyperspace effect of marine snow flying rapidly past the ROV camera.

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after the truncated dive we decided to snatch at the window of opportunity to set a brief trawl, so we sent the net down to 400m for an hour and 200m for another hour on the way back up, just to see what we could find.  the answer was: lots of cool stuff!  lanternfish, jellies, shrimp and other cool crustaceans, and a few squid: Chiroteuthis, Taonius and Histioteuthis, among others.  all small specimens (less than 10cm total length), but in beautiful shape; some were lively enough to be maintained in the lab here, and the others were released.  i won’t monopolize the internet connection out here by posting heaps of photos, but here are a few for the day, and i’ll come back and add more after we’re back on shore,.

we’ll be within sight of land the whole week, and the food is excellent so far (so, two marked contrasts to the 2009 voyage).  in addition to the deep-sea critters, we’ve seen seals and albatross.  the scientists and crew are a fun and lively bunch, the air smells like salt, and—separation from the pebbles and elf aside—damn, but it’s good to be back at sea!

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the americas, part 7: colonia

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on our last full day in south america, we took a trip to colonia del sacramento, two hours’ bus ride from montevideo.  it was supposed to be quaint and historical and scenic, and several friends had recommended it to us if we had any time to spare.  since we had done very little in the way of independent sightseeing on this continent, and we wanted to get mari & mati back out of exile into their own room, we booked a night’s stay and hopped on the bus.  the elf, rather unlike her usual chipper self, did not enjoy the ride, and ensured that few others in her immediate surroundings did, either.  i’m pretty sure a lot of people were happy to see us disembark, but not as happy as we were.

the bus let us off a few blocks from where we were supposed to be staying, in an area that looked distinctly non-historic, but we quickly came to older pastel-painted buildings in tree-lined cobblestone streets and decided we might be in the right place after all.  the hotel italiano, too, proved to have been a scenic choice; our room was off a central skylighted patio that did indeed seem appropriately italian-pensione-like (at least to someone who had never been to italy… the pebbles concurred, though).  the hotel also boasted two pools: an outdoor, rather south-pacific-feeling, but distinctly chilly option, and an indoor italian-renaissance-style, bath-warm lagoon that we thought might be a bit more to the elf’s taste.

refreshed from having washed off the annoyed glares of other bus passengers, we went exploring, and found that everyone had been right.  this was a lovely place.  and it seemed to be a fairly quiet season, so we had many things to ourselves.  we walked first along the ocean, which was brown but briskly breezy in a nice seaside way, then found some lunch in one of the many open-air cafes.  we admired stuccoed buildings and gardens stuffed with riotously colored flowers, art galleries with things we liked but patently could not afford, and sections of the original city wall, especially the gate and drawbridge.  we did a little shopping in some more affordable, perhaps backpacker-targeted shops, and came away with some nice presents and a large paper star lantern that would later grace our christmas tree.  i climbed to the top of the lighthouse (the elf was mysteriously not allowed in, so the pebbles stayed with her, being himself no great fan of high, narrow stairways) and was rewarded with a nice view over the old portion of the city, and of a twin-towered church that we went and investigated next.  it was empty of life, but full of an eerie blue light from twin windows high above the doors.

we stopped for a drink at the ‘slow snail’ cafe and let the elf out of the front pack for a few minutes, then made our way to the other side of the old part of the city, which felt distinctly more run down and less touristy–interesting to see, but we didn’t dawdle.  we did see a fish driving a car on the way back to the old city center, though.

in the evening, we found a quiet but nice-looking restaurant for our last dinner in south america.  at least, it was quiet until a fairly large number of men arrived, singly or in small groups, and all having some kind of set menu that seemed to involve soup, a main, and some kind of jello for dessert.  we couldn’t quite tell whether they were a sports team, or local tradesmen with an established deal, but it was interesting to watch them while we took turns eating and feeding the elf her bottle.  she complied beautifully as usual, nearly making up for the morning’s bus ride, and even allowed us to take a night-time stroll back around some of the places we’d been earlier and sneak some more dramatic photos, before turning in for the night.

we left fairly promptly the following morning to begin our long journey back to new zealand, but greatly enjoyed our time in colonia.  it was quite different from most of the rest of the trip, a little oasis of peeblestad-only adventure to a beautiful spot.  it reminded us a little of a day trip we took to tallinn a few years earlier, and will probably live alongside it in memory as one of our favorite travel days.

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the americas, part 6: montevideo

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uruguay was probably our favorite new country for this trip, in spite of a slightly fraught arrival experience.  the ferry from argentina arrived late for no discernible reason, and the elf had an uncharacteristically fussy ride over, requiring a lot of walking and shushing; then luggage retrieval and the customs processing were an absolute shambles, making us more than an hour late (930pm instead of 830) with no way to notify the person we were meeting.  this was my good friend mari, my roommate from the south atlantic voyage in 2009, whom i hadn’t seen since.  and she had enlisted her boyfriend’s father to drive us to her place from the ferry in his tiny car.  so, like clowns, the five of us ducked out of the heavy rain to pack in alongside (and under and over and between) our luggage, with the elf, now mercifully quiet, riding in the ergo carrier and sharing my seatbelt as usual.

when we got to mari’s place, we met her boyfriend mati, and discovered to our great embarrassment that they had exiled themselves to the lounge for our visit and had us staying in their room.  way to make us feel old; my parents used to do the same for my grandparents when we were little.  oh well.  their flat was lovely and welcoming, and we had a delicious meal of homemade pizza before turning in for the night to gather some energy for exploring.

it turned out to be a good thing we had, too, because mari & mati had rather an amazing itinerary planned for us.  we started out downtown, and went to artigas‘ tomb, then to the historic teatro solis, where we watched a bit of a very strange modern dance show (an hour of six performers listening to individual headsets with instructions for sounds and movements, then performing accordingly, but with no group coordination or soundtrack for the audience; we bailed early).  we perused the port market and had lunch, trying a few uruguayan specialties on the barbecue platter, which was served on an a small charcoal brazier in the middle of the table.  we would recommend the chorizo and veg, but probably not the kidney, salivary glands or chichulin

in the afternoon we walked through a lovely park and around the outside of the soccer stadium, i believe the oldest purpose-built FIFA world cup stadium.  it was closed, as was the associated museum, but we snuck a peek through a peep-hole anyway.   we also took a bracing walk in the salt spray along the harbor, but quickly decided that a siesta at home might be a better idea.  the evening held a late meal at a nice pub amusingly called ‘burlesque’ (mari & mati were interested to hear what the word meant, as no relevant entertainment was on offer), with the elf asleep on my knees under the table.

on day 2 we were in for some more endurance sightseeing and culture, checking out a huge market in the morning, then lunching on some tasty chivitas with a bonus accompaniment of green beer.  we had promised some friends who own a house in montevideo to stop by and see it, although they wouldn’t be there, so we took a picturesque stroll through a nice architectural part of town, also admiring the creative and often truly artistic graffiti.  after a brief stop at the art gallery and an ice cream, we were once again nearly dead on our feet, and called it a day.  after all, we had a new destination for the following morning!

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