March 15, 1997 - Clyde
The highs are many and memorable. First, the research team assembled
to work with the Odyssey project was "brilliant", in the Kiwi sense of
The degree of collaboration, sensitivity and unity of purpose was simply outstanding. As the responsible person for seeing this all through, I truly appreciate and acknowledge the great efforts and contributions of the MIT Underwater Vehicles Laboratory's Jim Bellingham, Brad Moran and Bob Grieve, Cornell University Bioacoustics Laboratory's Adam Frankel, Great Britain's Malcolm Clarke and Smithsonian volunteer logistician, Ingrid Roper. I salute them, for the knowledge gained will be a significant contribution to the understanding of the fauna and ecosystem of the part of Kaikoura Canyon we were able to study.
Further, the crew of our adopted "research
vessel" Tanekaha, Capt. Rod Simpson (left), mate Michael Simpson (right),
and eager converts to the strange ways of researchers and research gear
on board. Application of their knowledge of commercial fishing gear and
boat handling, combined with their commitment to the goals of the
project, converted to safe and successful deployments and retrievals of
Odyssey, sometimes the latter in what weather forecasters call
"deteriorating conditions"! A hearty thanks to them, as well.
We feel we've learned a great deal while here, many of the details of which will have to await analysis back in the various laboratories represented on this phase. For example, we surveyed a number of habitats in and adjacent to Kaikoura Canyon at depths from the surface to 750 meters, securing video data of the biota very close to the bottom, some meters above the bottom, a number of midwater zones far off the bottom, both over the Canyon deeps and along the Canyon walls. We will be able to conduct a comparative analysis of the biomass from each dive and to identify the larger animals seen, for example the fishes, shrimps and jellys.
A number of acoustic dive profiles of
sperm whales were secured, showing their diving patterns once they
leave the surface and forage for food as deep as 750-900 meters.
Different kinds of "whale-speak" were recorded, including an
interrogation blast from a curious whale called Droopy Flukes, only 7.5
meters from the hydrophone. We recorded "challenge behavior" when two
huge male sperm whales charged into each other at full speed, butting
heads in an apparent dispute over territory...or females! Analyses of
sperm whale stomach contents and the history-book "tattoos" on the skin
of stranded sperm whales gave graphic, positive evidence of giant squid
in the area. Large hunks of squid, possible remnants of whales meals,
were found floating at the surface, further evidence of the squid
Chief among the inevitable disappointments that are a part of every exploratory venture, of course, is that we have not as yet secured an image or video footage of a giant squid. I think I feel especially frustrated because there must have been giant squid within a few hundred or a few thousand meters of our boat. The evidence that brought me here in the first place is only strengthened by our observations and our discussions with local scientists, fishermen and whale watchers. Further, even though the weather began to deteriorate with the waning summer, making operations more difficult and potentially dangerous, I would liked to have had another two weeks of operations with the Odyssey. We had gotten really comfortable with the area, the boat, the environment, the equipment, so that continued research could have been more efficient and productive. But other commitments had to be honored, so we can be pleased and satisfied that we got as much experience and data as we did. These go into our knowledge base for application to the next phase of the hunt for the giant squid.
The other two elements of this year's expedition, the "ropecam" and the
"crittercam", have been equally busy endeavors. The ropecam
completes its work today (the 15th March), and while no giant squid
have been sighted, the video footage of other deep sea animals is very
interesting and provides additional insights into the deep sea
ecosystem of Kaikoura Canyon.
The long spell of windy, stormy (Cyclone Gavin) weather has prevented the crittercam operation from getting started. Today is the first day that it has been calm enough to go offshore to attempt deployment of this very special research instrument. The crittercam crew will remain here for about two more weeks, so there always is the potential for those long-awaited giant squid shots!
Oceanic research and exploration is difficult and expensive. Funding never has been easily gained, especially so in this time of renewed budgetary belt-tightening. So I am especially appreciative to the people and organizations who have seen the potential of this project and have provided the support to insure its completion. They are: the National Geographic Committee on Research and Exploration, Carter Holt Harvey, Ltd of New Zealand (International Paper Co. subsidiary), US Office of Naval Research (to MIT's Underwater Vehicles Laboratory), private donors, including the Herndon (Virginia) Middle School "Giant Squid Outpost", National Geographic Society and Television, Whale Watch Kaikoura, Smithsonian Institution's Natural History Museum, NASA's Dr. Gene Feldman.
With the completion of our research and field work on site, I reflect
on what remains to be done/seen. Clearly the primary objective
remains: find and film the giant squid. But have we learned enough to
say that it can't be done, forget it? Objectively, I believe the
answer is, quite the contrary, a resounding "No!" We really have
learned so much about this habitat and its inhabitants, this amazing
deep sea trench so close to shore, that it would be irresponsible
perhaps to our many sponsors and supporters and to ourselves not to
continue our explorations and research.
To this end we are planning an ambitious multidisciplinary, multinational expedition to return to Kaikoura Canyon as early as next year with the added research "ammunition" of a research submarine, called a submersible. This inner-space vehicle will carry scientists into the deeps of the canyon for eyewitness searches of the hidden environment of the earth's last frontier, the deep sea.
The plans are well underway; the scientific team is assembled, as is
the submersible. Now the biggest challenge is to secure the funds
necessary to insure that this expedition, which contains so many
elements of research for anti-cancer drugs, marine resources, whale
conservation, and ecosystem definition, becomes a reality. The search
for funding certainly is as challenging as the search for the giant
squid. The difference is that very many more people, corporations,
agencies and foundations are potentially able to help fund the
expedition than there are scientists and equipment qualified to conduct
the search. But, as with other such worthwhile ventures, people and
organizations want to become participants in making exciting and
important things happen. My goal is to find them and to form
partnerships with them for the future of this deep sea research.
Someone asked me what lasting memories I would carry with me concerning this expedition. Without hesitation, I can say: the people of the research and operations team, the people of Kaikoura, indeed of New Zealand, who have been so wonderfully supportive and encouraging; the majesty and grandeur of this very special place on the planet; the support of individuals and organizations who shared the dream with me to the extent of providing funding; the realization, yet again, that even small patches of the mighty oceans are very large places, worthy of our deepest attentions; the thousands of students around the world for whom my quest for the giant squid has become their quest, as well (and what a wonderful teaching mechanism this is to introduce the deep oceans, the last frontier, to students and adults alike).
shall remember the sage encouragement that the webmaster of this home
page, my friend Gene Feldman, gave me during a particularly
if the giant squid were easy to find, someone would have done it long ago!
So, the quest continues! I hope you're with me.
Smithsonian Giant Squid Overview Page
gene carl feldman / email@example.com