On Tuesday I wrote about my experience diving in a deep-sea submarine, but going on right now are two live-streaming deep-sea expeditions that allow you incredible access to the deep sea from the comfort of your own home. If you really want to know what the deep sea looks like, you can get an incredible education in a few short days by spending some time with either or both video feeds. If you can run one of these feeds in the background while you work and keep your ears perked for a quick screen swap when you hear something exciting come along, you may be treated to some unexpected delights -- a few of which are featured in two videos below.
The first of the two live streams has been ongoing for some time -- it is Robert Ballard's ongoing Nautilus Expedition, currently exploring the deep Caribbean underwater volcano Kick'em Jenny through Oct. 8, but ranging across the Caribbean in recent months. Their live stream is here, and as of this moment, they are headed back out to sea to dive on Kick'em Jenny later today.
Here is an eye-popping sampler of the incredible creatures observed in recent weeks by the Nautilus Expedition on Conrad Seamount. Watch for the predatory tunicate, a member of the group I talked about a few weeks ago whose larvae have proto-backbones called notochords and who are relatively close relations to us in spite of their bizarre appearance (want to know more about predatory tunicates? David Attenborough explains).
The second live stream is from NOAA's Okeanos Explorer expedition to unexplored undersea canyons and seamounts off the U.S. Atlantic coast, which runs from Sept. 7 to Oct. 4. I watched their live feed for about an hour on Saturday and most of the day yesterday, and was completely mesmerized by the incredible closeups of life they saw at regular intervals, their discovery of a long row of sea caves they dubbed "the octopus condominium" that seriously puzzled the geologists, and of the panoramic views of the deep sea floor and canyon walls they've explored so far.
I've seen a fathead fish (hilariously noted to be a close relative of the blobfish by one commentator) and a bizarre translucent swimming sea cucumber with finger-like extensions that swims in an undulating S shape. I've seen two different kind of giant protists called xenophyophores (awesome!). I saw my first ever spoon worm with its tongue out sticking out of its hole and stretched out in the famous spoon shape on the sea bed and then I was treated to the incredibly rare sight of it quickly retracting it. Here's the link to the Okeanos live feed (at this very moment they are diving on the western slope of Retriever Seamount, an extinct underwater volcano that has been dived on only once on a different face, and tomorrow they plan to dive Asterias Seamount, which to their knowledge has never before been explored), but see my twitter feed for a selection of photographs tweeted recently by @DrChrisKellogg showing highlights of the expeditions over the weekend.
Below is a short clip captured by Okeanos on Sept. 7, the first day of the expedition. What you are seeing is a swarm of squid in Norfolk Canyon. They are eating, but they are also being eyed by some hungry predators who make two attempts at procuring calamari dinners. The first happens near the beginning when a red crab grabs for a squid. The second happens just after :35 --- watch carefully for it in the upper left portion of the screen. A monkfish gets a nice squid dinner.
Although riding in a sub is incredibly exciting, watching the video streams from these ROV dives isn't that much different. The quick species IDs and scientific musings of biology and geology commentators and the chatter of the pilots give the whole thing the feel of watching a space mission while listening to NASA Mission Control (but with a lot more to see, IMO). You get that vivid sense of being there even though you are not.
Each new animal that comes along feels like a present waiting to be unwrapped. Here's a video of a bizarre deep-sea squid Okeanos encountered a few days ago on Sept. 19. You may see species or behaviors never observed before. You just never know what you're going to see, and you get to watch it behaving and interacting in the place it calls home. Just Tuesday we saw a pycnogonid sea spider swimming through the water column, and the consensus among the commentators was that was the first time such a behavior had been observed. That spoon worm sighting and retraction was an unbelievable treat too.
Finally, because the deep sea remains virtually unexplored, you and everyone else watching are most likely the first humans to ever lay eyes on what you are seeing. What could be more exciting than that? Spend some time checking out both feeds (100% free, to boot!) and you'll get to see a part of Earth that very few people ever do.