Towards the end of my internship I had the opportunity gain a good bit of experience working with underwater cameras. The aquarium camera was still out of commission from last time we used it for the rockfish survey, so Vallorie was gracious enough to allow me to use her own personal camera and housing. She spent some time with me going over the settings as well as showed me how to set up the housing and check to make sure there were not any leaks. I took the camera into the Halibut Flats exhibit to get some practice using it underwater. I have used underwater video equipment in the past for benthic monitoring surveys, but I had no previous experience taking still shots, which I found to be much more difficult. My first few pictures came out extremely blurry, but after playing around with the lights and concentrating on steadying my hands shots began to come out clearer and crisper. After the dive, Vallorie showed me how to properly clean and take apart the housing. We took the memory card out and put it into the computer to check out my photos. As we looked over them, Vallorie asked me questions about the photos- How could this shot have been better? What would you do differently about the lighting? How could you have changed the point of view to make a more interesting background? She often teaches me by giving me minimal instruction prior to a task, allowing me to figure out how to do something, and more often how not to do something. Inevitably I make mistakes, but end up learning a lot from the errors.
On Wednesday we took the aquarium RV, Gracie Lynn, out for a collection dive; our goal was to collect Enteroctopus dofleini (giant pacific octopus) and jellyfish- in particular Aurelia (moon jellies) and Chrysaora (sea nettles). We headed south out of Yaquina Bay towards North Pinnacle, one of my favorite dive sites in this area. As we moved through the water, which was a mellow brown color because of plankton blooms, we kept our eyes pealed for jellies. Jellyfish often congregate where two water masses converge. The water masses can differ in a number of respects including salinity, density, or more commonly for this region- temperature. This time of year we often see upwelling at high spots of the reefs. Cold deep water flows inland and upon hitting the reef it is forced upward. Jellies are often found in abundance where the cold deep water meets the warmer subsurface water and are pushed to the surface by the strong upward currents. When the depth finder signaled that we were over a high point on the reef we all looked overboard to search for jellies. As suspected, we saw them congregating just below the surface. Peter, an intern from the Aquarium Science Program at Oregon Coast Community College, suited up to free dive and jumped in the water. We handed a net down to him and filled a barrel with water to hold the jellies that he would catch. I watched as he put his face in the water to watch below for specimens that were in good enough condition to put on display in the aquarium. He free dove down about 10 feet to where most of the undamaged sea nettles were hiding out. One by one he handed up sea nettles and moon jellies of varying sizes. After about half an hour, the jellies seemed to disperse, and Peter was having more difficulty catching them so we helped him aboard and continued on our way.
When we arrived at the top of the pinnacle Jim briefed us on how to best catch an octopus. The easiest method is to lay the bag behind the octopus mantle and then place your hand in front of the octopus. Using this method the octopus will back up on its own into the collection bag. I would be diving with Vallorie and my primary focus was to take photos, although if we saw an octopus we would by all means attempt to bring it up. The ocean was much calmer than last week, and the visibility, at about 7 ft., was not bad either. Due to the relatively mild conditions, Vallorie felt it was a great opportunity to load me with a few more tasks than I would normally take on. I would handle the reel, camera, and navigation. Since we would be using a safety reel tied off to the anchor line the navigation part would not be too difficult, but I still needed to get us oriented in the correct direction so we could find deeper water; I needed to reach at least 60 ft. in order for the dive to count towards my 60ft depth certification. I took a giant stride off the stern, tapped my head to signal I was ok, and reached up to grab the camera. I attached it to the D ring on my right, as I already had my octo, computer, and a reel attached to my left D ring.
We descended along the anchor line to the top of the pinnacle, and I tied off the safety reel to the anchor line, which was a more difficult task than usual because I had to hold the camera and deal with surge. Once the line was secure, I used my compass to find East, and I signaled for us to swim in that direction. We slowly made our way along the reef, keeping our eyes peeled for octopus as I experimented with the camera, still figuring out how to orient the lights. Even with the task loading, my air consumption was better than it had been on previous off shore dives, and I could tell that I am getting used to the Pacific North West conditions. I tried to take interesting shots and get as close as possible to each subject in order to capture as much detail as possible.
Back aboard Gracie Lynn, we were excited to find that Jenna and Brittany had already brought up one octopus- a cute little fellow, about 20 lbs. Jim and Peter geared up and got in the water to try their hand in octopus catching. They resurfaced about half an hour later with a great catch. They managed to get a fairly large 45 lb octopus! We put it in one of the totes and covered the lid so that it wouldn’t feel too uncomfortable. It was a very successful day; we came back with not one, but two octopus, 10 jellies, and I managed to get some great photos. I am very excited to continue working on my underwater photography skills and it is wonderful to have such a great teacher! Thanks Vallorie 🙂