Squid captured on the BOWCAM.
View the footage with Real Video
August 28, 2002
My first two days back at sea did not go as planned - while the seasoned crew of the Odyssey took the 3-meter swells and short chop in their stride - I was as sick as a dog.
After a few days at sea I am now getting my sea legs back and am enjoying the rhythm of shipboard life - helm watch, observation watch, vessel maintenance and of course a nap.
The Seychelles are made up of two distinct island groups. The northern 'inner' islands that are granitic, and covered in dense jungle and the smaller 'outer' islands that are low-lying coral atolls with a barrier reef and for the most part are dotted with coconut palms.
The Seychelles islands sit on banks or pieces of continental shelf that rise some 9000 feet up from the ocean floor. The underwater currents around these banks generate strong upwellings along the sharp 'drop-offs' of the outer edge. Such conditions are conducive to deep-sea (methopelagic) squid aggregations. These fast moving invertebrates are the primary prey for our study species, sperm whales.
Even though the Odyssey spends much of its time in remote ocean regions looking for sperm whales we encounter an enormous amount of floating debris. Most of this garbage is man-made - primarily plastics and fishing gear and is too small to have any negative effect upon the Odyssey, although as we have highlighted before, it can be detrimental and often fatal to marine life.
At times the Odyssey encounters natural debris such as seaweed, branches and occasionally very big logs. Typically these obstacles pose no risk to the Odyssey, but can damage some of the instrumentation attached to the hull. Ironically the most fragile piece of equipment is also the most exposed to the elements. The BOWCAM is in a very vulnerable position on the bow just underwater on the starboard side of the hull.
For purposes of underwater filming, the optic lens through which the camera sees the world is very important; it ensures images are clear and not distorted. While we currently only use a tiny camera the size of one's finger, the bowcam tube actually has a 3-inch internal diameter. When funding permits we will put in a larger camera with a pan tilt and zoom feature that future visitors to our website will be able to control from their computers at home.
Luck turned against us one night off Papua New Guinea when the Odyssey struck a log which shattered the bow cam lens, flooded the tube and destroyed the camera.
When I called our initial lens supplier, they cost of the lens had gone up to $1000, and I realized that we needed a more affordable solution. So, I called upon a good friend of mine and the Ocean Alliance, Al Sliski.and just 2 days prior to my departure to the Odyssey, we were in his workshop designing and making our own bowcam lens (when I say we - Al did most of the work while I offered moral support)
My first job when I joined the Odyssey in Victoria harbour was to get the wooden plug out of the bowcam tube, clean the surface where the lens attached, put in new "o" rings and mount the lens. I thought this would take me an hour - since I was working approximately 2 feet down in murky water on the side of a bouncing boat it took me most of the day and left me with barnacle souvenirs that are still healing.
While we did test the new camera and lens in the dirty harbor we needed clear water to give it the real test.
Captain Iain Kerr on the helm with the BOWCAM video recording deck.
Photo: Chris Johnson
Our opportunity came last night as we drifted on the moon lit waters of the Indian Ocean and the results were immediate. As we watched, a tight ball of small fish rose to the surface attracted by the halogen light we had placed over the bow; the squid were quick to follow. The new homemade lens worked perfectly even after being exposed to some very rough seas. With ideal water clarity and precise camera positioning, we watched the squid darting in and out of the school. The fish bunched into an ever tightening mass as the squid curled back their arms in preparation for attack. In twos and threes they shot out their two feeding tentacles to first grab their prey and then bring it back toward the ring of arms surrounding the mouth. Squid use a hard 'parrot' like beak to kill or paralyse their prey, which is then cut into pieces and ground up into a paste before being swallowed. The whole crew watched this drama unfold on the television screen in the salon; the squid eating their dinner, as we ate ours.
As you can see from the images, the lens is working perfectly with a materials cost of around $50 (thanks Al!).
Not only was the BOWCAM section one of the most frequently visited sections on our website, it was a sorely missed scientific tool that allowed us to study cetaceans from a unique, rarely seen perspective.
Now we have seen the squid eat the fish, we want to see the squid meet their predator - the sperm whale. But we will need a different camera for that!
From the Western Indian Ocean, this is Iain Kerr wishing you fair winds and a following sea.
- To see previous footage captured on the BOWCAM, click here
Log by Iain Kerr