Gulf of Alaska Seamounts 2019

10 Years in the Making

By Travis Kolbe, ROV Superintendent, Global Explorer OCEANEERING Int.
July 31, 2019

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be on a boat in the Gulf of Alaska, working with scientists in July, diving at over a mile deep - I would have said, “YA, RIGHT… I WISH”. Well, wishes come true now and then.

The Global Explorer ROV is being lifted over the side of the ship for a dive.

The Global Explorer ROV is being lifted over the side of the ship for a dive. Image courtesy of Katrin Iken, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Download larger version (jpg, 4.6 MB).

I’m an ROV operator. ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle. Our job is to keep an un-manned submersible working in 100-percent condition so we can use this piece of equipment to explore where very few humans have been, and we operate it all in the confines of a metal shipping container box with a joy stick that you would use for some type of flight simulator for your PC. Sounds cool? Well it is...

Close-up picture of a soft coral at the Giacomini seamount taken by the Global Explorer.

Close-up picture of a soft coral at the Giacomini Seamount taken by the Global Explorer. Image courtesy of NOAA/UAF/Oceaneering. Download larger version (jpg, 1.7 MB).

This trip, we are diving to get photos and specimens on benthic and pelagic dives (for us non-scientists that is: on the seafloor and in the middle of the water between the surface of the water and the seafloor). Now when you think about scientists, most of the time we come up with a picture in our heads of a stuffy, less-than-comical person that uses all sorts of long Latin names on different animals to keep catalogs of them. But that would be further from the truth. The scientists we have worked with are some of the most brilliant people you’ll ever meet but are also down to Earth, humble, and downright crazy to a sort. It's fun and you still get lots of science done at the same time.

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The cockatoo squid (Cranchiidae) filmed by the Global Explorer ROV is all grace and elegance. Video courtesy of NOAA/UAF/Oceaneering. Download (mp4, 7.9 MB).

Being a part of this cruise is one of the adventures in my life that simply cannot be forgotten and will forever remain as one of the most exciting things I was able to do. Some of the animals we have seen on the seafloor and in the water column are just amazing, but the best was this: we were following a Cockatoo squid (Cranchiidae), just filming it and watching when all of a sudden it turned its head to the ROV like it was acknowledging we were there and briefly stared at us before turning away. We all laughed because it was just THAT AMAZING to see one of these animals behave that way. Just simply incredible is the only way to describe it.