Lindblad Expeditions - From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska - Justin Hofman, undersea specialist

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From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska

May 15, 2012 - National Geographic Sea Bird

Whitespotted greenling H. stelleri and stony corals at a new dive site
California halibut spotted during the Live Dive

Inian Islands, George Island and Lemesurier Island

Early summer in Southeast Alaska could not be more dynamic. This morning our magnificent sunrise gave way to short flurries of wet snow. Watching the solid gray horizon left everyone wondering, “Would this be a dismal day spent managing our rain gear and protecting our cameras?” Luckily, the change of the season happened before our eyes and after one final burst of rain, the clouds conceded their saturated grasp of the mountain tops to the ever-rising sun. The freshly-dusted treetops on the knobby islets we call the Inian Islands were now glowing in the splendid morning light.

While guests were watching the sinuous swimming of Steller sea lions and the kelp-tethered antics of sea otters, Bosun Ian and I went exploring underwater. Due to the swell direction, we were (happily) forced to go beyond our usual dive site and try something completely new. Judging swell direction, current and visibility, we picked one offshore rock and went for it. We dropped down into an amber forest of bull kelp and curtain kelp, only to find a massive overhanging rock face not far past the dense algae zone. At this depth and beyond, photosynthetic algae cannot receive enough light to subsist, so every inch of rock was taken over by one invertebrate or another. It was obvious that this cliff face receives strong currents and without a slack tide would be impossible to film at.

The highlight of this dive was the brilliant pink corals, nearly every one of them adorned with a basket star. These many-armed stars are often thought of as being nocturnal animals, yet even with a bright mid-morning sun, very little sunlight penetrates to these depths and affords these basket stars a chance to feed all day long. Who knew that there were corals in Alaska? After presenting the diving footage during evening recap (and being happily interrupted by a breaching humpback whale) our guests now know that corals don’t only reside in the tropics.

What’s the point of exploring if we cannot share it with others? In a world that seeks immediacy, it is our duty to bring these wild places to everyone in the most interactive way possible. With inspiration can come change. So tonight I took nearly 60 National Geographic Sea Bird guests, natural history staff and crew members on a dive, hoping to change how they look at the world. Using Captain Kay’s extensive knowledge of the Icy Strait region, he decided upon a shallow anchorage protected from wind and swell at Lemesurier Island. Here we took down a tethered video camera that streamed live video back to the dry, warm lounge. Only two people needed drysuits tonight but everyone got to take part in true, visceral exploration. Ian, myself and everyone in the lounge were diving into the unknown.

By way of a two-way diver communication system, we were able to communicate from one world to another. The rapture of the deep is usually an affair kept to an internal dialogue but tonight there were 60 people right there along with us looking at and talking about sea stars, halibut and nudibranchs. Technology has turned the internal dialogue of exploration into a thing of the past. Now we can and must share what we are seeing, doing and feeling. Selfish exploration is a waste of time so we are striving for new ways to share this experience with everyone. Our guests shared an extremely personal and important moment tonight with the success of this pioneering Live Dive. But it doesn’t have to be serious or stuffy; the most common quote from last night’s Live Dive might say more about me than I could ever imagine: “Oh sorry, I got distracted by a snail.”

About the Author

Justin Hofman·Divemaster

Justin’s love of the natural world started at an early age flipping through books on dangerous marine life. The striking photographs contained in those books are what captured his imagination and led Justin to pursue a life dedicated to exploring wild places. Using his collegiate education at University of California, Santa Cruz as an excuse to work on any research project possible, he hand-caught sharks and rays for tagging studies, learned how to handle adult blue sharks for implanting tracking devices, mastered the art of sneaking up on elephant seals for easy capture and a variety of other extracurricular activities.