Eastport #5: All good things must come to a end

Senior Aquarist Paul Leonard normally spends his time at the Aquarium caring for penguins. Now, he's joining the Divers and Expeditions Blog from Eastport, Maine, where New England Aquarium scuba divers are plunging into freezing cold water and navigating extreme tidal currents in search of cold water specimens.

The last few days of this expedition were perfect. The weather was some of the best we’ve had in years. The winds diminished and the currents calmed. One day the bay was almost flat calm. Every once and a while ripples would form, but they couldn’t stop the divers’ bubbles from breaking the surface. I got lucky with the dive schedule and was able to partake in the last two dives of the trip. Both dives were some of the most memorable I’ve done. I must apologize for not having the pictures to portray what I’m about to tell you. My underwater camera housing starting leaking earlier in the trip and I didn’t trust it. I do have a picture that shows you how green and pretty the water is from the diver's point of view.

Back to the final two dives…I hope my words do them justice. For the first, we dove into the emerald green and as we descended the bottom slowly appeared. There were green urchins everywhere! We continued to make our way down ledge after ledge. The urchins started thinning out… sea stars, horse mussels, and a dark orange sponge began to dominate our views. My dive buddy and I continued to descend. Sixty feet down, daylight was struggling to break through the water. There was a field of stalked tunicates along the wall face in front of us. We used the current to drift for a little bit. There was life everywhere you looked. Horse mussels, sponges, stalked tunicates, snails, sea ravens, sculpins, sea stars…. it was really cool! We had forgotten that we were there to work. Back on the Lophius, all of the divers exchanged stories of what they had seen. The best way I can describe it is to imagine a child at a birthday party, seeing all of those brightly wrapped presents. Everyone was beaming!

The last full dive was one something I’ll never forget. My dive buddy and I were going to look for a certain type of sea star and stalked tunicate. When we reached a depth of seventy feet, we encountered large lobsters, sculpins, sea ravens, and numerous invertebrates. We sent our specimens to the surface and began exploring. We found several collapsed caves and a pinnacle with lots of life around it.

What I didn’t realize was that the best was yet to come. As we made our way back to the surface, we had to stop to decompress at 15 feet. Holding on to a blade of brown kelp, I wondered what it would be like to turn around and look out in the green abyss. When I did, there was a school of a hundred pollock only inches away from me. The bubbles from my SCUBA scared them momentarily, but they would return coming closer. It felt like they were using me for shelter and that I was in a bait ball. All of a sudden, the pollock moved closer. I looked past them and saw a school of mackerel sweeping in. These beautiful fish with their tiger stripes appeared from the darkness, skirted the pollock school, and swam off into the darkness. As a diver, to be in the middle of so much life was one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever had underwater. Lets just say that I couldn’t wait to break the surface to tell the rest of the team what I had seen. Again, I wish I had pictures.

Pack up day was completely different from the rest of the trip. We had what Bostonians would call a mini nor’easter. Eastport was trying to remind us that Mother Nature was always in charge and that we had been fortunate this year.

Our team spent the early morning hours retrieving and prepping the animals for the transport back home. Once all of our animals were tucked in for the trek back to Boston, we were off.

Please come to the Northern Waters Exhibits on the 3rd floor of the aquarium and see all of the new animals! Specifically, check out the Gulf of Maine exhibit. That’s our homage to this expedition.
It’s been fun! Now back to the penguins, hope they’ve missed me!

Facebook Comments


Post a Comment

Comments left in this section do not represent the views of the New England Aquarium. Due to the large volume of questions received, staff cannot respond to individual comments but will consider them when planning future blog posts.