Mid-way through this cruise, we find ourselves at Midway Atoll.  Although I prefer the deep diving and Pearl and Hermes more, Midway holds a special place in my heart. My first visit here was back in 1989, as part of an initial fish survey we conducted for a published checklist of fishes from the atoll. Since then, I’ve traveled throughout the tropical Pacific and parts of the Indian Ocean, and although many of the places I’ve visited have been absolutely wonderful, none of them seem as peaceful or pleasant as Midway. But before the ship could dock and allow the crew and scientists an opportunity to stretch their legs on dry land yesterday, we conducted our first day of deep diving here.

The Midway morning dive team wearing their rebreathers include Rob Whitton (left), Brian Hauk (on stern of boat), and Randall Kosaki (center), assisted by Dan "Danimal" Wagner (standing left) and Jason Leonard (standing right). Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

The Midway morning dive team wearing their rebreathers include Rob Whitton (left), Brian Hauk (on stern of boat), and Randall Kosaki (center), assisted by Dan “Danimal” Wagner (standing left) and Jason Leonard (standing right). Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

The morning team (Rob, Brian and Randy)  dropped in on a spot just outside the main channel, at a target depth of 260 feet (78 meters). Unfortunately, they landed on open sand, and after 20 minutes of swimming, the managed to find only a small rock outcrop.  Our afternoon dive was a bit more productive.  We targeted a small slope/ledge off the western end of the runway, in an area where I had on previous visits to Midway seen dozens of Masked Angelfishes (Genicanthus personatus) and nearly 100 Galapagos Sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis). On our very first dive trip here in 1989, we attempted to dive in this area., but had to abandon that plan when dozens of Galapagos sharks swarmed the boat before we could even drop anchor.

Although both the angelfishes and the sharks were present, neither was in anywhere near the abundance that they have been on previous trips.  However, the dive was not without interesting things to see. In the rubble I spotted the tail of a Large-Eye Brotula (Brotula multibarbata). This extremely cryptic fish rarely shows itself during the day. After a short while, it poked it’s whiskered face out from under the rubble just long enough for me to get a fleeting image on video. Although it resembles a catfish, it’s not at all related to catfishes.

The highly cryptic Large-Eye Brotula (Brotula multibarbata) peeks out from its hiding place in the rubble at a depth of 190 feet (57 meters) at Midway Atoll. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

The highly cryptic Large-Eye Brotula (Brotula multibarbata) peeks out from its hiding place in the rubble at a depth of 190 feet (57 meters) at Midway Atoll. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

Soon after seeing the Brotula, I came across a group of the strange wrasse of the genus Suezichthys, which I had reported on in my last blog post. There was one large male and dozens of females (although not necessarily together as a single harem).

A male of the same Suezichthys we saw at Pearl and Hermes. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

A male of the same Suezichthys we saw at Pearl and Hermes. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

A female of the same Suezichthys we saw at Pearl and Hermes. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

A female of the same Suezichthys we saw at Pearl and Hermes. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

Earlier today, Rob made a deep dive and caught another strange wrasse on video.  It’s similar in many ways to the Suezichthys we’ve seen at both Pearl and Hermes and what I photographed (above) at Midway yesterday, but it’s obviously a different species.  We’re not entirely sure it’s in the genus Suezichthys, but it definitely has some similarities!  Unfortunately, we didn’t collect any specimens, so Rob’s fleeting video is all we have as evidence that this fish exists at Midway!

Another unidentified wrasse at a depth of 195 feet (56 meters) off Midway. Photo by Robert K. Whitton.

Another unidentified wrasse at a depth of 195 feet (56 meters) off Midway. Photo by Robert K. Whitton.

After yesterday’s dives, we returned to the ship tied up on the dock at Midway.  After rinsing our gear, we headed out on bicycles to wander around the island, and buy some munchies for our return trip at the Midway store.  A small number of people (mostly contractors and representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) live out at Midway, and it’s a very peaceful, quiet community.  The military houses and buildings are maintained, and the atmosphere is very pleasant.

The NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai docked on the pier at Midway Atoll, as the sun sets in the sea. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

The NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai docked on the pier at Midway Atoll, as the sun sets in the sea. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

As soon as we returned from our deep dives, Rob and I quickly offloaded our gear from the ship and climbed down the stainless steel ladder on the Midway pier to go exploring underneath the pier.  With a maximum depth of about 30-40 feet, the dive under the pier at Midway is not to be missed.  It’s a dark, gloomy, eerie, and somewhat spooky environment down there, with lots of old pylons and other debris.

Richard Pyle enjoys an afternoon dive under the pier at Midway Atoll. Photo by Robert K. Whitton.

Richard Pyle enjoys an afternoon dive under the pier at Midway Atoll. Photo by Robert K. Whitton.

Many strange fishes can be found under the Midway pier, that are not usually seen elsewhere — such as the Barred Knifejaw (Oplegnatus fasciatus), a relative of the more frequently encountered Spotted Knifejaw (Oplegnathus punctatus).

A pair of Barred Knifejaws (Oplegnatus fasciatus) under the pier at Midway Atoll. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

A pair of Barred Knifejaws (Oplegnatus fasciatus) under the pier at Midway Atoll. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

After the dive under the pier, a group of crew and scientists went to play volleyball near “Captain Brook’s” bar near the north beach, which is possibly my favorite spot on earth (at least for terrestrial places).  Whenever I visit Midway, I always make it a point to be standing on that beautiful, deserted beach at my absolute favorite time of day (Sunset).

Richard Pyle enjoys his favorite time of day on my favorite beach, at my favorite Pacific Atoll (Midway). Photo by Robert K. Whitton.

Richard Pyle enjoys his favorite time of day on my favorite beach, at my favorite Pacific Atoll (Midway). Photo by Robert K. Whitton.

I stood on the beach and took a panoramic photo around a complete 360 degrees. Although the photo makes it appear as though it’s a bay, it’s a distortion of the panoramic view; the beach runs mostly straight (with a slight bend) for nearly a mile.

A panoramic view of the north beach at Midway Atoll, at sunset.  Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

A panoramic view of the north beach at Midway Atoll, at sunset. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

After sunset, many of the scientists and crew gathered for a traditional party at the pier.  Alcohol is not allowed to be consumed aboard the ship, so this is the one night of the cruise that people can enjoy some beer, wine, and other spirits, and tell stories about diving, ships, and all manner of things humorous and engaging. This year, the local crew on Midway had prepared a bonfire for us, and it allowed everyone to kick back and relax with a change of pace from the normal ship-board grind.

Jason Leonard, Dan Wagner, Keo Lopes, and Brian Hauk soak up the Bonfire near the pier at Midway Atoll. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

Jason Leonard, Dan Wagner, Keo Lopes, and Brian Hauk soak up the Bonfire near the pier at Midway Atoll. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

Tomorrow we head back to Pearl and Hermes reef; and this time we’ll be exploring some new sites on the northern side of the atoll.  I’m sure it will be exciting!