We awoke this morning off the south coast of Oahu, not far from where we began this expedition two days ago. The stricken crew member had been safely transported ashore last night, and his replacement was scheduled to arrive this evening.  This gave us a five-hour window of time to complete our shake-down dives for the deep rebreather team.

Randall Kosaki in full rebreather gear about to dive off Portlock, Oahu. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

Randall Kosaki in full rebreather gear about to dive off Portlock, Oahu. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

We selected a spot off Portlock, Oahu, where there is a well-developed deep reef.  We launched the boat with both deep diving teams and headed east towards Portlock. Our collective deep-dive team consists of two boats (the larger Metal Shark, where the rebreather divers deploy from; and the smaller safety boat Malolo, where our safety divers deploy from), and a total of ten people: six deep rebreather divers (myself and Rob Whitton from Bishop Museum, and Randall Kosaki, Brian Hauk, Jason Leonard, and Dan Wagner from NOAA), two safety divers (Keo Lopes and Senifa Annandale), and two coxswains (boat drivers; Scott “Scotty” Jones on Metal Shark, and Hadley Owen on Malolo).

The first dive team included Randall Kosaki (my long-time friend and dive buddy, and the Chief Scientist for this expedition), Rob Whitton (also a long-time friend and dive buddy, as well as co-worker at the Museum), and Brian Hauk. Unfortunately, the strong current caused them to miss the deep reef, and they ended up over the sand.  Although the dive was perhaps not as exciting as it could have been, at least they accomplished their primary mission: a safe and successful shake-down dive.

A large aggregation of Knobby Sea Stars (Pentaceraster cumingi) on the bottom at a depth of 260 feet (73 meters). Photo by RIchard L. Pyle.

A large aggregation of Knobby Sea Stars (Pentaceraster cumingi) on the bottom at a depth of 260 feet (73 meters). Photo by RIchard L. Pyle.

Our team (myself, Jason Leonard and Dan Wagner) had time to do another deep dive before we needed to return to the Hi’ialakai, but we also missed the intended rock deep reef site.  Instead, we drifted over the sandy bottom which, while not spectacular to look at, was nevertheless interesting.  We first encountered a large aggregation of Knobby Sea Stars (Pentaceraster cumingi), and then we came across a large Hawaiian Stingray (Dasyatis lata) cruising over the sand. I had trouble with the autofocus system on my camera yesterday (as was evident in the frame grabs I posted in yesterday’s blog), so part of my personal mission on this dive was to make sure the camera was working properly.

A large Hawaiian Stingray (Dasyatis lata) cruises along the bottom at a depth of 260 feet (73 meters). Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

A large Hawaiian Stingray (Dasyatis lata) cruises along the bottom at a depth of 260 feet (73 meters). Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

But the highlight for me was when I found a large specimen of an undescribed species of Sea Cucumber in the genus Stichopus. We’ve encountered this yellow bumpy beast on several previous deep dives off Oahu, but we’d only managed to collect one specimen.  This dive gave me the opportunity to collect a second one.

An undescribed species of Stichopus sea cucumber at a depth of  270 feet (75 meters) off Portlock. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

An undescribed species of Stichopus sea cucumber at a depth of 270 feet (75 meters) off Portlock. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

All in all, even thought he expedition got off to a bit of a false start, we made the best use of the time.  I even had some free time int he evening to go up to the bow of the ship and enjoy the sunset. While I was there, I was inspired to take my first-ever “selfie”.  We were within the cell-phone signal range off Oahu, so I was able to make a short call to my wife, Lisa, and also sent her the selfie.  I normally sport a goatee, but on expeditions like this I often shave at the beginning of the cruise (a clean-shaven face makes for a better mask seal).  My kids can’t stand to look at me without facial hair, so when my daughter Cara saw my selfie, she responded (in all caps) “AHHHHHH WHY THE HECK DID YOU SHAVE YOUR BEARD AGAIN”. Oh, well…. I don’t think it looks THAT bad….

My first "selfie", taken at the bow of the NOAA Ship "Hi'ialakai" off the south coast of Oahu. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.

My first “selfie”, taken at the bow of the NOAA Ship “Hi’ialakai” off the south coast of Oahu. Photo by Richard L. Pyle.