Extreme and Extraordinary
Extreme conditions, needless to say, as there is no light, great pressure, you do the math (some 4,500 psi), and near Q+A » freezing conditions. Not to mention very little oxygen. But the greatest extreme has to be the contrasts. The vents are dispersed along the East Pacific Rise, part of the submarine mountain range encircling the earth. It is now generally agreed that these rift zones produce the earth we now drive and grow tomatoes on. Anyway, the hot spots are ephemeral and seem to have about a 20- year life span, then they quit spewing – like terrestrial volcanoes, just a different time scale. As you cruise along the bottom, your porthole reveals lava. Huge fields of black lava which looks exactly like the lava fields in Hawaii. Nothing seems to live there, just bleak, stark basalt with the occasional rattail, sea cucumber or bizarrofish oozing by. Then you start seeing tiny white specks on the bottom. These specks increase in number and soon you recognize them as crabs and funny looking lobster. Within 30 feet from starkness, you hear a “Holy shit, there it is!” from the pilot (he has the best view) and out of your little window emerges an entire community of creatures thriving on the noxious gases and chemicals super heated by the earth’s molten core. Masses of tube worms, 12-feet long, pure white with brilliant red plumes hide many species of fish, gastropods, other types of worms, crustaceans of all sizes and shapes and perhaps my favorite, octopus like you’ve never seen before. What a place that is. Perhaps what made it so special was the equipment I was using on the Alvin. Woods Hole has invested a substantial amount of money toward superb imaging and we rigged the sub with high definition camera systems. We saw details of this unique community that had never been seen before.
What’s the most interesting subject you’ve filmed?»That’s a tough one. So many elements are involved in making a place interesting, the animals, the conditions, the physical elements… But as far as subjects go, I have to say that the phenomenon I am about to embark on again has to be right up there. In Patagonia, a group of killer whales have cued in on the “fledging” of a population of sea lion pups, which are just learning to swim. I was there with Paul Atkins, who was also filming the event and perhaps the busiest Assistant Cameraman known to man, Keith Turner. Keith was loading magazines for the both of us, and running roll after roll of film at 150 frames/second kept the poor guy mighty busy. Several things impressed me about this extraordinary phenomenon; the whales were not there except for the two weeks when the pups dared to enter the water, then they showed up right on cue. How did they know the pups were ringing that dinner bell? The same whales return year after year, at exactly the right time, so they must be cueing in on something – certainly not the calendar. Then the behavior itself is amazing, if not downright morbid. The big males hunt individually, while the smaller females hunt in an organized pack. There is a break in the reef about 100-feet wide and even at this break the whales can only make it over at high tide. So they wait, as did I. At high tide, when the pups foolishly enter this “dead zone,” they are history – better frame up your shot and start rolling because the black and white freight train is coming through. Their speed and inertia bring them literally out of the water and up onto the beach, where they grab an unsuspecting pup. With a violent shaking of their head and bodies they slam the little sea lion time and time again against the beach while they work their hulk back into the water. But it doesn’t end there. They take the pups out to sea and release them offshore. This is the morbid part – they breach on top of them, take them in their mouths and sling them 30- to-40 yards across the water and swim beneath them and flip them 50 feet into the air with their tails. The pups are still alive during this punishment, which may go on for 10-to-15 minutes. Then the telltale blood arrives at the surface and it’s over. This cycle repeats itself for over a week.