Friday, November 1, 2013

A Deep Sea Creature of My Imagination

Deep sea scientists have a tradition of decorating styrofoam objects, particularly cups, sending them to the bottom of the ocean with whatever equipment they may be using to study the world down there, and crossing their fingers that they come back to the surface much smaller than they started out. I am growing a nice collection of decorated cups since I have been going to sea to study deepwater predatory fishes in the Gulf of Mexico several times a year.

Before our most recent cruise earlier this month, a colleague gave me a gift. A strange and wonderful and strange gift: a styrofoam mannequin head. A styrofoam head that I could shrink. Oh the possibilities, and the pressure to draw something awesome and do that mannequin justice. I pondered until I came up with an idea, and that idea led to other ideas, and it all turned into a story. It's a mystery, and it's still unfolding in my imagination, so you get what you get here with this description.

She is a badass, genius goth woman adapted to life in the deep sea. 

 The isopods (Bathynomus giganteus) that exposed her brain are now her pets and they do her bidding (while hanging out on her face). 

She has large green eyes, allowing her to make use of every tiny bit of light available when she is in the twilight zone, and photophores on the front of her neck, in her very own pattern that distinguishes her from all the lantern sharks down there. 

She has grown gills, elasmobranch gills to be specific, and she has seven on the left side of her neck and six on the right (much like I have three earrings in my left ear and two in my right), because asymmetry is fun and badass. Gills are complete with windshield wipers so that she is invincible to
hagfish slime.

Her tattoos represent a red moon rising (or setting...I don't remember - time is confusing at sea), the sun shining down through the water (in the photic zone, of course) and the big dipper reflected on the water). A fish hook adorns her lower lip, and she wears a navy and white nautical stripe shirt, because she is on top of the trends. This might be the feature I can relate to the least...I am really not into the nautical trend.

I sent her and several cups to about 1800 meters, clipped to the longline tucked securely in my laundry bag. For a few moments, the bag bobbed at the surface and we wondered if it would sink, but it did, slowly, the whole way to the bottom. When we hauled the longline back up, the laundry bag and its contents came up safely, but alas, she did not shrink very much at all. Those of us with mannequin heads were imagining shrunken heads - voodoo style - dangling from our rear view mirrors, but she came up about 70% her original size. 

I should have been happy that she came back to the surface at all, and I was, but I got greedy. Would she shrink more if I sent her down again? I sent her down again at our deepest site. 

While I slept, the other setting crew put down the anchor, a fish trap, 50 hooks, another trap, a weight, a TDR, a trap full of cups and two heads, several more weights, then a lot of scope and a highflyer to allow us to retrieve the line. 

About four hours later I woke, excited to see my mannequin girl again. We pulled up the highflyer and the scope, and then weight, weight, weight, TDR... no trap full of styrofoam souvenirs! It was gone. All gone. I had her in my grasp, and instead of accepting her for who she was, I tried to change her and I lost her. Perhaps I adapted her too well to the deep sea, for there she remains. I will always remember her, though.