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Latitude: 62 59.91 S
Longitude: 64 58.74 W
Wind: 25 KT
Sea State: 5
Swell Height: 5-7
Baro Pressure: 967.8 mB
Air Temp: 6.8°C
Sea Surface Temp: 2.9°C
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The Dive-Tender’s Tale
March 3, 2006
by Kate Madin

At 2 a.m. the black Zodiac moved away from the ship, heading off into the thick night. The water’s surface was smooth, but long swells still lifted and dropped the boat rhythmically. The lights and sounds of the L. M. Gould faded into the fog as Marine Technician Peter Fitzgibbons drove the small boat and its five occupants about a quarter-mile away and came to a stop.

“Pulling away at night, with the ship’s lights getting smaller, and big, oily swells under the dive boat,” said Wally Fulweiler, a graduate student, “I was nervous about it.” This was her first time being dive-tender for the small group of divers going night-diving to collect salps.

A dive-tender goes along to help with bulky dive gear. Divers climbed down a ladder from the ship to the dive boat wearing dry suits, but not weights, tanks, buoyancy vests, masks, or fins. As tender, she keeps track of each diver’s gear in the bottom of the boat, helps them put on the final critical pieces, puts collecting jars in their bags, and watches them enter the water. Then comes the waiting—sitting in the boat with Peter, while the divers collected plankton far below.

Mid-ocean night diving is unforgettable. Wally, a diver herself, said, “Watching the divers slipping into the dark, glassy water—I think they’re very brave. I couldn’t do it.”

It was quiet away from the ship, she said. “And then we heard snorting—not far away.” Peter identified it as a seal surfacing—they couldn’t see what kind. Light from divers’ flashlights glowed through the water around the dive float, but nothing else was visible.

Nothing, that is, except for luminescence—blue-green light made by microscopic cells in the ocean.  “It was unbelievable,” she exclaimed. “I’ve never seen so much. When we pulled up the line, bioluminescence was coating the whole rope—it was on fire!”

When the divers surface, Wally grabs gear they remove and lifts it into the boat, so they could pull themselves in without the burden of a tank, weights, and collecting bag. The jars, containing collected salps, are set in the cooler. Everyone has hot tea, then the dive line and float are hauled up, and the Zodiac returns to the warm ship.

“It was the best experience I’ve had,” Wally said. “I emailed my family, saying what a great experience it was—and then I thought I shouldn’t have told them I was on an inflatable boat in the middle of the Southern Ocean at 2 a.m.!”


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