Research scientists and explorers captured 360-degree images to depths of nearly 1000 feet near Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands during the 2018 Salish Sea Survey Expedition. The Boxfish 360 camera, courtesy of Oceans 360, a non-profit focused on increasing awareness of the importance of the world’s oceans, was mounted to the exterior of Cyclops 1, a 5-person manned submersible, owned and operated by OceanGate Inc.
Transferring dive team and crew members to the platform. Credit: OceanGate
The expedition, conducted in early September 2018, included seven dives over five days to allow three teams of scientists to observe the feeding strategies of deep-sea red urchins, document the sand wave habitat of Pacific sand lances, and assess the potential impacts of scientific trawling on the ecosystem.
An internally mounted GoPro Omni and the external Boxfish 360-degree cameras were deployed during all research projects and helped to document the existence of red urchins at a depth of 284 meters (932 feet) – more than twice the depth previously recorded. Red urchins feed on kelp that typically grows in depths of less than 100 feet, so documenting the existence of urchins at more than nine times this depth validates the flow of this food source from shallow subtidal kelp forests to the deepest parts of the Salish Sea.
Operations crew prepares for the dive as researchers collaborate onboard Cyclops. Credit: OceanGate
“The dive experience was very exciting, and so much was going on that even with the dome viewport I couldn't appreciate it all. I was mostly only looking down because my project was about urchins on the seafloor”, said Dr. Aaron Galloway, Assistant Professor at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. “The 360 video allows us to go back and see the whole habitat; the technology allows you to pan around in all dimensions and make new discoveries, long after the thrill of the dive is over.”
Scientists also captured photographs using a stereoscopic camera that takes pairs of images to create a three-dimensional effect, similar to human eyesight, and also allows for gathering quantitative information about the environment – such as measuring fish to precise lengths and doing a full 360-degree reconstruction of the visual field. Provided by NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, this was the first time the stereoscopic camera has been deployed on a manned submersible.
Researcher Adam Summers' feeling of excitement after observing the deepest red urchin species ever recorded. Credit: OceanGate
Dive time for all three research projects during the 2018 Salish Sea Survey Expedition was funded by the SeaDoc Society as part of their annual competitive grants program, with additional funding provided by the OceanGate Foundation. The expedition was based at the University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories in Friday Harbor, Washington. “Cyclops class submersibles are equipped with multiple external ports and mounting positions in an effort to accommodate equipment necessary to meet the specific objectives of every single expedition.” commented Stockton Rush, OceanGate CEO and Chief Pilot, “whether it is additional cameras like the 360 and stereoscopic camera used during the Salish Sea Expedition, or other sampling and survey equipment our goal is to provide a deep sea platform that is adaptable to the needs of the client.”