The Pacific Seamounts Expedition 2021 was a resounding success. From 15 -28 June, a small team of scientists onboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship John P. Tully conducted 11 dives to nine seamounts—six of which had never been explored before—reaching depths of over 2,000 metres with Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s submersible robot BOOTS.
A collaboration amongst Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, the Council of the Haida Nation, and Ocean Networks Canada, this exciting expedition also documented many rare species, explored a cold-seep field, shared the excitement with the public via a live video feed with Q&A, and participated in educational outreach events and social media. A full summary of the expedition is included below, prepared by Fisheries and Oceans scientist Dr. Cherisse Du Preez (Figure 1).
“We would like to thank everyone who supported our collaborative survey, especially our amazing team of partners for this expedition, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, the Council of the Haida Nation, and Ocean Networks Canada,” says Tammy Norgard (Figure 1), Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist and expedition leader. “Planning and completing a successful partnership survey during COVID was a challenge, and we are personally very thankful for all the amazing people who worked to make it a success at sea and on shore. We also had excellent support from the Canadian Coast Guard captain and crew, which was essential as we had to run this survey with limited onboard science staff.”
“Educating and inspiring Nuu-chah-nulth youth to pursue careers in STEM areas is a priority of Uu-a-thluk’s,” says Irine Polyzogopoulos, communications & development coordinator, Uu-a-thluk, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. “As such, we are grateful for the hard work put in by expedition partners to bring ocean research into remote classrooms. Here’s hoping we’ve inspired a few future fisheries managers, deep-sea biologists or marine engineers as a result of the sessions!”
"In addition to the remarkable discoveries which will inform future protection measures,” comments Maia Hoeberechts, ONC Associate Director, Learning and Community Engagement, “these collaborative expedition partnerships also provide a valuable opportunity to understand and communicate about these complex and important seamount ecosystems from multiple perspectives, drawing on the observations of youth, scientific study, and the application of Indigenous knowledge systems.”
Laís Chaves, marine biologist/planner with the Council of the Haida Nation comments: “The scientific knowledge acquired through previous expeditions to SGaan Kinghlas-Bowie Seamount Marine Protected Area and other seamounts within Haida territory has complemented Haida Traditional Knowledge and was valuable during the cooperative development of the marine protected area management plan between Council of the Haida Nation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Deep sea surveys are an important part of future monitoring plans for the MPA. Haida knowledge and additional discoveries from the current expedition will be key components in establishing the Offshore Pacific Marine Protected Area, which includes areas of Haida territory.”
Pacific Seamounts Expedition 2021 Summary
Firsts in Canadian deep-sea exploration
- We documented new biological hotspots during ten dives on deep seamounts, capturing video of rare or unique events and places, including multiple Pacific white skate (Bathyraja spinosissima) nursery grounds (Figure 2), massive fields of carnivorous sponges, and dense gardens of cold-water corals. Equally important was the documentation of destructive litter, including plastics and vast amounts of ghost or lost fishing gear.
- Amazingly, we relocated and resurveyed five long-term monitoring sites, initiating the first-time interval data series for studying temporal changes in the ecology of Canadian seamounts over three years (2018, 2019, and 2021) (Figure 3)
- We completed an incredibly successful first-time dive to test the capability of submersible vehicle BOOTS to find, map, and characterize a cold-seep ecosystem. Similar to a hydrothermal vent ecosystem, methane bubbling cold seeps create large, complex rocky structures and fuel a hotspot of life—an endemic chemosynthetic community of species not found anywhere else in the world. Exceeding all expectations, we documented an extensive field of cold-seeps with carbonate rocks, chemosynthetic tubeworms and clams, and an abundance of deep-sea animals, north of the known site “Spinnaker Flare” on Clayoquot Slope (Figure 4).
- We completed a two-day circumnavigation of the summit ridge of Dellwood Seamount, one of Canada’s tallest and shallowest seamounts. This novel approach will allow us to study the spatial distribution of species in new ways.
#Livedive alert - today #PacificSeamounts2021 is circumnavigating Dellwood Seamount. This should be an exciting one with lots of cool animals! @FishOceansCAN @Ocean_Networks @CHN_HaidaNation #nuuchanulth @Uuathluk #seamount #seamounts pic.twitter.com/yIeztVDh0J— Heidi (@BCMarineBiology) June 19, 2021
- We collected over 24,000 kilometres (13,030 nautical miles) of ship-based acoustic profiles of the water column, seafloor, and submarine features. This mapping led to the identification of three new marine features as “seamounts”, increasing the total seamounts in Pacific Canada from 62 to 65.
- We completed 58 oceanography samples at 18 offshore sites down to 3,250 metres depth, including 19 rosettes samples—yielding 48 eDNA samples (Figure 5), 23 bongo casts—7 below 250 metres, 15 underwater vertical profiles, and 1 multi-net.
- We collected much needed data to characterize the offshore currents, including deploying 5 “sponge Bob” drifters and surveying the surface and bottom currents using ship-mounted and submersible-mounted acoustic doppler current profilers.
Rare animal sightings caught on camera
- We became the 8th observation within the last 30 years to capture footage of the ghost jellyfish (Stygiomeduas gigantea).
This ghost jellyfish has only been seen 8⃣ times in the last 3⃣0⃣ years!current #PacificSeamounts2021 expedition— Dr Cherisse Du Preez (@CherisseDuPreez) June 23, 2021
Stygiomedusa gigantea is rarely seen, but widespread throughout the world's abyss @FishOceansCAN @Uuathluk @CHN_HaidaNation @Ocean_Networks pic.twitter.com/Db3K1fAZXj
- We collected and filmed a live deep-water viper fish (Chauliodus macouni)—another very rare event.
- We documented the clean, white bones of a whale fall on the ridge of a seamount
- For the second expedition in a row, we documented an “itchy shark”! A salmon shark (Lamna ditropis) was using a floating piece of debris to scratch its skin. The rare footage was captured by drone and shows the shark building momentum, flipping over, and repeatedly sliding its belly along the barnacle-encrusted debris. The same behaviour was documented by the expedition team in 2019, with the footage going viral and broadcast by Discovery Channel during Shark Week.
When you can finally scratch that itch, there’s no stopping‼️— Dr Cherisse Du Preez (@CherisseDuPreez) July 16, 2021
Another #sharkweek & amazingly another #itchyshark just caught on camera during his CanadaAsian migration
#pacificseamounts2021 @FishOceansCAN @CHN_HaidaNation @Uuathluk @Ocean_Networks @CoastGuardCAN pic.twitter.com/Ty7RlCcbXJ
- We observed a large coccolithophore bloom—which appeared as Bahama-blue waters—believed to be linked to the extreme heatwave in British Columbia in June 2021.
This is bonkers⁉️ It’s the Pacific Northwest! No filter!— Dr Cherisse Du Preez (@CherisseDuPreez) June 27, 2021
We’re offshore of #VancouverIsland during a record breaking #BCheatwave #BCHeat & a phytoplankton bloom is turning the waters into Bahama-Blue #ClimateChange#PacificSeamount2021
@CoastGuardCAN Tully pic.twitter.com/ROAfpTAcIY
Science outreach and communication
- Livestream video from the deep sea and control room audio shared in real-time, with an average of >200 unique viewers during each dive, from Canada, USA, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.
- Audience interactions through live, text-based annotation and chats.
- Youth engagement through live-streamed school events, reaching over 150 youth and 13 educators from 13 elementary, middle, and high-school classes across British Columbia (links to videos below).
- Hosted a live evening public discussion event from the ship.
- Expedition hashtag #PacificSeamounts2021 had a reach of 1.64 million impressions on Twitter alone.
The amazing achievements of this two-week expedition were accomplished by a small team of interdisciplinary Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists (Figure 6)—reduced by half due to COVID-related safe work protocols, the crew of the Canadian Coast Guard ship John P. Tully, and an onshore team of Canadian government employees, representatives from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, the Council of the Haida Nation, and Ocean Networks Canada.
Today the #PacificSeamounts2021 expedition comes to an end, but there is SO much phenomenal footage and findings to still share— Dr Cherisse Du Preez (@CherisseDuPreez) June 28, 2021
It has been an ABSOLUTE PLEASURE to share the science adventure with everyone in #BC, across, and around the
Thank you! pic.twitter.com/CSf0yzerFA