MAY 2017: LIA-LUCINE CARY
It all started when I went into the field with Cat Argyrople, a film intern, Mackey Violich, a graduate student, and six high school students who had spent the semester collecting specimens from the deep. I was invited to help make a short documentary about the deep sea. I found myself on a small research vessel headed straight to Exuma Sound, where the shallow turquoise waters of The Bahamas turn to navy and plummet one thousand meters in depth. We drove to the buoys that marked the traps. As we traveled across the sea, my eagerness for the deep sea traps to surface was replaced with boredom and slight seasickness after two hours of slow bobbing in the ocean. We sat in silence, staring at the horizon, waiting to milk, or slowly pull up, the heavy metal line, at the bottom of which was a cylindrical wire trap that had previously been sitting on the ocean floor. In the trap: we had no idea. Suddenly, Mackey yelled, “It will be up in ten minutes!” We all stared at the line as an ominous gray cloud covered the sun. The first trap came up and it was filled with one-to-two-inch deep sea isopods (Bathynomus). Like old pros, the students immediately filled a ziplock bag with them. The seas got bigger and Mackey called, “The second trap! Be ready for the second trap!” This was the trap that was deeper. This was the trap that broke the line the week prior. This was the trap that we had to drive out at an angle so as not to break the line. This was the trap we were waiting for. A shiver ran down my spine.
The students hauled up the deepest trap yet to be set; it was over 1,500 meters deep. With shrieks of fear they discovered what lives at the deepest of depths. What lives at the deepest of depths, you ask, dear reader? I shall tell you. Eels. Many eels. That is what we discovered in the deepest traps. Who would reach their hand into the trap and pull out each squirming eel one by one? The students all started yelling in unison, “MEGAN! MEGAN! Get the eels!” She shook her head and pleaded with her peers, “I don’t want to get the eels!” And with the mercilessness that comes with youth they continued to shout, “Megan, get the eels! You have the gloves on!” She yelled to the heavens and proceeded with trepidation to retrieve the eels one at a time. Captain Mackey yelled, “We are going home!” And with the roar of the motor we shot back to land as Megan faced her fate. Megan silently screamed to herself and muttered, “Ew, ew, ew.” The students, having no pity, yelled, “Keep going!” She desperately yelled back, “I’m trying!” and “I’m dying!” Was this a forewarning? Meanwhile, the seas were getting bigger and we had to grip on to anything we could find not to get thrown off the boat. We shivered not only at the sight of what lies below, but at the cold breeze that blew across the ocean. Was this a normal breeze of the setting sun or something darker, something as a result of bringing up that which should not be brought up?
The eels from the deep went into a plastic bag. If that is not a metaphor for life, I don't know what is. As Megan pulled them out she said to herself, “They are actually really cute. They have blue eyes.” In this quiet moment, this student, originally fearful of what came from the depths, saw beauty in the unbeautiful.
When the last creature was bagged, including the deep sea crabs we collected from the traps, the seas reached another level of power and force. Waves crashed over the boat, soaking us all. We gripped onto the traps, trying to stay aboard. The wind bellowed. Despite this, Mackey stayed calm and collected, directing us and guiding our small research vessel home. In the end, we made it back, but not without a few scars.
I was inspired to capture through watercolor and ink the deep sea creatures I came face to face with, as well as the tools we used to gather them. Art as a form of storytelling allows the viewer to experience curiosity, and after experiencing a sliver of deep sea research, I wanted to share the discoveries of what we pulled from the depths.
By sharing this science through art and story, I hope others will be interested in the deep sea, a place we know less about than space. As Edith Widder, deep sea researcher, once said, "The previous methods for learning what lives in our oceans only allow us to find the slow, the stupid, and the greedy." Through science, art, and story, we can continue to explore the mysteries of the creatures who share this blue planet with us.
Lia-Lucine Cary is an educator and storyteller. She works to immortalize people and moments through oral and visual media. She enjoys playing the accordion, surfing, and searching for treasure.