“What the heck is that?!”

While piloting the ROV Hercules ~600 meters beneath the Gulf of Mexico, crew aboard the research vessel Nautilus (which regularly live-streams from beneath the waves) came face-to-face with an inquisitive visitor: an enormous sperm whale. 

In the video, the researchers’ voices are bursting with excitement as they observe the giant whale swimming around their robotic submersible. I love it, you can hear an almost childlike excitement in their exclamations. This is why one gets into science, to experience a moment like that.

Largest of the toothed whales, and the largest toothed predator on Earth, sperm whales are capable of diving to more than 7,000 feet (~2,100 m), far deeper than this encounter, in search of giant squid to snack on. This sperm whale, probably a solitary male, even shows scars from past kerfuffles with Kraken. Sperm whales collapse their lungs and other open cavities while diving at extreme depths in order to avoid dangerous tissue damage and nitrogen poisoning (AKA “the bends”). A truly remarkable creature, adapted for life in one of the most challenging environments on Earth. 

As for what this whale might be seeing as he gazes upon the ROV, we can not know. Whale eyes are monochromatic, blind to the blue of the ocean. Their wide-aperture eyes are low resolution, but highly sensitive. They gaze toward each side, the whale’s brain interpreting two independent fields of view. For all we know of whale evolution and ocular anatomy, their sight is beyond our perception. For more on what whales like this might see, feast your eyes on this read about the science and philosophy of whale eyes and cetacean sight by Alexis Madrigal. It’s fantastic.

This video is a rare treat, an encounter between two intelligent animals, each with their consciousness inaccessible to the other, but sharing an experience all the same. That’s beautiful.  


ARCTIC ODYSSEY -  Ushering in a new world of ocean science, the R/V Sikuliaq begins its journey in 2014. The state-of-the-art research vessel will aid scientists as they search for answers to our most pressing oceanographic questions.

The Sikuliaq allows researchers to collect sediment samples from the seafloor, host remotely operated vehicles, use advanced winches to raise and lower scientific equipment, and conduct surveys throughout the water column using extensive instrumentation.

The UA Museum of the North has opened a special exhibit that explores this brand new vessel, the people who have made it possible, and the science now possible from its decks.

Arctic Odyssey: Voyages of the R/V Sikuliaq is now on display in the museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery. Visitors can operate models of the ship, tour a history of shipboard research, explore the ocean depths, and watch interviews with diverse researchers whose work on board the ship makes global science possible.

Learn more about the exhibit on the museum’s website.


News from the RV/O: From Bridget, our Senior Educator, “Here’s just a few animals we’ve seen during recent marine life cruises. Two are of the most adorable 32cm smooth dogfish we caught last week during our gear handling drill. The third is from a cruise last week of a long wrist hermit crab who happens to be missing a shell and gravid (with eggs).”

The research vessel starts daily cruises at 1 p.m. in July and August. Please call ahead or visit our website to make sure spots are available!


An Off-World Detective investigates the missing Research Vessel ATROPA…

Navy to Christen Research Vessel Sally Ride

Navy to Christen Research Vessel Sally Ride

The Navy will christen the Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research (AGOR) R/V Sally Ride (AGOR 28) Saturday, Aug. 9, during a ceremony held at the Port of Anacortes Transit Shed in Anacortes, Washington.

Kathryn Sullivan, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will deliver the ceremony’s principal address.


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Two New Ocean Research Ships to Set Sail in 2015

Two new U.S. research ships will take to the seas in the Arctic and Atlantic in 2015, allowing scientists around the world to explore the geology, biology and health of the oceans. The U.S. National Science Foundation has commissioned the Arctic research vessel Sikuliaq, while the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) ship, dubbed Neil Armstrong, will begin science operations late next year, said ocean researchers. For example, “a chemist might be measuring the [acidity] of the ocean, or a biologist might be looking at certain species that might be impacted by higher ocean temperatures,” said Rob Munier, vice president for marine operations at WHOI, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Both of the new ships are part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, a consortium of 62 academic institutions and national laboratories that share the use of oceanographic research ships.


Jacques Cousteau’s famous ship RV CALYPSO began her life in 1941 as an American built Yard Mine Sweeper and provisioned to the United Kingdom under the Lend-Lease Act.  The black and white photo is the sister ship of CALYPSO; the basic hull design can be detected.  After Cousteau’s death, the fate of the CALYPSO has been going through a roller coaster ride of legal battles, sinking, resurrection, and dereliction.  REF: