By far the most eerie and most beautiful of the wrecks was the Rose Castle. It lies at about 100 FSW and totally adorned by soft corals. Because the Rose Castle is so deep icebergs don’t hit it and it’s mostly intact. You can even look inside the control room and see an old marconi radio. It was truly amazing to see the history. But my favorite part about this wreck was the soft corals that grew along it. Delicate red, white, and yellow soft corals grow in large scale around the Rose Castle. I even saw a small school of five cod swimming around. The dive was fantastic! It was also my deepest dive at 110 ft. The Rose Castle was probably my favorite out of the four wrecks we dove in Bell Isle.
The next wreck we did was the Saganaga. The Saganaga is known for having lots of lumpfish. Most people either think the lumpfish is really ugly or really cute. Personally I believe it depends on the lumpfish. But hey that’s just me. I’ve always wanted to see a lumpfish, and on one dive I went with Ryan King, a presenter at Sea Rovers and a tech diver who helped discover the wreck of the William H Machen. Ryan is an excellent photographer and a great diver and he helped me look for some of the lumpfish. We found a couple hanging out on the wreck. The first was orange and was protecting some eggs. It wasn’t really happy being photographed so we looked for more. The second we found was brown and rounder and was equally annoyed. I guess they just have a grumpy demeanor. The first was pretty funny looking and kind of cute, the other was just round and grotesquely ugly. But that said, it was amazing to see both of them suctioning on the the wreck and swimming around with their tiny fins. They are really marvels of the fish world.
The wreck itself was amazing, its massive cargo bays laid empty, at the bottom there were remnants of the iron ore they once carried. Atop the wreck there was a massive gun, laced with frilled anemones that looked like they were being blown out of it. The wreck was fantastic!
The second wreck we did was the Lord Strathcona. An equally impressive wreck to the PLM, also about 400 ft long. The Lord Strathcona is littered with frilled anemones that glisten in the blue waters. It seems as if each is open feeding, as opposed to the PLM where not nearly as many were opened. The wreck is covered in anemones. I began shooting all the different anemones trying to capture a sense of how many there were. As I swam along the hull reaching the bow even the anchor lines were covered in anemones. I looked up along the line and saw them reaching far up into the crystal blue waters, I then looked down to the anemones stretching into the black abyss. The wreck and sheer amount of anemones was amazing to see.
With my dry suit in hand I traveled up to Newfoundland, where I met up with Sea Rover Rick Stanley, who runs Ocean Quest Adventures. As soon as I arrived Rick made me feel right at home. The next morning we headed out on the dive boat to the Bell Island shipwrecks: The PLM-27, Saganaga, Lord Strathcona, and Rose Castle. All of the wrecks were sunk by German U-Boats in WWII. Bell Island has some of the most productive iron mines in North America, and when the war started the Bell Islanders stopped shipping to Germany and instead to Great Britain. So of course the Germans retaliated and stopped the shipments from going to Great Britain. The first wreck we dove is the PLM. It’s the shallowest wreck, the deck lies in about 60-70 FSW and at the sand is about 100 FSW. Dropping down the mooring line was amazing, seeing the wreck appear before my eyes. Because it is so shallow icebergs hit it and some parts of the wreck are broken apart, although the torpedo did most of that work. Longhorn sculpin, flounder, smooth sun stars, and various jellies adorned the wreck. But by far my favorite marine life was the lions mane jelly. They are one of the largest jellies in the world and can have tentacles 200’ long and a 8’ diameter bell. The largest I saw was about 70-100’ long and had about 5’ diameter bell. Their tentacles are very thin and frilly and it was hard to get close enough for a photo and try to avoid the millions of stinging cells.
Swimming the length of the the PLM was amazing, the 400 ft wreck is broken apart in some areas and intact in others. The bow was massive and seemed to disappear into the depths. Swimming around the stern I looked at the massive propellor. Flounders and sculpin adorned the sand along the wreck some even swimming along with me. The PLM has an erie beauty to it. It’s quite and peaceful, with a dark history.
My next stop was with NOAA and Sea Rover Mark Dixon. We went out collecting oyster cages for a study looking at the impact of oyster beds on fish life. The fish are monitored through GoPros attached around the cages. When the cages were pulled up I was able to see some of the fish and other life, like crabs, cunner, gunnels, and black sea bass. As the cages were placed on the deck fish and crabs fell off of it. The young cunner have a small black spot on their dorsal fin, while the gunnels are slender almost eel like fish. Water samples were also taken to look at the water contents. Studies like this are essential to find out the potential impacts of aquaculture and how the oyster industry should handle factors in the environment. Thanks to Mark for taking me out on the boat for the day.
My next training was at East Coast Divers with Sea Rovers Nick Fazah, Kim Malkoski, and Zach Wahlen, doing my perfect buoyancy class. I learned about changes in buoyancy and how to control it through an entire dive. I had a blast practicing in the pool with free divers and other divers crowding the pool trying to avoid them filling and emptying my lungs maneuvering around them all.
I spent the next few days with Vin Malkoski working on my dry suit training. I donned my DUI drysuit donated by Faith Ortins, and jumped into the green waters of the New Bedford test pool with Vin. Once we nailed down my weight system, we practiced buoyancy control and flipping around if I ever get inverted. I had a lot of fun flipping around just getting use to diving in what some people relate to a ziplock bag. But I felt comfortable and way warmer!
After a few more practice dives we went on my first dive on the Chester Poling. It was my first time on the wreck and it was amazing to see the wreck that I had heard so much about. The cunner were in full form, schooling around us. We also saw a few sea ravens hanging around. Then up the mooning line we went and just like that I was drysuit certified!
My last day the the New England Aquarium was spent working with the rescued sea turtles at the rehab center in Quincy. A discrete industrial building, that looks nothing like it would house animals, is filled with quarantined animals, the sharks and rays that had been removed days before and the rescued turtles. When I had arrived there were only 6 turtles left from the over 200 that had been rescued. Many are rescued from being cold stunned or getting stuck in the arm of Cape Cod trying to migrate. They were divided into four tanks. Each gets regular check ups and is fed a certain diet, yet another example of how caring and individualized the aquarium is. While I was there I watched as turtles got check ups, weighing them, checking their vitals and looking at their shell making sure it was all healthy and didn’t have dents or scratches. After taking care of the turtles we headed down the wharf to get a few live crabs from the trap to give to the turtles as something of enrichment and to keep them on a healthy diet. The turtles can be pretty picky eaters and would just pass by the crab while other would lunge at it.
While I was at the rehab center I got the chance to watch a necropsy of a year old seal that had washed ashore. When I got into the room there were four or five people standing around the body that had been cut open ready to be dissected. I watched as each organ was carefully removed and samples taken and photos of anything abnormal. It was fascinating to see the body be taken apart and all the little parts that help the seal to function. For a while the head was lying on the table next to me as the heart and lungs were taken out and placed next to it. It was gruesome to watch but oddly interesting as well. The final diagnosis was that the seal likely died due to complication from emphysema of the lungs.
The week I spent at the New England Aquarium was awesome, I learned a lot and it was fantastic to see the inner workings of the aquarium I had been to so many time before. Thanks to Dan Dolan for a great week.
I spent my next day working with the team from marine mammals, who care for and train the harbor seals and fur seals. I first worked in the kitchen divvying up fish for each of the fur seals. Then the team and I headed over to the harbor seals to do training with them and feeding. I watched as they performed tricks like opening their mouth, jumping, rolling around, waving, and presenting their flippers. Theses skills are important not just for the audience to watch for enjoyment but for when the seals are in need of medical care or are getting a check up. It was lots of fun to see the seals playing around and having so much fun. Later in the day I got to do some enrichment with them throwing toys at them and balls of fish in ice. We also sprayed them with a hose and watched them play around having lots of fun. It was great to work with the seals and see how much work goes into training and getting to know each animal on a personal level.
I spent my next day working with Charlie Innis the director of animal health for the entire aquarium. Right when I arrived at the aquarium I headed up to the top of the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) where a team of divers were removing the bonnet heads sharks to be sent to the rehab center in Quincy. The tank was going to be treated for Crypto by lowering the salinity of the tank which the elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) wouldn’t be able to handle. The sharks were caught then rushed down to a waiting truck that carted them to Quincy. After the bonnet heads were safely on their way Charlie showed me around the aquarium pointing out all the animals that were being treated for something or he had treated them and they were healthy and on exhibit. After that we headed down to treat a soldier fish for a eye problem giving it the last treatment of eye drops. It was astonishing to see a fish getting eye drops and how much Charlie and the Aquarium care about every single animal. After taking care of the fish we headed back up to the top of the GOT and removed the cownose rays while everyone watched the procedure. The divers caught them and transported them down the elevator and out to the truck just like the bonnet heads.
Charlie explained to me that this was a pretty relaxed day which was just astonishing. After lunch I headed to watch a presentation about southern right whales populations and the threats they face. It was interesting to hear the factors such as birds scratching the backs of the whales that would hurt their population. We then went to a presentation by one of Charlie’s team about a project he had worked on studying a mass pilot whale beaching killing over a hundred individuals and their health. My day spent with the health team was really amazing just watching all of the small everyday tasks and bigger unexpected problems that they face.