National Geographic : 1955 Apr
534 Jacques-Yves Cousteau Fragile Medusa Sits for Its Portrait Calypso's biologists were amazed at the number of these jellyfish that showed up in undersea photo graphs. The author was able to provide negatives showing hundreds of specimens of Solmaris leucostyla for identification and study by Dr. Jacques Picard (page 536). This specimen, about 2 inches in diameter, was photographed in the Mediterranean as it swam past the cable-suspended camera. All the same, it was disconcerting to see the water around us become distinctly lighter in tone. Houot reached over and turned a valve; at once, buoyant gasoline from the hull above us burbled into the sea. For a moment or two we hung in equilibrium. Then the bathy scaphe began once again to drop slowly through the silent depths. Past an area thick with discarded shrimp shells we went until the chain on the end of our 500-foot guide rope sank into the mud and we hovered at rest. We could not make out the actual sea floor. Nevertheless, the water around us was far from lifeless. Into the scope of our overhead il lumination swam an Argyropelecus, a hatchet fish, the first I had ever seen-a twinkling pattern of tiny, reflected lights.* It was wig gling fast, and, as it moved past the porthole, its mirrorlike reflections of the spotlight's beams appeared as a marvelous little spectrum. Next came a fast-moving arrowworm, about four inches long; then a jellyfish rather like the sea walnuts one finds near the surface; in the distance, a cantaloupe-shaped object glowed orange and green. As Nature's parade went on before me, I wished that my oppor tunity could be shared by a marine biologist, who could competently observe the scene. Our time was growing short. Presently Houot pressed a button controlling an external magnet, and our guide rope fell clear. Freed of its weight, the bathyscaphe floated upward. Eddies raised by our progress stirred the "soup" of particles surrounding us and made observation difficult. I noticed, however, that many of these minute organisms seemed to be platelike in form, reflecting light from our beam as they spun through the water. Minutes passed. Then we became aware of a slight rocking motion in the sphere. The stability of the depths was behind us; we must now be at the surface, with the waves breaking over our decks. Houot reached up and turned the compressed air valve; within about 10 minutes the sea water would be driven from the air lock. "Sure we have enough air to do the job?" I asked. "About three times as much as we need." "And if the lock is broken?" "We wouldn't get out till they'd towed us into harbor, drained the gasoline above us, and dumped the ballast. We'd go on breathing there's plenty of oxygen-but we might die of something else." "What?" "Boredom." Fortunately, we were spared such a fate. Under the remorseless push of the compressed air the water in the lock went down steadily; soon it reached the window in the conical hatch. Impatient, Houot picked up his ratchet wrench and began loosening the bolts on the door; not long after, we were scrambling up the ladder, to feel the fresh wind on our faces and to blink at rays from the setting sun. Undersea Camera Versus Dredge Thus ended, for the summer, my camera work with the bathyscaphe. Our special camera was left with Houot so that he could record with flash photographs of good defini tion everything that he saw on his dives. Plans were made for new, improved cameras which are now being designed. My respect for the deep-boat as a laboratory for underwater research remains undiminished. Only such a craft can allow the observer to direct, control, and select his pictures of the great depths; only such a craft can permit him to cruise along the bottom in search of his subjects. Yet the bathyscaphe's disadvan tages had been made apparent, too: a French Navy vessel, it is in effect tethered to its base at Toulon; its operations are subject to the * See "Fishing in the Whirlpool of Charybdis," by Paul A. Zahl, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, No vember, 1953.