National Geographic : 1958 May
Goblin of the Depths, a Beak-nosed Skate Hugs the Desertlike Sea Floor Commander Houot encountered this two-and-a -half-foot skate (Raja), relative of the ray, effortlessly soaring across the ocean bottom 7,200 feet down (page 727). Ignoring the bathy scaphe, the creature glided to a landing beside the gondola and leisurely posed in profile. bad luck (for them) they become entangled in our cables, where we find them on our return to the surface. And so the descent proceeds slowly. Gloom reigns in the sphere, and above the shoulder of my passenger I see the porthole, a blue, luminous disk. A dim little lamp on my left enables me to distinguish vaguely the out lines of the various instruments and illumi nates the dial of our vertical-speed indicator. A flashlight is always within reach, and from time to time I can throw a beam on the depth indicator. Ballast Controls Speed of Descent At regular intervals I press the control button of the ballast electromagnets. By thus releasing small quantities of shot, I control the speed of the machine. I can even stop it completely, suspended in mid-water, if my passenger so desires. A brief glance at the gauges assures me of the perfect equilibrium of pressure between the gasoline and the sea. A check of the CO 2 dosimeter and another of the oxygen release 720 are sufficient to assure me that all is well. Thus I remain absolute master of the machine, although seated with a notebook on my knees. My passenger, stretched out at my feet on a foam-rubber cushion, eye riveted to the port hole, takes notes by the feeble glow of my lamp and comments aloud, for my benefit, on what he sees. Soon he will have a specially designed magnetic tape recorder-completely automatic and unaffected by background noise -and can dispense with his notebook. From time to time my passenger presses a button. A vivid flash illuminates the port hole; he has just taken a photograph. We have two cameras and four electronic flashes, developed, thanks to the generosity of the National Geographic Society, by Professor Harold E. Edgerton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has revealed in The Society's Magazine the secrets of his marvelous instruments.* When we approach the bottom, I start the echo sounder, which gives me our exact height above the ocean floor and enables me to make * See "Photographing the Sea's Dark Underworld," by Harold E. Edgerton, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, April, 1955.