National Geographic : 1954 Jul
To the Depths of the Sea by Bathyscaphe withstand the pressure at nearly 5,000 feet. We have a certain interest in the success of this tube, for, if it were crushed, it might well cripple the F.N.R.S. 3. Deep underwater im plosions, you see, may be as dangerous as explosions. This Pyrex tube might achieve the interesting distinction of collapsing with a force equal to a small charge of TNT and ripping open the hull, leaving two men almost a mile down in the Mediterranean. I think of this all the way down. But the tube holds up. Moreover, it flares regularly as I trigger my camera inside the ball. I have the feeling that I am looking at the Milky Way during a beautiful summer night. Most of the white specks are stationary, but some move in jerks. I cannot determine the percentage of dead and living matter. Seeing some filaments, I suddenly cry: "Oh, a superb siphonophore, Houot! Not very big. Eight to 10 inches long." My "secretary" writes it down. At 850 feet, F.N.R.S. 3 brakes her own de scent, and Houot no longer needs to jettison shot. We hang virtually at a standstill. Ap parently, at this level we have encountered a slight but distinct change in water density. This factor is important, for the bathyscaphe is a sensitive densimeter; a small variation in temperature can in effect reduce her total weight by several hundred pounds. To resume our descent, Houot discharges some of the gasoline in the hull above. De prived of this lighter-than-water "lift," the bathyscaphe slowly begins to sink once more. "It looks to me," say I, "as if the specks are bigger. A few minutes ago the mass was fog. Now it is snow-suspended snow that never falls." Miniature Monsters of the Deep At 1,200 feet I turn off the searchlight and accustom my eyes to the obscurity. There is still a faint tinge of blue in the water. I can make out shrimps, jellylike blobs, and small medusas, pulsating feebly; and now the first fish appear. Dreadful little things about two inches long, they are covered with sca brous silver patches and have transparent tails and bulbous eyes that start out of their heads. They seem to be Argyropelecus. We see these miniature monsters the rest of the way down, together with other varieties, fishes resem bling anchovies and small eels.* In the slow passage from 1,300 to 2,600 feet the animals outside seem pretty much the same, although we have passed beyond the deepest penetration of natural light. But I note that the organisms are growing in size if not in population, without seeming to lessen the transparency of the water. Without taking my face from the porthole, I squirm to relieve my cramped legs, while Houot tries not to step on me or my photo graphic equipment. Busy as a bird dog, he keeps my log and his own and yet manages to trim the boat constantly with delicate dis charges of shot. Houot can maneuver the 98 2 -ton bathyscaphe like his own finger. "You've got to admit," he says, "this ship gives you confidence." "She's marvelous. But I admire the pre cision of your maneuvers. From where I am, I feel you are the absolute master of the vertical. Suppose we start the motors." Cruising a Half Mile Down "All right," says the master of the bathy scaphe. "Here they go. Do you hear the hum?" "Yes," I say, "but why aren't we moving?" Houot chuckles. "What's your hurry? The bathyscaphe is heavy; it takes time to pick up speed." In a moment I reply, "You're right. We are accelerating. It's odd to see all those creatures rushing toward us. It will be even better on the bottom. Okay, let's stop the motors." The bathyscaphe parades on horizontally for a while, losing momentum. Houot checks the amount of carbon dioxide in the air we are breathing. "Air okay," he reports, and we continue to chat. "People," I observe, "have told me there is nothing alive in the depths of the sea. But the amount of nitrogen matter I have seen for more than an hour! I am convinced that men will soon begin to 'mine' these vast resources." Houot nods. "Think of all the experiments that could be made with this device, if it were considered a submerged laboratory . . ." We sink through the levels reached by Wil liam Beebe and Otis Barton in 1934.t At 3,300 feet the density of life increases con siderably. I see what appear to be red and *See "Fishing in the Whirlpool of Charybdis," by Paul A. Zahl, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, No vember, 1953. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "A Half Mile Down," December, 1934, and "Round Trip to Davy Jones's Locker," June, 1931, both by William Beebe.