Several years ago I climbed overboard into the clear waters of Haiti, and after a copper helmet had been lowered over my head and shoulders I slid slowly down a rope two, four, eight, ten fathoms and finally at sixty-three feet my canvas shoes settled into the soft ooze near a coral reef. I made my way to a steep precipice, balanced on the brink, and looked clown, down into the green depths where illumination like moonlight showed waving sea-fans and milling fish far beyond the length of my hose.
It would have been exceedingly unwise to go much farther, for the steady force of the weight of water at ten fathoms had already increased the pressure on eardrums and every portion of my head and body to almost forty-five pounds for each square inch. At double the depth I had reached I would probably become insensible and unable to ascend.
How the bathysphere was conceived
As I peered down I realized I was looking toward a world of life almost as unknown as that of Mars or Venus—a world in which, up to the present time, our efforts at capturing the inhabitants have been pitifully trivial. Modern oceanographic knowledge of deep-sea fish is comparable to the in formation of a student of African animals, who has trapped a small collection of rats and mice but is still wholly unaware of antelope, elephants, lions and rhinos.
The hundreds of nets I have drawn through the depths of the sea, from a half to two miles down, have yielded a harvest which has served only to increase my desire actually to descend into this no-man’szone. Many years ago I spent the best part of an evening with Colonel Theodore Roosevelt discussing ways and means of deep-sea diving. There remains only a smudged bit of paper with a cylinder drawn by myself and a sphere outlined by Colonel Roosevelt, as representing our respective preferences. We worked out many details but never recurred to the subject.
Two years ago Mr. Otis Barton and I were in frequent consultation concerning the possibility of a steel sphere, large and strong enough to permit us to enter, be sealed up, keep ourselves alive, to descend into and return safely from the depths of ocean.
Mr. Barton deserves full credit for the contribution of time and money he has devoted to this work. I was able to bring to bear but a small amount of helpful suggestion, but an unlimited belief and faith and keenest interest in the scientific results of this venture. Never for a moment did either of us admit the possibility of failure—Barton sustained by his thorough knowledge of the mechanical margins of safety, while my hopes of seeing a new world of life left no opportunity for worry about possible defects.
When the steel sphere finally took shape we fumbled for a name—calling it in turn tank, cylinder and bell. One day, when I was writing the name of a deep-sea fish—Bathytroctes—I was struck by the appropriateness of the Greek prefix meaning deep: I coined the word bathysphere, and the name has stuck.
For two years I had been studying the life of the deep sea off Bermuda, carrying on the work as the chief function of my Department of Tropical Research, financed by Harrison Williams and Mortimer Schiff, under the auspices of the New York Zoological Society. This field, and the methods of work of my deep-sea trawling seemed well adapted to dovetail with attempts at penetrating "in person" as the movies say, to depths far beneath the surface.
In April, 1930, I took my staff to my shore laboratory on Nonsuch which had been given by the Bermuda Government for oceanographic work. By the time my sea-going tug Gladisfen was in full operation the bathysphere was ready. Mr. Barton brought with him the great sphere weighing two tons, thirty-five hundred feet of seven-eighths-inch, non-twisting, steel cable, and a half mile of solid rubber hose containing telephone and electric light wires. (See dreamlike photos from underwater explorations.)
In my turn I was able to provide my great seven-ton, Arcturus winch, the Gladisfen for towing us out to sea, and my staff for cooperation in the actual work. A huge, open-decked barge, the Ready, was chartered, furnished with a mast and derrick, two boilers for working the winches, and finally the bathysphere itself was hoisted on board. The barge was towed out and anchored in the lee of Nonsuch, and then we settled down to watch sea and sky, wind and barometer—praying for fine weather.
The start for the first deep-sea descent
June sixth was a day of almost perfect calm with only a long, heaving swell in mid-ocean. We were on board the barge early, and as soon as the Gladisfen came alongside took her towrope, and, describing a great circle around the reefs, headed out to sea through Castle Roads. The great jagged cliffs towered high on both sides, and on their summits the ruined battlements of the three old forts frowned down upon us.
Before we reached the foam-ringed mass of Gurnet Rock we felt the first gentle heave and settling of the swell of the open sea. We steered straight out and an hour later the angle of the two lighthouses showed that we were about eight miles offshore, with a generous mile of water under us.
Choosing a favorable spot under such conditions was much like looking around and trying to decide on the exact position of the North Pole. Or so I felt when they all awaited my signal to stop. I resorted to a temporal decision and the propeller of the Gladisfen stopped turning over at nine o'clock.
We put in the oxygen tanks, one of them fitted with a most delicate valve which permitted two liters of oxygen to escape every minute. There were two wire racks, one of calcium chloride for absorbing moisture, the other of soda lime for removing the excess of carbon dioxide from the air. (Here's how astronaut suits tackle pressure and oxygen.)
Finally we were all ready and I looked around at the sea and sky, the boats and my friends, and not being able to think of any pithy saying which might echo down the ages, I said nothing, crawled painfully over the steel bolts, fell inside and curled up on the cold, hard bottom of the sphere. This aroused me to speech and I called for a cushion. Otis Barton climbed in after me, and we disentangled our legs and got set.
I had no idea that there was so much room in the inside of a sphere four and a half feet in diameter, although the longer we were in it the smaller it seemed to get. At Barton's suggestion I took up my position at the windows, while he hitched himself over to the side of the door, where he could keep watch on the various instruments. He also put on the earphones.
Isolated from the world of sun and air
Miss Hollister on deck took charge of the other end of the telephone, while Mr. Tee-Van assumed control of the deck crew. I gave the word and the four-hundred pound door was hoisted into the air and slipped into place with a clang of cold steel. The nuts were screwed down and then hammered home, the terrific reverberations almost deafening us inside.
We were now fastened in tight with only a four-inch opening left in the center of the door. At last this great bolt was screwed down and we were completely isolated from the world of sun and air, and from human beings except for the comforting words which slipped up and down the telephone wires.
I turned my attention to the windows, cleaned them thoroughly and tested the visual angles which I could attain by pressing my face close to the surface. The windows were made of fused quartz, three by eight inches, the strongest and most transparent substance in the world.
The oxygen valve was accurately recording two liters, and we found that the searchlight was working perfectly. I remembered what I had read of Houdini's method of remaining in a closed coffin for a long time, and we both began conscientiously to regulate our breathing, and conversed in low tones. We soon forgot all about this.
Like the lightest of airplane take-offs we rose from the deck and swung out over the side. Here we dangled for a short time and then slowly began to sink.
As we submerged I realized for the first time the tremendous weight and terrific strength of the sphere: we were lowered very gently, yet we struck the surface with a splash which would have crushed a rowboat like an eggshell. Within, we hardly noticed the impact until a froth of foam and bubbles surged up over the glass and the chamber was dimmed to a pleasant green.
The hull of the barge the last visible link of the upper world
While the two cables were being clamped together to prevent twisting we revolved once and the hull of the barge came into view a few yards away. It was covered with a magnificent coral reef growth—waving banners of seaweed, long, tubular sponges, jet-black blobs of ascidians and tissue-thin pearl shells. Word came down, I sent up an answering order and the hull passed slowly upward and out of sight.
This was the last visible link of the upper world; from now on we had to depend on distant spoken words for knowledge of our depth, or speed, the weather or the sunlight, or anything to do with the world of air on the surface of Mother Earth.
A few seconds after the hull vanished word came clown the hose that we were at fifty feet, then one hundred, and the only change was a slight twilighting and chilling of the bluish-green. As we sank slowly I knew that we must be passing the depth at which Commander Ellsberg labored so gallantly to free the men in the Submarine S-51.
"Two hundred feet" was called clown to us and we stopped with a gentle jerk while another clamp was attached, and soon we were sinking again. We were now very far from any touch of earth; ten miles south of the shore of Bermuda and one and a half miles from the sea bottom.
At three hundred feet Barton gave a sudden exclamation and I turned the flash on the door and saw a slow trickle of water beneath it. About a pint had gathered in the bottom. I wiped away the meandering stream and still it came. I knew that the door would fit more tightly the deeper we got, but there remained a shadow of worry as to how much the relaxed pressure of the ascent would allow the door to expand.
In two minutes more we were at four hundred feet: then five hundred and six hundred came and passed. Here the electric searchlight began to be effective, the yellow shaft cutting through the dark blue with great intensity.
To a depth no living human being had ever been before
Ever since the beginnings of human history, when first the Phoenicians dared to sail the open sea, thousands upon thousands of human beings had reached the depth at which we were now suspended, and had passed on to lower levels. But all of these were dead, drowned victims of war, tempest, or other Acts of God. We were the first living men to look out at the strange illumination. And it was stranger than any imagination could have conceived. (How James Cameron became to first human to reach 6.8 miles under the sea.)
It was of an indefinable deep blue quite unlike anything I have ever seen in the upper world, and it excited our optic nerves in a most confusing manner. We kept thinking and calling it brilliant, and again and again I picked up a book to read the type only to find that I could not tell the difference between the blank page and a colored plate.
All our remarks were recorded by Miss Hollister and when I read them later, the repetition of our insistence upon the brilliance which yet was not brilliance was almost absurd.
As we began our further descent I found that Barton and I had the same thought; we were waiting breathlessly for the sudden elimination of all light. It seemed from moment to moment that it would soon become absolutely dark, and the fact of the terrible slow change from dark blue to blacker blue was the most impressive thing about the descent. Then the thought came that this was not night because there had never been any day.
As the realization of the depth became more acute we talked very little. Barton watched the dripping door, adjusted the oxygen tank and now and then asked "What depth now?" "Yes, we're all right." "No, the leak's not increasing." "It's as brilliant as ever" and we both knew it was not brilliant.
"Eight hundred feet" came down the wire and I called a halt. Half a dozen times in my life I have had hunches so vivid that I could not ignore them and this was one of the times. Eight hundred feet spelled bottom and I could not escape it.
About an hour after we started we were on deck again, waiting for the tedious and deafening pounding and unscrewing of the many giant nuts which held us safely in. As the center bolt became loose we could hear the hissing escape of the compressed air which we were breathing. Yet we had had no ill effects and no sense of oppression.
The body completely subordinated to mental interest
At last the huge door was swung off and the sunlight poured in. I started to uncoil in order to climb out and suddenly realized how completely the body can be subordinated to mental interest and emotion. I was almost paralyzed from the waist down, with legs and feet sound asleep, and I found the cushion reposing in the chemical rack overhead.
At the beginning of the descent we had mislaid a monkey wrench and I now discovered that I had been sitting upon it. So deeply was it tattooed into my person that the marks were distinct quite four days later. I found the sunshine more yellow than I had ever thought it, but nothing so wonderful as the blue of the ocean's depths.
The descent to a depth of a quarter of a mile
The fifth day after this, June eleventh, was made to order for work on the open sea, and we made a descent to a depth of over a quarter of a mile, fourteen hundred and twenty-six feet.
We had devised a number of improvements—the inside of the sphere was painted black to do away with all reflection; there were shelves for books, writing materials and sample colors, and the cushion and monkey wrenches were in their rightful places. Outside, near the windows, were baited, luminous hooks in clusters and bags of very ancient squids for additional lures.
At ten o'clock we were swung overside, and a few seconds later were beneath the surface. As we hung motionless I looked up at the watery ceiling. It appeared perfectly solid, and like a slowly waving, pale green canopy, quilted everywhere with deep puckers—the sharp apexes of the wavelets above showing as smooth, rounded indentations below.
Light shifts down as through cathedral windows
The sunlight sifted down in long oblique rays as if through some wonderfully beautiful cathedral window. The atmospheric dust of floating motes had its counterpart here in midwater, only the general feeling was cool green, not yellow. The water was so clear that I could see the distant keel of the Gladisfen slowly rolling as it drifted. Here and there, like bunches of mistletoe hanging from chandeliers, were clusters of sargassum weed, with only their tips breaking through into the air. Jellyfish, large and small, drifted past and from now on I hardly ever let my eyes leave the circle of vision through my window. (Life in the North Atlantic depends on floating sargassum.)
Unearthly color brings excitement to eye and mind
We had asked to be lowered slowly, and when less than fifty feet below the surface I happened to glance at a large, deep-sea shrimp which I had brought along in its bottle for experiment. It was no longer scarlet, but a deep black with an orange tone. I opened my volume of "Depths of the Ocean" and the plate of bright red shrimps was as black as night.
On this and on other dives I carefully studied the changing colors, both by direct observation and by means of the spectroscope. Just beneath the surface the red diminished to one-half its normal width. At twenty feet there was only a thread of red and at fifty the orange was dominant. This in turn vanished at one hundred and fifty feet. Three hundred feet found the whole spectrum dimmed, the yellow almost gone and the blue appreciably narrowed.
At three hundred and fifty I should give as a rough summary of the spectrum fifty percent blue violet, twenty-five per cent green, and an equal amount of colorless pale light. At four hundred and fifty feet no blue remained, only violet, and green too faint for naming.
At eight hundred feet there was nothing visible but a narrow line of pale grayishwhite, due of course to the small amount of light reaching my eye. Yet when I looked outside I saw only the deepest, blackestblue imaginable. On every dive this unearthly color brought excitement to our eyes and minds.
Many surface fish seen as far down as a hundred feet
As far down as one hundred feet I saw many of the surface fish—most of them ultra-marine above and white below, that wonderfully protective combination amid the deep blue and the white foam of the surface ocean water. Fifteen-inch bonitos darted past in trios and once a small, stodgy triggerfish strayed from his waterlogged sargassum shelter to peer in at me. At twenty fathoms I was surprised to see the glassy, transparent, twelve-inch body of a larval eel undulating slowly along on its way. (Inside the multimillion-dollar world of eel trafficking.)
The first glimpse of a live latern fish
There was a similarity between two- and three-hundred-foot levels in that most of the fish seen were Carangids, such as pilot fish (Naucrates), and Psenes (this has no human or Christian name, but its technical one is so interesting to pronounce that this can be excused!).
Long strings of salpa drifted past, lovely as the finest lace, and schools of jellyfish throbbed on their directionless but energetic road through Iife. Small vibrating motes passed in clouds, wholly mysterious until I could focus exactly and knew them for Pteropods or flying snails (Cavolinia); delicate, shield-shaped shells driven along by a pair of flapping, fleshy wings. (Some snails fly across continents by hitching a ride in birds.)
At four hundred feet there came into view the first real deep-sea fish—Cyclothones, lanternfish, and bronze eels. The former meant nothing at first. I took them for dark-colored worms or shrimps. Only when I saw them at greater depths in the searchlight did I recognize them. Of all the many thousands of these fish which I have netted, I never saw one alive until now.
The lantern fish (Myctophids) came close to the glass and were easy to call by name. Only instead of having a half dozen scales left, like those caught in the nets, these fish were ablaze with their full armor of iridescence. Twice I caught the flash of their light-organs but only for an instant. An absurdly small and rotund puffer appeared quite out of place at this depth, but with much more reason he probably thought the same of me.
Big silvery bronze eels came nosing about the bait although what they expected to accomplish with their inconceivably slender and delicate jaws is hard to imagine. Their transparent larva also appeared, swimming by itself, a waving sheet of watery tissue. Pale shrimps drifted by, their transparency almost removing them from vision. Now and then there came a flash as from an opal, probably the strange, flat crustacean well named Sapphirina.
Pale white ghosts of surface pilot fish appear
Pilotfish swam into view again and at this level, and somewhat higher up as well, I realized for the first time in a living organism the power of the diminishing spectrum. These were ghosts of pilotfish—like those of the surface levels in shape, size, fins, eyes and pattern, but pale white-all color gone except for the apparently black, vertical bands. If these individuals lived at this level, of course they had never been any other color nor their ancestors before them.
At five hundred feet I had fleeting glimpses of black fish nearly two feet long, and here for the first time I saw strange, ghostly dark forms hovering in the distance—forms which never came nearer, but reappeared at deeper, darker depths.
Flying snails passed in companies of fifty or more, and small squids balanced in mid-water. I hoped to see some of the larger ones, those with orange, bull's-eye lights at the tips of their arms, or the ones which glow with an indescribable glory of blue, yellow, and red lightorgans. None came close enough, however, or it may be I must wait until I can descend a mile and still Iive, before I can come to their haunts.
At six hundred feet a pale blue fish appeared, yet the blue of the pilot fish does not exist at this depth. Several seriolalike chaps nosed toward me. They must have drifted down from the surface waters into these great pressures without injury. Dark jellyfish twice came to my eyes, and the silvery eels again. The pteropods looked dull gold and I saw my first shrimps with minute but very distinct portholes of lights.
A great cloud suggests some mystery beyond
Again a great cloud of a body moved in the distance—this time pale, much lighter than the water. How I longed for a single near view, or telescopic eyes which could pierce the murk. I felt as if some astonishing discovery lay just beyond the power of my eyes.
At another hundred feet a dozen fish passed the sphere swimming almost straight upright, yet they were not unduly elongate like the trumpetfish which occasionally assume this position in shallow waters near shore. I had a flash only of the biggest fish yet—dark, with long, tapering tail and quite a yard in length. Also a large transparent jellyfish bumped against the glass, its stomach filled with a mass of luminous food. (Watch first-ever footage of deep sea anglerfish mating.)
Here and at eight hundred feet a human being was permitted for the first time the sight of living silver hatchetfish (Argyropelccus). I made Barton look quickly out so he could verify the marvelous sight. At eight hundred feet where the water was blackish-blue, I saw groups of lights moving along slowly, or jerking unsteadily past, and the searing beams of the searchlight revealed these as silver hatchetfish, gleaming with tinsel, but with every light quenched, at least to my vision, until I switched off the electricity or until the fish moved out of its path, when their pyrotechnics again rushed into play.
Observations dictated over telephone from the deep
Here is an excerpt direct from the transcription which Miss Hollister took down of my notes telephoned up from eight hundred feet on Dive Number Eleven.
June 19th, 1930. 1:24 P.M. Depth 8oo feet: 2 black fish 8 inches long going by, rat-tailed, probably Idiacanthus. 2 long. silver, eel-like fish, probably Serrivomer. Fish and invertebrates go up and down the shaft of light like insects. 3 Myctophids with headlights; Diaphus. (Work with a mirror next time.) 2 more different Myctophids. The same 3 Myctophids with headlights. 20 Pteropods and 6 or 8 Argyropelecus together. 3 more Pteropods. Little twinkling lights in the distance all the time, pale greenish in color. Eels, 1 dark and 1 light. Big Argyropelecus coming: looks like a worm head on. Eustomias-like fish 5 inches long. 30 Cyclothones, grayish white; can see every movement. An amazing number of fish seen in 17 minutes.
Returning to the quarter-mile dive. I made the following notes from the elevenhundred-foot level down. At eleven hundred feet Barton and I surveyed our sphere carefully. There was no evidence of the hose being forced inside as had happened on two former occasions. The door was dry as a bone, the oxygen tanks were working well and by occasional use of our palmleaf fans, the air was kept sweet. The walls of the bathysphere were dripping with moisture, probably sweating from the heat of our bodies condensing on the cold steel. The chemicals were working well, and we had a grand shifting of legs and feet, and settled down for what was ahead of us.
A strange new fish emits a blinding green light
In the darkness of these levels I had not been able to see the actual forms of the hatchetfish, yet a glance out of the window now showed distinctly several rat-tailed macrurid-like fish twisting around the bend of the hose.
They were distinct and were wholly new to me. Their profiles were of no macrurid I had ever seen. As I watched, from the sides of at least two there flashed six or more bright greenish lights and the blinding effect on my eyes was such that the fish vanished as if dissolved into water, and the searchlight showed not a trace. I have no idea what they were.
At the next hundred-foot stop, two hundred fathoms down, there dashed into the searchlight, without any previous hint of illumination, what I identified as Idiacanthus, a long, slender eel-like form, which twisted and turned about in the glare, excited by some strange emotion. Twice it touched the edge of the path of light and turned back as if imprisoned in a hollow cylinder of illumination. I watched it until at last it left, and I could see no hint of its own light, although it possesses at least three hundred light-organs. The great advantage of the electric light was that even transparent fins—as in the present case—reflected a sheen and were momentarily visible.
A fifty-foot zone of terrible blue emptiness
At twelve hundred and fifty feet several more of the silver hatchets passed, going upward, and prawns became abundant. Between this depth and thirteen hundred feet not a light or an organism was seen; it was fifty feet of terrible emptiness, with the blue of some wholly new color term—a term quite absent from human language. It was probably sheer imagination but the characteristic most vivid was its transparency. As I looked out I never thought of feet or yards of visibility, but of the hundreds of miles of this color stretching over so much of the world.
Life again became evident around thirteen hundred feet, and mostly luminous. After watching a hundred or more fireflylike flashes I turned on the searchlight and saw nothing whatever. These sparks, brilliant though they were, were kindled into conflagration and quenched in the same instant upon invisible bodies. Whatever made them were too small to reach the eyes, as was almost the host of copepods and other tiny crustaceans through which we passed now and then.
At one time I kept the electric light going for a full minute while we were descending. and I distinctly observed two zones of abundance and a wide interval of scanty, motelike Iife. When very close to the glass I could clearly make out the jerking movements of copepods, but they were too small to show anything more. The milky sagitta or arrow worms were more easily detected, the eye catching their swift dart and then focusing on their quiet forms.
While still near thirteen hundred feet a group of eight large shrimp passed, showing an indeterminate coloration. We never took large shrimps at these comparatively shallow levels in the trawling nets.
Barton had just read the thermometer as 72° when I dragged him over to the window to see two more Argyropelecus. Before he went back to his instruments three squids shot into the light, out and in again, changing from black to barred to white as they moved. They showed no luminescence.
At the lowest depth—a solid, blue-black world
At 10:44 we were sitting in absolute silence, our faces reflecting a ghastly bluish sheen. I became conscious of the pulsethrob in my temples and remember that I kept time to it with my fingers on the cold, damp steel of the window ledge. I shifted the handkerchief on my face and carefully wiped the glass, and at this moment we felt the sphere check in its course—we felt ourselves press slightly more heavily against the floor and the telephone said "Fourteen hundred feet."
I had the sensation of a few more meters’ descent and then we swung quietly at our lowest floor, over a quarter of a mile below the surface.
I pressed my face against the glass and looked upward and in the slight segment which I could manage I saw a faint paling of the blue. I peered down and again I felt the old longing to go farther, although it looked like the black pit-mouth of hell itself—yet still showed blue.
I thought I saw a new fish flapping close to the sphere, but it proved to be the waving edge of the Explorers' Club flag—black as jet at this depth. My window was clear as crystal, in fact clearer, for fused quartz is one of the most transparent of all substances and transmits all wavelengths of sunlight. The outside world I now saw through it was, however, a solid, blue-black world, one which seemed born of a single vibration—blue, blue, forever and forever blue.
All risks and costs are repaid
I never doubted the success of the adventure as a whole, but I had had much less faith in the possibility of seeing many living creatures from the windows of the bathysphere. The constant swaying movement due to the rolling of the barge high overhead, the great, glaring white sphere itself looming up through the blue murk, the apparent scarcity of organisms at best in the depths of the ocean as revealed by our net hauls, and finally the small size of the aperture, hardly as large as one's face—all these seemed handicaps too severe to be overcome.
This secret skepticism made the actual results all the more amazing. As fish after fish swam into my restricted line of vision—fish, which heretofore, I had seen only dead and in my nets, as I saw their colors, and their absence of colors, their activities and modes of swimming and clear evidence of their sociability or solitary habits, I felt that all the trouble and cost and risk were repaid manyfold.
After these dives were past, when I came again to examine the deep-sea treasures in my net hauls, I would feel as an astronomer might who looks through his telescope after having rocketed to Mars and back, or like a paleontologist who could suddenly annihilate time and see his fossils alive.
In the course of my various dives I found that without the searchlight for six hundred feet and with its golden path below that depth I could distinctly see and recognize—and even accurately identify—fish down to the very species.
The necessary, new optical adjustments were not the least of the unexpected phases of this adventure. For two years I had examined a host of dead Cyclothones (they have no common name) taken in my nets, but it required three deep dives and a dozen observations before I recognized these fish alive, showing as rounded objects, opening and closing, which I saw again and again in the path of the searchlight—these objects being the mouths of Cyclothones seen from the front.
A wholly unexpected discovery was the presence of deep-sea fish at higher levels than I had ever taken them in the trawls. I am convinced that this is due to the fact that a greater intensity of light in the upper strata enables the fish to see and avoid the slowly oncoming nets, whereas farther clown in the darkness, they swim blindly across the path of the nets, or actually into the entrances.
Mysterious creatures of large size hovered in distance
The most spectacular observation was of creatures of large size which, again and again, I saw hovering in the distance. Whether fish, squid or other organisms I cannot say with certainty—fish I am inclined to believe—but in any case, creatures far larger than we have ever taken in any net, and of whose names, appearance and habits we are as utterly ignorant as we are of the inhabitants of Mars.
On the twentieth of June, when our time and money for deep-sea diving were exhausted, we had made fifteen descents in the bathysphere, one to fourteen hundred and twenty-six feet and three to eight hundred feet.
The last four dives, although only to depths of eighty to three hundred and fifty feet were of intense interest, and as a matter of fact were probably much more dangerous than the deeper ones. (These diving fins helped famed scientist Sylvia Earle discover the underwater world.)
These shallow descents might be described as contour dives. I brought the Gladisfen and the Ready as close to shore as I dared on a day when there was a slight offshore wind, and there began diving where I could actually see the bottom from the deck.
We had so perfected the mechanics of the apparatus that an order sent up the telephone was obeyed instantly. I was lowered to within a few feet of the bottom and then, as we drifted slowly seaward, I had the bathysphere raised and lowered, first to avoid an approaching jagged bit of coral reef, then to drop clown into a submarine valley until the bottom became visible.
An amazing exchange of courtesy between parrotfish and wrasse
I could distinctly sec and recognize the various kinds of coral and the species of fish. I even saw an amazing exchange of courtesy, one which I had observed many times when diving near shore. The giant and gaudy parrotfish browse on hard coral as a horse tears off mouthfuls of grass. After an interval of feeding, when the teeth and jaws and scales of the head are covered with debris, the fish upends in mid-water and holds itself motionless while a school of passing wrasse, all tiny in comparison with the big fish, rush from all sides and begin a systematic cleaning of the large fish's head. As in most relationships between different species of animals, this is founded on mutual benefit, the parrotfish getting a free cleaning, and the wrasse finding a supply of particles of food ready at hand.
On the very last dive, from thirty to fifty feet down and a mile offshore, there occurred an amazing migration of huge parrotfish. Hundreds and hundreds suddenly appeared and streamed obliquely past and downward, unending lines of cerulean blue. It seemed as if all the parrotfish of Bermuda had suddenly decided to leave for the depths of the open sea. Such things as these could never be seen except from a sphere such as ours.
Well out from shore on one of these contour dives I had the thrill of suddenly seeing what looked like a thin, endless sea-serpent. We were drifting slowly along, now Iifting over a toothed ridge or settling down into a valley of caverns and gorges when, without warning I saw a long, undulating black line lying along the bottom, clearly visible when over a bed of sand, or vanishing behind a mass of giant seaplumes. A second glance revealed it as a deep-sea cable resting quietly on its bed and carrying innumerable messages of hope and fear, joy and death. Kipling's words took on new significance and I shall never again send a cable without this memory.
These shore dives opened up an entirely new field of possibilities, the opportunity of tracing the change from the shallow-water corals and fish to those of the midwater, with ultimately the disappearance of the former and the change of the fish into the deep-sea forms. We know absolutely nothing of this at present, as the transition zone is so rough and untrawlable that there is no method known of learning anything about it.
Physical surroundings at the lowest depth
When, at any time in our earthly life, we come to a moment or a place of tremendous interest it often happens that we realize the full significance only after it is all over. In the present instance the opposite was true and this very fact makes any vivid record of feelings and emotions a very difficult thing.
At the very deepest point we reached I deliberately took stock of the interior of the bathysphere; I was curled up in a ball on the icy-cold, damp steel, Barton's low voice relayed my observations and assurances of our safety, a fan swished back and forth through the air and the ticking of my wrist-watch was like a strange memory sound of another world.
Soon after this there came a moment which stands out clearly, unpunctuated by any word of ours, with no fish or other creatures visible outside. I sat crouched with mouth and nose wrapped in a handkerchief to prevent condensation, and my forehead pressed close to the cold glass—that transparent bit of Mother Earth which so sturdily held back nine tons of water from my face.
There came to me at that instant a tremendous wave of emotion, a real appreciation of what was momentarily almost superhuman, cosmic, of the whole situation; our barge slowly rolling high overhead in the blazing sunlight, like the merest chip in the midst of the ocean, the long cobweb of cable leading down through the spectrum to our lonely sphere, where, sealed tight, two conscious human beings sat and peered into the abysmal darkness as we dangled in mid-water, isolated as a lost planet in outermost space.
Here, under a pressure which if loosened in a fraction of a second would make amorphous tissue of our bodies, breathing our own homemade atmosphere, sending a few comforting words chasing up and down a string of hose—here I was privileged to sit and try to crystallize what I observed through inadequate eyes and interpreted with a mind wholly unequal to the task.
To the ever-recurring question "How did it feel?" etc., I can only quote the words of Herbert Spencer, I felt like "an infinitesimal atom floating in illimitable space."