“What’s your depth?” echoed down from the surface radio, unanswered for the third time in a row and sounding increasingly desperate. It was 2002 and I was riding inside the scientific submersible Delta, heading towards the seafloor off Anacapa island in an area known simply as the “footprint,” a deep-water fish, coral and sponge hot spot…
The idea of the Kraken appears in Melville’s Moby Dick in 1851; played a major role in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870; and appeared as the Watcher in the Water in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, lurking in a lake beneath the western walls of Moria. The truth is that the giant squid, which may have been the basis for most of these myths and legends, has a real-life story almost as mysterious as unicorns and dragons.
To be honest, I love abalone and have always been fascinated by this most unusual of snails. In college I truly began to “chase the abalone” which led me to become a field biologist. So these are my confessions; some of my adventures while chasing abalone. Things I normally wouldn’t admit to but looking back were just part of the lore of being a field biologist.
On our first date we walked the beaches of Oregon. In was Valentine’s Day 1987 and we both instantly knew we had something special. I still remember the feel of the brisk salt air on my face, the sand blowing down the beach, the call of the gulls, and the smell of the sea that day. But most of all I remember her smile. It was like a walk in the clouds.
As a marine biologist and surfer I have spent a lot of time on and in the ocean. And while surveying the shore, riding waves, scuba diving, or being underwater in a submersible, I have developed a great respect for the sea. She is all-powerful, magnificent, unpredictable, inspiring, and terrifying all at once. And there are moments you face the realization that you are helpless, the sea is in control, that you may die; all you can do is surrender to its power. It is a completely sublime, humbling but ultimately a life changing experience.
During the summer of 1986 we embarked on the ultimate surfing ecology road trip. Combining my interests of surfing and marine biology we set off looking for abalone and good, uncrowded waves. I had just established study sites and tagged black abalone in northern and southern California. Baja was next.
The year was 1987 and I was searching for a place where black abalone were largely undisturbed so I could complete my dissertation. The island was the perfect location: isolated, difficult to access, federally protected, and surrounded by seal- and shark- infested waters. During my first low tide on the island I was ecstatic: blacks were common and it was the perfect place to conduct a study but there were elephant seals everywhere.