'Brand new to science': Scientists embark on mission to explore Canada's largest underwater volcano
Published Tuesday, July 16, 2019 4:29PM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 17, 2019 9:38AM PDT
With a summit equivalent to that of Mount Baker above land, Explorer Seamount is Canada’s largest underwater volcano, and scientists are about to get a good look at it for just the second time.
They’re also inviting the public along for the expedition.
Scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada teamed up with staff from the Canadian Coast Guard, Ocean Networks Canada and the Nuu-chah-nulth nations are setting off on a 12-day deep sea mission to explore the region after first getting a glimpse last year.
“We got there and it was an anomaly straight from the beginning,” Dr. Cherisse Du Preez, a marine biologist with DFO, told reporters in North Saanich.
What was strange was that the team exploring the seamount in 2018 spotted animals they’d never seen like sponges, corals, and sea cucumbers. After collecting samples, and DNA testing, researchers concluded these species are brand new to science. They also glimpsed an ancient underwater city of sponges, which they nicknamed "Spongetopia."
The last trip was just four hours long.
"We decided we would go back and try to figure out the mysteries of this underwater volcano,” added Du Preez.
Coast guard staff will operate the John P Tully Vessel. Once at the seamount, which is 250 kilometres off the west coast of Vancouver Island, scientists will submerge a robot equipped with an underwater camera for a reality-show like no other.
“When we go down into the deep sea, and turn on the lights, we’re seeing animals that scientists have never seen before. We’re seeing things the general public doesn’t know exists in their water,” added Du Preez.
The images will be shared with the public via a livestream expected to go live on July 19 at 11 a.m.
The goal is not only to share new-found knowledge, but also to help determine if the area should be protected.
For Du Preez, the experience also sparks a sense of pride.
“This is our water, these are our volcanoes. It’s incredibly unique, and a rare opportunity Canadians have to protect these areas.”