THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT
By Scott “Gutsy” Tuason
Drifting in the dark abyss of the open ocean at night is not for the faint of heart, but it will get you a sneak peek into the lives of the creatures (mostly unknown to science!) that drift into shallower waters when the sun goes down…
In our oceans, every night, strange and wonderful creatures travel up from depths far beyond the reach of conventional scuba
The drama of a hapless fish ensnared in the stinging tentacles of a jelly is reflected in the dark water's surface
ONE OF THE LARGEST migrations in the world happens on a daily basis: Each night zooplankton, larval fish, jellies, you name it, migrate up into shallower water. But you will rarely see these kinds of animals on a regular night dive and while many of them are new to science, most of the behaviour has also never been documented before. All you need is deep water, calm seas and a simple set of lights and this can be done practically anywhere, which is exactly what I have been doing for the last four-plus years. And it has been an amazing ride of adventure and discovery.
PHOTOGRAPHY’S FINAL FRONTIER?
I feel like we are living in the golden age of digital underwater photography. Images that you could have only dreamed about 20 years ago are now possible with the advances in technology. Cameras can shoot in low light while your ISO is cranked up to 2000, 3000 even 4000 without all the grain, and underwater flash units can fire at a rate of an AK-47 rifle. I remember my Nikonos SB103 having a blazingly fast recycle time of six seconds!
We are also living in an age where image making is at its finest. Just when you think you have taken an awardwinning shot, you open up one of the many Facebook underwater groups only to find an image that trumps yours. This is why it is even harder to stand out from the crowd. That was until I discovered the pelagic magic of the blackwater dive in Hawaii in 2012. I had actually signed up for the manta night dive and this so called “blackwater” dive was offered as well at the shop. I did it, and, as the cliché goes, the rest is history. I was hooked on it like a 14-year-old on Snapchat.
THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLACKWATER
If there is one word that describes the animals you find on a blackwater dive it would have to be “weird”! Even their names are weird: Pteropods, salps, blastazoids, and phromina are just some of them. And speaking of weird, this type of diving is probably the most unconventional you will ever do.
The festivities start after dinner and by the time we get the lights and lines sorted, motor out to deep open water and set up, it’s around 9:30 in the evening. We let out the 20-metre line with weights attached to the end, with stages of lights set all along it, one at
Speaking of weird, this type of diving is probably the most unconventional you will ever do
five metres, another at 10, then 15 and the last one at 20.
Now comes the part which I call “letting the stew brew” – we wait 20 to 30 minutes before jumping in. This allows the aliens to get attracted to the light. While you orbit the line like planets around the sun, strange and downright bizarre creatures start appearing out of nowhere.
There just isn’t any other feeling like this in diving. Dives can be as short as 45 minutes (because you will run out of air due to excitement) or as long as 90 minutes. I usually bring another tank with me, because when it’s going off, you just want to strap another tank on and jump right back in.
NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART
Blackwater isn’t for everyone; it takes a certain amount of diving skill, good buoyancy control and a keen set of eyes. Not to mention the photographic challenges it brings to the table. As Joshua Lambus describes it, “It’s like shooting a piece of tin foil in a room with no lights.” Some animals can actually only be appreciated when viewed on the computer, blown up to see all of their bizarre intricacies.
For non-photographers, the feeling of diving blackwater is like no other. It is probably akin to the feeling of floating in space, and the memories you make will stay for with you for a long time.
For me, it’s like going back in time, to a period when nothing roamed the Earth, when the only life forms where simple, single-celled marine animals, waiting for evolution to transform them into what we are today.
Open water diving at night is a special experience, and one that will definitely add some strangeness to your life in Asia…
BELOW Little-known behaviours and relationships are observed in blackwater dives, such as this seemingly symbiotic interaction RIGHT PAGE Countless undescribed species drift in the dark, amongst them creatures in larval phases that have also never before been recorded
Scott "Gutsy" Tuason is an eminent underwater photographer, known for his daring dives. He has won numerous prestigious international awards for his work and has just released a seminal book, Blackwater and Open Blue, available now in the Underwater360 shop at www.uw360.asia.
LEFT Blackwater diving is one of diving's last frontiers, providing access to a strange world that still has much to reveal
ABOVE Phronima guards her brood and the salp they live in