A Peek at Deepwater Life

Exploration and development of petroleum resources in deep water requires extreme engineering.

Often equated with the technical demands of working in space, the high pressures and low temperatures of the deep ocean’s extreme conditions require highly engineered robotics and thermal protection systems.

Images provided by remotely operated vehicles 1-2 miles below the ocean surface give us a glimpse of unusual creatures and ecosystems.

ROVs run by Oceaneering International Inc. in the western Gulf of Mexico have repeatedly sighted big fin squid at two locations in the Alaminos Canyon area, examples of a genus named only 10 years ago.

Mike Vecchione, director of cephalopod biology at the National Systemics Laboratory for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service, and Richard Young at the University of Hawaii established the genus Magnapinna in 1998.

Vecchione said two species of big fin squid have been identified from the Gulf of Mexico: Magnapinna atlantica and M. pacifica.

This Magnapinnid species, a “big fin” squid, was sighted in 7,828 ft of water on Alaminos Canyon Block 857 in the Gulf of Mexico. Photos from clay Groves for Oceaneering International Inc.

“They’re truly bathypelagic animals,” he told OGJ; “We’ve now seen them in a lot of places, always in waters below 1,000 m.”

This marks the base of the “twilight zone,” defined as the deepest point of detected penetration of natural sunlight, generally coinciding with the bottom of the permanent thermocline and marked by a recognizable faunal change.

Vecchione contributes research to the Census of Marine Life, a 10- year global scientific initiative (www.coml.org).

COML anticipates completing its “World Register of Marine Species” by 2010.The world’s first comprehensive list of past and present species, it currently includes about 122,500 validated marine species names-more than half of the estimated 230,000 marine species known to science.

The Perdido development, to include the Great White, Silvertip, and Tobago fields, is about 200 miles south of Freeport, Tex., in 7,800-9,300 ft of water.

Shell Exploration & Production Co. is the designated operator, on behalf of partners Chevron USA Inc. and BP Exploration & Production Inc.

Buster Stewart, Shell drilling foreman on the Noble Clyde Boudreaux semisubmersible, told OGJ that Oceaneering has been involved with Perdido operations since June 200 7. They often see marine life at depth, he said, but the animals come and go quickly. But he mentioned a large grouper that blocked an ROV in 1993 and shut down operations for several hours.

Clay Groves, an ROV superintendent for Oceaneering, told OGJ he has seen big fin squid seven times at Perdido. The most recent encounter was on Aug. 27 while drilling a Silvertip well in AIaminos Canyon Block 815 in 9,300 ft of water. It was picked up by color camera on the Millennium 3 3 ROV and the black and white camera on the smaller Hydra Min 7 ROV

The squid have greenish bodies and red-orange markings, Groves said. The legs are unusually articulate, projecting sideways and then straight down. Overall size appears to be 15 ft.

Groves has seen many different marine creatures at great depths, but he said the Perdido squid are unusual because they’ve only been sighted at Great White and Silvertip.

“We collaborate with the SERPENT project and notify them when we find something odd” (www.serpentproject.com). SERPENT is a “scientific and environmental ROV partnership using existing industrial technology” (OGJ, Nov. 20, 2006, p. 47).

View marine life video clips from ROVs at www.Qceaneering.com/ coolstuff.asp.