Creatures of Dayton’s Wall Shallows

Dayton’s Wall is one of our two main dive sites at the moment – named after Paul Dayton, the pioneering polar diver and ecologist who first characterized many of the sites divers visit in McMurdo Sound today. Here our blinking descent line drops down to a whopping 102 ft, from which we venture even deeper onto Dayton’s Wall itself to collect imagery of the all the critters it is home to. Our time at these depths is limited, and our dive computer soon lets us know it’s time to ascend a little. It’s always hard to leave behind the dense sea life of the wall (just let me take one last picture!), but there are still plenty of cool animals to admire in the “shallows” (anywhere else I would not consider 70 ft shallow).

This sea star and sea spider hanging out on a sponge for example, surrounded by other sponges, anemones, and soft coral. Many of the animals here are suspension feeders (they eat what’s floating in the water) and usually hang out with their tentacles extended. If they sense a threat though, they’re quick to close up into a more protective pose like the anemone below. Also notice how the pink coral below (in the background) has its tentacles out, unlike the ones near the sponge above.

Backboneless animals here are nice because they stay still and are easy to take pictures of. Slightly more challenging (only slightly) are the fish. It’s kind of impressive how slow moving and fearless the fish are here though. The other day I was sampling in one spot for a while and one got so curious it basically ran into my face. Below is a bernacchii with golden galaxy eyes followed by an Antarctic dragonfish with glittering emerald eyes.

After some fun macro photography in the “shallows” it’s time to head to head further up and enjoy the glowing blue world of the real shallows. I know we’ve talked a lot about anchor ice (the cool ice crystals that form on the bottom) but it really never gets old.

Eventually our hands start going numb and we all turn to each other and give the look that says “Yeah. I’m cold. Please let’s leave?” We spend the rest of our safety stop admiring the blue ceiling and trying to wiggle warmth into our fingers before clipping our cameras back on to the down line and heading up the hole one by one, excited to talk about all the cool things we got to see.

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