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    Who Wouldn't Want To Go Someplace Called "the Challenger Deep"?
    By Danna Staaf | March 9th 2012 05:46 PM | 5 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Danna

    Cephalopods have been rocking my world since I was in grade school. I pursued them through a BA in marine biology at the University of California...

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    Is the Age of Exploration long dead? At The Last Word on Nothing, Richard Panek made the point that there's no longer anywhere on Earth people haven't been. Even the South Pole, which many would consider the most remote spot on the planet, is a regular tourist destination.

    Ah! But what about the deep sea? Humans obviously haven't seen every inch of it--not even close. And the deepest spot in the ocean, the Challenger Deep, is much harder to visit than the South Pole. In fact, only one manned expedition has ever touched bottom, making it more like the moon than the pole.

    And--like the moon--private individuals and entrepreneurs are itching to go back. Media of late have been abuzz with news of the "race to the deep," most recently covered in The Huffington Post.

    I must be wearing my pedantic pants today, because I couldn't help pouncing on a couple of statements in the article. They aren't wrong--they're just not perfectly right.

    Quibble the first:
    Filmmaker and explorer James Cameron has unveiled plans to visit the deepest place on planet Earth in the coming weeks, aboard a state-of-the-art, deep-diving craft built beneath a veil of secrecy in Australia. . . . The lime-green, cylindrical craft, dubbed the Deepsea Challenger -- a play on the name of the deepest spot in the Mariana Trench, known as Challenger Deep -- is a single-pilot submersible . . . 
    Uhh. Does anyone know what the Challenger Deep was named after? That's right, a honking big sailing ship called HMS Challenger that laid the foundation for modern oceanography. I'm pretty sure the ship--not the geographic location--is the namesake for Cameron's vessel.



    HMS Challenger by William Frederick Mitchell 

    Quibble the second:
    Over the last several decades, scientists have found some bizarre and massive creatures dwelling in the deep, such as the megamouth shark, a filter feeder that grows up to 18 feet (5 m) long, and two enormous and otherworldly squid species. [photo of vampire squid] A vampire squid. This strange creature lives in deep, oxygen-limited areas from around 2,000 to 3,000 feet (600 to 900 m.) depth . . . 
    Now, I realize it doesn't explicitly say "vampire squid were discovered in the last several decades." But it sure implies that. Vampire squid were actually discovered over a hundred years ago--see Richard Ellis' account of the history of our knowledge of the beast.


    Adult vampire squid by Citron 

    All quibbles aside, though, I'm stoked that someone's going back down there. And I wouldn't be at all shocked if he does find new species of squid--and other creatures, too.

    Comments

    Thanks for linking to the post of mine about the end of exploration. Actually, I'd thought about including a cavet about undersea exploration but decided that saying "surface of the Earth" was sufficient in making the point that I was thinking in non-oceanic terms. Maybe I'll go back and tweak the language....

    Thanks for linking to the post of mine about the end of exploration. Actually, I'd thought about including a cavet about undersea exploration but decided that saying "surface of the Earth" was sufficient in making the point that I was thinking in non-oceanic terms. Maybe I'll go back and tweak the language....

    Danna Staaf
    You're welcome! I really enjoyed your post--I hadn't known about South Pole tourism. For what it's worth, I thought it was pretty clear that you were just talking terrestrial exploration.
    That is like saying that the U.S.S. Iowa is named after the Iowa Indians instead of the State, or that the New York Yankees are named after the Duke of York. And if you say "I'm pretty sure", then you're not absolutely certain, and definitely not in a position to quibble with anyone else's assertion.

    Danna Staaf
    I disagree with your analogies! There is a tradition of naming sports teams after the state they're from; and there's a tradition of naming ships after earlier ships. It's therefore more parsimonious to guess that the New York Yankees are named after the state, and the Deepsea Challenger is named after the ship.
    Quibbling without absolute certainty is part of what makes the internet so much fun! =) FWIW, I did poke around on the expedition's official website, and couldn't find confirmation of the vessel's namesake. It would be interesting to know how the author of the HuffPo piece sourced her assertion.

    Anonymous, are you by any chance said author? I am sorry if my snarky language offended you.