The Seeping Cascadia Margin

Painting the Ghostfish

Chris Tuefel / SOI
Jul. 28 2018

I have been painting a mural in the passageway that leads to the aft deck on Falkor. My subject is the Ghostfish, a small and rather unassuming organism that was discovered during one of Falkor’s expeditions to the Mariana trench. In the course of an exploration of the trench floor, this strange beast wandered in front of a camera placed to supervise the operations of a deep-sea lander, and became the deepest fish ever observed. It has the squat, blobby morphology of a lot of the deep-sea fish, presumably a modification for the unimaginable pressure that it lives under.

Screengrab from the video that provided the first glimpse of the previously unknown “Ghostfish” – recently officially named Pseudoliparis swirei. The fish is named for an officer on the HMS Challenger, the 1870s British expedition that discovered thousands of new ocean species and led to the initial discovery of the trench. Challenger officer Herbert Swire, a navigational sub-lieutenant, published journals from the journey. “We named this fish after him in acknowledgment of the crews that serve on oceanographic research vessels. It takes a lot of people to keep a ship running and we wanted to sincerely thank them.” More about its naming HERE.

While in discussions with Schmidt Ocean Institute for a design for a mural aboard Falkor, I had initially suggested that I paint an image of an octopus using a small hand-mirror to show the ROV SuBastian its reflection, but that was (forgive me) torpedoed. We decided as a compromise that it might be better to show the iconic fish. I have been working in the aft passageway, about fifteen feet from where SuBastian sits shrouded in rubberized tarps and lashed to the deck with webbing, and periodically I take a break from painting to stare into the roiling deep where the propellers churn.

The center of Roger Peet’s mural on R/V Falkor, featuring two Ghostfish in a spotlight, guarding manganese nodules.Roger Peet / SOI

The mural is moving right along – I do not seem to be too much in anyone’s way and I have been really enjoying playing around with the transparency of the fish’s fins and with the shadow that it casts. The composition of the mural shows two ghostfish swimming towards each other into a beam of light (representing the light within which they were discovered, probably the first light that had ever fallen on that particular square meter of deep-sea bottom) and I am currently trying to figure out whether or not I should add some manganese nodules to the image- suggesting that the ghostfish are down there protecting their habitat from the nefarious intent of various mining interests. Hands off our nodules!

A particularly pleasing moment for me was painting the eyes of the fish. While wondering about exactly what a fish that lives in the darkest place on Earth needs with a pair of eyes, I painted the small white dot that really gives an eye a sort of vitality and depth, representing a reflection of the light source illuminating the scene. That would have been a first for this deepwater neighbor of ours, which has been doing just fine without us and our assumptions for all this time.

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