Here they are! Some of Brian’s first ever pictures of Cashes Ledge. Every picture tells a story – but we are lucky enough to have some real stories to tell about these awesome pictures. We caught up with Brian shortly after he visited Cashes Ledge and asked him about the dive. Brian filled us in on some of the exciting details of this bona fide ocean odyssey:
Robin: You’ve never dived Cashes Ledge before, what were your first impressions?
Brian: As always when I am diving in a new place for the first time, all I see is chaos when I first get on the bottom, but over time I begin to zero in on specific behaviors to start making order and begin to put the puzzle together.
The kelp is beautiful, the stalks are 6-8 feet high, then they have fronds that lay horizontally for probably 10-15 more feet. They create this sea of kelp, literally a bed of kelp that you see when you first come down from the surface that looks like the bottom but isn’t. The descent line we sent down just disappeared through it. You’d follow it down to the kelp bed then you’d have to go another 6 or 8 feet to get to the bottom. It’s a false bottom of kelp fronds. It’s a lovely golden amber color, and there’s another species of kelp that’s sort of reddish, growing on the amber ones. It all looked good and lush and thick – very colorful and healthy looking.
There were lots of fish circling around. We saw quite a few red cod. There are a lot of pollock and quite a number of cod mixed in, and some of the cod are more traditionally colored, but some have the distinctive red/orange iridescent coloration.
Robin: What other kinds of wildlife did you see?
Brian: Besides pollock and cod, there were a lot of juvenile fish. We found out later they were cunner. They are bright orange when they are small, quite stunning, like the garibaldi in California. We saw quite a few whales on the surface, minke whales porpoising and coming up for air, but not close enough to photograph. There were invertebrates on the bottom, on ledges below the kelp. It’s definitely worth a lot more exploration. This is clearly a unique habitat.
Robin: Was this dive different from your expectations?
Brian: I’d heard about the Cashes Ledge kelp forest for years. People always say it’s not like California, so I expected an area that was covered in kelp on the bottom, but the brown kind that I usually see inshore, just a lot more of it – low-lying, a foot off the bottom. I didn’t expect anything like this. Stalks of kelp that were 8 feet high and long strands at the top that made this golden bed. It was very unique. The fish stayed localized, always in the area. They weren’t passing schools; they sort of hung out there. The kelp forest is probably a square mile or so – it’s a big area. But the fish were always there – in the background, silhouetted. It was very different from what I expected.
Robin: Did you see evidence of human activity in the area?
Brian: There was a tremendous amount of fishing gear out there. We tried to dive away from gear. But everybody on the trip remarked that there were a lot of fishing buoys on the surface. I think they were lobster traps, but I’m not sure. They were everywhere. This was surprising. Nobody expected this.
A friend of mine remembers diving Cashes in the 80s, and said the fish used to be so thick that you couldn’t see your dive buddies. It’s not like that today, so the biomass must be down. But there was a good population of fish. I think a place like this with proper protection could come back to those levels that my friend observed 20-30 years ago.
Robin: Were there any unexpected difficulties?
Brian: No, but the currents got quite strong on Sunday and we had trouble getting to the dive-line buoy. Wearing a dry suit and 120 pounds of equipment you have to swim really hard against the current. We couldn’t get to the buoy, so the boat picked us up and we tried again and made it.
Robin: What was the water temperature?
Brian: Pretty warm for New England, probably 50 degrees.
Robin: Did the weather cause any problems?
Brian: No, the weather was really good. It progressively improved. Early Saturday it was fine, small waves, a little bumpy, but it got better and by Sunday was really calm. If the waves are big it’s hard to get back in the boat after the dive.
Robin: Was visibility low from the recent northeaster?
Brian: I don’t know why visibility was low. It was very typical of New England conditions. Turbid, but not terrible. Visibility was 20-25 feet, but hazy, not crystal clear. I tried to work close in and make some pictures that would still come out well.
Robin: Will you do anything differently next time you go to Cashes?
Brian: Not necessarily. I would like to have more time. To produce pictures in these conditions takes a lot of repeatability and serendipity. My M.O. is to dive a place over and over and keep working it, if I can. I could spend hours and hours working those fish. I’m very intrigued by the red cod. They are highly unique and beautiful with the golden kelp backdrop and green water. I would just like to do more of it.
Are you intrigued by the red cod, too? We will give you a look at those fascinating fish soon. In the meantime, enjoy some of these other sublime pictures Brian made in this vibrant special place in the Gulf of Maine!