A Deep Ocean Expedition with ZEISS

Interview Part 2: Discovering new Species

In the search for the wonders of the seas, Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen from the Rebikoff-Niggeler (FRN) foundation dive up to 1000 meters deep - below into the deep sea beside the Azores. With the one-of-a-kind “Lula1000” submersible they document species and organisms never previously seen on this planet, and since 2016 ZEISS has been accompanying them on their projects. A short break between diving missions was used for a discussion with Joachim Jakobsen about their aims and how the season has progressed so far.

In our first interview we already learnt more about the background of the Rebikoff-Niggeler (FRN) foundation. But how exactly did you become a deep-sea researcher?

As a young man, together with my father I’d already done some underwater marine-biology photography. My parents had worked together with Dimitri Rebikoff and Ada Niggeler, pioneers in the area of underwater technology and -photography. So I had the privilege in my early years of already having been able to acquire a lot of specialized knowledge. An enthusiasm for this topic and this technology was practically nestled in my cradle.

Do you have a favourite fact about the ocean or its inhabitants?

The fact that only less than 10 percent of our ocean is really documented is unbelievable. This is reason enough to be developing technological solutions for increasing our knowledge about sea fauna, especially in the deep sea.

An essential part of the FRN-Foundation’s work is the discovery of new species: how many have you already been able to document?

Just two days ago we were able to document a chimera (sea cat) for the first time whose species is still not clear.

With certainty we know that we have documented some species that were already known but whose existence was not documented in the Azores. This for example was the case for a species of shrimp and a deep sea shark which are not yet taxonomically labelled.

A really big discovery was of course the first known coral reef in the Azores. If this is a new type of coral is still not fully clear. We discovered another previously completely unknown coral reef at a depth of 1000 meters near the Pico Island.

The giant deep sea oyster Neopycnodonte zibrowii we evidenced alive for the first time; they were earlier only seen in fossil form. The first completely novel living documentation we achieved was with the deep sea shark Oxynotus paradoxus.

With invertebrates, in particular sponges, corals and even protazoa, which we quantify and label with a ZEISS microscope, there are certainly some new species there. Here the cataloguing and systematic analysis of much data and videos which we have gathered or recorded with the “LULA1000” submersible is pending.

Could you tell us a bit about the technology which you are using for documentation? Have there been noticeable advances here within the last few years?

The crucial element of our work underwater is naturally our manned (and womaned) submersible “LULA1000”. The vessel is in essence a motorized deep sea camera, developed by our Rebikoff-Niggeler foundation, with which the people who are operating the cameras sit in the lens – so the big Perspex dome. With time we are increasingly perfecting this vessel; simultaneously with the swift development of the camera market for underwater applications we must also constantly develop our underwater cameras. Here we have achieved a high level of quality and the consequent demand for film productions is pleasing. Progress never stands still.

Do you take inspiration from other explorers and do you think your work will inspire others?

1. Are or were we inspired by other researchers? For sure – yes.

Among them are of course Dimitri and Ada Rebikoff, and Hans Hass.

2. Are we able to inspire other researchers?

We hope so, yes. Because in order to answer scientific questions at the moment in such extreme conditions as we find in the deep sea – the available technology for the feasibility of an experiment or study plays a central role.

What sort of experiments are feasible in practice or technically implementable in a marine environment under a pressure of 100 bar?

For working in the deep sea, at the end of the day the available technology is the limiting factor. And it is in this area that we are trying to bring results to concrete questions, in that we search for technical solutions. That can also hopefully inspire researchers

Lastly, what could the creatures of the deep sea be thinking upon meeting the “Lula1000” submersible?

It is always a special encounter when the „Lula(1000)“ meets a Lula. Lula is the Portuguese word for octopus. Often we have the feeling, that the fascination comes from both sides. Not only do we find these animals extraordinarily exciting and charming but also the octopuses show curiosity for our vessel, they swim to hunt in the light of our headlights and “feel” us. What they then think, we will of course never know. Because when we ourselves try to imagine how it feels to be an octopus we can only ever do so within the bounds of human perception.

Learn more about the Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation (FRN) here or follow the story via Twitter or on Facebook and the Hashtag #Secretdeepsea