Hawaiian    Deep-Sea  Communities

Exploration of Hawaii's deep waters has a long history but is very incomplete. Sampling began with the Albatross  Expedition  at the beginning of the 20th century. Gilbert (1905) published the results of the deep water trawling work around the  Archipelago. They had the ability to dredge and trawl to nearly 3000 m depth but due to the ruggedness of the terrain the great majority of their sampling was in depths less than 800m (400 fathoms).  Even from their limited sampling, they documented nearly 20 species new to the island or to science entirely.


The next phase of exploration of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) was prompted by the discovery of aggregations of commercially exploitable fishes on several North Pacific Seamounts and deep banks at relatively shallow dephts from 100-500m. With the advent of submersibles and the establishment of the Hawaii Under Sea Research Laboratory (HURL), the NWHI were investigated in an entirely new fashion. The results of the investigations and a photographic index of the species described are given in Chave and Mundy (1994) and Chave and Malahoff (1994).  But, most of the submersible dives and ROV explorations were conducted in the main islands.


Recently funded projects to investigate precious corals have directed more attention at the NWHI. 20 dives reached depths greater  than 1000 meters (HURL statistics courtesy of John Smith and Chris Kelley) and they represent the best sampling of bathyal depths in the NWHI to date. In summary, a handful of deep trawls,  submersible dives, and ROV transects have been conducted in the vast expanse of the NWHI. Depths below 1000m are hardly explored and depths below 2000m not at all.


To date, we have documented 13 large invertebrates such as crabs and shrimp and 15 species of fish, from small  eels to huge sharks. Several animals are probably new to science, many others are documented for the first time in the Hawaiian Islands.  


In 2006, by presidential decree, the NWHI and a 50 mile swath of water to each side of the island chain were  declared the Papahanaumokua'kea Marine National Monument (see figure below). This is the largest marine reserve in the world. Its deep-sea habitats comprise the majority of its area and volume. We are sampling this habitat with baited camera systems to document the fauna from 500 to 4000m depth. This instrument is deployed  free of the ship (a free vehicle) to sink to the seafloor and record images at a predetermined interval for  characterization of the fauna and habitat. When the ship is ready to retrieve the instrument, it recalls it acoustically and picks it up from the surface. Free vehicles are inexpensive compared to submersibles or ROVs because they do not require a large amount of dedicated ship time.


Related Publications

All Things Marine Radio Show - February 19th, 2013 – Going Deep - Diving into Deep-Sea Research in Hawaii.

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Related Media
Funding Provided by
Pachycara sp.
Lithodes nintokuae
Paraliparis hawaiiensis

Click on the image above to learn more about the bathymetric mapping of the Hawaiian Islands

Stein DL, Drazen JC (2014) Paraliparis hawaiiensis, a new species of snailfish (Scorpaeniformes: Liparidae) and the first described from the Hawaiian Archipelago. Journal of Fish Biology 84: 1519-1526. pdf


Moore CH, Drazen JC, Kelley CD, Misa WFXE (2013) Deepwater marine protected areas of the main main Hawaiian Islands: establishing baselines for commercially valuable bottomfish populations.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 476: 167-183   pdf


Drazen JC, De Forest LG, Domokos R (2011) Micronekton abundance and biomass in Hawaiian waters  as influenced by seamounts, eddies, and the moon. Deep-Sea Research I 58: 557-566   pdf


Yeh J, Drazen JC (2009) Depth zonation and bathymetric trends of deep-sea megafaunal scavengers of the Hawaiian Islands. Deep Sea Research I 56: 251-266   pdf



Last updated 9/1/23