Walter Clarence Taylor, III, known as Buck Taylor, is an American actor best known for his role as gunsmith-turned-deputy Newly O'Brien in 174 episodes during the last eight seasons of CBS's Gunsmoke television series.
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I'm Buck. I’m the senior sub pilot aboard the MV Alucia (@aluciaproductions), a 56-meter research vessel. Last night, I appeared on Blue Planet II as we took a sub 1000 meters down in Antarctica. I've helped capture footage for Blue Planet II, Leonardo Dicaprio's Before the Flood and more. Since less than 5% of the ocean has been explored, many of the places we go have never been seen by human eyes. Ask me anything. https://imgur.com/a/1XQzm
What's the weirdest creature you've seen going down?
It's gotta be the barrel-eye. The fish with the jelly head that can see through the top of its own skull. When you see it it doesn't look that impressive, and it looks quite small. but when you actually get close and zoom in on onit and realize what it is it just blows your mind. I think we've probably got the best footage that anyone's ever had, so that's amazing.
Former Boomer submariner here.
How long can you stay down in that rig?
Do you have an equivalent of “emergency blow” if things go badly?
Former SRV pilot here!
Normal dive is 12 hours. And we have four days emergency life support. We've got redundance systems for everything ("backup system" for others reading).
But in remote areas we always have the two subs, so the other one can act as a rescue sub.
Why do they call the person in command of a submarine a pilot?
As opposed to a captain or something else.
Because we "fly" the submarine in three dimensions. So although not as fast as an aeroplane, you do fly the submarine.
Have you seen evidence of ecosystem harm from climate change and pollution?
I think the saddest scene we saw was in the Gulf of Mexico. We were about 900m down, there were beautiful deep sea corals covered in crude oil from one of the big oil spills. In the same area, there were also these crabs that they're now calling "zombie crabs." Because their genes have been messed up so badly they're actually being born with all these defects, neurological defects. And it's all come from some kind of spill at some point. So that was sad to see that.
Thank you for such amazing footage. The barrel-eye is my new favorite fish. Are they very rare?
We actually don't know. We don't get to see many of them, but again, humans don't spend much time in the areas that they live in. So we really have no idea.
What are the emotions you're experiencing on the decent to your destinations, and during your observations?
That's a strange one because generally everything happens initially at a slow pace. Because it takes us an hour to get from the surface to 1000m, so it goes from one extreme to the other: almost complete boredom to complete excitement. And you'll see a new creature or a new situation and it's not until you stop and it's all finished that you can actually take in what you've actually witnessed, that all these emotions start flooding in. It's really strange. Very often we'll sit and see this big scene, for example the bubbling mud volcanoes seen on Blue Planet last night, and you appreciate it, but it's not until you come back and look at all the footage and you go, "that's absolutely stunning." Submersibles are very much 100% excitement or 100% boredom.
What species of fish have you not yet seen in-person before, but of so very much wish to?
I'd like to see a mature oarfish. I've seen juveniles, which are about 20 centimeters long, but they can grow up to about 11 meters long.
When you see them dead on the beach they don't look that impressive but in the water they're absolutely stunning.
Do you like grapes?
I do love grapes. Mostly in wine form.
I keep hearing how little of the ocean is actually been explored due to reaching depths, how close are we to being able to explore deeper, and what is stopping us now from doing so?
We can only go to 1000m at the moment. With new technologies, with AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles) we're starting to be able to map so much more of the ocean. But it's still just a pinprick. It's going to take decades and decades. And that's to map it, let alone going down and seeing everything. If you imagine, when we do a dive with a manned sub or a robot or an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) all we're seeing is--we may move two or three hundred meters during that dive. And 100 meters away there could be the most stunning topography or creature and we have no idea it's there. So the challenge of mapping and logging every creature in the ocean with the technology we've got at the moment is vast. It's getting better but it's a huge, huge job.
How do you deal with currents that are probably not known before?
So, on the Alucia (ship) we have a system called an ADCP, and we can measure current through the water column. So we know what the speed of the water's doing at any depth. So before we dive we'll map the area so we know the topography and we also know what the current's doing. And based on that we decide if we can or can't dive. When we get to about 2.5 knots it gets a little bit "exciting." Because we can only go three knots.
What's your favorite thing about the ocean?
I love the feeling that every time we go in and shut the hatch and dive into the black we have no idea what we're gonna see. It's just that sense of the unknown. Even if we're in the same sort of area for a month it's very rare that we'll actually dive on the exact same spot more than two or three times. So we're literally seeing new stuff that nobody's ever seen before every dive.
I often get asked before we do a dive, what are we ging to see? And I literally have to say, "I have no idea." Because whatever you're going to see, you'll be the first person to see it.
Also I love shutting the hatch because no one email me.
What is the strangest thing you've seen on your trips?
It's gotta be the brine pools in the Gulf of Mexico, which was on Blue Planet II last night. We did spend three days there. Just sitting there watching interactions of this little marine ecosystem with the actual brine pool was stunning, and something that people had never witnessed before. And how some animals could touch it and they'd be dead instantly, and others were using it to their advantage and could dip in and pull out dead fish to eat. It was very strange. But Alucia Productions actually has some more videos on this coming out tomorrow: facebook.com/aluciaproductions
Are there any creatures in the deep that could cause huge damage to the sub?
(I'm picturing huge squids just zipping around the sub in the darkness)
When we were filming the Humboldt squid for last night's episode we had to be very careful with fiber optics and electrical cables. Usually they're quite exposed but we had to tuck them away because the squid could damage them.
Have you ever encountered the Chimaera aka the ghostfish or ratfish? What's the longest amount of time you've spent underwater and how does it feel to be on land after being in the sea for so long?
Yeah we encounter them a lot, especially at depths below 750m. Beautiful creature.
Longest time we've spent in the submersible is 12 hours. But we get launched and recovered back to the ship every day. So, normally the longest we'll do at sea is a month, and we dive every day of that month. And definitely, coming back to shore, very often you'll get "landsick." Which is almost the opposite of being seasick. So you can still feel the sensation of the ship moving when you come back to land for a couple of days.
Is farting an issue on the sub? How do you take a dump?
See answer above, but if we've done a 12 hour dive, smells over a 12 hour period can sneak up on you very gradually. But you don't really notice it--the person who gets the full force is the person who opens the hatch at the top at the end of the dive.
I watched this last night. Incredible footage! How long was the crew filming for this episode?
It was split over a three year period. There's lots of behind the scenes stuff at Alucia Productions, who did a lot of shoots over the entire series.
How does one become a professional submarine pilot, in terms of acquiring the necessary skills and education for it; would you mind sharing your story?
Really it's a mixed group of people, but generally you need an engineering background of mechanical/electrical or electronics. And that's mainly to keep the submersibles working.
So I did mechanical engineering after leaving school, then I joined the navy as a clearance diver and trained as a submarine rescue pilot. After serving 14 years I got offered a job by a company that manufactured submarine rescue submersibles. And I ended up going all over the world teaching different nations how to pilot rescue subs. And then, from there, it was great but I wasn't getting to see anything, so I swapped over into the science and media side of submersibles, which was a lot more exciting. And I actually got to see things under the water again.
I've been with the Alucia for coming up to ten years. I'm head of submersible department, which means I've got two submarines and ten pilots that I manage and I'm also senior pilot.
Favorite submarine movie?
The Abyss (except for the ending!)
What's your favorite book?
It's actually books. I've got a first edition copy of "The Ocean World" of Jacques Cousteau. It's a 20-volume set and it's one of those group of books you can just pick up and read over and over again. It's just amazing. And amazing the type of exploration they were doing in the mid '70s. Even now, they've still dived in some spots that we haven't managed to get to. We're trying to close that gap now, and as technology gets better and better we're getting there, but what they did in the '70s was incredible, just through sheer determination.
Do you ever get scared that something may happen to you down there? Or do you always feel like everything will be fine?
To be honest, no. And the people we choose to be pilots are generally very calm and can deal with high-stress situations easily. It's not the place for a nervous person! But because we maintain the equipment ourselves and we do a lot of planning prior to a dive, apart from what we're going to see there's generally no surprises. So we're in control. :)
I saw the scenes with the methane gas popping at the bottom of the ocean, how was the experience for you to see that up close?
Very surreal experience. We were expecting these tiny little bubbles. When we got there it even surprised the scientist we had on board (mandy Joye). It was like being in a "War of the Worlds" movie. There's more videos on it coming out tomorrow from Alucia Productions if you check their handles.
How many people are usually in there with you, and are they trained in any way to help drive?
In one sub we have one passenger, in the other one we have two passengers. And their training is very, very brief. So before you get in the submersible you watch a safety video and learn how to conduct an emergency ascent if something happens to the pilot and he's incapable of bringing it back up. Basically, closing two valves, opening two others ones, and putting your head between your legs and screaming.
How can someone charter the submersible and who manufactured it?
I guess you can charter it. Most of our charters are science agencies and organizations. And companies like the BBC, which go through Alucia Productions.
Triton Submarines in Vero Beach, Florida, manufactured the subs. They're the biggest manufacturer of manned submersibles right now.
The submarine in the picture doesn't look so big. How much can you move around in there and since you spend 12 hours inside how do you deal with the toilet situation?
Yes, you're right it is very compact. You can just about stand up and stretch your legs. (We're all very good frequent fliers with the window seat.) Toilet, we can't deal with solids. But for liquids we have these little units called Travel Johns, which are unisex, and turn urine into pleasant-ish smelling gel in a bag. But it is not very discreet. As the pilots we are so used to it it doesn't change what we do, but when we've got guests coming in we recommend that they don't--coffee and tea before they get in is a big one.
Hey thanks for doing this!
You mention episodes airing as recently as last night. Are these different from the episodes on Netflix or available on blue ray?
Also, I am interested in freshwater ecosystems and the amazing variety of tropical fish that exist in rivers and ponds. Any plans to work in this area?
If not, are there any production companies like Alucia that film freshwater systems?
Lastly, what is your favorite freshwater fish?
It's different to the Planet Earth Series. It's Blue Planet II, so it's the sequel to Blue Planet which came out in the early 2000s. It's not on Netflix yet. It aired in Europe and China late last year and just started airing on BBC America on Saturday nights.
As for your question about freshwater ecosystems, we've done some work filming freshwater river systems recently but I can't talk about it yet. One of the challenges with freshwater are the high currents. My favorite freshwater fish is the kaluga, a type of sturgeon fish found in the Amur River Basin. It's the largest freshwater fish in the world. It looks like a shark and can be up to 5.6 meters and weight 1000 kilos.