Mike Sallee dives 60 feet to the bottom of Naha Bay to find sea cucumbers, an echinoderm with a memorable texture that is exported as a delicacy to East Asia. Nicknamed 'Iron Mike', Sallee has been diving for cucumbers since the fishery opened in 1983.
While Sallee is diving for cucumbers, his tender, Peter Jacob, takes care of the surface chores on the K2. Among the duties of the tender is to watch for bubbles, the only way to monitor the wellbeing of the diver.
When diving in a new area, Sallee and Jacob drop a camera to the ocean floor the day before the sea cucumber fishery opening to preview the potential haul.
Jacob tries to respect the dignity of the sea cucumbers, which proves challenging after stabbing thousands a day to release their excess fluid. Sometimes he will free an especially interesting looking cucumber back into the ocean.
Jacob spends many hours alone on the K2.
Sallee is an extremely experienced diver and takes dangerous risks to maximize his catch. After hauling up a bag of sea cucumbers for Jacob to cut, he sometimes chooses to return to the depths many times with few breaks to minimize residual nitrogen.
A giant red sea cucumber (Parastichopus californicus) in Tongass Narrows.
Although separated by the surface of the ocean, the two men are entirely dependent on each other to complete their jobs.
The K2 floats tied up to a remote beach in Hetta Inlet off Prince of Wales Island. Sallee sleeps in the cabin of the K2 during longer trips, leaving Jacob to make shelter on the shore.
While Sallee doesn't often show it, working at his grueling pace is exhausting.
Southeast Alaska is notorious for its copious precipitation. A trip on the K2 in the winter is a promise of cold rain and snow.
Sallee pushes the K2 around Cape Chacon at the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island.