Lab analysis of samples, sharing of results, will begin; Dead sperm whale was sighted floating in the Gulf of Mexico: ODYSSEY Gulf Blog (from the lab), November 9-10, 2010

I spent the first two days back doing exactly those things you would expect- catching up on sleep, sorting through a giant pile of mail and touching base with students, staff, faculty and administrators I work with. I am pleased to report everyone is well. James did a nice job keeping my house in good shape. Chris, Amie, Hong and Jill managed the laboratory well. It’s been great to catch up.
The goal of this phase of the voyage work is to analyze samples, share our experiences and results with others and raise money for next year’s return. The next two years are also critical as we are not likely to see oil and dispersant levels this year and they sank to deep levels in the ocean and not enough time has passed for them to have moved very far up the food chain. Thus, this year is key to give us a starting baseline of levels, but the upcoming years are likely to show a progressive increase in levels relative to this year.
James is in Portland, Oregon presenting and already US Fish and Wildlife has asked him to ask me to have the poster presented at their meeting, which fortunately will be in Portland, Maine. They will also tour our lab. Johnny presents at a USM next week called “Civic Matters” so the presentations have started. Johnny also has started setting up presentations at local high schools using his network that he created while presenting our NASA work over the past couple of years. I have a number of scientific meetings lined up to present at so our word will get out.
The major excitement came this evening when we learned that a dead sperm whale was sighted today floating in the Gulf of Mexico. The loss of just a few adult whales is considered to spell doom for this populations because. Populations models predict that the loss of just 3-5 adult sperm whales would cause the population in the Gulf to eventually become lost entirely so this development is bad news. The cause of course is unknown at this time. We also heard that NOAA was unsure whether or not it would respond and determine the cause of death. Obviously, this information is important to know. We have had two different sources confirm the whale is dead so we know it’s a real event.
If NOAA fails to respond and if we can get the GPS coordinates of the whale from them, we are now poised to respond immediately. I am putting the finishing touches assembling a volunteer whale rapid response team. Already, Iain Kerr, Johnny, Cathy and an experienced whale veterinarian and pathologist have agreed to participate. Iain is pursuing some funding to cover gas & food etc. The Gulf weather is currently good so we can get there and back quickly. The location will determine what boat we use as this work does not require the special tools on the Odyssey, and we just need a boat that can get us there quickly. Our visits to the Gulf have afforded us some options for a rapid response for a number of locations. So if the whales if in the grouping off of Key West, then we will use the Odyssey, but if it is elsewhere we can use a collaborator’s vessel.
Our goal will be to perform a necropsy and collect samples for pollutant analysis. We have a call in to NOAA to gain the location coordinates, but I expect that our attention to it will likely cause them to go. They have the authority to respond and I doubt would want to see us responding instead. But, we are ready should the chance arrive. If not, it will likely be a while before we hear what happened to this particular whale as it will become part of the legal record and thus, not open for discussion until the legal case is over.
We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
(Blog by: John Wise, Science Director)

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