Swim call, ODYSSEY Gulf Blog (Year 3), Day 21, June 14, 2012

Day 21, Thursday, June 14, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,
The engine whined as the boat accelerated into gear. I was is a deep sleep, but somewhere in my brain recognized that tone and my eyes flew wide open. A sudden acceleration so early in the morning could only mean one thing- whales!
I rolled out of bed. No sooner did my feet hit the floor than Sandy stepped in and confirmed what that sound had already conveyed – a whale was in sight! Barely awake yet, I grabbed my hat, my phone and my sunglasses and stumbled into the pilothouse. Sure enough a whale was just ahead.
I did a quick check of who was where.  All hands accounted for except one, Hugh.  I had not called whales because I figured someone else already had.  I went to get Hugh, but he heard the pitter patter of my little feet approaching and was up and headed my way before I could speak. With that a tired and groggy team was in place.
We approached the whale. The arrow was released. I heard the clear sound of arrow hitting water. Captain Bob at the helm said the same. I looked for the second arrow. It never came.
Those in the bow all heard a different sound, the one of an arrow bouncing off a whale. Besides, Johnny’s only missed once this summer and he released the arrow. Made sense to me that we further back had it wrong. Alas, when we collected the arrow, it was empty. The shot had hit water first – no sample. The whale was gone.
No worries, there were whales on the array and the break in the action gave us time to shake the cobwebs out of our heads and sharpen our focus. Well, not no worries exactly…in my experience a day with a 7 am whale call breaks one of two ways – we either work with whales all day or we see no whales the rest of the day. Either scenario poses challenges for managing the day.
In the first scenario, the team gets exhausted from sun and work and I pay very close attention to who is where, doing what, for how long to make sure no one overdoes it in the sun too much. I have to watch each whales distance and approach and time the call to minimize time in the sun. It’s not labor intensive per se, but it’s a lot of moving parts and requires quite a bit of concentration. Still it’s much better than the alternative scenario.
In the alternative scenario, we are up early with lots of activity so no rest, but there are no whales. Here the challenge is a tired, cranky and frustrated team that was amped up for whales early, but ended up only roasting on watches looking for them. Patience gets short and creates a whole different can of worms to manage.
It looked good early. Around 8 we collected a couple of biopsies. We had dolphins on the bow (always a team favorite). We even had a shark nearby. But, by 10 am, it was clear, this day would be scenario 2 – no more whales. Ghost whales were seen. Ones where someone sees a blow, but then it’s not seen again. The array software failed again, so whales were heard but not seen. Team was always ready, but never deployed. Frustration mounted.
By 5 pm, it was clear, there was only one thing left to do- swim call. I checked with Captain Bob and he said conditions were fine so I asked Ike, on the helm, to stop the boat. The team took a much needed swim in about 3,000 feet of water. The chance to release some pent up energy and frustration while cooling off was just the right salve for this very long and frustrating day. Cap the day off with a unique sunset and some singing under the stars with Ike and we are ready for a new day tomorrow.
2 biopsies is a good day. Array software is down, but that is nothing new, we just need to work more on steering by ear.  Heck it didn’t work all last year so we know we can work without it. The twitter feed is working. The Facebook page is receiving it and James has the logs on the website up to date (thanks James). The stars are shining and tomorrow is another chance to get samples at sea!
Attached is a picture of the team looking at dolphins on the bow, you can see them all there – Hugh in a hat at the tip of the bowsprit pointing. Then Matt is next in the bowsprit with no shirt and Captain Bob next to him in a dark shirt (you might need to zoom in to see them). Johnny is on the whale boom. Carolyne is in green and Tania in white on the starboard side. Sandy is in blue on the port side.

Now, I know what you are thinking…. where is Ike? Picture 2 shows you Ike. he was there too. Zoom in he is waving to you! Me, I was taking the pictures – then I too went and hung over the rail to see the antics of the dolphins playing with our boat and leaping out of the water. We all wished we too could have such fun and be a dolphin even if just for a day. Picture 3 is of those dolphins.
 
Also attached is a three stage picture of a unique sunset. Start with sunset 1, then 2 , then 3 and watch it go from interesting sky to a cool ending. It also reminds us that out here in this part of the Gulf, we are never far from oil rigs.
Good night.
John
If you want to see our location on Google Maps we are at:
28.43531 N
088.36799 W
If you want to read the previous days of these messages- they are now
up to date and posted at www.usm.maine.edu/toxicology/gulf and click
on “read logs here”.

John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D.

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