we deserved the chance to slump, ODYSSEY Gulf Blog (year 3), Day 49, July 12, 2012

Day 49, Thursday, July 12, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,
It was exactly as I feared. The kid woke me up even earlier today!  This time it was 6:30 am and by 6:45 am, we had our first biopsy. It was the start to a very long day that 18 hours later finds me still up and writing to you.
One of the fun things about these voyages is that one creates over time a collection of voyage lore. Unusual events that become ingrained in the fabric of our memories of time at sea through the mention of certain events in hushed tones or the regaling new crew with the events of that time. Stories like the trip around Hatteras in a gale, or the refrigerator contents falling into the lab cabin, or James’s 2 am trip to Fedex to save the samples or the South Carolina transmission trip.
Perhaps, at the top of the list for our Gulf of Mexico lore, sits the story of the day of 18 whales sampled by lunch. Some of you might remember that day, it was during the 2010 voyage. September 10th to be exact.  We had many days and weeks without seeing any whales that year. The spill had clearly driven them away.  I wrote then:
“It’s hard to describe the events of the day as it was a tale of two cities. The best of times the worst of times etc. By 8:30 am, we had taken 4 biopsies. By 9:30 am it was 8 biopsies. By noon, we had collected 18 biopsies. Everyone was doing everything working as a well oiled machine. If you did the math carefully you would find we were averaging a biopsy about every 15 minutes!
Except of course biopsies don’t come in every 15 minutes. No, instead they come in bunches of twos and threes and fours. It takes us longer than 15 minutes to process one in the lab. In no time, it was all Matt and I could do to keep up with the flow of samples. Our jobs had shrunk to a small space rarely seeing much of the outside. I swear all I did for 2 hours continuously was wash and clean glassware, forceps and knives while Matt continued to process the tissue. 18 whales in less than 5 hours! What at day. ”
I remember thinking then about how much easier it would have been to have those 18 whales spread over the day instead of compressed in such a short amount of time. Well, there is an old saying that I myself often say – “Be careful what you wish for”. Today was just that day that I wondered about. We started at 6:30 am. We stopped sampling whales at 8:00 pm. We collected 17 biopsies over the course of the day.
The first one came at 6:45 am. By 8:10, we had four.  By lunchtime we had 8. After that, I lost track. We had exactly the day I thought would be better and easier to manage. We had whales all day. What did I learn?  It does not matter whether you sample them all by lunch or whether it takes all day- 17 biopsies is simply exhausting.
The problem with 17 over the course of a day is that while the pace of sampling, collecting and processing is more manageable. There is no let up. You are on deck and on whales all the time. Jai even did 7 hours on the mast including a 5-hour straight stint!  Louis Hall and Conor were up there quite a long time too. At dinner, Jai thanked the team for visiting him on the mast over the course of the day (for the record, he did choose to be up there that long. I didn’t forget him). We all chuckled.
I had Conor running all over the boat collecting arrows, buoys, logging data, delivering items to Johnny on the boom, spotting whales on the aft platform and of course visiting Jai while he was up there. Johnny was his usual biopsy machine self sampling whale after whale after whale racing between the whale boom for a starboard side sample and the bowsprit for a portside sample. He took all 17 of the biopsies and Sandy processed every one, in addition to her taking photo-id pictures, laying out lunch and cooking our dinner.
The others too worked their tails off.  Mukhaye was logging data, taking pictures, filling in on photo-id for Sandy and of course visiting Jai and spotting whales from the aft platform. Louis Hall would spot whales and visit with Jai and, while he was on deck, haul in arrows and buoys and deliver arrows out to Johnny on the whale boom. Lou Falank found our 6:30 am whale among many others, was always ready in the bowsprit as our secondary biopsier should Johnny falter and of course spotted whales from the mast and visited Jai.
Our helm crew, Captain Bob, Hugh and Ike were steady and steering all day long.  I think their arms may fall off from having turned that wheel so much. Captain Bob even showed off his deft arrow and buoy collecting skills especially when using his toes for arrows that escaped the net.  They didn’t get the chance to visit Jai, but Hugh did finally manage to replace him on the mast. Oh and in case you are wondering, when Jai was his perch in the morning, he helped with pictures and data logging and even an arrow and buoy retrieval.
Great work by a fantastic team!  17 biopsies today, giving us a total of 25 in two days!
By the end, everyone was exhausted. Bodies were slumped everywhere. Slumped on the end of the whale boom, slumped in the bowsprit, slumped on the aft platform, slumped on top of the salon and in the salon, slumped on the foredeck, the aft deck and even in the pilothouse. I am betting had I looked, there was even one slumped in the lab.  But, hey after 13 and a half hours with whales- we deserved the chance to slump!
Our day was so excellent that even Captain Bob, normally a quiet and reserved man, was moved to a demonstrative display of approval – picture attached.

I have attached a picture of the team at work. Louis Hall is in the orange shirt. Johnny is on the whale boom, Sandy has the camera in the foredeck. Conor is logging data. Lou Falank is in the bowsprit. Also attached are photos of a squid mantle we collected that Bob spotted floating at the surface, a cool rainbow that energized our spirits and the sunset that ended our day.
To Bob, Johnny, Sandy, Conor, Mukhaye, Lou, Jai, Louis, Hugh and Ike- on behalf of Iain Kerr and myself- thank you for all your hard work and an amazing day!
The team is sleeping and at rest. I better go join them.
Good night.
P.S.  If you want to see our location on Google Maps we are at:
28.253N, 89.423W
just paste in the coordinates and click search
If you want to read the previous days of these messages- they are posted at www.usm.maine.edu/toxicology/gulf and click on “read logs here”.

John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D.

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