Whales!, ODYSSEY Gulf Blog (Year 3), Day 18, June 11, 2012

Day 18, Monday, June 11, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,
“Whales!” Wow, did it feel good to yell that again! I assembled the team for getting a sample. The whale was 400 meters ahead.
There are times that this work becomes remarkably peaceful and almost mystical. This day would be one of those times. Our sail was up and full of wind. The team was assembled. The whale was ahead. The sun was bright and glistening on the water. We headed for the whale. It slipped under the water and out of sight. It was then that the calm that comes from such a unique quest set in and all was peaceful.
The engine was on idle. Matt was up on the mast. Hugh was in the rigging. Johnny was on the whale boom. Sandy, Carolyne and Tania were on deck in the bow. Bob was on the pilot house. Ike and I were standing on the doors to the pilot house. All of us looking for the whale. A gentle breeze was blowing. It was completely silent, save for the hum of our air sampler.
We traveled by wind amidst this calm silence. All eyes scanning the horizon for that one whale that slipped from sight under the glistening sea. It was a true moment of peace and tranquility for the whole team after several hard days of pounding seas.
“Whale 1:30, 100 meters ahead ! ” came the call from Johnny on the boom. I relayed the call to the helm. Ike gently eased the boat into gear. We headed for the whale.
This was Ike’s first time steering the boat for us to collect a sample and the whale was directly in the sunlight. Captain Bob guided him from above. “10 degrees to port” Bob would say. I relayed the information to the helm. Ike adjusted course. We carried on like that for several minutes getting the boat ready for a sample shot. It was remarkable as I am known more for my sharp vision than my hearing. It was my buddy Scott who had the “ear of bat” as we called it as kids. Yet, each time Bob spoke, it rang out clear as a bell to me and I relayed the guidance to Ike.
The whale slipped under the water again.
Again the team searched and scanned and looked. Again a quiet calm settled over the boat.
“Whale 3:00, 200 meters ahead ! ” came the call again from Johnny on the boom. I relayed the call to the helm. Ike gently eased the boat into gear. We headed for the whale. Captain Bob gave guidance. I relayed the message, Ike brought us near the whale. This time, we were there! The whale was mere yards from the whale boom! Ike had us just where we wanted to be!
The whale slipped under the water again.
Once more, the team searched and scanned and looked. Once more tranquility returned.
“Whale 12:30, 200 meters ahead ! ” came the call. This time from Matt on the mast. Once more Bob guided. Ike steered and we slid up right next to the whale. There it was in perfect position just the right distance off the boom.
Johnny readied the crossbow. His eyes focused in like a laser just waiting for the whale to arch its back and provide the needed target. He waited and waited and waited. Typically, we try to sample as the whale prepare to dive deep. It arches it back. the sample is taken and then we get a picture of the fluke for later identification. This whale just laid in the water gliding along while we sailed with it. It was as if the same breeze was blowing us both along by aimlessly in the evening sun.
Then for a moment, the whale lifted itself just a little, just enough for Johnny to release the arrow, which struck true and collected biopsy number 12 for the season. The whale casually swam along.
We realized that the whale did not fluke and dive and we had no photo for later identification. So we traveled along with it. Sailing through the water like a Sunday drive just us and our whale friend. Twenty minutes of just admiring this marvelous creature sailing side-by-side until finally the time for us had come to get back to the sample. We said goodbye to this friendly spirit and went and recovered our arrow and buoy. We never did see a fluke.
That would be our only sample today. But, what a sample it was.
I am not sure if the others had a chance to soak in these special moments as we glided across the water. I imagine their minds were likely filled with the search for the whale and the work around it. But, I hope, for at least a few minutes today, each one of them found the peace and tranquility of this day. I hope they each had the chance to remember how special this work is, difficult moments and all. I hope they rediscovered the magic of working with such a fine creature. I am glad they had this day. I know they deserved it. They have persevered and worked hard. Great team!
The day ended with a quiet sunset, a fine dinner under the stars on the aft deck and lots of camaraderie and spirit as Ike once again led us in song. We relaxed and sang under the lights of Saturn, Mars, Arcturis and the big dipper. A peaceful ending to a peaceful day.
For those of you out there on land who were able – thank you for blowing the front out of the way. Today was sunny and calm enough to work. Both Matt and Carolyne are back up to speed again. All we needed was this whale to send our spirits soaring and so they are. I attached a picture symbolic of our soaring spirits.
I have also attached pictures of our sail full of wind from both sides (Matt is the one on the platform in the sail1 picture); pictures of some of the team in their various positions while searching for the whale (gave Tania and Carolyne the day off from photos); a picture of the whale in the glistening sun (can you find it. It’s there! Answer in tomorrow’s note) and, of course, a picture of our quiet sunset (sorry, no stars- the iPhone camera is just not that good yet).
What a day.
Good night.  May you all have a peaceful day tomorrow.
John
If you want to see our location on Google Maps we are at:
23.51250 N
083.21975 W

John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D., Science Director

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