Report from the Gulf of Mexico: Year 2, Day 54

In summer 2011, for the second year in a row, the research vessel Odyssey is offshore in the Gulf of Mexico with a crew of researchers studying effects of the Gulf oil spill. They will be at sea for two to three months studying the health of Gulf of Mexico wildlife, particularly the two resident Gulf whale populations – Bryde’s and sperm whales. The following is one of the daily blogs posted by the crew.

(August 1, 2011) Captain Bob made an observation to me today. He thought you all would be interested to see a typical track line after a couple of days with whales, and he suggested I write about it. Made sense to me as – while we are so used to it we don’t think about it – it is an interesting observation.

A map showing the crew’s route tracking whales over two or three days. Image Credit: Odyssey

Above is a picture of 2 or 3 days of track lines for our recent efforts. The track lines are recorded automatically on our Northstar system. The solid red lines are our tracks. The black icon of a boat reflects our current position at anytime in a track. You might be wondering where it starts and where it ends and where it goes first. We don’t know anymore, ourselves.

Our path looks like spaghetti and clearly shows that one does not simply drive straight to the whales or straight around the whales. It’s more like random motion and spinning in circles. If one did not know any better, one might infer the crew are drunk and have no idea where they are going. But, I assure you, we are a dry boat – no alcohol on board at all. I assure you that when we decide to go into port, the crew drive straight as an arrow and fast (further proof we are a dry boat)! The track simply shows how you drive to find and sample whales.

In the wake of the BP oil spill disaster, the Odyssey set sail from Portland, Maine to the Gulf of Mexico on July 17, 2010. Image Credit: Odyssey

The other aspect the track may explain is why we are never sure of exact dates for port arrival. The students coming on are always eager to know well ahead of time what date to come so they can try for cheap airfare. We never know with much accuracy far ahead, for we never know where the whales will take us and how far the circles will go.

I remember one time last year I was scheduled to give a talk at a scientific meeting. I was aware of our inability to predict a schedule and had forewarned the organizers of my situation. Still, it was a talk I very much wanted to give and a meeting I very much wanted to attend. We worked diligently and carefully to stay within the hoped-for schedule. The port I needed was east of us, and we were on time. Then we caught up with some whales. We ended up following and sampling them for a couple of days, and when we were done, we had ended up two days travel west of where we needed to be. I could not make that meeting, and I had to send a video from deck with my apologies. It just goes to show, you never know what a bunch of whales will do.

John Wise, Jr. preparing to biopsy sperm whales. Image Credit: Vicki Beaver/Ocean Alliance

Six biopsies today. Makes the total 28 for this leg. Nice work team! There is also a remarkable picture of Johnny above a whale off the whale boom that shows you how much bigger these whales are. This whale was not particularly big either, but you get a sense of size, plus you can see Johnny’s vantage point at his feet.


P.S. We are headed in to port towards Pensacola, Florida. Our current location is 29 degrees 37.4 minutes North and 87 degrees 17.5 minutes West, for those who want to track us as we go. For Google maps (not Google Earth – but maps) or Bing maps, use (include letters and comma): 29.374 N, 87.175 W.

Blog by: John Wise, Sr., Science Director. John Wise is the principal investigator of the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology. He is a professor of toxicology and molecular epidemiology in the Department of Applied Medical Sciences, and director of the Maine Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health at the University of Southern Maine.

Report from the Gulf of Mexico: Year 2, Day 32

Report from the Gulf of Mexico: Year 2, Day 35

August 8, 2011

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