Day 3 – August 1, 2009
03:30 a.m. my alarm goes off. It didn’t take much to wake up as the rolling waves had me sleeping a little lighter last night. At 03:48 I rolled myself out of bed and had to do a bit of a balancing dance to stay upright, get dressed, and not wake up Kate.
As I entered the wet lab to greet the departing team and my group, I could tell the Bold was hauling its way to the next offshore station. The staff and crew hadn’t slowed down for a minute all night long.
We were headed “down East” as they say, up along the outer reaches of Penobscot Bay in northern Maine to station R1 -14, about 30 more minutes. Shifts have been light on the sampling as we’re working our way through the outer points which are fewer and far between. In a day or so we’ll be turning around to work our way down closer to shore, where the work will really pick up.
I found out that the last team had done another plankton tow for our budding marine scientists in New Bedford, MA around midnight. I wonder if they caught anything good? Chief scientist Matt Liebman says that the zooplankton tend to move up in the water column at night, whereas during the day they tend to trade places with the phytoplankton which relies on more sunlight.
Speaking of sunlight, it seemed to come up quickly. Though I have to admit I enjoyed the hour or so of darkness on the deck, it felt a bit special knowing we were doing this work round the clock. We all feel it’s incredibly important to study the water that seemingly is far away from the influence of human activity, sadly though we’re finding that it’s not the case. By gathering this data far offshore, we can compare it to the health nearer to the coastline. It is our hope that in future years we can come back and do the same sampling to see if conditions are improving or getting worse. Perhaps you’ll be doing this very same work someday!
At 04:37 we arrived on station, and we were told the water was about 470 feet deep! We deployed the CTD and rosette water sampler, everything went smoothly. I noticed the water I was bottling from the very bottom was freezing! Now might be a good time to explain that we’re taking water samples from three parts of the water column, the bottom, the middle and the surface. I’ll explain more tomorrow about what we’re looking for to determine where these levels are. Each of the three batches though is filtered to catch the chlorophyll, which we carefully contain for analysis at our lab in Chelmsford, MA.
We processed the samples as we took off for station R1-10, about a 5 hour haul away, even further north. To help the next team we cleaned the lab and labeled some extra bottles, I headed to the bridge to get some photos of the rising sun. Once I got there, I promptly decided I wasn’t going to miss another sunrise on this trip.
At 06:10 I sat up on the bridge with Derek, ordinary seaman and Doug, third mate, to record our latest data results from yesterday and this morning. They told me we were approximately 26 miles offshore and wouldn’t have an internet signal until this afternoon. Today’s sampling work will consist of a lot of offshore stations, fewer and further between. Sorry guys! Technology still can’t help us when we’re this far away. In between writing my eyes were peeled on the horizon for those telltale water spouts…
06:21 Doug and Derek, turned on the weather report for Captain Jere as he settled in his chair with a fresh cup of coffee. At 07:00 I went to wake my roomie, her shift was starting in an hour. I also figured it was a good time to take some sea sick meds to be on the safe side. We were rockin’ and rollin quite a bit, even though the seas were relatively calm, the swells were wide.
Before I knew it, I had zonked out with my jacket still on, but awoke to a gentle knock on my door. Even in my groggy state I knew it could only mean one thing! My team leader Ed had come down from the bridge to tell me that First Mate Doug had spotted a spout!
I didn’t even tie my shoes (don’t try this at home), and ran up the stairs using the walls and handrails because I wasn’t totally awake yet. Once I reached the bridge I squinted my eyes onto the horizon and sure enough, about 200 yards off the bow on the starboard side I saw the little, white puff of mist from the whale’s blow hole! I got some pictures and used my zoom lens as binoculars. We watched his dorsal fin come up and then disappear into the deep blue. While it was only a glimpse into this whale’s solitary travels, I hope it’s a sign of more to come today!
That was my first time seeing a whale in the Atlantic Ocean, and after consulting a whale identification book with Doug and Ed, we are fairly positive it was a Common Minke Whale, judging by the shape of the dorsal fin and even the shape of the spout cloud. Not all misty spout clouds are the same!
It’s a little past 1000 now, and I’m up on the “steel beach” as Captain Jere fondly calls it. The sun is bright, we seem to be able to see forever to the horizon. Now I can understand why so many early explorers thought the Earth was flat! Did you know that? Believe it or not it took humans a while to figure out that the Earth is round, and because of this you can’t see the other side of the ocean, it curves around very, very, gradually, which is one of the reasons you can’t see the other side.
Fellow EPA staffer Regina Lyons just joined me, and we traded stories of “sightings” today. Whereas I had been lucky enough to see a Minke whale, she said that as she was leaning over the side of the boat watching the waves, she saw four balloons go by in 20 minutes. Wonder how those got out here? It’s so pristine you’d never expect it, but balloons can travel hundreds of miles in the air before they fall back down. These ones were white and silver mylar, maybe they came from a birthday party or a wedding? We were going too fast to grab them, and it sadly tells another story about the ocean these days. We shouldn’t see garbage and plastics out here, especially in an area off northern Maine where less people live. Regina said they had started to degrade a little bit, but usually the bits of garbage just break into smaller pieces, especially plastics. They never really go away.
More on the rest of my day later! ~ Jeanethe, “aspiring Second Mate”
Jeanethe Falvey works in EPA’s Boston office.