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2011 September 11, Sunday afternoon
Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi's "Green Canyon"


Whale Sharks are back in the Gulf!   And this was a stellar day for whale-shark scientists. This afternoon, about a hundred miles off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana, the bait balls were alive, the tuna were jumping, the birds were eating, and every single one of those glittering circles of life had a beautiful whale shark feeding.  In an area not much farther from the Innovator rig than about 5 nm north and south, we quickly spotted at least 15 whale sharks.  Divers from the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory managed to place gps tags on five different animals, and also took core samples from four individual animals.  It was a beautiful, no -- thrilling -- site to see these gentle giants again. 
NOTE:  Unless noted, no photos or video provided by On Wings Of Care are "photoshopped" or otherwise altered in any way that could degrade accurate interpretation of what we observed.

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You can tell from the maps below of our flight tracks (especially the fourth one that zooms in on a few of the bait balls) that whale shark spotting for scientists in boats who want to swim out to them to tag them is a very different kind of flying than is looking for oil or even whales, dolphins, sea turtles, or other wildlife.  It's a lot of maneuvering, which can be hard on the most seasoned flyers.  But our experience has been that the sharp-eyed scientists and marine-life enthusiasts who join us become so entranced with seeing the wildlife from a few hundred feet above, that while we're circling and holding the animals in our sight, nobody even notices all of the aircraft manuevering.  Afterwards, well, between the maneuvering and trying to use zoom lenses on their cameras, that can take a toll on the heartiest.  But there's plenty of fresh air out there, understanding company, and so much enthusiasm for the task at hand that the overall experience is always a very, very special memory.  And so it was this time!  

We have some terrific high-resolution videos that are slowly uploading to youtube tonight, so stand by for them.  In the meantime, here are a few more low-res photos to whet your appetites.  

Congratulations to the talented and tenacious boat captain and divers and scientists and spotters today!  A job realllllllllly well done.

 

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FLIGHT LOG - On Wings Of Care Gulf Flight 20110911 Sunday - WHALE SHARKS

Flight from KNEW toward the Innovator and Medusa platforms (approximately 130 nm south of KNEW) to find whale sharks for scientists in vessel from Venice. With Jennifer Green (GCRL) and Brayton Matthews (KNEW) as photographers.

* Lat/Longs are given in degrees and decimal-minutes. Times are given in UTC (Zulu) time, which is CDT+0500.


(This waypoint not marked) N29 09', W89 52'. 1902Z. Foam line with sargassum.

9230: N28 55.567 W89 49.099. 1909Z. Lots of lines, dark orange/brown and some light green.

9231: N28 47.704, W89 47.251. 1914Z. Line of OIL! , sw-ne, rainbow and metallic, about 1000 ft wide, a few miles long, southern boundary is at the convergence line between green and almost-blue water. Also strange regular lines of brown-green. Is this related to the long sub-surface dark reddish-brown plumes and streamers we saw in this area for many miles last March-April? Is it oil, or algae/dead zone?
A total of 12 shrimp boats seen along our route, from 9231 southward as far as N28 36', W89 42'.

9232: N28 28.677, W89 33.187. 1935Z. Tanker - "Overseas Sophie", from Majuro.

9233: N28 23.668, W89 29.052. 1942Z. Whale shark in bait ball! (slightly northwest of Medusa rig = N28 23.5541, W89 27.3308) Reached the Whale Shark boat by radio, decided to go to them near Innovator rig, since they had already spotted one nearby.

ALL of the following waypoints were whalesharks. Note from the flight tracks where we circled many times, as those were where we were guiding the boat and divers to reach a particular animal for tagging or taking core samples. A total of five animals were tagged, and four core samples taken, not all from the five animals tagged. Some animals were approached multiple times. Whale sharks seem quite oblivious to the plane and also seem unafraid of the boat when it is in neutral. A few times when the divers approached, the shark sounded. We lost track of the waypoint numbers of all the ones got tagged and core sampled.

9234: N28 14.321, W89 37.747. 2004Z.

9235: N28 14.432, W89 37.764. 2004Z.

9236: N28 15.295, W89 38.110. 2007Z.

9237: N28 15.416, W89 37.924. 2017Z.

9238: N28 15.151, W89 38.176. 2024Z. TAGGED!

9239: N28 15.445, W89 37.898. 2034Z.

9240: N28 17.642, W89 38.457. 2054Z.

9241: N28 17.311, W89 38.566. 2114Z. Big One! TAGGED!

9242: N28 17.063, W89 39.935. 2117Z. TAGGED!

9243: N28 16.398, W89 27.482. 2128Z.

9244: N28 15.661, W89 37.097. 2150Z.

9245: N28 11.900, W89 35.395. 2209Z.

9246: N28 11.114, W89 35.462. 2241Z. TAGGED.

9247: N28 10.621, W89 35.916. 2244Z.

9248: N28 10.228, W89 35.775. 2247Z.

9249: N28 11.366, W89 35.174. 2309Z.