2011 September 15, Thursday
Gulf of Mexico, "Green Canyon"
Another outstanding day for finding whales, whale sharks, and sea turtles in the deep blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico! About 150 miles south of New Orleans, just 15 miles north of our planned rendezvous point with the whale-shark scientists and free divers, we came upon an extraordinary sight. A very large sperm whale putting on an impressive tail-slapping show. But beyond him there was another quiet one, and another, and another... in an area smaller than one-half square mile, we had two large individual sperm whales and three mother-calf pairs! The calves were about one-half as long as their moms and were nursing, though once a calf came alongside mom and appeared to be slapping her with his pectoral fin. (Must be a son, boys will be boys, right?). The sight of these giants hanging out together and feeding their young is thrilling and reassuring. Love and Life are alive here still.
Our colleagues aboard the "Fisheries Research" vessel greeted us enthusiastically with the news that bait balls were alive and the tuna were jumping already. We found our first whale shark for them immediately, and for the next dizzying 5.5 hours hardly a minute went by when we weren't following a whale shark and guiding the boats and divers there. All total, between last Sunday and today, scientists placed information-gathering tags on ten different whale sharks, plus gps SPOT tags on three of them, and finally photographs plus core samples to identify them using DNA. The information tags will pop off and be retrieved at a pre-determined time several weeks from now, providing recorded information on behavior, location, and body indicators. The SPOT tags are used to track the whale shark's surface positions for a period of several months at least. Of the ten tagged whale sharks, only two were females! One, whom we nicknamed "Fatty," came right up to the boat and the divers twice in a row and each time turned or dove just as they reached for her. Must have been one of those voluptuous "hard to get" gals, because the more she teased, the more determined they were to get her. Our all-woman airplane crew were proud of her!
And last but not least, we saw a very handsome leatherback turtle swimming along strongly! He passed alongside the shadow of our plane as we pulled power to be slow and quiet and not frighten him. No closeups of seaturtles until we can afford some great zoom lenses, because we will not go closer to those sensitive critters than about 500' so as not to spook them and make them dive.