2011 September 25, Sunday
Gulf of Mexico

We anticipated one of the most exciting days of whale-shark spotting and tagging yet.  Media was on board the boat to document the interesting interactions among tuna and whale sharks in bait balls we've been witnessing recently, and the scientists had their last five tags of the season to place on the gentle giants.  Blue water began about 60 miles southeast of Grand Isle in a dramatic change from muddy green.  We had fine zoom lenses with us today, too.  We anticipated seeing deep into the mouths of some vertical-feeding whale sharks and counting the spots on their sides!  The blue water was crystal clear, almost a mirror finish -- so smooth, we guessed we would be able to see tuna jumping 20 miles away...

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Trouble was, there weren't many tuna jumping.  And where they were, there were no whale sharks.  And where there were a few whale sharks (finally), they were bashful and wouldn't let the boat anywhere near them.  So from the point of tagging whale sharks and documenting their behaviors, today was a bust.  The folks in the boat did get to see some large tuna and even some marlin, but that was about it.   However -- there is never a dull day in a plane that can fly low and slow for a long time in the Gulf!  We saw families of sperm whales again -- four moms and three calves, and three large males.  We saw sharks, small by whale-shark standards, but one that we saw was as large as any bottlenose dolphin.  And speaking of dolphin -- we saw two huge pods, one with over 120 individuals and another with well over 50.  And a leatherback turtle...  
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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And oil.  Oh for the love of whale sharks, we are so sick of seeing oil!  But there's a ton of it out there -- okay, technically probably thousands of tons. Long lines of oil sheen began showing up about 35 miles south-southeast of Grand Isle.  The first one lasted for about a mile but then it picked up again another mile southward and lasted until we reached the distinct line where blue water began -- about 10 miles farther!  More details in our Flight Log below.

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One other perplexing sight occurred on our way back, barely 20 nm off shore from Grand Isle (see photo above right). From a distance it looked like the bubble-feeding rings made by humpback whales, but overhead it appeared to be a continuous bubbling to the surface of fluid or gas bubbles.  It began not more than 15 m or so from a platform, and there was a thin dark-colored trail in the water from it that persisted for at least 50 m.  A second similar bubble caught our eyes not far away, near a network of five connected platforms.  These were distressing sights, as it occurred to us to wonder whether something could explode, hopefully not while we were flying low over it to look at it!  

As always, more photos and videos are provided below, and more descriptions and coordinates are in the Flight Log below.  Still more details are available in the gps track file that you can download on the "Flight Tracks" menu of this website.  

Here is the video of the gas leak (?) noted above.

And three videos of the oil we saw today.

And last but definitely not least, the sperm whales!

Finally, here are some more still photos from today's flight.



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20110925 On Wings Of Care Gulf Flight Log
Flight Time: 5:46 hrs, 651 miles, KNEW - Innovator rig (and vicinity) - KNEW

Lat/Longs are given in degrees and decimal minutes. Time is in UTC (Z) = CDT + 0500.
Waypoint numbers (0034--0060) refer to the Garmin gps track file (.gpx), available at http://www.OnWingsOfCare.org under the main menu item "FlightTracks".

NOTE: After the flight we learned that there had been whale sharks east of our grid, around the "Lena" platform at N28° 39.76', W89°09.47'.

N29°18', W89° 50.9': Long line of sheen (not necessarily production oil) with organic matter mixed in, starts approximately here and goes southward about 2 nm. Associated with a convergence line, water is much darker on east side of it.

N28°55', W89°38': Bait balls throughout this area of muddy green water, the place is just alive with small fish in bait balls. No large fish, no tuna, no dolphins spotted here.

0034, N28 51.370, W89 35.010, 1519Z. Long line of oil sheen, starts here.

0035, N28 49.311, W89 33.549, 1521Z. Sheen continues, reddish stuff mixed in (weathered crude?), metallic dull brown in center with rainbow and silver/gray along edges, streamers.

Didn't appear to start at any of the platforms in the vicinity, tho near many of them.
South boundary: N28°48', W89°30'.

0036, N28 49.405, W89 31.581, 1522Z. Buoy

0037, N28 48.007, W89 31.889, 1534Z. More oil! Lots of rainbow mixed in with the metallic and gray. W-E appears over 5 nm long. many streaks of rainbow and brown with some burnt-orange stuff mixed in.
Continuing southward -- another S-N/SW-NE long line of oil! 6-8 nm long, appears. Goes right into the convergence line of green-blue water, then it follows the convergence line eastward. Didn't have time to track it eastward, but from 1500' it was as far as we could see eastward and northeastward along the convergence line and about 100m either side of it.
 

0038, N28 37.424, W89 28.822, 1547Z. Blue water.

N28°38', W89°29' (blue water): Tuna in a small bait ball!

0039, N28 36.107, W89 28.167, 1549Z. Many large tuna (marlin?) in a bait ball. Water is beautiful glassy and blue!
 

0040, N28 30.212, W89 29.409, 1559Z. Tuna in a bait ball, no whale sharks yet!

0041, N28 17.111, W89 27.117, 1616Z. Tanker "Eagle Virginia" from Singapore. IMO9230878. South of Medusa rig.

0042, N28 14.844, W89 28.968, 1619Z. Sperm whales -- FOUR in a parallel lineup, three of whom have calves with them! Maybe all four, but can't be sure about the second from the right.

0043, N28 15.182, W89 28.901, 1627Z. Two large sperm whales, separated by about 300m, moving northeastward.

0044, N28 15.775, W89 28.539, 1630Z. Large shark - tiger? As large or larger than most bottlenose dolphins we've seen.

0045, N28 15.990, W89 29.259, 1632Z. One sperm whale, moving eastward.

0046, N28 14.545, W89 32.247, 1637Z. Tanker -- British Enson.

0047, N28 07.701, W89 40.355, 1646Z. ~120 bottlenose dolphin!

0048, N28 02.215, W89 39.915, 1655Z. About 50 more dolphin, very active. Looks like two or three ganging up on one? Hope that's love and not war!

(Soon we gave up on whale sharks. Bonny recommended heading east. Eric Hoffmayer proposed we rendezvous back at the 'shelf' northeast (our "MAP1" point below), near the blue-green water line. In retrospect, we should have continued flying eastward, as the boat decided to do that when they found more tuna and marlin, and they did see some whale sharks! But the sharks didn't let their boats near them, so no tagging was accomplished. We continued easterly and then northeast toward the MAP1 rendezvous point and never saw any whale sharks, only a few more tuna and bait balls. Sigh. )

0049, N28 15.258, W89 18.796, 1742Z. (NW of the "Mars" platform) Bait ball, some tuna, no whale sharks.

0050, N28 36.101, W89 27.458, 1742Z. Bait ball, some tuna, no whale sharks.

MAP1, N28 43.840, W89 26.630. Planned rendezvous point with the boat next (didn't happen, they got distracted with tuna and marlin and went out of radio range).

0051, N28 44.859, W89 21.826, 1810Z. "Clipper England" tanker, crossing the blue-green water line northward.

0052, N28 48.569, W89 11.863, 1817Z. Oil sheen NW-SE, ~30m wide and ~300m long. Rainbow and metallic.

And another, connected to this, farther northeast. Stops at 0053 and the blue-green water line.

0053, N28 48.963, W89 09.215, 1820Z. End of above oil sheen.

0054, N28 53.425, W89 15.508, 1827Z. Nice sargassum patches, east of there a shrimper, dolphins in his wake and lots of birds.

0055, N28 36.814, W89 27.899, 1901Z. This is approximately where whale sharks were spotted by fishermen on Saturday 20110924. No bait balls here even, today.

0056, N28 40.723, W89 31.009, 1911Z. Bait ball with tuna.

0057, N28 44.112, W89 29.065, 1917Z. Bait ball with tuna.

0058, N28 51.987, W89 32.703, 1926Z. Bait ball, small fish only.

0059, N29 07.174, W89 37.411, 1936Z. Gas leak near platform? Bubbles at surface, plus black line southeastward from the bubbles. Platform says "R5/22". ??

0060, N29 08.050, W89 36.544, 1941Z. Two bubbles, like another gas leak here. There are five connected platforms here, OCS-G-0385, WD29-I.