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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...

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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.

Read more in the full article here!