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2014 May 21 Wednesday
Mississippi Canyon, Gulf of Mexico
-- OWOC’s first formal Whale Shark search of 2014, and our first search in MS Canyon (WS1-MC1)

The whale shark season has begun in the Gulf of Mexico!  We have searched for these elusive, mysterious, gentle giants of the sea every year in the Gulf of Mexico since 2010, right after the BP disaster.  Back in June of 2010, an enormous aggregation of more than 100 whale sharks was found at Ewing Bank, a wide shelf located over 200 miles south-southwest of New Orleans.  But since then, we have not found such large groups of whale sharks in Gulf waters within 200 miles of the Louisiana or Mississippi coastlines.  Last summer, we were very excited to find 24 whale sharks near Ewing Bank and a few isolated or small groups of whale sharks in Mississippi Canyon (see, e.g., our article from 2013 June 20). This year — well, not to spoil the surprise that will be in a later article (as we are posting this at the end of July, six flights later!) — but finally by mid-July of 2014, we did indeed find some large groups here in the Gulf again!  But here let’s just stick to our records and relate what we found on May 21, 2014, in the Mississippi Canyon.

Here are maps showing our flight survey of today. The icons indicate substantial sightings — of sargassum, of bait balls with large fish (mostly tuna), a good-sized golden ray, and one wonderful looking big sperm whale.  Our flight log, appended at the bottom of this article, describes our sightings and their times and locations in detail.  On our way southbound, we flew along the Mississippi River and checked out many of the (in)famous oil refineries and coal terminals; photos of some are included below.  And since it was on our way back home to New Orleans, we also flew over the chronic oil pollution site known as Taylor Energy. The sites of rainbow sheen and significant amounts of weathered oil at the surface helped fuel (no pun intended) the sampling flights of mid-June, which are described elsewhere in our articles for June 18&22.

Here are a few of our favorite photos, basically in the order in which we saw things during our flight; more photos are in the galleries at the bottom of this article.  We start with some photos of the Kinder Morgan coal terminal along the Mississippi River; then the sperm whale; then some interesting vessels and platforms; and finally, the Taylor pollution site just off the tip of Louisiana.  The large bait balls and various other interesting fish didn’t make it into the better photographs, so we’ll wait to share those animals for another article.

 

Here are additional photos, with subject in the same order as above:  Kinder Morgan, sperm whale, vessels and platforms, and the Taylor Energy pollution area (with one last photo showing your faithful pilot and our whale-shark scientist and tagger extraordinaire Jennifer McKinney).

 

*****  On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20140521 - Wednesday  *****
Whale Shark Survey in the Gulf of Mexico

Mississippi Canyon Survey #1 for 2014 (2014 WS1-MC1)

Note:  Flight Route is Light Green on Map

All waypoint numbers below refer to the GPS tracks shown in today’s article at OnWingsOfCare.org.

Times are given in CDT. 
Lat/lons are typically given in degrees and decimal minutes (except in the table below, where they are in decimal degrees)
Pilot & Aircraft:
Bonny L. Schumaker, Ph.D. (ATP, CFI-AIM), N4784E (“Bessie”)
Spotters/Crew: Jennifer McKinney, Ashley Ferguson (LDWF)

Seas and weather: Seas 1-3 ft, winds 10 kts from the south-southeast
Sky & Visibility: Mostly clear, 10-mile visibility. 
Flight time: 5.8 hours

Flight route: KNEW - south to southwest corner of MC grid, then “corn rows” N-S as possible , detour to Devils Tower at end due to sighting report by fishermen there.
Actual Flight: 739 nm with an area of 5,188 sq nm
Maps of our route showing the following waypoints identified during our flight, plus some relevant waypoints from previous flights, are in today’s article (including a link to our GPS track file).

DVR FLT PLAN: (Xpdr____):

N4784E, C172/U 115 kts. KNEW ETD 11450Z, <1,500’, KNEW. ETE: 6.0 hrs. Wildlife survey.
First Dest: ~150 nm south (173°) of KNEW
ADIZ-Back: ~N28 44.8 W089 44.5

New Waypoints and sightings:

WPT

LAT

LON

TIME

DESRIPTION

981

29.63

-89.93

2014-05-21T13:16:15Z

Checked out Kinder-Morgan coal terminal

982

29.61

-89.91

2014-05-21T13:17:01Z

Checked out Kinder-Morgan coal terminal

983

29.41

-89.82

2014-05-21T13:25:10Z

Old gas plant (?)

984

29.39

-89.81

2014-05-21T13:25:52Z

Flaring gas platform

985

29.21

-89.80

2014-05-21T13:31:45Z

First green-muddy water line

986

29.01

-89.75

2014-05-21T13:39:21Z

Small sheen just north of this point, about 400 m long N-S, 15 m wide E-W.

987

28.70

-89.71

2014-05-21T13:49:39Z

Blue-green water line, lots and lots of sargassum (on west side of it). Bue water @ NW corner of our grid.

988

28.60

-89.70

2014-05-21T13:53:01Z

“HOS Max” ship, traveling northwest.

989

28.44

-89.69

2014-05-21T13:58:26Z

Awesome Sargassum, NW-SE, ines and large patches.

990

28.39

-89.69

2014-05-21T14:00:02Z

Two large and many smaller patches, many streamers of sargassum

991

28.21

-89.61

2014-05-21T14:28:28Z

**Ray (golden)

992

28.28

-89.61

2014-05-21T14:30:25Z

Many parallel NW-SE lines of sargassum, ~ 20 for ~3 nm

993

28.32

-89.61

2014-05-21T14:31:32Z

Water starts to turn green here

994

28.41

-89.60

2014-05-21T14:34:19Z

East side of XL sargassum patch

995

28.48

-89.60

2014-05-21T14:36:25Z

Sargassum patches to our east, running W-E.

996

28.55

-89.60

2014-05-21T14:38:30Z

Ship, traveling southeast. Later, at Medusa: 3 sport fishing boats (~N28.4, W089.5)

997

28.03

-89.44

2014-05-21T15:03:12Z

Drill ship “Atwood Condor” + Supply Boat

998

27.97

-89.49

2014-05-21T15:05:48Z

Drill ship “Noble Bob Douglas”

999

28.54

-89.40

2014-05-21T15:30:21Z

Shrimpers, traveling south-southeast

1000

28.57

-89.31

2014-05-21T15:35:42Z

Platform and 1 fishing boat N of this point, Corral ENI MC365A

1001

28.08

-89.31

2014-05-21T15:52:45Z

Drillship “Maersk Developer” + fishing boat, Supply Boat “Noble Bully I”

1002

28.07

-89.31

2014-05-21T15:53:00Z

**Small school of fish

1003

28.16

-89.22

2014-05-21T16:09:38Z

Mars platform MC807A + ship “Ocean Intention”

1004

28.51

-89.11

2014-05-21T16:28:46Z

**SPERM WHALE!

1005

28.16

-89.10

2014-05-21T16:44:13Z

MODU “Noble Dan Taylor” near URSA platform, 1 supply boat + 1 fishing boat.  Slick to the west, ~ 1 nm long N-S and ~20 meters wide W-E.

1006

28.04

-89.10

2014-05-21T16:49:00Z

Platform MC804A.

1007

28.19

-88.75

2014-05-21T17:07:47Z

Devils Tower platform + 2 supply boats, and 4 large sargassum patches SE of Devils Tower (MC773A)

1008

28.30

-88.63

2014-05-21T17:12:38Z

More sargassum, lots of lines and patches, this on the NE line between Devils Tower and Nakika, mostly within 8 nm of Devils Tower.  Sargassum was very far north, lots around Taylor Energy and right up to South Pass!  Water turned much less blue about 8 nm southwest of Nakika platform. Nakika was flaring, 1 supply boat. At MC252 there was a ship “Adriatic”, stopped.  Farther north, at Cognac (MC194A), there was sargassum everywhere, and blue-green line was just north of Cognac.

1009

28.88

-89.07

2014-05-21T17:52:21Z

Platform, LOTS of sargassum (“SP49C” and platform “SP49-A” to the northeast).

1010

28.96

-88.97

2014-05-21T17:56:07Z

Taylor slick — what a mess. Lots of sargassum, some of it very oily looking.