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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.

Read the full article and see all the photos here!