2014 July 17 Thursday
Mississippi Canyon, Gulf of Mexico
OWOC’s sixthWhale Shark search of 2014, and our second survey flight in the Mississippi Canyon area (WS6-MC3)
On this sixth search of the season for whale sharks, weather made us wait for a good five days past the full moon, but this was the only weather window we would get for a while, and we didn’t want to miss it. Last week had been so productive in the Ewing Bank area, we just had to check out Mississippi Canyon. And, today we were bringing along two people from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who were usually working as captains or divers on the boat, so they were really eager to see whale sharks from a spotter plane. We had no recent reports of whale shark sightings by fishermen in the area, and water visibility not great and restricted us to the eastern portion of the nominal survey grid. Cutting the grid short did, however, give us enough time to plan a detour over to Ewing Bank on the way home, to see if there were still groups of whale sharks surface-feeding there.
Here are maps showing our flight route today (in yellow). As usual, the icons show some of the more substantial sightings of baitballs, pods of dolphin, sperm whales, etc., and any large stretches of surface oil or sheen. We’ve also overlaid a close-up of today’s detour to Ewing Bank with last week’s banner day over Ewing Bank. We examined very carefully the areas where we saw so many animals surface-feeding last week, but we found no whale sharks today.
But we were treated to the first sightings this year of many sperm whales, including mothers and calves, to the west of Ewing Bank! And the rest of Ewing Bank was jumping with large tuna. We also saw two large pods of spinner dolphin and a lone sperm whale south west of Sackett Bank (not far from the Innovator platform), and another large pod of bottlenose dolphin a bit farther southwest. On our way back to New Orleans from Ewing Bank, we saw a sea turtle (loggerhead, we think) and myriad bait balls, with very active areas that looked to be king mackerel chasing bonito. So it was a fine day for seeing some marine life, but alas, the whale sharks were nowhere to be seen.