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2011 August 30

Gulf of Mexico

We flew today to find whale sharks, so that scientists who were out there in a boat could fit them with tags that would report their gps positions and ultimately tell us more about them.  The seas were utterly calm, like glass.  The bait balls were glistening everywhere as we flew to open seas south of Grand Isle about 100 miles. We were so optimistic!  Alas, in over six hours of flying covering almost 600 miles, not a one was found today. Nor a single sperm whale.  We found two huge pods of bottlenose dolphin, one with over 100 individuals, another with at least 75.  And a couple of fine leatherback sea turtles.  But between those sightings -- and sometimes uncomfortably close to them, all we found was what we are so very tired of seeing -- more and more OIL.

In fact, we found so much oil out in the Macondo Prospect (near the site of the April 2010 explosion),  that we have an 11-minute video of it that never covers the same area twice! Not since last summer have we seen this kind of expansive surface sheen.  Metallic-gray and rainbow swirls  stretched for miles, mixed with dark-brown stuff  that resembled weathered crude more than sargassum weed.  And there were those round-shaped 'globs' of oil again, here, there, and everywhere it seemed.  We did not want to see this stuff anymore!

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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  We notified two ships about this large area of oil today, and we gave them the gps coordinates where it could be found (waypoint #9175 below: N28° 53.426', W088° 11.022'). The first was the NOAA "Okeanos Explorer", who seemingly unbeknownst to them, was cruising alongside and then right through a line of those oily globs. The second was the "Sarah Bordelon", who told us they were sampling the oil for BP.   (Can BP say it's not there when they have a ship out there sampling it?)  We also reported it to the NRC after we landed, who of course reports it to the US Coast Guard (our report was incident #987845).   This area is about 16.5 statute miles northeast of the site of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe last year (MC252: N28°44.20', W088°23.23' per Wikipedia).

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So while we had fulfilled our civic duty, we didn't feel like we had done much good.  What about the three bottlenose dolphins that we filmed swimming into the oil because there was no way around that huge slick? We watched as they slowed, then disappeared and never came up again. They were going to have to hold their breaths a long while and head in exactly the right direction to make it out of that stuff.  We watched for well over five minutes but never saw them again.  

Folks, we don't know what else we can do to help.  
We spoke with the NOAA scientists by email after the flight.  They are using sophisticated sonar systems to look at gas bubbles rising through the water column in that area.  They have mapped out what they believe to be natural seeps in the area of the Macondo site.  Gas bubbles usually dissolve before reaching the surface, long before then.  But they've been finding some much closer to the surface, and they suspect the reason is that they're coated with oil.  First question I had was, does that mean the use of dispersants greatly added to this likely coating process, and that therefore we now have much more undissolved natural gas nearer the surface? I think that scientists are not allowed to answer questions that hint at "policy" questions like that, though. Bummer.  In my idealistic college days, I thought that science would guide policy.  How did business get that job instead?  Sorry, I'm not supposed to editorialize here.  

Here's that long video of the big oil patch out there today.
Photographs follow; more to come later.  
The flight log as I wrote it on my lap in the plane is transcribed below.
You can get all of our waypoint gps coordinates and times by downloading the Garmin .gpx file, from the main menu item "Flight Tracks".  
We'll try to spell some of them out for you in an update to this article a bit later, to save you some trouble.

I feel like I should say "Sorry" rather than "Enjoy"!  But you can enjoy having the facts, at least.

Many thanks to Terese Collins and Don Abrams for riding along today and helping document all of this!  I promised them whale sharks and Hubig Pies.   At least they got the pies!




FLIGHT LOG 20110820 Gulf of Mexico - OnWingsOfCare flight

SE of Grand Isle: Lots of bait balls! very calm seas. pod of dolphins. GREAT water visibility.

9153: 1025 CDT. Organic 'lace' line

9154: line of old sargassum.

9155: ship "British Emisary". TONS of jellyfish, everywhere!

9156: rig + 2 supply boats. Rig = "Noble Jim Day". w ship = Dionne Ch..rt (?).
Lots of sargassum patties.

(9157= pre-set for NaKika)

9158: Line of white foam, S-N-NE.

9159: oil 'globs', x 7.

9160: major line of green algae, foam, and sargassum

9161: Olympic Chellenger boat plus platform with red legs (LLOG-Opti-Ex) and two supply boats.

9162: Leatherback turtle and jellyfish everywhere (109 nm on 150 deg mag radial from KNEW).

9163: Black areas , subsurface plumes? (no clouds in sky!) Oily smell? (not clean sea smell, for sure).

9164: Long line of sargassum patties, lots of them.

9165: two very wide sargasum mats and lines

9166: "Sweet Water" ship - full of containers

9167: NOAA Okeana Explorer vessel. Oil globs near their starboard stern -- now a long line of them! Tried to hail them on the marine radio, asked about whale sharks (they said they had seen none), asked if they knew they were heading for that line of oil globules, but reception was bad.

9168: More oil globs

9169: More oil globs, plumes, sheen.

9170: >100 dolphins!

9171: 1250 CDT. Fishing boat, buoys.

9172: Oil globs

9173: Oil globs

9174, 9175: Lone lines of oil and sheen, some weathered crude or sargassum too? (Reported position of 9175 to the Sarah Bordelon at 1345 CDT. They were sampling oil globs for BP.)

(9174 = N28° 53895', W088° 10.986')

9175= N28° 53.426', W088° 11.022'. We later reported this also to the NOAA vessel at 1400 CDT, and when we landed to the NRC. Incident #987845, per Petty Officer Layman (Lehman?). Called NRC at 202-267-2675.

9177: Still videoing oil! NE-SW >10 nm, about 4 nm wide. geez, ugly! 3 dolphin were swimming into it, we watched them get very slow, then disappear. never saw them again. oh yuk, but even we couldn't see a way around it for them.

9179: oil slick, small

9180: oil slick, small

9181: >75 dolphins!

9182: oil globs and Sarah Bordelon - sampling water out their starboard side. Reported the 9175 coordinates to them, they told us they had seen no whale sharks. What was in all those containers on their boat? They said they were sampling the oil globs for BP. (So how come BP says there are none out there??)

9183: Normand Pacific

9184: Na Kika rig "MC447A - BP".

(9185 - preset to MC109 Amberjack rig)

9186: Leatherback turtle, big one!

9187: 5 schools of cobia and LOTS of bait balls again!

9188: At Amberjack rig, two boats and 3 mooring buoys

9189: Boat and old rig/platform. "LNPW3"

9190: Long E-W line - marsh grass? As in ~10 nm long!