Monthly Recurring Subscription Donation

Enter Amount

2013 June 30, July 1, July 2
Gulf of Mexico - Ewing Bank and Mississippi Canyon

After our stunning find of 24 whale sharks on and east of Ewing Bank last June 20, scientists made a dedicated long week-end's trip in a chartered vessel, the FV Annie Girl, to see if we could get a repeat performance and tag some more of these gentle giants.  Alas, weather seldom cooperates with long-laid plans, and these three days that had held so much hope did not afford us calm or clear seas. As hard as we tried, blue water was pushed 30-40 nm farther south (offshore) than previously, and visibility both in the air and water was not great from the air. (Which meant it was even poorer from the surface.)  But we made the best of it, and we did see some beautiful sights we'd like to share with you.  And some not-so-beautiful sights, as in a few more significant oil slicks.  So enjoy the  photos and videos, and stay tuned for the articles from our subsequent flights -- July 19, July 31, August 04, August 20, and August 21!

Here are a few of our favorite photos:  Dolphins, some huge baitballs, an enormous beautiful bird rookery northeast of Isles Dernieres, sargassum and various sea phenomena, gorgeous shots of the coast and wetlands, weather near the city of New Orleans and an awesome waterspout offshore, and last but not least (unfortunately), oil slicks and their associated emissions.

Lots more photos below, and videos (there are 21 videos in total from these three days)! We'll start them off with a google earth map showing you where we flew and where the most substantial sightings of each category were. (You'll guess the icons for the various marine life and phenomena.) At the very bottom of this article, you'll see our flight logs for these three days of flying. And as always, you can download our full GPS flight tracks for these days from this site's main menu item "Flight Tracks."  Here are the links to our GPS Flight Track files for 0630, 0701, and 0702.  Happy tracking!

Before we start with all of the photos and videos, we have some profound thanks to offer! Jennifer McKinney and her colleagues at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries have been the scientists behind all of the real successes of these flights. While it is useful for us to obtain comprehensive and meaningful surveys statistics of the numbers and locations of whale sharks and other marine life, the pioneering science here relies most of all on the abilities of these scientists to identify (by DNA and spots) and tag (with spot and satellite tags) the whale sharks. Without that information, we would remain as ignorant as we are about the habits and characteristics of these mysterious gentle giants of the sea.

All three of these days had the fantastic volunteer help of two of the Gulf's most dedicated spotters, photographers, and videographers -- Terese P. Collins of Biloxi, MS and Don W. Abrams of Ocean Springs, MS. Terese took virtually all of these photos, and Don shot the videos in addition to being one of the sharpest spotters around. Even when we don't find whale sharks, we are assured of finding much else of interest on flights with these folks along!
Finally, we thank Flightline First at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport for treating On Wings Of Care as they do their other special base customers and offering us appreciated discounts on our hangar and fuel charges.

Here are maps showing these three days' flights. Yellow is June 30, red is July 1, and light blue is July 2. You can see where we had to abandon the "grid" survey in the Mississippi Canyon area on July 1, because of weather and the fact that blue water could only be found much farther south and west. The icons depict substantial sightings of dolphins, sea turtles, sargassum and other sea phenomena, bird rookeries (only one seen), oil slicks, rigs and vessels, weather, coastal areas and wetlands, and the city and Mississippi River.

Now here start the photos and videos. Many more photos from each of these categories are in the galleries appended below.

First, the dolphins and huge bait balls:

Here is a video showing some of these enormous bait balls, taken on July 2:
20130702-On Wings Of Care - WS7- Video10: Bait Balls - 2000Z

Next, extraordinary sargassum patches and lines, and some unusual (and oft mysterious) sea phenomena:

Here are seven videos of sargassum:

20130630-OWOC Gulf Flight-Video3 - XLSargassum

20130701-163-Sargassum Meadow

20130701- WS6 - Sargassum

20130701- WS6 - Sargassum 2


0130702-OWOC Gulf Flight WS7 - Video2: Sargassum1-1614Z

20130702- OWOC Gulf Flight - WS7- Video4: Sargassum2 - 1802Z

20130702-OWOC Gulf Flight WS7- Video9: Sargassum2-1920Z


Next, some of the oil slicks we saw out there -- three sets, in chronological order from June 30, July 1, and July 2:

Here are five videos of the oil slicks we saw these three days:

20130630-OWOC Gulf Flight-Video1-Oil1

20130701-165-Surface Oil Sheen

20130701-WS6- OIL

20130702-On Wings Of Care -WS7- Video1: Sheen1-1610Z

20130702-OnWingsOfCare WS7- Video3: OilSheen2-1633Z

Next, some of the interesting rigs and vessels: 

And five videos of the rigs and vessels:

20130701- WS6 - Rigs & Vessels

20130701-Video of platform flaring

20130702- OWOC - Video5: DoublePlatform-RipLine - 1808Z

20130702- OWOC - WS7- Video6: UncleJohnPlatform - 1811Z

20130702-OWOC Gulf Flight - WS7- Video7: Rig&2vessels-1824Z

Check out some of the weather we had to fly around, most every one of these days!

20130630-OWOC Gulf Flight-Video2-Weather

20130702-On Wings Of Care - WS7 - Video8: Weather-1825Z


Now for that beautiful rookery and some coastal views:

20130702- Flight Over Wetlands - Time Lapse Photographs


And the city of New Orleans:



Now here are more photos for each of the above categories:

First, here's the FV Annie Girl, our faithful boat crew!


More of the dolphins and bait balls: 


Sargassum plus some sea phenomena which we won't pretend to understand, but in our 700 hours of flying over the Gulf, we can definitely say that it is unusual:


Here are some of those ubiquitous surface oil slicks:


More of those interesting rigs and vessels: 

That wild weather that was all around us:


The beautiful Louisiana coastal areas and wetlands, and that awesome rookery:


And more gorgeous views of New Orleans:



COMBINED OWOC FLIGHT LOGS from 2013 June 30, July 1, and July 2:
Whale Shark Survey Flights 5--7, Ewing Bank Surveys 3--5.
(Map Tracks:  Yellow, Red, Light Blue)


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

Times are given in CDT. 
Lat/lons are given in degrees and decimal minutes.
Bonny L. Schumaker, Ph.D. (ATP, CFI-AIM)
Spotters/Crew: Don Abrams, Terese Collins
Seas and weather:
20130630: Seas 2-4 ft ft, Winds NW 8-15 kts. No blue water in survey grid, green water was murky.
20130701: Seas 0-2 ft, Winds NW 5 kts.
20130702: Seas 2-5 ft ft, winds SW 8-15 kts.

Sky & Visibility:
20130630: Scattered high clouds, mostly clear skies, 10 miles visibility
20130701: Scattered low clouds but mostly clear skies, 10 miles visibility
20130702: Scattered high clouds, mostly clear skies, 10-15 miles visibility

Flight Times: 0630:  4.8 hrs; 0701:  5.7 hrs;  0702: 6.0 hrs.

Flight routes (actual):
2013630: KNEW - southwest to directly over Ewing Bank, then east to Diaphus bank, circle over
the entire Ewing Bank area, then begin the grid survey.  Total 516 nm, area of 1239 sq mi.

20130701: KNEW - southeast to eastern portion of the Miss Canyon survey grid, then southwest to
blue water, then west to Ewing Bank to join with the tagging boat (FV Annie Girl), surveyed across Ewing and Diaphus banks, then north back to KNEW along the western part of the MC grid. Total 605 nm, area of 3239 sq mi.

20130702: KNEW - southwest to directly over Ewing Bank, circle over the Ewing Bank area near FV
Annie Girl,  then begin the grid survey.  Return to KNEW. Total: 635 nm, area of 3309 sq mi.

Note: The nominal Ewing Bank whale-shark survey grid consists of S-N rows separated by 6 minutes of longitude (approximately 5 nm), each about 42 nm long, for a total of 9 rows. (See the 20130524 flight log for full description of Ewing Bank survey grid.)

Maps of our routes showing the waypoints identified during our flights, plus some relevant waypoints from previous flights, are in today’s article (including links to our GPS Flight Track files for 0630, 0701, and 0702).

New Waypoints from flight of 20130630 Sunday:  
-- Wpt #s are from BLS’ flight GPS (Garmin 496).
-- Three (3) videos are posted on On Wings Of Care’s youtube channel for today’s flight.One shows the first large oil sheen we saw, barely 20 miles off shore. Another shows an awesome, huge expanse of sargassum just to the northwest of our survey grid.  The third shows a squall line and water spout we passed to our southeast while we flew to the Ewing Bank area.  There are also high-resolution photos of all of these and more.

New Waypoints from flight of 20130701 - Monday:
-- Wpt
#s are from BLS’ flight GPS (Garmin 496).
-- There are four (4) videos at the OnWingsOfCare youtube channel from today:  Two of them feature the beautiful lines and patches of sargassum we found. One of them shows the oil found around N28-00 W89-42 (Wpts#681-683 below). The fourth is a compilation of many of the rigs and semi-submersibles we saw on today’s flight.  The photos in our website article complement the videos.


New Waypoints flight of 20130702 - Tuesday: 
Wpt #s are from BLS’ flight GPS (Garmin 496).  Legend:
-- There are ten (10) videos from today’s flight on the On Wings Of Care youtube channel. Several document the oil sheen lines we saw, two show the beautiful sargassum lines and patches, one shows an interesting short-legged platform called “Uncle John,” one shows the very unusual heavy bait balls we encountered on our way back northward, and one shows some heavy weather to our west as we made our way back northward to New Orleans.  The videos are complemented by some very nice high-resolution photos taken by Terese P. Collins of Biloxi, MS and Don W. Abrams of Ocean Springs, MS.

653 29.139 -90.53 2013-06-30 T18:23:51Z **Oil sheen south-north, apparently from platform to our east. Just N of Isles Dernieres (sorry, no photo or video)
654 28.999 -90.601 2013-06-30 T18:28:57Z Many bait balls, some large fish  too -- mullet?
655 28.858 -90.686 2013-06-30 T18:34:17Z ***OIL - slick. NE-SW, ~100 m wide x 1.0+ nm long. Platform to our east + 3 smaller platforms. Surface sheen, some rainbow. (SeeVideo1: Oil1, and oil photos labeled “1”. Rig at end of video is “SGY PL22B”, photo_MG_4550.) This is barely 20 miles offshore from the Isles Dernieres!
656 28.717 -90.747 2013-06-30 T18:39:19Z Patches of dark brown, vegetation? & foam, to our west.
        (We were not at this point but looking at it!) A heavy squall line with a waterspout was to our southeast as we flew southwestward. See Video2: WX and photos from the “weather” gallery. The waterspout was about 45 nm offshore.
657 28.504 -90.944 2013-06-30 T18:48:53Z **Small sheen near platform to our west. (No video; see oil photo labeled “2”.)
658 28.273 -91.049 2013-06-30 T18:57:23Z Huge sargassum patch! (See Video3: XLSargassum and photos #4609--4622 in the sargassum gallery.) This was just to the northwest of our survey grid.
659 27.75 -90.696 2013-06-30 T19:26:13Z Blue water line to our east, running almost N-S here!  Still green water at the S line of the Ewing Bank grid.
660 27.69 -90.847 2013-06-30 T19:33:30Z Convergence line ~2 nm to our east, N-S (Green-Bluish), sheen just before this. (See oil photos labeled “3”.) This is the SE corner of grid.
661 27.731 -91.111 2013-06-30 T19:47:07Z **Helix Producer 1, plus a slick line ~ 20 m wide (N-S) x 300 m long W-E. (See oil photo _4663 or labeled “4”  in the “oil” gallery, and photo _4661 for the vessel.) At SW corner of grid.
662 27.9 -91.205 2013-06-30 T19:56:08Z Long line of sargassum W-E
663 27.911 -90.886 2013-06-30 T20:14:07Z Barrel-looking mooring buoy, white
664 27.944 -91 2013-06-30 T20:24:09Z “Shell Pipeline GC19” platform & GC18A nearby. (See photos 4686-93 in the “rigs & vessels” gallery.)
665 27.885 -90.908 2013-06-30 T21:02:13Z DOR GC65 platform (see photos IMG_4703--4707)
666 28.054 -90.782 2013-06-30 T21:11:12Z Line of sargassum W-E
667 28.107 -90.797 2013-06-30 T21:13:03Z Manta Ray platform, large bait ball
668 28.084 -90.744 2013-06-30 T21:18:13Z W&T ST316A platform, bait ball.
669 28.899 -90.425 2013-06-30 T21:51:57Z **Sheen lines SE-NW, 3 nm long x 15m wide (N-S). (No video, but see oil photos labeled “5”.) This is about 20 nm off shore!
670 28.711 -89.359 2013-07-01 T16:52:15Z ** Sheen ~3 nm long E-W (broken), 10-15 m N-S,  Lots of platforms to our west. (Photo _MG_4833)
  28.6 -89.3 2013-07-01
Platform “CORRAL” MC365A (Photo _MG_4837)
671 28.234 -89.122 2013-07-01 T17:10:32Z Noble Jim Day platform (Phot _MG_4855). MARS platform MC807A (?) to our southwest appeared to be flaring strongly, as was another platform in this vicinity (photos _MG_4852, 61).
672 27.921 -89.592 2013-07-01 T17:48:07Z Line, green to dark green water. (no blue water yet!). Noble Jim Thompson platform & Supply Boat.
673 28.012 -89.679 2013-07-01 T17:53:29Z 3 large patches and line of sargassum NW-SE
674 28.051 -89.814 2013-07-01 T18:01:00Z Sargassum line NE-SW.  Blue water line approx N28-04’, W89-39’, running west from here, staying just south of blue line (in blue water). See video of sargassum!
675 27.788 -90.507 2013-07-01 T18:25:31Z Platform - Chevron USA, Green Canyon 205A (Photo _MG_4929-32).  ALSO:
  28 -90.7 2013-07-01 T18:40:00Z Supply Boat “Manresa” (Photo _MG_4963).
  28.073 -90.728 2013-07-01 T18:43:00Z Double platform & Supply Boat (Photos _MG_4968-69)
  28.066 -90.92 2013-07-01 T18:49:00Z Platform & Supply Boat (Marcelle Bordelon) (Photo _MG_4970)
676 27.996 -90.324 2013-07-01 T18:53:09Z Platform Shell GC158A “BRUTUS” & sargassum line NE-SW, patches.  Supply boat “Harvey Discovery”. (Photos _MG_4944,49; see video of “Sargassum2”)
677 27.992 -90.331 2013-07-01 T19:15:52Z Vessel east-bound.  (“Energy 11104”? Being towed by a tug boat?)
678 28.039 -90.029 2013-07-01 T19:25:26Z Platform “ENI” + supply boat
679 27.813 -89.725 2013-07-01 T19:43:48Z !! Large pod ~45+ dolphins, plus many flying fish!  beautiful calm clear blue water! (out of survey grid, alas!)
680 27.835 -89.434 2013-07-01 T19:58:58Z !! Dolphin x 2. Blue-green line ~N27-55’ W89-26’.
681 27.971 -89.651 2013-07-01 T20:26:26Z ***Oil pancakes!
682 28.074 -89.677 2013-07-01 T20:30:31Z 2 shrimp boats
683 28.214 -89.7 2013-07-01 T20:35:09Z ***OIL with rainbow, pancakes and patties, SW-NE, w lines, each ~ 0.5 nm long x 20 m wide. (Photos IMG_5086--5112; see also Video!)
0684-D 29.284 -90.348 2013-07-02 T15:30:17Z Dolphins - several, jumping
0685-OSR 29.089 -90.444 2013-07-02 T15:36:30Z OIL - rainbow, ~1 nm long x ~15m at thickest. (See photos 5128--5132 - “Oil1”.) ~15 nm offshore near Caillou Island in eastern Terrebonne Bay.
0686-Bb 28.989 -90.546 2013-07-02 T15:41:08Z Many baitballs!
0687-Bb 28.927 -90.641 2013-07-02 T15:44:36Z HUGE Baitball, large fish jumping - bonita, jack?
0688-T 28.658 -90.748 2013-07-02 T15:54:07Z Round turtle
0689-F 28.327 -90.91 2013-07-02 T16:06:01Z large shark or very large cobia
  28.22 -91 2013-07-02 T16:10:00Z ** Sheen line? (See Video1 - Sheen1, and photos 5172--5176 - “Oil2”.)
  28.14 -91.05 2013-07-02 T16:14:00Z Sargassum (see Video2 - Sargassum)
  28.05 -91.15 2013-07-02 T16:19:00Z ** Sheen (See photos 5187, 5188 - “Oil3”.)
0690-OS 27.75 -91.199 2013-07-02 T16:34:07Z ** Sheen (See Video3: OilSheen2, and photo 5189 - “Oil4”; at SW corner of survey grid.)
  28.18 -91 2013-07-0 2T17:08:00Z **Sheen (no video)
0691-PD 27.943 -90.996 2013-07-02 T17:16:49Z Shell Pipeline GC19 platform; 1 dolphin (See photo close-up #5196  of GC19)
  28.8 -91 2013-07-02 T17:20:00Z Sheen (see Video5: Sheen4)
0692-P 27.885 -90.904 2013-07-02 T17:33:09Z Platform GC65 “DOR”
0693-Bb 28.196 -90.936 2013-07-02 T17:47:32Z Many large bait balls
  28.28 -90.78 2013-07-02 T18:02:00Z Rip line & sargassum, sheen to side? (Video4:  Sargassum2, includes southwest to 28.10, -91.05)
0694-P 28.014 -90.807 2013-07-02 T18:11:36Z Platform CDI “Uncle John” - very short legs! (See photo #5219; Videos5&6.
  27.7 -90.75 2013-07-02 T18:24:00Z Rig with two vessels (Photo #5225 & VIdeo7).  Also Weather to our southeast! (See Photos #5227--32 and Video8 - weather)
0695-P 28.164 -90.714 2013-07-02 T18:41:07Z Platform Shell ST300A, many baitballs to the North. (See Photo #5235.)
0696-Sg 28.006 -90.839 2013-07-02 T19:22:24Z Heavy sargassum patch W of Uncle John platform (see Video 9: Sargassum2)
0697-Bb 28.96 -90.563 2013-07-02 T20:00:49Z Baitballs - strange looking, very thick but not jumping much. dead? At first we thought maybe vegetation, but definitely small fish. (see Video10.)
0698-Bd 29.255 -90.448 2013-07-02 T20:20:11Z Wonderful rookery! On the shores of Lake Felicity -- but barely 10 nm north of that first ugly rainbow oil slick we saw (wpt #685 above)!  AGGGH!  But within 25 nm of those huge baitballs (wpts #686, 687,697).
  29.8 -90.25 2013-07-02 T20:41:00Z Heavy weather to our east over Plaquemines Parish, LA. (Photos 5407--12)
DIAPH 28.083 -90.7   Diaphus Bank
EB1 28.1 -91   Ewing Bank (Recon Loc'n)
EB-NE20130 28.4 -90.5   NE corner of Ewing Bank (EB) grid
EB-NW20130 28.4 -91.3   NW corner of EB grid
EB-SE20130 27.7 -90.5   SE corner of EB grid
EB-SW20130 27.7 -91.3   SW corner of EB grid
LENA 28.663 -89.158    
MARS 28.17 -89.223    
MC-NE-2013 28.6 -89   NE corner of MC grid
MC-NW-2013 28.6 -89.7   NW corner of MC grid
MC-SE-2013 27.9 -89   SE corner of MC grid
MC-SW20130 27.9 -89.7   SW corner of MC grid
MEDUSA 28.393 -89.454    
TAY2 28.936 -88.969   Taylor Energy slick
URSA 28.154 -89.104    
WS130718 30.044 -90.03 2013-07-19 T14:36:45Z Wshark tag report 20130718
WSR130710 28.133 -90.62 2013-07-10 T16:47:59Z Wshark tag report 20130710