2011 December 20, Tuesday
Gulf of Mexico
Yesterday morning, Transocean reported a 13,000-gallon (310-barrel) spill from their Deepwater Nautilussemi-submersible, which is currently drilling for Shell Oil in 7,200' of water about 26 miles southeast of the sunken Deepwater Horizon, in the Appomattox area. The spill was reported to be oil mixed with drilling fluid from a leak in a booster line. A "light surface sheen" was verified by the U.S. Coast Guard during an overflight. We arrived there a little after 11am and found two vessels: Akira Chouest and Emily Candies. The seas were too rough and visibility too poor to positively identify any surface sheen. But we can say with confidence that the many sightings of oil in the Macondo area on our last flight, December 09, and on this flight, are not associated with this drilling work.
Enroute there, and on our way back from there, we found more than we expected we would see with the poor atmospheric visibility and rough seas. Yesterday and today were the first days of decent flying weather for visual surveys in ten days, but visibility was still borderline due to low clouds and mist. Seas were 4 to 6 ft too, not great for spotting oil or marine life. But in winter here in the Gulf it's futile to wait for perfect blue-sky days, so we were up and early today.
Read more here!
2011 December 19
We have waited a good while to publish this final chapter in Scarlett's story, though it has been tempting to share this wonderful news for many weeks. We wanted to be absolutely certain that this happy news was forever. Because those of you who have so kindly followed Scarlett's story probably have hearts like ours, and hers; and to drag you through another disappointing roller coaster would be as bad as it must have been for Scarlett. But no worries now! Those disappointing days are over. Scarlett is part of a forever family who adores her, complete with a gentle older pit bull brother who is delighted to share his home and heart and toys with her.
We flew her to a ranch outside Conroe, Texas in early November, to some people who are dedicated and experienced pit bull rescuers (Spindletop Pit Bull Rescue). We knew the moment we met Leah and saw her interact with Scarlett that we had brought Scarlett to the right place, a place where she would learn and grow and relax. Leah let Scarlett accompany her frequently during the days and evenings for the first few weeks, doing ranch chores, meeting all of the other animals, constantly observing and being exposed to the predictable, kind, orderly routines. Scarlett spent time in close proximity to many other dogs in a controlled way, and she leared that her first response need not be a ten-alarm defensive one.
The love that we had shown her cracked open her trusting gentle heart, and life at Spindletop taught Scarlett that she can get along with dogs in general, not just the dogs in our family. It was just the transition she needed to become adopted into a real family, a permanent home.
Thank you to everyone who encouraged us and helped us help Scarlett! Before her, we knew very little about pit bulls. Now, when we see one, we understand better the terrier soul, the sensitive but brave heart, the playful, affectionate spirit, the flexible, sound outlook, the ever curious nose and digger. They can be taught to fight, but they must be taught to fight. Then excel even more when they are taught to love.
See Scarlett's photos and videos and her whole saga here!
The deadly truth of every gallon spilled
(An editorial from On Wings Of Care Founder Bonny L. Schumaker)
2011 December 10
We are told that 200 million gallons of "Louisiana sweet crude" oil and 2 million gallons of Corexit dispersant were added to the Gulf of Mexico in the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.1 Leaving aside speculation as to how much those numbers should be increased to reflect reality in the Gulf today, and without going into scientific discussion of the merits of using chemical dispersants or dangers of crude oil pollution, let's consider what these numbers mean.
The US transportation sector consumes about 220 billion gallons of liquid hydrocarbon fuel per year.2 So all the oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico last year would have been enough to supply the entire US transportation needs for about -- eight hours.
The Louisiana Superdome -- the world's largest enclosed stadium -- has a volume of about 125 million cubic feet, or about 1 billion gallons. So all the 200 million gallons of crude that gushed into the Gulf would have fit into just one-fifth of the Superdome. The Gulf of Mexico is estimated to have a volume of 660 quadrillion gallons -- the equivalent of 660 million Superdomes! The ratio of those two quantities is a tiny 0.3 to one billion -- 0.3 ppb.
Recall that BP CEO Tony Hayward said "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." (Tony Hayward, 2010 May 14) The oil industry is famous for saying that "The solution to pollution is dilution." Are they right? Have we over-reacted a bit?
2011 Dec 09 Friday
Gulf of Mexico
Lured by a narrow window of clear skies and calm seas, we had the plane warmed up and ready to fly by sunrise. We were itching to see the offshore area again, having not seen it for almost a month. On our last flight (Nov 12), we saw more than a dozen large ships working in a 30-sq-mile area around the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster (the Macondo prospect), in addition to the usual smaller supply vessels. They provided little information about what they were doing except to say that they were "studying natural seeps in the area." Aerial dispersant planes have continued to conduct almost weekly flights across Breton Sound, over Grand Isle, and out to the Macondo, with the legal blessing of our government and paychecks from the oil industry to spray Corexit to disperse and sink surface oil. Aware of these flights (even as recently as last week), we were prepared to find little or no surface oil; but we were eager to learn if a high level of work activity was continuing. So we were surprised to find not a work vessel in sight, and scattered patches and lines of surface oil almost everywhere we went!
Here is a map of our flight track; the red circles are surface oil sightings (those marked "1209" were from today; a few sizable slicks from other recent flights are also shown on this map). As always, you may download our entire GPS track from today's flight, with descriptions of all sightings and waypoint coordinates, by going to the main menu tab called "Flight Tracks."
See photos and video and the rest of this article here!
2011 November 12, Saturday
Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana shorelines and the Macondo Prospect revisited
Our first flight over the Gulf since late September! Air and water temperatures were downright chilly, winds were blowing 20+ kts, the sky was covered with clouds, and seas were a little rough. Not the perfect day for flying or finding stuff, and definitely no longer the balmy days of summer over the Gulf. But it was the perfect day for our passengers and us to go, and we were eager embrace this wonderland from the air again. We began by surveying some of the Louisiana shoreline where one of our passengers will be replanting and protecting the fragile disappearing wetlands with berms. We looked along the shores of Lake Borgne, then down to Plaquemines Parish and then the shores of eastern Barataria Bay and on down to South Pass. Noticed only a few flocks of egrets and some ducks, but otherwise wildlife seemed scarce compared to this past summer and early fall. That part of the mission accomplished, we headed out toward the Macondo Prospect to see what we might see.
As usual, you may download our complete GPS tracks under the main menu item called "Flight Tracks;" just look for the file labeled with today's date, and you'll be able to see our position and time every 10 seconds of the entire flight. A transcript of our Flight Log is also appended at the bottom of this article. We did not turn on our SPOT GPS transmitter this flight (the link on the left-hand side of our web page that says "Track our Flights," so you would not have been able to track us in real-time today. Suffice it to say that we wanted to keep our flights a bit more 'stealth' of late.
We saw lots of "work" vessels out in the Macondo today! And new orange buoys we hadn't seen before. Our route took us by the platform "VK989" at about N28°58' W088°37', and the first two orange buoys we saw were a little over 50 miles off shore to the east-southeast. Thence came a progression of oil-related (BP-contracted, we think) work vessels, some ROV-capable and then-some. These included the Meg L. Skandi, C. Chariot, Sarah Bordelon, Normand Pacific, Deep Blue, HOS Iron Horse, Holiday. Only when we reached the Holiday was the visibility good enough for us to identify a line of oil "globules" unequivocally, and they were very near the Holiday. That vessel was almost stationary but there was quite a bit of exhaust coming out of a stack on it, as if it were running a pump or something.
See photos and video and the rest of this story here.
2011 October 18, Tuesday
San Gabriel Mountains, southern California
[Note: 2011 Oct 20, Thursday: We just added the video from Tuesday Oct 18, see below!]
If you're reading this, then you've already read about "Saving Scarlett" and the continuing saga of this homeless hungry waif, now become a blossoming young lady of the forest in her foster home with us. Every day we introduce her to new situations, new animals, new people, new challenges to her personality, social skills, coordination, and strength. Today was a big question mark, for today she was going to meet a new dog, a big, strong dog, who could play as tough or tougher than she ever could. We hoped for a happy outcome but wondered if there would be a bit of tooth-and-claw before we got there. She has been nothing but a mellow, gentle sweetheart here in our home with our senior dogs, and she has been the same with people everywhere we've gone -- sweet, social, affectionate, quiet. But we hadn't yet introduced her to other dogs, and now it would be on what she has come to consider as her own turf.
We took it slowly, but when we first brought Bear up to the porch with Scarlett inside, she raised a ruckus about this intruder. Hmm, try another tack. Took Bear outside the yard, came back inside and put Scarlett in her large cage in the kitchen, after letting her smell Bear all over us. We then invited "Bear" and his human dad inside, welcomed them, made a warm fuss over Bear and generally made sure there could be no mistake in her mind that this dog and his human were very welcome and we were all very comfortable together. Surprise -- she wagged her tail and smiled, seemed to want to be part of it all. We decided to take a hike up the canyon. Our two seniors can't make it up that rugged way, so we left them snoozing at home, and had Dave take Bear outside the yard. Then I brought Scarlett out, and we met down at the stream. Well, we stupid humans who can't read dogs very well, there was nothing to worry about. From the start, the two dogs started smelling things and sharing "the news", and from there on it was pure amusement watching them show off for each other, watching her tease and taunt and try very hard to get him to chase her (which he did much of the time), until they would both get exhausted and have to lie down together in the stream laughing.
She passed that test! And the two of them had more fun than we think that either of them have had in a very long time.
2011 October 11
At home in the Southern Sierra-Nevada
Then Sheba -- her new name after she went to live with Bear and their daddy Dave in the southern Sierras?
Cosette, June 04, 2011, San Pedro Harbor Animal Shelter (left). Sheba, early October 2011 (right).
And Remember Abbey and Dinozo -- the two chihuahuas who flew with Gunner and Cain from New Orleans back to Bakersfield?
Well, miracles never cease. Abbey and Dinozo had lost their home and were headed back to the rescue in Bakersfield whence they had come two years ago. We couldn't bear that -- and nor could Bear or Sheba or his daddy Dave. Now, no promises here, but for the time being, Abbey and Dinozo aren't in any shelter. They're at home with Bear and Sheba, and having the time of their lives.
Now Bear and Sheba have become quite a bonded couple. But who would have guessed that Sheba -- Cosette -- had such maternal instincts? We didn't even think to wonder. But check out these photos of the happiest family ever! Bear adores his Sheba, and Sheba is glowing more than ever now, from the love of Bear and her enjoyment of the new kids!
Wonders never cease. And Love never fails. Enjoy these photos, and read the rest of the saga of Sheba below, from her start with us in early June as one of the most pathetic cases we have ever rescued. Against all odds, all medical and professional predictions and diagnoses, and all advice we received, and with the help of some huge hearts along the way including Christy her first foster and especially her ultimate adopter Dave, Cosette became Sheba and the healthy, strong, happy canine she was meant to be. With a great home, a great love, and even some foster kids of her own! Thanks everyone. Our eyes fill with tears of joy every time we look back at all the photos and then look at these.
What an inspiring saga! Many thanks to all who made this true rescue happen!
Read Cosette's last update from August and her original story here.
You are looking at Scarlett when we found her August 10 and arranged for her to board at a no-kill shelter until we could find a foster, adopter, or return home to California for her (left), and Scarlett on October 12, four days after we retrieved her from the shelter and brought her to live in our home (right). The no-kill shelter had deemed her unadoptable after her third day there, so she was largely unsocialized and not walked during her stay there, facts we had not understood until our return to California October 5. We immediately removed her and brought her to our home. How great and fast a change comes from a grateful canine's heart when they are given love and a chance for a real life!
SECOND UPDATE, 2011 Oct 16 Sunday:
Scarlett will have a home! She has earned a forever place in our hearts, and just as she was doing that, we were led to some wonderful people in Texas who can give Scarlett love, understanding, care and guidance, fun, and -- ready for this -- a larger mellow male bull terrier with whom they are sure she will bond! Her education (and ours from her) and life with us will continue for a few more weeks, and then she'll fly with us to Texas, and we'll walk into her new home.
Here with us, she has become a lovely canine family member. She carries our grocery bags when she's not carrying her stuffed animal "puppies" tenderly everywhere or snuggling up to our mellow seniors (a male shepherd "Ford" and a small female terrier mix "Tilly") -- yes, she worships them! Examination shows that her oddly splayed left front foot was crushed by something early on in her life. It slows her a bit, but not much; enough, though, that she won't be a long-distance hiker or runner. From what we see, she'll be very happy to walk with family, run around a yard after a ball, and spend most of the rest of her time snuggling and snoozing and daydreaming. She lets us do anything with her, even set her down in the bathtub and give her a scrub, inspect her ears and teeth, and just about anything. She is so happy these days. What a love she is!
Our Chip-In has $150 now; we need to give $750 as her 'dowry'. If you'd like to contribute, go to her chip-in site or pay with PayPal on this website; we'll know it is for Scarlett unless you specify otherwise. On Wings Of Care is donating all of her care and transport and then some. We consider that small payment for all the love and learning she has already given to us! We will miss her, and as the time draws closer, well, you know, ouch, don't want to think about that right now. Thank you all for your encouragement and help. Love Never Fails! We'll post more photos in the coming days and weeks. Would have had some great ones yesterday on a short hike in the local foothills, but the camera jammed. But there will be more!
UPDATE 2011 Oct 11: Out of "prison" finally, Scarlett has shown herself to be a gentle, social, and extremely intelligent and responsive animal companion! She has endeared herself to her temporary canine and human pack and made many new friends. And we have learned so much about what she and her kind have to give to humans, and why humans are able to make these impressionable, intelligent dogs behave so badly.
Enjoy these photos and videos from Scarlett's first taste of freedom and a real walk in the local foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains! And her wonderful behavior with her new canine friends and temporary foster family. We have found her to be gentle, social, and extremely affectionate. She greets all humans enthusiastically. We have put her in a variety of canine-social situations, and we find that if she is met aggressively or comes across a dog barking at her from behind a fence or door, she does not cower but goes toward the scene. She does not bark, but she is not afraid or disinterested. Yet she came away on our command, and she never started the aggression. At no time did her behavior frighten us or look as if it were out of her conscious control. We've known shepherds and other breeds of dogs who were less well in control of themselves. And with dogs who are not aggressive toward her, well, take a look at these videos for yourself! She just met these two canines Ford and Tilly two days ago, and the first time they were together face to face was on this walk this morning! No problem at all. In fact, on our return, when Tilly growled disapproval at Scarlett's accidentally stepping on her, Scarlett cowered and begged forgiveness -- and later brought two stuffed animals to Tilly to try to win her over!
Oh, the stuffed animals -- that is the sweetest thing yet She loves to have her "puppies" near her and carries them tenderly. What can we say? Mother love needs an outlet. And it sure makes for a sweet dog. If our own lives and schedules could be different, we'd love to keep her. We hope to find some special human(s) who will appreciate how special Scarlett is, and they will find an unforgettable love, devotion, and spirit from their canine companion for years to come.
By the way, we received a rejection letter from Best Friends Animal Society. They said they are too full to take her. We wrote back and asked them to reconsider, based on how social and adoptable she is showing herself to be. But no, they said they could not.
Here are photos and video from today. These beautiful photos were taken by Kari Kochar, a local professional photographer who heard about Scarlett and wanted to meet her and take her photos. In a very rushed 15 minutes in a busy area of the local foothills, Scarlett behaved beautifully and Kari caught her joy!
Here's the original story:
We got the desperate plea on August 10 when we were almost 2000 miles away and knew we wouldn't be back to California for at least a month. We receive many desperate pleas every day for animals about to be euthanized, and we can only respond to a small fraction of them. Why this one, and when we were nowhere near to act in person? I have no idea. There seems to be something bigger than our own minds at work sometimes, and whatever it is has a way of taking over our lives once we admit to ourselves what it is we really want to do with our lives and our energies.
See videos, more photos, and read more here!
2011 September 25, Sunday
Gulf of Mexico
We anticipated one of the most exciting days of whale-shark spotting and tagging yet. Media was on board the boat to document the interesting interactions among tuna and whale sharks in bait balls we've been witnessing recently, and the scientists had their last five tags of the season to place on the gentle giants. Blue water began about 60 miles southeast of Grand Isle in a dramatic change from muddy green. We had fine zoom lenses with us today, too. We anticipated seeing deep into the mouths of some vertical-feeding whale sharks and counting the spots on their sides! The blue water was crystal clear, almost a mirror finish -- so smooth, we guessed we would be able to see tuna jumping 20 miles away!
Trouble was, there weren't many tuna jumping. And where they were, there were no whale sharks. And where there were a few whale sharks (finally), they were bashful and wouldn't let the boat anywhere near them. So from the point of tagging whale sharks and documenting their behaviors, today was a bust. The folks in the boat did get to see some large tuna and even some marlin, but that was about it. However -- there is never a dull day in a plane that can fly low and slow for a long time in the Gulf! We saw families of sperm whales again -- four moms and three calves, and three large males. We saw sharks, small by whale-shark standards, but one that we saw was as large as any bottlenose dolphin. And speaking of dolphin -- we saw two huge pods, one with over 120 individuals and another with well over 50. And a leatherback turtle...
And oil. Oh for the love of whale sharks, we are so sick of seeing oil! But there's a ton of it out there -- okay, technically probably thousands of tons. Long lines of oil sheen began showing up about 35 miles south-southeast of Grand Isle. The first one lasted for about a mile but then it picked up again another mile southward and lasted until we reached the distinct line where blue water began -- about 10 miles farther! More details in our Flight Log below.
One other perplexing sight occurred on our way back, barely 20 nm off shore from Grand Isle (see photo above right). From a distance it looked like the bubble-feeding rings made by humpback whales, but overhead it appeared to be a continuous bubbling to the surface of fluid or gas bubbles. It began not more than 15 m or so from a platform, and there was a thin dark-colored trail in the water from it that persisted for at least 50 m. A second similar bubble caught our eyes not far away, near a network of five connected platforms. These were distressing sights, as it occurred to us to wonder whether something could explode, hopefully not while we were flying low over it to look at it!
As always, more photos and videos are provided below, and more descriptions and coordinates are in the Flight Log below. Still more details are available in the gps track file that you can download on the "Flight Tracks" menu of this website.
Read more in the full article here!
2011 September 13
Morgan City, Louisiana
Shortly after we began finding and reporting the presence of large oil slicks in the Gulf in the vicinity of last year's Deepwater Horizon explosion, On Wings Of Care received an invitation from Captain Jonathan Burton of the US Coast Guard in Morgan City, LA to meet with them and discuss a possible collaboration for monitoring oil and other spills of hazardous substances or illegal activities in the offshore areas of the Gulf of Mexico. We had a very productive and interesting meeting together at the US Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City on September 13.
Here are some key points from our meeting. Following these are a full transcription of our notes plus a photo gallery of presentation slides from the Coast Guard.
1. The USCG has jurisdiction over oil spill response in the offshore waters. The EPA has jurisdiction over inland oil spills. Hence the continued use of the dispersant Corexit despite the EPA's statements from 2010 May discouraging its use. Decisions about how to handle nonrecoverable surface oil in the Gulf are made through the local Regional Response Team (#6) together with the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC,which for the Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana is Captain Burton of Morgan City). Members of the RRT are not voted in by the public. The National Contingency Plan for oil spills currently provides pre-authorization for the USCG to use Corexit on nonrecoverable surface oil in the Gulf of Mexico. If the public would like to influence that plan, e.g., to remove that pre-authorization and change it to some other preferable course of action, they must find a way to influence the RRT and the FOSC. Chances are that that will require legislative pressure from Washington -- which in turn requires pressure from public citizens on their congressional representatives. Protests alone, on the streets or in newspaper columns, won't change much very quickly, it would seem.
2. A good way to draw state and federal attention to an unacceptably high amount of uncontained oil in the Gulf is to report slicks to the National Response Center (800-424-8802). By making these reports -- and making them well (see guidelines below), not only will the local USCG respond, but all other agencies will be made aware. Companies responsible for the spill have the option to clean their "spills" up themselves or to pay the USCG to clean them up; the latter typically costs as much as three times more than cleaning it up themselves. By the Oil Spill Act of 1990, all companies must have on record a detailed containment and cleanup plan for any oil spills, as well as an acceptable plan to prevent spills. This explains in part how Nalco's association with BP changed Nalco's primary business from one of wastewater treatment to the use of Corexit as a dispersant to sink surface oil. Apparently, despite the existence of other much less toxic dispersants and oil removal mechanisms, only Corexit was pre-approved for use due to these pre-existing plans for containment and cleanup. Just who has authority to approve or disapprove these preventative and cleanup plans from the oil companies for offshore oil platforms? Not the EPA, it would seem.
3. For guidelines on how to give effective incident reports to the NRC regarding offshore oil slicks, please see the last few paragraphs of the notes below. A brief bottom-line summary of what to include in your reports is as follows:
a. Date/time, your name/affiliation/contact information, your vessel or aircraft type.
b. Location of source (if known).
c. Percent coverage: -- 1%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%. Try at least to say sparse, moderate, dense, or solid.
d. Flight path or trackline from GPS, and altitude from which observation was made.
e. On-scene weather (wind, sea state, visibility) and stage of tide if known (flood, ebb, slack).
f. Oil description:
-- Slick location, dimensions, orientation (N-S-E-W). If possible fly the entire slick and record the gps coordinates of the perimeter.
-- Oil color and appearance (S=Silver/gray; R=Rainbow: M=Metallic; T=Transitional; D=Dark, or mousse);
-- Oil distribution (Tarballs, Convergence Lines, Wind rows, Streamers, Patches, No Structure);
-- Percent Coverage
-- Recoverable? (yes if black and transitional, mousse, heavy metallic -- whether from diesel or oil)
Read the full article here!
2011 September 21, Wednesday
Gulf of Mexico -- Taylor Energy site and the Macondo "Prospect"
Rain and high seas have kept most boats and people near shore for the past week. A brief break and a lightning-free path from the tip of Louisiana southeastward about 85 miles sent a determined group of concerned citizens out to try to collect some of the fresh oil we've been documenting, with On Wings Of Care guiding their path. The oil was exactly where it has been for the past several weeks, so the initial rendezvous point we gave them put them almost in the middle of it. Once we arrived, a slight shift in position by less than a mile brought them to some serious ugly.
Here are the facts from today's observations. It was dark and stormy, though seas were fairly calm. The lighting was as poor as it could be for video or photography. But the oil is unmistakable.
First, the Taylor Energy site, just 12 miles off shore from the tip of Louisiana's "Birds' Foot Delta", continues to leak chronically. This is no small slick. Today we noted an unmistakable sheen that extended two to three miles from west to east in a band at least 300 yards wide, and another band of sheen attached to that one at the west end that ran north-south at least 1.5 miles. (For more details, see our transcribed Flight Log below.) There were two working vessels there, at least one of which appeared to have divers or submersibles down. Video and photos are below.
Second, in the Macondo prospect, about 65 miles east-southeast from shore, we saw long lines of sheen from northwest to southeast, and more heading eastward as far as we could see. We followed them for several miles after we guided the collecting vessel to large patches of milky-rainbow sheen within the larger slicks. Video and photos below.
Photos and video and more information are here!
Maryland to California
2011 July through September
NEW VIDEO! A week after the reunion, watch Gunner and Cain and their new canine friend Ginger playing on a California beach with their human family! Happy Happy!! Makes all the work of rescue worthwhile for happy endings like this one!
(SEE UPDATES 20110929 and 20110923 BELOW - One of the happiest reunions ever! And along the way, another young pair of chihuahuas added at nearly the very last minute -- Abby and Dinozo -- got their ride back to California, too.)
Read the full story of their journey and see videos of the reunion here!
Read the story of their journey and see videos of the reunion here!
2011 September 15, Thursday
Gulf of Mexico, "Green Canyon"
Another outstanding day for finding whales, whale sharks, and sea turtles in the deep blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico! About 150 miles south of New Orleans, just 15 miles north of our planned rendezvous point with the whale-shark scientists and free divers, we came upon an extraordinary sight. A very large sperm whale putting on an impressive tail-slapping show. But beyond him there was another quiet one, and another, and another... in an area smaller than one-half square mile, we had two large individual sperm whales and three mother-calf pairs! The calves were about one-half as long as their moms and were nursing, though once a calf came alongside mom and appeared to be slapping her with his pectoral fin. (Must be a son, boys will be boys, right?). The sight of these giants hanging out together and feeding their young is thrilling and reassuring. Love and Life are alive here still.
Our colleagues aboard the "Fisheries Research" vessel greeted us enthusiastically with the news that bait balls were alive and the tuna were jumping already. We found our first whale shark for them immediately, and for the next dizzying 5.5 hours hardly a minute went by when we weren't following a whale shark and guiding the boats and divers there. All total, between last Sunday and today, scientists placed information-gathering tags on ten different whale sharks, plus gps SPOT tags on three of them, and finally photographs plus core samples to identify them using DNA. The information tags will pop off and be retrieved at a pre-determined time several weeks from now, providing recorded information on behavior, location, and body indicators. The SPOT tags are used to track the whale shark's surface positions for a period of several months at least. Of the ten tagged whale sharks, only two were females! One, whom we nicknamed "Fatty," came right up to the boat and the divers twice in a row and each time turned or dove just as they reached for her. Must have been one of those voluptuous "hard to get" gals, because the more she teased, the more determined they were to get her. Our all-woman airplane crew were proud of her!
And last but not least, we saw a very handsome leatherback turtle swimming along strongly! He passed alongside the shadow of our plane as we pulled power to be slow and quiet and not frighten him. No closeups of seaturtles until we can afford some great zoom lenses, because we will not go closer to those sensitive critters than about 500' so as not to spook them and make them dive.
2011 September 11, Sunday afternoon
Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi's "Green Canyon"
Whale Sharks are back in the Gulf! And this was a stellar day for whale-shark scientists. This afternoon, about a hundred miles off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana, the bait balls were alive, the tuna were jumping, the birds were eating, and every single one of those glittering circles of life had a beautiful whale shark feeding. In an area not much farther from the Innovator rig than about 5 nm north and south, we quickly spotted at least 15 whale sharks. Divers from the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory managed to place gps tags on five different animals, and also took core samples from four individual animals. It was a beautiful, no -- thrilling -- site to see these gentle giants again.
2011 September 11, Sunday
Gulf of Mexico, Macondo Prospect
It was a lovely calm, clear morning for our guest journalist and photographer. They have waited through days of bad flying weather and aircraft maintenance delays in order to fly with us over the Gulf to see the oil we've been finding. With bulky professional camera equipment that dwarfed its petite handler and GPS and recording notebooks ready to go, we flew directly to the Macondo prospect, eager to see what still water and air would reveal. No stopping this time to check out the almost commonplace oil slicks around platforms within 30 nm of shore, we made a beeline for the "Macondo Prospect" (Mississippi Canyon Block 252), to see how all the oil slicks and lines of "globules' that we began documenting in late August might have changed since the intervening tropical storms.
We had barely arrived in the area before the oil sightings began, and soon after, we discovered that we weren't the only ones out here chasing oil! Three BP-contracted ships were on this scene as well -- the Sarah Bordelon, the Rachel Bordelon, and a giant of a ship called the Skandi Neptune -- which some of you will remember from its key role here for ROV purposes after the Macondo well explosion last year. Oil companies tell us that they are investigating "natural seeps well known for decades to exist in the Gulf of Mexico." If the sources of all this oil are natural seeps, those seeps appear to be weeping.
An Open Letter to our National and Local Leaders and Legislators
2011 September 06
Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen,
Read the letter here!
2011 September 07, Wednesday
Gulf of Mexico
More than a week of stormy weather since we documented a very large oil slick about 65 miles off the shores of Louisiana, not far from the site of the BP Macondo well explosion in April 2010. Seas were still rough today, and clouds made for poor lighting for sighting surface sheen. And we didn't find another massive slick! But we did find consistent streamers in that area. And the usual parade of small surface slicks around so many of the platforms nearer shore, this time in the Breton Sound area.
Read more here!
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!
Read more here.
2011 August 20
THIS update on Sheba-Cosette is one our happiest ever! (Click here.) She is doing phenomenally well! Even with all our love and optimism, we would not have dared to predict this kind of improvement with her. She is hiking now with her brother Bear and human daddy Dave, regularly, happily, superbly, all over the southern Sierras. Her arthritis has diminished and is kept in check with just baby aspirin. She has been "wolfing" down her organic grass-fed raw diet with absolutely no junk food or empty calories, and she sleeps like an angel with that huge doting Bear ever near her. Wait til you see these photos! Almost enough to put US on that diet -- but not quite, not yet, please... (:-)) Here's a gallery of photos from August 2011. We may have a few more, as WE get to babysit Sheba and Bear in September while Dave is on travel out of the country! A hard act to follow, but we expect we'll learn a lot.
Remember when she looked like this? Well, look at her now!