Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Research Cruise UPDATE: Somewhere off Cape San Blas

Good morning. Got up to a really nice sunrise this morning. Watch standers also report Venus and the Moon rose together a couple hours before sunrise. Seas are running 1-2 ft,

A view during the 4-8 watch (Photo credit: Blake Borgeson)
Mapping is going great. We have been tracking a couple of paleoshorelines in 60 and 49 m water depths. The 60-70 m feature can have a steep ledge on the seaward side. 

Newly mapped hard bottom habitat. (Source: Stan Locker, USF)
So today we start a series of blog entries by the young scientists on board. Up first are Maggie Power (Florida State University) and Cathryn Wheaton (U.S. Geological Survey).

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Ahoy there from Maggie and Cathryn on board the R/V Weatherbird II.

As we begin to write to you, the time passes slowly. No longer do we hold the concept of days or time, but rather we hold the concept of standing watch. We no longer know what day it is and instead we focus on waking up for our 12-4 (night and day) watch. The days have begun to blend into one in which we eat, sleep, and stand watch. It is currently 2:06 am and the only thought that occupies our mind is the idea of falling asleep; not even Thomas’s food could awake us from our sleepy slumbers. 

The equipment has been running smoothly all day. We are currently running northwest to southeast transects parallel to the Panama City shoreline. It feels like we’ve mapped miles and miles, but when we zoom out and look at the big picture, what we have actually mapped seems so insignificant because the Gulf of Mexico is so large. And although it seems so insignificant at times, we have found rather interesting structures and possible habitats, which is indeed what we have been searching for. In addition to mapping, we have dropped the CTD once today to collect water samples for several students on board who are studying phytoplankton. However, since nothing too interesting has happened tonight and our watch is somewhat dull, we will tell you about last nights’ shift. 

Spotted dolphin chasing flying fish (Photo credit: Blake Borgeson)
Last night, towards the end of our shift (around 3:30am), we got a fright when George the engineer opened the door to the lab. This was unexpected but also a pleasant surprise. Not only were we blessed with his presence, but he also brought news of a pod of dolphins off the starboard side of the ship. We immediately abandoned our watch station (but did not venture too far) and ran outside to see them. Since we are one of the few sources of light in the Gulf at night, we attract a lot of fish, in particular flying fish (yes they have wings and can fly). And lucky for us, flying fish happen to be a late night favorite for dolphins. When we walked onto the deck we were surprised to see tens of dead flying fish on board. It did not take long to understand why; they were flying for their lives, trying to escape the deadly jaws of the dolphins. There were about eight spotted dolphins, both adults and babies, taking advantage of the easy feast. It was very fascinating to watch how they feed, and it did not take long to realize that they had a tactic behind their motions. We saw that the dolphins would chase the fish towards the boat, causing them to hit the side of the boat, stunning them. This made for an easy catch. We were fortunate enough to watch them for about an hour, at which time we departed for bed, and so did they. We are hoping that we see many more tonight, but for now we must say farewell, the time has passed and the end to our watch is near. 

Until next time, 
Maggie and Cathryn

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