Sunday, November 28, 2010

Observations in the South Atlantic: Day 20

Blog 9-- Sunday November 28, 2010

The next best thing to having a pair of good eyes is to be next to someone who does.  Rich Owen and I had been doing a field study we call "Timed Observations of Plastic Pollution."  It was Saturday, 10:00, I wrote down the coordinates and boat speed on my data sheet then started the timer for one hour.  When one of us saw something, the other would confirm the sighting and I'd write down the time, the color, and rough dimensions.  When the hour was up, we would get the coordinates to determine how far we went, tally the number of observed plastics and calculate how much plastic we observed over that time and distance.  But by 10:10 our focus had shifted.

"Whales!" Rich shouted, "Whale spouts!"  I scanned the horizon feverishly until my eyes focused on a water fountain roughly a half mile off portside.  It had to have been a big one for us to see the spout so clearly at such a distance.  Soon the one turned to a series of them and our marine biologist, Chelsea Rochman, confirmed through binoculars that there was a pod of them.  "My fiancé studies whales, he could tell you what kind they are just their spout."  Grayson, I had thought to myself.  It's a non-fiction book by Lynne Cox we have been passing around aboard ship.  (Being out at sea invokes reading.)  The story is of a teen-aged girl who is training to break the world record swimming from Catalina Island to Long Beach.  One morning, she finds herself being followed by a baby gray whale.  You can't put the book down as it tells her story of how she reunited Grayson with his mother and pod.  Hearing Chelsea say the word pod brought back the amazing story of this child and her experience of somehow communicating with creatures of the sea.  It lends pause to the notion that the last place we should find plastic is in the ocean.

Sometimes marine life confuses plastic as being food and sometimes we confuse marine life for being plastic.  For example, Friday, Rich and I were doing one of our Timed Observations when we kept noting what looked like Styrofoam bits or bottle caps every 3-5 minutes floating 20 yards off starboard.  They were white and floated high in the water.  I'd write it down with a question mark beside it.  If they are plastic, why are they all about the same size and traveling so close together??  I knew from previous experiences at sea that like things travel at roughly the same speed and eventually catch up with each other, but this was truly unusual for it to be that consistent.  Saturday we found our answer in on of our trawls.  Several of these "white bottle-cap"  looking things were in our trawl.  They are clearly a product of the ocean.  Marcus calls them Gooseneck barnacle balls because usually there are gooseneck barnacles attached to them.  (Holly can you figure out what the scientific name of them??)  If we cannot identify the difference between plastic and marine life, how can we expect marine life to be able to?  Here's a twist to the story.  Every hour we take the high speed manta trawl out to see if we've caught any fish.  Tonight at 3am we pulled the trawl out, opened the codent to find not a single fish!!!  But we did catch a bottle cap!

The thing about being on the open-ocean is that you have to be on deck to learn what is out here.  If you're down below, you might not make it up the deck stairs to see an amazing opportunity like a sea turtle or dolphins swimming by.  I had missed both of those.  So we've all learned to be on deck as much as possible and if not have our ears pricked in case someone shouts out a discovery so we can "Flash Gordon" from below.

No comments:

Post a Comment