At Sea Aboard the R/V Song of the Whale
Early Friday morning, our cabin mate Nienke went to join the land observation team at the shore station to learn a little about the shore-based research. In an informal exchange, Line, a Danish PhD student, joined us for the day. Before we left port, Beth, Mayumi, and Niklas went to the famous El Hierro vegetable market. There, we bought almost $500 worth of fresh vegetables and fruit for the boat. Although the market was tiny, we got a nice variety for the rest of the week.
Soon after leaving Puerto de la Restinga, Line spotted a couple of beaked whales.
Luckily, we were able to take a few good photos. Later on that afternoon, Olly and Mayumi thought that they saw some fishing gear in the water but it turned out to be a small hard-shell turtle entangled in a plastic bag. We turned the boat around and brought the turtle on board. With his handy Swiss Army knife, Doug carefully freed the turtle from the debris while the rest of the crew assisted by providing shade and sea water to keep the turtle from overheating. Sadly, the plastic had grown into the turtle’s neck and flippers. The little guy had likely been entangled for quite some time. Since there wasn’t much more we could do for him, we lowered him back into the ocean. We watched as he swam away and we all wished him well. This was a sad reminder of what can happen when we use and carelessly discard plastic.
Once we got back on track, the hydrophones picked up some beaked whale clicks. About half an hour later, Olly spotted a beaked whale breaching within a hundred meters of the boat. Four beaked whales swam close to the boat for about 15 minutes and one of them even swam up to us for a close-up! We were able to get some great photos and video. After all the excitement and a successful day at sea, we returned to port. After Nienke came back and told us all about the shore station, Jonathan Gordon, a colleague of Doug's and former captain of Song of the Whale, joined the boat. That night, Beth made us a delicious pasta dinner.
Now that we have been here for over a week, we are learning the ropes of working and living with 10 people on a 70 foot sailboat. Every day, besides our watch assignments, we rotate several housekeeping chores. Someone is assigned to clean the bathrooms (heads), another to vacuum, someone cooks dinner, and someone else washes the dishes. Everyone pitches in making tea and coffee for those on watch and we always have volunteers to make lunch. At the beginning of the day, we all help to prepare the boat for departure and every evening we help to secure it to the dock. (This involves tying complicated knots.) It is clear that to make the boat run successfully, everyone needs to help.
Saturday and Sunday we spent the days out doing the passive acoustic experiments and didn't see any new species. Sunday night, we went out to dinner with the shore station team. It was interesting to talk to them and learn about their work and how important it is for our research. Beth will be joining their team on an exchange on Monday so we will hear much more!