First watch this morning began like most first watches: bleary-eyed and unkempt scientist climbing to the tippy-top of the flying bridge toting binoculars, cameras, notebooks, sunscreen, water and NPR-laden iPods. Anecdotally, if you happen to fall slightly tardy in this processional (my usual position), you could navigate to the flying bridge Hansel and Gretel-style, following the trail of breakfast morsels and coffee droplets. Our typical best-case scenario for the "rooster watch" is a brilliant unimpeded sunrise. The members of today's sunrise shift, however, looked on in wonder as if they'd just stumbled upon the majestic geysers of the Yellowstone valley. Fifty sperm whales surrounded us! The characteristically canted blows rose dense and bushy in the early morning air, probably a result of deep recovery breathing. Sperm whales feed through the night when the schools of squid ascend from the depths to feed on shoaling fish. Each of the night's feeding dives can last well over an hour! Upon further inspection, most of the groups included cows with young calves resting placidly at the surface, the antithesis of the Moby Dick stereotype. Our attempts to get close to them were fraught with frustration (hence no good photos to share). None-the-less an exciting way to start the day! It's also good to know large groups of the prune-headed 'Cachalot' are still out here enjoying their breakfast morsels and taking in the brilliant unimpeded sunrises!
Having headed far south trying to outrun to a high-pressure zone currently sloshing the proverbial bathtub near Hawaii, we're now far outside of our planned study area. Interesting the last few days have shown a marked upswing in the number of sightings; we had six today (including a new species for me, the rough-toothed dolphin!). Our leading hypothesis (as objective government scientists) is that the animals have all coordinated to form a big line just on the outside of our study area. Batten down the hatches and ready the Dramamine my friends - we can't run any more - 14-foot swells predicted for tomorrow!