Friday, November 19, 2010

Welcome back humpback!! And capture evaded; try again in another 70 years...

Another excellent day of atoll hopping was capped with the cruise's first sighting of a humpback whale (6 ship months worth of work) and a new species of seabird for me, the masked booby. The humpbacks are just starting their breeding season, so we should see some more this week. They migrate from feeding areas (mostly off Alaska) here to Hawaii to breed and have their babies. We couldn't get close to this guy today because the seas remain high, and he was hugged right up against a coral atoll. Needless to say it would have been a dangerous maneuver. He announced his presence in typical humpback fashion with a majestic fully-out-of-the water breach, and a massive KIRPLUNK!! Show-off! It would have been nice to get a photo and some skin for genetics. An attempt to survey the entire north Pacific population of humpbacks was conducted a couple years ago, and interestingly they found genetic signatures in the feeding locations that they didn't find in the breeding locations. What does this mean? Either, they just missed it by chance (a long shot given the efforts), or there's a breeding location that we haven't found yet. Where is the most likely spot for a lost breeding location? Probably right where we are!! Humpbacks tend to congregate around islands or in coastal areas to calve, and these islands are some of the most remote islands on the planets (read: they don't get surveyed very frequently!). Hopefully we'll see more soon (through the sights of my crossbow!).

Masked Booby

This evening's sunset activity was trying to recover a glass fishing float. Yes, you read correctly, a float made from hand-blown glass that were used (largely by the Japanese fishing fleets) in the first half of the 20th century. Where do these come from? As you can imagine, nets get lost in the big blue and when they do, they sadly continue fishing (known a ghost fishing) and kill many living creatures in secrecy. When the nets deteriorate and sink, they leave just the floats adrift at the surface. Interestingly, the use of glass was discontinued in about the 40s, replaced by cheaper plastic and wood. It’s amazing to think that these guys have been out here a minimum of 70 years!!! The coolest thing is that they largely don't leave the north Pacific because of the surface currents here are just one big gyre; they just go round and round! On the last leg of the cruise the biologists found 6 floats; we've seen 3!! They're out here, just waiting to be picked up! Including the beautiful beach ball-sized green one we attempted to pick up tonight. After three runs at it we gave up - he'll continue to float around the north pacific another day... or maybe for another 70 years! There it is!!

... and there it goes!

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