Thursday, November 18, 2010

What a difference a day makes

After several miserable days socked-in, we now seem to have the worst of the weather behind us (knock on serious wood). Just in the nick of time, as we only have 10 days of the cruise left and we have a lot of ground (or should I say water) to make up. We actually got almost a full day in today. We stopped a little early just offshore of Midway Atoll to pick up some gear from USFWS and gawk at the local wildlife. This was the second of two atolls we cruised by today, and the represent the first views of land in about 20 days. The first sighting of breakers was Kure atoll at about 1130 this morning. This spit of sand, trees, reef and shipwrecks is the most northerly atoll in the world; and the most remote (e.g., oldest) atoll in the Hawaiian chain. Other than it's roll as a seabird motel, there isn't much more to say about Kure. Midway on the other hand has deep historical significance. It was the target of an extensive Japanese naval air attack only six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thankful for the US fleet, (and maybe the fate of the free world), codebreakers cracked the plan and the US navy had a day's jump on the Japanese fleet. Many have called this six-day battle the turning point for the war in the Pacific; others have called it the "most stunning and decisive battle in the history of naval warfare". In total 4 Japanese carriers (including the flagship for the attack on Pearl Harbor), 2 heavy cruisers and 2 destroyers were sunk. The US fleet lost the carrier Yorktown, which was badly hobbled already from the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the Destroyer Hammann (which was aiding the Yorktown); submarine torpedoes sank both ships. The US later established a submarine base at Midway extending the reach of its submarine fleet by 1200 miles past Pearl Harbor, and 3200 miles from the US west coast.

In more peaceful news... Midway is home of a staggering 3 million breeding seabirds, from 17 different species. After today's view of the bird traffic (on the cusp of Albatross breeding season), it’s a wonder how planes ever took off from the island. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA and the state of Hawaii now manage Midway as part of the "Really Big P-word" National Monument (Papahānaumokuākea).

Laysan Albatrosses (below) make up half of the breeding bird population (~1.5M birds, each with a 6.5ft wingspan; that sounds like a load of guano to me!).

And members of the local population of spinner dolphins greeted us (interestingly we could actually hear their whistles from the bow of the ship!!)

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