Saturday, June 1, 2013

What a Week!

For me, it feels like our journey on the Seamans accelerated over the past week. In my last update, I wrote about our very first day of manta observations. Since, I have had some amazing experiences that I will never forget.

Dr. Block and I looking for mantas

First an update on my manta ecology project. Continuing on our initial success, Team Manta conducted three more focused manta observation settings with fantastic results. In total, we had over 50 interactions with manta rays. We saw smaller rays that quickly darted away from us, and we saw a few much larger rays silently gliding along. We saw a huge variety of patterning on both dorsal and ventral sides of the rays, and we observed rays heading into and out of the channel we were observing. In total, we deployed 7 acoustic tags and 5 satellite pop-up tags. The pop-up tags will record the ray’s position and depth and send the data to us after a set number of days. One of our tags already popped off (sometimes that just happens), so we have some very preliminary data. Meanwhile, on the acoustic side, on our final day in Palmyra, we deployed a floating acoustic receiver that listens for mantas with tags to swim by. Then, when it hears a manta, it uses satellites to send an e-mail back to Hopkins that they forward to us on the boat. We have had some very exciting results over the past week. We are hoping to correlate time of day and tidal phase with manta movements in the channel, but to see those results, you’ll just have to check the cover of Nature in a few months.
Robbie and me returning from a successful tag of a manta
Our next destination after Palmyra was Fanning Island, a small atoll in the island nation of Kiribati. I spent a morning on-shore and can honestly say that I have never felt more out-of-place in my life. I was taller and of course, paler, than anyone on the island. Fanning Islanders live mostly through subsistence food gathering, fishing, and foreign-aid supported imported products like rice. Some of my classmates were also struck by how different Fanning was from our lives and that’s been echoed elsewhere on this blog.

That very same afternoon, I had one of the coolest experiences I’ve had all trip (probably a close second behind swimming with mantas). Aloft training. We strapped on full body harnesses and hopped onto the shrouds (those black net ladders you see running up the side of the Seamans). Safety is a major concern and we were exceedingly careful but I had the great joy of climbing to the very top of our forward mast and looking out over all of Fanning Island. It was an incredible experience to get above the boat that I have become somewhat familiar with and also a stark reminder of just how small we humans are compared to our natural surroundings.

And my final crazy adventure this week took place just yesterday on our second day on Christmas Island. I had spent the first day exploring the island and securing an ice cream cone. (There is a distinct lace of ice cream onboard for my tastes. Side note: I was amazed that I was able to buy a Drumstick here on Christmas, more than 1000 nautical miles from Hawaii or Australia for $2.20 AUD, about $2.50 USD.) Then yesterday morning, we hopped onto a Dive Kiribati boat that looked kind of like a large outrigger canoe with a patio lashed on top and an outboard motor slapped on the back. We brought fishing poles and lures and set out in search of tuna. We trolled the oceans off Christmas Island all morning and were lucky enough to catch 5 skipjack tunas and a kawa kawa. There were 6 students onboard and we each had a chance to reel in a fish. On my first attempt, the tuna managed to escape the hook at the last minute so I was feeling bummed that I might miss my chance. But then, on our last troll before we needed to head back to the boat, both of our lines got a bite at the same time and I got to race Christina to see who could reel in their fish faster. I was a close second, but still so excited to have caught a tuna.

Christina and me with our skipjack tunas
Tonight, we depart Christmas Island, and point ourselves north towards Honolulu for a final ocean leg back home. I’m looking forward to getting back into the rhythm of the ship, but I will never forget the amazing week I had in the line islands. Check out pictures below from our adventures this week.


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