Location: Atlantic Day 11: 20*16.20'N 40*36.76'W
As the oceanography instructor onboard Argo, today I am going to tell you about all things science. This trip has been amazing for seeing my favorite types of animals – cetaceans. In case you don’t know what cetaceans are, cetacean is the scientific order that includes all dolphins and whales. Whales are broken down into odontocetes, or toothed whales, and mystecetes, which use modified teeth called baleen to filter feed. Mystecetes include what you think of as traditional whales – really big – and on this trip, we have seen a couple of minke whales (pictured here) and possibly a far off fin whale. We have seen tons of odontocetes, which include dolphins as well as smaller whales. So far, on this trip we have seen pilot whales (mom and calf pictured here), killer whales, false killer whales and striped, spotted and common dolphins. The killer whales (orcas) were a big highlight, passing us on our way out of the Straights of Gibraltar. I think my favorite sighting was that of three false killer whales, which played under our bowsprit for about 20 minutes, swimming in and out around the boat and producing whistles that we could hear up on deck. Everyone onboard is becoming pretty good at identifying the different species of cetaceans, as they carefully log them in their species ID notebooks for marine biology class.
Another thing we have been doing on this crossing is collecting samples for a citizen science project run by a program called Indigo V Expeditions. Indigo V is the name of both a sailboat and the research project, which is trying to get a better understanding of the ocean’s microbes – everything from bacteria to phytoplankton. These organisms are significant to living conditions on earth by cycling nutrients, providing the oxygen we breathe, and absorbing carbon dioxide emissions. Going out to conduct oceanographic research on a big research vessel is expensive, but there are hundreds of sailboats out at sea on any given day. Indigo V is working towards being able to utilize the people on these boats to collect samples that they can analyze and build a database of the ocean’s microbes. We happened to be in the same marina as the Indigo V researchers two years ago in Singapore and they came and spoke with us about their work. We have stayed in touch since and are excited to be helping them for the first time this semester. Each day we collect water samples and filter 1.2 L of water through each of three filters – one for microbes and two for nutrients. It is a simple but time-intensive and precise process. It is exciting to know that we are contributing to a world-wide study and we look forward to getting to see what the data and results tell us in the future (they have a website if you are interested in learning more about their expeditions and research).
In other boat-science news, we finished up student presentations from their literature review assignments today. They finished their papers weeks ago; however, they have been presenting their topics based on when we cover the material in class. Today we are up to conservation, so we heard everything from the effects of climate change on polar bears to the increase of coral disease in the Caribbean. Students are also finishing up their group research projects, which are due at the start of next week. Everything is starting to wrap up for the end of the semester – it is hard to believe that we only have 3 more weeks of program to go! Also, a fun position update – as of noon today we had gone 4,075 nm since the start of the trip, and 1,562 nm since leaving the Canary Islands. We were almost exactly 1,250 from both Africa and Dominica, putting us smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.