Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Long Day On the Water

Its Saturday afternoon, July 3rd—the day before most people are going to shoot fireworks, celebrate with family, friends and enjoy good food. Looking out onto the beach here in Grand Isle, LA you would think it is the middle of winter if the heat was not so intense—the beaches are empty. We are back from a long morning on the water…

photo courtsey of Flickr - Empty Pensacola beach with a washed up oil-coated feather

Waking up this morning was a breath of fresh air. 6:50am, very rested and the skies were sunny for miles it looked! With high hopes, we launched our boats and took off for Barataria Bay yet again to finish our track lines. As we approached our starting point, we noticed we were heading directly into a line of rain storms. I’m sure you all are as surprised as we were to hear that. But this time we decided to push through—no lightning and no thunder meant keep on truckin! We came across a few dolphins just before hitting the rain showers. The dolphins we encountered to this point have been less than cooperative in allowing us to capture a great photograph of their dorsal fin and these were no exception. We would see a dolphin 50m east of our boat and headed in that direction just to find he or she would pop up 50m west of our boat and so on and so forth. I felt a little as if we were being toyed with, but that comes with researching wild animals I suppose.

Barataria Bay, Grand Isle -Photo courtsey of Flickr, JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — Containment boom and sorbent boom block a patch of oil from reaching an island populated by brown and white pelicans and many other species of birds in Barataria Bay, Grand Isle.

I think this might also be a great time to mention that the research being conducted through NOAA is done by permit only. Going out to find dolphins and photograph them in any other capacity is in fact illegal and violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act enacted in 1972. This Act was put into place with the intention to protect marine mammals from any sort of harassment which include chasing, feeding, touching or any interaction with marine mammals in the wild. Always keep in mind if you’re out on the water and see a dolphin, appreciate it from a distance, never try and track it as I have been describing through our research efforts here. If you’d like more information regarding responsible viewing of marine mammals, check out www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/education/southeast/.

photo courtsey of Flickr - Warning Sign

Back to the afternoon—we seemed to have lost the group of dolphins we were tracking so we pushed forward heading straight for dark clouds. We whipped out our rain gear, wiped our glasses clean and kept an eye out for dorsal fins which became that much more difficult to spot in these conditions. We had one more successful sighting of a mom/calf pair in the afternoon. It never gets old seeing the little ones following closely alongside mom. After collecting some behavioral data from these two and a few others in the area, we left to wrap up the track lines for the day.

Almost immediately, the wind picked up—the showers had cleared, so we had sunny skies again, but the swells grew to about 2 ft or so. Again, these conditions were creating a challenging atmosphere while looking for fins. Unfortunately, this challenge seemed to get the best of our scouting as we finished our lines with no more sightings. We did find a plastic bag floating in the water which we made sure to grab as many marine animals, especially sea turtles, will mistake this trash for food and eat it, potentially causing death if entangled or ingested. I also managed to find my neck line and arms a new shade of rosy pink by the end of the day….ugh—I know I’ll feel that in the morning. We took the boats out of the water and left them to go through a decontamination process. The state lab generously offered to clean our boats this evening to cut down on accumulating buildup over the past few days.

Photo courtsey of Flickr - Outer bands of Tropical Storm Alex darken the sky

Home, we’re all a bit exhausted, but being July 3rd, we generated enough energy to go out and grab a bite to eat. We ate at a little diner called Sarah’s and met some of the locals who shared how the spill is affecting their lifestyle on the island. One was a restaurant owner herself, she runs a little place called ‘The Lighthouse’ and mentioned that this spill has really hurt their business. We have eaten at two other restaurants while in the area with seafood as the main item on their menu. Some of these restaurants have a long list of what they “are out of” while others, like Sarah’s restaurant are looking for alternatives up the road, such as freshwater sources of whatever they can find. The staff at Sarah’s was very accommodating and the food was great! After getting a nice meal, we drove past a handful of locals who set up chairs along the side of the road for a fireworks show apparently sponsored by BP. We watched a bit of the “show” and headed back into the house to call it a night.

The forecast tomorrow (Sunday, July 4) is calling for high winds, not promising for good sightings, but we will have to work with what Mother Nature sends our way. I’ll keep you all posted on our progress.

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