December 1, 2003
Letise Houser, Shipboard Education Coordinator
What a beautiful day! The waters were calm and a brilliant blue, the sun was blazing brightly, and the air was fresh — such a contrast to yesterday. We were a couple hours late to station, but Alvin was ready to start deployment by 9-ish. Fortunately, the weather cooperated so that we could start the expedition on a good note. Dr. Craig Cary and Dr. Don Nuzzio were the observers for this dive. “Observer” is the term used for those individuals that will go down in Alvin with the pilot. They literally observe the site through the portholes on each side of Alvin and have their own set of controls to manipulate the cameras and other devices. They also have the responsibility of helping the pilots as needed and recording data. Before going down for each dive, the two observers are aware of the dive plan, which includes the objectives that must be accomplished during the dive.
One of the objectives of this dive is non-scientific, but worth noting. As I mentioned in the pictures I posted yesterday, Don will be releasing the ashes of his father. It was an emotional morning for Don as he put them, along with the engraved titanium plaque, in Alvin’s basket. Don will write a short dedication about his father and will describe the memorial to share the moment with us.
Once the Alvin was in the water and on its way to the seafloor, the scientists scattered. They all had to get prepared to handle the various samples taken by Alvin. Many of them will find themselves working late into the night, before Alvin is set to go down again tomorrow. I, though, have spent today preparing the footage and answering the first round of questions from students. We all got a mini-break, however, at about 3 p.m. (1500) when we heard an unexpected announcement from the bridge: “Pilot whales on the starboard side!” Everyone dropped what we were doing and rushed out to the deck. There was a whole pod of them — I would say 10 or more!
Here are a few interesting facts about these mammals:
Their scientific name is Globicephala macrorhynchus. This is the short-finned variety, which is what we probably saw, since they are the ones that are distributed in the tropical and subtropical regions.
They are large dolphins, among the largest members of the family Delphinidae.
They are among the most gregarious of the Cetaceans.
The name “pilot” originated with the early theory that a school is piloted by a leader.
Other common names: pothead (due to their bulbous melon); blackfish (also used for some whale species).
Life span: 46 years for males, 63 years for females.
By about 5 p.m. (1700) CST, Alvin returned to the surface. It didn’t seem like it was gone for about seven hours. The time flew by (probably because I stayed busy much of the time)! Again, everyone gathered on the deck to see the recovery efforts to bring Alvin and its passengers safely back aboard. Afterwards, Craig and Don staggered out after being cramped inside for so many hours. Right away they began to tell of all the great things they saw on the site. I was most intrigued that they saw a deep-sea octopus (perhaps similar to the one on the fifth page of the resource guide). I can’t wait to go down and see all of this for myself!
Once Alvin was cleared and returned to the hangar, the scientists swarmed the basket like vultures over fresh meat. They were all very anxious to see what they got. The geochemists pulled electrodes; biologists retrieved worms, crabs, mollusks, and more; some gathered water samples; the list goes on. It was quite a sight to see both the excitement and seriousness with which they handled what Alvin brought back with it. I made my way through the crowd to get some close-up shots. I’ll send photos soon.
Well, that’s it for today. Check back tomorrow for more neat stuff, more answers to your questions, and much more!
|Copyright University of Delaware, November 2003|