The whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico spent the weekend hiding from the Oceana Latitude.
The crew spent two days searching for these sharks off the coast of southeastern Louisiana. Our hope was to tag some of them so that we could monitor their movements and contribute to scientists' understanding of the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on their survival. Whale sharks were observed swimming in surface oil near the gushing wellhead earlier this year.
The Oceana Latitude gained five new crew members today for its upcoming effort to tag whale sharks off the coast of southeastern Louisiana.
Oceana’s vice president for Chile Alex Munoz and marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson joined Dr. Eric Hoffmayer and Jennifer McKinney from the University of Southern Mississippi. Here’s Dr. Hoffmayer on a recent segment of NBC Nightly News.
The Oceana Latitude navigated through a minefield of hundreds of oil platforms (out of the thousands that exist in the Gulf of Mexico) today. Although Oceana’s experts were aware of the size of the industry in the region, seeing the rigs in person put it into an entirely new perspective. It’s truly dumb luck that we haven't faced more problems up to now. Dr. Mike Hirshfield, Oceana's Chief Scientist said, "Seeing another Transocean deepwater drilling rig poised to resume drilling as soon as someone gives them permission sent a cold chill down my back."
A recent story by the Associated Press revealed that there are more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these wells are believed to still be leaking oil into the Gulf.
Oceana sent its ROV from Chile down (approximately 90 feet to the seafloor) today off the coast of Alabama to investigate an abandoned oil well that began drilling in 1981.
The Oceana Latitude faced rougher seas today as it reached The Florida Middle Grounds off the West Florida Shelf in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, roughly 100 miles from shore. This is another area that was apparently spared the impacts of oil drilling, at least this time.
After nearly 30 hours in commute, we finally arrived to Tampa.
The crew took off early this morning on the Oceana Lat-Long, the Latitude’s 28 foot tender, to dive at Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Egmont Key, a national wildlife refuge only accessible by boat, was home to Fort Dade during the Spanish-American war. Although this island was once capable of protecting our coasts from offshore invaders, it’s no defense against oil.
The Oceana Latitude sailed all night and day to reach its next destination, Tampa. We left at midnight and aren’t expected to arrive until 6 a.m. Sunday.
The long commute allowed the crew to review and prepare photos and video from the dive operation off the coast of Key West. Although the conditions were not ideal, our specialized divers were able to capture some beautiful underwater landscapes. And while in commute, we were entertained by yet another dolphin sighting. This time, we have it on video for you.
The Oceana crew set off for their first dive operation at the Western Dry Rocks off the coast of Key West today at 9 a.m.
The diving conditions at this first location were far from ideal. Recent storms stirred up the water with sand and mud, leaving the divers with limited visibility of only three to nine feet. Support diver Soledad Esnaola described it as “like diving in milk.” The site was approximately 50 feet deep and a majority of the coral was covered in sediment. Despite the poor conditions, underwater videographer Enrique Talledo spotted a six foot green moray eel.
The Oceana Latitude is now anchored off the coast of Key West for the first leg of its two-month expedition.
On our long voyage from Fort Lauderdale, we spotted a lot of sargassum floating on the surface of the water. It’s sad to imagine that this floating seaweed is at risk in the Gulf of Mexico because it provides essential habitat for marine animals in the open ocean.