Today is our first whole day at sea, and the last day for the R/V Western Flyer in the Gulf of California—home away from home for the MBARI ship since early this year. Derek Greenwood, our steward, traveled to his favorite fish taco stands and grocery stores in La Paz one last time yesterday in order to stock up on our supplies.
We left the port of La Paz around dusk last night, May 22, and steamed all night toward our first station of Leg 7, Station 15, which is roughly half-way between the tip of Baja and the mainland. A rare treat occurred as we left the bay— we saw rays jumping completely out of the water. Baldo Marinovic, a UCSC researcher, told us that they were called mobilis fish— he dares anyone to prove that they are not just doing it for sheer fun!
While the biological oceanography group sent down the first CTD cast (an instrument package that measures salinity, temperature, and depth,
along with a variety of other measurements that reveal physical and biological characteristics of the water at our station) of the cruise, our blue water SCUBA diving group "got a move on" in order to be ready to dive between the time the CTD package was deployed and recovered (not a lot of time: ~ 40 minutes). We must suit up ahead of time and pile into the inflatable rib boat (humorously named the Spare RHIB). While waiting, we had the opportunity to watch spectacular flying fish fling themselves out of the Flyer's quick path. These fish are able to leave the water for short periods of time and glide across the water with fins that have evolved to look and act very much like rigid wings.
Steve Haddock, our fearless dive leader, directed us to perform gelatinous zooplankton transects and collections at three different depths. We are very glad to have Karen Osborn (MBARI/UC Berkeley graduate student) and Shane Anderson (UCSB Marine Science Institute Senior Dive Collector) along with us for these specialized SCUBA dives. Blue water diving (diving where you cannot see the bottom, thus it is blue in every direction you look) requires some special training in order to correctly and safely orient yourself in this dimensionless environment. We were all tethered to each other via a central weighted down line, so that we wouldn't unknowingly sink past our collecting depths. The visibility today was incredible, and our whole world underwater was a magnificent deep blue. The water was so warm we probably did not need our heavy wet suits— but we will tomorrow!
Crew members Erik Thunstrom (on the Spare RHIB), Dan Camp, and Pete Zerr (on board) help get the divers safely into the water. Does Steve know his hard hat is on backwards, or is this a fashion statement?
A pod of playful dolphins out chasing large fish in this region came over to ride the bow waves before our second dive at 3:00 p.m. We considered this a good luck sign.
Ginger Elrod says she is getting ready to start the compressor to pump water for Ken Johnson's Iron Fish tomorrow, while Mike Burczynski reports he is efficiently working through the last "bugs" of the CTD and underway systems.
Zanna Chase, a postdoctoral fellow at MBARI is hard at work prepping for iron experiments organized for this transit cruise. She and her colleagues are interested in observing latitudinal gradients (from Baja to Monterey) in iron concentrations and their effects on phytoplankton primary production in these regions. Zanna has a big smile in this picture—perhaps it is because we keep calling her "Mrs. Strutton" and asking to see her ring again (wink).
The Mexican observers for this cruise leg are Sonia Valle and Marcos Martinez. We have had great fun showing them around the ship and learning about their research interests. Sonia hails from Ensenada, Mexico, so we will be traveling past her home port in a couple of days.
– Christy Herren