08/26/03 - Lionfish & going home
Time is winding down on board, and we have mixed feelings about this mission coming to an end. We have been blessed with beautiful weather, allowing our work to progress unimpeded. Yesterday evening, we saw a water spout (like a tornado over the water) far off on the distant horizon. As the evening wore on, the skies cleared, and once again we had a beautiful night. Because we were diving this morning in the same location, we simply drifted all night while trying our hands once again at dip-netting by aid of night lights.
Squid were out in full force, and may have been the cause of little action. At one point, a squid darted from its school and caught a fish, immediately attracting other squid. Though they competed with us for fish, still we marveled at their stealth and speed. Whether alone or in a school, the squid could dive in a split second, avoiding perceived threats from above or pursuing prey. Then they'd be gone, out of sight, joining other unseen creatures below the surface.
From midnight to five o'clock this morning, the wind speed steadily grew. At its strongest, it blew at 8.1 knots. This meant that even while sitting still, we actually were drifting quite a bit. Around 1 a.m. a light we had observed on the horizon suddenly grew to alarming proportions and shined on the ship's stern. For the next five minutes or so, the other ship kept its spotlight on us, as we drifted to within one mile of each other. Though it turned out to be a fishing vessel, equally concerned of our proximity as we were of theirs, it was hard to squelch thoughts of Blackbeard, and of modern day pirates who still comb the seas! For 40 minutes, we steamed ahead to distance ourselves, and then resumed our squid-jinxed attempt at fishing.
Despite the squid, we did catch interesting critters. These included a triggerfish, a juvenile sailfish, a large crab, an oceanic puffer fish, several mahi mahi, and our main target fish -- flyingfish. Coryphaena hippurus, otherwise known as the mahi, is a species of dolphin fish. It is beautiful, with brilliant blue on the top of its body, golden yellow with dark flecks on its sides, and greenish fins. It is found from Nova Scotia to southeastern Brazil and in tropical waters worldwide.
On this morning's dive, there was nothing but sand and broken shells on the ocean floor where the sub first landed. Soon, though, the pilot located yesterday's rockier area, with the plethora of colorful fish previously seen. Images of this site were taken, but the highlight was the collection of a lionfish. Cheers went up from the sub, piloted by Dan Bogess, and from the bridge, when they saw the lionfish in the collection bucket. Liz Baird from the Museum was in the bow for this dive and returned with a huge grin on her face. This is the first lionfish collected by submersible in the Atlantic. We hope to analyze stomach contents to gain a better understanding of the threat these predators pose to the environment. Although an invasive species in this part of the world (it is native to the Pacific), it certainly could win undersea beauty contests for its flowing fins and dramatic body markings!
After the dive, the ship steamed off towards Charleston, while a comprehensive clean-up and storage procedure got under way.
At sunset we gathered on the bow to watch 10 Atlantic spotted dolphins riding in the bow wave. It was a spectacular way to conclude an amazing mission.