10/26/05 - Back to sea
This morning, Category 3 Wilma was 300 miles offshore traveling at 53 mph. After her speedy departure from the area, the captain gave the all clear and we finally motored out. With the sun streaming brightly over the bow of the ship, R/V Seward Johnson made good time traveling at a speed of up to 11 knots out of the Charleston area. The wind was cold and persistent. Pelicans flew overhead and there were fishing boats on the horizon with their nets down. We headed for the Savanna Banks, a trip which took 5 hours. The research teams worked quietly at their computers, gearing up for the busy afternoon and evening when, if the seas proved calm enough, the Johnson-Sea-Link would be sent down to collect specimens and we could begin to process samples again.
At 4:00 pm, the sub crew prepared to dive. After eight scrapped dives due to the hurricane, we were all relieved to see the submersible finally lowered into the water. Tara Casazza and Missy Partyka were the scientists on board. Three hours later, after a delicious meal of chicken fajitas and nachos, everyone gathered on deck to await the sub’s return. While waiting, the sky came alive in hues of pink, violet, and purple, affecting the ocean's color with equal abandon. Then, just as if we had blown out a match, the skies went black. Suddenly, as if from another world, lights appeared under the water's surface to the ship's starboard side. The ship's spotlight focused in on the Johnson-Sea-Link as it bobbed to the surface.
The dive was very successful, returning from the depths with a glorious collection. Work began immediately in the wet lab as samples were catalogued, photographed, and placed in alcohol for preservation. Cheryl Morrison and Colleen Young worked on coral samples, preserving tissue samples for future DNA analysis. With the departure of photographer Art Howard when the ship was at dock, Murray Roberts, assisted by Bob Swartz, has become the official photographer. Both the samples collected with the robotic arm and those sucked up in the vacuum provided interesting subjects. Several species of crabs, an octopus, brittle and other sea stars, plus a number of different coral species were among the catch. One of the most interesting was a translucent gravid shrimp, her blue eggs the only color on her body.
Tonight, plans are to run some transects just west of the Stetson Banks. The bridge has been given a series of latitudes and longitudes that we will traverse, while the technology aboard allows us to investigate these depths. This data will in turn paint a more complete picture of the ocean's topography.
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