Midday Coordinates: 35.45.575 138.46.124
We’re plugging along the transect line, trying to knock out the rest of the stations before the sea state drops to the flat calm predicted. The crew is eagerly anticipating the change, and the chance to do laundry and relax a little. Now that we’ve passed day 24, we’re just over halfway through this very long voyage. The music selection played is watch crew’s choice, and is getting progressively more funky (at times incredibly bizarre, especially on Dale’s watch) as the ipods cycle through. Any break in the monotony is welcomed.
Once we finish the transect in this Beaufort sea state of 3 and over, we will try the whole thing again in a calmer state for comparison. We hope to relocate the trash island again, and will begin the hunt tomorrow as we’re back at Station 2, the vicinity in which it was last seen. Although connection is spotty, we’re fortunate to be in contact with the outside world as one of the strengths of a scientist is the rich network of colleagues and specialists that can assist dynamic field research.
Our team called upon expert Nikolai Maximenko from UH Manoa who has been modeling the projected path of the tsunami debris based on currents and wind patterns. Given the dimensions, date and last known coordinates of the ‘island,’ Dr. Maximenko and Jan Hafner graciously created a map for us to fine tune our search. The drones will be a great tool in providing a needed overview of our search pattern. This information will be incredibly useful as we try to relocate this oasis of concentrated life in the vast desert of open ocean.
Personally this has been the highlight of the trip for me so far, and I jump at the chance to splash in again and film more rafting species. Being from Hawaii, home is an incredibly remote island chain that boasts a high ratio of endemic species (around 30%) found nowhere else in the world. This relatively low biodiversity (variety of life) means we are increasingly vulnerable to invasive, or non-native species. I am curious what else might be rafting out here in the gyre on plastic debris, coming closer to Hawaii and potentially threatening the established balance.
On that note, we were delighted to receive questions from a class who inquired as to the origin of many of the species we saw on Plastic Island. “Did they originate from Japan? What was the most shocking to find?” To answer this we had to do a little sleuthing work and again call upon experts. I could identify tuna, mahi mahi, and rainbow runners, which are normal to find out here. Also present were chubs and sergeant majors, which are subtropical species commonly found in Hawaii. But then there was also a species I incorrectly referred to as an ‘angelfish’ that were black and white in color, and I had not seen before. There were about 6 individuals creating an aggregation so territorial that one bit me! Quite the attention grabbers.
I sent photos and contacted dear friend and coral reef biologist extraordinaire Darla White on Maui, as well as fish photographer Keoki Stender, of MarinelifePhotography.com. They both replied almost immediately with “Oplegnathidae!” and Keoki linked me to this page: http://www.marinelifephotography.com/fishes/knifejaws/oplegnathus-punctatus.htm and Darla linked me to http://www.fishbase.org/summary/6538. Yes, that is indeed the perpetrator – an aptly named “knifejaw” no less. They are common in Japan, are established on Midway and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and may be moving beyond as they have been known to raft as juveniles on seaweed, and now rafting habitat is increasing. As they grown up to 28” and have attitudes, one wonders if they would change the dynamic at reefs around the Main Hawaiian Islands.
As this blog was being, a crew member called out and a big rope mat was spotted. We geared up, grabbed camera and splashed in. There were few organisms present, not even many barnacles. Then it became apparent that the single, and likely hungry lone fish resident was in fact a juvenile knifejaw! About 10” in length, since this fellow was a singleton and outnumbered by the two of us two-legged divers, instead of attacking and defending the rope mat, he disappeared into it and was not seen again. We are beginning to believe that these predatory knifejaws may have eliminated the many species of smaller fish associated with rafts during pre-tsunami voyages to the gyre.
The photos we took of the rare beaked whales were sent to a cetacean specialist Robin Baird of Cascadia Research Collective. He was also out doing field research but responded quickly. Since few whale researchers (or people, for that matter!) hang out in the gyre, this area is rarely studied by cetacean ecologists, so our sighting interested him. He agreed it could be a Blainsvilles beaked whale as we guessed, but there’s a chance it’s an even more rare species that has only been identified before by their skeletons. A closer look to see if our camera captured any protruding teeth will help solve the mystery. We’re going to get him more photos for analysis, so stay tuned. Either way, today we acknowledge our support system of colleagues that wraps the globe. Our team is thankful that the company we keep is so willing to share their expertise with us.