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Current position of the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Click on the vessel to view position history. Use the tools, top right, to change the map style or view data layers. Dates and times use GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans

December 11, 2017

For the Birds

Will Bahr, Oberlin College

The Global Ocean

Above: Lower gannet colony, view from upper. Below: Gannet in the upper colony. Panorama of beach with students, gannets and tractors to boot.

Ship's Log

Current Position
Docked at Napier, NZ

Course & Speed
Alongside Port of Napier, 0 kts.

Sail Plan
Departing at 0500 tomorrow morning for Auckland

Clear, humid

Souls on Board

Greetings, folks,
Your friendly neighborhood salt-dog here again, reporting on one of the more beautiful and decidedly terrestrial days the Seamans crew has seen yet. We had a free day in odd, quaint Napier, a town about half-committed to its art deco history so it looks something like a forgotten Disneyland for adults. The deco coupled with the hills exploding from seemingly nowhere out of the pavement and the town’s earthquake-heavy history rings a bit of San Francisco, but definitely holds its own flavor. We were turned loose to wreak havoc in the place before rendezvousing for a five-mile shoreline tractor ride to a gannet colony.

We boarded a tractor-bed opposite a smattering of school-children, tourists and soul-patched tour guides and took something of a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through the shallows. As our own Captain Soul Patch twisted and turned through the tides, the landscape rose dramatically to sheer cliffs of volcanic ash, putting Napier and SF alike to shame. Cap’n SP pointed out numerous fault lines, dramatically bisecting the rock like the lopsided layers of huge cake. Between ill-received jokes and shouts of “HEY!” tacked onto the beginning of nearly every sentence so that it always sounded like he was saying either something important or goodbye, he leapt from his post to break bits of shale, volcanic ash and other various bits of geology well beyond my jurisdiction from the rock face, leaping back on with such enthusiasm that, at least once, I had to sprint to catch up or be left behind to mate for life as the birds do. (Allegedly, a SEA professor from another trip once spied a human skeleton fossilized in the cliffs, which is, as I say all-too-often, but here it feels particularly appropriate—fully insane.)

In the heart of the colony, the bluffs were littered with thousands of gannets, local birds who make harrowing, multi-year breeding migrations to Australia. We were again turned loose to the colony’s peak, amidst rolling hills and cow pastures, dozens of rabbits and enigmatic mesh cages with eggs inside them. (The latter are everywhere in New Zealand—I saw them every couple miles during my hike in Tongariro, too. It’s been suggested they’re opossum traps, an invasive species in NZ as all mammals are, but I honestly prefer to keep this one a mystery. I think we could all use a little more eggbox mystery in our lives.) At the pinnacle, a horde of birds was gathered, a gannet suburbia of cookie-cutter nests in neat, white, stinking rows where infant balls of fluff are cared for their parents, far larger, blue-eyed beasts with a yellow twinge. After watching the birds go about their lives unafraid of us onlookers, launching from the cliffs and returning to lock beaks with their partners in a signature ceremony, we bore witness to another brilliant New Zealand sunset before heading to tractor to bus to van to ship and, for some of us, to sleep.

It was a day among days.

Hello to all my favorite demons: Emma, Brittany and the Bahr Clan.

Also, this--a poem I wrote for a “Creature Feature” for class on one of the beasties we’ve caught in our nets.

Ode to the Euphausiid
Gather round, my space-travelling hounds, and hear tell of the Euphausiid,
At least, I’m 80% sure that that’s how you pronounce it
For it’s a word spoke seldom, not since just now, when I announced it
They’re commonly called krill,
and here are other things found out without a single mouse-click:
They’re luminescent, keeping ocean life lighter than Rudy on the bowsp’rit
Flickering naked from top to bottom, trousers fired and the blouse quit
They’re herbivores, flight over fight—no, they do not rouse mitts
But dwell in schools big enough to have well over a house fit
Markers of ocean harmony, like a fluorometer song,
Perceiving tenfold the color than when the anomometer’s on,
Their cones triple-scooped to our single—
now is that cool, or is the thermometer wrong?
From Antarctica they hail,
A Chrysler-sized meal for the bluest of whales
The truest of tales, these tiny things the huge ones inhale,
Sucking down those suckers without batting an eye, like braille shrimp cocktails
Nailing up to four tons in a single day without fail
Now that’s a stomach in comparison to which even mine pales
If whales had will to distill krill, it would be Whale’s Tail Pale Ale
Yes, they kill krill with thoughts nil and will fill up to their not gills
And the krill industry’s booming,
Thrilled businesses assuming our pots will fill with caught hot-frying krill,
Much more natural than not, not my knot-tying skills
Krill ride well in swells from preceding animal’s wakes
Succeeding on larger creature’s backs, a slice of Hannibal’s cake
Primary consumers, cornerstones of life’s circle, cannibal snake
Because they feed whales, and are only 50mm on average
I guess it’s true that big things come in a little package
Coming in handy like pool cues, they take school cues from factors rheotactic,
Rheo meaning flow and tactic, pattern, plastic
Proliferates like these things but don’t fret, it gets fantastic
They’re the dominant herbivore in the Southern ocean
The food chain’s keeper, not like a brother notion
Remove them and we’ll go off the rails and smother their loco motion
Used also for fertilizers and human food, now there’s another potion
We’re not talking featherweight instruments, but they have light organs
I wouldn’t deem them freemen, not even slight Morgans
For it’s instinctually they flicker,
Pulling it off like a jigger, and to us they just appear brightly red
Don’t snicker—there’s much more than meets the eye, it might be said
One afternoon Evening Prim willed I to play on a whim with a krill’s eye
Poking and prodding at it like a psycho Bill Nye
Our outer dark revealed beneath the microscope’s light
The eye divorced from head without the hope of a micro-pope’s fight,
The killed krill lay still in some spilling chemical swill
As we gazed at the window to its soul, or perhaps now just the sill
For the seasick, I’m aware that this provided no antidote,
Blame Kerry, I had to provide a personal anecdote
I’m fairly keen on being certain that the curtain’s closed on this weird play
I’ve reached the monkey’s fist of my rope, all out of lines for you to hear say
I pray you got the gist of this Euphausiid list, which I was unsure how to convey
Until, whoever they are, I remembered something they say:
Where there’s a Will, there’s a way,
So thanks, mates, and good day.

Previous entry: A small reflection on the open ocean    Next entry: A Sunny Day


Leave a public comment for students and crew to read when they reach their next port and have access to the internet!

#1. Posted by mary helen berg on December 13, 2017

Love this entry, Will. Can’t wait to see you soon! XXXXX



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