SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
October 12, 2015
Dolphins at Midwatch
35°41.999’N x 04°08.762’W
As B Watch comes up on deck to relieve A Watch, the lights of coastal Moroccan cities are glittering to the southwest. We are hove to on a port tack (essentially “parked” in the water, not making any headway but drifting perpendicular to the wind) and getting ready to deploy the Neuston net. Rapid surface currents make it difficult to achieve the perfect speed for towing the net half in/half out of the water but with our mate Rocky making several adjustments to work with the seas and the wind, we manage it.
It’s a nearly cloudless night and the stars are out in full force. We spend most of the night with our neck’s craned upward—Can you point out Polaris, again? There are Vega, Altair, and Deneb, they make the Summer Triangle. Is that Sirius? Where’s the celestial “G”? Another shooting star! I love Mid Watch (23:00-03:00). The rest of the ship’s company is sleeping but magical things are happening in the sky and the water.
Over the side, bioluminescent jellies and other organisms are collecting in the Neuston net, making the entire thing glow as we tow it along. When the science team hauls the net back onboard, the glow spreads to their fingers as they pull up the gear, leaving little glowing handprints along the ropes. Back in the lab Ana Rita gets to work documenting all of the sea creatures we caught in the net and the rest of us begin to process a “surface station”—looking at chlorophyll-a concentrations, micro-plastics, pH, alkalinity and nutrients in the water we are currently sailing through.
Suddenly Caroline, the standing look-out for the hour, pops her head in to the lab. “Dolphins off the port bow!” Lara and I immediately drop the alkalinity titration we’re running and bolt after her. Nearly all of B Watch (Thanks for hanging back to steer the ship, Anicka) rushes forward to see a pod of at least ten dolphins swim with us for several minutes, chasing each other in and out of the waves we’re creating for them.
A dolphin sighting at any time of day is a special event, but at 02:30 it’s even more special—these dolphins are glowing. In the dark. As they speed through the pitch-black water, the dolphins excite bioluminescent organisms around them and give off an unearthly whitish-blue glow. Looking down on them from above, they seem like ghosts flying along below us but then they break the surface of the water and I can hear them breathe and clack and I remember what they actually are, although I still can’t really believe it.
Eventually the dolphins move on and we make our way back to wrap up our tasks before turning the deck over to C Watch, who will be coming up for Dawn Watch (03:00-07:00) shortly. Oscar heads off on a final boat check, Caroline continues her look-out duties, Lara and I return to our alkalinity titration— It turns out though, that our lab officer, Laura, has already finished that up for us (You’re the best, Cooney). As we turn over the deck to C Watch, we’re still reveling in all of the things we’ve seen in the past four hours.
Earlier, as I was watching the Neuston net gliding through the water, I turned to Rocky and squealed, “It’s glowing!” Just as excited as if it were the first time either of us had seen it. “Does it ever get old?” “Bioluminescence? Glittering dolphins? The color of the water? The sunsets? The stars? Lights off the Moroccan coast? No, it never gets old”