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Week 1: 25 - 30 October

South Atlantic cruise on "RV Akademik Ioffe" 2009

Author: Dr. Angel Perez

Day 1, Oct 25th 2009

After long trips from São Paulo and Auckland to Gran Canaria, the biology team finally found itself on board the research vessel Akademik Ioffe!  What’s more, all four aluminium trunks containing our sampling gear and research tools arrived safe and sound.  Our team consists of: Angel Perez and André Barreto from University of "Vale do Itajaí" (Santa Catarina, Brazil), Thassya Schmidt from the University of São Paulo (Brazil); Daniela Lopes from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Marisa Puentes from the University "de la Republica" (Montevideo, Uruguay) and Kat Bolstad from the Earth & Oceanic Sciences Research Institute, AUT (Auckland, New Zealand), also representing South African MCM scientists.On board, we found our accommodations ready – and very comfortable, too.  We also met the Russian biology team (who had been out exploring Las Palmas), an additional 10 scientists mostly from the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology (Moscow), led by benthologist and MAR-ECO PI Andrey Gebruk. In total, 16 scientists comprise the biology group on board, and there are an additional few geochemists, geophysicists and acousticians.The Ak. Ioffe departed after dinner, and all scientists gathered on the upper deck to watch shimmering Las Palmas recede into the night – the last land and lights we would see for nearly six weeks. 

Photo Kat Bolstad 
From left to right: Marisa Puentes (Uruguay), Daniela Lopes (Brazil),
Thassya Schimidt (Brazil), Kat Bolstad (New Zealand). Depatrting from Las
Palmas harbour. Photo Kat Bolstad

Day 2, Oct 26th

In the morning, the Ak. Ioffe headed S-SW along the coast of Mauritania. We were treated to gentle N-NW breezes, clear skies and calm seas for our first travel day. We were briefed on (hopefully unnecessary) emergency procedures, plus meal routines (four times a day!) and, most importantly, the scientific projects. We organized our several working labs on board and prepared our sampling gear.  In the afternoon, we held the first group scientific discussion (and first gathering of the whole biology team) about this South Atlantic MAR-ECO expedition.  Everyone introduced themselves, and then Angel Perez and Andrey Gebruk presented the MAR-ECO goals and sampling protocols. 

Photo: Angel
Surface phytoplankton sampling (A. Barreto - Brazil). Photo: Angel Perez

Day 3, Oct 27th

At 0700 hours (GMT), the Ak. Ioffe crossed the Tropic of Cancer (23° N).  Brilliant sunlight sparkling on calm waters made for high spirits, especially for André Barreto, who began coordinating the whale-observation effort.  And around 1000 hours, a large group of pilot whales were sighted, about a mile from the vessel.  Later on, small storm-petrels, a school of tuna, a large turtle and even a shark lounging at the surface also appeared.  We stopped in the afternoon for our first station, collecting hydrological data.  The CTD (recording conductivity/salinity, temperature and depth) was deployed, as well as equipment for taking acoustic readings.  We also used the opportunity collect some informal biological samples with a neuston net and a small hand net, mostly targeting phytoplankton, but also fish eggs, larvae, and copepods. Both nets brought in abundant plankton samples, revealing that these clear aquamarine waters host rich life even at the surface. 

Photo: A. Barreto
Sunset at the Akademik Ioffe. Photo: A. Barreto

Day 4, Oct 28

Following the hydrological station yesterday, the Ak. Ioffe cruised south for another 200nm. The weather is still fair, and rapidly becoming more tropical – now cloudy, getting hot, and extremely humid. No whales were sighted today, but hundreds of flying fish have leapt and glided away from the ship's hull (Kat caught one of them in mid-air in this beautiful photo).  Equipment preparations continue, as well as discussions about the likely duration of the superstations (single stations where we will stop for about 10 hours each, to collect a number of biological samples). It seems that we will only be able to gauge the feasibility of our planned sampling regimen after the first superstation, but that will be soon – only a few days away.  Right now we will prepare for the work ahead as best we can. 

Pilot Whale. (Globicephala melas) Photo: A. Barreto

Day 5, Oct 29th

Today was an unusual day. In spite of continuous navigation at around 10-11 knots, this morning there were insects all over the decks: grasshoppers, butterflies, beetles, large crickets and many more.  Since we are passing between Senegal and Cape Verde, they were probably blown across from land (most likely the African coast, which is not too far from our route). Even more surprisingly, an owl also appeared in the morning and followed us for several hours.  The plankton net was assembled today and some practical adjustments made for work at great depths. Risso's dolphins and pilot whales were sighted far from the ship.At the end of the day, the scientific crew were invited to participate in making our dinner – a Russian traditional dish called "pelmenyi," a kind of dumpling, like a wonton-tortellini hybrid.  The kitchen crew prepared sheets of pasta and the meat stuffing.  Then the volunteers cut out pasta circles, placed a small spoonful of stuffing on one side of each, folded the circle over into a half-circle and bent the ends around (like a fortune cookie) to make a ring-shape with one side stuffed. It was great fun, and delicious too. 

photo by Kat Bolstad
Gannet chasing flying-fish. Amazing photo by Kat Bolstad

Day 6, Oct 30

The sea is still calm.  Our daily whale-spotting effort started after breakfast as usual, and continued until mid-afternoon – each person observes for four half-hour shifts during the day. And as we stopped for the first hydrological station, a group of short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) approached the vessel and stayed with us for about an hour.  Several calves got closer than the others and popped their heads out of the water for a peek at the strange beings in the metal box, and we seemed to regard each other with equal curiosity and excitement.

In the afternoon and evening, we had our next hydrographic station – our next three stations, in fact, each within half an hour’s travel of the previous one.  As before the CTD was deployed to obtain temperature and salinity profiles and acoustic data were also collected.  Because the CTD deployment was very lengthy this time (it travels to the seafloor, more than 4000m down), the second and third stations lasted through the night.  So we set up lights in the water to attract squid and the scientists and crew lined the sides of the ship, busily trying to watch and jig for them. Only a few unlucky (or gullible) individuals were actually caught, although large groups were seen around the ship.  They were small (20–30cm), but speedy – zooming around, flashing white and red, and sometimes jumping clear of the water. In another lucky event (for us), a flying fish got trapped in the neuston net we were using to collect fish eggs and larvae, so it was caught and catalogued.



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