Tuesday, 22 July 2008

All action day!

Two posts in one day??? Well, today deserved a blog all to itself! This morning I lethargically forced myself out of my bed and tramped heavily up the stairs to the mess to find some breakfast & was delighted to behold through the window a beautiful mirror-calm sea! (I have no porthole in my cabin - it's a bit tomb-like to be truthful). Such calm conditions are so rare, especially so far off shore, so I quickly grabbed some toast, and dashed up to the the birdy 'opera boxes' hoping for some marine mammal action (my particular favourite marine mammals are harbour porpoises - which are one of the smallest species of cetacean (the name given to all whales, dolphins & porpoises), and are very difficult to see except in very calm conditions. They're the most abundant species of cetacean in UK waters). We did indeed see a few porpoises resting on the surface (logging) and swimming past, as well as a lot of birds - mainly following the trawler.

But this trawler was there because we'd asked it to come along to fish for us, and find out what fish are found in the areas we've been surveying (on the bank and off the bank). This is what Beth had been busy organising most of this trip - working out where we'd like them to fish and when, liasing both with the CFPO (Cornish Fishermen Producers Organisation) who were the ones who pursuaded the fishermen to go and fish for us (proven to be invaluable), and with the observers supplied by MRAG (Marine Resource Assessment Group). The observers are recording the species caught by the trawlers, and measuring the size of the fish for us. We've got two trawlers coming out: the Crystal Sea - who is trawling the seabed to see what fish are on the bottom to see if they match the photos on Inigo's seabed camera; and the Imogen - who is carrying out mid-water (pelagic) trawls to find out what fish we're seeing on the echosounder. Unfortunately, the Imogen has been delayed due to engine problems, but the Crystal Sea was out today trawling for us, with Jim the MRAG observer onboard. The first haul brought up 2 large conger eels (no surprise there!), some haddock, John Dory, boarfish...

The second trawl started as I was sitting in the opera boxes watching for birds and marine mammals, the Crystal Sea disappearing into the distance, trawling its nets. But soon there was a commotion - word had come in from the Crystal Sea that a french trawler had been hassling them - circling menacingly, and in the process, the french trawler had trawled up one of our moorings & cut it loose from the buoy that marked it's location. Thankfully the mooring also had an acoustic release (this is a device that we can communicate with via sound - in fact it sounds very much like a dolphin whistle - it can tell us how far away we are from the mooring, and on an acoustic command it releases the lander with the current profiler & my CPOD from the anchor so it can float to the surface). So we managed to retrieve the mooring complete with 3 weeks of current profiler data, to which the oceanographers collectively sighed with relief!

Meanwhile, the Crystal Sea tried to continue fishing while still being hassled by the french trawlermen - who were obviously trying to look threatening by shaking baguettes at the crew of the Crystal Sea - Beth & Inigo laughingly discovered whole baguettes floating in the french fisherman's wake. Eventually the Crystal Sea were left in peace to trawl, but unfortunately one of their crew had an accident and sliced off the tips of a few of his fingers (ouch). We got ready to go to their aid with Malcolm, our medic (see picture of the rescue boat ready to go), but instead we just had to wait for 20-25 minutes before the coastguard sent out the rescue helicopter from HMS Culdrose (pictured with the Crystal Sea below), and the crewman was winched up and flown off to hospital (quite a sight). The whole process was pretty quick & impressive!

HMS Culdrose to the rescue of the crewman of the Crystal Sea (photo by Mark Lewis)

We were all up on the deck or bridge watching the rescue - meanwhile, a small shark swam past (& incidentally a blue shark was seen off the stern of the ship last night) - you can tell I'm a biologist to get distracted by a small shark! And... just to top it off, as the rescue was coming to an end, a large school (or pod) of common dolphins appeared - surrounding the ship, and before long the dolphins were swimming and leaping alongside the ship - which put a big smile on everyone's face after quite a stressful day.

Common dolphin caught post-leap by Mark Lewis

Since then, the Crystal Sea has continued to trawl for us, happily finding lots of nephrops (more of the shrimp like the one shown in the previous blog in the sediment core), and a surprisingly wide variety of fish, and different fish on the bank than on the slope to off the bank - which is fascinating, and interesting. So far it looks as though we have the nephrops (shrimp) off the bank, flat fish on top of the bank (lemon sole, plaice, etc.), and John Dory, along with a number of other species on the bank slope.

So all in all, today felt a bit surreal!
...sending best wishes for the injured crewman of the Crystal Sea from us on the James Cook :o) Hope you're ok out there too Jim!

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