Monthly Archives

June 2012

A dream fulfilled, ODYSSEY Gulf Blog (year 3), Day 22, Friday, June 15, 2012

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Day 22, Friday, June 15, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

I was in my usual seat in the salon writing and working and waiting for whales. I heard the call on the radio and was in a bit of disbelief about it, but my feet are trained to react on their own so I moved quickly while sorting through the message:  “Some sort of whale! 100 yards ahead!”. That was a new sort of call. That is was Johnny just made it all the weirder as he has logged a crazy number of hours over 8 months of observing whales. He knows better than to be that vague.

But, precisely because it was him and he knows the routine so well, by the time my feet landed in the pilothouse, I shouted “whales! and hurry they are close!”. I was not sure where or what they are, but the excitement in his voice told me all I needed to know. This moment would be at least unusual.

I heard no team response so I paused at the door and shouted “hurry it up”. Matt was hot on my heels with the crossbows. By the time we reached the foredeck, Johnny was down. There they were a group of three beaked whales!

Beaked whales are strange looking whales that are secretive and poorly understood. The global voyage saw them only once, maybe twice in 5 years. We had never seen them here, though they have been reported in the Gulf. It is a truly a rare opportunity. Yet, there they were.

Johnny was beside himself with excitement and pleasure. He had been wishing to see beaked whales for some time now and there they were. They dove straight down deep shortly after the team started to emerge. Perhaps because they heard the sound of Matt’s arrow miss and strike the water. Perhaps, because they saw us gawking at them. Perhaps, because it was just their time to dive.   The time was short, but we got to see them and snap a picture and Johnny’s wish of a voyage came true after 8 months of time away on this boat.  He was the only one blessed with the chance to really observe all three whales, a calf, a mother and probably a grandmother. The rest of us mostly focused on the grandmother as she was so close to the boat. It was a really special moment for our entire effort, but especially for him.

Congratulations O’s on a dream fulfilled. It just goes to show that there are times when after working hard and diligently for a long time and dedicating yourself to an effort – life gives you a gift rewards you. Today was one of those days. You certainly have earned it! Thanks for sharing it with us.

We came near one sperm whale, but no biopsy.  The weather was clearly degrading fast. Mid-afternoon, I called Carolyne off the mast and stopped the searching. It was too rough.  I told the crew to get us into Pensacola as fast as they could because it was only going to get worse and it was time to get out of harm’s way. They cranked it into gear and off we went crashing over the waves and leaning heavily to port.

Morning will see us safely in port before the really bad weather arrives. Thus, my next email will be when the weather lets us back out to sea. As this leg ends, we say goodbye to Tania and Carolyne and thank them for their hard work. The next leg will bring new team members.

I have attached a couple of picture of the beaked whale that we think was a grandmother. I wish you all a good weekend!

The only problem now – the boat is leaning heavily to port and the bathroom is on starboard. It’s going to be a long night.

Good night.


P.S. As I can finally send this email we are safely in Pensacola
harbor nearing the dock.

If you want to see our location on Google Maps we are at:
29.609N, 87.883W

just paste in the coordinates and click search

If you want to read the previous days of these messages- they are
posted at and click on “read logs

John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D.

Swim call, ODYSSEY Gulf Blog (Year 3), Day 21, June 14, 2012

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Day 21, Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

The engine whined as the boat accelerated into gear. I was is a deep sleep, but somewhere in my brain recognized that tone and my eyes flew wide open. A sudden acceleration so early in the morning could only mean one thing- whales!

I rolled out of bed. No sooner did my feet hit the floor than Sandy stepped in and confirmed what that sound had already conveyed – a whale was in sight! Barely awake yet, I grabbed my hat, my phone and my sunglasses and stumbled into the pilothouse. Sure enough a whale was just ahead.

I did a quick check of who was where.  All hands accounted for except one, Hugh.  I had not called whales because I figured someone else already had.  I went to get Hugh, but he heard the pitter patter of my little feet approaching and was up and headed my way before I could speak. With that a tired and groggy team was in place.

We approached the whale. The arrow was released. I heard the clear sound of arrow hitting water. Captain Bob at the helm said the same. I looked for the second arrow. It never came.

Those in the bow all heard a different sound, the one of an arrow bouncing off a whale. Besides, Johnny’s only missed once this summer and he released the arrow. Made sense to me that we further back had it wrong. Alas, when we collected the arrow, it was empty. The shot had hit water first – no sample. The whale was gone.

No worries, there were whales on the array and the break in the action gave us time to shake the cobwebs out of our heads and sharpen our focus. Well, not no worries exactly…in my experience a day with a 7 am whale call breaks one of two ways – we either work with whales all day or we see no whales the rest of the day. Either scenario poses challenges for managing the day.

In the first scenario, the team gets exhausted from sun and work and I pay very close attention to who is where, doing what, for how long to make sure no one overdoes it in the sun too much. I have to watch each whales distance and approach and time the call to minimize time in the sun. It’s not labor intensive per se, but it’s a lot of moving parts and requires quite a bit of concentration. Still it’s much better than the alternative scenario.

In the alternative scenario, we are up early with lots of activity so no rest, but there are no whales. Here the challenge is a tired, cranky and frustrated team that was amped up for whales early, but ended up only roasting on watches looking for them. Patience gets short and creates a whole different can of worms to manage.

It looked good early. Around 8 we collected a couple of biopsies. We had dolphins on the bow (always a team favorite). We even had a shark nearby. But, by 10 am, it was clear, this day would be scenario 2 – no more whales. Ghost whales were seen. Ones where someone sees a blow, but then it’s not seen again. The array software failed again, so whales were heard but not seen. Team was always ready, but never deployed. Frustration mounted.

By 5 pm, it was clear, there was only one thing left to do- swim call. I checked with Captain Bob and he said conditions were fine so I asked Ike, on the helm, to stop the boat. The team took a much needed swim in about 3,000 feet of water. The chance to release some pent up energy and frustration while cooling off was just the right salve for this very long and frustrating day. Cap the day off with a unique sunset and some singing under the stars with Ike and we are ready for a new day tomorrow.

2 biopsies is a good day. Array software is down, but that is nothing new, we just need to work more on steering by ear.  Heck it didn’t work all last year so we know we can work without it. The twitter feed is working. The Facebook page is receiving it and James has the logs on the website up to date (thanks James). The stars are shining and tomorrow is another chance to get samples at sea!

Attached is a picture of the team looking at dolphins on the bow, you can see them all there – Hugh in a hat at the tip of the bowsprit pointing. Then Matt is next in the bowsprit with no shirt and Captain Bob next to him in a dark shirt (you might need to zoom in to see them). Johnny is on the whale boom. Carolyne is in green and Tania in white on the starboard side. Sandy is in blue on the port side.

Now, I know what you are thinking…. where is Ike? Picture 2 shows you Ike. he was there too. Zoom in he is waving to you! Me, I was taking the pictures – then I too went and hung over the rail to see the antics of the dolphins playing with our boat and leaping out of the water. We all wished we too could have such fun and be a dolphin even if just for a day. Picture 3 is of those dolphins.


Also attached is a three stage picture of a unique sunset. Start with sunset 1, then 2 , then 3 and watch it go from interesting sky to a cool ending. It also reminds us that out here in this part of the Gulf, we are never far from oil rigs.

Good night.


If you want to see our location on Google Maps we are at:
28.43531 N
088.36799 W

If you want to read the previous days of these messages- they are now
up to date and posted at and click
on “read logs here”.

John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D.

We sailed over the epicenter of Deepwater Horizon, ODYSSEY Gulf Blog (Year 3), Day 20, June 13, 2012

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Day 20, Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

In this my third year at sea in the Gulf. In that time, I have learned that that there are two major keys to biopsy success – freeze pops and snacks. The freeze pops are nothing really but water, sugar and food coloring, but what an amazing delight when you are out baking in the sun.  Or for that matter, pretty much anytime as its always hot here in the Gulf to a person from Maine like me.

They come in lots of pretty colors blue (Josh and Bob’s favorite), pink (Ike, Carolyne, Matt and Sandy’s favorite), green (Hugh’s favorite) and orange (Johnny’s, Tania and mine). But, when on whales, everyone is happy with any color including purple or red. They refresh us and remind us of the kid inside each of us and ready us for the next hour under the sun.

The other key is snacks- chips, cookies, crackers and other delights that reside under the small bench on the salon.  If you lift up the bench seat you find a number of treats that will tempt you all day, but are especially good while on whale watch or as a quick treat when on whales all day. See Tania in the attached series of pictures getting her snacks (she’s really good at it) and then showing Captain Bob just how it is done!

My note is light today because we are worn out. The toll of pounding seas followed by lots of biopsy and sample work in the hot sun caught up to us and folks were just plum worn out. We collected 2 biopsies in the morning, which was followed by internet and array failures that took some time to sort out. We could hear them, but could not find the whales for the rest of the day.

My note is also light because today was also a somber day. We sailed over the epicenter of Deepwater Horizon and remembered that 11 people died here and then the oil started flowing.  This event changed our lives and brought us here into the Gulf for this our third year.

Unlike last year when we came to this spot and found nothing in sight at this site, this year 2 new oil rigs have been installed and are at work. It is remarkable how our society just marches on forward. If one rig explodes and fouls the Gulf – -then we simply build two more rigs in the essentially the same place. Yet, our work is still the only deep water toxicology study in the Gulf and we have yet to raise funds for analyzing our samples. Something seems wrong when our society builds two rigs to replace one that failed before any analysis of the consequences to the ecosystem has been done.  I truly hope these rigs were built to be safer than the last one.

So, for today, better to be light while worn out and staring at 2 new deep water rigs, because otherwise, it might feel like shoveling sand against the tide.  Our quest and efforts are needed now more than ever. We continue on and after admiring a group of dolphins bow riding in the setting sun, eating under the stars and with the ground fault on our array fixed (thanks for the pointers Josh) –  we find ourselves renewed and refreshed and ready to marshal on!

But seriously, we couldn’t do it without the freeze pops and snacks!

Attached are also pictures of the biopsy effort today and our glorious sunset. A sunset that is good for the soul.

Also, attached is a song that spontaneously came up at dinner when the singing started. I was surprised at this one and asked to record it with Ike and Johnny singing a family twist on the words. Its 30 seconds long but shows the camaraderie that continues at dinner so I think it will make many of you smile. It also has a subtle twist that really only my wife and kids would get so I won’t explain. This one’s for you Cathy- enjoy it! Hope the EPA is treating you well.

Ike and Johnny for Cathy mp3-1

Good night.


If you want to see our location on Google Maps we are at:
28.43724 N
088.34048 W

If you want to read the previous days of these messages- they are
posted at and click on “read logs
here” or soon will be.

John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D.

Whales!, ODYSSEY Gulf Blog (Year 3), Day 18, June 11, 2012

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Day 18, Monday, June 11, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

“Whales!” Wow, did it feel good to yell that again! I assembled the team for getting a sample. The whale was 400 meters ahead.

There are times that this work becomes remarkably peaceful and almost mystical. This day would be one of those times. Our sail was up and full of wind. The team was assembled. The whale was ahead. The sun was bright and glistening on the water. We headed for the whale. It slipped under the water and out of sight. It was then that the calm that comes from such a unique quest set in and all was peaceful.

The engine was on idle. Matt was up on the mast. Hugh was in the rigging. Johnny was on the whale boom. Sandy, Carolyne and Tania were on deck in the bow. Bob was on the pilot house. Ike and I were standing on the doors to the pilot house. All of us looking for the whale. A gentle breeze was blowing. It was completely silent, save for the hum of our air sampler.

We traveled by wind amidst this calm silence. All eyes scanning the horizon for that one whale that slipped from sight under the glistening sea. It was a true moment of peace and tranquility for the whole team after several hard days of pounding seas.

“Whale 1:30, 100 meters ahead ! ” came the call from Johnny on the boom. I relayed the call to the helm. Ike gently eased the boat into gear. We headed for the whale.

This was Ike’s first time steering the boat for us to collect a sample and the whale was directly in the sunlight. Captain Bob guided him from above. “10 degrees to port” Bob would say. I relayed the information to the helm. Ike adjusted course. We carried on like that for several minutes getting the boat ready for a sample shot. It was remarkable as I am known more for my sharp vision than my hearing. It was my buddy Scott who had the “ear of bat” as we called it as kids. Yet, each time Bob spoke, it rang out clear as a bell to me and I relayed the guidance to Ike.

The whale slipped under the water again.

Again the team searched and scanned and looked. Again a quiet calm settled over the boat.

“Whale 3:00, 200 meters ahead ! ” came the call again from Johnny on the boom. I relayed the call to the helm. Ike gently eased the boat into gear. We headed for the whale. Captain Bob gave guidance. I relayed the message, Ike brought us near the whale. This time, we were there! The whale was mere yards from the whale boom! Ike had us just where we wanted to be!

The whale slipped under the water again.

Once more, the team searched and scanned and looked. Once more tranquility returned.

“Whale 12:30, 200 meters ahead ! ” came the call. This time from Matt on the mast. Once more Bob guided. Ike steered and we slid up right next to the whale. There it was in perfect position just the right distance off the boom.

Johnny readied the crossbow. His eyes focused in like a laser just waiting for the whale to arch its back and provide the needed target. He waited and waited and waited. Typically, we try to sample as the whale prepare to dive deep. It arches it back. the sample is taken and then we get a picture of the fluke for later identification. This whale just laid in the water gliding along while we sailed with it. It was as if the same breeze was blowing us both along by aimlessly in the evening sun.

Then for a moment, the whale lifted itself just a little, just enough for Johnny to release the arrow, which struck true and collected biopsy number 12 for the season. The whale casually swam along.

We realized that the whale did not fluke and dive and we had no photo for later identification. So we traveled along with it. Sailing through the water like a Sunday drive just us and our whale friend. Twenty minutes of just admiring this marvelous creature sailing side-by-side until finally the time for us had come to get back to the sample. We said goodbye to this friendly spirit and went and recovered our arrow and buoy. We never did see a fluke.

That would be our only sample today. But, what a sample it was.

I am not sure if the others had a chance to soak in these special moments as we glided across the water. I imagine their minds were likely filled with the search for the whale and the work around it. But, I hope, for at least a few minutes today, each one of them found the peace and tranquility of this day. I hope they each had the chance to remember how special this work is, difficult moments and all. I hope they rediscovered the magic of working with such a fine creature. I am glad they had this day. I know they deserved it. They have persevered and worked hard. Great team!

The day ended with a quiet sunset, a fine dinner under the stars on the aft deck and lots of camaraderie and spirit as Ike once again led us in song. We relaxed and sang under the lights of Saturn, Mars, Arcturis and the big dipper. A peaceful ending to a peaceful day.

For those of you out there on land who were able – thank you for blowing the front out of the way. Today was sunny and calm enough to work. Both Matt and Carolyne are back up to speed again. All we needed was this whale to send our spirits soaring and so they are. I attached a picture symbolic of our soaring spirits.

I have also attached pictures of our sail full of wind from both sides (Matt is the one on the platform in the sail1 picture); pictures of some of the team in their various positions while searching for the whale (gave Tania and Carolyne the day off from photos); a picture of the whale in the glistening sun (can you find it. It’s there! Answer in tomorrow’s note) and, of course, a picture of our quiet sunset (sorry, no stars- the iPhone camera is just not that good yet).

What a day.

Good night.  May you all have a peaceful day tomorrow.


If you want to see our location on Google Maps we are at:
23.51250 N
083.21975 W

John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D., Science Director

Follow us on Twitter

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Dear All,

For those who are interested in some updates in real time, we are
going to try to use twitter.  eventually, we hope to work out some
live video via this feed.  For those who have twitter- you can find
us  at, to tweet at us please use
@WiseLaboratory. For those new to twitter (like me) – you can sign up

Our twitter feed name is WiseLaboratory  Follow along and we will see
how it goes.  This leg will just be simple tweets to get used to doing
it. Next leg we will try and sort out the live video feed.  Hopefully,
it will be fun.


John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D.

Leaving Port, ODYSSEY Gulf Blog, (Year 3), Day 14, June 7, 2012

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Day 14, Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

Port is a funny thing. After numerous days at sea, you are excited to be headed into port. It’s a chance to have the ability to move around more than the limited space on board. It’s a

chance to shower and use the facilities without having to hold yourself from falling over. It’s a chance for Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a crew favorite, and in Pensacola, you can buy them fresh out of the oven. They are warm and gooey and simply melt in your mouth. It’s a welcome change of pace from the constant work at sea.

But, after just a couple of days in port, you soon find yourself ready and eager to get back out to sea. It’s amazing how limited a space Port becomes. Very quickly the crew begins to ask when can we go back to sea. Then comes the moment when it’s time to go and excitement and elation buzzes through the team.

The other aspect of Port that is remarkable is the kindness of people in the area. For example, on this stop we discovered mold in a couple of the cell cultures. Mold is a very bad thing for cultures, but can be fought off with some anti-mold compounds if caught early. Only problem was – we were out of it. Fortunately, we live in the internet age and James (at home) found a contact at the University of South Alabama who did cell culture. I called and he generously agreed to give us some mold-killer and I drove over and picked it up. Many thanks to Dr. Brewer for his help and kindness. We have found such kindness to be a common feature of the Gulf coast community.

The time to leave has come. We have had our fill of doughnuts. Well, not really, it seems the team could eat those doughnuts every day. Tania even had doughnuts followed by a doughnut sundae (i.e. doughnuts with ice cream on top). But, the weather has cleared and we are now pleased to be back at sea.

To set the stage again, the team from the last leg is mostly the same. We have Captain Bob, first mate Hugh, second mate Ike, Sandy is our cook and whale photo-id person. Johnny is our primary biopsier, Tania is our cell culture person, Carolyne is our data logger and of course me. This leg we also have added Matthew Braun. Matt was on the 2010 voyage for almost the entire voyage taking classes online from the boat as we went into the fall. Matt will be our second biopsier.

The waves are really rolling us around tonight and the boat is quite warm. But while stomachs for some may be low, spirits are high and the team is eager to find whales!

Good night.


John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D., Science Director