Day 55, Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,
Yesterday marked the anniversary of our launch in 2010. It’s been an amazing adventure since then.
As befitting its name, when you work on a boat like Odyssey you learn that there are certain legends of the ship of whom stories are told in heroic style like the epic Greek poem with which it shares it’s name. There are the wonders of the marine life. There are the unique voyages, the Alaska trip, the Galapagos expedition, the global voyage and so on. Then there are the people, you have heard about many in my emails of the past three years, Roger Payne, Iain Kerr, Captain Bob Wallace, Josh Jones and others. They are the history and adventure of the boat.
After three trips and 254 biopsies, these three Gulf voyages have earned their place among Odyssey lore. With the amazing whales, dolphins, turtles, fish, jellies and so on the wildlife has fulfilled its glory and earned its place in the tales. Certainly, with the unprecedented sampling success in both amount and different types and the weather and equipment challenges, the trips have earned their place too. But beyond them, I think three people have now earned their way in the Pantheon of Odyssey legends.
The first and foremost is Johnny. He came to sea with absolutely no experience at sea or with whales. He’d never held a crossbow or sat a watch or done any of the myriad of jobs at sea. he’d rarely ever seen a whale. Yet, with the oil gushing into the sea in the Gulf of Mexico, he was one of the four students to immediately join. He volunteered with no pay for the entire 4 months of the voyage, forgoing the usual summer fun that goes with the undergraduate years of college. He volunteered again in year 2 and took on greater duties as science team leader. This time he was on for the entire 3 months of the voyage. Of course, he was here again this year.
With each leg and each voyage and each year, I would add capacity and complexity to the project. He became my right hand and my go to guy whenever I had to have something done. We now sample so many different things and Johnny was my hands for each one, adapting and revising with me the collection methods for all that we do. Much of what we do here at sea, we had never done before and the boat had not been used to do such work. But with Johnny, and Captain Bob, we were always able to add the capacity, modify the boat and collect the samples. Johnny has been my right hand at my side throughout this most incredible journey. He has done it in brilliant style.
It is impossible to give you a full accounting of all that he had done and how much his has meant to the success of this adventure. But here are a few, he took 200 biopsies including 100 in this summer alone. He was so remarkably comfortable and accurate this year, I even saw him reach under the deer stand seat and biopsy backwards as a whale swam behind him. Over the three voyages, he logged near a couple of hundred hours of the 4-6 am helm watch, between 600 and 700 hours on the mast looking for whales and some similar huge amount of hours sitting on the whale boom. He spent 242 days away from home on these trips most of that unpaid. He also wrote a regular email most days. Captain Bob said last night, he figures Johnny may have taken more sperm whale biopsies than anyone else in the world. A remarkable set of accomplishments for a remarkable kid. Great work Johnny!
Our second new legend is our remarkable cook Sandy. I remember well her introduction to being the cook on the boat. Our prior cook had left with about 24 hours notice. I called Sandy. I said “I need a cook, tomorrow. It has to be you. There is no one else.” She had never been to sea and had never cooked on a boat. But ,there was nowhere else to turn in that time frame while speeding toward the oil crisis. She reluctantly agreed and came. She also came to help me with the science.
In that time, more than 60 people have dined on her meals. All have raved. Favorites include enchilada’s, pot roast, mini meatloaves, macaroni and cheese and on and on. Dinner is always a highlight of the day. The food competes with the whales for raves.
But, Sandy does not stop there. If there is a food allergy or dietary preference, she makes sure those needs are met too. I think she may have invented the snack treasure chest which is beloved by all. If not, she certainly keeps is stocked better than ever before. On top of that, she makes deserts and occasional snacks in the middle of the day. Yesterday, as Bob and I brainstormed on the oil cooler it was fresh baked cookies just the delight needed to help with the ideas. She also ensures a full stock of freeze pops and as you know, freeze pops are the key to science at sea success! What can I say Sandy? After 22 years of marriage, three kids, a soccer life and then a science career and then you manage this too? Awesome.
Finally, there is Cathy. Fresh out of her freshman year of college, she followed me out to sea as one of my four volunteers to tackle this oil spill. She had also never been to sea. She logged many hours on the mast and a bunch on the helm. But, her main task was to do what no one ever had. A task everyone said could not be done. She would try to grow whale cells on a sailboat while at sea. As if that was not enough, the air conditioning had failed as she would do it in temperatures above 90 while the rest of us where on whales on deck. The boat would also be rocking like crazy. Amazingly, she did it. She started the lab and that led us to the discovery of the chromosome anomalies we are seeing in the whales. She got the lab working in the 2010 voyage and transferred it to me when she left. She then ran it all of the 2011 voyage. She was exceptional and groundbreaking. Nice job Cathy!
Thanks to all three of you for being a big reason for our stunning success over these past 3 years.
We made it in. Our trip is done for this year. I have to head out to some work in California and then Sandy and I will return to the boat. Pack up the lab and make the long drive home.
It was a remarkable expedition this year. We took 108 biopsies (yes Johnny took all but 8). We did it in the least number of sea days, 31, including days in and out of port when little sampling could be done and days on the water lost to an oil cooler. In 2010, our first voyage, we averaged 0.88 biopsies a sea day. In this 2012 voyage, despite some challenging impediments, we averaged a whopping 3.5 biopsies per sea day! That is essentially a 400% improvement over three voyages. We have become quite good at what we do!. We of course continued to collect samples of air, water, prey and other life in the Gulf and this year there were more than 1200 samples of all of those combined.
On behalf of myself and my expedition partner, Iain Kerr, thanks to Captain Bob, Hugh Ike, Sandy, Johnny and all of our science crew this year, Tania, Carolyne, Matt, Madison, Amanda, Leah, Lou, Louis, Jaimyal, Conor and Mukhaye. Thanks also to our Wise Laboratory land support Amie Holmes, James Wise, Chris Gianios, Hong Xie and all the rest of our lab members who all help and are too numerous to list here.. You all helped make this one a memorable year! We appreciate your hard work. We also tip our cap to leadership of both the University of Southern Maine and Ocean Alliance and all of our funders for all of their support. Thank you.
I am not sure what next year will bring. We will be in the Gulf of Maine sampling humpback, fin and right whales in the fall. We are starting a research program in Vieques, Puerto Rico. There we will set up and land-based research lab in partnership with the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust and a couple of key Foundations and be studying bioluminescence, corals, sea turtles and whales (Hola Lirio, Mark, Angel and Mark!). We hope to back here for our 4th Gulf trip. One thing is for sure, it will be a busy time. We will try to continue to share the adventures with you!
I want to close with two special thank yous. My son James was also one of my first four volunteers. He worked tirelessly in the months leading up to the voyage and beyond raising funds, preparing supplies and training for hazardous waste duty and doing whatever needed to be done. He setup and maintains the Facebook page and the lab webpage posting the logs as fast as he can. He maintains our house, and our pets. He saved the 2010 samples when Fedex nearly lost them. He is in constant touch with me every day while I am away. He is a key and often unnoticed member of this team. But, he is invaluable. Thanks James for all you have done! We could not have done this without you.
Finally, last but not least by any means, my partner and friend Iain Kerr. Iain, words cannot quite do justice for all you and I have done and gone through together these past few years both thick and thin. So let’s just leave it simply at this – Thank You, my friend. You put your heart and soul into all of it and it shows. Take a bow, you have earned one.
With that, I wish you all well and a great rest of the summer. Thank you all for listening, for your thoughts and prayers, for your words of encouragement and for your support.
Until the start of the next chapter,
John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D.