Mar 162013

Whale? Or shadow… life beneath the ocean rowboat James Robert Hanssen

For the last few days in a row, we have been visited by two or three large whales. They have large, coal-colored bodies and a small fin on the back well behind their blowhole. They appear, give a deep intake of air, almost industrial in sound, and expose at least thirty feet of their body and it’s obvious that there is far more beneath the surface. It’s overwhelming, gentle power.

It’s also elusive. Out of nowhere this leviathan appears and takes a deep breath, blows us away, and then gone. We stand with cameras half-pulled out of dry bags, mouths agape, or standing in concentration on the surrounding water that, even with polarized glasses at mid day, is impossible to see through more than thirty feet from our boat … and we wait. Those beasts take breaths for real. One breath and, as far as I can tell, that’s all they need to get far enough away from our boat that they are invisible (this would be about a mile or two).

I get a strange emotion. I’m absolutely floored and then with that camera hanging from my hand I think,  “Whale jerks…. Why don’t you let us film you?!?  We just want to show people how cool you are!”

Peering up through the quadrant

What sea beasts see as they peer skyward toward the good-ship James Robert Hanssen

Then, more cynically, “Gosh dang it we need pictures of Compelling Mega Fauna (CMF’s) because that’s what people care about. They just don’t get excited about plankton! Whale, you know how important the plankton is! We need your picture so we can get people to care about you so they will care about the ocean and your plankton!”

They don’t seem to listen.  But I have my hopes….

Let it be known whales, I will give you a belly rub in exchange for pictures.

Even dead fish are hard to take pictures of. Our boat travels at 1.5-3.5 knots. When we go faster, that means wind. Wind means white caps. The other day, three of the same fish floated by in about an hour’s period. I have never seen a dead whole fish floating on the surface of the ocean. It was disturbing. Same drill. See it. Grab camera… all about 15 seconds and…. well what is that white speck in the picture? Dead fish or white caps? It’s frustrating. When we do manage to get pictures, it makes our day and we work as hard as we can to get it out to you. We also focus on taking higher quality HD video, so over the next months after we get back, stay posted and we will have some even better stuff that will come once we are on land and can process it all.

P.S.:  Saw two 1.5 liter water bottles floating yesterday. I did manage to get some shots of these. It was calm but they are still visible. If it floats, and its not properly disposed of, it ends up out here. They just don’t give me the same feeling as seeing whales.


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  6 Responses to “Day 53: Even dead fish are camera shy”

  1. Gents, must be an amazing feeling sharing your row with such beautiful creatures. No doubt they will give you a show soon to get your footage and photo’s. Keep up the rowing getting closer by stroke.


  2. Pat,

    Great blog as always. Four accomplished oarsmen with deft pens at the ready! Your uneasy juxtaposition of whales and plastic bottles wasn’t lost on me. Especially after reading that
    “In one year, three times as much rubbish is dumped in the world’s oceans as the weight of fish caught.”

    Say hi to your seat-mate Adam. I’ve been keeping a daily vigil on that yellow line.

    Be safe.


  3. Have you tried talking to the whale devas? Do whales have devas?

  4. Some things aren’t meant to be photographed. When you tell us with words we can use our imaginations!

  5. Happy St. Patrick’s Day Adam, Jordan, Marcus, and Patrick. Seeing these last couple of 3 knot+ log ins today – I am truly beginning to believe in leprechauns–or did you have some Lucky Charms stashed on board. The plastic garbage you are constantly encountering on your journey reminded me of a story out of Japan on converting plastic to oil. It makes so much sense considering how much oil we use to produce plastics.
    Not that the petrochemical industry would support this without incredible lobby, but think of the impact it would have if we could convince people that their garbage could be turned into oil. Watch those recycling bins fill.
    Hoping for better conditions for all on the JRH. I do know of an Irish pub in Miami that might be convinced to do green beer for your arrival. If it doesn’t, I’ll spring for Guiness for the JRH crew until it runs dry instead – unless they have ODIN of course. Cheers.

  6. We are happy to see the yellow line moving toward your destination.

    In your account of dead fish, I remembered accounts of nerve gas being dumped in the Atlantic. I kept a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle from August 9,1970 that reported that 418 vaults of nerve gas were moved by train from Alabama and 318 cannisters from Kentucky were dumped 282 miles east of Cape Kennedy. They were said to have been dumped into 16,000 feet of water. (Previously, nerve gas was dumped off the coast of New Jersey in 1967 and ’68.) I wonder about the effect of these plus the radioactive waste released into our seas.. I suppose the wildlife scientists take all this into account,along with the plastic and oil pollution. I think its wonderful that your mission is opening eyes to the awesomeness and beauty of life on our planet,and am hoping that wiser decisions will be made by people and the military establishment about preserving life on land and in our seas around us. Thank you.

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