Blogging from a ship that is out in the middle of the blue nowhere (although this blue is liquid gold at the moment, courtesy of the sunset) has its perks and, erm, things you would not think of while still on land. On the upside, for example: the inspiration you get from just watching the waves, without whales breaching here and there, is enough to make almost anyone a decent writer for a while. The downside is, however, that when it gets rocky, the very last thing you want to do is marvel at waves or the horizon, or anything for that matter, much less become a decent writer.
But luckily we’re back in a spell of still, sunny weather. And, by the way, no, in case you were wondering, the whales are not breaching. Neither here nor there, but more on that a bit later.
Yesterday I had another go at the engine strainer, and to spare you reading what you have already read and looking at strikingly familiar pictures, I will summarize it: same as last week (that is, it is full of plastic). Correction: it is the same every week, according to the engineers. Be that as it may, I collected everything there was to collect for fellow scientists who study the changing mechanical properties of plastics in seawater and plan to hand the samples over and hopefully help them in their research.
In the meantime, the only wildlife apart from plastics that I’ve been lucky to spot ever since that whale have been several species of seabirds, mainly albatrosses. Now, if there’s something that I know scarily little about, it’s birds. So all I can do is share what I have been observing, from a genuine bird dummy.
Unlike the sadly renowned fulmars, who have been found dead, crammed with garbage, alongside their chicks, I have not personally witnessed albatrosses pecking at the plastics floating on the surface. Their typical behavior would be gliding with the wind over the water, barely flapping their wings, till they spot something edible and snatch it out. And to my comfort, I haven’t seen a single bird with a craving for plastics. Time for my next brilliant hypothesis: could albatrosses be smarter than fulmars? But I’m a bird dummy, please remember that.
On the whole, we’ve been away from land for 23 days now, and it is simply astonishing how little marine life we’ve seen so far. Not to say that there is none: we’re judging by the surface and the few topmost meters of the water column only. Yet those are unexpectedly virgin, undisturbed by anyone, save those seabirds in the air once in a while. I’ve read different things on the ecosystem of the North Pacific Gyre. A very common viewpoint among marine biologists is that these are oligotrophic (that is to say, nutrient poor) waters, and hence it’s absolutely ok for them to be a blue desert. Which sounds quite reasonable: the water samples I’ve taken a look at under a microscope barely contained any phytoplankton, let alone zooplankton, both of which become abundant as you approach the coast. Which makes me wonder over and over again: don’t we overestimate the vastness and the almightiness of the ocean? I mean, think of all the kinds of bioresources that we are still miraculously extracting out of it. We act as if the ocean was an overflowing bathtub homogeneously teeming with all kinds of fish across its vast expanses. But you know what? These 23 days out here have so far been proving just the opposite.