R/V Pelagia 2009: Monday 19th October. James Keating (Foreign Observer)

51.25.96N, 11.46.40W

We have had the luck of the draw with the weather for the first few days; but on this, Day 4 of the CORALFISH/HERMIONE survey, the Atlantic swell has won. With the Albex and Aberdeen landers already in the water from last night and the video boxcore being repaired; first order of the day was to deploy our benthic trawl. The relatively small beam was expertly guided to the bottom by the crew in 1000m. The hope was to collect samples off the coral mounds. With the gear still on its long journey to the bottom, we were again visited by a pod of pilot whales (‘griend’ in Dutch), with their entourage of associated gannets and petrels. The best estimate was 5-10 individuals, with calves present. These small black torpedo-like whales can grow to 6m in length and are easily identified by the well rounded, broad-based dorsal fin. This was the 4th visit in the past few days and with good photos, we may be able to do some photo ID to establish if it is the same group. With one final ‘spy-hop’, the whales went on their way, and it was time to recover the trawl. Scientists and crew alike gathered on deck to get a glimpse of the diverse life in the cod end. The trawl was good, and contained Lophelia spp., Madrepora spp., some interesting black-corals and some solitary corals. All hands helped separate the live material for the biologists. Squat lobsters, deep sea crabs, polychaetes and a possible red fish will all provide valuable stable isotope information. The trawl had travelled over sharp coral, and without rollers, tears to the net occurred; a minor repair for the experienced crew! The swell increased to at least force 5 and it was decided to recover the ALBEX lander. This was completed with the minimum of fuss, albeit without its mackerel bait. With the swell constantly increasing, Thom decided his Aberdeen lander would be safer on the mound and will recover it when the weather improves. Down-time due to the weather gave everyone opportunity to sort through their data. Thom has put together an excellent time lapse video from his first deployment and he was very excited to capture an image of a large Monkfish, possibly over 1m in width. Rachel and her team have been busy setting up and monitoring their coral incubations as well as sorting through the remaining samples from the trawl. The weather forecast is not good, and we may see a southerly F8-9 overnight. Everything on deck is secured, and the safest place to be is inside. All we can do now is keep our head to the wind, moving at only a few knots and ride out the storm. As we say in Ireland, today is a day for the high stool.

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