DAY THREE ON BOARD - Spotting wildlife

Up again at 5.30am, with the sound of the engine, and the waft of diesel. Despite the early hour, this is really the best time of day to sit on deck and just marvel at the ocean and the beauty of the space around us, and it’s nice and cool with no other boats around, apart from the odd fishing boat.  
It has always been a dream of mine to see whales in their natural habitat, not on an organised tour or in an aquarium but out in the wild. And of course I am not the only one on this trip who feels like that. When I’m on watch with Austrian Doris later, we talk about this for ages. She’s been a member of OceanCare for 10 years and like many others, that’s how she heard about Alnitak. But she was worried she would need certain skills to be a volunteer or be too old. But when she asked, she was told that the only requirement for volunteers was to have fun, so she quickly realized that she had found the right trip, and this is now her third time onboard Toftevaag. 

She tells me about all amazing creatures she has seen over the years on these trips, and how she has always felt part of a really close team each time.  The only thing she has not seen yet is a whale….so hopefully we might see one this week!
In the morning, we saw three different large pods of bottlenose dolphins.  We went towards them to see if they wanted to bow ride, but they have other plans.  Ric suggests they might be tired after feeding during the night, so we wave them off and watch them leave. It’s a very different approach to your average wildlife safari, where at any cost a boat operator will just chase down whatever it is they have promised to show you.
We then spot two loggerhead turtles, either side of the boat, and a few of us jump in for a snorkel and a swim with them, but again, they seem a little shy of us, so we keep the noise down and don’t chase them either. Ric said they were likely to be just decompressing after eating squid during the night.  A little while later we spot the fin of a large manta ray but we quickly lose sight of it.  A real surprise for me was seeing four butterflies and a wasp when we were out to sea. How did they make it all the way out to sea here? Ric says they can survive and fly all this way if carried on the wind, but they may have also hitched a ride with us.  Amazing.   I think they were Red Admirals and a Cabbage White. No whales in sight yet, but we remain hopeful…

We also picked up a lot of rubbish today, including two helium balloons, a boat cushion, some rope, and a plastic sack.  Balloons can entangle or get eaten by many different species on land and at sea; causing buoyancy issues or just getting stuck in the stomachs of whichever poor creature eats them.  They are a personal bugbear of mine, because they only last about five minutes before they get popped or they fly away, and then all the children cry! I also find them all over my Dad’s farm.  So I am really pleased that the old fashioned fabric bunting is becoming popular again now, instead of balloons. We also use a manta trawl each day to record the amount of micro-plastics in the water.  This is a very simple net system that allows the surface of the ocean to be sampled over an hour.  Each day so far, we have found plenty of microplastics and also lots of very interesting and brightly coloured zooplankton.

Once again, I tried to go up the mast to do the look out, and to get myself to at least go up there,  I gave myself the task of taking some chocolate up to one of the other volunteers who was sat up there, It is high!!  Maybe tomorrow i will sit up there…. but I´m not sure yet. The view is incredible……as long as you don’t look down!!

Jasmine Spavieri