After 10 days at sea on board the Oceana Latitude, we put into port in St. Petersburg after more than 150 miles of sailing and running away from a tropical storm that looked uglier as it got closer. For our luck, it turned east towards Florida’s eastern coast.
Today we traveled to the Dry Tortugas, a small group of islands at the end of the Florida Keys, to study sharks. On board with is the shark team from University of Miami’s R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, lead by Dr. Neil Hammerschlag. Other members of the team on board are Lab Manager and graduate student Dominique Lazzare and Captain Curt Slonim.
The underwater ridge looked promising. South of Key West, 10 miles offshore and 200 meters deep. The bathymetric lines piled up steeply on the chart, indicating some steep relief in some otherwise flat habitat. As far as I knew, no one had ever seen what the seafloor looked like in that area. We deployed the ROV some distance from the site, trying to take into account the drift of the boat.
After a bumpy nighttime transit, we’re now anchored off the lower keys of Key West.
I’ve asked the dive team to count the number of lionfish they see at the dive sites today. It’s easy to recognize lionfish, with their long fin rays and spines, and you’ve probably seen them in saltwater aquariums. Yep, that’s them, staked out in some preferential corner of the aquarium, looking all spiny and finny.
Rough weather and high seas caused unforeseen problems in launching the ROV yesterday. With no improvement in the weather in sight, we begin to head south to start our next leg of work.
Our intended dive location with the ROV was Christmas Ridge, southwest of Tampa Bay approximately 120 miles offshore. Christmas Ridge was so-named by fisherman for the large catches of fish that could be relied upon to bring home a big paycheck before the holidays.
Today the dive team went to Tarpon Springs, which is just a little north of St. Petersburg to dive. Tarpon Springs is named for the tarpons (a species of fish) which can often be seen leaping out of the water in this area. We’ve seen many tarpons leaping out of the water from the Latitude in recent days. While visibility on the dive wasn’t ideal, but the dive team was still able to get some amazing pictures.
The Oceana Latitude is now docked in St. Petersburg for the next few days. I’ve reboarded the Oceana Latitude with 2 scientists from the National Aquarium, Andy Dehart and Andrew Pulver. We’ll be using 2 of the Latitude’s tenders, the longitude and the Lat-long, to do shark research day trips.
The Oceana Latitude is now headed South, down the west coast of Florida.
While the ship is docked in St. Petersburg for the next few days, scientists from Oceana and the National Aquarium, including Discovery Channel shark advisor Andy Dehart, will work to tag various shark species several miles offshore.
It was another day of diving for the crew onboard the Oceana Latitude. Today’s site was nearly 15 miles from Port St. Joe and is home to Sherman Tug, a vessel that was sunk in 1996 and now sits upright 75-feet underwater.