On my second attempt to spot whale sharks yesterday, I flew with the effervescent Bonny Schumaker, whose organization On Wings of Care helps protect wildlife and their habitats by helping with search, rescue, rehabilitation and scientific research. Samantha Whitcraft of the non-profit Oceanic Defense also joined us for the flight. We took off from New Orleans and flew about 50 miles south over the Gulf.
Bonny and her 4-seater plane, whom she lovingly refers to as “Bessie,” have years of experience spotting wildlife. Unfortunately, despite Bonny and Bessie’s best efforts, the conditions yesterday were simply not ideal for finding marine life. Choppy waters and white caps made it a challenge to see much of anything besides oil rigs, oil boom and barrier islands:
I’m here in steamy Gulfport, Mississippi helping out with our expedition in the Gulf of Mexico. The second largest city in Mississippi, Gulfport was demolished by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and has taken an environmental and economic hit from the oil spill.
Yesterday I went up in a spotter plane to try and spot whale sharks. If we caught sight of one, we planned to radio to our boat, the Latitude, and let the crew know where the sharks were so they could tag them.
Unfortunately, we had to turn back to the airport before spotting anything – except some abandoned oil boom and a few dolphins -- because the clouds began to look ominous, and the pilot didn’t want to risk getting caught in a thunderstorm (nor did I). It was quite a treat to be up in a four-seater plane looking over the vast network of wetlands and tributaries that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.