The Beacon

Expedition Wildlife Spotting, Part 2

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:


We cheered when we flew over our boat, the Oceana Latitude. Then we flew over one of Transocean’s ultra-deepwater drillships, the Discoverer Inspiration, which can drill in water up to 12,000 feet deep. Bonny asked us over the radio, “Aren’t you inspired now?”

We also spotted a large area of what looked like surface oil sheen and a few beaches that still looked like war zones.

The previous day, Oceana intern Mara Nery went up in a spotter plane and during a brutally long day in the air (10+ hours) she had more luck seeing wildlife. She was able to see a pod of six spinner dolphins frolicking, and two pods of 40+ bottlenose dolphins. She even caught a few fleeting glimpses of four whale sharks, though the Oceana Latitude was too far from the sharks to arrive in time to see and tag them.

Stay tuned, we’ll have another whale shark update in the coming days.

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