Well hello there. Over the next three months I'm going to be going from Japan to Australia and New Zealand... via 2 months spent on a big boat in the North Pacific. I'm part of the scientific team for IODP Expedition 324, which aims to sample deep basement rocks from a giant underwater volcanic-plateau called 'Shatsky Rise'. Should you be interested, you can follow what I'm up to here...

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Flora and fauna

The JR seems to have turned into a giant biological snowball, picking up cute little hitchhikers on its way south.

You've got to remember that apart from the occasional fishing boat or container ship, we’re the only solid thing within a 1500 mile radius out here, so we attract anything that’s looking for a meal or is too horribly lost and exhausted to fly any further.

Because we stay in the same spot for a few days while we’re drilling we become something of a transient atoll, offering food, shelter and (probably) entertainment to the many denizens of the Pacific we pass on our way. We throw our food leftovers overboard (after very carefully extracting all of the burnables/recyclables/anything not biodegradable or edible) which attracts lots of little fish looking for shelter and a quick snack.

Unfortunately for the little fish, word soon gets out about the bonanza and predatory Mahi Mahi are swiftly on the scene looking for a light meal… These guys are really cool looking though; up to a metre long, bluey green with electric-blue side fins and faces like a caved-in whale.

They’re hard to photograph well from the ship (this one was taken by Amber), but I’ll try and get a photo if one “commits suicide” and throws itself onto the deck, (fishing isn’t allowed on the JR in case one of the lines gets tangled in the propellers or the drill string…).

I feel sorry for the little flying fish, it seems like everybody wants to eat the poor things -in fact I’ll admit to being one of them. I’ve seen both Mahi Mahi and orange squid chasing them down and devouring them whole during my daily 2.30am fresh-air break from the lab.

We’ve had a permanent gang of big ocean-going birds circling the boat from the get-go. Huge brown things with razor sharp wings, gliding effortless just above the water. They get really active just as the sun’s coming up, swooping up and down in the pink glow as if to say “we made it through another night. Boo yeah!”

We also have our regular little visitors; the ever so cute but ever so stupid Storm Petrels.
These little guys are ocean-going too so they should be out here in the middle of the ocean I suppose, but unfortunately they seem to have a problem understanding that the JR is made of metal and is therefore quite hard
They regularly crash-land onto the deck at night, then sort of flollop about on their spindly little legs until someone take pity on them and throws them back overboard.

I found this little guy the other night looking truly pathetic, wobbling about on the smoking deck. So I picked him up, took him to the edge and threw him into the air (probably whilst yelling “fly my pretty, fly!” if I know myself at all).
Obviously about 6 seconds later, the wretched little thing did a full 180, swerved back towards the light, thumped into a wall and slid back down onto the deck.

So I tucked him up in the corner and left him to work it out by himself.
I ain’t no Florence Nightingale.

On a more cheerful note, apart from being a petrel-graveyard we’re also a floating oasis for any unfortunate passing land-creatures that really, really shouldn’t be out here. In our second week we even had a group of about 10 giant brown dragonflies, that surely belong in someone's pond and not out here in the big blue sea?

Our cutest little stowaways were blown in last week when we had a spot of bad weather though...
We were working away in the lab on the night shift, wind and rain howling all around, when there was this imperceptible little tap at the window.

Closer inspection revealed this poor bedraggled little ball of fluff looking through the window with some kind of workhouse-orphan-please-sir-may-i-have-some-more expression.


Even this grizzled old sea-dog’s heart was touched.

We discovered that there’s actually a flock of 10 of these little finches living on the boat now. Hoping around amidst the drilling equipment and the cargo boxes. If you sit on the top deck on a sunny day and squint a little bit, you can almost convince yourself you’re in a park.

I sort of imagine they’re like the characters from Lost. Crash landed onto a strange foreign island full of exotic beasts and uncomfortable social situations. Having to form a new society out of the ashes of the old one.

I think I might be cracking up actually.

Anyway, we also picked up a more spectacular guest the other day; some kind of big-ass heron!
You know, the tall spindly things you’d see standing in the Serpentine looking for little fishes in the shallows. Well that poor chap really shouldn’t be out here. Sure he’s got long legs but they’re definitely not 3600m long...

My sympathy dwindled somewhat when someone told me he’d found a source of food after all…. The little finches!
Poor little guys.
Survived the storm and the epic journey across the ocean, only to be laid low by a giant heron on a drilling boat. What are the odds? (This story get’s more Lost-like, the more I think about it actually. Hmm.)
So anyway we’re down to a flock of 7 and counting now.

Hopefully there’ll still be enough left on board once we get to Australia to start a new colony and cause an ecological disaster of biblical proportions.

If anyone asks… it was wasn’t us ok.



  1. So interesting. I never thought about all the creatures who get lost at sea. What happened with the heron? Is it still on the boat?

  2. oh new world monkey is Tamryn. Created a blog just to learn how to do it. Do link me if you can. My ramblings are pretty random. I've got into jewellery making so it's kind of going to be for that once I get good plus I want to learn how to do optimisation x

  3. Hey Tam!
    Consider yo self linked. Jewellery making huh? The glamorous world of accountancy loosing it's appeal so soon...? :)

    I'm not sure what happened to our heron friend actually. He might still be around, but we had some bad weather the other day (58 knot winds= breezy) and we're now in transit to Oz (!) so we might have lost him back there...
    Will keep you up to date with the gory details!