The California coast is an incredible place to live for hundreds of species. The rich nutrients upwelled in this region near Point Conception provide the food source for unicellular organisms like phytoplankton that cannot be seen without using a microscope, to much larger species such as giant blue whales.
Many of our scientists aboard this research cruise study the interactions of small, drifting plankton to understand their role in the complex food web. Plankton form the base of the food web that almost all other marine organisms depend upon. Being on the ship’s deck for longer periods of time has given me the opportunity to view some of the diversity found at the surface of our complex ocean.
On our first day I was lucky to see a whale, but it was impossible to take a clear photograph from the distance of our ship. We often have the presence of birds, especially when we have made a stop. One of the reasons for this is that many fish will use our ship’s structure as shelter, if we remain in one place long enough. Soon after, birds are all around.
One beautiful bird to see as it glides centimeters off the surface of the water is the brown feathered black footed albatross. This amazing bird lives most of its life over the Pacific Ocean, only returning to land for nesting on the Hawaiian islands. Their wingspan can extend over two meters in length.
When our ship is moving it forms a wake behind the ship that creates a playground for dolphins. They will make an appearance surfing the waves one after the other.
For the last few days we have been surrounded by Velella velellas. These beautiful by-the-wind-sailors are a special type of jellyfish that live at the sea surface. They complete their whole lifecycle at sea in the Pacific Ocean. They are free-floating hydrozoans carried by wind currents thousands of kilometers across the ocean, sometimes reaching the shore. Their deep blue tentacles blend in with the deep color of the ocean.
Another amazing sight was spotting a giant sunfish. I screamed when I saw it from deck while my left hand took over photographing. It was an incredible moment for me to see a nearly meter long sunfish, as well as the realization that my camera has become an extension of myself.