With little fanfare on a beautiful summer-like day, Delaware II departed Woods Hole, MA, late Friday afternoon, June 18, for yet another research cruise. Still, everyone aboard knew this cruise was different. The ship is headed to the Gulf of Mexico, where it will sample pelagic or open ocean fish such as tuna, sharks and billfish for potential impacts related to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill.
Oceanographer Jim Manning from the NEFSC‘s Woods Hole Laboratory took advantage of the opportunity to send four more surface drifters to track ocean currents in the Gulf. Assembled by students in New England, the low-cost drifters with satellite transmitters will be deployed at various spots across the Gulf, joining the more than 20 he has already sent to help researchers track currents in the Gulf that can spread the oil and other pollutants.
Crew members loaded last minute gear, including four brand new refrigeration units to preserve fish samples for laboratory analysis, before departing for the five-day transit to Key West, FL, where they will stop for a day to embark scientific staff and load remaining equipment and supplies before heading into the Gulf.
Scientists from the NEFSC’s Apex Predators Program at the Narragansett Laboratory, from the Woods Hole laboratory, and from the Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami will collect highly migratory species like tuna and sharks via longline fishing in the vicinity of the oil spill for food quality studies and to monitor the distribution and abundance of highly migratory species in the Gulf related to the presence of oil. CTD (for conductivity, temperature and depth) profiles to measure water temperature and salinity at various depths will also be collected, and water samples will be taken from various depths being fished for hydrocarbon analysis.
The cruise is expected to last a month. Captain Steve Wagner expects a calm transit to Florida given the seven-day weather forecast.