Living on Sponge Cake, Watching the Sun Bake, The Deck is all Covered in Oil

You know you are procrastinating writing that paper when you spend a good two hours making mix tapes… yes, I know they are called ‘play lists’ now, kids. But this week while steaming to Mangareva I did just that, made three play lists for the crew. I did this because for the last few days I’ve done some unofficial DJing in club Tara. But as to be expected my POS laptop has been acting weird and would only play music in iTunes format and refused to connect to my external hard drive for some unknown reason, so I was limited in my selection of appropriate music for this international audience. But when I finally fixed those issues I had at my disposal 50Gig of sonic bliss. Now we are ready for everything: a euro-style dance party, a chronic mellow chill session, a tropical breezy feel good jaunt, or classic rock sing along festival. With the traverse, it’s nice to just laze around the galley or back deck of the boat and listen to some tunes ’cause reading and writing can induce the heaving (see second half of this blog).

BIRDS! And the Shark Hallows

Oh, I forgot to catch you all up on the sharks at Ducie. Recap! So we did end up seeing a ton of sharks, but really only in the lagoon of the island. A super scary amount as previously predicted. To get to the lagoon we had to traverse the island and literally step over a baby Murphy’s petrel every 3 feet. I’ve never seen so many birds before; it was a veritable bird mine field. Someone described it as a real life video game where you had to step in the right spot or lose a life. It was pretty crazy, and every chick seemed to think we were gonna give him food cause when we got near they opened their beaks and squawked at us, “raaaaaaaa!” I got’s nothing but love baby bird.

Petrel baby

Baby Murphy’s petrel

When we got to the lagoon things got even more wildlife crazy. We suited up and stepped in the lovely blue and green lagoon. (Cross off that digital camera from the list cause apparently even though it said it was water proof, it wasn’t.) The lagoon had two parts, a very shallow (1/2 m) step made out of compressed and fossilized coral bits that was about 100 meters wide. It looked and felt like someone took a gazillion pounds of Acropora branches and melted them together to make a rip rap beach. The water was clear and blue, beautiful and welcoming. Then there was the lagoon itself, a different beast altogether. The edge of shallow area dropped off into deeper and darker water that had a menacing feel. And the place was pretty darn creepy, dark green water with tall 5m pillars of coral that formed a maze. Shark maze! That’s a maze I did not want to go in. If the outside was an advertisement for the loveliness of tropics then the inside was like an advertisement for a bad B-horror movie. Perhaps I felt this way because within seconds (I am not exaggerating) we were quickly ‘approached’ by 12 grey reef sharks. Big fatty sharks, not those little pups we saw on the forereefs. Mama and dada sharks, 2 meters in length and girthy. And when I said ‘approached’ I really meant they swam straight at us, like a pack of either a) happy puppies (preferable really) or alternatively angry pit bulls. Now it’s hard to read the face of a reef shark, but based on their twitchy swimming I decided it was the later and hid behind Chris. Actually all three of us quickly retreated back to the shallows where the sharks didn’t seem to want to enter but from where we could watch them swim around and around. It was an intense experience. After the sharks patrolled the entrance to the lagoon for a good 3-5 minutes they retreated back into the depths where we couldn’t see them and to where we didn’t really want to follow. My impression of the whole things was that the sharks were telling us… “No no no people… I don’t think so. This place is ours, so STHO.” So we did. While I cowered at the edge of the lagoon, I nicknamed the place the “shark hallows.”

Sharks

On the way back to the ship I got to see even more sharks. I saw more sharks in that 2-hour trip than the rest of the trip combined. As we snorkeled through the remarkably beautiful shallow reef adjacent to the boat we saw a tons of huge monstrous lobsters and 3-4 sleeping white tip sharks. I actually think it was one of the prettiest sites I saw on the island, although it’s hard to be a tourist when you are working underwater. But as I swam from the reef over to the deeper water where the ship was anchored, I saw a small baby white tip (1.5ft maybe) take off from the bottom and high tail it towards me. Now a shark is a shark no matter how small, but I was only a little concerned ’cause this thing was so little. Well at first. But this shark was making a bee line to me like you couldn’t imagine, and I thought “what the hell does this baby shark want from me?” A hunk of flesh? Or a cuddle? Well I picked up some speed and grabbed Chris who’s more than 6ft tall and 230, showed him the shark, and hid behind him again. He makes a conveniently large barrier. When we both faced it, it sort-of slowed down, but it was still heading straight for us, like it was on a mission. Then another person came over and the shark finally changed its mind. It turned and started to circle us. We swam around each other for a while and I started to realize this animal just really wanted to check us out. It was curious beastie! We were probably the first humans it had ever seen and it, like any kid, wanted to play. Or least I hope that’s what it wanted. But it was an experience that really stuck with me. I can imagine that shark’s face in my mind’s eye very clearly, and I sincerely hope that he/she gets to live a nice long sharky life at Ducie. I thought it was a very appropriate last water experience at Ducie Island, and it left me with a good feeling instead of the sadness I experienced on the first few dives. Thanks, little buddy.

Homesick Seasick Mesick

After we left Ducie we started our 4 ½ day journey to Mangareva. When we are underway this is usually when people suffer from seasickness. Luckily thus far I have had only three minor bouts of seasickness. One with the blue cheese pasta in the big seas and the other when we weren’t really moving at all, but when someone showed a shakey handcam video reel of sharks in the lagoon. It was Blair Witch yackatude all over again. Although to be honest, I haven’t actually spewed chunks at all this trip.  Just wanted to really. And then there was yesterday. Since we collected the bleaching data at Ducie the other scientists and I have been very motivated to wrap up our analysis and write a paper. The bleaching we recorded was around 30% and the more coral there was the less bleaching. So while I attempted to make some Excel graphs I got super motion sick. Now Excel graphs usually just make me metaphorically sick, but in this case they made me literally sick. Haven’t really recovered yet, and had been feeling pretty horrible all day yesterday and all last night. That’s why this blog is so late in the coming. Also, laying in bed all day can make you feel physically better but unfortunately it’s not good for the soul. Add super homesick to that seasick and you have a sad Becky. I guess its par for the course after three weeks away, but I am really missing my family, friends, and my students right now. I’m having a hard time knowing that its still two more weeks before I am home. In a funny twist, when I was feeling angry at Microcoft and then sick afterwards, my roommate Elsa quipped “it’s actually nice to see you angry and sad, because it shows you are human.” And I was very human yesterday. A tad too human for my taste. So to cheer me up, please send me emails (becky@tara5.oceanbox.net) and tell me what you are up to these days, what you are currently thinking about, or how much you love or hate my blog. Till next time, salty dogs!

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