Log: The Vortex

[DAY 28] Swimming with sperm whales and microplastic

This was one of those days I will remember for the rest of my life for good and bad reasons.
I took some extra time in the morning to fix one of my wetsuits. They are all in need of repairs and show multiple tears under the armpits. Since I could not wait for the glue to dry, I sow it using dental floss. I have done it in the past and to my experience dental floss doesn’t cut the neoprene as much as regular thread would.

With my repaired wetsuit one, I stepped on deck, Josh and Ty were on the dinghy ready for me to jump in the water.
A tow net had been pulled out of the water, it looked like it was going to be a high count. For the past 2 days, we had been moving north into the center of the patch.
In the first hour of swimming, Josh stopped me and said full of excitement: “Ben, I can see whale spray ahead of you. Is it ok if we stop the swim and have you jump in the dinghy to get there?”

We stopped the swim tracker, I jumped in and we were on our way. In a couple of minutes we reached the location. As we got closer and hoping we could jump in the water, they flipped their tails above the water and disappeared. We motored in the direction we thought they were moving and about 15 minutes later they reappeared further out to our left. At Josh’s request, we moved parallel to them and slowly gained on them. Our Torqeedo engine (electric outboard) gave us the right propulsion without the noise. Dolphins were in front of the convoy jumping out of the water at times, escorting 3 or 4 sperm whales. We noticed also a different type of triangular dorsal fin sticking high out of the water. We found out later it was a killer whale!

We finally passed them, moved ahead and then made a sharp turn to the left to position ourselves in their path. As they were coming right in our direction, Josh and I jumped in the water, we faced them and saw the sperm whales come right at us. The mom and her calf passed us to our right about 10 to 15 meters below the surface and the biggest one passed on our right about 10 meters away, cruising right below the surface. I could see his right eye looking right at me and as he passed us he turned over and swam on his back slowly swimming away.

Ty, on the dinghy saw the killer whale do a 180 degree turn as he got closer to us, unfortunately neither Josh or I saw him in the water. We could only speculate about the presence of the killer whale but it would be logical to think that he was after the calf…
We jumped back on the dinghy and followed them with the same approach. We were able to again position ourselves in their path, Josh and Ty jumped in the water and I decided to stay on the dinghy until the last minute before joining them. They were approaching us and were about 40 meters away. I was about to slip into the water when the mom raised her tail above the water and they all disappeared in the depth. Ty and Josh weren’t able to see them in the water.

They came back to the dinghy and we cruised in the direction we thought they were heading. After about 20 Minutes, we still had not seen them and decided to resume the swim. I was still on the dinghy adjusting my gear when about 1/2 mile in front of us, they breached and made big splashes. We motored to the location but it was the last time we saw of them.
I resumed swimming and during the rest of the day we found a big plastic drum, multiple nets and ropes, and the dinghy guys collected few other plastic pieces.

When we got back to I Am Ocean, the crew established a new microplastic count record from the morning net: OVER 3000 PIECES!
We had just lived few hours earlier an unforgettable, amazing and intense moment to realize that these creatures were swimming in an area with the highest microplastic concentration.

30°29 N / 144°55 W


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Photo credits @joshmunoz

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