Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef Expedition 2014
Mission Information
 

Monday: April 28, 2014
Log Day 9

Amy Rath
Outreach and Communications Coordinator
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary

Homing Piegon on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster during expedition in Gray's Reef.

Homing Piegon on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster during expedition in Gray's Reef.
(Photo: Amy Rath)

Would you expect to find a little Yellow Warbler or an Eastern Towhee on a ship 20 miles offshore? It's quite a surprise to see them when they first make an appearance. Small birds such as these fly out over the ocean with a seaward wind and then find themselves searching for a place to land when the wind ceases. They watch the seabirds soar overhead and even a visiting belted kingfisher may come and go. But with a body type and feathers designed for flight over land, these birds have difficulty landing on water and gaining loft again. So they ride along, searching corners and crevices on the ship's decks for water and food, occasionally making an effort to fly away but usually returning quickly. The luckiest of these birds arrive safely in port with the ship and fly away back onto land.

Turtle under ledge in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

Turtle under ledge in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
(Photo: Greg McFall)

Loggerhead sea turtles are spotted in the sanctuary while we work. Sea turtles are spotted occasionally poking their heads up or resting at the surface as the ship cruises back and forth across the sanctuary to map the seafloor. From the ship and from our small dive boats, we record these sea turtle sightings. We record their location, time and date seen, relative size, and identifying features such as barnacles on their shells, pattern of scales on their head and neck, and tail length to determine whether it is male or female. Whenever possible a photo is taken to help identify them again in the future.

Unidentified shark swimming alongside the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

Unidentified shark swimming alongside the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
(Photo: ENS Conor Maginn)

'ATTENTION NOAA SHIP NANCY FOSTER: a LARGE SHARK has approached the starboard side of the ship and is swimming back and forth alongside.' As a small dive boat was being launched into the water from the starboard (right) side of the ship, a message was relayed to the crew and science team that drew nearly all onboard out onto the decks for a peek at what we found to be a 10 - 12 foot shark. Its unusual behavior, hanging close to the ship for several minutes, was puzzling. Had this shark experienced a ship previously? Perhaps a fishing vessel with by-catch indirectly supplying a source of food for the shark? We were not sure what it was up to, however, we were intrigued by its visit. We had been seeing hammerhead sharks during the week but this shark was quite unexpected. Unfortunately, we have not yet identified the species of shark but it has been suggested that it may have been a sand tiger shark, a bull shark, or a white shark. Exciting for sure!.

Guitarfish.

Guitarfish swimming in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
(Photo: LTJG Jared Halonen)

Have you ever heard of a guitarfish? If you are diving at Gray's Reef, you may see one. While these fish are not musical, they are certainly interesting. Some other fantastic fish we have been seeing include cownose rays, jackknife fish, black seabass, oyster toadfish, scamp grouper, and tiny, juvenile cubbyu. You may be surprised to find that over 200 species of fish are found at Gray's Reef. This live-bottom reef off the coast of Georgia is a very special place.

Gray Sea Star in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

Gray Sea Star in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
(Photo: Richard LaPalme)

XOXO - Who could give a better hug than an octopus? From the regal sea goddess to the gray sea star, invertebrates thrive in Gray's Reef. Over 1000 species of invertebrate animals are found here. Often beautiful and always fascinating, these creatures live among a living of carpet of plants and animals. The live-bottom reef supports a diverse food chain that includes the tiniest critters in the sand, fishes in the water column, and large marine mammals and reptiles swimming near the surface.


Dragonfly.

Dragonfly visiting on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
(Photo: Amy Rath)


Buffalo gnats take a hard bite out of science! Who knew that black flies, also called buffalo gnats, could bite so hard? These annoying flies appeared out of nowhere and have been driving us mad out here in the ocean. On a sweeter note though, dragonflies have joined our expedition and even greeted me on the morning of my birthday, as if bringing well wishes from onshore. These lovely insects and their annoying cousins are an appropriate compliment to the hungry birds onboard the ship.


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