Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Foiled by fog

A fishing vessel looms in the dense fog
The strait of Gibraltar can be an intimidating place for a small research vessel. 

Dense fog forces our return to port
Fierce winds from the Atlantic or Mediterranean can force all but the largest vessels into safe harbor. These winds can blow for days or weeks at a time, and we rely on picking out small moments of calm for conducting our research. One indication of such a day approaching is the increase in bedroom temperature when the cooling night wind disappears, often followed closely by a surge of hungry mosquitoes looking for a night-time drink. 

Last night was one of those nights, boding well for our ability to go out to sea today. After getting up at 5 and completing a morning configuration of our equipment (all DTAGs reporting ready for deployment) we rendezvous with our colleagues at the research vessel Elsa in the local harbor. Weather seems ideal for a day of tagging with overnight deployments, and despite the early hour, the morale of our team is soaring. Buoyed by our high expectations (and an intense espresso conjured up in the morning by Nicholas) we make it several hundred meters outside the harbor only to be called directly back by the traffic control authorities!

Within half an hour of returning to port, a thick curtain of fog came rolling in from the east, completely enshrouding the harbor, our boat, and our optimism. The fog is a wildcard, an additional hazard of the area that occasionally demands our attention or, in this case, our time. While we would be able to track tagged whales through the fog using the radio beacons, navigating the traffic would be more problematic, and spotting whales for tagging would of course be impossible.

Nothing is so bad it is not good for anything.  Over the next couple of hours, warm churros and a quick nap makes the world seem a little happier. A light wind and the heat of the sun works to dispel the fog, and with some 4 hours of delay, we again head back out to sea, hopeful to still get some work done despite the unexpected late start.

Frants Jensen

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