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LatestPhoto
A spinner dolphin gets a close view of the Odyssey.
Photo : Chris Johnson

April 25, 2004
Passage Across the Arabian Sea
Real Audio Report
  28k


Log Transcript

The Odyssey crew left the Maldives last week after two months of research. We are currently embarking on a 1200-mile passage across the Arabian Sea in the northern Indian Ocean before sailing 600 miles down the Gulf of Aden to Djibouti - a tiny country the size of Massachusetts nestled between Somalia and Eritrea at the base of the Red Sea.

The ocean is surprisingly calm, only a few knots of wind to ripple the surface. Unfortunately, this means we are forced to motor constantly - this is comparable to sleeping next to your car while the engine is running. Odyssey is at her best under sail, coming alive in response to the power of the wind. There is a sense of tranquility about sailing out of sight of land that is exhilarating - but without a breeze, the sails hang empty and limp. For other boats making this crossing and relying solely on wind power, there progress is slow. In the 18th and 19th centuries, merchant vessels traveled through the doldrums (an area generally within 30' north and south of the equator). While whaling ships often spent several years at sea, due in part to being stuck in the doldrums for long periods, an area often frequented by their prey - the sperm whale. When a ship was becalmed for days, even weeks on end with no progress being made due to lack of wind, it was said the dullness of the wait could drive one to tantrums. Thus the word doldrums itself appears to be derived from the words dull and tantrum.

LatestPhoto
Rough-toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis) are rarely observed at sea and poorly known compared to most other species. They are easy to distinguish by the long, narrow beak that blends into the forehead without a crease. The conical head combined with the large eye gives this species a reptilian appearance.
Photo : Chris Johnson

Although not as enjoyable as sailing, motoring ensures our progress is constant. We are kept company with daily visits from dolphins. The groups are spectacularly large and usually mixed - comprising pan-tropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) and spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris). The average group size is around 500 animals. However, this morning we awoke to glassy calm conditions and over 1,000 dolphins. The stream of animals porpoising toward us seemed endless - we were totally surrounded. They rode the bow wave for over an hour, spinning, leaping and rolling, always in perfect synchrony so that even when 50 dolphins jostle for prime position ahead of the bow, collisions are masterfully avoided.

The heat on deck is oppressive, we cannot stay outside for more than a few minutes without a hat and sunscreen, even with protection, about half an hour is all we can stand. With the dolphins still reveling in their free ride, Mark decided to stop the boat to give the crew a quick swim break and a chance to cool off. We fully expected the dolphins to leave, but luckily they chose to mill around.

There is no feeling like swimming in a calm, clear ocean 600 miles from the nearest land and 5,000 meters above the sea floor. The only experience greater is when oceanic dolphins choose to join you - and that's exactly what they did. After 10 minutes, the dolphins grew bored with our comparative aquatic clumsiness and moved on.

The crew is in high spirits, enjoying the 1,200 mile passage from Male to the mouth of the Gulf of Aden. We occupy ourselves during the day with boat maintenance tasks - a never ending element of life at sea, washing, cooking, cleaning, reading, writing, standing helm and observation watches.

Minimal cetacean research is conducted in this area, particularly the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. This entire area may be one of the best places in the world to look for undiscovered, endemic marine mammals. The Gulf of Oman is known to harbor a resident population of humpback whales and indo-pacific humpback dolphins - who knows what we may see along the way.

LatestPhoto
Pan-tropical spotted dolphins and Spinner dolphins in mixed groups numbering in the thousands, keep us company during the long passage.
Photo : Chris Johnson

This afternoon we spotted a small group of Rough-toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis). This is only the second time we have observed this poorly known, offshore species. They don't appear particularly fond of bow riding, but dart around just below the surface demonstrating a distinctive 'skimming' behavior. Rough-toothed dolphins are distinctive from most other species because of their high, wide dorsal fin, there pinkish-white sides and white lips, however, there most distinctive feature is the head - there is no crease between the melon and the beak. The narrow, conical head and large eye is unique to this species and gives it a somewhat reptilian appearance.

We stayed with the group to take photographs and noticed some of the animals milling around a floating object. We approached and scooped it up in a net. It was the remains of a squid. The mantle and fins were still recognizable, but the tentacles and eyes were gone. It seemed the dolphins were feeding on it - squid is regular fare on the menu of rough-toothed dolphins. The mantle alone without the head measured almost three feet in length. We took photographs and tissue samples that will be sent back to the United States for analysis, while the beak of the invertebrate will assist in identification of the species.

In a day or so we will reach the Gulf of Aden - a body of water, bordered by Somalia to the south and Yemen to the north. The tiny country of Djibouti is at the western most tip.

The Gulf is a one of the busiest shipping routes in the world with boat traffic traveling between the Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf and Asia. It is also an area known for piracy attacks on yachts and unbelievably, even tankers. Most attacks come from the Somali coast, so Odyssey will be traveling well offshore and the crew will be keeping double watches to ensure our safety.

For now, we are enjoying great weather, nice food and good company.

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Arabian Sea.

LatestPhoto
Captain Mark Preedy and our newest crewmember, Ildiko Polyak at helm watch just before sunset.

Meet the rest of the Odyssey crew
Photo : Chris Johnson

Links:

  • In December 2003, on a passage sailing from the Seychelles to the Maldives, a mother-calf pair of Humpback whale rode the bow wave of Odyssey for 4 hours. Read more about the experience
  • While surveying the waters of Kiribati in December 2000, the Odyssey was accompanied by a school of Rainbow runners for over 900 miles! Roger Payne narrates these special audio reports: Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.
  • Learn more about some of the crew's experiences sailing in the Indian Ocean.
  • What did the crew report on one year ago in Sri Lanka?
    Two years ago in Australia?
    Three years ago in Papua New Guinea?
    Four years ago in the Galapagos Islands-
    Real Audio Report   >28k

Log written by Genevieve Johnson.

 
 
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