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2010 Battle of Atlantic Expedition

Blog: June 23, 2010

Paula Whitfield
Marine Biologist, NOAA NCCOS
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Mission info 2007 Nancy Foster Cruise

Ok, I just had my best dive of the entire trip! It was on the Dixie Arrow, a shipwreck located in about 90ft of water. The visibility was a good 40-50ft, which for North Carolina is not exceptional, but for this trip, that kind of visibility is extraordinary! I think what made it even better was the fact that the last dive I had on the Dixie Arrow... oh about 2 weeks ago or so... was one of the worst dives ever - for me anyway.

During that dive there was the cold dark water layer with a ton of current and within that horrible water layer were jellyfish, and I mean a lot of them. They were coming at you like bugs on a windshield and unfortunately I got hit by one on my face. There was probably only four square inches of my skin that was exposed to the elements, and of course it was on my face, and I got nailed by this jellyfish full on. I don't know what kind it was but it really, really stung my face and needless to say my face didn't look so good either.

Sand Tiger shark curiously follows the NOAA diver. (NOAA)
Sand Tiger shark. (NOAA)
After that I really wasn't looking forward to going back to the Dixie Arrow, but of course you never really know how conditions can change... and change they did! On this dive, my colleague, Roldan Muñoz, and I got to the bottom and sure enough the vis was great and there were a ton of sand tiger sharks... one of my favorites. These sharks were also in a mood, you could tell because they would come in real close for a look at you and then they wouldn't veer off until the last minute. One was so curious, I actually took my camera and shooed it away. Fortunately, these sand tigers are usually quite docile, so you get the excitement of diving with sharks without the fear of being bit. But, on this dive they were kind of frisky, every once in a while one would just snap its tail and take off and for no apparent reason. Also these sharks were so marked up with deep scratches all over their body. Not sure what the scratches are from, but perhaps they are currently mating on this wreck. I have heard that when they mate they can get pretty rough with each other. But I have never seen this activity so I really can't be sure. But for whatever reason, there were a ton of sharks congregating on this wreck, and I mean they were everywhere. I guess you can tell that I like to be around them. It adds a bit of excitement to the dive.

In addition to that, I am finally learning how to take still photos (I usually take video) and my job on this dive was to do the habitat photo quads and my buddy's job was to do the fish survey. Finally, the stars aligned and the camera was working perfectly - or maybe I was working it perfectly. Either way, the photo quads looked good. And in between taking the photo quads, I was also taking pictures of the wreck and the sand tigers and the fish community just whatever came into my view.

The depth of the dive made it very relaxing, we had a whole 30 minutes on this dive, and we took advantage of every minute. I also enjoyed seeing the algae community. One thing about deep dives over 200 ft is that while I love to go deep to see the marine life in areas very hard to get to, I have been missing seeing the algal community and other encrusting organisms that are found a bit shallower. Algae can't survive really deep because there just isn't enough light for them to photosynthesize.

On the natural reefs off North Carolina (rocky outcrops not coral reefs), the algae community is incredibly diverse and colorful adding this additional 3-dimensional structure that fish and other creatures find excellent habitat. The other amazing thing to me is that about two weeks ago, I only saw about 10 different species of fish and no sand tigers in sight with tons of jelly fish. Now today, we saw almost 30 different species of fish and the sharks! This really brings home just how dynamic the conditions and the marine life can be at these locations. I sure hope the weather holds...

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