Vance Fergason's Diary


Thursday, June 30, 2005 Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Tuesday, June 28, 2005 Monday, June 27, 2005
Sunday, June 26, 2005 Saturday, June 25, 2005
Friday, June 24, 2005 Thursday, June 23, 2005
Wednesday, June 22, 2005 Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Thursday, May 26, 2005 Monday, February 7, 2005
Monday, January 3, 2005  

Thursday, June 30, 2005 Both teams went out today for more research. Due to high winds and the hot sun, we spent time at Gorda Rock. This is next to Gorda Key, which is the island owned by Disney.
 
Gorda Rock is a small island that is a nesting area for many different species of birds. After lunch, we spent a couple of hours snorkeling around the rock. The water was spectacular. As we swam, some of the birds seemed to dive bomb us.
 
After our fun time, we went back to work looking for the sperm whales and the dense beak whales in the deep. We had a short encounter with the dense beak whales before heading off to check on the dolphins at Rocky Point. We stayed in that area for about an hour before the dolphins showed up. The dolphins did not stay long today before they headed out to feed.
 
We headed back in early so we could enjoy our night out at the local restaurant. We had a great meal and great time, but due to the long day, everyone turned in early. We all had to go and pack for our morning trip to the airport.
 
All I know is that this is the most amazing trip that I have ever been involved in. The researchers were great, the team members were great, and the location was breathtaking!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005 Happy birthday to me! First thing in the morning, we went out to check on the dolphins at Rocky Point. We saw 16 or 17 dolphins in the morning before going out and looking for whales. As we started our transect using the hydrophone, we heard sperm whales!
 
As we tracked the whales, we lost contact with them…or so we thought. After about an hour and a half, one of the team members saw a spray. As we approached the whales, we weren’t real sure how many there were. After getting closer, we counted seven sperm whales, including a 12-meter (40-foot) male! This was amazing.
 
We followed the pod and were constantly amazed at the spray of each whale. After a period of time, the male breached and went for a dive. When he did, his fluke came out of the water and splashed about 15 meters (50 feet) in front of us. This is something I never thought I’d see. As we witnessed the whales, the team sang “Happy Birthday” to me. What an experience.
 
After tracking the sperm whales, we encountered a juvenile spotted dolphin about 29 kilometers (18 miles) out. This was strange due to the dolphin being all alone, and we neither heard nor saw any other dolphins. We followed the little fellow for about 30 minutes before he disappeared. We encountered the sperm whales a couple more times throughout the afternoon before heading back to shore.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 Today was our boat day. Due to high winds, we went to Rocky Point to look for dolphins and encountered 17. These were the same dolphins we had seen before.
 
We stayed out until lunch and then went back to shore to help with the environmental camp and the beach cleanup. There were 14 children at the beach cleanup. We cleaned about a half mile of beach before the children tired out. I think the adults tired before the kids.
 
After the beach cleanup, David and I were given the task of completing an outdoor shower stall. Working with used lumber and with the help from the local hardware store, the stall was completed! I think it turned out pretty well. This will be useful for the researchers and future Earthwatch volunteers.

Monday, June 27, 2005 TAnother shore day. We did data entry until lunch, and then we went to town to participate in an environmental camp with the local children.
 
There were eight kids in attendance, and we were able to make some new friends. We talked to them about the three “Rs”—recycle, reduce, and reuse. Along with the children, there were four adults from the island present.
 
One thing this camp did for me was to really see the emphasis that the Bahama Marine Mammal Survey group puts on the local environment and how the members work on teaching the local people about how important it is to take care of the oceans and beaches. They teach them about marine mammals and how we need to protect them.

Sunday, June 26, 2005 Boat day today. We headed to Rocky Point to see our dolphin friends, who were very playful. They were jumping out of the water, swimming on their backs, and swimming backwards. We also got to snorkel with the dolphins. What an experience!
 
As two of our group were getting in the water, a four- to five-foot reef shark swam under the water. Back in the boat in about two seconds!  Once I got in the water, the dolphins were feeding. They would “crater” in the sand on the bottom, using their snouts to dig in the sand to find food.
 
The current was rough today, so we went to the mangroves to snorkel after swimming with the dolphins. We saw barracudas, stingrays, and all kinds of different fish.
 
After lunch, we were back in the boat and on our way to do a hydrophone check. We were tracking beak whales off of the reef but encountered no whales. We did snorkel the reef. This was something I never dreamed that I would do!

Saturday, June 25, 2005 Today was shore day. It was a welcomed rest from the water and the heat. We spent all morning on data entry and dolphin identification.
 
After lunch, we went outside to do some cleanup around the research house and help with some things that were not completed by the last team. After dinner, we spent time hearing about what the boat team had seen. On this day, they spotted some dwarf sperm whales but were not able to get close enough to interact with them.
 
Tonight was miserable. It was so hot, and the sand fleas were very bad. I woke in the middle of the night sweating with flea bites all over my back. But all is good!

Friday, June 24, 2005 My team was on the boat today. We went to Rocky Point, where we have seen the dolphins the last two days. Right off, we see dolphins. Seventeen in all! We complete the encounter and habitat sheets as we approach the dolphins. The encounter sheet is started once we get to the dolphins, and the habitat sheet is completed every 15 minutes when we are with the dolphins. Today, we learned to identify the dolphins’ behavior.
 
After lunch, we leave the dolphins to go to the deep water for the hydrophone checks. There is a transect grid set up that is three miles wide and 11 miles long. We did a “saw tooth” grid back and forth across the transect, seeing five dense beak whales in all. They seemed curious about us today, hanging around the boat for about 30 to 40 minutes. David, a photographer on the trip, got in the water for underwater photos of the whales.
 
What an awesome day! We were on the boat at 9 a.m. and on shore at around 5 p.m.

Thursday, June 23, 2005 We were up at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast, anticipating a great day on the water. Due to rough seas in the morning, both teams were kept on shore. We learned how to enter data into the computer and to identify each dolphin that was seen the day before. These dolphins are identified by the marks on their dorsal fins, and each dolphin spotted is recorded and entered into the database.
 
After lunch, both teams were able to go out on the boat for more observation. It was great, because as we encountered the dolphins, we each started calling out their individual numbers from what we had entered into the database. Today, we saw 19 dolphins.
 
We left to do a hydrophone check, which is when you put a microphone in the water to hear the “clicks” of the whales. At that moment, we spotted three Blainville dense beak whales arching out of the water. As we approached, they disappeared. It was thought that they had gone down for a deep dive, which is when they stay down for up to 1.5 hours. We waited around for about 30 minutes to make sure they did not go for a shallow dive, which is usually around 15 to 20 minutes.
 
We were on the water from 1 until 5 p.m. We came back to shore to snorkel off the beach for a time. As we snorkeled, we saw a stingray and a remora, which tried to stick to one of the girls. The remora is a sucker fish that is seen attached to whales and sharks. When we first saw it, it looked like a baby shark!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 The day started at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast and an orientation to split the members into two teams. I was assigned to team two.
 
We all went out on the boat to get familiar with boat procedures and have a chance to see the dolphins! The water was spectacular.  We spotted 21 dolphins, and each appeared to have different marks on the dorsal fin. We all had a chance to fill out the log book, the encounter sheet—which is filled out every 15 minutes while dolphins are seen—and the habitat sheets. We were on the boat at 9 a.m. and back to shore at 5 p.m. We didn’t spot any whales today.
 
It was Kara’s and my night to cook dinner and clean the kitchen. This job was rotated throughout the 11 days, with everyone getting a turn. The rest of the night was spent discussing the day’s events and getting to know each other better.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005 The morning started at 4:30 a.m., and I was off to the airport for a 5:30 a.m. departure. The trip to Houston was short, but I had a 45-minute flight delay there because of a hydraulic problem. By 9 a.m., I was finally in the air heading to Miami, where I landed at noon. I was just in time for lunch and to get ready for a 2 p.m. fight to Marsh Harbour. I met another Earthwatch member while in Miami, and we flew together to the island. We arrived in Marsh Harbour and took a taxi to our rendezvous point to meet up with the rest of the Earthwatch team members.
 
Our principle investigator, Diane Claridge, arrived with one of the research assistants.
 
We traveled the hour’s drive to Sandy Point, where we had a quick orientation and met each team member.
 
There was Melinda, my fellow Alcoan from Australia. Kara was from San Diego, and Leslie was from Fairfax, Virginia. These two women attended the same college. There was Margaret, a schoolteacher from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Patrick was a senior high school student from outside Los Angeles who had won a science fair, and this trip was his prize. Jamie was a college student from Coco Beach, Florida. Then there were the research assistants: Thomas from Great Britain; Megan and Olivia, both of whom were college graduates from the Bahamas; and Chad, a college student from Tampa. There were also the “research” dogs—Abby, Sally, Bruno, Missy, and Forty.
 
The night was concluded with Megan giving a talk about sperm whales of the Bahamas that she was to give at a conference in San Salvador.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 As time draws closer to June 21, there is daily talk around the plant about my upcoming Earthwatch trip to the Bahamas. Last month, there was an article in our plant newsletter about the trip, and it has been one of the main topics throughout the facilities.
 
I should be receiving my passport by the first of June, and then it will be time to start getting all my gear together. I will be traveling to another facility the first week of June, then a trip to a Promise Keepers convention in Arkansas, and then to the Bahamas!
 
Today I emailed my Alcoa partner, Melinda Bolt, to see if she is getting as excited as I am about our trip. Maybe I will hear from her before we travel.
 
What a summer experience!

Monday, February 7, 2005 Upon arriving at work tonight, I opened my email and saw one concerning Earthwatch. On the original application, it said that you would be notified by the end of January, so I figured it was a “thanks, but no thanks” reply. As I opened the email, the first words I saw were “Congratulations, you will be traveling to the Bahamas to study dolphins and whales of Abaco Island.”
 
The other shift supervisor was here, and he couldn’t believe it. I could not wait to call my wife and let her know that I had been selected. I think she was more excited than I was.

Monday, January 3, 2005 I had time tonight to complete my application for Earthwatch. As I read the questions, I thought what an awesome opportunity it was to go and learn more about the environment in which we all live. As someone who has been around lakes and rivers, I have always loved the water. I actually have studied water to help a friend start a bottled water business.
 
As I answered the questions, I started thinking about the opportunity to go into schools in my city and share what could be learned from a trip like this.

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Dolphins and Whales of Abaco Island


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