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July 18, 2007

Seco de Palos

BY: Ricardo Aguilar


© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos


Today we must wake up a bit earlier. It will take us more than three hours to reach our destination. As soon as we set sail, we begin seeing the trawlers carrying out their activities. We see them all over for a long time, until the sea floors become deeper, reaching 700-800 meters depth.

The ocean is quite calm and there is barely any wind; the perfect conditions for turtle sighting. The first three appear in front of us and we only have to turn a little to see them up close.

The conditions are also excellent for cetacean sighting but, although we have great visibility, these don’t seem to want to appear. In the past, it was much easier to see dolphins in this area than now.

When we have less than 3 miles to reach the seamount, we sight a group of long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas). We accompany each other for a while until they decide to stay a little further away from the seamount, at 600-700 meters depth, while we head towards the shallower areas of the seamount, at approximately 100 meters depth.

We submerge the ROV as soon as we reach our destination. If we’re not mistaken, we are the first human beings to explore this underwater area.

The sea floor is very rocky and some blocks are quite large. It’s a difficult area to work in with the robot because, apart from the abruptness of the topography, there is a large amount of lost fishing tackle caught on the rocks.

And there it is: directly in front of us, a splendid garden of red gorgonians (Paramuricea clavata). Amongst the gorgonians, there are moray eels hiding (Muraena helena), as well as conger eels (Conger conger), white grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), ocean sunfish (Mola mola) and clouds of swallowtail seaperch (Anthias anthias).

We decide to go a bit deeper and soon spot whip gorgonians (Viminela flagellum) and a sharpnose seven-gill shark (Heptranchias perlo) who doesn’t seem to mind our presence. There are also greater forkbeard (Phycis phycis) and scale-rayed wrasse (Acantolabrus palloni) around us.

The long-finned pilot whales come visit us as we watch the screens intently to see what lies 140 meters below us. We are surrounded on all sides by a spectacular show.

Today was an eventful day. At night we’ll relax in this area, and we trust we’ll have good weather tomorrow that will allow us to continue our work here. Now, it’s time to set up the night watch while we see the pilot whales in the distance, staying quite close to us.