Anna Cummins From 5 Gyres South Atlantic Expedition

December 5, 2010-  Current Position:  34 05.207 South, 9 15.518 East

450 miles from Cape Town, and our thoughts begin to turn towards home. Gone are the glassy seas and sunny skies characteristic of the gyre, where winds die and plastic lives. Building swells and gray skies hint at some final weather to come. We’re back to walking around at a permanent 45 degree angle. The sickness meds resurface.

As one of our parting gifts, tonight the ocean graced us with one of the more spectacular sights of this voyage. We were all sitting in the galley, working on computers before another pasta dinner (we’re down to an all carb diet – pasta, bread, pasta, rice, and more bread) when excited shouts above sent us racing on deck.

“WHALE! Starboard side, right by the boat!”

About 100 feet from the boat, a dark, glistening back traced a half moon over the water, close enough that we could practically feel its spray. After weeks of seeing little other life than a few Yellow Albatross and Storm Petrels, the sight of a whale – a Minke - was high excitement. For 15 minutes, we all stood transfixed, waiting for the next appearance. She emerged a few more times – sleek, black, awe-inspiring – before diving back down out of sight.

Seeing a whale in the context of this voyage, I can’t help but think about how we’ve transformed their feeding grounds into a sea of plastic. These whales filter for food, sieving great mouthfuls of water just as we sieve surface water for plastic. I think about the amount of plastic we find in a hour long tow, using our relatively tiny manta trawl, and imagine what a whale might ingest, sieving the oceans daily....

On the brighter side, we’ve definitely noticed a drop in plastic, now that we’re outside the predicted accumulation zone. Our manta trawls now fill to overflowing with planktonic goo, with far fewer plastic fragments than just 3-4 days ago. This fits our expectations, based on Nikolai Maximenko’s computer models – nice when reality matches expectations.