A Tapestry of Life at Sea

July 18, 2023

Julius Gabelberger, Kenyon College

A sample of larval fish in a recent net tow

Ship's Log

0° 44.5’N, 176° 39.9’ W; Howland Island has appeared, thin and jagged and white, just within view – like a strip of paint has peeled away from the horizon.

Complex! The squalls are behind us; the sky now is ringed with soft unraveling bolts of cirrus, and tatters of altocumulus.

Souls on Board

All blogs from S-310

Here is what I (student Julius Gabelberger, Kenyon College) wrote, at the end of last night’s journal, regarding the swim call: “I looked down, and the blue went on forever. If this is not enough to make me a true believer, nothing will be: to know, to feel, to be devoured by something so vast. If this is not enough to make me an atheist, nothing will be: to gaze upon that infinity, and find it utterly empty.”Here is what I think today: Empty! Anything but empty!With what bedfellows we share the blue! At 10:22 - after a post-dawn-watch nap - I awoke to this: “Julius. Julius, wake up. There are dolphins.” And so, as I scrambled up to the quarterdeck, there were. Curiously they nosed up towards us, five of them, swimming up again and again to make their graceful little half-breaches just off starboard. Those sharp grey forms above the surface became ghosts below; and finally, like ghosts, they disappeared.

And these are not our only companions.

Every day from the trawls is some new sea-beast, tentacled or finned: clear pteropods and shimmering myctophids and elegant blue bubble-raft snails, still entwined in the tentacles of their foes. In the wet lab, Ally and Abby display them in jars, like ancient merchants, hawking wares from far-off lands. Today (as I write this!) I’m called away to look at a leptocephali: the larval form of the eel, who one day might end up in a far distant freshwater river, growing fat and yellow and mischievous. Right now, it’s clear as glass – and flatter than I expected, like the world’s least appetizing rice noodle. At one end sit two comical black eyes, and feathering down from these the ghost of a long, delicate spine. Not to mention the boobies! Reader - other blog entries have touched upon the presence of these birds. But I cannot exaggerate how much they take up the political discourse onboard this vessel.

Booby-human relations on the Bobby C (Booby C?) are complex. There is pro-booby propaganda and pro-booby poetry; the anti-booby front meanwhile musters their arguments in mutters over dinner, and shouts while scrubbing guano from the foredeck. Sides are changed; announcements are made; and all the while the boobies squabble and squawk in the bow net and on the yards, dive for the flying fish that leap desperately from our wake, and poop and poop and poop (from this, you understand, stems the anti-booby advocacy). They have their own ever-evolving social dynamics, which have begun to serve as a sort of soap-opera to us, two weeks out from Netflix: at the end of dawn watches, Becca tells us the latest drama from “Skinny-Neck,”  the rudest and loudest booby of all – constantly harassing the others, croaking peevishly at nothing in the wee hours of the morning, and winging neck-first into the bow net while people are trying to furl the jib.

Since the swim call, though – since bobbing around haplessly in the maw of the Pacific – I find myself looking at all of the seabirds (terns and shearwaters now join us, swooping from Howland to us and back, running their errands) as companions; like us, they are not of the water, but beholden to it.

And last – perhaps least – but largest of all to me – are the plankton. “Plankton” doesn’t refer to any one species; it is simply a term for an animal that cannot move against the current. In this sense, we become plankton ourselves, when we do science: twice a day, we heave to, floating with the tides. And each trawl we conduct, in those times, scoops them up by the million; they reveal themselves under the microscope, a miniature kingdom, as complex and as lovely as any found on land. (Empty!) At night, our passage through the dark waters startles those same plankton, and our wake flashes with the evidence of their alarm. In those quiet moments, the sea and the sky glimmer alike; and I wonder that we don’t honor the heavens as bioluminescent, too. During dawn watch last night, making my way from the lab to the quarterdeck under the thin slice of a crescent moon, it did not seem so strange - to call the stars alive. They, too, like the copepods, flicker uncertainly in the blackness. They, too, like the chaetognaths, move on a scale unfathomable to us. And they, too, like the larval crabs and lobsters, are growing – are changing – will one day look very different from now.Note to Familie Gabelberger! I was short last time. First of all give my love to the creature, the critter, and the beastie. Is the creature still bald? He should be. As for the rest of you! LUNA: Did you re-dye your hair? Is Paradise still alive? (I’m imagining: YES, ORANGE; NO, KILLED BY BUGBEARS). Hope your video game is coming along well (Remember? From the phone call? I didn’t forget!) You have three weeks! I’m excited to play it :]. KIWI: How’s Germany? I hope it’s good, and I hope you still want to visit our grimy little country every once in a while. Also: for the entire duration I’m away, I live in a hypothetical world where Hamilton has won every race (dare I say… this is…… just like Schrödinger’s cat). MOM + PAPA: Hey guess WHAT I’m excited about going to college again. Isn’t that funny? I should go off to sea again; maybe next time I’ll come back wanting graduate school. WILLIAM B CLAY ALEXANDER “NINE-TOES” [last name redacted] THE SLOTH! Excited to read DMs and/or Pines (to simulate me having read them, you can react with the snail emoji to every message). If you think about it, this is really just one long extended… podcast (you know what I mean but. Ahem.) Are you still bald? You should be.

A magical collection from a recent neuston tow: a bubble raft snail hosting a colony of gooseneck barnacles, all entwined in a tentacle of a Portuguese man-of-war

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  1. Maya Gabelberger July 20, 2023 at 21:40 - Reply

    Dearest child of mine (“dearest” bc you are farthest away, though Ki is in Germany, you are much farther …(I think?geography, i has it not)…but don’t tell him I said dearest, he’ll be jealous, lol),
    I love hearing your empty-full, full-empty experiences…philosophy, you has it.
    “like the world’s least appetizing rice noodle”- hahaha – and you wonder why we don’t share your love of these sea creatures?!!
    “we become plankton ourselves” – you have talked to our family about this and we are all laughing.
    But laughed the most and longest at the booby paragraph(s)…I think I could hear about them forever. I’m glad they are not pooping on me however. I love that you address the Reader and clarify what is really going on on the boat re booby discussions. Truly this post rivals the dam beavers.
    “and I wonder that we don’t honor the heavens as bioluminescent” , “they are not of the water, but beholden to it.” – thank you for sharing the wonder of it all Sophie-Julius-Love!
    Luna says “was this (writing about us) just on the blog?! that’s funny, that’s really, really funny!” And answers: No unfortunately, he’s very soft though. Related – Mom asks “Are you bald again (having crossed the equator for the first time)? Back to Luna – I haven’t died my hair yet bc I’m lame. Paradise is not dead unfortunately, very traumatized though. What am I going to do for a video game? Mb I’ll start making the Moth game.
    Kiran says nothing bc he’s in Germany and it’s 4am there and he has to get up to work at 6am, but he is enjoying his 2 week practicum using heavy machinery with little to no protection. But I’ll tell you since i was there in the awesome seats they gave us because i was behindert, that though I was rooting for Hamilton, he did not win, nor did Sainz (my favorite bc he’s cute; I know this is very wrong, but don’t care) but you keep dreaming Schrödinger’s dream…
    William redacted Sloth can answer himself and I’ll make sure he sees your post and does so… same with Kiwi actually.
    Papa says that’s so sweet and he really means you are sweet (you and your blog, not the heavy machinery – that he endorses). He loves you so much.
    I say I love you and I miss you and I’m so glad you are on this blue marble wherever you are…school, sea, land…all good, just don’t go to space. there’s no air there.

  2. Anonymous July 20, 2023 at 22:25 - Reply

    AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH soph i have so much to say. it will mostly be in the dms. this is will btw im pretty sure you can gather that. pls dont die at sea and then we will CONVERSE it will be great. this is the worlds loneliest “pod”cast fr. have fun eat a weird fish for me CIAOWDY

  3. Ki July 27, 2023 at 12:48 - Reply

    Max has won literally every race since you left. Actually you being on the boat is actually more like “this cask of Amontillado”. They let me access “The Finger Breaker 9000″ at work. Good luck, don’t drown. (Mom transcribed this because Ki was petting a cat. He clarified”don’t drown” means I love you. )

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