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2012 Mar 28-29
Destin to Panama City, Florida

Scientists in Florida were very excited about some recent unusual sightings of large basking sharks near Panama City, Florida. Since we have been so successful at finding whale sharks for them the past two years, they asked us to fly over from New Orleans and try to find these basking sharks.  Unlike another large plankton feeder, the whale shark, basking sharks are not a familiar site in the Gulf of Mexico, and little is known about them. Sharks are never easy to find from surface vessels, since they don't need to come to the surface to breathe. The best way to find them is from the air, when seas are calm and visibility in the air and through the water are good.

A previous flight ten days prior by other people had found nothing.  Just two days after our arrival back in the Gulf, we were eager to attempt the challenge. We hoped that previous failures had more to do with the weather conditions and limitations of the aircraft than with the presence of marine life in the area, but there was no way to know that for sure.  We face every one of these challenging kinds of flights with the knowledge that we might give it our very best effort and still have no successful sightings. The flight eastward from New Orleans to Destin, Florida on Wednesday was delayed by weather until midday, and seas were choppy. I was more than a little concerned about our chances for success.

But experience and determination are a powerful combination. And the spotters who joined me lacked nothing.  Mike Sturdivant from Destin knows the local surf spots and the local marine life, and his skill with a camera matches his sharp eye and his enthusiasm.  With Mike on Wednesday came a new spotter, Justin Wildhaber; and on Thursday, Mike brought John Cross. With all of our sharp and determined eyes, and some "low and slow" flying, we could at least say with certainty that if there were animals near enough to the surface to be seen, we would see them!

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