Thursday, June 2, 2011

Look What the Current Dragged In, Part III

Last year I spent a couple posts (first and second) looking at how ocean currents move in my little corner of the world. I learned that Saco Bay is fed by the Labrador Current from the northeast. Which explained why Canadian lobster trap tags and claw bands sometimes wash up on my shore.
Recovered today, after a 150+ mile trip
Those studies taught me that the complex Gulf of Maine is really, in an elegant term I just saw, a "Sea Within a Sea." A system of mini-gyres, upwellings, deep basins, river outflows that comes together to make a rich & vibrant ecosystem all its own. I also learned about the wealth of resources available to a budding Flotsam Diarist in trying to make sense of it all. So when today's walk along the beach revealed a minor mystery, I knew where to turn.

What was the mystery? A batch of lobster claw bands, all but one of them absolutely pristine. Soft, supple, full, unscuffed, unbitten. Including the far-traveling "Wild Canada" band.
Only 1 of the 8 was old & battered (back right)
In my year at Bay View, I've never seen so many fresh bands come in at once -- they usually are a mix of new & old, pliable & brittle.

The Canadian band has a cargo of young marine life stuck to its inside, proof that it had actually made the journey by sea. But it, with its friends, was so fresh. How'd it get here so fast?

Enter NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center and its Drifter Program. For nearly a decade, students at Maine universities have been working with NEFSC to release drifters into the Gulf of Maine (and elsewhere -- sometimes far afield), then tracking their motion. The data is delivered real-time, and is accessible to anyone with the Internet. As it turns out, just two weeks ago, a batch of drifters was released from Downeast Maine -- very near to where a Canadian lobster boat could have been fishing, actually. And those drifters are still afloat, and sending their data back. The image below came from the tracking page literally 15 minutes ago!
("Saco Bay" and "Jonesport" notations are my own)
They show the drifters just zipping along SW down the coast. Within a week, the dark blue one had almost entered Casco Bay (just north of Saco Bay). The dark red one hovered at the entrance to Saco Bay briefly just a day or two ago before heading back eastward. Clearly, things like lost claw bands could have made the journey just as fast; and the currents/winds were perfect for getting them into Saco Bay and onto the beach at Bay View. The proof is in the picture.

I may never know precisely where this Canadian lobster band (and its freshly dropped friends) originated. But thanks to the awesome work of a lot of dedicated folks, I can tell you this: When the conditions are right, something dropped 150 or more miles away could wash up to your feet within just a couple weeks. And that's pretty cool to know.

It's a shame that there's litter in the ocean. But if it's there, it would be a worse shame not to try to learn something from it.

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