From the Endeavour on our Ocean Voyages
Mar 18, 2004 - National Geographic Endeavour
At Sea, South Atlantic Gyre
We are now at 32ºS and have been sailing all day into the center of the South Atlantic Gyre, the major feature of the South Atlantic Current System. The Benguela Current is on our starboard side, running up the coast of southern Africa. We have passed out of the West Wind Drift, the eastward flowing current which borders the South Atlantic to the south. Far ahead is the westward flowing South Equatorial Current and a thousand nautical miles on the port side is the Brazil Current flowing south along the coast of South America. We are in the middle, in the South Atlantic analog of the Sargasso Sea. While there is no Sargassum weed here, there is the ocean's collection of flotsam and jetsam, circling forever, or as long as it stays afloat, in the center of the gyre. The Coriolis effect pushes this material into the center and we have passed a number of net floats, wooden crates an other interesting items. They give us something to be on the lookout for, since the birds have all but disappeared in this region where the water is a deeper blue than anywhere else on Earth. It is so blue because there is no plant material to scatter the light. It is a biological desert. But even deserts have their oases and right after lunch we found one, the carcass of a dead sperm whale. Such a large and rich food supply attracted hungry scavengers across miles of ocean and hundreds of storm petrels and several albatross and white-chinned petrels were gorging themselves on whale meat and blubber. Below the carcass swam hundreds of fish, clearly visible in the clear water, including some fast swimming dorado, or mahi-mahi, and at least two gigantic pelagic white-tipped sharks. The sharks were trying to discourage the birds by lunging out of the water at the edge of the whale and biting off great scallop-shaped chucks of meat. It was an incredible banquet for many diners above and below the water and a graphic reminder that in the ocean nothing is wasted.