After two intense days in the Asmat, we earned a day to rest, rejuvenate, and reflect. Sunrise found us sailing west in the Arafura Sea, approximately 40 nautical miles northeast of the Aru Islands. We enjoyed the breezes of the sea during breakfast at the outdoor café. We moved inside for a presentation from cultural specialist Annette Kuhlem on “Climate, Crisis, and Archaeology.” We learned about rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and cultural heritage management. Meanwhile, the natural history staff was alert on the bow for marine mammals, and they spotted short-finned pilot whales during a midmorning binocular break. This led directly into a presentation from the spotter himself, naturalist Mike Greenfelder, “Pelagia: 20 Years of Sightings from the Bow.” It was a great reminder to all of us that those who are on the bridge with their binoculars and cameras at the ready are the ones who get shots of the often-fleeting marine mammals and seabirds that slip past the ship.

During the late morning, National Geographic Orion sailed from shallow sea (average depth of 50-80 meters) to deep - deep water: 1000, 2000, 3000 meters. Just before lunch, we were able to put our renewed interest in wildlife spotting to the test; there was a lot of splashing and thrashing on the horizon! The bridge spotted not only an enormous pod of short-finned pilot whales but also bottlenose dolphins and plenty of Fraser’s dolphins. For nearly an hour, the ship diverted course to enjoy an encounter with these denizens of the deep. Though the pilot whales kept their distance, the bottlenose dolphins were bow riding, spy-hopping, and leaping. They seemed as interested in us as we were in them. All schedules are put on hold when fortune grants the expedition an unforeseen opportunity to observe charismatic creatures of the sea.

The day rounded out with a presentation on “Voyaging in the Modern Day” from traditional master navigator Tua Pittman. This was followed by a spectacular sunset to the west as our navigation continued to Fak Fak Regency and Kokas.