Interactions between ROVs and cetaceans are rare, researchers note.

Sperm Whale Encounters Remote Vehicle On Dive In Gulf Of Mexico

A group of undersea explorers recorded a rare interaction with a sperm whale earlier this week, as the massive animal approached their ROV 2,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

Dr. Robert Ballard’s Exploration Vessel E/V Nautilus and its Corps of Exploration set out from the Port of Gulfport five days ago, according to WLOX, on a mission that will see them studying sites from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean over the next six months. While examining a site off the coast of Louisiana, researchers noted something strange approaching their remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Hercules, at a depth of 598 meters (1,962 ft). After just a few moments, they realized that the unusual visitor was a massive sperm whale.

Undersea encounters between sperm whales and ROVs are rare, yet the site at which Hercules encountered the cetacean is relatively shallow for the species, which is known to dive deep in search of prey. As Deep Sea News points out, the encounter was even more unique, as the research team was broadcasting live when the whale approached.

“Sperm whales are among the world’s deepest diving mammals–plunging to the abyss in search of their elusive squid prey. For this sperm whale, the depth of the ROV–a mere 598 meters (1,962 ft) –was still relatively shallow. What was it doing when it happened upon the ROV? Was it hunting for giant squid? Checking out the ROV as possible food? Or was it simply curious, getting a good look at this odd glowing machine in the inky darkness?”

Earlier this month, a pygmy sperm whale and her calf washed ashore on a Florida beach. As the Inquisitr previously reported, authorities were forced to euthanize the two whales, as they could not be rescued, and while some observers claimed to witness a shark attacking them, no evidence of such an event was found. Instead, authorities believe that the whales fell victim to a disease that has infected dolphin populations in the region.

The sperm whale circled the Hercules several times, giving researchers ample opportunity to film it. Media relations specialist Susan Poulton called the encounter with the sperm whale “both incredibly thrilling and beautiful,” pointing out how gently the whale navigated around the ROV.

The E/V Nautilus’ mission will see the researchers exploring the Pacific Ocean, examining an 1800s shipwreck and studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Their encounter with the sperm whale, however, has already made their mission a voyage to remember.

[Image: nautiluslive.org via WLOX]

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