"Does this count as a selfie?"
Researchers working in the Gulf of Mexico were stunned earlier this week when an inquisitive sperm whale decided to crash a live stream feed, nearly 2,000 feet below the surface. The whale hung out with the remotely operated Hercules vehicle as adorably giddy scientists working on the E/V Nautilus found themselves all but speechless in the background.
"Awesome!" "Oh, wow!" "I hope we are screengrabbing!"
Sperm whales are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. At the peak of the whaling era around the mid-20th century, nearly 25,000 sperm whales were being killed every year, which dramatically reduced populations. Underwater encounters are a rare occurrence due to the whales' reclusive nature and the great depths to which they dive.
The Nautilus exploration vessel is on the first leg of a six-month expedition throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. At the time that the sperm whale appeared in the live stream, scientists had been using the Hercules to map bubble plumes through the water column in an effort to study natural gas seeps in the Gulf.