Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Avoiding Seasickness

Nearly everyone's been there. Even your most seasoned pelagic veterans can recall the days on which they all-too-quickly transitioned from the excitement of embarking on a pelagic journey to that dreadful feeling of nausea and vomiting - the worst part being that you're usually several hours from returning to land when it begins. Suddenly, death by voluntary drowning doesn't seem like such a bad option.

I've had my moments, though just a few. Luckily it has been quite some time, but every now and then I might start to feel a bit off and have to fix things before they get out of hand. Yes, it is possible to reverse seasickness, at least in its earliest, mildest form.

But first let's talk about prevention. Since most people are (or were) prone to seasickness in some form, and because everyone is different, you may receive five different tips on prevention from five different people. I'll share my own, in order of descending importance.

1) BE WELL-RESTED. For me, sleep deprivation is the clear-cut #1 risk factor for falling ill on the high seas. For whatever reason (I bet there's a study out there somewhere explaining this), it significantly lowers my threshold for sickness, as I tend to feel nausea much more easily if my body and mind are exhausted. While it is not always possible to get a good night's sleep before a trip, especially if you depart before sunrise, try to be as rested as you can before that short night.

2) EAT SMART, BEFORE AND DURING. Before a pelagic trip, starting 12-24 hours before departure, I pay close attention to my diet. I try to eat mild and healthy foods, because eating healthy makes my body feel at its best regardless of whether I'll be on rough seas or sitting around watching TV. To me this means fresh foods high in nutritional value, low in saturated fats and cholesterol, nothing with too much salt, and nothing over-basted in strong marinades or coated in butter. That means no fried calamari for dinner the night before and no sausage sandwich at the dock in the AM.

Once on board, and immediately before, my focus shifts more to how much is in my stomach, rather than exactly what I put there (though this is still important). For me, this is nearly as important as being well-rested. My goal is to eat steadily in small amounts. In other words, never let your stomach completely empty, but do not over-eat either. This usually means that I'll eat a half sandwich at a time, with snacks in between.

As far as what I eat on board, that all depends. If seas are calm and I'm feeling great, I will absolutely grab an overpriced cheeseburger from the galley and love it, but only because I know I can handle it while I'm feeling good. If I'm not feeling 100%, I will stick to the healthy-style eating. But not all healthy foods are created equally. I suggest easily-digestible foods. Have a banana (if bananas are allowed on your vessel!) instead of an apple. Try some crackers instead of a hot dog. There are some classic foods that many people swear by, such as saltines or ginger snaps. You might want to give those a try. No matter what you try, remember not to under or over-eat.

3) STAY OUT OF THE CABIN. Get outside. Fresh, cool air won't hurt you, but stagnant, warm cabin air can make your stomach turn on a dime. This one has gotten me before. If you are forced inside by weather, try to get a spot right next to the door so you can feel some fresh air anyway.

4) KEEP DRY AND WARM. Always bring rain gear, and not just for rain. Sea spray will often get you when you're not expecting it. This can be refreshing and actually help avoid illness on a hot, sunny day, but continual wetness is usually a recipe for misery. You'd be surprised at how cold you can get, even on a warm day, if you're always soaking wet. Feeling cold, and the act of shivering, can take a toll on your body's energy level, which in turn can lower the threshold for sickness. So bundle up on cold days.

5) STAY OFF THE BOW & STERN. Not all deck spaces are created equally. The bow is the bumpiest place you can be, and on a rough day you'll feel that up-and-down rollercoaster sensation far more often than if you pick a more stable location. That being said, the stern has its pitfalls too, most of those being odoriferous. The fumes from the engine's exhaust can be nasty if the wind is out of the wrong direction. This also happens to be the place where most chumming is done, so if you dislike the smell of rotting fish, stay away! Also, when other passengers get sick, this is where they go to...well...get sick. And it can be contagious.

On small boats, if you avoid the bow and stern, that doesn't leave much room to move. But since most long pelagic trips are on decent-sized vessels, you should have some area to roam in between.

6) TAKE BONINE. Or whichever anti-nausea medication you prefer. I have only tried Bonine and Dramamine, but there are many others out there, including a scopolamine patch or even Benadryl. My strategy has always been to take the minimum dose (i.e. one tab versus two) because these can make you drowsy, and anything that makes you feel a bit off, including drowsiness, should be avoided. Take as directed, which usually means that you'll be taking something before you board the vessel. Once you're already sick, I doubt these meds can help you - they've never helped me at that point.

7) NO ALCOHOL THE NIGHT BEFORE. OK, I tend to break this one more often than the others, especially as my confidence in my ability to avoid illness grows yearly. But I don't drink often as it is, so it makes good sense for me to steer clear of anything that might make me feel a bit funny if consumed in any significant quantity.

There may come a time, despite these efforts, when you begin to feel queasy anyway. If you have never "beaten" seasickness before, this may feel like an inevitable downward spiral. But it doesn't have to be. YOU CAN OVERCOME THAT FEELING. But in my experience you have to do it before you pass the point of no return, which for me is puking. First, I begin to strictly adhere to the seven points I've listed above, if I wasn't already - time to buckle down. For instance, if I feel ill and I realize that I haven't eaten anything in hours, just the act of putting something in my stomach can help reverse the trend. The rest is mental. I just tell myself that I'm going to beat it. And the last few times I've tried this, it has worked. If you've never been able to do this, you're probably reading this and thinking that I've lost my mind. Once I overcame seasickness for the first time, I felt incredibly empowered and confident. Now, each time I fight off that first stage of queasiness, I become more and more confident. And the more you believe you can beat it, the more likely you are to beat it.

So that's all I've got. Like I said, there are countless other remedies and strategies that work for other people. A Google search will likely yield a dizzying (ha, ha, ha...) number of results, some of which may even contradict what I say here. I've purposely left out some things that I have not found helpful, but I don't want to discourage anyone from trying something they think might work because I really do think there is a significant mental aspect to this. If you believe in it, it's more likely to work.

That's not to say that everyone can avoid seasickness every time. In fact, I'm sure there are folks who cannot avoid it, ever! But the world is not made entirely of people who either always or never get seasick; most of us fall somewhere in between. As I've found from my own experiences, you can play a major role in your likelihood of becoming ill at sea.

I'd be interested to hear what has, and has not, worked for others in the Comments section.

 - Nick

Monday, August 5, 2013

Aug 3rd, 2013 - BBC Extreme Pelagic (Band-rumps +)

BROOKLINE BIRD CLUB EXTREME PELAGIC to Hydrographer Canyon & vicinity
August 3, 2013

Time: 0215 – 2112 hrs

Weather: Mostly Sunny for most of the trip with brief period of moderate rain in the afternoon just south of Nantucket Shoals on our return. Excellent visibility throughout. Winds WSW @ 8-15 mph. Air temp approx mid-60s to upper 70s.

Seas: 3-6 ft subsiding to 2-4 ft

Destination: Hydrographer Canyon & vicinity

Water temps: Coolest 55 degrees Fahrenheit on Nantucket Shoals, warmest 74.5 degrees Fahrenheit southeast of Hydrographer Canyon.

Water depth: max depth of approximately 1 mile

Leaders: Mark Faherty, James P. Smith, Nick Bonomo. Huge thanks to Ida Giriunas and Naeem Yusuff for the monumental task of putting these trips together.

Forty participants and three leaders joined Capt. Joe Huckemeyer, first mate Matt & crew for a fine day of pelagic birding. Following an early morning departure, dawn found us on the southeastern edge of the Nantucket Shoals with numbers of Great Shearwaters and a few Sooties sprinkled in. Our first Leach’s Storm-Petrel around sunrise on the shoals was a sign of things to come for this species today. A few Red and Red-necked Phalaropes were seen in flight only. The birds thinned out as we made the run between the shoals and the shelf edge, as they often do. Upon reaching the tip of Hydrographer Canyon around 0900 we immediately came into numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and a handful of Leach’s. Our first of six Audubon’s Shearwaters was seen in 72 degree water near the tip of the canyon.

We worked our way down the east wall of the canyon, sorting through the storm-petrels and finding several more Leach’s. One particular pair of Audubon’s Shearwaters allowed close approach, so everyone on board had the chance to see this warm-water species well today.

We cut across the southeast corner of the canyon and headed to a steep dropoff between Hydrographer and Dogbody Canyon, but found few birds here. From here we motored south, looking for warmer and deeper water southeast of Hydrographer Canyon. It was in this warmer (74.5 degrees), deeper water that we tallied eight BAND-RUMPED STORM-PETRELS scattered among the Wilson’s and Leach’s. As is typical for the species, they proved very elusive, with only brief views before fleeing the boat. Before turning back to the northwest we spent 40 minutes chumming in the deep water, which eventually did the trick of attracting two Band-rumps close enough to the boat for most to see, though they did not linger for long – life birds for several folks.

Our return trip brought us back through the mouth of Hydrographer Canyon and along its west wall. We found ourselves back on the Nantucket Shoals after a bout of moderate rain in the late afternoon. We picked through the numerous Great Shearwaters to find a few more Cory’s and Sooties. The only Manx of the trip was seen by just a few birders from the stern, giving us a five shearwater day. A distant SKUA was seen briefly by just a few on the horizon, eluding identification.

Later in the afternoon we had another encounter with a skua, this one also rather distant and brief, flying into the sun glare and vanishing. This bird was left unidentified from field views as Skua versus Pomarine Jaeger, pending photo review. Indeed the photographs reveal a SKUA, the identification of which is still being discussed. Plumage and molt strongly suggest South Polar Skua.

3 Common Loon
17 Cory's Shearwater (4 birds seen well were identified as the more common ‘borealis’ subspecies)
609 Great Shearwater (almost exclusively on Nantucket Shoals)

Great Shearwaters

7 Sooty Shearwater (Nantucket Shoals)
1 Manx Shearwater (Nantucket Shoals)
6 Audubon's Shearwater (all seen in approx.  72 degree water right along shelf edge, but none in the warmest/deepest waters; both fresh and heavily molting individuals seen)

juvenile Audubon's Shearwater

769 Wilson's Storm-Petrel
43 Leach's Storm-Petrel (most along shelf edge and deeper)

Leach's Storm-Petrel

Leach's (right) and Wilson's Storm-Petrels

8 BAND-RUMPED STORM-PETREL (exclusively in deep 73-74.5 degree water south of the shelf edge; one bird photo’d well enough to observe rather stout structure and nearly complete primary molt, which falls in line with potential winter-breeding “Grant’s” form hypothesized to be the expected visitor to our region - photos below)

Band-rumped Storm Petrel, possibly "Grant's". Close examination of photos shows both wings with no old primaries and one outer growing in (presumably p10).

same bird as above

Band-rumped (left) and Wilson's Storm-Petrels. A different individual. To me this bird did not immediately "pop" as a large storm-petrel in the field until flight style was noticed. In this photo it appears slightly built with narrow wings. No sign of active wing molt. Unfortunately this is the only decent photo of the bird I have. Form unknown (well, they're all unknown!).

5 Leach's/Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
3 Northern Gannet
6 Red-necked Phalarope (Nantucket Shoals)
5 Red Phalarope (Nantucket Shoals)
4 phalarope sp. (Nantucket Shoals)
11 Common Tern
2 SKUA sp. (Nantucket Shoals; one photographed highly suggestive of South Polar Skua, review in progress - photos below)

Skua sp. - plumage and molt timing strongly suggest South Polar

1 Fin Whale
2 Minke Whale
16 Risso’s Dolphin
2 Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin
50 Common Dolphin
6 dolphin sp. (Striped vs. Spotted)
1 Gray Seal

1 Blue Shark
1 Thresher Shark
1 Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola

1 Portuguese Man-O-War

Our route

Sea surface temps for the date of our trip (courtesy Rutgers)

Thank you to all participants for your contributions including spotting some really cool wildlife!

 - Nick