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USS Truxtun (CGN-35) Official U.S. Navy Photograph

USS Truxtun (CGN-35) Official U.S. Navy Photograph


Decks of USS Truxtun (CGN-35)

Pacific Ocean, South China Sea, Indian Ocean.

Introduction How to Get There Terrain and Ecosystems Trail Description Plants and Animals Stories In-Page Navigation, Arethusa Falls Page
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Decks of USS Truxtun (CGN-35)

Pacific Ocean, South China Sea, Indian Ocean.

"Hiking" on a warship? Well, by my definition, yes. While it was by no means the way I spent most of my time on the Truxtun, I did indeed get to spend many, many hours just observing the sea and its creatures.

(On this page, I'll also include some observations I made at sea from other ships and boats, not just the Truxtun and not just the eastern seas.)

You've probably heard that nearly three quarters of the Earth's surface is covered by oceans. It is. I can attest to this from first-hand experience.

"Join the Navy and see the world." Yes, the Navy and other military services certainly do provide excellent experience for young people, broadening one's horizons and deepening one's general understanding of the world. However, I do not recommend joining the Navy as a way to observe nature out at sea. There are more effective ways to do so, and ways that require far less commitment of one's time.

Nevertheless, here is some of what I did get to observe of wildlife in the oceans. Between watches.

Especially when we were westbound at a fairly high rate of transit, we would retard the clocks (adjusting for the newly entered time zone) on the evening watch. It was like switching to daylight saving time every day for weeks at a time, and it often gave me an extra hour to hang out on the weatherdecks watching the ocean.

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How to Get There

Truxtun? You're shaving with it! Truxtun was broken up and sold as scrap in 1999. You can still join the Navy and get stationed on a medium-sized ship, but not a nuclear-powered cruiser. We don't have them anymore. (The present USS Truxtun {DDG-103} is a gas turbine-powered destroyer.)

If you just want to get out at sea on a small vessel to observe pelagic wildlife, I'd recommend a whale-watch cruise.

USS Truxtun (CGN-35) was the fifth U.S. Navy ship named after Commodore Thomas Truxtun, a hero of the American Revolution. She was commissioned in 1967 as a guided missile frigate, DLGN-35. She was redesignated a guided missile cruiser, CGN-35, in 1975, and decommissioned in 1995. I was onboard for her seventh Western Pacific deployment (WESTPAC) in 1978, which spanned half the globe from San Diego to the Arabian Sea and from Pusan, South Korea, to Perth, Western Australia.

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Terrain and Ecosystems

Most of my time at sea on the Truxtun was spent in deep-water tropical or low-latitude temperate regions. We spent some time in the littoral areas of islands, and less in the littorals of continents, but mostly in blue water.

The surface of most deep-water oceans is nearly as lifeless as a desert. Outside the tropics, a ship will nearly always have an escort of albatross, but other birds are almost nonexistent. Fish are surprisingly rare in the upper reaches of the deep ocean. There are exceptions, of course, most notably the amazingly abundant flying fish in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and, to a lesser extent, in the tropical Pacific.

Littoral seas are quite a different story. When you're within a couple hundred miles of any land, the air can be alive with birds, and the sea swarming with fish and other creatures.

The nature of the sea and its ecosystem also changes with the seasons. The monsoon phenomenon works its way across the Indian Ocean and into the Pacific in a majestic procession each year, and any given part of the sea will be unrecognizable from one month to the next. I've got a sea story about that ...

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Trail Description

We're not really talking about "trails" here, of course. There were about three places where I hung out when I had a chance to just watch the sea.

In calm conditions, I would sometimes go out on the forecastle just aft of the anchors. Great place to watch the flying fish fleeing the approach of the ship. Of course, you always felt a little too visible there, with the officers on the bridge (usually including the captain) looking down on you. If it was a little rough, or you really felt way too visible, you could hang out just aft of the 5-inch gun.

Other times, if it was too rough for the forecastle, one of my favorite places to watch the sea was the flight deck. There usually wasn't much going on there after dinner, so you could watch the ocean without getting in anyone's way.

Sometimes, when the signalmen would allow it, I could stand on the signal bridge, nearly as high as you could go without mandatory safety gear. Here you could watch the birds from above their level, and get a real appreciation for the vast emptiness that is the ocean.

Amidships by the 3-inch guns (later replaced by tomahawk missile launchers). Usually too much going on, for some reason. You could pretend to be inspecting the exhaust stack from the auxiliary boiler, but the boatswains knew you were just goofing off while they were working.

The fantail? You never knew when the ship might take a hard turn and toss up showers of salt spray. And if we were making any speed, it was too noisy with the rumble of the propellers.

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Plants and Animals

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, by any means. This is really a list of some of the things I remember seeing. Some are memorable for being so unusual, and some for being so common.

Mammals

  • Dolphins. While any of several species may be seen, the ones I best remember were Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens). I've got a sea story about that ...
  • Seals. I never saw them far out at sea, but along the California coast I saw Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) and California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) all the time.
  • Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus). For those paying attention, this was in the Atlantic on my first ship, USS Charles P. Cecil (DD-835). They're quite rare, and they don't live in the Pacific Ocean.
  • On the WESTPAC before the one I went on, Truxtun ran over a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) and likely killed it, so the old-timers told us. I also heard years later from a submarine sonar technician that Truxtun's sonar signature changed markedly after that collision, probably due to a nick in one of the propellers.

Birds

  • Albatross. Most often, I saw dull brown birds, which I took to be immature individuals. Once in a while I would see one in full adult plumage. The species I saw were most likely Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) or black-footed albatross (P. nigripes). Some of those I took to be young birds might have been adult black-footed albatross. They seem to form a loose association with a ship, sometimes following closely behind, sometimes just wandering around within a mile or so off to the sides or in front of the ship. These associations could last for days.
  • Red-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda). Only saw them near Hawaii. They would hang around the ship for a few minutes, suddenly head back to shore, then wander back out. I think they expected us to throw some fish guts over the side. I've got a sea story about one of these birds ...
  • Wilson's storm petrel (Oceanites oceanicus). It is still astonishing to me that this tiny, delicate-looking bird can spend nearly all its time out on the open sea, thousands of miles from any land.

Fish

  • Flying fish of several species, probably including large-margined flying fish (Cypselurus cyanopterus) and certainly bandwing flying fish (C. exsiliens). I saw them rather often in the western Pacific Ocean, but they were all over the place in the South China Sea. They seemed also to be quite abundant in the Indian Ocean but, owing to conditions, I didn't spend much time watching them there, and I couldn't see them at any distance from the ship. I rarely saw them in the eastern Pacific, but I did see one quite large one, probably a California flying fish (C. californicus), between Hawaii and California.
  • Shark of an unknown species. Of all the time I spent at sea, I only once got a brief glimpse of a shark.

Other Creatures

  • Bioluminescent something-or-other. I have no idea whether this is animal or vegetable, but I suspect the individuals are microscopic. Whenever anything disturbs the water, such as a breaking crest on the ship's bow wave or even the churned prop-wash, there are these flashes of glowing green. It's about the same color and intensity as a firefly. It lasts just a second or two after the disturbance. Its size and shape, and the fact that it's not present literally everywhere, suggests to me that it consists of irregular clumps of very small creatures, rather like drifting mats of spirogyra or duckweed on a pond. It does not appear as a cluster of glowing points, but as if the water itself is glowing, which makes me think it is large numbers of very small creatures. You can only see it at night, and I only saw it in the tropical western Pacific and the South China Sea. (It might be in the Indian Ocean, but the surface was always so turbulent when I was there that I might not have noticed the glowing stuff.)
  • The most humongous jellyfish in the world. Don't know the species. I've got a sea story about that ...
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Stories

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