Leyf Peirce, July 15, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leyf Peirce
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 15, 2004

Time: 18:00
Latitude: N 56°22.60
Longitude: W 152°56.70 Visibility: 10 nm

Wind direction: 115
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 0 – 1 ft
Swell wave height: 2 – 3 feet
Sea water temperature: 12.2 °C
Sea level pressure: 1013.5 mb
Air temperature: 13.3 °C
Cloud cover: 5/8

Science and Technology Log

We are still in transit today to Kodiak, with a planned stop for some “biological testing”, a.k.a. fishing. About two hours before we were going to stop to fish, we heard the bridge announce, “Whales breaching off the port bow!” This is the call for everyone to rush to the portside to see the whales. And what an incredible sight! I was atop the fly deck with TAS Norton and ENS Slover, and none of us could believe the symphony of spray that lay 150 meters ahead of us. It seemed choreographed, almost, with one humpback whale to the right blowing spray into the air at the same time as a whale on the left side. The finale consisted of at least 3 whales breaching so far out of the water you could see their entire underside! Just when we thought the show was over, two whales came within 20 meters of the portside of the boat and breached, waving hello as they went under. Luckily, we had slowed the boat down, so the chances of hitting these whales were small. For such massive and mysterious creatures, these animals completed their whale ballet show gracefully!

We later started fishing, and this sight was yet another of awe at the creatures that inhabit this part of the world. After only 10 minutes, there were about 12 fish on the fantail, 3 of which were halibut that were over 125 pounds, one which was at least 5 feet! After another 10 minutes, the fantail was covered with fish and blood and guts, promising a feast for weeks to come. The birds circled above waiting in anticipation, arguing when a piece of fresh fish was thrown overboard. Again a new image to me, the albatross intimidated the other gulls with its large wing span and threatening call. This day was certainly full of wildlife!

Personal Log

I have never seen whales breach in the wild before, and it truly was an amazing spectacle! Parallel to that, I have never caught a fish any bigger than a 20 inch rainbow trout. Catching a 25 pound black rockfish was extremely exciting, as well as seeing all of the halibut caught! I will say that while fly fishing takes a lot more patience and technique, the fishing that occurred today required more strength and team work. There were at least 4 people helping lug the largest of the fish onto the ship!

We are almost to Kodiak, should be there by morning, and I find myself sad to leave this boat. It has truly been an amazing experience, one in which I learned a lot about the wildlife, research, crew, and myself. I realize now that two weeks at sea really does allow for a lot of self-contemplation and growth. I am very thankful to have had this experience.

Question of the Day:

How big is the biggest humpback whale recorded? How big is the biggest whale recorded? How does this compare to the average sized person?

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