Maggie Prevenas, May 5, 2007


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: May 5, 2007

Science Log: Tagging Ice Seals

Saturday May 5, started off ordinary, as ordinary as a Saturday on an icebreaker in the middle of the Bering Sea can be. I was lingering over lunch with Gavin Brady and Dr. Michael Cameron, two members of the NOAA National Marine Mammal Laboratory ice seal team. They were telling leopard seal stories and fun factoids about other seals. Unfortunately, I had to excuse myself, as it was time for me to make an ice observation up on the bridge.

In that very short period of time that it took me to lumber up the five flights to the bridge of the Healy, something happened. We were stopped at a station, a ribbon seal had been recorded close to the ship, and the ice seal team was going to try and tag it.

Much of the ice we encountered last week was soft and honeycombed. You wouldn’t want to go ice hopping on this.

Much of the ice we encountered last week was soft and honeycombed. You wouldn’t want to go ice hopping on this.

I stopped right smack dab in the middle of my observations and flew down three flights to the hanger, where the seal team was hastily putting on their zodiac safety gear. Our last week on the Healy had us in rotting ice, or fog, or no ice at all with few opportunities to tag ice seals. This was a golden opportunity, as the boat was stopped and on station. Zodiacs away!

Jay Ver Hoef, the newest member of the ice seal team, geared up in a MS 900, bunny boots, white stocking cap, helmet, and ice camoflage overshirt.

Jay Ver Hoef, the newest member of the ice seal team, geared up in a MS 900, bunny boots, white stocking cap, helmet, and ice camoflage overshirt.

Permission was granted and the seal team was good to go.

Dr. Mike talks netting strategy to the ice seal team.

Dr. Mike talks netting strategy to the ice seal team.

They met together, refreshed their netting strategy, and waited.

The purpose of a strategy meeting is to review boat approaches and answer any questions that might arise.

The purpose of a strategy meeting is to review boat approaches and answer any questions that might arise.

The Coast Guard worked as quickly as it was able to.

Lee Harris stands next to Captain Lindstrom. The Healy supports scientific research by facilitating technology and equipment dispersal.

Lee Harris stands next to Captain Lindstrom. The Healy supports scientific research by facilitating technology and equipment dispersal.

This was only the second time these zodiacs were launched; the crew was working out protocol and safety procedures.

The ice seals rolled the zodiacs onto the deck so that they could be lifted into the icy Bering Sea.

The ice seal team rolled the zodiacs onto the deck so that they could be lifted into the icy Bering Sea.

Time ticked, ticked, ticked away.

The ice seals tracked the ribbon seal as they waited patiently for the Coast Guard to get the three zodiacs onto the water below.

The ice seal team tracked the ribbon seal as they waited patiently for the Coast Guard to get the three zodiacs into the water below.

Each zodiac had to be lifted by crane up and over the helo deck fencing.

Each zodiac had to be lifted by crane up and over the helo deck fencing.

Zodiac one contained Dr. Mike and his driver Dave Withrow.

Zodiac one contained Dr. Mike and his driver Dave Withrow.

Sean Dahle and driver Lee Harris scooted off in zodiac two.

Sean Dahle and Lee Harris scooted off in zodiac two.

This was Jay’s first decent down the Healy Jacobs Ladder.

This was Jay’s first decent down the Healy Jacobs Ladder.

Gavin Brady with driver Jay Ver Hoef descended the Jacobs ladder into the zodiacs below. They chugged off into the frosty fog, and were gone.

The zodiacs slipped into the fog and out of sight.

The zodiacs slipped into the fog and out of sight.

They had radios, GPS and other contact equipment. We knew they would be safe.

Steven Elliot, Tom Bolmer, and Captain Lindstrom help the zodiacs find the seal in the ice-maze.

Steven Elliot, Tom Bolmer, and Captain Lindstrom help the zodiacs find the seal in the ice-maze.

The rest of the seal tagging was done within a quiet and serene ice flowscape.

Dave Withrow, one of the ice seal team, took pictures of the Healy from the zodiac.

Dave Withrow, one of the ice seal team, took pictures of the Healy from the zodiac.

The three boats split up and surrounded the ice piece upon which the ribbon seal reclined. Sean Dahle and Gavin Brady quickly took control of the animal, it was a juvenile male.

The ice team wasted no time in getting measurements and data from the juvenile male ribbon seal. Photo by Dave Withrow.

The ice team wasted no time in getting measurements and data from the juvenile male ribbon seal.

The rest of the team measured its weight, some blood, it’s length, sex and attached the flipper tag.

The team attached the tag on the right rear flipper.

The team attached the tag on the right rear flipper.

Ribbon seals are willing subjects. They are true ice seals; they never touch land and rarely encounter humans. Because of their naivety of humans, they can often be approached more easily than other arctic species.

Ribbon seals can often be approached more easily than other arctic seal species.

Ribbon seals can often be approached more easily than other arctic seal species.

This young male waited patiently for the ice seal team to finish taking data.

This young male waited patiently for the ice seal team to finish taking data.

This young male was true to its breed.

The ribbon seal slipped off the ice and into the Bering Sea. The tag will send out valuable information for roughly a year.

The ribbon seal slipped off the ice and into the Bering Sea. The tag will send out valuable information for a year.

So tagging number two can go down in the ice seal journal and in the event log of the 0701 Healy Science cruise as uber successful. Ordinary days? There are none, when you are on an icebreaker somewhere the middle of the Bering Sea!