Donna Knutson, September 4-5, 2010


NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 4-5, 2010

The Whale Chase

Me on the water in the small boat.

Mission and Geographical Area:
The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

The dorsal fin of a sperm whale.

Science and Technology

Latitude: 13○ 22.3 N
Longitude: 167○ 17.8 W
Clouds: 6/8 Cu, Cb
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-4 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.1○ C
Air Temperature: 25.5○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1021.2 mb
Spermaceti, which means “sperm of the whale”, is commonly called a sperm whale. These whales had great commercial value in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The head of a sperm whale is filled with a semi-liquid oil which was used for making candles and later for cosmetics. This whale was the “villain” in the Herman Melville’s classic tale, Moby Dick.
Sperm whales are easy to identify at sea by their distinctive blow. They are seen almost anywhere around the world, but they especially like the areas around continental shelves.
Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales. The males can reach sixty feet long while the females are smaller at a maximum of thirty-six feet long. The males may weigh up to one hundred twenty thousand pounds while the females may reach fifty-five thousand pounds. The females are usually a third of the male’s size, which is the greatest size difference between all the whale species.
Medium to large sizes squid is the main food source for the sperm whale. One individual had a forty foot squid in its stomach.
Sperm whales may live between sixty to seventy years. Their population is growing steadily and with continued protection they should continue to recover.

A sperm whale blowing.

References for the past three logs:
Seabirds of Hawaii, Natural History and Conservation by Craig Harrison, copyright 1990.
A Field Guide to Sea Birds of the World by Peter Harrison, copyright 1987.
Guide to Marine Mammals of the World, National Audubon Society, copyright 2002.
Personal Log:
I had completed my” job” at 6:00 in the morning and then volunteered to be an independent observer for animals on the flying deck when Erin called me to the main deck for a “small craft safety meeting”. I started getting excited because I might have a chance to go out on the small 19 ft. boat.
Erin Oleson the chief scientist and the other acoustic girls, Suzanne, Yvonne and Nicole wanted to test their array. The array is a device that picks up sounds preferably whale and dolphin sound in the ocean. The small boat’s mission would be to go out ahead of the main ship with a “pinging” device that would be lowered into the water and then the array should be able to pick up the sound if the array is working properly. There had been some problems receiving data from the array so this outing seemed like a likely trip.
Not long after the meeting I was told I could go with Adam U, a mammal observer, and Nicole Beaulieu an acoustician. Woo Woo! I was one of the lucky ones for the adventure! Just being on the boat in the ocean with the rolling waves was a thrill. We needed to get two miles ahead of the ship then stop and lower the pinging device. It was hard to get that far ahead of the ship that was cruising at 10 knots with waves between three and five feet high.
Ray and Mills, both seamen, were with us. Mills drove the boat. He had obviously done it before because he had us soaring over the crests, catching air, and then slamming into the troughs.

The whale chase. My back is to the camera.

It was crazy /exhilarating for me because I hadn’t experienced anything like it. It was hard to hold on and I gave my weak left wrist a good workout! Especially when we slowed down a bit and I tried to take pictures with the right hand while trying to hold on with the left. My pride would have been hurt if I’d fallen out and so would my body considering we trying to outrun the ship, but the water was eighty degrees Fahrenheit and a beautiful royal blue.
When we had finished “pinging” the ship spotted some sperm whales and set out to chase them. We sat for about half an hour bobbing up and down on the waves and watching the ship and the water for whale blows. Listening to the radio we realized the whales were between us and the ship. They were blowing right in front of us! Now it was our turn to follow the whales and off we went!
When we discovered that we could get up close Adam brought out the crossbow. It was quite the frenzy! I was taking pictures, holding on and looking for whales at the same time! Adam was trying to get the crossbow ready and hold on while trying to watch for whales. Nicole was in the middle getting bounced around watching for whales.
Adam got a shot. The arrow hit the back of the whale and skidded off. He did not feel the arrow contained a good biopsy sample so we stopped got the arrow while he reloaded and off we went again. The arrows are hollow tipped for tissue to get trapped and once they strike they fall off and float until retrieved.
We continued our mad chase with Mills at the wheel. Eventually after chasing for approximately twenty minutes we came across a sperm whale” rafting” evidently they do this after being submerged up to forty minutes. Adam shot again and this time he was pleased with the biopsy sample as we could see the tissue dangling off the end of the arrow. Once hit the whale quickly put her head up. The action made me imagine her thinking “What was that?” and she submerged.

A sperm whale coming up for air.

Our whale chasing adventure was over and we returned to the Sette. I took over three hundred photos and five videos. My new little camera held up well in the salt water spray. I saw at least five sperm whales in the pod and one was a small one, a calf. Wow! Definitely a time I will never forget!
I need to tank Erin for letting me go! I’m heading back to the flying bridge with hope of finding more whales and dolphins.
Question: How do N.M. nautical miles compare to miles? How do Knots compare to miles/hour?

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