Angela Greene: “Surface Active Groups and Good Medicine” May 5, 2013


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Angela Greene
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: May 5, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Air temperature-8.4°C or 47°F, Sea temperature-8.4°C or 47°F, Wind Speed 14 knots, Winds are out of the northeast, Barometric Pressure- 1024.4 mb, wave height- 1-2 feet.

Science and Technology Log:  To say the environment aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter changes when a right whale is spotted during a watch duty, would be a major understatement.  The goal is to find a Northern Right Whale, and when we do, the frenzy begins.

Me with Whale

Believe it or not, that white splash is a Northern Right Whale. Photo credit Mark Baumgartner

A quick decision must be made as to whether the small boats will be launched.  The small boats enable the scientists to get extremely close to the whales.  This proximity allows them the chance to photograph whales from many angles for later identification.  This distance may also provide an opportunity for scientists to use a crossbow to acquire a biopsy sample.  The sample will provide genetic information needed to determine the gender, parents, and siblings of the whale.  The biopsy also can give a toxicity level of the animal.

Crossbow

Holding the crossbow used to collect whale biopsy sample. Photo credit Eric Matzen

Being in the small boats also gives the team of four the opportunity to scoop a fecal sample from the ocean that a right whale may present.  Poop samples can give diet information and hormone levels.  Checking hormone levels enable scientists to determine the stress levels of the whale and whether or not the whale is pregnant.

Whale Poop

Whale Poop in a baggie.

Our team spotted a right whale, and the boats were launched.  The small boat was able to get extremely close to what is called a SAG, or “surface active group”.  This particular group of four Northern Right Whales was so close to the small boat that it looked as if the whales were performing a show for the scientists!  It was one of the most incredible events I have ever witnessed!

small boat blow

Small boat and a right whale blow. Photo taken under NOAA fisheries permit number 775-1875

good fluke

Small boat and a right whale fluke. Photo taken under NOAA fisheries permit number 775-1875

During the SAG event, many photos were taken under a NOAA fisheries permit, which is necessary due to the endangered status of the species.  It’s interesting to note here, that the public is not allowed to be within five hundred yards of a Northern Right Whale without a permit, making the opportunity to be in the small boat a momentous occasion.

A fecal sample was acquired, which is considered a rare opportunity, however a biopsy was not in the cards for this small boat launch.

Biopsied Last year

Northern Right Whale photo taken from small boat- a biopsy was acquired from this whale on last year’s trip. Photo Credit Jennifer Gatzke. Photo taken under NOAA fisheries permit number 775-1875

Stateroom

My stateroom. You may notice the trash can right next to my bunk.

Personal Log:  This is difficult fieldwork, indeed!  Two days of rough seas made our flying bridge observations come to a grinding halt.  I woke up Friday morning knowing I had a 7:00 am watch duty, and was throwing up the nothingness in my stomach.

My roommate came back to our stateroom with the news that many others, including the crew, were also experiencing seasickness.  I took an odd sense of comfort hearing that other people were also ill.  We were in the middle of ten foot ocean swells that made the boat feel like the inside of Maytag washing machine.  My roommate’s water bottle fell out of her top bunk and landed squarely on my forehead, and our desk chair toppled over on its side. Motion sickness medications work wonders, but make me incredibly sleepy.  Seems like everyone was either sleeping or watching movies… basically just surviving until calmer waters.

This morning’s sunrise brought much happier seas, and the whale watch continues.  It’s cold enough for me to finally don the “Mustang Suit” as everyone tells me I will feel more comfortable than my lined jeans and Tecumseh Arrows jacket.  I am hoping for my chance to get to be in the small boat!

Animal Sightings Log: 

Aquatic-

Right Whale

Sei Whale

Fin Whale

Minke Whale

Humpback Whale

Atlantic Whitesided Dolphin

Harbor Porpoises

Birds-

Herring Gull

Wilson’s Storm Petrel

Northern Gannet

Sooty Shearwater

Northern Fulmar

Atlantic Puffin

5 responses to “Angela Greene: “Surface Active Groups and Good Medicine” May 5, 2013

  1. You are Rock in’ the sea! I am in awe. Although I would have no true sense of distance or space. I am experiencing, thru you, seeing water all around & suddenly with the indication of a whale; on deck activity flourishing until the proximity changes. Question:-) Can the flutter of activity be as long as an hour, or does it only last for 5-10 minutes? Mostly from me…..WOW……. how cool!

    • The flutter on the flying bridge can go on for hours as a small boat is launched into the water to chase after the whales. The ultimate goal for the NOAA team: to acquire biopsy samples and photographs for identification. Its great to hear from you, my friend!

  2. Ang, what an AMAZING EXPERIENCE! Hope your sickness is getting better. Guess no Zumba on board yet?

  3. Hi Mrs. Greene, your 8th grade scientists again! We are so happy that you guys were able to see the Right Whales that you went to study, even happier that they put on a little “show” for you guys in the boat. We hope that you get to be one of the people in the little boat soon! As we were going through your blog, we noticed in the picture of you holding the cross bow that there were two bikes in the background; are those used to get around the ship? It seems that the ship isn’t big enough to need transportation like that.
    We have talked about your 90-minute rotation on the deck, but what do you do with the rest of your time on the ship? Is there a daily schedule you have to keep? Are there parts of the ship that you are not allowed to venture into? And one last question for you; some of your scientists were more excited about the whale poop than others and they wanted to know if the poop floats on the water, or does it sink? If you could answer this, those scientists previously mentioned can rest a little easier at night! Thanks! Hope to read another blog post soon!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s