Michelle Greene: Setting Sail on the Gordon Gunter, July 20, 2018


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Michelle Greene

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

July 20-August 3, 2018

Mission: Cetacean Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Coast

Date: July 20, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 41° 31.838′ N

Longitude: 71° 19.018′ W

Air Temperature:  26.7° C (80° F)

Conditions: Sunny

Science and Technology Log

Beaked whales are elusive creatures that roam all of the world’s oceans.  The purpose of this cetacean cruise is to find the occurrence and distribution of beaked whales in the northeast Atlantic off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  The beaked whale is a toothed whale from the family Ziphiidae.  Several types of beaked whales have been spotted in this region including the True’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus) and the Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).

To find the occurrence of beaked whales, the scientists are using several different methods.  The first method is a visual sighting of the animals.  High-powered binoculars, affectionately termed “big eyes” can see animals from several nautical miles away.  Then regular binoculars are used to scan the areas closer to the ship.  The second method scientists are using is by passive acoustics.  Acousticians are using two different types of listening devices to try to hear the whales.  The first device is called a linear array.  In this device, four hydrophones are attached to a tube in a linear pattern.  The array is then towed in the water behind the ship, and acousticians can hear the whales when they communicate.  The acousticians can then determine how far the whale(s) is(are) from the device.  However, with this type of array, it is difficult to calculate how deep the whale is in the water.

In an effort to improve detection of the depth of a beaked whale, a new array has been designed.  This tetrahedral array is designed so that the four hydrophones are placed in a way that is not linear two-dimensional space but in a more three dimensional space, so scientists can detect not only the distance of a whale but the depth.  We will be testing a new prototype of this array during this cruise.

Personal Log

Arriving the day before the Gordon Gunter sailed allowed me to see some pretty interesting things.  I got to help two of the scientists put up the “big eyes.”  These binoculars are really heavy but can see very far away.  On the day we sailed, we were able to zero the binoculars which means we set the heading on the binoculars to zero with the ship’s bow based on a landmark very far away.  We could not zero them the day before, because there was not a landmark far enough away to get an accurate reading.

The Gordon Gunter is one of the larger ships in the NOAA fleet according to several of the scientists who have been on many cruises.  It took me a while to figure out where all of the doors go and how they open.  I did not realize how hard it was to open some of the doors.  According to the XO, the doors are hard to open because of the pressure vacuum that exists in the house of the ship.  There is not really a reason for the vacuum to exist.  It is just the nature of the ship.

Life on board the Gordon Gunter has been very interesting for the first day.  Before leaving port, we had a fleet inspection.  We had to do all of our emergency drills.  Safety is very important on a ship.  We had to do a fire emergency drill where everyone had to meet at a muster station and be accounted for by one of the NOAA officers.  Then we had to do an abandon ship drill.  Then once we got sailing a short time, we had to do a man over board drill.

Donning the immersion suit in case of an abandon ship order was not a thrill for me but was comical in retrospect.  I am only 4’ll”, and the immersion suit I was given is made for someone who is over six feet tall.  When I tried on the suit, I had two feet of immersion suit left at the bottom.  When the NOAA officer came to inspect, he said I definitely needed a smaller suit.

One of the best features of my cruise so far has definitely got to be the galley.  The Gordon Gunter has the best cook in Miss Margaret.  She is the best and makes awesome food.  She has made cream cheese from scratch.  She makes the best smoothies.  I can only imagine what we are going to be getting for the rest of the cruise.

Did You Know?

All marine mammals, including the beaked whales, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Check out this website on what the law states and what it protects:

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/laws-policies#marine-mammal-protection-act

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