Roy Moffitt: Observing Whales Today and for the Next Year, August 8, 2018


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 8, 2018

Current location:/conditions Evening of August 8th: Near King Island, AK the most southern part of the trip – Air temp 49F, sea depth 50 ft, surface water temp 52F

 

Mammal and Bird Observations

Up on the observation deck formal bird and mammal observations are taking place for the extent of the trip. When recording sighting of birds, observers observe an approximate 300m square area in the front of the ship.  Any seabird that flies or swims through that zone is counted and recorded. Doing these observations over time can give approximations on bird population trends. Here is a picture I took of a Crested Auklet who floated close by to the ship. Crested Auklets eat primarily plankton and breed in the number of millions in nearby islands of the Bering Sea.

Crested Auklet

Crested Auklet

The same can be done for whales. In this case the visible range is used.  With the low angle sunlight, it is easy to see the whale spout from a whale on the horizon, however closer range views of whales is needed for identification. That’s most effectively done on the long range by taking pictures of the whale’s tail.  Here is a picture I took today of a gray whale’s tail.

Gray Whale tail

Gray Whale’s tail

Gray whales frequent the area for its shallow sea and dive to the bottom to eat bottom dwelling sea life such as crustaceans by scooping up the bottom of the sea and filtering out the seabed leaving the food.  But how do you observe whales when you are not in the Arctic?  You eavesdrop on them…..

 

Observing whales acoustically for the next year.

Today I was observing with help of binoculars and a camera to see whales that were in view of the ship.  But how do you know if a whale visited when you where gone?  Record their voices.

Primary investigator Katherine Berchok assisted by Stephanie Grassia are retrieving and replacing acoustic (sound) monitoring devices suspended above the sea floor.  Today one of these instruments that was placed on the sea floor a year ago is now being retrieved.  Within the retrieved equipment is a recording of acoustics that have occurred in the last year.  The sound waves were recorded in a pattern of 80 minutes every 5 hours for an entire year.  That is a lot to listen to, so recordings will go through processing through different software to see if any sound wave patterns are close to those created by different whale species.  Though this data cannot give an accurate count of how many whales are in an area at a particular time, it does allow scientist to verify what species of whales and also walruses visit the study area.

Acoustic Mooring

Acoustic Mooring

This picture here shows the new underwater microphone or hydrophone (the white tube) being prepared to be lowered into the sea to be retrieved next year.  Once lowered in the area pictured here it will be covered in about 30 meters of ocean.  So how will it be found next year?   There is transmitter (the small gray tube) that will allow scientist to find it, send a signal and have the instruments released from the weight and float to the surface.  This year’s instrument will be cleaned up and reused next year.

 

Looking forward

As we move northward the species of mammals (whales, walruses) and birds being observed will change, look for updates in the coming weeks! ​

5 responses to “Roy Moffitt: Observing Whales Today and for the Next Year, August 8, 2018

  1. This is amazing to read about the acoustic mooring process of whales. What an incredible symphony the scientists might discover as they listen. Thank you, teacher-at-sea. I’m already learning so much.

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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )

Connecting to %s