Erica Marlaine: Happy Fourth of July from the 49th State, July 4, 2019


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 4-5, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 48.9 N
Longitude: 159º 2.3 W
Wind Speed: 4.2 knots
Wind Direction: 186.5º
Air Temperature:  14.7º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1022.12 mb
Depth of water column 84.5 m
Surface Sea Temperature: 10 º Celsius

History

On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire for 7.2 million dollars (or 2 cents per square mile). It was deemed a territory for many years until January 3, 1959 when President Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska into the United States.  The word “Alaska” comes from an Aleut-language idiom that means “object to which the action of the sea is directed.” It is the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States. It is also the largest state.  By comparison, it is twice the size of Texas.


Celebrating the Fourth of July, NOAA style

My usual Fourth of July at home includes a bar-b-que, swimming, and attending a fireworks show at night. The Fourth of July celebration on the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson was completely different, and literally a BLAST.  At noon, an announcement was made for “all hands” to report to the galley for Fourth of July “mocktails” or fun non-alcoholic drinks.  (There is no alcohol on a NOAA ship.) I had a delicious “mimosa” made of orange juice and sparkling cider. Later, we were taken on a wonderful ride past Mitrofania Island. 

Approaching Mitrofania Island
Approaching Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island

Photographs do not do it justice.  It was my first time up on the fly bridge (the “roof” of the boat) and I loved being able to take in the 360 degree views.  Many people never get to see this part of Alaska as it is not a route commonly taken by cruise ships. The “fireworks” part came the next morning, when “all hands” were again called to the deck to light off expired flares.  While some made a popping noise, the one I did produced thick orange smoke for at least 30 seconds. It was, as I said, a literal blast!


Science and Technology

Later, we were back on the bridge but for a sadder reason. A dead whale was floating in the water right near the boat.  I asked if anyone comes to pick up dead whales.  It was explained to me that if a dead whale washes ashore, it will be picked up and taken for a necropsy to see if the cause of death could be determined.  However, if they are at sea, they will be left to decompose and become part of the sea once again.

Whale carcass
Whale carcass

On a happier note, I was sent to the bridge later in the day to see if there were any whales in the vicinity as we do not fish if whales are nearby. It turned out that there were 5 whales in the distance (but close enough to see with binoculars). Whales are somewhat easy to spot as they must come to the surface often to breathe. When they exhale, they produce a spout of moist air from their blowhole.  Since different species of whales produce different shape or size spouts, the spout is one way to identify the type of whale you are seeing. Other identifying features are size, color, fin shape, and whether they are alone or in a group. Some whale species travel in groups or pods, while others are more solitary. For example, killer whales (which are really dolphins) spend much of their time in large groups that travel and hunt together. Sometimes 4 generations of killer whales will be found together.  In contrast, humpback whales are more often found alone or with their calf.


Whale Fun Facts

While many people think that whales spout water, it is actually mostly air.  The spout is their exhale. Since they are mammals, and not fish, they do not have gills, and must come to the surface to breathe through their blowhole.

A baby whale is called a calf.

A group of whales travelling together is called a pod.

The blue whale is the largest animal in the world. It can grow to be as long as 3 buses, and its heart is as big as a car. Despite being so large, blue whales eat some of the smallest marine life, such as the krill discussed in an earlier blog.

A blue whale’s call is so loud, it can be heard underwater for hundreds of kilometers.

Whales are warm-blooded, so they need to develop a layer of fat (called blubber) to stay warm in cold water.


Whale blubber experiment for parents and kids to do together

Make a blubber glove by filling 2 ziploc-type plastic bags with shortening (such as Crisco) and taping them together to form a pocket.

Fill a bowl with water and ice cubes.

Allow your child to quickly touch the cold water in the bowl with their bare hand.

Then have your child put his or her hand in the blubber glove, and then put their gloved hand into the cold water.


 

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