At 11:19 a.m. today, Jonathan, the Lead Fishermen, yelled out “last trap” and hauled the last trap aboard the ship for this lobster cruise. I would be lying if I said I did not feel relieved, because I was. The general consensus among the other scientists is that it is time to get back to our “other” lives. Ones that are not regulated by wind speed, waves, medical emergencies, and the cutting of mackerel.
Today did not see the monster haul of lobster that we would have liked to have seen. We did get a very large Ridgeback lobster and a large sea star, but not many of the spiny and slipper lobsters that I have learned to identify, determine the sex of, and appreciate. I understand now why in the past, cruises would start at Necker then go to Maro Reef. Necker is training for Maro Reef. We did have some lobster, and that is all that matters.
Before this trip I had never been in the Pacific Ocean. When I was in Chile, I saw the Pacific, but not quite like this. In the course of the month as Teacher at Sea I have learned a lot about the Pacific. I learned that it could be a lonely place. Especially on the nights when I would stand on the observation deck and look out and see water and stars, nothing else. I learned that it has a lot of secrets to keep and that we as scientists will never know all of them, but we must pursue them. I learned how to tie knots, clean squid, handle sharks, eat fish heads, and bottom fish. I learned that dental floss is a great substitute for thread when a button breaks and that eating fish for breakfast is not such a strange thing to do. I learned to relax and appreciate a sunset. I learned that it is important to make decisions based on good science and that even though people have good intentions, what seems right at the time, may not be in the future. Finally, I know I will pass onto my students my adventure and hopefully they will be able to get in them, some of the enthusiasm and sense of wonder that I did.
Today we finally got to get back to what brought us here, the lobster trapping. As mentioned several times before, the lobster population at Necker Island seems to be smaller than Maro Reef. Today this was evident when at one point we had pulled up more Grey Tipped Reef Sharks than lobsters. It was neck and neck with 20 apiece. I think at the end of the day we had more sharks. (As I am writing this the lab is finishing up the data). Some of the area where we were sampling is a sand bottom which is not the best habitat for the lobsters, so we pulled mostly hermit crabs and sharks out of the traps. That is not to say we did not catch any lobster. We caught a few Chinese slipper and a few spiny. The spiny that we did catch were large adults, with no juveniles. There were several times that we would have an entire string of traps without any lobsters.
The number of sharks did surprise me and at first I was hesitant to handle the sharks, but the other cracker, Matt, showed me the proper way to get a shark out of the trap. I had to first grab the shark behind the head, near the gills and then grab near the tail. One has to grab the head first because a shark does not like to be grabbed as one could imagine and if the head is not grabbed first, it will bite you. After I fumbled the first two, I had enough courage and the ability to take sharks out of the traps on my own. At one point when I was taking a shark out I was called the “Shark Whisperer”. By my estimate, I pulled 12 sharks out of the traps and tossed them overboard. There were a few times when we would have 2 very large sharks in a trap. I have to wonder what would drive such a large animal into such a small space, for so little food. Is the natural drive for food so strong in sharks that they would squeeze themselves into such a small space?
There were also a few eels, Conger eels to be exact and these eels do not have the teeth or the mean disposition of the moray eels. I did not know this at first, so the first time Matt tried to pick up a Conger eel and it slid out of his hands and ended up coming right at me! I was standing on the table in about 2 seconds, I didn’t know it wasn’t going to bite me. The crew got a good laugh at me standing on the table. Eventually, I had the nerve to pick up the eels and was able to remove the last eel of the day and toss it over the side of the ship safely.
We have only 5 days left, 3 of these will be trapping. I am glad to be back to work. The six days we were down were fun at first, but by Thursday I was getting cabin fever or boat fever. I am looking forward to the 3 days of work. I will be a cracker again tomorrow, runner, and my last day I will be a stacker.
I have decided to just combine the logs because we have not had a chance to do any lobster trapping in the past seven days and really have not done a lot of science. I have seen a lot science and ecology in action, but I have not participated in doing any research, so no science log today. Last night at about 1:00 a.m., I watched as the air ambulance took off from Midway. I had the chance to ride in the ambulance to the airstrip and help with the final transport of the injured researcher. Watching the plane take off was the culmination of my unexpected visit to Midway Atoll. I must say, that I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Midway and take in some of the history and nature of the island. I spent the two days here relaxing on the beach, observing several thousand Laysan albatross, and just exploring a remarkable island. So this log will focus on Midway. Most the information comes from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Multi-Agency Education project.
Midway Atoll is a circular-shaped atoll with three small islets (Sand, Eastern, and Spit) on the southern end of the lagoon. Midway is probably the best known location within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. While the land area only covers about 1535 acres, the atoll has approximately 85,929 acres of reef.
During World War II, Midway served as an important naval air station and submarine refit base. The atoll was attacked twice, first on December 7th 1941, and again during the pivotal Battle of Midway, June 4th-6th 1942. A successful American intelligence operation tipped the U.S. forces to the planned attack, and a small U.S. task force was able to surprise and defeat the Japanese invasion fleet bound for the atoll. Many interpret this battle as the watershed moment in the tide of the Pacific War. Though the major carrier-based actions took place to the north, a fierce air battle was waged above and on Sand and Eastern Islands. The atoll was designated as the National Memorial to the Battle of Midway in 2000. Nearly two million birds of 19 species nest at Midway. The atoll has the largest Laysan albatross (also called goonie birds) colony in the world. Other birds include black-footed albatross, red-tailed tropicbirds, white terns, black and brown noddies, shearwaters, and Bonin petrels. The waters abound with dolphins, monk seals, and green sea turtles. More than 250 species of fish live in its waters, including hapu`upu`u, ulua (jack), kumu (goatfish), and sharks. Beyond the reefs are pelagic fishes such as tuna and marlin.
In 1996 the once strategic naval base was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be managed as Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. A massive U.S. Navy clean up prior to their departure removed tons of debris, leaky fuel tanks, and lead paint, as well as rats. Today a fulltime Refuge staff administers a small visitor program, cares for its wildlife, restores native plant life, and protects historic resources.
It would be hard to not mention the Laysan Albatross when not mentioning Midway. Over seventy percent of the world’s population nests at Midway. In 1996, about 387,854 breeding pairs of Laysan Albatross nested on all three Albatross currently on the island, he stated around 400,000 breeding pairs. We just happened to be at Midway when the chicks were beginning to fledge. To get around on the island was at times difficult because the birds would not move when approached. At times the streets were full of adults and chicks and one had to zigzag through the sea of birds. As one passes by an albatross and gets to close, it will snap. It was nothing for me to be walking to the North Beach and have a hundred of these birds snapping at me. I have never seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”, but it was referenced several times as we made our way through the island. It was especially eerie at night because it gets very dark on Midway and I forgot to bring a flashlight with me on the second night. I walked along the beach back to the ship because I knew if I followed the roads back, I might step on an albatross.
Overall, I enjoyed the time at Midway Atoll. We are currently on course back to Necker Island. We’ll have four more days of trapping, and then we’ll depart for Pearl Harbor.
Third week at sea and the course of the rest of the trip is still up in the air. We are currently on our way to Midway. As you may know, Midway was an important sea battle during WWII and an important victory for the Allies in the Pacific Theater (I know this is supposed to be a science log, but history is just as important). Yesterday we picked up two researchers from the island of Lisianski (see below). We traveled from Necker Island to Lisianski, then off to Midway. The Northwest Hawaiian Islands Education Project had some good information about Lasianski Island. Lisianski Island is 1.5 square kilometers (381 acres), about the size of Honolulu. Its highest point is a sand dune about 40 feet above sea level. Though the island is small, the reef area to the southeast, called Neva Shoals, is huge, covering 979 square kilometers (241,916 acres), an area nearly the size of O`ahu.
A ship picking up survivors of a shipwreck introduced mice to the island in 1844. Rabbits were introduced later, and along with mice, they devastated the island’s ecology and are believed to have caused the demise of the Laysan rail. Feather collecting began on Lisianski about 1904. In response to public outcry about the feather trade, Theodore Roosevelt established the Hawaiian Island Bird Reservation, which included Lisianski, in 1909. An armed party landed on the island in 1910.
They arrested feather poachers and confiscated and destroyed about 1.4 tons of feathers, representing 140,400 birds. Today, Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles are common visitors to Lisianski’s sandy white beaches. Migratory shorebirds seen on the island include the kolea (golden plover), ulili (wandering tattler), and kioea (bristle-thighed curlew). Nearly three-fourths of the Bonin petrels nesting in Hawai`i make this island their home. In some years, more than a million sooty terns visit Lisianski.
The Hawaiian Monk Seal is an endangered marine mammal that is endemic to the warm, clear waters of the Hawaiian Islands. `Ilioholo-i-ka-uaua is how it is known to the indigenous people of Hawaii. The Monk Seal gets its common name from its round head covered with short hairs, giving it the appearance of a medieval friar. The name may also reflect the fact that the Hawaiian Monk Seal lives a more solitary existence, in comparison with other seals that in places collect in large colonies.
My science logs will not have as much science for the next few days as there has been a change in plans. NOAA Ship OSCAR ELTON SETTE is currently responding to a medical emergency within the Monument, which may delay operations for six days. I am not sure what our course of action will be, but the circumstance has shown me just how vast these islands are and how I am essentially in a liquid desert. When I look at a map of all the Hawaiian Islands, it does not seem that big, but if placed over a map of the U.S. mainland, the island of Hawai’i would be in Georgia, along the coast, and Kure Atoll would be in the northeast corner of Utah.
I did some research and found that during the winter storms, which bring about quick currents and dangerous waves in shallow waters, juvenile spiny lobsters leave their shallow reef habitat and travel over 30 miles (19 km) to a deep reef habitat where they will live for their adult life. Spiny lobsters line up in single file when they migrate or move to another area, touching their antennae to the tail of the lobster in front of them. As many as 100,000 lobsters will get in this line, which is thought to look like one long eel or snake. If the lobsters are attacked, they gather in a circle with their tails pointing inward, displaying all of their spines outward. For the science part of this log I will highlight two of the juvenile spiny lobster predators. Essentially, everything is connected out here, and what happens to one eventually will happen to the other.
One predator of juvenile spiny lobsters is the eel. The three species of eels that I have seen are the conger eel, lemonhead eel, and the steiny eel. Most often these eels have been in the traps and are regarded with much disdain when the traps are opened. The lemonhead and the steiny are moray eels while the conger is in its own group. Moray eels are numerous in Hawaii, found in holes and under large rocks during the day. They usually hunt in the open under cover of night but will during the day if the opportunity arises. Morays have thick leathery skin that envelops the continuous marginal fin and lack pectoral fins. Morays are rarely consumed by humans since they are likely to cause ciguatera poisoning, a serious neurological condition that can be contracted by eating certain kinds of reef fish.
The two Morays, the lemonhead and steiny attain about 3 feet. I have seen both species at varying lengths and they have an aggressive demeanor. Today one fell on deck as we were removing it from a trap and we were all glad to see it go over board on its own. The conger eels have smooth scaleless skin, large pectoral fins, and the continuous marginal fin rays are easily visible. They are much less common than moray eels in Hawaii. The generic Hawaiian name for eels is Puhi. Another predator of juvenile spiny lobster is the hapu’u, also called the Hawaiian grouper. Groupers are bottom fish, lying in wait near the ocean floor to ambush passing fish or invertebrates. When a likely meal gets close, the grouper opens its expandable mouth and inhales, sucking in both water and prey. As you might suspect, this action takes place with lightning-strike efficiency.
As mentioned earlier with the change in plans, I will have a lot more time on my hands and will have to find other activities on the ship until we resume operations. We’ll return to Necker Island as soon as we can and begin setting traps. We did not put fresh bait in the traps and we secured all of our equipment on deck. For the next few days I will have time to review some of the data with the scientists, research the other animals we’ve collected, read more books and watch some movies. I have read five books so far and in reality, what else would I be doing? I just wish we could get in the water, but there is this little problem, sharks. The sharks follow the ship at times and I am sure they would love to snack on human if given the chance.
Did You Know?
1. Lobsters can cast off a leg if a predator bites it. This strategy helps to prevent the lobster from getting an infection in a bite wound and it is better to lose a leg than a life.
2. Spiny lobsters produce noises to warn other lobsters to stay out of their territory. They rub the hard area at the bottom of their antennae against ridges on their head. It makes a grating noise that warns others to stay away.
Today we hauled our first set of lobster traps at Necker Island. I must say the Chief Scientist was right when he said there would be less lobster here. I think we may have caught 25 lobsters out of 160 traps. Very disappointing numbers, less than one lobster per trap. It is possible that the traps were in too deep of water and the substrate being sand made conditions unfavorable. We will be here for 13 more days or for 13 more sets, depending on how you want to look at it. A majority of what we caught today were different types of crustaceans and bluestriped snapper.
The bluestriped snapper is a non-native species that was brought to Hawaii from French Polynesia in the 1950’s. The fish’s native distribution is the Indo-Pacific from east Africa – Tuamotus; north to southern Japan; south to New Caledonia. The fish was brought to Hawaii to fill a vacant niche in the reef community, a shallow water snapper. The bluestriped snapper does not have a good reputation. In Hawaii, the bluestriped snapper share the same habitat with native fishes and this may result in competition for habitat use and food sources. Evidence has been documented which suggests that bluestriped snapper may displace native fish from important refuge habitat. However this remains a controversial topic and more research investigating the ecological niche of L. kasmira is needed. From what I saw today though, the most common fish brought up from the traps was the bluestriped snapper.
When I searched the internet for “bluestriped snapper” and “Hawaii”, I found that many of the links discussed the fish as being a great aquarium fish and really no other use. Yes, I will admit the fish are great to look at, but what will be the future impact? The discussion of the bluestriped snapper led into the problems which exists in Lake Erie with the invasive round gobi, zebra mussel, and purple loosestrife. The main difference here in Hawaii is that this species was introduced intentionally and the impact is yet to be seen. Granted, it has been over 50 years since the bluestriped snapper was introduced, but most of the people I have talked to on the ship see it as a nuisance and not a threat.
Today, as mentioned earlier, I saw more species of crustaceans, especially crabs. There were two groups that I have been seeing quite a bit and that is hermit crab and sponge crab. Anyone who has explored a tide pool is familiar with the hermit crab. Although an external skeleton like other crabs covers their front parts, their long soft tails are not protected. Hence, they use empty snail shells for protection and are very difficult to remove.
The other species that has really caught my attention is the sleepy sponge crab. The sleepy sponge crab is considered to be the most evolutionary primitive of the true crabs. As I found out, they are very slowing moving and nocturnal. They use their hindmost legs to carry a piece of sponge over its back. The crab uses the sponge for camouflage and within the sponge is living a whole myriad of other organisms like sea stars and forminifera (algae). Unfortunately as I found out, when the sponge comes off the back of the crab, you can’t put it back on.
I was posed this question by the CO (commanding officer) of the ship: What does a Teacher at Sea do on a transit day after a hard week of lobstering at Maro Reef?
Transit days are spent catching up on reading, laundry and rest. I finished up one book and read the first half on another. On Sunday at twilight we had a pyrotechnic display on the fantail of the ship. Essentially we had to get rid of the expired flares, so we had a good time setting them off. Then on Monday before we set the gear, we had four sets of drills which included a quarters escape drill. Right now though, I am glad to see Necker Island, the first land I have seen in a long time (it resembles Abe Lincoln’s profile). So with this I will be posting another log in a few days.
Questions of the Day
1. What type of relationship exists between the sponge crab, the sponge on it’s back , and anything living in the sponge? Commensalism, mutualism, or parasitism?
Today was our last day at Maro Reef and now we are making the 36-hour trip to Necker Island 350 miles to the east southeast. We finished up trapping today early as the number of lobsters collected was greatly reduced by the time we got to the sets of 20’s. I had the job of assisting in the lab today. I would collect the lobsters from the buckets, identify the sex, and then hold in place so they could be measured. In the morning, we collected a lot of slipper lobsters, sometimes as many as 19 or 20 in a trap. There were some spiny, but not nearly as many as the slipper. After lunch we collected the sets of 20 and found quite a difference. Instead of lobsters, we were collecting hermit crabs, spider crabs, sea anemone, and other types of crabs. The differences may have to do with the sandy bottom or the greater deep of the traps. I have tomorrow off to do whatever, which may include finishing up the book I started 8 days ago.
In this log I am going to talk about bottom fishing, which is one of the activities we get to do during the evening. Bottom fishing is the name given to line-fishing with baited hooks on or very close to the sea bottom. This is a fishing method, which catches predatory fish that feed on bottom-living crustaceans, fish, etc. One or more hooks may be used. Deep-bottom fishing has been known for many years in the Pacific region, and has been practiced for generations in some of the remote island communities of the Pacific. In the old days fishing was carried out from paddling canoes using gear made from locally-available materials, and was a challenge to even the most experienced fisherman. We however have the luxury of modern bottom fishing gear such as a winch to help bring up our catch.
One of the reasons for the popularity in the fish that are caught by bottom fishing is the species caught never carry ciguatera fish poisoning. This is a type of natural toxicity, which originates from reef and lagoon fish that feed on toxic reef algae. Ciguatera fish poisoning causes illness and makes the affected person unable to eat seafood for a long time. The possible presence of ciguatera is a major cause of concern for many consumers of reef and lagoon fish. The fact that it never occurs in deepwater fish, due to their diet, makes these fish all the more valuable. Some of the fish we have caught include Ehu, Uku, Opakapaka, Kahala, Butaguchi and Gindai. (have fun pronouncing these).
Deep-bottom fishing gear can be made from a range of materials, but the basic structure is generally the same:
a mainline, several hundred meters long, to lower the hooks to the bottom.
a terminal rig, usually 2–5 m in length, with attachment points for the mainline, several hooks, and a sinker. The terminal rig can be made of nylon, or steel cable to resist cutting by the sharp teeth of fish or rough rocks and corals on the sea floor. The attachment points may be loops made on the ends of the terminal rig and at intervals along its length, or may be swivels knotted or crimped into the rig.
several hooks, each fixed to a short trace , which can be connected to or disconnected from the attachment points along the terminal rig. This allows the traces to be changed quickly and easily when damaged or when the size of the fish being caught calls for smaller or larger hooks.
a heavy sinker, 0.5–2 kg in weight depending on the strength of the current, to get the rig down to the bottom quickly. I do enjoy the bottom fishing and to date I have caught 3 bottom fish, 1 Kahala and 2 Ehu. In fact I have the record on the boat for the largest Ehu at 54.6 centimeters!
I am glad to have tomorrow off so to speak. It will be good to sleep in and catch up on all the e-mails I have gotten. As mentioned before, Necker Island in the past has been slow because of its proximity to the inhabited islands. The bottom fish we are collecting are being used to get an idea of the health of the reefs. During the processing of the fish, we collect weight, length, gonads, liver, fin, and bones from the skull. Ryan is collecting these for his research. It is a very interesting process and bloody one too.
Animals Seen Today
Spiny lobster, Slipper lobster, Ridgeback lobster (type of spiny), Sea anemone, Hermit Crab, and Spider Crab.
Questions of the Day
What can we learn from Hawaiian values and practices to guide our interactions with the land and sea today?
What can we do to help restore declining fish populations?
We have been trapping for 5 days now and I have been the cracker twice, runner, and setter twice. The days are going by very quick and I find it harder and harder to write because by the time I get done, I am exhausted and then it is time to bottom fish. We have been having good days in terms of the number of lobsters we are collecting and returning. Just by what I have seen, the slipper lobster is the most numerous and I really can’t seem to find the answer to why. I do know that I would rather tangle with a slipper lobster than a spiny. The focus of this log will be on the spiny lobster and what makes it such an interesting organism. As with most lobsters, the spiny lobster is important in the reef community. I have learned that the spiny lobsters are usually found under ledges or in caves with only their antennae sticking out. The term stridulation comes from the lobster’s ability to rub its antennae to warn other animals away. I finally understand why we are setting the traps at night. Lobsters remain in their shelters during the day and emerge at night to forage over the reef and in our case for mackerel within the traps.
The spiny lobster does not have the large chelipeds that the Maine lobster has. The first thing I asked about was what do we do about the crusher and pincher (terms used to describe the front appendages of Maine lobster and crayfish). The spiny lobster does not have them; instead they have the spines that point forward that cover their antennae and dorsal surface. During the reproductive period, which occurs during summer, male lobsters seek out females. The males attach a sticky packet of sperm near the female’s reproductive opening and her eggs are fertilized as they leave her body. The female attaches the fertilized eggs to the delicate limbs on the underside of her abdomen. She aerates the developing embryos by fanning her abdominal limbs through the water. Females with eggs are called “berried” females because the eggs resemble tiny, reddish or blackish berries. The embryos hatch months later and take up life in the plankton as wafer-thin phyllosome larvae. The larvae spend up to 9 months in the plankton before settling out to begin life on the bottom.
As I have found through discussion with members of the crew, spiny lobsters are a popular food item in Hawaii. Just as we have been doing, the commercial fishermen catch them using baited wire traps set on the seafloor. Recreational fishermen, scuba divers, and snorkelers around the main Hawaiian Islands can only capture lobsters by hand (no nets or spears are allowed), and because of the long reproductive period, it is illegal to catch spiny lobsters during the summer months (May through August). Females with eggs are protected throughout the year.
As mentioned earlier I am worn out by the end of the day, but it is nice that I have gotten into a routine. We have 2 more days left here at Maro Reef then it is onto Necker Island for 2 weeks. I have been told that Necker Island is not as exciting because it was where more of the trapping occurred in the past and so the numbers are not as high. We will see what happens.
Yesterday and today were very busy days on board OSCAR ELTON SETTE as we set our first traps, cut bait and then pulled up traps and collected the lobsters, eels, sharks, and whatever else made it into the traps. Yesterday we set 160 traps off of Maro Reef. We set 10 lines of 8 traps and 4 lines of 20 traps. Each trap was assembled and 2 mackerel, which had been cut into thirds, was placed into the baiter. The baiter is a small container within the trap that holds the bait. The bait was cut earlier in the day. I volunteered to cut bait and I spent about an hour slicing and dicing the mackerel. Once the traps were baited we spent about an hour setting the traps. The traps were stacked into groups of fours and I would hand a trap to a fisherman who was standing on the stern and watch as the traps were pushed off into the water. I wish I could say my day was done but there was still a lot to do before tomorrow, including getting more bait.
Every night about 2100, the “crackers” for the next day go into a walk in freezer and pull out 13 boxes of frozen mackerel to thaw. (The term “cracker” comes from the job of opening up the traps when they are pulled out of the water, one has to crack open the lobster trap and pull out whatever is in side.) The next morning I got up at 0545 to cut the bait. The other cracker for the day was Matt and we spent a good hour cutting up the mackerel. I did learn that it is much easier to cut a half frozen mackerel as opposed to a thawed out mackerel. The knives were kind of dull and the mackerel were full of blood and eggs and there were a few times where the mackerel ended up on my shirt. No problems though.
The processing of pulling up 160 lobster pots takes up the good portion of the day so I will keep it simple. Once the pots are pulled from the water and end up on the deck they first come to the crackers. The crackers open the pots and remove all organisms from inside. Today, this included slipper lobsters, spiny lobsters, eels, sharks, crabs, fish and one octopus. The most difficult had to be the octopus, it just refused to come put and its tentacles stuck to every surface. It took both Matt and me to pry the octopus from the trap. We both tried to avoid the mouth because they do have a beak like structure and neither of us wanted to see if it could remove a finger. The spiny lobsters were also difficult because one, they are covered with spines but are a lot stronger than one would think. They would kick back with their tail and one time my pinky got caught by tail and blood was drawn. The slipper lobsters are easier to handle and taking them out the trap was not a problem because their bodies lack the spines. Most of the lobsters that were pulled out were the slipper lobster, which are also the easiest to handle. The worst part of the job as cracker is constantly being wet and having to dunk my hands in the bait buckets which are full of mackerel blood and organs. The smell of the mackerel has found its way into my shoes, gloves, hair, and skin. I don’t think I will ever be able get rid of it. My job as cracker ended and tomorrow I start as a runner. Everyone who has done this cruise before says cracker is the best job. I guess I will soon find out.
I would be lying if I said I was not tired. The job of cracker is not the hardest job, but when one has his hand in a trap that has eels, sharks, and spiny lobsters in it, it can be stressful. On top of emptying the traps, the old bait has to be removed and new bait placed in, all the while, a new trap is making its way down the table. So after eating dinner at 1630, I am ready to call it a day. By keeping so busy I have not had as much time to sit on the observation deck and look for whales and dolphins, but I have come face to face with some really amazing animals. I am really fascinated by the eels. They are very aggressive and strong animals. I almost had one get real personal with me when I was emptying a lobster pot and the eel had managed to hide on the bottom. As I was picking up spiny lobster, this eel pops it head up by my hand and all I could say was EEL! EEL! Everyone had a good laugh. We ended the day with a feeding frenzy in which all of the old bait is dumped over the side and the Galapagos Shark’s come in. It is an amazing sight to see and to be that close to such a great animal. I am sure there will be many more moments like that to come.
Animals Seen Today
Lemon Head Eel
Question of the Day
Looking at the food web of The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, what would happen if a large predator like the Galapagos Shark was removed? Would there be another animal that could replace it in the web?
Yesterday we entered The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (formerly the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument). I found from talking to the crew it is the largest Marine Protected Area in the world. The new native Hawaiian name, Papahānaumokuākea reflects Hawaiian traditions relating to the birth of the Islands. Papahanaumoku is the goddess who birthed the islands.
I spent most of today on the observation deck above the bridge looking for birds and waiting for French Frigate Shoals to appear on the horizon. A part of our mission was to deliver supplies to Fish and Wildlife personal on Tern Island, which is part of the shoal. Tern Island was formed into a runway to serve as a refueling stop for planes enroute to Midway during World War II. Some of the buildings remain and could be seen with a pair of binoculars.
I found through some investigating that French Frigate Shoals is an open atoll consisting of a large, crescent-shaped reef surrounding numerous small, sandy islets. The first object that stands out as soon as one reaches the shoal is the steep-sided pinnacle that sticks up out of the water. It is the first land I have seen in 3 days so it may not seem like much, but it was a welcome sight. The pinnacle is named “La Pérouse Pinnacle” after Compte de La Pérouse, who visited the atoll in 1786. As I did some research on the shoals I found that in the moonlight the pinnacle so resembled a full-rigged sailing ship that it lured more than one vessel to her doom on the shoals.
On deck we were preparing the tables and traps for tomorrow as we will set traps tomorrow at 1700 (or at 5:00 p.m.) I asked Garrett who has been on this trip 5 times if I could get bait duty first. This consists of taking a Mackerel and making three cuts so that the muscle is exposed to attract the lobsters and any other organism that may venture into the trap. We will then collect the traps at 0800 Sunday morning. We have set up an assembly line on the side of the ship, which consists of several tables end to end. As a trap comes up, the cracker will open up the trap and take out the organisms that made it in and the old bait. The trap is then rebaited and sent toward the back of the ship. The organisms that were collected will be placed in a bucket and sent to the wet lab to be measured and processed. All of the lobsters that are collected will be returned after data such as carapace length are recorded. The lobsters are not just tossed off the side of the boat, but are placed in a special cage and dropped to the bottom. This prevents any predators from eating the lobster before they make it back to the bottom.
The days have been going by pretty quickly. I am ready to do some work though. The major event of the past two days has been the meals and watching movies. The food is excellent so I m sure my plan of losing weight on the trip will not come to be. The good part now is that I have the chance to get to know the people I’m living with a lot better. My roommate Mike is a student at the University in Hawaii and knows a great deal about sharks and I learned quite a bit about the behavior of the shark and especially about some of the sharks we may see. I am learning to tie knots that will not come undone when we have large waves and I got to put on my survival suit for the first time during the abandon ship drill. I hope to have a picture to share of that.
It has become a common sight for Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour to see in the skies large, black birds, hovering lazily in place. This is the frigatebird. The name “frigatebird” calls to mind the sails of ships and, indeed, frigatebirds sail gracefully in the air currents overhead. Their wingspan is some 7.5 feet and their deeply forked scissor-like tails afford them ultimate maneuverability. Their other common name, however, the “man-o’-war” bird, reflects the way in which they use their flying and maneuvering skill. Frigatebirds are pirates who harass incoming birds until the victim is so upset that it disgorges its catch. The frigatebird then drops with amazing speed and plucks the bolus out of the water, or even catches it before it hits.
Animals Seen Today
Terns, Frigate birds, Shearwaters, and Dolphins.
Question of the Day
During World War II what impact might the battles (Midway) that were fought near these islands have had on the ecosystem? Could there still be impact today?
I have been in Hawaii for three days already to acclimate myself to the time change, learn about the job ahead of me, and to get to know the crew. There are 11 members of the scientific crew including myself, all of us with a background in biology formally or informally. Our adventure over the next 30 days will be to visit some of the islands that make up the Hawaiian Archipelago to see how the populations of two species of lobster have changed in the past year. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) are an uninhabited archipelago that extends 1200 miles across the Central Pacific Ocean. The area supports many marine species including lobsters, bottomfish, and monk seals. The two species of lobster that we will be studying are the slipper lobster and the spiny lobster. Both species of lobster were fished for about 15 years in the waters of the NWHI Six years ago the lobster fishery was closed and data suggests that the populations have not recovered appreciably. The areas where the lobsters will be collected are Maro Reef and Necker Island. One of the interesting facts that I learned from the chief scientist is that the lobsters were not separated when they were collected; they were grouped together as lobster, even though there are major anatomical differences between the two. The data suggests that the slipper lobster population has done better in terms of increased population. I will be doing various jobs over the next four weeks such as baiting the traps, measuring the carapace of the lobsters, and collecting samples for DNA/ genetic research that one of the grad students is working on. Essentially, he will be doing a population genetics study. I have not asked what type of information he is looking for and should do that tomorrow.
Another area that we others in the group will be studying is the bottomfish fishery. Bottomfish are fish that are found at deeper depths and include pink snapper, flower snapper, red snapper, and the Hawaiian snapper. I am not sure how the bottomfish sampling will occur because there is a limit on the number of bottomfish that can be taken because the NWHI was declared a Marine National Monument in June of 2006. With this status new restrictions have now been placed on what can and cannot be done within the Monument. Another question I need to find the answer to is, “What is the difference between a monument and a sanctuary?”
I have spent most of the day getting use to the rocking of the boat and settling into my stateroom, which I am very happy with and should be quite comfortable for the next 30 days. If the beginning of the trip is any prelude to the rest, it will be an amazing experience. I am looking forward to getting to know the rest of the scientific crew and learning from them, just as I hope they learn from me.
Animals Seen Today
Terns, Shearwaters, and Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins.
Question of the Day
What type of interactions might be occurring between the spiny and slipper lobster that could explain the differences in their populations? Is one a generalist/specialist?