Staci DeSchryver: Fair Winds and Following Seas, July 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  South of Oahu, heading toward the Big Island

Current Location:  20.20 N 156.37 W

Date:  July 8, 2017

Weather Data From the Bridge: 

 

Science and Technology Log

We have arrived!  Today members of the incoming crew on Oscar Elton Sette picked me up from Waikiki and we made our way over to Ford Island for training.  The HICEAS study is seven “legs” long, each lasting about a month with a one week break in between legs – ours is the first “leg” of the mission, and the training took place for all scientists and crew who would be traveling and conducting research through any of the four parts of the mission.  In August and September, two of the legs will run simultaneously, so the project is significant in size with respect to time, manpower, and data collection.  We had a very full house of various research teams, some of which will overlap among the various legs of the trip.  The full crew is a tight family, with hugs and greetings all around during breaks and meal times.  How nice to know that leaving for 28 days (some of them longer) doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your family.

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Wanted:  pseudorca (Alias: False Killer Whales) For High Crimes of Adorableness and shyness from ships.  Photo Credit:  NOAA Fisheries/Corey Sheredy

During training, scientists reviewed procedural protocols to follow for different species sightings and learned the protocol changes for a few other species.  The primary target for this particular leg of the HICEAS is pseudorca, or False Killer Whale.  They are a socially interesting bunch – a little reminiscent of the hallways at Cherokee Trail High School.  Whereas most whale species travel as a “class” in one large group all together, pseudorca behave as though all day every day is passing period.  The entire group of pseudorca may travel together (similar to being in school all day), but they don’t all congregate together in the same location.  They are a rather “cliquey” bunch – with smaller groups milling about together on their own in different corners of the main group but all keeping at least somewhat in eyesight or earshot of the other groups.  Because of this, scientists must identify the group, and then each individual subgroup, making note of any groups that join up or split apart.  We haven’t spotted any pseudorca yet, but with some time, talent, and a little luck, we will soon!

In a broad sense, the search for cetaceans on a daily basis is executed a little something like this:  Three mammal observers take their positions at port (left), center, and starboard (right) on the “flying” bridge – or the topmost deck of the ship.  There is also a space reserved just right of center for the Seabird observers.  Each observer will rotate through these three positions for a total of a two-hour shift.  If, for example, an observer begins at the port side “Big Eye” station, they will scan the water in search of cetaceans for 40 minutes from that position, rotate to the center, and then finally to the starboard side.  Where does the starboard side observer go when he or she has completed the rotation?  There’s plenty to do onboard and to help with until the next two-hour rotation begins.  There are two seabird observers working alongside the mammal observing team, and they alternate in two-hour rotations, so only one bird observer is on the flying bridge at a time in an official capacity.  All visual observers work from sunrise to sunset.

Each position at the marine mammal observation area is responsible for visually sweeping the ocean’s surface during observations.  The two side observers are only responsible for scanning from 0 degrees (the bow of the ship) to 90 degrees to their direct left on the port side, or direct right on the starboard side.  They use a very imposing pair of binoculars called the “Big Eyes” to scan their respective areas.  These binoculars are impressive in size and abilities.  They can bring even the smallest birds far on the horizon into sharp focus.  The center observer does not have Big Eyes, but stands ready to take data if there is a sighting.  He or she can scan the area in general, but the big eyes offer much more detailed observation abilities at a much greater distance.  The center observer is also responsible for keeping time on the rotations, monitoring the weather, the sun’s position in the sky, and Beaufort sea state.

While the visual observers are on the flying bridge, two scientists work in the acoustics lab to listen for cetacean vocalizations.  The two groups work in parallel universes, but only the acousticians can cross dimensions.  In other words, if the visuals see cetaceans, they can tell the acoustics about what they are seeing, but if the acoustics scientists hear vocalizations, they will not tell the observers.    More often than not, the acousticians will hear clicks, whistles, and moans from the acoustics lab well before the visuals make a sighting, because the acoustics team has a large advantage over the visuals team.  The visuals team is restricted to what they can see at the surface, and the acoustics team can “see” many miles away and deeply into the water column, which significantly increases their volume of searchable space.

When the acousticians “see” or hear a vocalization, they plot the distance from the ship. They continue to listen for vocalizations and continue with the plots.  Eventually, they have enough data to narrow down the potential location of the cetacean to two spots. This process is not unlike earthquake triangulation, except the observers can narrow down the location to two spots, rather than just one.  There will be much more to come as to how this process works in future blogs, so stay tuned!  

Personal Log

At the end of training today, Dawn, one of the ornithologists (that’s a seabird “pro”) informed us of the third and far lesser-known Pearl Harbor Memorial, USS Utah.  Utah was the very first ship capsized by Japanese bombs on the early morning of December 7th, 1941.  Found on the opposite side of the island from USS Arizona, the Utah is only accessible by folks who have military clearance to get on the base, making the memorial incredibly secluded from exposure to the general public.  Utah took 64 lives with her when she sank, and a small monument now stands on the shore as a memento to the crew lost that fateful morning.  What makes Utah interesting is that she still stands partially above water, her mangled and rusted metal piercing through the water’s surface like the grasping hand of a drowning sailor.  There was a brief attempt by the military to right and raise her, but it proved futile, and they made the call to leave her remains be.  Her finest and final duty is to serve her watch over the men caught in her belly on the day she fell prey to the Axis forces.

Utah found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time on the morning of December 7. She was moored on a pier normally reserved for aircraft carriers, and her flat and shiny deck betrayed her identity to the incoming Japanese pilots.  Due to this mistaken identity, the Japanese attacked her on appearance, and she capsized almost instantly.  More interesting is that much like the beginning of a bad cop movie, she was nearing her retirement.  She was in port awaiting her execution date,  friendly-fire style, her technological abilities waning and falling out of favor compared to the newer commissioned ships.  Her final resting place was originally supposed to be somewhere in the Pacific as a victim of a practice bombing drill by the Air Force.  The Japanese pilots got to her first.  She wasn’t even at work that day.

Utah was built in 1909 and commissioned in 1911, the second of two Florida-class battleships built for service during World War I.  After a long stint in the service as a battleship, the Utah was re-appropriated as an auxillary ship for gunnery training and target practice for the allied forces.  On the day of the attack, the aircraft carriers that should have been in-port at the time were out to sea, and so Utah moored in one of the empty spaces intended to be held by the aircraft carriers.  In the confusion of the attack, it was determined that Utah was a carrier, and the Japanese navy opened fire.  The Chief Water Tender, Peter Tomich, served bravely as he assisted crew in their evacuations when the abandon ship call came over the ship’s systems.   While everyone was running off the ship, Tomich was running back onboard. He lost his life in that selfless move and is remembered as a hero of the day.

Today Utah sits idly close to shore alongside what used to be a dock.  Her neighbor is NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, and just a little further up the harbor, our ship, Oscar Elton Sette.  It was sobering honor to be so close to the memorial before we left port, and though USS Utah is one of the smaller memorials on Ford Island, I certainly will not forget her.

Species Report:

Number of cetaceans seen visually:  0 so far

Number/types of cetaceans “seen” acoustically:

*Blainsville’s Beaked Whale

*Sperm Whale

*Dolphins

Birds Seen:

Frigate Bird

Shearwaters

Red Footed Booby

Brown Footed Booby

Land Bird who shouldn’t have been out so far in the ocean (so possibly my spirit animal).  Let’s hope he eventually finds his way home.

Staci DeSchryver: Exploring HICEAS on the High Seas! June 20, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

Mission:  Cetacean Study

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Hawaiian EEZ

Current Location:  Impatiently waiting to sail in Centennial, Colorado

Date:  June 20

Weather Data from the “Bridge” (AKA My Sun Porch):

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Here’s the weather data from the “Bridge” in Centennial. (In Station Model format, of course. How else would we practice?)

 

Personal Log – An Introduction

Hello!  My name is Staci DeSchryver and I will be traveling this upcoming July on the Oscar Elton Sette as part of the HICEAS program!

I am an Oceanography, Meteorology, and Earth Science teacher at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, CO.  This August will kick off my 14th (yikes!) year teaching.  I know you might be thinking, “Why Oceanography in a landlocked state?”  Well, the reason why I can and do teach Oceanography is because of Teacher At Sea.  I am an alumna, so this is my second official voyage through the Teacher At Sea program.  It was all of the wonderful people I met, lessons I learned, and science that I participated in on the

 

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This is my husband, Stephen, and I, at the game that sent the Broncos to the Superbowl!

 

Oscar Dyson in 2011 that led me to encourage my school to put an Oceanography course in place for seniors as a capstone course.  This past year was the first year for the Oceanography and Meteorology courses, and they were very well received!  I have three sections of each class next year, as well!  (Shout out to all my recent senior grads reading this post! You were awesome!)  We study our World’s Ocean from the top of the water column all the way to the deepest parts of the Marianas Trench, and from the tiniest atom all the way up to the largest whale.  I  believe it is one of the most comprehensive courses offered to our students – incorporating geology, chemistry, physics, and biology, but then again, I’m a bit biased.

Apart from being a teacher, I am a wife to my husband of 8 years, Stephen.  We don’t have children, but we do have two hedgehogs, Tank and Willa, who keep us reasonably busy.  Willa only has one eye, and Tank is named Tank because he’s abnormally large for a hedgie.  They are the best lil’ hedgies we know.  We enjoy camping, rock climbing, and hiking – the typical Coloradans, though we are both originally from Michigan.  When we aren’t spending time together, I like to dance ballet, read, write, and I recently picked up a new weightlifting habit, which has led me to an entire new lifestyle of health and wellness with an occasional interjection of things like Ice Cream topped with caramel and Nachos when in the “off” season (hey, nobody’s perfect).

I will be leaving for Honolulu, Hawaii on July 4th to meet up with the fine scientists that make up the HICEAS team.  What is HICEAS?  Read below to find out more about HICEAS and the research we will be doing onboard!

Science Log

The HICEAS (Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey) is a study of Cetaceans (Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises) and their habitats.  Cetaceans live in the ocean, and are characterized by being carnivorous (we will get along just fine at the dinner table) and having fins (since I am a poor swimmer, I will humbly yield to what I can only assume is their instinctive expertise).  This means that the study will cover all manners of these majestic creatures – from whales that are definitely easily identifiable as whales to whales that look like dolphins but are actually whales to porpoises that really look like whales but are actually dolphins and dolphins that look like dolphins that are dolphins and…  are you exhausted yet?  Here’s some good news – porpoises aren’t very common in Hawaiian waters, so that takes some of the stress out of identifying one of those groups, though we will still be on the lookout.  Here’s where it gets tricky – it won’t be enough to just sight a whale, for example and say, “Hey! We have a whale!”  The observers will be identifying the actual species of the whale (or dolphin or possible-porpoise).  The observers who tackle this task are sharp and quick at what is truly a difficult and impressive skill.  I’m sure this will be immediately confirmed when they spot, identify, and carry on before I say, “Wait! Where do you see it?”

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This is the research area for the HICEAS project. Map/photo is credited directly to the HICEAS website, https://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/hiceas/whats_hiceas.php

There are 25 cetacean species native to Hawaiian waters, so that’s a big order to fill for the observers.  And we will be out on the water until we locate every last one.  Just kidding.  But we will be looking to spot all of these species, and once found, we will do our best to estimate how many there are overall as a stock estimate.  Ideally, these cetacean species will be classified into three categories – delphinids (dolphins and a few dolphin-like whales), deep diving whales (whales with teeth), and baleen whales (of the “swim away!” variety).  Once identified in this broad sense, they will then be identified by species.  However, I do have a feeling these two categorizations happen all at once.

Once the data is collected, there is an equation that is used to project stock estimates for the whole of the Pacific.  More on this later, but I will just start by saying for all you math folk out there, it’s some seriously sophisticated data extrapolation.  It involves maths that I have yet to master, but I have a month to figure it out, so it’s not looking too bleak for me just yet.  In the meantime, I’m spending my time trying to figure out which cetaceans that look like dolphins are actually possible-porpoises, and which dolphins that look like dolphins are actually whales.

Goals and Objectives of the HICEAS

The HICEAS study operates as a part of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SFSC), both under the NOAA umbrella.  Our chief scientist is Dr. Erin Oleson, who will be the lead on this leg of the cruise. HICEAS last collected data in 2010, and is now ready for the next round of stock assessments.  HICEAS is a 187-day study, of which we will be participating in approximately 30 of those days for this particular leg.  Our research area is 2.5 million square kilometers, and covers the whole of the Hawaiian Archipelago and it’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ!  The HICEAS study has three primary goals:

  1.  Estimate the number of cetaceans in Hawaii.
  2.  Examine their population structure.
  3.   Understand their habitat.

Studies like the HICEAS are pretty rare (2002, 2010, and now 2017), so the scientists are doing their best to work together to collect as much information as they possibly can during the study.  From what I can gather in lead-up chats with on board scientist Kym Yano, we will be traveling along lines called “transects” in the Pacific Ocean, looking for all the popular Cetacean hangouts.  When a cetacean is sighted, we move toward the lil’ guy (or gal) and all his friends to take an estimate, and if it permits, a biopsy.  There is a second team of scientists working below deck listening for Cetacean gossip (whale calls) as well.  Acoustic scientists will record the whale or dolphin calls for later review and confirmation of identification of species, and, of course, general awesomeness.

But that’s not all!

We will also be dropping CTD’s twice per day, which is pretty standard ocean scientific practice.  Recall that the CTD will give us an idea of temperature, salinity, and pressure variations with depth, alerting us to the presence and locations of any of the “clines” – thermocline, halocline, and pycnocline.  Recall that in areas near the equator, rapid changes of temperature, salinity, and density with depth are pretty common year-round, but at the middle latitudes, these form and dissipate through the course of the solar year. These density changes with depth can block nutrients from moving to the surface, which can act as a cutoff to primary production.  Further, the CTD readings will help the acoustic scientists to do their work, as salinity and temperature variations will change the speed of sound in water.

There will also be a team working to sight sea birds and other marine life that doesn’t fall under the cetacean study (think sea turtles and other fun marine life).  This study is enormous in scope.  And I’m so excited to be a part of it!

Pop Quiz:

What is the difference between a porpoise and a dolphin?  

It has to do with 3 identifiers:  Faces, Fins, and Figures.

According to NOAA’s Ocean Service Website…

Faces:  Dolphins have prominent “beaks” and cone-shaped teeth, while Porpoises have smaller mouths and teeth shaped like spades.

Fins: Dolphin’s dorsal (back) fins are curved, while porpoises fins are more triangle-shaped

Figures: Dolphins are leaner, and porpoises are more “portly.”

Dolphins are far more prevalent, and far more talkative.  But both species are wicked-smart, using sonar to communicate underwater.

Resources:

HICEAS website

Bradford, A. L., Forney, K. A., Oleson, E. M., & Barlow, J. (2017). Abundance estimates of cetaceans from a line-transect survey within the U.S. Hawaiian Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. Fishery Bulletin, 115(2), 129-142. doi:10.7755/fb.115.2.1