Daniel Rivera, Days 3 & 4 Bird & Mammal Observation

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Daniel Rivera

Aboard the Ship R/V Fulmar

July 16-24, 2014

 

Mission: Water conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) readings; marine bird and mammal counts

Geographical Area: Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries; Sonoma County Coast, Pacific Ocean

Dates: July 18 and 19, 2014

 Weather Data from the bridge: Wind speed variable, less than 10 knots; wind waves less than 2 feet; visibility about 3 KMs, temperature range from 59-68

 Science and Technology Log: Friday and Saturday are mostly filled with marine bird and mammal observations, and we covered many transect lines in the last 2 days: Lines 1, 3, 5, 7, N1, and N3-N7.

These are the paths, or transect lines, taken by our ship on our cruise.

These are the paths, or transect lines, taken by our ship on our cruise.

The transects lines with an “N” stand for near-shore lines, and they are shorter. During these two days the near-shore lines were the only lines where we took CTD readings, so the majority of the time was spent monitoring birds and mammals from the flying bridge, which is the top deck of the boat.

Scanning for birds and mammals while riding atop a moving vessel can be quite challenging for a number of reasons. First of all, a boat is at mercy of the waves, so the bobbing motion makes it hard to focus your eyes. Second, the organisms you are monitoring are in motion as well, so you have to have a quick eye to see them and follow them. Finally, many of the organisms aren’t directly in front of the boat, so you have to be well-trained in spotting the subtle and not so subtle differences in hundreds of organisms. It’s a tough job that requires good eyes, patience, a strong stomach, lots of practice, and the ability to withstand ever-changing weather conditions.

When a marine bird is spotted, there are a series of codes that the watcher calls out to the person recording the sightings on the laptop. As mentioned in an earlier post, these codes stand for location, number of organisms, etc. For example, when on the top deck you might here this: Common Murre 2, zone 1, flying, 160. This means that there are two Common Murre birds within 100 meters of the boat, and they are flying toward 160 degrees in relation to the boat (in a 360-degree circle). For this protocol, zero degrees is always at the bow, or the front, of the boat, and 180 degrees points directly to the stern, or the back, of the boat.

When a marine mammal is sighted, there are even more codes. For example, you may hear this: Mammal, by eye, bearing 270, reticle 7, observer 9, side 1, traveling, immature, sex unknown, 2-2-2.

Now, that is a lot of information. What does all this mean? Take a look at this picture, which has the meanings for all of the codes.

Here are the codes that are called out while monitoring marine mammals and birds. As you can see, there is a lot of information that is called out during a spotting.

Here are the codes that are called out while monitoring marine mammals and birds. As you can see, there is a lot of information that is called out during a spotting.

Now look at the bottom half of this picture where it’s labeled Line Transect Entries-Marine Mammals and Vessels. In order to make sense of these codes, start with the left column and work your way down, moving along to the second column on the right and back down again. By using this chart, you realize what is being said: Marine mammal, spotted by eye (as opposed to binoculars), and it’s located at 270 degrees. Next up is reticule, which is a bit more complicated.

On reticule binoculars, there are 14 tick marks in a vertical column that the observer can see when looking through the lens; the top tick mark is 0 and the bottom is 14. When looking for marine mammals, you can estimate where they are located by these tick marks, called reticules. Reticule 0 is the horizon, and reticule 14 is the boat. If you have a mammal sighting at reticule 7, that means the mammal is roughly somewhere in the middle between the horizon and the boat, which is quite a distance. It takes a lot of practice to accurately estimate distance this way, especially on a rocking boat, but the ACCESS crew is well versed in this task. This is an important data point because the computer program will use compass direction and distance to provide a location on the ocean for the observation. At the end of the cruise, all the observations will be mapped out and you can see how many of which animals were seen in what locations as we criss-crossed the ocean on the boat.

The rest of the codes are pretty self-explanatory until you reach the counts, which gives your best estimate for number of organisms. A count of 2-2-2- means your best estimate of number of organisms is 2, the high number of organisms is 2, and the low count is 2; when you hear a call like this, the observer is certain that the number of organisms is 2 because there is no fluctuation. If you heard a count of 2-3-2, the observer saw at least 2 organisms but it could have been 3. The observers include these different estimates because sometimes it is very hard to count exactly how many dolphins or other fast-moving animals there are.

Here are some pics from the flying bridge (or top deck of the boat). Notice the different weather conditions on two different days, and how the observers have to be prepared to bundle up for the fog and have on hats and sunglasses against the sun. Conditions can change rapidly while at sea.

Many hours are spent perched atop the flying bridge when marine mammal and bird observations take place.

Many hours are spent perched atop the flying bridge when marine mammal and bird observations take place.

A sunny day on the flying bridge.

A sunny day on the flying bridge.

 

Personal Log: I woke up later these past two days because I learned there is time to wake up while the boat is heading out to the first transect. There is no need to wake up before the crew starts the engines because on days such as these we have at least one hour from when we leave port to ready ourselves for the tasks at hand.

As mentioned earlier in the blog, these past two days were mostly bird and mammal observations with CTD readings toward the end of the day. When the boat first set out in the morning, we headed out to the west end of the transect line, and because we have more time, everyone on board shares stories, some work-related, some personal. It’s quite nice to have time for these conversations because even though you spend 8 days at sea with everyone, it’s hard to fit in conversation when you’re watching for organisms or trying not to fall off the boat while deploying a net.

Dani Lipski, the Research Coordinator from Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, is a dive master for NOAA. She has lots of wonderful stories about diving, conducting research on different ships and islands up and down the West coast, and she is great at preventing me from tripping over myself on the back deck (I work with Dani the most). Kirsten Lindquist, from the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, loves to cook, spent two seasons in Alaska studying whales, and is an expert seabird observer. Rudy, the man in charge of IT at Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, can spot birds, mammals, and even mylar balloons; if it’s on or in the ocean, he’ll notice it. He is also the resident comedian, providing many instances of humor throughout the day. In short, everyone on board is knowledgeable about their jobs and dedicated to protecting the health of the world’s oceans, and it’s inspiring to be around a group as dedicated as the ACCESS cruise team.

Some other tidbits learned: Jaime–the director of all the marine work at Point Blue Conservation and the master of the Tucker Trawl–has a favorite spot to rest on the boat; the bunk rooms never seem to completely dry out; the best place to feel well on a boat is the back because of the least amount of up and down motion; and Dru, mammal spotter extraordinaire from Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, can make an excellent guacamole.

Speaking of food, Cheez-It’s are a favorite of everyone on board, Coke Zero is consumed at nauseam, and apparently the presence of M&Ms brings whale sightings (having a Teacher at Sea on board also seems to bring good whale sightings). Everyone takes turns cooking dinner, but breakfast and lunch are a free-for-all; you basically eat when you want or can while at sea, but dinner is a time for everyone to come together and share their day.

One interesting fact I forgot to mention is that when you come back to shore after spending 10 hours at sea, you still feel like you are moving up and down. When I was in the shower or even just sitting down on land, I felt like I was bobbing up and down and moving back and forth. You have a dizzy-like feeling,. Some people who don’t get sick at sea will get sick from this feeling when they return to land; this is called dock rock. Who knew?!

 

Did you know? Northern Right whale dolphins do not have dorsal fins.

Question of the Day? What types of foods do you think are ideally suited to a trip to sea with limited or no refrigeration?

New Term/Phrase/Word: Reticule

Something to Think About: Bananas on a boat are considered bad luck for several reasons. First, when they go bad the give off a gas that causes other fruit to rot faster. But there are more superstitious reasons as well: banana boats tended to be overloaded and, thus, sank a lot. Bananas carry tarantulas in them, so sailors didn’t want to get bit. You don’t want to bring something from the mountains to the sea, so you can’t bring bananas; there are sure to be more reasons why.

Challenge Yourself: Next time you’re at the shore or beach, count how many different species of birds you see and try to estimate their direction of travel, using a 360-degree circle as reference and using the horizon as 0 degrees.

Daniel Rivera, Day 2, First Day Out At Sea, Jul7 17, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Daniel Rivera

Aboard the Ship R/V Fulmar

July 16-24, 2014 

 

Mission: Water conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) readings; marine bird and mammal counts

Geographical Area: Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries; Sonoma County Coast, Pacific Ocean

Dates: July 17, 2014

 

Weather Data from the bridge: Wind speed variable, less than 10 knots; wind waves less than 2 feet; visibility about 3 km, temperature range from 57-66 F

 

Science and Technology Log: During our week long cruise we take CTD readings with the CTD device and record marine bird and mammal sightings from the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuaries, marine protected areas (MPA) off the northern coast of California. CTD readings tell us the levels of salinity of the water and the temperature of the water, and the depth at which these two conditions exists, along with the number of marine birds and mammals in the area, can tell scientists a lot about the health of the ocean. The scientist aboard the R/V Fulmar are looking for correlations between the number of birds and mammals along the transects and the CTD readings. Are conditions changing, staying the same? Has any kind of natural or manmade disaster affected the numbers?

Today’s mission was extra special because these two MPAs are currently undergoing a proposed expansion, and for the first time the science team took samples from this proposed expansion area. The transect lines covered today were 14, 13, and N13.

An expansion of these two MPAs would increase the area allotted to the protection and preservation of our coastal waters and, by extension, marine life within those waters. The reason behind the expansion of the MPAs is due to the upwelling that starts north of the current MPA, at a spot along the coast called Point Arena. The large amount of upwelling that begins at Point Arena eventually moves down the coast with the California Current, creating the spectacular assortment of rich life that exists in the Gulf of the Farrallones and the Cordell Bank Sanctuaries. By protecting the starting point of the massive upwelling, we are ensuring the protection of the explosion of life that continues along California Current. 

 

Personal Log: Todays begins with my alarm clock going off at 5:30 am. Why so early? Because we leave port no later than 7am, and with 11 people on board one ship, I don’t want to be the last one in line for the bathroom. Plus I like to have coffee in the morning. And I’m a little nervous because it’s my first day at sea. Any one of these excuses work. 

Once everybody’s is up and ready to go, my first task is go over emergency procedures with Dave Benet, the mate of the ship. We go through the safety protocols and when done I don the immersion suit, which looks like a giant red gumby suit and leaves you with as much dexterity as do ski mittens. I’m told it will keep you warm in the water if you manage to zip it up before you hit the water; I do not want to test out this theory, so I take Dave’s word.

This gumby-looking outfit, called an immersion suit, will keep you afloat and warm if you happen to abandon ship.

This gumby-looking outfit, called an immersion suit, will keep you afloat and warm if you happen to abandon ship.

As we head out to sea and towards out first transect, everybody is excited that the water and weather are calm; very little to no wind, glass-like water, no waves. This is a treat for all on board because during the last cruise the waves were so bad that the boat had to return to shore because it was too dangerous to be out at sea.

The first task of the day is on the top deck, where scientists monitor the marine birds and mammals within the transect line. As birds and mammals are spotted along the transect, data is collected about each organism. Among this data is type of organism, the direction of travel, the sex (if known), age (if known), the behavior, and location of the organism. There is one spotter for birds and two spotters for mammals, and as each organism is spotted, a series of numbers and names is called out to the recorder, the scientist who inputs the data into a log on a laptop. Today is mild, weather-wise, so the crew calls out the information and logs it in as the boat gently sways back and forth along the transect; last month I would’ve seen the same crew holding on for dear life, trying to keep in their meals, while still recording the data. 

Because I’m not trained on how to spot birds and mammals, my task while on board is to assist with CTD and plankton net deployment. Along predetermined spots along the transect the boat stops and we drop the CTD to about 5 meters above the seafloor. Our first CTD reading had us at 200 meters to the bottom, so we sent the CTD down to 195 meters below. Once it hits 195 meters we immediately bring it back up and secure the device back to the boat. After that we then launch the hoop net, which is a big plankton net that is dragged behind the boat till a depth of 50 meters. Once it’s down to 50 meters, we then bring the net back up to the boat, empty the contents into a jar, and add preserving agent to bring the samples back to the lab. Once at the lab the plankton samples are counted and recorded, giving us a picture of the biological activity in that particular area of the transect.

The CTD is deployed down to a depth that is 5 meters above the surface and collects conductivity, temperature, and depth data.

The CTD is deployed down to a depth that is 5 meters above the surface and collects conductivity, temperature, and depth data.

The handling of the hoop net and CTD take practice to properly deploy, and the parameters of the deployment have to be very exact or else we risk losing the very costly tools. If the measurements for depth are not accurate, the CTD could hit the bottom of the ocean, causing damage to the CTD. We could also risk snagging and losing the hoop net if it is dragged along the bottom, so these measurements are doubled- and triple-checked by the captain and the scientists to avoid costly mistakes. 

Did you know? Just as there are hotspots of magma flow on land, there are hot spots of life at sea. The transect lines monitored aboard the R/V Fulmar help to pinpoint these hotspots of sea-life activity. 

Question of the Day? What does the acronym MPA stand for? Provide 2 examples of MPAs.

New Term/Phrase/Word: CTD; hoop net.

Something to Think About: The more you eat while on a cruise, the less seasick you will become, which is counterintuitive.

Challenge Yourself: How might wind waves affect the efficiency of a cruise?

Daniel Rivera: First Day Meeting the Crew, July 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Daniel Rivera

Aboard Research Vessel Fulmar

July 16 – 24, 2014

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS)

Geographical Area: Spud Point Marina; Bodega Bay CA.

Date: July 16, 2014

Weather Data from the bridge: N/A (day at port)

 

Science and Technology Log:

This trip is part of an ongoing mission called Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS ) that monitors the ecosystem health of the northern California National Marine Sanctuaries. To determine the health of the ecosystem, scientists collect water samples, perform net tows, and monitor the number and behavior of organisms (birds, mammals, turtles, ships, and marine debris) along predetermined routes, called transects.  A map of the transects we will cover this trip can be found in the picture below.

Transect Lines for the ACCESS Cruise

Transect Lines for the ACCESS Cruise
Caption: The red lines are the transects, the path the ACCESS cruise takes in order to collect samples and monitor organisms.

The vessel used on the ACCESS cruise is called the R/V Fulmar, a 67-foot boat that has been used by NOAA for the past 8 years. The boat has enough sleeping room for 6 scientists and 2 crew. Read more about it here http://www.sanctuarysimon.org/regional_sections/fulmar/.

Personal Log:

Where to begin? I guess the most logical place to start is on shore, when I first meet up with Jan Roletto–the cruise leader for our trip–at the Gulf of the Farallones NMS, Crissy Field office in San Francisco. The cruise leader is responsible for the logistics of the trip: who’s on board, emergency contacts, what transects we will monitor, the ports we will visit, and a host of other responsibilities once we actually leave land. What’s interesting about this cruise is that it’s a collaborative monitoring effort between three groups: The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Point Blue Conservation Science, all local to the Bay Area. The three groups take turns being the cruise leader; this trip the cruise leader is from the Gulf of the Farallones; the next cruise leader will be from Cordell Bank.

Once we load up our vehicles with the equipment needed for the cruise, we drive the roughly 1.5 hours north to Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay, CA. This is where I first catch sight of our vessel, the R/V Fulmar, and this is where mob (or mobilization) happens, which is short for saying loading all the gear onto the boat. (When we come back to shore on the last day, we will demob, or demobilize.)

Once everything is loaded on board I settle in to my cozy bunk below the bridge, the command center of the ship. On either side of the bridge there is a small set of stairs that leads to a bunk room; I’m staying to the left of the bridge, sleeping on the top bunk. Slightly bigger than a bunk bed from childhood, but without the rails, I wonder if I will fall to the floor during the trip. Not only would the fall hurt, but my bunk sits precariously next to an emergency escape hatch, which one must use a metal ladder to access. So, not only would I fall to the floor because of no railing, but I would almost certainly hit the metal ladder on the way down. Note to self: don’t move while sleeping.

Bunk Beds on the R/V Fulmar

Don’t fall off the top bunk unless you want to bang into the emergency escape ladder.

The main deck has a two-room kitchen, a work center for all the computers on board, a dining area that turns into a king-sized bed, three additional bunk beds, and a bathroom that is surprisingly roomy for a boat—I have many friends who would gladly exchange their bathroom for the Fulmar’s. The back of the boat contains a deck and winch for deployment of nets, divers, etc., and the front of the boat there is an observation deck with an anchor hanging in front. On the top deck there is a container with 20 immersion suits (flotation suits that keep you warm in the event of an abandon ship), a host of observation seats, and secondary controls for the movement of the ship. Underneath the main deck is where the twin engines await to propel us out into the deep blue sea.

After many introductions to the rest of the crew, a nice dinner at a local restaurant, and many stories of what to expect, we each head to bed around 10pm to ensure a good night’s rest for the first day at sea. 

Did you know? If you hear 7 short rings of the bell/horn followed by one long ring, you better get a move on to the immersion suit: this is the call for abandon ship!

Question of the Day? The California Current is one of four that makes up the North Pacific Gyre. What other 3 currents complete this gyre?

New Term/Phrase/Word: mob and demob

Something to Think About:  The more you eat while on a cruise, the less seasick you will become, which is counterintuitive.

Challenge Yourself: What kind of clothing do you think you’ll need to comfortably engage in a 9-day monitoring cruise at sea?