NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013
Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: May 9, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: Air Temperature- 12°C, Sea Temperature- 8.96°C, Wind Speed- 11.61 knots, Relative Humidity- 95%, Barometric Pressure- 1014.79mb.
Science and Technology Log:
Wednesday was beautiful. The air was cold, the skies were blue, and the sea was calm. Most importantly: no fog. Sei whales seemed to be popping up everywhere. Then I saw it. The classic “V” shaped blow, a North Atlantic Right Whale. Not our first one of the trip, but the first in a few days.
I sighted the blow at about 345° off the bow of the ship, and she was swimming toward us. The frenzy began. Our chief scientist, Allison Henry, grabbed the Canon Digital Camera with the 500 mm fixed zoom lens, and began capturing images of the right whale. Remarkably, yet unofficially, she could identify the whale through the lens of the camera. It was a female named Columbine. She was not alone. Columbine had a calf with her!
The calf swam very close to its mother and seemed to be rolling over on its back, flapping its flippers in the air. The whales don’t seem to be bothered by our large ship being near them.
The small boats were not launched in pursuit of Columbine for two reasons. Allison knew that both animals had already been biopsy sampled, so no need to repeat that process. Also, it is not wise to tag and follow a whale that is raising a calf.
Allison contributes photos collected in the field to the North Atlantic Right Catalogue that is maintained by The New England Aquarium. The aquarium maintains a searchable public database of right whale photos, sightings, and body descriptions. There is also a quick whale identification activity to practice photo identification of right whales.
I was dazzled by the flips and turns of Columbine’s calf. Giving a whale an official name is a complicated process that is the responsibility of The New England Aquarium and the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. However, I would like to unofficially name this baby “Arrow”.
Personal Log: This is my final blog post as a 2013 NOAA Teacher at Sea. I have learned a tremendous amount about marine mammals, but probably my most valuable lesson I have gained from this trip, a lesson I want to take back to my students, is about the nature of biological fieldwork.
I have learned that no two jobs are the same. Biological fieldwork is as different as the organisms being studied or sampled. I have put in some time looking at the way field biologist work, and each job has its own set of unique challenges and protocols. The process of sampling North Atlantic Right Whales in a vast ocean couldn’t be further from the process of surveying Lake Erie Water Snakes, identifying tree species in an upland forest, trudging through fast moving rivers for Hellbender salamanders, rummaging through scat to identify elk, moose, and pronghorn, or scaling walls at night for arachnids. I find it fascinating to look at the many faces of fieldwork.
There is, however, one common characteristic among my collection of field biologists that I have noticed. It’s an unusual sense of drive about the work. You can see it in their eyes when they’re on the job. No matter what the conditions, the fieldwork must get done, the sample must get collected, the photo must be shot, and the data must be recorded. It’s a maniacal quest for answers. It’s passion.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank so many people! Thank you Allison Henry, my chief scientist, for all the lessons, the laughs, and the whales! Thank you to all the NOAA scientists on board, Dave, Jen, Beth, Samara and Eric. Thank you to all the WHOI scientists on board, Mark, Nadine, Lauren, Sarah, and Chris. Thank you to the NOAA Corps officers, the Captain and Crew aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Thank you to everyone in the NOAA Teacher at Sea office. Also I would like to thank all my blog followers, especially my Tecumseh Middle School 8th graders, and my family! I will be home soon with another adventure under my belt!