Donna Knutson, September 29, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 29, 2010

The last night on the Sette.

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sightings will also be documented.

Jay the second steward during a drill.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 19○ 53.8’ N
Longitude: 156○ 20.8’ W  
Clouds:  2/8 Cu, VOG (volcanic ash fog)
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  2 ft.
Water Temperature:  26.3○ C
Air Temperature:  26.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1015.5 mb
The first leg of the Sette’s HICEAS cruise is almost over.  By tomorrow noon we will come into port at Pearl Harbor.  The mission has been highly successful!  The scientists and birders have had an action filled thirty days.
The HICEAS cruise birders, Dawn Breese and Scott Mills have documented thirty-nine species of seabirds.
 In the “tubenosed” or Procellariformes order, there are the Petrels and Shearwaters.  The Petrels include the Kermadec, Herald, Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, White-necked, Back-winged, Bonin, Wilson’s Storm, Band-rumped Storm, Cook’s, and Bulwer’s.  The Shearwaters include the Christmas, Wedge-tailed, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, and Newell’s.

Clementine, the chief steward, in the galley. Her and Jay made a banquet for every meal! I surprised her!

From the order Pelicaniformes the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird have been recognized and also the Brown, Red-Footed Booby, Masked Booby, and Great Frigatebirds.

Harry, the chief engineer, during a drill.

The shore birds seen so far are the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Wandering Tattler. Terns include the Brown and Black Noddies, the White, Sooty, and Grey-backed Terns; Jaegers include Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed plus the South Polar Skua.
The HICEAS mammal observers, Andrea Bendlin, Abby Sloan, Adam U, Allan Ligon, Ernesto Vazquez and Juan Carlos Salinas, have had ninety-seven sightings!  The whales observed have been the sperm whale, Bryde’s whale, and Cuvier’s and Blainville’s beaked whales.

The CO,commanding officer, Anita Lopez.

The dolphins that were documented were the bottlenose dolphin, striped dolphin, Pantropical spotted dolphin, spinner dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, killer whale, false killer whale, pygmy killer whale, and pilot whale.
The scientists were able to obtain nearly 50 biopsy samples from live cetaceans, 1 necropsied Kogia, 3 tracking tags, and hundreds of pictures!
Personal Log:
If someone asked me what qualities and or skills are needed to work on a ship, I would use the Sette crew as my model.
You must have dedicated, respected and competent officers.  The engineers need to be resourceful and good problem solvers.  The deck hands must be hard working and possess a good sense of humor.  The doctor should be a model for good physical health and have a inspiring positive attitude.   The stewards need to make creative delicious dishes, and be friendly and caring. The computer technician must be a great troubleshooter in order to work on anything that requires electricity.

Dr. Tran and the XO, executive officer, Stephanie Koes went to Midway with me.

The science crew must be focused, persistent and knowledgeable.  I have observed that scientists, regardless of their role, whether they are mammal observers, accousticians, oceanographers or chief scientists, need to collect data, organize the information into the correct format, and then report it.  All variables need to be accounted for.
 I am very impressed with the kind and helpful crew!  They truly made me feel at home.  That is exactly how it feels like on the Sette – like a home.  They have welcomed me with open arms.

Kinji, the boatswain, cut up the yellow fin tuna into shashimi.

I have learned much, much more than anticipated on this cruise.  I was included in activities in all divisions. I was encouraged to help out the scientists by being an independent mammal observer, run security on the CTD, and help package and label biopsy samples.
In the kitchen I learned how to sanitize the dishes and where to put them away, plus I got some helpful cooking hints to take back home and a lot of good conversation.
I helped the deck crew when working with the CTD and learned how to tie a bowline knot.
I went up to the bridge and helped look –out during an emergency situation, was invited to the officer’s book review, and drove the ship.  Wow! Do I have respect for people who can do that accurately!
 I received a thorough and informative engineering tour, and I am still impressed by all the systems that need to work together to keep the ship (which is like a mini city) afloat.

The “girls” of the science crew displaying their cups before sending them down 3000 ft. with the CTD. They came back up less than half the original size.

I wanted to be involved where ever I went. Learning by observing is great, but I wanted to be an active member of the crew and learn through experience.  It is impossible to write down everything I learned from this experience, but I want to ensure everyone who was over-run with my many questions, that I appreciate all your time and patience with me.
It feels as though I have a whole different world to show my students!  Our Earth really is an amazing place of adventure!  You never know who you will have a chance to meet or what you can learn from them!
Thank you to everyone who shared their life with me.  It allowed me to have a wonderful “soul filling” experience!

Donna Knutson, September 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 27, 2010

The Elusive Pseudorca

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sightings will also be documented.

This is me “looking” like I am driving the ship.

Science and Technology:

Pseudorca “spy hopping”.

Latitude: 22○ 09.1’ N
Longitude: 160○ 12.3’ W  
Clouds:  1/8 Cu
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  9 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature:  26.6○ C
Air Temperature:  25.2○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1015.9 mb
Compared to its cousin the Killer Whale, little is known about the False Killer Whales.  They do not have many similar traits other than their coloring.  They both have black upper bodies with patches of white below.  On the pseudorca the lighter color is on the chin and tapers along the stomach backward to the tail.

False Killer Whales traveling side by side.

They are a much smaller animal, with a male maximum length of nineteen feet six inches and a weight of around three thousand pounds.  The female is smaller with similar coloring.  They have an erect dorsal fin that may be up to fifteen inches high.
The false killer whales may not sound so impressive but as cited in the Honolulu , September 2010 magazine, the pseudorca are not the typical marine mammals. They are actually a type of dolphin (as is the “true” killer whales), they swim extremely fast and have a unique community/friendship relationships.  Pseudorca may stay with a group for more than twenty years.

This is how biopsy samples are acquired.

To show a sense of community spirit, when a pseudorca catches a fish it may pass it around to all the other members before it comes back to the original thrower, (kind of like “throwing around the horn” in baseball).  They are typically found in groups of ten to twenty members but can be found in broad bands several miles wide.
One population of pseudorca in the Main Hawaiian Islands has been dwindling from several hundred in the late 1980s to about one hundred fifty members today.  These animals live primarily within seventy miles of the islands.
Fishing is one reason for the decline in numbers.  The whales may see a free meal in yellow fin tuna or mahi mahi on a fisher’s line and become hooked and drown.  This has caused an average of eight false killer whales to be drowned or seriously injured in each of the last five years.

Pseudorca between the small boat and Sette.

Pseudorcas have a low reproduction rate.  Their calving interval is very long, up to seven years, so not many whales are being born into the pod to replace those lost accidentally by humans. In July a team of scientists, fishermen and conservationalists turned in a plan on how to reduce the number of false killer whales injured on longlines.  One of the recommendations is to close off an area abut 50-75 miles from the Hawaiian longline fishery.  There is already a non-fishing mandate that protects the National Monument.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will decide if these regulations should be enacted and then determine if the pseudorcas should be protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
Personal Log:

Pseudorcas have a gregarious personality.

One of the prime objectives of the HICEAS cruise is to find, tag, take a biopsy samples of, and pictures  of pseudorcas. Because of the interest in protecting these animals, it is very important to get as much information on these animals as possible.
So now here we are into day 26 of our 29 day cruise, and guess who shows up!  The pseudorcas!  And when they come, get ready!  The animals seen yesterday were traveling by themselves or in groups up to ten, and they were spread out over twelve miles!
Erin had established a protocol for monitoring all the different subgroups which would allow the scientists to get a count on the number of individuals present. Once a scientist spotted a group, they had to follow that group until it passed the ship.  That was very challenging especially for the groups that were a long distance from the ship and took several minutes to pass.
Then you have the group that wants to merge with that group or one leaves this group and wants to go with that other group.  It is not like they have brightly colored clothing to tell them apart!  It was quite an exercise in patience and determination.

Pseudorcas feed mainly on fish and squid.

I did not have a group, but I did have white board markers, which I acquired from running down to the exercise room to snatch them from the maker board below deck.  Erin had mentioned someone should be a recorder of groups.  I definitely know my way around a marker board, so I started writing the names of the observers, their group’s location and assigned them a letter.  At one time we had five different groups being monitored.  By the end we had groups A through S!

The scientists could not look away from their group for the entire time it was being counted until it left the area.  Wow, they did a great job!  As soon as their group left they picked up on another.  Some scientists where watching two groups at the same time if they were close to each other.  It took a lot of concentration.
Erin copied the data from the board to make sure all was accounted for and then the board was erased to start all over again.  We did this for over two hours!  The animals were spread over twelve miles!  Now that may sound like a lot of pseudorcas, but there typically were not that many animals in a subgroup.  They just needed to be monitored for a long time until all data was recorded properly.
When the last pseudorca was past the ship, Erin sent out the small boat.  Allan was there to shoot the satellite tag into a fin for tracking the whale.  Ernesto was in charge of getting biopsy samples and Corey was in the boat to get pictures with the laser camera.  Of course the small boat driver, Mills was there along with Ray to help with lines and such.

A pod of four pseudorca.

They looked like they had a fun time!  The whales, who are very curious in nature, would pop up beside the small boat and often swim in small groups beside them.  I read that these animals have been seen to act like the bottlenose and spinner dolphins and ride the bow wakes.  They never did that on our ship, but were never far away.
The small boat was out for about two and a half hours.  They did an amazing job of getting three animals tagged with tracking devices, eight biopsy samples and many great pictures.   They were a lot of fun to watch!  Their community structure in amazing.   I can see why they are not “your typical dolphin”!

Donna Knutson, September 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: e Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 25, 2010

Oceanography

Me with the CTD.

Mission and Geographical Area: 
The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sightings will also be documented.

Getting the CTD ready for the water.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 24○ 28.8’ N
Longitude: 165○ 50.5’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu,Ac
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
 Wave height:  1-2ft.
Water Temperature:  26.6○ C
Air Temperature:  25.2○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.1 mb

Ray uses the crane to lift the CTD into the water.

Oceans cover 71% of the Earth.  They contain 97% of the water on the planet, and amazingly 95% of the world under the ocean is unexplored!

Oceanography or marine science is a branch of earth science that covers many topics.  The studies can include marine organisms, ecosystems, ocean currents, waves, plate tectonics, and changes in the chemistry or physical properties within the ocean.  Physical properties are properties which can be measured from the water such as temperature, salinity, mixing of waves, tides and acoustics.
There are many reasons to study the ocean, but one reason is to understand global changes.   The atmosphere and oceans are linked through processes of evaporation and precipitation.  Weather worldwide is determined by the oceans physical and chemical properties, and its influence on air currents.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collects data from oceans throughout the world, evaluates it, then distributes weather forecasts to various weather reporting agencies.  NOAA has the largest archives of oceanographic data in the world, and is using the information in long term monitoring of ocean climates and ocean research.

Corey is processing her chlorophyll.

The Oscar Elton Sette is obtaining such data.  The bridge of the Sette is transmitting data (as seen at the top of this blog) such as latitude, longitude, temperatures, pressure etc. to NOAA recording sites in order to plan weather forecasts.   The scientists are also acquiring data, but this data is more specific to the ocean water’s chemistry. They are measuring temperature, conductivity, salinity, and chlorophyll abundance.
Temperature and salinity differences within the ocean lead to increased circulation.  Water has a similar circulation pattern to air.  They are both fluids and behave accordingly.  When heated, fluids will absorb the heat causing the molecules to move faster.  Now that the molecules are colliding more often, they become farther apart.  The spread out molecules, in air or water, do not have the same density as before.  Because they are less dense, they are pushed up and away from the more dense portion of the fluid.

Corey is dropping in the XBT to measure temperature.

Due to the differences in density, either caused by changes in temperature or salinity, a small current will form.  This circulation causes a turn-over effect, and increases the amount of nutrients in the water. These nutrients will feed the phytoplankton (measured as chlorophyll) and microbes.  These “animals” are on the bottom of the food chain, will become food for larger animals and so on.  Changes in density and salinity are only a small but important means to move nutrients within the water column.

Most of the mixing of water is due to large currents.  The Hawaiian Archipelago, because of its location, does not have a lot of mixing water.  It is in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre.  A gyre is a large system of rotating currents.  The North Pacific Gyre is a system of four ocean currents converging in the same area causing a circular motion.  At the “edges” of the gyre, a lot of mixing is taking place due to the motion of the incoming currents, while at the center of the gyre, there is the least amount of movement and therefore the least mixing up of nutrients.
The North Pacific Gyre is located between the equator and 50 latitude.  It makes up the largest ecosystem on Earth measuring twenty million square kilometers.  If the nutrients are more plentiful at the edges of the gyre, then the ecosystem has an uneven distribution of animal life.

These are used for the bucket sample.

Testing for nutrients is part of the research being done on the Sette.  They are trying to match up animal populations in a location to the ocean water’s chemistry.  By understanding the variables that a particular species need in order to have a healthy community, will aid in population studies, and also in the tracking of more animals of that species in order to study them in a different context.

Personal Log:
I have been assisting Corey, the oceanographer on the Sette.  My “job” is not in analyzing her data, but rather to help make sure the main instrument that is used to take data is not at risk of hitting the boat when it is in the water.  It sounds as though I’m in charge of security.  Yeah that’s right I am part of the CDT security team!
The CTD (conductivity, depth, temperature) device consists of twelve bottles attached to a large rack.  The entire mechanism weighs several hundred pounds, and is lowered into the water by a crane.  When in the water, it is important that the device goes all the way down to one thousand meters without being pulled side to side or under the ship where the cable may become wrapped around a propeller.  That would be tragic!  So in the scheme of things, my meager “security” position is very important. The CTD is lowered into the ocean one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset.  (I only do the morning “security”).
Because this is a very sophisticated piece of electronic equipment, there is also a person in charge of maintaining the CTD to make sure the instrument is working correctly.  This position is called a survey tech. Scott is the survey tech who supports Corey.  As the CTD is lowered into the water, Scott checks to make sure everything is working properly, and once it reaches one thousand meters, he starts taking readings.

Scott is the “survey tech” that works of the CTD.

Scott takes a reading every one hundred meters until it reaches the surface once again.  From his work station, the data of conductivity (which is a measurement caused by salinity), depth, temperature, and oxygen is plotted on a graph.  From the data collected, Corey organizes it and reports it along with latitude and longitude.
The bottles on the CTD “fire” or rather trap water at various depths.  When brought back to the surface Corey tests the water for chlorophyll which is her nutrient indicator.  The more nutrients suggest that the water is more productive and can maintain larger animal populations.
Corey has other tests to check chlorophyll and temperature just to make sure the instrumentation on the CTD is working properly.  Three times a day along the route, (the boat stays in one place for the CTD), she does another temperature test down to 760 m, it is called the XBT (expendable bathometric temperature). The XBT is a small black sensor which is weighted and connected by a copper wire to the ships computer back in the lab.  As the XBT is dropped behind the ship it records temperature data all the way down.  The ship’s computer graphs the temperature changes from 0 – 760m for two minutes.

Only two more days left of my “security” position. I enjoyed talking to Ray, and watching the squid that kept us company. Not a bad view to start off your day!

Another back-up test is the bucket test, it will recheck the chlorophyll.  The bucket test is as it says, a narrow bucket lowered over the side.  It too is dropped into the moving water, but is brought to the surface with a water sample.  Corey pours it into a sample bottle which she will test in the lab 24 hours later.  Temperature is also recorded at the same time.
All of this testing and retesting is what is needed to provide reliable data that can be stored and evaluated at a later date.  The data may seem inconsequential at the time, but it is truly the glue that holds the clues to why animals are in some areas and not in others.
Oceanography is a very exciting science because there is so much left to learn. The more information we have, the more clearly we can understand our global environment.

Donna Knutson, September 24, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 24, 2010

I Hear Them!

I am in the stateroom writing.

I Hear Them!
September 24, 2010
Teacher at Sea:  Donna Knutson
Ship Name:  Oscar Elton Sette

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and  sea bird sightings will also be documented.

Erin, Sussanah, and Kim working on the array.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 25○ 13.6’ N
Longitude: 168○ 23.7’ W  
Clouds:  4/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 28.2○ C
Air Temperature:  25.6○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.6 mb
Of the five senses, hearing is the most important sense to cetaceans.  Sea animals depend on hearing to feed and communicate.  In water it is impossible for whales see long distance, their sense of smell is not as developed as in sharks, their sense of taste and touch will not help in traveling through the water seeking food, so therefore the sense of sound has become the most developed.

“Guts” of the array.

Cetaceans whether odontocetes, the “toothed whales” such as the sperm whales and dolphins, or Mysticetes, the baleen whales such as the Bryde’s or humpback whales, have different ways of producing sound.  Because their methods and mouths are different, different kinds of whales produce different kinds sounds with varying frequencies.
Frequency is the number of waves or vibrations that pass a certain point in one second.  People have a hearing range of approximately 150 – 20,000 Hz.  Hertz or Hz is the unit for frequency meaning how many waves are reaching a destination in one second.   People talk within this frequency range and can hear slightly above and below this range.
Cetaceans have a much broader frequency range.  The “toothed whales” produce rapid bursts of high frequency clicks and whistles.  Their hearing range is 250 – 150,000 Hz.  Single clicks are used for echolocation and a collection of clicks for are used for communication.

Erin, Sussanah, Yvonne, Nicky and Kim checking the connections.

The baleen whales have a lower frequency range of about 10 – 31,000 Hz.  They too use sound for echolocation and communication, but the “whale song” often associated with humpback whales is primarily for sexual selection.
When comparing whales to other land animals, they even have a higher frequency range than dogs or bats.  The bat has a hearing range of 10,000 – 100,000 Hz and the dog’s range in 15,000 – 50,000 Hz.  In whales and bats the higher frequencies are used for echolocation.
 Another difference between the land and aquatic animals, is where their sound is transmitted.  Land animals send and receive sound through the air and cetaceans do both through water.  Sound travels almost four times faster through the water. That is the reason whale noises can travel thousands of kilometers.

Listening in.

Whale noise is not the only noise in the ocean. People are making a lot of noise themselves.  With increased noise from ships, sonar, and seismic surveys the ocean is becoming a noisy place. Environmentalists and cetalogists are concerned with the added noise.
Noise may be one of the factors in animal strandings.  The strandings may due to stress from noise, but in some cases cetaceans have had damaged ears.  It is unknown if increased noise levels have caused the ear damage or it is only old age.  This is definitely an area which could use more study.
Personal Log:

A group of sperm whales sound like the patter of rain.

It has been through my observations aboard the Sette, the acousticians have a challenging job! They of course have a love of cetaceans like all marine biologists, and want to locate and study these animals, but they need to work with very sophisticated electronic equipment rather than be out on the flying bridge looking through the “big eyes”. If the equipment is not designed properly, whale and dolphin sounds cannot be detected.
Yvonne, Sussanah and Nicky are the acousticians on the ship.  These young women have had additional adventures over and above others on the cruise, and adventures that they would probably wish they didn’t have to experience.  I am very impressed with their trouble-shooting abilities, their patience and their tenacity!

Each dot is a click, every color is a different animal.

At the beginning of the cruise the acousticians were gifted with a brand new array!  An array is a long clear soft plastic tube containing all the electronic equipment needed to absorb and transmit sound to the sound equipment back in the ships lab.  The array had (notice I said had – past tense) hydrophones and transmitting boards throughout its 50 foot length.  In order for the sound to travel through the water and be received by the array, the entire electronic circuitry inside the array needed to be immersed in a liquid similar to salt water’s density.  If the electronics were exposed to sea water there would be too much corrosion for the system to work properly. So, they chose a colorless oil to fill the array. The array is laid out on the fantail (back deck) bridge and is connected to a spool of power and relay cords (ok, you realize by now I know virtually nothing about electronics) and then the cords are slipped into the lab and connected to the sound equipment.  I know that last part for certain, because I helped Nicky wire tie them together at the beginning of the cruise.

Dawn listening to the sperm whales.

When the array was (yes, still past tense) lowered into the water behind the ship, it was 300 m back and 6 m deep.  It needed to get a long way past the boat, so the boatnoise wasn’t the only thing heard.  Unfortunately the acousticians could not pick up the normal ocean sounds and animal clicks that they have become accostumed to on past cruises.They looked at the inside equipment, took out boards, tested solders, and electrical power strips.  They checked out the transmitters, connections and screws.  (They reminded me of the Grinch not overlooking one last detail!)  Still the blasted thing did not work.  I hate to admit that I shyed away from them for a time, because all the help I could provide would be in giving inspirational clichés, and I know they had enough of those already. Eventually, enough was enough and even though, and yes remarkably so, they were in good spirits, time had come to take the array apart.  Erin was there to assist, and Kim the Sette’s electronic technician was working side by side with Sussanah, Nicky and Yvonne.  They gutted the whole thing, oil and all.  Then they checked the mini-microphones and relay boards.  I was very impressed!

You could hear the sperm whales loud blows.

All was done that could be so it was decided to put it back together, and try it again.  It worked!  I wasn’t surprised but rather amazed!  Unfortunately two of the four hydrophones stopped working.  Each hydrophone picks up different frequencies so if they don’t all work.  The array doesn’t work. Drat! Not to be overcome with minor setbacks.  (Minor to them, I’m thinking definitely Major if I had to work on it!) The acousticians set to work making an entirely new array!  One day I decided to stop down in the lab to check things out and see what new adventures they were presented with.  As Sussanah sat and stripped wires, I asked Yvonne and Sussanah how much electronic background they had to have for this job because I was clearly impressed.  Neither of them has had any classes, only the experience of working on similar equipment in the past.

Sperm whales use echolocation to find food. This is what you see before they make their vertical dive.

None of them had an electronic background, but they decided to make a new array themselves with the left-over parts. They were determined to become an active part of the survey team!   And they did it!  They built their own array!  It was (yes drat, past tense again!) working great until one day it was getting progressively worse. When the girls pulled it in, they noticed it had been bitten!  Some fish came up behind it and bit the newly fabricated array!  What kind of luck was that!   Salt water was leaking in.  “How can you fix that?” I asked Sussanah at dinner.  She said, with her British accent, (which is so much fun to listen to, and one of the reasons I like to ask her questions) the kevalar material inside the device, which is giving the new array strength and structure, is acting like a wick and soaking up the salt water.  So they split the kevalar and it is being held together with a metal s-connector to try and stop the wicking.

Ernesto, Adam and Juan Carlos gave a valiant effort. Unfortunately no biopsy samples were collected.

It will hold for the next six days until we can get back to port.  Wow, for all the adventures/troubles they are picking up some good information!  The array will receive the sounds from the “toothed whales” but to pick-up the lower frequencies from the baleen whales, the acousticians send out a sonobuoy.  A sonobuoy  is an independent device that is dropped over board, and floats on the surface while sending the signals back to the ship. As I am writing this I am told the acousticians are hearing pilot whales!  They can not only hear them, but can also tell where the whales are at!  I need to go check it out!  They are truly an amazing group of young women.  Even though I have known them for only for a short time, I am truly proud.  Their hard work has definitely paid off.  Their determination is to be admired

Donna Knutson, September 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 29, 2010

Visitors of the Monument

Back in the boat trying to get a biopsy from pilotwhales.

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sittings will also be documented.
Science and Technology:
Latitude: 26○ 33.6’ N
Longitude: 177○ 05.5’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu,Ac, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  4-6 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.8○ C
Air Temperature:  26.8○ C
Level Pressure:  1024.0 mb

Female Great Frigatebird is a large bird with a wingspan up to 86 in.
They do not walk or swim and are the most aerial of the seabirds.

The Northwest Hawaiian Islands became a Marine National Monument called Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  Papahanaumoku is a mother figure represented by the earth.  Wakea is a father figure represented by the sky. They are the honored and  highly recognized ancestors of Native Hawaiian people.  Together they resulted in the creation of the entire Hawaiian archipelageo and naming the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after these names to strengthen Hawaii’s cultural foundation.

Layson ducks are only found on Laysan and Midway.
They were near extinction from hunting and invasive species, now they are protected and their numbers have increased to over 500.

Papahanaumokuakea is considered a sacred area. Native Hawaiians believe that life springs from this area and spirits come to rest there after death.  That means they also believe that they are descended from the same gods who birthed the Hawaiian Archipelago and it is therefore their responsibility to become stewards to care for the natural and cultural resources in Papahanaumokuakea.

Short-tailed Shearwaters often fly in flocks. These birds were on their migratory route.

The HICEAS cruise has track lines that cross into the National Monument, so while in the Monument, we must abide by the rules set forth to protect the natural and cultural resources within.

 This area is indeed rich in life as well as tradition.  Over ninety percent of the Monument’s area is deep sea.  Some depths are greater than three thousand feet. Hawaiian monk seals may travel more than one thousand feet down into the ocean to feed on gold and bamboo corals.  Some of the corals are over four thousand years old.  Scientists are just beginning to understand deep sea habitats such as that of sleeper sharks, hagfish and crabs.
Even though there is not much land within the monument, many animals make it their home.  Over fourteen million seabirds of twenty-two different species breed and nest in less than six square miles.  The reason these islands are so populated is because of the island’s isolation and conservation measures.

White tern on Midway. The oldest White terns on the island are 50years old!

The greatest threat of the Monument is climate change.  An increase in sea surface temperature is linked to disease and coral bleaching.   Rising sea levels cause less land for green sea turtles, monk seals and seabirds.
The HICEAS cruise has documented thirty-seven species of seabirds.  Not all of these birds live on the islands, many are migrating.  Within the “tubenosed” , Procellariformes  order, there are the Petrels and Shearwaters.  The Petrels include the Kermadec, Herald, Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, White-necked, Back-winged, Bonin, Wilson’s Storm, Band-rumped Storm, Cook’s, and Bulwer’s.  The Shearwaters include the Christmas, Wedge-tailed, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, and Newell’s.

Bonin petrels are coming back to their burrows on Midway.
The burrows may be 9ft. long and 3 ft. underground.

From the order Pelicaniformes the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird have been recognized and also the Brown, Red-Footed, and Masked Bobby.   Great Frigatebirds, the largest of all within this order, have also been seen soaring high above the ocean.

A third order is the Charadriiformes, the shorebirds, terns and jaegers. The HICEAS track line is bringing us close (within three miles) to the shores of atolls and islands so therefore shore birds are seen as well.  The shore birds seen so far are the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, the Brown and Black Noddies, the White, Sooty, and Grey-backed Terns, the Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed Jaegers, and the South Polar Skua.
The HICEAS cruise will agree with the National Monument in proclaiming this area has an abundance of seabirds!
Personal Log:

The bottom view of a Wedge-tailed Shearwater.
Like most seabirds, they mate for life.

My roommate or “statemate” (on ships there are no bedrooms rather staterooms) is Dawn Breese, she is an avid Birder.  Scott Mills, also a Birder mentioned in Log #2, have been noticing a trend in their daily bird population densities.

As we headed northwest, they noted on September 17, 2010 when the Sette was at 28 24.7’ N and 178○ 21.1’ W, they saw their last Short-tailed Shearwater.  They did not see any Short-tailed Shearwaters after those coordinates and felt that it was odd considering the large amounts they had seen previously.  Near the International Dateline past Kure we headed back southeast once again and the Short-tailed Shearwaters reappeared at 27○ 6.28’ N and 178○ 27.9’W.  They concluded that they had passed twice through the Shearwater’s migratory route and seemed to find its NW edge.  On a single day alone, they estimated that there were over fourty thousand birds in that area!

White-tailed tropicbird likes to plunge dive for fish and squid.

When they mentioned the huge numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters they saw, I decided to do some checking on them. I discovered the Short-tails are about forty centimeters long and have a wing span of 100 centimeters.  It is chocolate brown with a darker brown cap and collar.  It is often observed in large flocks and will dive fifty meters into the ocean for fish and squid.

Juan Carlos brought the Wedge-tail Shearwater down for Dawn to see.

The Short-tails breed on islands off southeastern Australia and migrate north to feed in the Bering Sea.  The Sette crossed their route flying back to the South Pacific!  It is a good thing they are “tubenosed” because they will not land until they have reached their destination.  The “tubenose”, (mentioned blog #2), will help the birds eliminate salt from their bodies.  Some short-tails on the breeding grounds will actually commute to the Antarctic to feed on fish along the ice.

The Wedge-tails tubenose is on the top of the beak.

On September 20, 2010 Juan Carlos knocks on our door after sunset to show Dawn a Wedge-tailed Shearwater, cousin of the Short-tailed Shearwater. The nocturnal animal got distracted by the ships’ light, and ended up on deck.  According to the Hawaii Audubon Society, Wedge-tail Shearwaters on O’ahu are often hit by cars because of the car’s lights at night.  O’ahu and Kaua’I both have rescue shelters for hurt birds from car accidents.

The Wedge-tail posing with Dawn and I.

Juan Carlos rescued the stunned bird, making sure it could not bite him with its sharp beak, and brought it down to show the bird observers.  I took close-ups of the bird because I wanted a picture of its tubenose.  Dawn showed me the unique features of the Wedge-tail.  It smelled fresh like a sea breeze.  We looked for the small ears behind the eyes but it’s feathers were so dense we couldn’t get a good look at it.

The bird had light brown feathers with a white belly, it was very soft and dainty looking.  It didn’t seem to mind people staring at it within a ship, but it probably just seemed content because Dawn knew the correct way to hold a bird.  After the Wedge-tail was checked out, Dawn took it up to the fantail (back) deck and released it.   The bird flew away unhurt into the night.

Donna Knutson, September 16, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 16, 2010

Midway

It is hard to smile wearing a mask!

September 16, 2010 
Teacher at Sea:  Donna Knutson
Ship Name:  Oscar Elton Sette

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sittings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 28○  22.6’ N
Longitude: 177○ 28.5’ W  
Clouds:  6/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  3-4 ft.
Water Temperature:  28.0○ C
Air Temperature:  26.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1020.2 mb
History:

Memorial surrounded by Bonin petrel underground nests.

Midway is the second to the last island in the line of islands/atolls extending northwest of Hawaii.  Midway has a lot of history dating back to 1859 when it was first discovered by Captain N. C. Brooks.  The island, called Sand Island, at that time was nothing but sand and an occasional tuft of grass with birds everywhere.

In 1870 after the Civil War it was felt necessary to have access to Midway for political reasons and a company was hired to cut a path through the coral for steam engine ships to come and refuel.  It became too costly and never was finished.
On 1903 the Pacific Commercial Cable Company set to work to provide communication between Guam, Waikiki, Midway and San Francisco.  At this time President Theodore Roosevelt put Midway under the protection of the Navy because of Japanese poachers.  The workers for the cable company became the first planned settlement on Midway.
 In 1935 Pan American Airlines built a runway and refueling station for their Flying Clipper seaplane operation. They also helped the little community prosper as they transferred goods between Manila and Wake and Guam.

An inside corridor to the Naval facility.
The pictures were still on the wall.

Midway was made famous in 1942 during World War II.  The island had been named Midway as it is “midway” between the continental United States and Japan.  The United States had naval control over the island for approximately thirty years, but it wasn’t until 1938 that the Navy made it into a full naval base.
They hauled in over a hundred tons of soil in order to plant gardens and trees,  to make it appear more like home, and also to build roads and piers.   The navy base at one time housed ten thousand people, and was a very important strategic base.  Hawaii was at risk from an invasion from Japan and Midway was added defensive support.
The Japanese recognized Midway as a threat and attacked it on June 4-6, 1942.  It was a fierce battle with many fatalities.  It was reported that the Japanese lost 2,500 soldiers while the United States lost 320.  The victory of the Battle at Midway was a major turning point in WWII.

The airstrip has not been used since the ’60’s.

After the war ended there was less need for the Midway Naval Base.  Most of the people left Midway 1950, leaving behind buildings with the holdings intact.  In 1988 the military released the island to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Midway became a national park and refuge to protect the shorebirds, seabirds, and threatened and endangered species.
The upkeep of the naval base has fallen on the shoulders of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  They have torn down some of the buildings constructed before 1950 that are not repairable.  The fish and wildlife service is making room for more birds by clearing out some of the ironwood trees which have overgrown the island.  There are sixty-three places on Midway that are considered eligible for National Historic Landmarks.

Dr. Tran and Stephanie riding ahead of me on the old runway.
The trees were filled with common myna birds.

In addition to the historical significance of Midway, many animals find a sanctuary within the atoll.  Nineteen species of birds, approximately two million birds, nest on Midway.  In the water there are about two-hundred fifty spinner dolphins, the threatened green sea turtles, about sixty endangered Hawaiian monk seals, more than two-hundred sixty-five species of fishes, and forty plus species of stony corals that make Midway atoll home.
Resources:
Isles of Refuge, Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, by Mark J. Rauzon, copyright 2001.

A white tern chick.
White terns lay an egg without a nest.
The chick must have strong feet to hold on to it’s
precarious perch.

Personal Log:
Today I am lucky enough to go to Midway!  I have read up on it and expect not only to see a beautiful destination with an abundance of wildlife, I will be seeing first hand a historical site few people have had the pleasure to explore.
My swimming suit is under my clothes so I’m also ready to try out the beaches! Mills and Chris are escorting me, Dr. Tran and the XO, Stephanie, on the small boat to the island. Mills has to weave in and out because of all the coral.  Mills is one of the few who have had the opportunity to see Midway and he is giving us last minute advice.
We are met at a small dock by John, a warden for the U.S. Wildlife Service, he is going to be our tour guide. As I watch the small boat head back to the Sette, I can’t help thinking that it feels like the beginning of one of those “stranded” movies. This is not what I pictured.  There is trash everywhere.  To the right I see the rocky shore littered with garbage. Plastics everywhere, all shapes and sizes right next to the sparkling clean water.  Ugh!  Piles of twisted metal are heaped in piles twenty feet high.  Then there are the piles of uprooted trees and old lumber.  I guess it is organized waiting to be hauled out, but I didn’t see any of that in the literature I read.

I am standing on the deck at”Captain Brooks”.
It was named after the man who claimed the island for the United States.
This was my first view of North Beach!

Unfortunately the garbage people throw out to sea is being collected on the atolls and banks of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  Crates, buckets, balls, anything and everything imaginable that is made from plastic is showing up on these unpopulated, remote islands.  It is the currents that carry the debris to the islands and the corals and beaches trap and collect the material.  Very sad.  People are so uncaring and oblivious to what they do daily to the environment.
John is very friendly and laid back, ok, I don’t feel like the star in one of those silly sci-fi movies I love to watch, any longer.  We three hop on a Kawasaki “mule” and head away from the dock.  Most of the buildings we pass are left-overs from the war, rusty, broken windows and even bullet holes.  John drives up to the Visitor Center/Office.  He gives us a general briefing on how things work there and mentions some of the sites we should see, and off we go again.  Now our mode of transportation is a golf cart.  He shows us where we can go on our own and tells us where not to go – the air strip.  Now I’m thinking “bad movie plot” again.

John described how the cannons were bolted to the center.
At that time there were no trees and the guns were aimed at the Japanese ships in the ocean.

He gives us bikes and we start our own tour.  We need to stay on paths or roads because the land is covered with holes for Bonin petrels.  They are nocturnal birds and burrow underground to nest and lay their eggs.  At one time Midway had a rat problem and they ate the chicks and eggs, so now that they have been eliminated, this is a true bird paradise.  It is fun to ride around and look leisurely at the island.
Doc had been there before so he was in the lead.  As we look around at the wonderful wildlife the ground is also littered with small plastic objects.  I see a toothbrush, a lighter, and bottle tops all over!  Other plastic objects with strange shapes seem to catch my eye. What is going on?
Doc explains to me that the albatross that go to feed in the ocean will see something resembling a fish, swoop down to get it and bring it back to shore for its offspring.  Once regurgitated, the fledgling may also eat it and then die with a stomach full of plastic.  Great!  Where is this plastic coming from?  Why hasn’t it stopped?  I am told later that tons of trash washes up every year.  Ugh!  Back to our tour.

A monk seal basking in the sun at “Rusty Bucket”.

Little white terns are above us following us on our paths. There are so many trees! From once an island with only a few tufts of grass, and now seventy years later, Midway has a forest.  It smells musty, old and slightly sweet, if you didn’t look too close, you would think you had fallen back in time.
We head for the beach!  Nothing eerie about the beach!  Absolutely spectacular! Soft white sand bordered by lush, thick leaved tropical plants.  The water was so clear, not a rock, not a piece of garbage, if it hadn’t been for the four beach chairs you could have imagined discovering an untouched pristine utopia.  I could not help but stand and stare at the soft pale turquoise water.  It felt as good as it looked.  We all loved our limited time playing in the water as though we were kids in the biggest swimming pool imaginable.

One of the machine shops.
All the tools were left behind.

Unfortunately we had to get back to the Visitor Center so we trodded up the incline back to the bikes.  With John on the golf cart, we resumed out guided tour.  One of the first places we go is the “rusty bucket”.  It is a site along the shore where ships and other vehicles have been left.  We see a basking Monk seal.  Monk seals are nearly extinct, they only live on the shores of the Hawaiian Archipelago.
John shows us where the large cannons were bolted to shoot into the bay, a graveyard of the early inhabitants, and in town many old buildings.  Some of the shops have all the tools still in them.  It is as if it is being left just so, waiting for the people to return and continue their projects.
One of the buildings that is still in pretty good shape is the theater.  It has all the old felt covered seats, the wood floors and the dull yellow colored walls you see in old movies. The stage is still intact and you can almost picture the place full of people watching Bob Hope perform.  He stayed at Midway entertaining the troops off and on throughout the war.  John gives us a great tour, but has other jobs to do, so we are alone once again to fend for ourselves.  Where do we go…the beach!

It is called North Beach.  A Coast Guard ship has docked on the other side of the beach around a corner.  I just lay and float trying to appreciate every second I have been given!  A green sea turtle swims up to check out the strange humans and off he goes.  They are threatened and this is a refuge for him.  Mills has lent me his snorkel and fins so off to explore I go.  We are within the atoll and can see waves crash on the corals miles away.  No risk of anything catching you off guard with such great visibility.

The movie theatre still decorated with the original pictures.

It was truly spectacular! The Sette is coming back to the area and the small boat will be coming to get us soon.  We head back to the dock.  On the radio Stephanie hears we have one more hour to be tourists.  John suggests snorkeling by the cargo pier and that sounds wonderful to me!
Stephanie and I jump off the pier to the water fifteen feet below.  The water is thirty feet deep and looks and feels wonderful!  There are fish of all shapes and sizes!  I feel as though I am swimming in a giant aquarium.
 I even saw a sleeping green sea turtle on a broken pier support.  Incredible!  We were weaving in and out of the pier supports looking all the way down thirty feet and seeing everything crystal clear.
All good things come to an end and our little vacation at Midway was over.  Doc, Stephanie and I had a “fabulous” time!  The small boat was back.  It was time to go back home to the Sette.

Midway is definitely a place of contrasting sites and interests.
I leave with mixed emotions, which are the seeds for memories, of a place I will never forget.

Donna Knutson, September 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 15, 2010

KILLER WHALES!

I am holding a tuna that Mills caught.

 

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone, called the “EEZ”,aound Hawaii.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sightings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Killer Whales coming up for air.

Latitude: 27○ 40.6’ N
Longitude: 175○ 48.7’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.5○ C
Air Temperature:  27.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.2 mb
Orca is another name for Killer Whale.  They are some of the best known cetaceans.  Killer whales are the largest members of dolphin family.
Killer Whales are easily recognized by their huge dorsal fin that is located in the middle of their backs.  The male’s dorsal fin is usually between three and six feet high.  Orcas have unique flippers that are large broad and rounded.  Their bodies have a black and white color pattern.
The male Killer Whale can reach thirty feet long and weigh at least twelve thousand pounds.  The females are smaller in size reaching only twenty-six feet long and weigh eight thousand four hundred pounds.  The females may outlive the males by twenty to thirty years, living between eighty to ninety years.
 Killer Whales are not limited to any particular region.  Depending on the prey they prefer, Killer Whales can be found in cold or warm climates.  Orcas have a varied diet which may consist of fish, squid, large baleen whales, sperm whales, sea turtles, seals, sharks, rays, deer and moose.  Pods tend to specialize in a particular food and follow it.  Killer Whales tend to use cooperative hunting groups for large prey.
Orcas form matrilineal groups sometimes containing four generations.  All females help with calf rearing.  The females are more social and may be associated with more than one pod, but males are usually by themselves.  One group near British Columbia contained approximately sixty whales.
Killer Whales are not endangered, but numbers are declining in Washington and British Columbia.  The reasons for the decrease in whale numbers is not known, but possible factors may include chemical or noise pollution or a decrease in the food supply.
Personal Log:

In the middle is a mother with her calf.

I was just leaving the bridge after the XO (executive officer) asked me if I would like to join her and Doctor Tran to Midway tomorrow.  I knew we were stopping to pick up Jason, a Monk Seal Biologist who needed a boat ride from Midway to Kure Island, but I heard no one was going ashore.  So when she asked, I was totally thrilled and extremely excited to get my feet wet and of course said yes!
As I was leaving the bridge I decided to check out what was doing on the flying bridge.  When I got up there, everyone was on goggles or the big eyes, so I asked Aly what was going on.  She said someone saw a “black fish”, meaning something was seen, but not identified, and she offered me the big eyes she was looking through.  I looked maybe for five seconds and said, “I see it”!  This is very rare for me to see something so quickly!  I’m thinking, “I just saw a KILLER WHALE!!” but no one was excited or talking about it.  So now I begin to doubt myself, “That was a Killer Whale right?”

Three adults and a calf.

In the middle of my self -doubt, Adam comes running up the ladder screaming, “KILLER WHALE!!”  Drat why didn’t I say anything!  There wasn’t only one, but five killer whales!  One was a mother with her small calf! Wow what amazing animals! I couldn’t stop staring, and I wasn’t the only one.  There was a “full house” on deck again with everyone oooing and ahing.
Orcas aren’t typically seen in this area, but then again this is a survey ship, and this area hasn’t been surveyed in a very long time.
When the small boat was launched to try and tag one of the adult whales with a tracking device, they dove never to be seen again.  These animals are just too smart.  What an extraordinary experience!
Tomorrow I will have another adventure!  An adventure few people have taken.  I am going to Midway.  Midway Atoll is now a National Wildlife Refuge and also holds the Battle of Midway National Memorial.  I’m off to see a glimpse of our nation’s past and a birding and seal paradise!

Orca by itseft.