Melanie Lyte: May 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic 
Date: May 29, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 12.8 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature: 11.8 degrees Celsius (53 degrees Fahrenheit)
Wind speed: 21 knots (25 miles per hour)
Relative humidity: 100%
Barometric pressure: 1023.5

Science and Technology Log

Right whale I saw on 5/28

Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Peter Duley under Permit #775-1875

We finally had a right whale sighting today! It was a juvenile and was quite close to the ship. It was exciting to see it frolicking.  

Allison Henry, chief scientist, recently told me that over 70% of the right whales they see have entanglement scars. The scars are due to entanglement in fishing lines.

Right whale with entanglement scars.

Photo Credit:; Mavynne under Permit # EGNO 1151
Right whale with entanglement scars.

Sometimes teams of scientists with special training attempt to disentangle a whale. It can be dangerous work. The video below shows a team working to remove fishing lines from a whale in 2011. The scientists first need to attach the small boat to the whale with lines so they can stay with it while it swims until it exhausts itself.  Only when the whale is tired, can the team work to cut away the entanglement.

Watch  this video of a whale disentanglement.

The other hazard is that whales tend to rest and feed near the surface of the water in the shipping lanes, and can be hit by ships.

During the day, from 7am-7pm, the scientists take turns on watch. This means we watch for whales using “big eyes” which are giant binoculars. We spend 30 minutes on left watch, 30 minutes in the center, and 30 minutes on the right watch.  At the center station we record sightings and update the environment using a computer program designed for this purpose.

The big eyes

photo credit: Barbara Beblowski

Recording data

phot credit: Peter Duley

I visited the Wheel House on the ship today. This is also called the bridge, and is the control center of the ship (similar to the cockpit of an airplane). The wheel house has many controls that the crew needs to know how to use, and it takes years of training to be able to command a ship. I spoke with Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey Taylor and Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Michael Levine about the workings of the Gunter.

Wheel or helm of the ship

Wheel or helm of the ship

Auto Pilot

Auto Pilot

This is the wheel or helm of the ship. The Gunter is one of the last NOAA ships with this type of helm. The newer ships have a helm that looks more similar to that which you find in a race car. Although the helm is still used to steer the ship at times, especially when docking, the steering is left to the auto pilot  the majority of the time.

ARPA radar

ARPA radar

I know some of you were concerned about how the officers could see to steer the boat in the fog. The ship has an ARPA radar system that shows where other boats in the area are in relation to our ship. The radar also shows the course our ship is taking and alerts the crew to anything that may be in the path of the ship.

Throttles

Throttles

The throttles control the speed of the ship. The maximum speed of ship is 10 knots which is about 12 miles per hour. The ship uses diesel fuel and it takes about 1,200 gallons of fuel to run the ship for a 24 hour period. At night they will sometimes shut down one engine which makes the ship go slower, but which saves about 400 gallons or $1,600 a day. This is one reason why we anchored for 3 days during the bad weather. The weather made surveying whales impossible so it didn’t make sense to run the ship during that time. The cost of running the Gunter is $11,000/day on average. This includes everything to do with sailing including salaries, food, etc.

Personal Log

I know that some of my first graders have been asking about where I sleep and eat on the ship. Below are pictures of my stateroom and the galley of the ship. Two very important places!

Stateroom (sleeping quarters)

Stateroom (sleeping quarters)

Galley on the Gordon Gunter

Galley on the Gordon Gunter

Melanie Lyte: May 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: May 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Air temperature: 15.5 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature: 12.01 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit);
Wind speed: 10 knots (12 miles per hour);
Relative humidity: 85%;
Barometric pressure: 1005.5

Science and Technology Log

Here we are on Sunday afternoon and we’ve been anchored off Provincetown since Thursday evening to wait out bad weather and unworkable conditions. When the fog cleared, the view of Provincetown was quite pretty from the ship, but I have seen enough of it, and am ready for some adventure . Luckily, we set sail this evening and will begin our watch for right whales again tomorrow morning. While Monday looks to be quite windy, Tuesday shows promise as a good day for whale sightings. All the scientists aboard are anxious to get back to work!

During our down time I was able to interview two people aboard with very different jobs – Peter Duley, one of the NOAA scientists, and Margaret Coyle, the ship steward.

Peter Duley NOAA scientist

Peter Duley NOAA scientist

Peter has worked for NOAA for 10 years, and has also worked for The National Science Foundation. He has literally been to the ends of the earth doing research. He did his under graduate work at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor Maine . Upon graduation  Peter did field work in Belize banding birds. While his first love was birds, he became interested in marine mammals and has done research work studying harbor porpoises in the Gulf of Maine, pilot whales in the mid Atlantic to the Gulf of Maine, bowhead whales in Alaska, right whales along the East Coast, and even spent time in Antarctica studying leopard seals. He now spends his summers on right whale survey cruises, and his winters doing aerial surveys of right whales.

While interviewing Peter I was struck by the passion and excitement he has for his work. It is obvious that he loves what he does and is very dedicated to saving the “giants of the sea”. All of the whales Peter studies are endangered and it is imperative  that scientists have a handle on the populations of these endangered whales so they can determine if the number of whales is rising or falling over a period of time, and what factors are influencing their survival. These scientists are so familiar with some of the right whales that they can identify the whales that have already been cataloged when they see them. They are cataloging all the whales using a number system that includes the year the whale was first seen, and another number that matches their mother if she is a whale that has previously been cataloged.

Peter’s favorite marine mammal is  the leopard seal.  He told me a story about the most dangerous situation he has been in while doing field work. He was in Antarctica in a small inflatable boat called a Zodiac and a leopard seal swam right up to the boat. He and his colleagues were excited and started taking pictures when the seal jumped out of the water and came down with its mouth on the side of the boat. The seal put a large hole in the boat. Fortunately, the boat had several different air compartments so the entire boat didn’t deflate in the frigid Antarctic waters, but Peter and his colleagues got back to shore as quickly as possible. My next question was, “What was your best research experience?” Peter said smiling, “The time the leopard seal put a hole in the boat!”

The other person I interviewed is Margaret Coyne, the ship steward. She  probably is one of the most important people on the ship because she keeps us all fed! Not only does she make three meals a day for everyone on board, we actually eat like we are at a 4 star resort. There is always an amazing variety of delicious food at every meal.

Margaret Coyle Ship's Chief Steward

Margaret Coyle
Ship’s Chief Steward

Margaret and her 2nd cook Tyrone  Baker, work 12 hour days from 5:30-6:30 with an hour break during the day. The galley is always buzzing with crew and scientists enjoying meals, snacks, leftovers, or anxiously awaiting for the homemade soup of the day to be brought out. There are always plenty of choices for all types of eaters – Margaret makes vegetarian options for each meal. She also makes her own yogurt, soy milk,  fresh salad, ice cream,  and a delicious dessert daily.

Lunch menu

Lunch menu

Spinach lasagna roll, squash and onions, black eye peas, and roasted potatoes

Spinach lasagna roll, squash and onions, black eye peas, and roasted potatoes

Spaghetti with meat sauce, pesto grilled chicken breast , squash and onions, and  a garlic bread stick

Spaghetti with meat sauce, pesto grilled chicken breast, squash and onions, and a garlic bread stick

Blueberry cobbler with whip cream

Blueberry cobbler with whip cream

Personal Log

I will be happy when we start moving again and get back to the mission of surveying right whales. It has been difficult to be stationary for such a long time, but luckily, the scientists and crew are all so friendly that there is always someone to talk to. It is really interesting to learn about other people’s lives, and what brought them to where they are today. Hopefully I will remember this experience because of all the amazing whales I will get to see, but if not, I know I will carry fond memories of all the people I met.

Melanie Lyte: May 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: May 24, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature 15.5 degrees celsius (60 degrees fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature 12.01 degrees celsius (54 degrees fahrenheit)
Wind speed 10 knots (12 miles per hour)
Relative humidity 85%
Barometric pressure 1005.5

Science and Technology Log

We are on the fifth day of our cruise and the weather is being very uncooperative! It has been foggy everyday which makes sighting whales very difficult. Before we started the cruise (it sounds strange to call it a cruise. It seems more like a mission),  an aerial survey team did a fly over and spotted some right whales in the area we’ve been combing, but we have been unable to find them. Now we have set anchor off Provincetown, Cape Cod to sit out some bad weather that has moved in. We will stay here in this protected area until Sunday. This morning the wind was blowing at 54 knots or 60 miles per hour. Did you know that a knot is about 1.2 miles per hour? We set anchor last night and the wind was so strong it dragged the  ship and anchor 300 yards!

While this is disappointing for me and for all aboard, I am amazed at the positive attitude and optimism shown by the scientists here. They take it all in stride, and are used to things not turning out as they had planned. I guess that’s the nature of field work. They are all extremely dedicated and passionate about their research.

The Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
Photo credit: NOAA

You can track the course of the Gordon Gunter by going to the NOAA ship tracker website: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html . The ship is always in pursuit of whales so the track will sometimes look like a zigzag with lines crossing back and forth over each other. You can keep checking back to see our progress once we set sail again.

Although I have not seen many marine mammals, I have seen some sea birds that are new to me. The first is the gannet. The gannet is known for its diving ability. It can plunge into the ocean head first and go down 30 ft. It is a sea-bird so it never rests on land other than when it goes to its breeding colony.

Northern gannet photo

Northern gannet
Photo credit: Marie C. Martin

Next, I saw a greater shearwater. This bird is also a sea-bird which means it doesn’t go to land unless it is breeding. They congregate on Nightingale Island to breed. Nightingale Island is located between the tips of Africa and South America. They have a very long flight during breeding season!

Great shearwater

Great shearwater
Photo credit: birdfroum.net

I also saw a Northern Fulmar. They are also sea birds and they nest in Scotland. These birds look much like sea gulls.

Northern Fulmar

Northern Fulmar
Photo credit: Andreas Trepte

Personal Log

Today is day 5 of our cruise. While it is disappointing that the weather has not cooperated, it is such a learning experience to be on a ship like this one. I am learning so much everyday about what it’s like to be a scientist in the field. Besides being patient and optimistic, scientists need to be careful and precise in recording their field work. It is a good lesson for me and for you (my first graders) to always work carefully, and give close attention to detail in your work because that is what being a scientist is all about. Start practicing doing your best and most careful work now so you will be ready to be scientists when you grow up.

At this point I can see Provincetown from the ship, but for 2 days there was no land in sight. I really got a sense of just how big the ocean is. When we’re not sailing there is not much to do on the ship. I am fortunate that there are many new people to befriend, books to read and listen to, and delicious food at every meal. I also enjoy all your comments so keep them coming!

Did You Know?

Did you know that some of the scientists on this cruise have dedicated their entire working lives to surveying and cataloging right whales? They migrate with the whales down south in the winter, and come back up north in the spring.

Did you know that the sea depth is measured in fathoms? 1 fathom equals 6 feet

Question of the day:

Here is a line from a famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”

What do think that means? Why can’t they drink the water? Hint: The poem is written about sailors who are shipwrecked in a big storm out at sea

New  Vocabulary: Draw a ship and label all the parts below
Bow- front of the ship
Stern- rear of the ship
Starboard- right side of the ship
Port- left side of the ship
Aft- toward the back of the ship
Forward- toward the front of the ship

Melanie Lyte: May 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic 
Date:
May 22, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 12.01 degrees Celsius or 54 degrees fahrenheit
Wind Speed: 8.88kts
Relative Humidity: 97%
Barometric Pressure: 1,012.42mb

Scientific crew on the Gordon Gunter

Scientific crew on the Gordon Gunter
Photo credit: Mark Weekely

Science and Technology Log

FOG
(by Carl Sandburg)

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

And that’s just what we awoke to this morning – heavily clouded skies and fog. Unfortunately, it hasn’t moved on yet, and actually looks like it’s here to stay. This made visibility very poor. The fog horn had been blasting every few minutes all night so the fog didn’t come as a surprise, but was a disappointment. My first shift on watch was moved to the wheel house and we watched with the “naked eye” instead of the “big eye” (giant binoculars that are outside on the bridge).  Our primary mission is to search for right whales, but any sea life observed is recorded. I was lucky enough to see 6 white sided dolphins on my first watch after Allison Henry (chief scientist) pointed them out to me.  By mid-morning, the fog had lifted and the visibility improved. I am on 90 minute shifts from 7am-7pm with 90 minute breaks between shifts. While working we either watch for whales or record data as others watch for whales.

The scientists want to identify each whale they see. They do this by examining the unique patches of callosities the whales have on their  heads and backs. The whales’ callosities are categorized as either broken or continuous.

Callosity comparison

Diagram from New England Aquarium

They have cataloged 669 right whales using this method since they began the identification process in the late 70’s. The callosities are the same color as the whale’s skin, but appear white or yellow due to the presence of thousands of tiny crustaceans called cyamids, or “whale lice”.

Learning about dermal tags

Photo credit: Allison Henry

If we spot a right whales and the conditions are good (no fog and the seas are not too choppy) some of us will go in the “small boats” to photograph the whales, and to do a biopsy sample on the whale if it has not already been sampled.

Biopsy tag in right whale

Biopsy tag in right whale
Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Lisa Conger under Permit #775-1875

Another small boat will try to tag the whale. Tagging the whale is a sophisticated process and uses high tech equipment. Mark  Baumgartner from Woods Hole Oceanic Institute (WHOI) showed us the dermal tag he will be using on whales. He also showed us how the tagging equipment has evolved over the last few years. The tag is shot into the whale where it goes into the skin about 3 inches. It has a GPS attached to it so it can be recovered from the whale when it falls off (usually in 24 hours). The scientists can set it to come off the whale in a certain amount of time. The implantable dart stays in the whale’s skin until it eventually works its way out which they estimate to be in 3-4 weeks. This process startles the whale, but is not thought to cause them pain.

Personal Log

We have been out on the water for 24 hours at this point, and I feel like I am adjusting well to life at sea. No seasickness yet (knock on wood), and I slept very comfortably last night (I know that comes as no surprise to any of you who know the ease with which I sleep in any situation). Everyone on the ship has been very friendly and willing to share information with me. The food is excellent, with lots of vegetarian choices, great mixed greens salad, and even a pineapple upside down cake for dessert last night.

Did You Know?

Did you know that right whales are identified by the callosities on their heads and bodies?

Did you know that the North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered whales? It is estimated that there are only about 470 right whales alive today.

Question of the day: What is the smallest whale in the world?

Melanie Lyte: On the Brink of an Adventure at Sea! May 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic 
Date: May 14, 2013

Personal Log

Hello, from Castleton, New York. My name is Melanie Lyte and I am a first grade teacher at Bell Top Elementary School . I am very fortunate to teach in a school of dedicated staff where creativity and innovation is fostered, and embraced. My principal, Jim McHugh, was the one who urged me to apply for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, and I am grateful to him for his support and encouragement. Although Bell Top is a public school, many of the yearly activities our students are involved in are unique, especially in a public school setting. With funds from a NSTA administered Toyota Tapestry Grant we built a Learning Barn on our school grounds. The barn, built uniquely using both Dutch and English architectural styles so students can compare the two ways, houses an evaporator for a school wide maple sugaring project, as well as cider press for making apple cider in the fall.  We also have amazing parental support at our school, a very active PTO, and of course the best kids in the world walk through our doors each day!

Bell Top Elementary School,Troy, NY

Bell Top Elementary School, Troy NY

I originally applied to be a teacher at sea because I love science and adventure, and I love to bring my experiences outside the classroom back to enrich my students. In the last few years I have camped in the jungles of Sumatra, Indonesia, hiked and kayaked in Alaska,  visited the rain forests of Brazil, and traveled to China. I believe we must expose our children to the the broader world, and the natural world around them in order to foster a curiosity about far away places, and  love and appreciation for our earth. We need to feed every student’s innate sense of wonder and excitement for the world around them.

My friend Harold and I on top of a volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia.

My friend Harold and I on top of a volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia.

I think the opportunity to work with real scientists doing research will be a life changing event for me, and I am even more enthused because the mission of this voyage, conducting a right whale survey in the North Atlantic, is perfect for my first graders! What child doesn’t get excited about whales?!?! I am also very fortunate to teach with my partner in first grade, Sarah Lussier. She and I truly have a the best teaching partnership imaginable, and we, and our students, are enriched by it.  To prepare our students for my upcoming voyage, we have been learning all we can about right whales, and whales in general. We painted a  right whale and whale calf on the parking lot at school (that was an adventure in itself – think 42 first graders  with paint brushes and black concrete paint). The students also researched right whales, created diagrams of the whale, and developed informational posters of what they learned. I think the consensus of the students is that right whales are “really cool, but a little lazy, and kind of ugly.” (as one of my first graders so  eloquently put it). They are fascinated by the callosities on the whales and are saddened that the whales sit on top of the water so often and are in danger of being hit by boats. While I’m at sea the students in both our classrooms will be working on many other whale related activities, as well as following my blog.

Right whale calf created by first graders at BellTop Elementary School.

Right whale calf created by first graders at BellTop Elementary School.

Categorizing toothed and baleen whales by the first graders at Bell Top School

Categorizing toothed and baleen whales by the first graders at Bell Top School

Whale Facts by first graders at Bell Top School.

Whale Facts by first graders at Bell Top School.

Whale Sizes by the first graders at Bell Top School.

Whale Sizes by the first graders at Bell Top School.

Right whale (1980) Massachusetts Secretary of ...

The right whale became the official state marine mammal of Massachusetts in 1980. Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/NOAA

So in less than two weeks my adventure at sea will begin! I will be joining head scientist Allison Henry and the crew of the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Gordon Gunter out of Boston MA. We will be conducting a North Atlantic Right whale survey, but I have been told we will see other whales as well such as humpback, sei, and minke. I can’t wait to explore the ocean with scientists, and learn all I can about the creatures who live there. I hope you will join me on my adventure by reading my blogs while I’m at sea.

Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter (photo credit NOAA)