Elaine Bechler: A Survey on the R/V Fulmar! July 21, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elaine Bechler
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 21- 26, 2011 

Mission: Survey of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones NMS
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Off the California Coast
Date: July 21, 2011 

Science and Technology Log

Welcome to the July 2011 Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies  six-day survey of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the  Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  The purpose of this survey was  to find out if there were any biotic or abiotic changes happening in the sanctuaries. Prior to the trip, transect lines

transect lines along study area

This map shows transect lines in the areas we are studying in the sanctuaries.

were drawn on a map.  The science team onboard the R/V Fulmar planned to survey as many of the lines as was possible.  While following the transect lines, all animal sightings were recorded.  Once the data is collected, the scientists can compare the 2011 survey results to other years of data. What questions do you think a marine biologist might have while surveying the organisms in the marine sanctuary?  What might motivate an organization to send scientist on a survey such as this?


R/V Fulmar

R/V Fulmar

The vessel we boarded was the R/V Fulmar .  If you check the website you will see it is a survey machine!  For this cruise there were seven of us on the science team and two crew – the captain and the mate.   What features make this vessel a good one for ocean surveys?

Prior to disembarking, the crew and scientists frequently checked the conditions of the ocean in order to determine if the survey could be safely conducted. They used a computer on board to check the conditions from NOAA websites.  Another website was  real time buoy data . The computer indicated that the ocean was going to be very active on our first two days with 10-foot swells. It felt like we were in a washing machine.  Needless to say a few of us were feeling sea sick!  It was quite a humbling experience yet it bonded us too.  What remedies are there for sea sickness?  What would you do to prepare yourself for a trip on the R/V Fulmar?

abiotic: nonliving

The science team was divided into two groups: those working on the flying bridge at the bow or front of the vessel and those working on the back deck with nets.  On the flying bridge there were three observers, two on either

observers on the flying bridge

Observers on the flying bridge

end, the port (left) and the starboard (right),  who would spot all marine mammals (Carol Keiper and Jan Roletto).  An ornithologist on board would identify birds (Sophie Webb).  The other member (Jaime Jahncke) recorded what the animal was, where it was, how many there were and what the organisms were doing.  Sometimes there was a lot going on at one time and they would use a second recorder (Kaitlin Graiff) temporarily to document all the animals. The data is always gathered in this way.  Those who were not observers were allowed to watch but not to assist the observers.  Can you think of a reason why?

They spotted 50 whales: 10 blues and 40 humpbacks; some breaching, some tail lobbing.  We documented 16 different species of birds including the Tufted Puffin, Cassin’s Auklet, Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater,  Western Gull, Heermann’s Gull, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Ashy Storm-Petrel, Brown Pelican, Brandt’s Cormorant, Common MurreElegant Tern, Pigeon Guillemot, Red-necked Phalarope and Black-footed Albatross. (Sophie Webb, the ornithologist on board took these shots). Each of these animals are predators and some of them were found in the thousands out in the sanctuaries.  What would be possible prey for all of these animals? 

male Common Murre and chick

Male Common Murre and chick

Black-footed Albatross

Black-footed Albatross

Having many different species living in an area is called biological diversity.  Diversity is a measure of health in an ecosystem, the more different species that are supported, the better the ecosystem can deal with environmental change.  What would be some possible environmental changes that the organisms in this ecosystem might be experiencing?  

Many of these animals are pelagic, which means they live their entire life without visiting a mainland.  Many of them are predatory on the fish and zooplankton living in the ocean.   Where does the energy to support such large numbers of predatory animals come from?   What organisms are at the bottom of the food chains that support these animals?  

Check out the other posts from this cruise to learn more!

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin

Elaine Bechler: Off the Back, July 23, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elaine Bechler
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 21 – 26, 2011 

Mission: Survey of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones NMS
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Off the California Coast
Date: July 23, 2011 

Science and Technology Log

Today was day three of my Teacher at Sea experience aboard the R/V Fulmar.  It is a big eye-opener to have experienced this.  We have been documenting all birds, marine mammals and debris while we travel along  transects through the Gulf of the Farallones NMS (National Marine Sanctuary) and Cordell Bank NMS.

transects in the study area

Transects in the study area

At the back of the boat is where other important data was collected.  There, we deployed nets to collect plankton and krill.  We also gathered abiotic parameters about the water. This section is to inform you about the CTD, the hoop net and the tucker trawl.  Why would collecting plankton and krill be important?  What would be an example of some abiotic parameters that could be measured in ocean water?

Some of the transects on the map to the left are marked with black dots and yellow stars.  Black dots are where we would drop a device called a CTD into the water.  CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth sensor.  The boat would stop at the station and two of us would guide the CTD to the center of the back edge of the boat.  The two crew members (Captain Erik Larson and mate Dave Benet) would locate themselves at two stations on the boat where they could control the movement of the boat and the winch.  The winch wire could be attached o any heavier device that needed to be deployed off of the back.  We would use the computer to determine the depth at that location.  Then we would communicate with Erik and Dave to tell them how deep to drop the CTD. Why did we all have to wear hard hats?  Why are we wearing large orange jackets?

controlling the back deck operations

Controlling the back-deck operations

Another job we did off the back was to gather zooplankton with the hoop net.  We would attach the net to the winch. The crew would assist us in dropping it to the proper depth (approximately 50 meters which was as close to the bottom as we could get without dragging the net).  After a specific amount of time we would bring the net up and put the sample into collection bottles.  These bottles will be sent to a lab to be analyzed after the trip.  It was amazing to see the variability of organisms in the net.   We found krill in all stages of development.
Andrea and I positioning the CTD

Andrea and I positioning the CTD

Sometimes the sample would be ruined if we captured a jelly fish.  Having a jelly fish in the plankton net acts as a slimy block.  Our net would sometimes come up with a clean sample of plankton, other times the net would be covered with brownish slime (phytoplankton) which required a lot of cleaning afterwards. The science team was very interested in the status of the krill in the catch.

deploying the hoop net

Deploying the hoop net

the tucker trawl

The tucker trawl

Another net that was used to collect samples was called the tucker trawl.  We would deploy the tucker trawl when the vessel came to the continental shelf break (about 200 meters)  of transects 2, 4, and 6, 8 and 10.  This net required 3 to 4 people to launch it.  It had three plankton nets, each of which was set to close at specific depths.  Our first sample came up with mud from the bottom (the net hit the bottom by mistake). Included in that mud was a purple slimy hagfish and a few tiny sea stars.  A later sample was filled with krill.

Water nutrient samples were also gathered from the side of the boat.  Cordell Bank  and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries can be rich in nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen due to upwelling.

obtaining water for nutrient samples

Obtaining water for nutrient samples

Upwelling occurs when strong winds drive warm, nutrient-poor surface waters away from the shore.  These surface waters are replaced by nutrient-rich deep water and provide nutrients for the unicellular algae. What is upwelling?  What importance are nutrients to algae? 

Elaine Bechler: Phenomenal Feeding Frenzy, July 25, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elaine Bechler
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 21 – 26, 2011 

Mission: Survey of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones NMS
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Off the California Coast
Date: July 25, 2011 

Science and Technology Log

Humpbacks performing vertical lunge feeding

Cool stuff today.  While transiting between one transect and another, the R/V Fulmar happened upon a major feeding event.  While approaching, hundreds of birds could be seen flying and diving along with evidence of many humpback whale spouts.  It turned out to be a furious feeding frenzy of myriads of birds, dolphins, pinipeds and whales.  Very dramatic was the vertical lunge feeding of the humpback whales.  We could see their huge mouths open and pointed upward as they gobbled silvery fish.  The whales would release huge loud exhales over and over.  A pod of 20 Pacific white-sided dolphins would lunge and dive down randomly seeking the swift swimmers.  Entering from the north side came a pod of Northern-right whale dolphins so sleek and moving in a group as if choreographed.  Thousands of seabirds including Sooty and Pink footed Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars, Black-footed Albatrosses, Western Gulls, Fork-tailed Storm Petrels and Common Murres were diving and competing for the fish.  We could hear the feet, wings, beaks and calls from their interactions on the surface.   It was remarkable to see the shearwaters swimming after the prey.  The feeding group would move and change as the school of fish darted about from below.  It was a tumultuous feast.

Bird feeding frenzy

shearwater feeding under water

Shearwater feeding under water

What we witnessed was the food web in action!  Each of these animals was supported by the fish they were eating.  Those fish were supported by a smaller food source such as smaller fish and zooplankton.  Those small organisms rely on the phytoplankton to capture the solar radiation from the sun and to use the deep water nutrients which were upwelled to the surface waters.   Create 5 food chains 5 organisms long that could have been in place in the ocean that day.

Dall's Porpoise

Dall's Porpoise

Earlier I noted a Western Gull spy a white object in the water and attempt to land on it for feeding only to find it was a piece of paper.  I had never observed the interaction of a marine animal with marine debris until now.  It was obvious that the debris caught the gull’s attention from a good distance away and had attracted it to the surface of the water.  How could this action affect the food web?

I feel fortunate to have been chosen to experience this cruise and all that went along with it.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat (with sufficient amounts of  seasickness medication!).  Thank you R/V Fulmar crew, ACCESS team, PRBO Conservation Science , TAS team and NOAA for this opportunity.  Thank you Sophie Webb for all of the photos of the frenzy on this page.

Pacific White-sided dolphins and Kaitlin

Pacific White-sided dolphins and Kaitlin