Michelle Greene: Visual Sighting Team, July 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Michelle Greene

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

July 19 – August 3, 2018

 

Mission: Cetacean Survey

Geographic Area: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Coast

Date: July 22-23, 2018

Latitude: 40° 35.213″ N

Longitude: 66° 6.692″ W

Sea Surface Temperature: 23.4° C (74.1° F)

Knots: 7.85 knots

Science and Technology Blog:

The visual sighting team started early this morning at 6:00 am and had rotating shifts of 30 minutes each until 7:00 pm.  The different shifts included watching with regular binoculars on the port and starboard sides, watching with the big eyes on the port and starboard sides, and being the data recorder for sightings.  I had the opportunity to shadow scientists in each of these positions throughout the first day and actually performed the duties on the second day.

Members of the Cetacean Survey Visual Team on Lookout
Members of the Cetacean Survey Visual Team on Lookout

One of the important jobs the data recorder has is to input the environmental conditions at a certain point in time.  The first measurement to input is the percent of cloud cover which is just a number from 0 to 100. Then the glare magnitude is determined on an ordinal scale from 0 to 4 with a value of zero meaning none and a value of four meaning severe.  After determining the glare magnitude, the percent of glare cover is determined.  Since the two sets of big eyes cover from 90 degrees left of the bow to 90 degrees right of the bow, the glare covering this spaced is what is determined.  The data recorder also has to determine the degree angle and height of the ocean swell.  Swell is not the wind waves generated by local weather.  It is the wind waves that are generated by distant weather systems.  Then the Beaufort scale is used to determine the amount of wind on the ocean.  The scale was developed by Sir Francis Beaufort of the United Kingdom Royal Navy in 1805.  The scale ranges from 0-12.  A zero score means the surface is smooth and mirror like, while a score of 12 means there are hurricane force winds.  Rain or fog is also determined by the data recorder.  Finally, the data recorder has to determine a subjective condition of the weather overall.  This is on an ordinal scale from 1 to 4 with 1 being poor and 4 being excellent.

When a marine animal is sighted by one of the observers, the data recorder has to input several measurements about the event.  The bearing of the location of the animal has to be determined using the big eyes.  Also, the big eyes have a scale in the lens called reticles that determines distance from the ship to the animal.  A conversion scale can then be used to determine how far away the animal is in meters or nautical miles.  The number of animals sighted, including any calves that are in the group, has to be given.  The group’s swim direction has to be determined based on bearing from the ship.  If possible, the species of the group has to be given.  Since the objective of this survey is to find the occurrence of Mesoplodons in the North Atlantic Ocean, determining the species is very important.  Also the observer has to give the initial cue as to what determined the identification of the species.  Several different cues are available such as the body of the animal, the blow of a whale or dolphin, or the splash.

The software used to input the occurrence of a marine mammal automatically inputs the GPS of a sighting.  The initial route for this survey is a zig zag pattern out of Rhode Island towards Georges Bank.  There are several canyons with very deep waters (over 1,000 meters) which is where the Mesoplodons make foraging dives to get food.  Instead of making a straight line through the canyons and only making one pass through the area, using zig zag routes gives the survey a better chance of locating Mesoplodons.  The chief scientist uses the information from sightings to track a path for the ship to take the next day.  Sometimes the acoustics team hears possible Mesoplodons.  If the acoustics team can find a convergence of the area of an animal, they will tell the ship to go at a slower rate or turn.

The map here shows the sightings of Mesoplodons from the beginning of our journey and the zig zag pattern taken by the chief scientist.  The first day of our journey, a storm was coming up the East Coast.  The Gordon Gunter‘s Commanding Officer (CO) determined that we could run from the storm by going east in a straight line direction instead of doing the zig zag motion.  The CO was correct, because we did not have bad weather.  The ocean had a lot of high swells which made the boat rock tremendously at times but no rain.

GU18-03_Map_24July2018_wLegend
A map of the daily route of the Gordon Gunter based on sightings.

 

Personal Log

I have found my favorite place to be on the visual sighting team…being the data recorder.  Statistics is my passion, and being the data recorder puts me in the middle of the action getting mass amounts of data.  It also helps that the data recorder sits in a high chair and can see a wide area of the ocean.  The scientists have been very helpful in finding me a milk crate, because that chair is so high I cannot get onto it without the milk crate.  Being the data recorder can be intense sometimes, because multiple sightings can be made at the same time.  In any free time I have, I will fill in as the data recorder.  It is lots of fun!

Data Recorder
Favorite place to be on the visual team – Data Recorder

One thing that was a little intimidating to me at first was the intercom system.  I would hear things like, “Fly Bridge Bridge.”  Then the data recorder would say “Bridge Fly Bridge.”  I had no clue of what they were talking about.  Then all of a sudden it made sense to me.  In “Fly Bridge Bridge,” someone from the Bridge is calling up to us on the Fly Bridge.  The Bridge has a question or wants to tell the people on the Fly Bridge something.  Since I figured it out, I am ready to go.

I have learned so much on this cruise in the short time I have been aboard the Gordon Gunter.  My head is exploding with the numbers of lessons that I can incorporate into my statistics classes.  I have also talked with the acousticians, Jenny, Joy, Emily, and Anna Maria, and have come up with lessons that I can use with my algebra and calculus classes as well.  The scientists have been very generous in sharing their knowledge with a science newbie.  Being a math teacher, I want to be able to expose my students to all kinds of content that do not deal with just the boring math class.  Being a Teacher at Sea has opened up a whole new experience for me and my students.

We have an interesting participant in our cruise that I was not expecting but was happy to meet…a seabird observer.  Before this cruise I did not know there were birds that pretty much lived on the surface of the ocean.  These birds have been flying around the ship which is about 100 nautical miles from shore.  The seabird observer documents all sightings of seabirds and takes pictures to include in his documentation.

Did You Know?

Reticles are the way a pair of binoculars helps observers to determine the distance to an animal; however, the conversion from reticles to distance is not an instantaneous solution.  Based on the height of a pair of binoculars on the ship, reticles can mean different distances.  A conversion chart must be used to determine actual distance.

Check out this article on how to estimate distance to an object with reticles in a pair of binoculars:

Using reticle binoculars to estimate range

Animals Seen

  1. Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)
  2. Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus)
  3. Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
  4. Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus)
  5. Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
  6. Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
  7. Great shearwater bird (Puffinus gravis)
  8. Cory’s shearwater bird (Calonectris borealis)
  9. Wilson’s storm petrel bird (Oceanites oceanicus)
  10. Leach’s storm petrel bird (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)
  11. White-faced storm petrel bird (Pelagodroma marina)
  12. Red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)

Vocabulary

  1. acoustician – someone whose work deals with the properties of sound
  2. bearing – the direction from your location to an object in the distance starting at 0° which is located at absolute north.  For example, if an animal is spotted at 90°, then it is due east of your location.
  3. blow of a whale – the exhalation of the breath of a whale that usually looks like a spray of water and is an identifying feature of different species of whales
  4. bow of a ship – the point of the ship that is most forward as the ship is sailing (also known as the front of the ship)
  5. cloud cover – the portion of the sky that is covered with clouds
  6. foraging dive – a type of deep dive where a whale searches for food on the ocean floor
  7. glare – the light reflected from the sun off of the ocean
  8. nautical mile – a measurement for determining distance on the ocean which is approximately 2025 yards (or 1.15 miles) or 1852 meters
  9. port side of a ship – when looking forward toward the bow of the ship, the left side of the ship is port
  10. starboard side of a ship – when looking forward toward the bow of the ship, the right side is starboard

Staci DeSchryver: Fair Winds and Following Seas, July 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  South of Oahu, heading toward the Big Island

Current Location:  20.20 N 156.37 W

Date:  July 8, 2017

Weather Data From the Bridge: 

 

Science and Technology Log

We have arrived!  Today members of the incoming crew on Oscar Elton Sette picked me up from Waikiki and we made our way over to Ford Island for training.  The HICEAS study is seven “legs” long, each lasting about a month with a one week break in between legs – ours is the first “leg” of the mission, and the training took place for all scientists and crew who would be traveling and conducting research through any of the four parts of the mission.  In August and September, two of the legs will run simultaneously, so the project is significant in size with respect to time, manpower, and data collection.  We had a very full house of various research teams, some of which will overlap among the various legs of the trip.  The full crew is a tight family, with hugs and greetings all around during breaks and meal times.  How nice to know that leaving for 28 days (some of them longer) doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your family.

PIFSC_20100926-S86_B-01784.JPG
Wanted:  pseudorca (Alias: False Killer Whales) For High Crimes of Adorableness and shyness from ships.  Photo Credit:  NOAA Fisheries/Corey Sheredy

During training, scientists reviewed procedural protocols to follow for different species sightings and learned the protocol changes for a few other species.  The primary target for this particular leg of the HICEAS is pseudorca, or False Killer Whale.  They are a socially interesting bunch – a little reminiscent of the hallways at Cherokee Trail High School.  Whereas most whale species travel as a “class” in one large group all together, pseudorca behave as though all day every day is passing period.  The entire group of pseudorca may travel together (similar to being in school all day), but they don’t all congregate together in the same location.  They are a rather “cliquey” bunch – with smaller groups milling about together on their own in different corners of the main group but all keeping at least somewhat in eyesight or earshot of the other groups.  Because of this, scientists must identify the group, and then each individual subgroup, making note of any groups that join up or split apart.  We haven’t spotted any pseudorca yet, but with some time, talent, and a little luck, we will soon!

In a broad sense, the search for cetaceans on a daily basis is executed a little something like this:  Three mammal observers take their positions at port (left), center, and starboard (right) on the “flying” bridge – or the topmost deck of the ship.  There is also a space reserved just right of center for the Seabird observers.  Each observer will rotate through these three positions for a total of a two-hour shift.  If, for example, an observer begins at the port side “Big Eye” station, they will scan the water in search of cetaceans for 40 minutes from that position, rotate to the center, and then finally to the starboard side.  Where does the starboard side observer go when he or she has completed the rotation?  There’s plenty to do onboard and to help with until the next two-hour rotation begins.  There are two seabird observers working alongside the mammal observing team, and they alternate in two-hour rotations, so only one bird observer is on the flying bridge at a time in an official capacity.  All visual observers work from sunrise to sunset.

Each position at the marine mammal observation area is responsible for visually sweeping the ocean’s surface during observations.  The two side observers are only responsible for scanning from 0 degrees (the bow of the ship) to 90 degrees to their direct left on the port side, or direct right on the starboard side.  They use a very imposing pair of binoculars called the “Big Eyes” to scan their respective areas.  These binoculars are impressive in size and abilities.  They can bring even the smallest birds far on the horizon into sharp focus.  The center observer does not have Big Eyes, but stands ready to take data if there is a sighting.  He or she can scan the area in general, but the big eyes offer much more detailed observation abilities at a much greater distance.  The center observer is also responsible for keeping time on the rotations, monitoring the weather, the sun’s position in the sky, and Beaufort sea state.

While the visual observers are on the flying bridge, two scientists work in the acoustics lab to listen for cetacean vocalizations.  The two groups work in parallel universes, but only the acousticians can cross dimensions.  In other words, if the visuals see cetaceans, they can tell the acoustics about what they are seeing, but if the acoustics scientists hear vocalizations, they will not tell the observers.    More often than not, the acousticians will hear clicks, whistles, and moans from the acoustics lab well before the visuals make a sighting, because the acoustics team has a large advantage over the visuals team.  The visuals team is restricted to what they can see at the surface, and the acoustics team can “see” many miles away and deeply into the water column, which significantly increases their volume of searchable space.

When the acousticians “see” or hear a vocalization, they plot the distance from the ship. They continue to listen for vocalizations and continue with the plots.  Eventually, they have enough data to narrow down the potential location of the cetacean to two spots. This process is not unlike earthquake triangulation, except the observers can narrow down the location to two spots, rather than just one.  There will be much more to come as to how this process works in future blogs, so stay tuned!  

Personal Log

At the end of training today, Dawn, one of the ornithologists (that’s a seabird “pro”) informed us of the third and far lesser-known Pearl Harbor Memorial, USS Utah.  Utah was the very first ship capsized by Japanese bombs on the early morning of December 7th, 1941.  Found on the opposite side of the island from USS Arizona, the Utah is only accessible by folks who have military clearance to get on the base, making the memorial incredibly secluded from exposure to the general public.  Utah took 64 lives with her when she sank, and a small monument now stands on the shore as a memento to the crew lost that fateful morning.  What makes Utah interesting is that she still stands partially above water, her mangled and rusted metal piercing through the water’s surface like the grasping hand of a drowning sailor.  There was a brief attempt by the military to right and raise her, but it proved futile, and they made the call to leave her remains be.  Her finest and final duty is to serve her watch over the men caught in her belly on the day she fell prey to the Axis forces.

Utah found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time on the morning of December 7. She was moored on a pier normally reserved for aircraft carriers, and her flat and shiny deck betrayed her identity to the incoming Japanese pilots.  Due to this mistaken identity, the Japanese attacked her on appearance, and she capsized almost instantly.  More interesting is that much like the beginning of a bad cop movie, she was nearing her retirement.  She was in port awaiting her execution date,  friendly-fire style, her technological abilities waning and falling out of favor compared to the newer commissioned ships.  Her final resting place was originally supposed to be somewhere in the Pacific as a victim of a practice bombing drill by the Air Force.  The Japanese pilots got to her first.  She wasn’t even at work that day.

Utah was built in 1909 and commissioned in 1911, the second of two Florida-class battleships built for service during World War I.  After a long stint in the service as a battleship, the Utah was re-appropriated as an auxillary ship for gunnery training and target practice for the allied forces.  On the day of the attack, the aircraft carriers that should have been in-port at the time were out to sea, and so Utah moored in one of the empty spaces intended to be held by the aircraft carriers.  In the confusion of the attack, it was determined that Utah was a carrier, and the Japanese navy opened fire.  The Chief Water Tender, Peter Tomich, served bravely as he assisted crew in their evacuations when the abandon ship call came over the ship’s systems.   While everyone was running off the ship, Tomich was running back onboard. He lost his life in that selfless move and is remembered as a hero of the day.

Today Utah sits idly close to shore alongside what used to be a dock.  Her neighbor is NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, and just a little further up the harbor, our ship, Oscar Elton Sette.  It was sobering honor to be so close to the memorial before we left port, and though USS Utah is one of the smaller memorials on Ford Island, I certainly will not forget her.

Species Report:

Number of cetaceans seen visually:  0 so far

Number/types of cetaceans “seen” acoustically:

*Blainsville’s Beaked Whale

*Sperm Whale

*Dolphins

Birds Seen:

Frigate Bird

Shearwaters

Red Footed Booby

Brown Footed Booby

Land Bird who shouldn’t have been out so far in the ocean (so possibly my spirit animal).  Let’s hope he eventually finds his way home.

Tom Savage: Whales to the Left, Whales to the Right, June 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 19, 2015

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 12, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 18 C
Wind speed: 10 knots
Wind direction: coming from north west
Relative humidity: 90%
Barometer: 1015 millibars

Personal Log

Today is my second day at sea and I can finally walk to various places on the ship in less time. I have found sleeping on the ship to be very easy as the ship rocks back and forth. I really enjoy being at sea; it is very tranquil at times and I am not rushed to go anywhere except my assigned duty locations. While on deck observing, the sights and smell of the ocean invokes memories of my former home in Bar Harbor, Maine.

After a full day of observing whales in the sunshine I was very excited to conduct some star-gazing at night. At 2200, as I opened the first hatch outside, I walked into a wall of fog and was reminded quickly that I am miles offshore on Georges Bank in June!

Science and Technology Log

Sighting whales yesterday was very slow, but today made up for it. The weather was perfect, as the sky was mostly sunny with few high cirrus clouds early. Today I was assigned to the Flying Bridge for observations all day. There are three stations and we rotate every thirty minutes. The stations are Big Eyes on port and starboard sides and a computer in the center for data entry. We use different terms for orientation on the ship. For instance, the front of the ship is called the bow. While facing the bow, the left side is called the port and the right side starboard.

DiscussingSightings
Discussing sightings on the “Fly Bridge”

My rotation began on the port side of the ship using the “Big Eyes”. After a half hour, your eyes become tired, strained and shifting to the computer to enter whale sighting helps. At the computer we enter whale sighting data called out by observers.

LookingThroughBigEyes
Looking through the “Big Eyes”. Do you see anything?

In addition to recording the identification of animals; other important attributes are called out by the observers such as bearings and direction headings. Looking through the “big eyes”, a range finder is located from center with a scale from 0 – 24, and is called the reticle. To properly calculate distance, the observer needs to adjust the “Big Eyes” to align zero with the ocean horizon. This is very difficult since the ship is always in motion. The “Big Eyes” in the image above is not correctly aligned. There is a chart we used to translate the reticle values to distance.

An early morning break was followed by an amazing hour of multiple whale sightings. Fin, humpback whales and pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphin sightings were all around the ship. One humpback whale came within twenty feet of the boat. The afternoon was less active but we tracked pilot whales later which were not seen during morning rotations.

ViewFlyBridge
View from the “Fly Bridge” looking down on the “Rolling Bridge”

 

Until next time, happy sailing!

~ Tom

 

Adam Renick, Searching for Cetaceans and Wrapping Up, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12–26, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weather Data
Current Air Temperature: 77° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 3 knots

Finding the Cetaceans…
 
In the final days of our research cruise we set out to get an assessment of cetacean activity in the Kona area that we have been studying. In addition to the ongoing active acoustics, CTD and DIDSON sampling, we have added two new tasks to the science team to find as many cetaceans as possible. We have set up a hydrophone, which is a sound recorder that sits in the water and is pulled by the ship, to listen for the clicks, whistles and any other sounds dolphins and whales might make.

For examples of sounds cetaceans make please check out this website. When the sounds from the cetaceans are received the wave frequencies are recorded using some very interesting software that helps us determine the type of marine mammal it is and where it is located. Specifically locating and identifying the cetaceans requires the cooperation of many people and is not necessarily as simple as I am making it sound here.

Melons
The recording of a pod of approximately 150 Melon-Headed Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless
The sounds of Pilot Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

While the acoustics team and the ship’s crew are listening and seeking out the animals we also assist in the effort by making visual observations from the highest deck of the boat called the “flying bridge”. Here one or two people who are in communication with the science team below use binoculars and “big eyes” to visually find and identify marine mammals.

Blog5 013
Looking through the “big eyes”

Some of my personal observing highlights of this operation include a sperm whale, a pod of approximately 150 melon-headed whales and smaller pods of spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, rough-toothed dolphin and pilot whales.

SE 13-04 Melon Heads
Visual observations of the Melon-Headed Whales.
Photo: Chad Yoshinaga
Rough-toothed_Dolphins
Rough Toothed Dolphins
Photo: Ali Bayless

Wrapping Up the Journey…
 
I cannot express enough gratitude to the members of the science team and the crew of the Sette for making my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience so rewarding. There are so many elements of this trip that are worth pause, reflection and appreciation. My emotions ranged from excitement just being at sea for 15 days and living a lifestyle that is unique and different than my own, the contemplative awe of the vast and complicated ocean ecosystem and the exhilaration when one of its own breaches the surface to give us a peek at it. In the end, I think my greatest appreciation gained along this journey was learning to slow myself down to the pace of nature in order to better observe and understand it.What’s next for me? NASA Teacher In Space… 2014 here I come!

Just kidding (is that even possible?) Until then I guess I should practice my moon-walking on Kilauea crater until I head back to my amazing wife and life in San Diego. Thanks for reading and, whatever you are doing out there in the world today, make a memory.

Angela Greene: “Entangled with Superheroes” May 2, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Angela Greene
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: May 2, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Average Air Temperature- 7°C or 44.6°F, Winds out of the north, Sky Conditions-clear

Science and Technology Log:

Lowering CTD
Deploying CTD cast. “All in a days work.”

Time seems to be flying by on the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter as one day quickly runs into the next.  I am learning so many new things, and doing brand new tasks that I am not sure where to begin telling my story.  Every time something awesome happens I want to write it down, but something even more awesome happens.  It’s such a busy work environment for the crew and the scientists!

I am on the ship with a scientist whose job is to “disentangle” whales. Of course I had a million questions such as, “Disentangle whales from what?” The first night on board, we were treated to a “science talk” from David Morin of the Large Whale Disentanglement Program, Protected Resources Division of NOAA.

Large whales can swim into and get entangled by gear of commercial fishermen. Apparently they swim into the gear, panic while attempting to get free, and make the entanglement worse. The gear can be in the form of long ropes, buoys, and even lobster pots.

Trident gillnet
Disentanglement team trying to remove a gill net from a large whale. Photo credit Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies under fisheries permit number 932-1489.
Cutting tools
Tools used for disentanglement. Photo credit Provincetowne Center for Coastal Studies.

Sometimes the whales can free themselves either fully or partially, but all too often they have to learn to cope with all the gear wrapped around fins, flippers, or flukes. The entanglement can become so tight and restrictive that it actually embeds into the flesh of the animal, creating deep gashes, and scars.

When an entangled whale is spotted and reported, a disentanglement team springs into action.  A large boat takes them to the reported location and a small rubber boat gets them as close to the whale as possible.  With cameras mounted on head-gear, the disentanglement team must first assess the type of gear and configuration of the entanglement.  Obviously every case is different, with a wide range of fishing gear, and different species and sizes of whales.  Right then the small boat a plan is launched and put into motion to attempt to free the whale from its bindings using a variety of sophisticated cutting tools mounted to large poles.

Yellowfin lift
Disentanglement is a dangerous job. Photo Credit Florida Fish and Wildlife under fisheries permit # 932-1489.

Dave has been in situations where the whale has become frightened and slapped a fluke down on the small rubber boat.  One swift move from a whale could be the end of a crew attempting disentanglement.    This doesn’t stop Dave from telling the details of his work with passion and admiration for the opportunity to work with whales.  I’ll stick with teaching!

Big Eyes
Me and “Big Eyes” Photo Credit Mark Baumgartner

My job during the right whale survey has, so far, been very addicting!  We run ninety minute “watch shifts” on the flying bridge searching for any signs of life, particularly whales.  The flying bridge, the highest point on the ship, gives you the best vantage point when looking out into the ocean for marine life.

Blow
A “Blow”

There are three stations that I rotate through every thirty minutes while “on watch”. Station one is a set of “Big Eyes”, or really large binoculars. The view of the ocean using the “Big Eyes” is specific and fantastic! During that thirty-minute segment of my watch duty, I scan my side of the ocean, which is bisected by the bow of the ship. I look for any signs of life such as a splash, a “blow”, a dorsal fin, a fluke, or even “suspicious water patterns”. If I think I have spotted marine life such as a dolphin, seal, or a whale I shout out “SIGHTING” to the data recorder. I have to tell the data recorder very specific data about my animal sighting, which is added to a computer program.

The middle station on the fly bridge of watch duty is the data recorder. This is the scariest job for me because sometimes multiple sightings have to be recorded at once. The third position of watch duty is thirty additional minutes on a second set of “Big Eyes”.

Data Collection
Me as “Data Collector” Photo Credit Allison Henry

My very first official sighting was a Mother Sei whale and her calf. Her dorsal was long and sickle shaped as she arched through the glassy water. Then her baby arched right after she did. It was amazing! The process of being on watch is smooth, simple, calm, and easy. I’ve adjusted well to it and look forward to scanning the water. However all this peacefulness changes dramatically when the sighting is a Right Whale… I sighted one today…

Fluke
“Could it be a fluke?”

Personal Log: Many people know that my hobby is “collecting scientists”! I have a rather eclectic sampling of amazing people that I have acquired through the years. Each one of them has an amazing supernatural ability that sets them apart from the normal human. Each of them is a superhero. Watching the scientists on this field experience solidifies my hypothesis. My chief scientist, Allison Henry has the superpower of being able to identify a right whale by glancing at the animal or a photograph the same way I could look at a yearbook and identify a student in my class. This is not a normal skill possessed by regular humans. Scientist, Dave, untangles whales, much like I untangle the Christmas lights each year. Normal people don’t untangle large mammals in the ocean. Aside from possessing supernatural abilities, the new scientists in my collection exude a passion toward their chosen career paths. While these superpowers set them apart, I think that passion is what connects them to us. Maybe my job as an educator is to recognize the passion in each student and encourage him or her to find the superhero within.

Donna Knutson, September 12, 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 12, 2010

Pearl and Hermes

Me on the “Big Eyes”.

 

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.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabirds sittings will also be documented.

Jay, a steward, checking out the action!
Science and Technology:
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
A busy flying bridge.

Pearl and Hermes is the name of an atoll named after two English whaling ships, the Pearl and Hermes, which ran into the surrounding reef in 1822.  The twenty by twelve mile atoll is under water most of the time.  It has a rich history including shipwrecks, over harvesting of oysters, a military site for war practice, and finally conservation.

Atolls are the remnants of ancient volcanoes.  Over millions of years, volcanic eruptions spill magma onto the sea floor.  The lava eventually becomes higher than sea level creating an island.  With the surface exposed, the now dead volcanoes began to shrink and erode.  Over time the island becomes very flat and barely above the water.  Corals grow in shallow water around the boundaries of the island.  Eventually the island erodes away only leaving the coral reefs around them and a large lagoon in the middle.  Through the actions of wind and waves, sand and coral debris come together to make up small islands called islets in a few places where the original large island used to be.
Ernesto and Allan ready to shoot for biopsy samples.
In 2003 the Pearl and Hermes reef measured 300,000 acres.  This area is home to thirty three species of stony coral.  The islets provide a needed stopping and resting area for seals, turtles and birds.  About 160,000 seabirds of seventeen different species nest at Pearl and Hermes.
The ocean surrounding Pearl and Hermes had never been properly surveyed for cetaceans.  The HICEAS cruise discovered the water is also rich in wildlife, particularly cetaceans.  The beaked whale is one of these cetaceans.  There are twenty different species of beaked whales, but the two found in these waters were the Curvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whales.
One way to tell them all apart from each other is their teeth.  The males all have different sizes, shapes and positions of their teeth in their bottom jaw.  The females and juveniles do not have teeth and need to be identified by other means such as the shape of their beak (rostrum).  Curvier’s Beaked whale has virtually no beak, the melon of the head slopes smoothly onto a short thick beak. It has a sort of “fish face”.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has a moderately long beak.  The melon for the head is small and flat.
Yvonne and Sussanah listening in.
Blainville’s and Curvier’s Beaked Whales seem to have opposite coloring.  The Curvier’s Beaked Whale has a white face and the white coloring continues on to the top of back.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has the dark gray color on the back and the lighter grey on the underside.
Size is another difference between the whales.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale is smaller with adult males measuring up to fourteen feet six inches and the Curvier’s whale at twenty three feet.  All male beaked whales are smaller than the females, but not by much and that is unusual compared to the other species mentioned in previous logs.
Personal Log:
Eddie looking at whales.

The past two days we have been circumnavigating the Pearl and Hermes Atoll.  There are only two other “land masses” before we reach the top of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  This region has more animals than anticipated.  The science crew of the Sette had 16 sittings and 17 biopsy samples to report.  It was a very exciting couple of days.  The little boat was launched both mornings and was traveling around the atoll also, but at a closer distance to the coral on its own mission.

In addition to the sightings, Yvonne Barkley, Sussanah Calderan and Niky where listening attentively to the sounds picked up by the array.  The array has four mini-mircophones housed in a long rubber cable that picks up various sound frequencies.  The acousticians are inside the ship recording and  analyzing the sounds they hear.  Working together really paid off!  A lot of ocean was covered and many animals were discovered.
Beaked Whales
I brought a plastic lawn chair up on the flying bridge because even though I want to write, I don’t want to miss out on any of the action.  I wasn’t the only one who wanted a look at the animals, the second steward Jay came up to also take a look through the “big eyes”.   I can’t imagine a boat that has a friendlier, more supporting crew!
Bottlenose Dolphin
Some of the sightings included Bottlenose Dolphins, the Curvier’s Beaked Whale, the Blainsville’s Beaked Whale and Sperm Whales (mentioned in log #3), Spinner Dolphins, and Rough Toothed Dolphins (mentioned in log#2).
To me the most exciting part of the two day survey was when the Bottlenose Dolphins were swimming in front of the bow.  At one time there were sixteen abreast.  All sizes of dolphins playing and “singing” right in front of us!  Their whistles were much louder than I ever imagined!
The dolphins were jumping over each other and swimming on their sides and on their backs belly up.  It almost seemed to be a contest on silliness.  It makes your heart warm when they look you in the eye and seem to want your attention.  They had my attention the whole time they swam there!  I had to get up on tip toe just to look over the edge as they were so close to the rush of water caused by the ship.  The group was traveling and frolicking effortlessly in front of a ship going ten knots! I stayed on tiptoe until the last dolphin drifted away to join the rest of the pack.
The Bottlenose Dolphin is definitely the friendliest, playful cetacean I have seen for far!

Donna Knutson, September 2-3, 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 2-3, 2010

Seabirds are Amazing

Me on the Sette in front of Kaui.

 

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.

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabird sightings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Thursday September 2, 2010 12:00 pm

Red footed Booby

Latitude: 21○ 47.4 N
Longitude: 160○ 35.7 W
Clouds: 6/8 Cumulus
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 ft
Water Temp: 27○ C or 80○ F
Air Temp: 26.5○ C or 80○ F
Sea Level Pressure: 1019.6 mb

Locating whales and dolphins is a science in itself! It takes great patience and experience to know and be able to recognize the signs of marine life. Birds play an integral part of this “game” of locating marine mammals.

Ed Bali, one of the observers with 31 years of experience tells me to look for the food. Where there is food, there are animals. Today they have not seen much of any life. So I remember what Ed said no food, no birds, no birds, no large animals.

Yesterday was a big bird day. Scott, a Bird Observer, showed me the difference between the types of seabirds we were seeing. Of the 9,000 different species of birds in the world, only 260 are seabirds. Those seabirds are categorized into four “groups” called orders. We saw birds from three of the four orders.

Scott Mills is an avid birder and lover of sea birds.
I have learned a lot from him.
Birds in the order Procellariiformes, commonly called the tubenosed, have a special desalinization system. They have a nasal gland with many blood vessels that filter out the salt from the blood. The reason the salt is in the blood is because they drink salt water while flying long distances over the ocean and also because the food they eat is salty. In most birds of this species the concentrated salt water from the nasal gland drips out of the tube which is located above the nose, and  drips down their beak. The birds that belong to this order are commonly called albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels, storm petrels and terns. We saw many tubenosed birds such as the shearwaters; Newell and Wedgetail, the petrels; Bulwers and storm.
Birds from the Pelecaniformes order are known for their four webbed toes. These birds include the boobies; red-footed the most common, brown and masked. The great frigatebird, also from this order was spotted, it is a very large bird related to the pelican.

Birds from the Charadriiformes order consist of the gulls and terns. They are special unto themselves for example the Sooty Tern can live above the water for up to five years from the time it leaves the nest until it finds a breeding territory. The terns that were spotted were the noddy, brown, black, white (which is also called faerie) and the sooty tern.

Overall seventeen different species of seabirds were identified on September 2, 2010.

Bulwers Petrel
The birds’ activity is a sign to look for larger animals especially where flocks are seen. The two marine mammals that were identified were the steno and the Bryde’s (pronounced brutus) whale.
Steno bredanesis is a species of dolphin.  They are commonly called stenos, meaning “rough toothed” dolphin, and are common in many tropical waters. Almost nothing is known about its reproduction because it is very hard to follow at sea. Stenos have a very smooth beak and head with no melon shape for the forehead. The maximum length is 8’8” (2.65 m) and weight 350 lb. (160 kg). Its life span is 32 years.
Brydes’s (pronounced Brutus) Whale is a baleen whale. It was named after John Bryde a Norwegian whaler in South Africa. Bryde’s Whale is large and sleek, dark grey above and grey white or pinkish below. They have modified teeth which form 250 – 370 baleen plates that are used to filter the water for small animals. The maximum length is 51 ft. (15.6 m) and weight 90,000 lb (40,000 kg). Its dorsal fin is tall and ragged on the trailing edge. No one knows what its life span is.
Personal Log:
My great “statemate” and avid birder, Dawn Breese.

I haven’t been seasick! So far. The waves right now are larger than before, and as I sit I need to keep my stomach tight for balance. If it weren’t for the wonderful food, I could get in better shape in this month at sea.

I did my job this morning at 5:00 am, it was beautiful out with bright stars and a calm sea. During the day I really enjoy sitting out on deck and just watching. I hope to spot an animal. It is very peaceful and the motion is comforting.
I have been practicing with my camera. If I zoom it in 12x and then put it up the “Big Eyes” I can get some great pictures. Hopefully I’ll get some good shots of whales and dolphins. Most of the day was spent doing research on the animals we have seen. It was another great day at sea!

Rebecca Kimport, JULY 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Rebecca Kimport
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 30, 2010 – July 19, 2010

Mission: Summer Pollock survey
Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 12,  2010

More Fish in the Sea

Table of Fish
As we have moved farther west, we have encountered more fish and are therefore completing more trawls. Yesterday was our biggest day so far and we completed two trawls for pollock (referred to as AWTs for Aleutian Wing Trawl) and one Methot during our 12 hour shift (with more fishing done in the next shift). Our first trawl started at the beginning of our shift and we hustled to finish processing before breakfast. To help keep our spirits up, Abby, Michele, Katie, Robert and I rocked out to some 80s tunes as we sorted and processed fish. Imagine the five of us bopping around the lab, in our foul weather gear, with scalpels in hand, while Rick Springfield wishes he had Jessie’s Girl, all before sunrise.

Even though we completed three hauls, I still had time to work on my “Run Across Germany” (for Chuck Norris Snuggle Muffin) and to spend time with the mammal observers. As I mentioned before, marine mammal observers have to be extremely patient. I spent about an hour and a half with them yesterday evening and saw two groups of whales through the big eyes (which was more than average). One was clearly a group of 2-3 fin whales while another was an unidentified blow.
Checking out the big eyes
The marine mammal observers mark all sightings in a data program with a mapping function that then predicts where the cetaceans might be moving so the observers can identify whether future sightings are the same or new animals. They might see two or three sets of blows before they spot any part of the body which could help them identify it. Fin whales come up to the surface once every 8-10 minutes and it took until the third set of blows before marine mammal observer Paula Olson was able to identify them (I got to see them on the fourth surface visit).
While we were waiting for the fin whales to come up again, Paula explained that in our part of the Bering Sea, there are five cetacean species that we are most likely to see. We determined that with the fin whale sighting I have already seen three (killer whales, Dall’s porpoises, and fin whales) leaving me with two species to scope out before we leave (minke whales and humpback whales (you know, like Humphrey)). Hopefully the weather will stay clear and I’ll be able to spend some more time on the flying bridge.
Animals Seen • Squid • Fin Whales • Pteropods • Ctenophores • Amphipods • Euphausiids • Pollock

Word of the day descry: to catch sight of something in the distance

Michele Brustolon, June 30th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michele Brustolon
Onboard NOAA Oscar Dyson
June 28 – July, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey  
Geographical area of cruise: Eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)  
Date: June 30th, 2010  

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1600 hrs
Latitude: 57.16 N
Longitude: 169.09 W
Cloud Cover: Dense fog
Wind: 11.56 knots
Air Temperature: 5.30  C/ 420 F
Water Temperature: 5.090 C/ 410 F
Barometric Pressure: 1005.02 mb

Science and Technology Log

Time with Birds and Mammals
Once we finally left Dutch Harbor behind, I spent some time on the bow with birder, Nate Jones.

As I know very little about birds, I quizzed him on every flying specimen we encountered and used his binoculars to observe the birds up close. After a few sightings, I was able to identify the Fulmar by its unique wing movement (quick quick quick soar). We also saw tufted puffins and a black footed albatross. There are two birders on this leg who are responsible for scanning the horizon and counting and identifying the sea birds they observe from the bridge.  We were distracted from our bird watching by a call of orcas. I hustled up to the “flying bridge” to join the marine mammal observers. There are three “mammals” on this leg and they are constantly scanning the horizon with their “big eyes” to observe and identify cetaceans. I was able to observe two separate groups of orcas and heard that porpoises were also spotted.

Although I am technically on the fish shift, I hope to check in with the “birds” and “mammals” later in the cruise.

What’s in your water?
I began my shift this morning at 0400 and reported to the Acoustics Lab to meet with head scientist, Neal Williamson. In addition to Neal, my shift includes Abby McCarthy, a NOAA research fisheries biologist, Katie Wurtzell, awesome biologist and my fellow TAS Rebecca. We began the shift by observing our first CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth)  profiler which will be deployed approximately 10 times throughout our trip. The CTD measures conductivity, temperature, and depth (used to calculate salinity) and gathers samples to measure dissolved oxygen. In addition, fluorescence is measured to monitor chlorophyll up to a 100 m from the surface.

The CTD – measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth

After our first CTD, we completed our first Methot trawl. A Methot trawl is named after the scientist who designed the net used. A Methot grabs the creatures and collects them into a codend (to make it easier for us to process) at 30-40 m below the surface – our Methot collected jellies and euphausiids (also known as krill). My first duty was to sort through the “catch” to pick out jellies. Next, we measured the weight of the krill before counting a small sample. We also preserved a couple samples for use in larger studies.

Following our Methot, I observed the deployment of an XBT (eXpenable Bathymetric Thermograph). The XBT is used to measure quick temperature data from the surface to the sea floor. The data are graphed at depth vs. temperature to highlight the thermocline, which is where colder water meets water warmed by the sun. Here in the Bering Sea, the thermocline is not always noticeable as the water column is subject to mixing from heavy winds and shallow depths.

Methot – graphing temperature vs. depth – shift in graph shows thermocline.

Personal Log

As I approached Dutch Harbor, I began taking photos from the plane. It sounds crazy, but the landscape is like nothing I have ever seen. Once I was off the plane, my smile grew because of the crisp air and the smell of saltwater. After two days of travel I had finally made it to Dutch Harbor and my luggage made it with me! I was brought to the boat to drop off my bags and then into town to catch up with others on Leg 2. The Oscar Dyson was having work done on its large generator so we didn’t leave port until June 29 at 1430 hours. It actually gave me time to get to know a good portion of the people on this leg (the crew, scientists, “birders,” mammalian observers, and the stewards). I was also able to explore Dutch Harbor, Unalaska (we tried to find wild horses…no luck!), and take some walks from the Oscar Dyson. Some of the most common flowers and birds seen are the lupines, orchids, and bald eagles EVERYWHERE! They are incredibly loud too! They remind me of seagulls and squirrels back home because there are so many! Wednesday, June 30 was the first day of our 0400- 1600 work shift so we won’t see everyone until we are transiting back because of the different shifts. The Oscar Dyson has 40 bunks and we are occupying 39 of them-talk about a full ship! For information about what happens during our shift, take a look in the science and technology log. I am truly enjoying my time and there are plenty of people to make me laugh which is the best medicine when you are a tyro!

Dutch Harbor at low tide from the dock of
the Oscar Dyson
Dutch Harbor during a typical day

Animals Seen in Dutch Harbor

Bald eagles
Ground Squirrel
Sea Urchin
Sea Stars
Sea Cucumber
Pigeon Guillemont
Oyster Catchers
Mussels
Chiton
Limpets
Hermit Crabs
Snails
(but no horses…)

A Bald Eagle named “Charlie” sitting outside the Unisea Restaurant

Animals Seen in Transit

Orcas
Fulmars
Black Footed Albatross
Tufted Puffin

Animals Seen on First Shift

Euphausiids
Jellies
Pollock!!!
Pacific Cod

Word of the Day

Tyro: a novice or beginner

New Vocabulary:

CTD: (Conductivity Temperature Depth) A device used to measure conductivity, temperature and depth at specific locations within the Bering Sea

Methot: A net used for shallow trawls, named after the scientist

XBT: eXpendable Bathymetric Thermograph

Thermocline: the point when the temperature drops

Karen Matsumoto, April 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 27, 2010

Science and Technology Log

In addition to the deployment of the acoustic sonobouys and monitoring of the towed hydrophone array, we also do “XBT” drops three times a day, at sunrise, noon, and sunset. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) has been used by oceanographers for many years to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean. The XBTs deployed by the Sette research team measures temperature to a depth of 1000 meters.

The XBT is a probe which is dropped from a moving ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water. Two thin copper wires transmit the temperature data to the ship where it is recorded for later analysis. The probe is designed to fall at a known rate, so that the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time since it was launched. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water. It is amazing to think that over 1000 meters of thin copper wire is packed into that small tube! When I first launched an XBT, I was expecting to shoot it off like a rifle, but it actually just falls out of the unit by gravity. I was relieved that I didn’t experience “kick-back” from the probe unit when I pulled the lynch pin!

Chief Scientist Marie Hill preparing to launch the XBT unit.
XBT deployed and falling to a depth of 1000 feet.
Marie cutting the copper wire ending the connection to the probe and computer.

Bellow: Temperature and depth information is sent to the computer from the probe attached to the XBT unit by thin copper wires. The wires are cut when the unit reaches a depth of 1,000 meters, and the unit falls to the ocean floor. The researchers on the Sette use XBTs to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean, as seen on the computer screen at bellow.

We are continuing to conduct visual observations on the “Flying Bridge.” I had a chance to take a shift on the “Big Eyes” which are 25 x 150 magnification binoculars. The person at each of the Big Eye stations does a slow 90 degree sweep toward the bow and then back again, searching the ocean from horizon to ship to spot whales. I have a renewed appreciation for the skill it takes to use binoculars, especially one that weighs over 40 pounds! I had to use stacked rubber mats to be able to reach the Big Eyes at its lowest height setting, and even then it was a struggle to keep them steady every time we hit a wave! I think the Big Eyes were designed by the same people that made the huge Norwegian survival suits!

Karen on the “Big Eyes.”

Personal Log

The more I learn about sperm whales, the more I want to see one! I heard sperm whale clicks this morning, which was super exciting. John Henderson, a member of our science team sent me a cool website that shows an MRI of a juvenile sperm whale. I’ve included it below. Sperm whales are still on my wish list for whale sightings on this trip!

QuickTime™ and a decompressorare needed to see this picture.

MRI Image of a juvenile sperm whale. © 1999 Ted W. Cranford.
See website at: http://www.spermwhale.org/SpermWhale/spermwhaleorgV1.html

Question of the Day: How do sperm whales make their vocalizations? Sperm whale clicks are produced when air is passed between chambers in the animals’ nasal passages, making a sound that is reflected off the front of the skull and focused through the oil-filled nose. It has been suggested that powerful echolocation clicks made by sperm whales may stun their prey. Recent studies have shown that these sounds are among the loudest sounds made under water by animals (they can travel up to six miles despite being fairly high frequency).

Sperm whale clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are diving and foraging. These sounds may be echolocation (“sonar”) sounds used to find their prey, calls to coordinate movement between individuals, or both. Clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are in groups, while individual sperm whales are generally silent when alone. Most of the sounds that sperm whales make are clicks ranging from less than 100 Hz to 30 kHz

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: Expendable Bathythermograph or the XBT was developed in the 1960s by former The Sippican Corporation, today Lockheed Martin Sippican. Over 5 million XBT’s have been manufactured since its invention. The XBT is used by the Navy and oceanographic scientists to provide an ocean temperature versus depth profile. Some XBTs can be launched from aircraft or submarines, and have been used for anti-submarine warfare. How many XBTs do you think are on the bottom of the ocean?

Something to Think About:

“Thar she blows!” was the cry of the whaler!

Whale researchers can identify many whales by their “blows,” when the whale comes to the surface to breathe. Observers look for the direction and shape of the blow. For example, sperm whale blows are almost always directed at a low angle to the left, as their single nostril is located on the left side.

Grey whales, on the other hand, have two blowholes on the top of their head, and have very low heart-shaped or V-shaped blows, with the spray falling inwards. What do you think are you seeing when you see whale blows?

Animals Seen Today:

• Flying fish

Did you know?

Cetaceans evolved from land mammals in the even-toed ungulates group. The hippopotamus is most likely their closest living relative!

Picture of the Day

Abandon ship drill on the Sette!