Alexandra Keenan: A Whale of an Adventure Begins! June 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra Keenan
(Almost) Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 18 – June 29

Mission: Cetacean biology
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine
Date: June 16, 2012

Personal Log

Saludos! My name is Alexandra Keenan, and I teach Astronomy and Physics at Rio Grande City High School. Rio Grande City is a rural town located at the arid edge of the Rio Grande Valley. Because of our unique position on the Texas-Mexico border, our community is characterized by a rich melding of language and culture. Life in a border town is not always easy, but my talented and dedicated colleagues at RGC High School passionately advocate for our students, and our outstanding students gracefully rise to and surmount the many challenges presented to them.

Che's

Me in downtown Rio Grande City. Our historic buildings are evocative of the old “Wild West.”

Rio Grande City

Taquerias dot the highway running through our town– evidence of the binational character of the community.

I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program because making careers in science seem real and attainable to students is a priority in my classroom.  NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provides a wonderful opportunity for teachers to have an interdisciplinary research experience aboard one of their research or survey ships. I believe that through this extraordinary opportunity,  I can make our units in scientific inquiry and sound come alive while increasing students’  interest in and enthusiasm for protecting our ocean planet. I will also be able to provide my students firsthand knowledge on careers at NOAA. I hope to show my students that there is a big, beautiful world out there worth protecting and that they too can have an adventure.

The adventure begins on June 18th when the NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow departs from Newport, RI. I’ll be on the vessel as a member of the scientific research party. We will be monitoring populations of the school-bus-sized North Atlantic right whale by:

  • using photo-identification techniques
  • obtaining biopsies from live whales (wow!)
  • catching zooplankton
  • recovering specials buoys that have been monitoring the whales’ acoustic behavior (the sounds they make)

Aerial view of North Atlantic right whale swimming with calf. (photo: NOAA)

Why would we do all of this? Because North Atlantic Right Whales are among the most endangered whales in the world. Historically, they were heavily hunted during the whaling era. Now, they are endangered by shipping vessels and commercial fishing equipment. The data we gather and analyze will help governing bodies make management decisions to protect these majestic animals.

NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow (photo: NOAA)

The next time you hear from me, it’ll be from the waters of the Gulf of Maine!

Fair winds!