Jenny Hartigan: Whales and Birds Everywhere! July 23, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jenny Hartigan
Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar
July 21 – July 28, 2017


Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, zooplankton, and water column survey

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 23

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 37.8591° N,

Longitude: 122.4853° W

Time: 0700

Sky: 100% cloud cover

Visibility: 8 nautical miles

Wind Direction: NW

Wind speed: 10-20 knots

Sea wave height: 2-4 feet

NW Swell 7-9 feet at 8 seconds

Barometric pressure: 30.02 inches

Sea Water Temperature: 58.6

Air Temperature: 52 degrees F

Wind Chill: 34 degrees F

Rainfall: 0mm

Scientific Log:

Saturday was my first day out, and it was an excellent day for wildlife observation. In fact, that is what I did for most of the day. A highlight of my day was seeing two blue whales spouting right in front of the Fulmar. I tried to get a photo, but they went below the surface quickly. Blue whales are the largest marine mammals, averaging 20-25meters long and blue grey in color. It is called a cetacean, which means it has flukes, (tail fin), and may or may not have a dorsal fin (the fin on the back or top of the body.) This is in contrast to pinnipeds, which are marine mammals that use their flippers to walk. The blue whale is a baleen whale, which feeds by chasing prey up to the surface of the water. There it forages by swimming with its mouth open to catch small invertebrates such as krill and copepods. The baleen in its mouth filters out the invertebrates from the water.

The whale we saw most often was the humpback whale. This baleen whale averages 11-13 meters in length, and is dark grey to black in color. I was so excited to observe 3 tail flukes of humpbacks today!

The scientists spotting marine mammals from the flying bridge.


Cassin’s auklets and humpback whales – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Marine mammals seen Saturday:

6 blue whales

23 humpback whales

22 unknown whales

several harbor porpoise

4 California sea lions


Layman’s albatross – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Birds seen Saturday:

Cassin’s auklets

Black–footed albatross, layman’s albatross

Western gulls

Hearman’s gull

Common murre – including the first murre chicks of the season the ACCESS crew has sighted.

Many marine animals tend to be found where upwelling occurs. Deep ocean nutrient-filled waters are brought to the surface by changes in sea floor topography, winds and currents. These nutrients fertilize phytoplankton (tiny plant life) that serves as the base of the food web. Whales return to these areas to feed on the small invertebrates that flourish there. These hotspots occur just off the Ca Coast. Protecting and managing these ecosystems is one major reason we have established National Marine Sanctuaries such as The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Cordell Bank, and Monterey Bay. In a later post, I’ll tell you more about the procedures the scientists use to observe and record the mammal and bird sightings.

Personal Log:

That’s me, in front of the Fulmar!

I settled into my berth onboard the R/V Fulmar. The ship can sleep 10 people, has a galley (shipspeak for kitchen), a wet lab (place to conduct experiments that are wet!) and one head (shipspeak for bathroom). Although the ship is only 67 feet long, the scientist and crew work together so efficiently that it is very comfortable. It has everything we need. I am rooming with Dani Lipski, who is one of the scientists. I’m on the bottom bunk. I’ll introduce her to you later on. She has spent a lot of time teaching me how to use the equipment to take samples. She has graciously answered my millions of questions!

My bunk on the bottom. Do you see the ladder to the escape hatch on the right?

I am delighted to find that I am not feeling seasick. My doctor did prescribe me the patch to wear behind my ear, and I guess it’s working! In any case, I’m not taking it off to test it out. We have had some pretty bumpy experiences transiting to sampling sites and so far so good.I have learned to always keep one hand on the boat when walking around, and not to go below deck when the ship is moving. It surprises me to experience what a workout my legs are getting simply by working to maintain my balance. Even while sitting here writing on my computer I have to constantly engage my legs so I don’t fall over.

Did you know?

The Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) separates ship traffic going in opposite directions, much like a median strip separates opposing lanes of cars on a freeway. The TSS is marked on nautical charts so that traffic proceeds safely.

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!

Kimberly Pratt, July 9, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kimberly Pratt
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
July 2 – 24, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Wildlife Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Northwest
Date: July 9, 2005

Blue whale

Blue whale

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 41.16.4’ N
Longitude: 125.58.30W
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Speed & Direction:  Light and variable
Sea Wave Height: <1
Sea Swell Height: 5-6 ft.
Sea Level Pressure: 1016.0
Cloud Cover: 5/8 of sky cloudy, AS (Alto Stratus), CS (Cumulus  Stratus), AC (Alto Cumulus), C (Cumulus)
Temperature:  21.8 Celsius

Scientific Log

Yesterday was a very slow day.  One of the scientists became ill so the ship was diverted to Coos Bay, Oregon. After a medical evaluation, it was decided that he would return to the ship at a later time.  We then left Coos Bay, and came into stormy weather, so operations were at a stand-still. We did still do bird observations, and we spotted Black footed Albatrosses, Sooty Shearwaters, Common Murres, Fulmars, and Leech’s Storm Petrels. At 2100, I met with Oceanographers, Liz Zele, and Mindy Kelly and proceeded to help with the CTD and the Bongo Nets.  The CTD gives scientists samples for conductivity, temperature, depth.  Next, a bongo net is lowered to a specific depth (300 meters) and brought to the surface at a constant angle. In this way a variety of fish and plankton can be collected and later identified. The specimens collected are very special because many of them are species in larval stage. By looking at this microscopic view of the ocean you  may easily identify it as the “nursery of the ocean”, displaying the many larval forms. The tests were concluded at approx. 2300 hrs.

Launching the zodiak

Launching the zodiak

Today was a much busier day.  Watch started at 0600 and as I was entering data for the bird observations we spotted some Blue whales.  Dr. Forney decided to launch the smaller boat (the Zodiac) for a closer look at the whales. I boarded the boat with the other scientists and we were lowered into the ocean. After getting everyone secure, we took off in pursuit of the Blue whales.  We spotted approximately 6 whales including a mother and calf. Biopsies were taken of these whales and we spent approximately 3 hours in pursuit to identify them.  We also identified Dall’s porpoise.

Personal log 

I must say climbing into a Zodiac in pursuit of whales has to be one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had.  The Zodiac skims the water at about 35 mph. and often we were airborne. The Blue whales that we found were unbelievably huge, as they can grow to 20-33 meters long.  We were approximately 100 meters away from them; I could hear their blows and was amazed at their gracefulness.  Besides the whales being exciting, all is going really well. I did have another bout of seasickness, but now that I’m wearing the patch, (medication for seasickness) I’m doing fine. The food here is very good, and there is down time to read, learn or watch movies.  Ship life is like a great  big family and everyone gets along pretty well.  Right now we are south/west of Crescent City, headed south to the Cordell Banks, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuaries.  Soon, I’ll be in closer waters. Hope all is doing well back at home.  Thanks for responding to my logs, I welcome comments, corrections or questions. It keeps me busy!

P.S. In the Zodiac, I’m the one in the back with the orange “Mustang Suit” on, looking a little confused. If you look closely you can see the biopsy dart on the side of the Blue whale.