Christopher Faist: Dolphins and Crossbows, July 24, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Faist
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 20 — August 1, 2011

Mission: Cetacean and Seabird Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 24, 2011

Weather Data
Air Temp:  23 ºC
Water Temp: 21 ºC
Wind Speed: 11 knots
Water Depth: 35 meters

Science and Technology Log

Bottlenose Dolphin bowriding

Bottlenose Dolphin bowriding

Continuing our quest to count mammals and seabirds has brought us to shallower waters.  Currently we are moving in an area south of Martha’s Vineyard.  In this area we have had better visibility allowing us to sight species like the south polar skua and bottlenose dolphin.  Increased sightings bring new equipment and tools utilized by scientists to give a clearer picture of the diversity of animals in our survey area.

South Polar Skua

South Polar Skua

In addition to seeing animals through binoculars, scientists also want to learn about animal genetics and vocalizations.  Specialized equipment like a crossbow loaded with a biopsy dart or a towed hydrophone array can give scientists greater insight into the animals they are trying to study.

Pete ready to take a biopsy sample

Pete ready to take a biopsy sample

Pete, one of the marine mammal observers is also tasked with using a crossbow and biopsy dart to take a small sample of whale or dolphin tissue.  When the visual sighting team (using binoculars) spots an animal, they direct the bridge (where the ship is controlled) to steer the ship toward the animal or group of animals.  At this point, Pete begins to prepare his genetic sampling equipment.  On the bow of the ship are two raised platforms, one on each side.  With his crossbow in hand Pete harnesses himself to the ship, climbs on a platform and loads a biopsy dart.  If the animals are close enough he will then fire the dart, which is tethered to the ship, and collect a very, small piece of skin and blubber from the animal.  This tissue sample can be used by scientists to study the animal’s DNA, sex, health, diet, pollution levels and in females, check for pregnancy.

Crossbow loaded with biopsy dart

Crossbow loaded with biopsy dart

Another tool used to deepen a scientist’s understanding of marine mammals is a towed hydrophone array.  Included in a thin tube towed behind the ship are underwater microphones or hydrophones.  These are used to listen to noises in the ocean but for this cruise, the hydrophones are tuned to pick up sounds made by marine mammals.

One of the problems associated with using visual sightings to count marine mammals is they only spend a short period at the surface where they can be visually observed.  To ensure that all animals are counted, scientists like Rob and Sandra listen for animals that may be underwater when the ship passes.  Using multiple hydrophones they can use computer software to locate the noises and note the presence of animals that may be missed by visual observers.

Personal Log

Today was our first day of good weather that lasted all day.  What that means is 12 hours on deck looking for animals.  Even though I can take a break whenever I need it, I am worried that if I leave the deck I will miss something interesting.  After that many hours on deck it is great to get some dinner and head for bed.  I have been sleeping really well, making  getting up at 6am to start surveying almost enjoyable.

Next posting I will talk about the CTD/Bongo sampling device that I am helping to deploy every day at lunch.

Becky Moylan: Preliminary Results, July 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Becky Moylan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 1 — 14, 2011


Mission: IEA (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment)
Geographical Area: Kona Region of Hawaii
Captain: Kurt Dreflak
Science Director: Samuel G. Pooley, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist: Evan A. Howell
Date: July 13, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 1940.29N
Longitude 15602.84W
Speed 5 knots
Course 228.2
Wind Speed 9.5 knots
Wind Dir. 180.30
Surf. Water Temp. 25.5C
Surf. Water Sal. 34.85
Air Temperature 24.8 C
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
Water Depth 791.50 Meters

Science and Technology Log

Results of Research

Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton

Crustaceans

Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean

Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean

Beginning on July 1st, the NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment project (IEA) in the Kona region has performed scientific Oceanography operations at eight stations.  These stations form two transects (areas) with one being offshore and one being close to shore. As of July 5th, there have been 9 CTD (temperature, depth and salinity) readings, 7 mid-water trawls (fish catches), over 15 acoustics (sound waves) recordings, and 30 hours of marine mammal (dolphins and whales) observations.

The University of Hawaii Ocean Sea Glider has been recording its data also.The acoustics data matches the trawl data to tell us there was more mass (fish) in the close to shore area than the offshore area. And more mass in the northern area than the south. This is evidence that the acoustics system is accurate because what it showed on the computer matched what was actually caught in the net. The fish were separated by hand into categories: Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton.

Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl

Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl

The CTD data also shows that there are changes as you go north and closer to shore. One of the CTD water sample tests being done tells us the amount of phytoplankton (plant) in different areas. Phytoplankton creates energy by making chlorophyll and this chlorophyll is the base of the food chain. It is measured by looking at its fluorescence level. Myctophids eat phytoplankton, therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.

The data showed us more Chlorophyll levels in the closer to shore northern areas . Phytoplankton creates energy using photosynthesis (Photo = light, synthesis  = put together) and is the base of the food chain. Chlorophyll-a is an important pigment in photosynthesis and is common to all phytoplankton. If we can measure the amount of chlorophyll-a in the water we can understand how much phytoplankton is there. We measure chlorophyll-a by using fluorescence, which sends out light of one “color” to phytoplankton, which then send back light of a different color to our fluorometer (sensor used to measure fluorescence). Myctophids eat zooplankton, which in turn eat phytoplankton. Therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.   The data showed us more chlorophyll-a levels in the closer to shore northern areas.

Bringing in the catch

The Sea Glider SG513 has transmitted data for 27 dives so far, and will continue to take samples until October when it will be picked up and returned to UH.

Overall the mammal observations spotted 3 Striped dolphins, 1 Bottlenose dolphin, and 3 Pigmy killer whales.  Two biopsy “skin” samples were collected from the Bottlenose dolphins. A main part of their research, however, is done with photos. They have so far collected over 900 pictures.

Looking at all the results so far, we see that there is an area close to shore in the northern region of Kona that has a higher concentration of marine life.  The question now is why?

We are now heading south to evaluate another region so that we can get a picture of the whole Eastern coastline.

Personal Log

In the driver's seat

In the driver's seat

Krill

Krill

And on deck the next morning we found all kinds of krill, a type of crustacean. Krill are an important part of the food chain that feed directly on phytoplankton. Larger marine animals feed on krill including whales. It was a fun process finding new types of fish and trying to identify them.Last night I found a beautiful orange and white trumpet fish. We also saw many transparent (see-through) fish with some having bright silver and gold sections. There were transparent crabs, all sizes of squid, and small clear eels. One fish I saw looked like it had a zipper along the bottom of it, so I called it a “zipperfish”. A live Pigmy shark was in the net, so they put it in a bucket of water for everyone to see. These types don’t ever get very big, less than a foot long.

I have really enjoyed living on this ship, and it will be sad to leave. Everyone treated me like I was part of the group. I have learned so much about NOAA and the ecosystem of the Kona coastline which will make my lessons more interesting this year. Maybe the students won’t be bored!

Sunrise over Kona Region

Sunrise

Sunrise

Heather Haberman: Groundfish Surveying, July 7, 2011 (post #2)

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heather Haberman

Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 5 — 17, 2011 


Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday, July 07, 2011

Weather Data from  NOAA Ship Tracker
Air Temperature:  29.2 C      (84.6 F)
Water Temperature:  29.3 C    (84.7 F)
Relative Humidity:  72%
Wind Speed:  2.64 knots

Preface:  There is a lot of science going on aboard the Oregon II, so to eliminate information overload, each blog I post will focus on one scientific aspect of our mission.  By the end of the voyage you should have a good idea of the research that goes into keeping our oceans healthy.

In case you’re new to blogging, underlined words in the text are hyperlinked to sites with more specific information.

Science and Technology Log

Topic of the day:  Groundfish Surveying

To collect samples of marine life in the northern Gulf of Mexico, NOAA Ship  Oregon II is equipped with a 42-foot standard shrimp trawling net.  NOAA’s skilled fishermen deploy the net over the side of the ship at randomly selected SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) stations using an outrigger.  The net is left in the water for 30 minutes as the boat travels at 2.5 to 3 knots (1 knot = 1.15 mph).

Shrimp trawl net attached to an outrigger. Notice the large wooden “doors” that help spread the net as it is lowered into the water.

Bottom trawling is a good method for collecting a random sample of the biodiversity in the sea because it is nonselective and harvests everything in its path.  This is excellent for scientific studies but poses great problems for marine ecosystems when it is used in the commercial fishing industry.

One problem associated with bottom trawling is the amount of bycatch it produces.  The term bycatch refers to the “undesirable” fish, invertebrates, crustaceans, sea turtles, sharks and marine mammals that are accidentally brought up to the surface in the process of catching commercially desirable species such as shrimp, cod, sole and flounder.  At times bycatch can make up as much as 90% of a fisherman’s harvest.  To address this problem, NOAA engineers have designed two devices which help prevent many animals from becoming bycatch.

Bycatch photo: NOAA

All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act and are under joint jurisdiction of NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  In an effort to reduce the mortality rate of sea turtles, NOAA engineers have designed  Turtle Exclusion Devices (TED).  TEDs provide these air-breathing reptiles with a barred barrier which prevents them from going deep into the fishing net and guides them out of an “escape hatch” so they won’t drown.  TEDs have also proven to be useful in keeping sharks out of  bycatch.

Loggerhead sea turtle escaping a trawling net through a TED.

Another device that was introduced to the commercial fishing industry is the Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD).  BRDs create an opening in a shrimp trawl net which allows fishes with fins, and other unintended species, to escape while the target species, such as shrimp, are directed towards the end of the capture net.

Notice the location of the TED which prevents the turtle from entering into the net and the BRD that allows swimming fish to escape. Illustration provided by the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service

This is a very small catch we harvested from 77 meters (253 feet).

Once the trawl net is brought back on board the Oregon II, its contents are emptied onto the deck of the ship.  The catch is placed into baskets and each basket gets weighed for a total weight. The catch then goes to the “wet lab” for sorting.  If the yield is too large we randomly split the harvest up into a smaller subsample.

Each species is separated, counted, and logged into the computer system using their scientific names.  Once every species is identified, we measure, weigh, and sex the animals.  All of this data goes into the computer where it gets converted into an Access database spreadsheet.

My team and I sorting the catch by species.

Amy entering the scientific name of each species into the computer.

I measure while Amy works the computer. Collecting data is a team effort!

When the Oregon II ends its surveying journey, NOAA’s IT (Information Technology) department will pull the surveying data off the ship’s computers.   The compiled data is given to one of the groundfish survey biologists so it can be checked for accuracy and consistency.  The reviewed data will then be given to NOAA statisticians who pull out the important information for SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) and SEDAR (Southeast Data and Review)

SEAMAP and SEDAR councils publish the information.   State agencies then have the evidence they need to make informed decisions about policies and regulations regarding the fishing industry.  Isn’t science great!  Most people don’t realize the amount of time, labor, expertise and review that goes into the decisions that are made by regulatory agencies.

Personal Log

Day crew from left to right: Chief Scientist Andre, college intern Brondum, myself, Team Leader Biologist Brittany and Biologist Amy

During our “welcome aboard” meeting I met the science team which consists of a Chief Scientist, four NOAA Fisheries Biologists, three volunteers, one college intern, one Teacher at Sea (me) and an Ornithologist (bird scientist).

I was assigned to work the day shift which runs from noon until midnight while the night shift crew works from midnight until noon.  This ship is operational 24 hours a day in order to collect as much information about the northern Gulf fisheries as possible.  The Oregon II costs around $10,000 per day to operate (salaries, supplies, equipment, etc.) so it’s important to run an efficient operation.

I am learning a lot about the importance of random sampling and confirming results to ensure accuracy.   Amy and Brittany taught me how to use the CTD device (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth), set up plankton nets as well as how to sort, weigh, identify and sex our specimens.

The food has been great, the water is gorgeous and I love the ocean!  Stay tuned for the next blog post about some of the most important critters in the sea!  Any guesses?

Species seen (other than those collected)

Birds:  Least Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Laughing Gull, Neotropical Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Magnificent  Frigatebird

Go to http://www.wicbirds.net for more information about the various bird species seen on this trip.

Mammals: Common bottlenose dolphin

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!