Michelle Greene: Meet the Beakers, July 26, 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 26, 2018

 

Latitude: 40° 0.989″ N

Longitude: 67° 30.285″ W

Sea Surface Temperature: 22.1° C (71.8° F)

Sailing Speed: 4.65 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

Premier marine ecologist Dr. Robert Pitman is a member of our cruise.  He works at the NOAA Fisheries at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division.  He has traveled the world in search of cetaceans, turtles, flying fish, and seabirds.  Currently he is doing extensive work with killer whales.  Dr. Pitman has viewed almost all of the 80 plus species of whales known to man; however, seeing some of the Mesoplodon beaked whales in person has been elusive… until now.  Dr. Pitman gave an excellent presentation on the different species of beaked whales that we might to see in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Blainville’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon densirostris)

Blainville's Beaked Whale

Blainville’s Beaked Whale

The Blainville’s beaked whale was first identified by Frenchman Henri de Blainville in 1817 from a piece of a jaw.  The average length of a Blainville’s beaked whale is 4.4 meters.  The most prominent feature of the whale is a high arching jaw. Blainville’s beaked whales have scars from raking which heal white.  Males are very aggressive and proud.  Dr. Pitman stated, “They want a pair of horns but only have a pair of teeth.”  They leave deep scars with their pairs of teeth, because they will savagely charge each other.  Sometimes barnacles will settle on their teeth.  The head of a Blainville’s beaked whale is flat to expose the teeth.

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

Cuvier's Beaked Whale

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

The Cuvier’s beaked whale was first identified by Frenchman Georges Cuvier from a skull in 1823.  The skull had a large cavern in the head which was the reason for the name cavirostris (cavi means hollow or cavernous in Latin).  Cuvier’s beaked whales also go by the name of goose beaked whale.  The whale can grow to a length of seven meters.  Cuvier’s beaked whales have the most variable coloration.  Some Cuvier’s will be grey in color while others may be reddish brown in color.  They have white sloping melons.

Gervais’ Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)

Gervais' Beaked Whale

Gervais’ Beaked Whale

The Gervais’ beaked whale was first identified by Frenchman Paul Gervais in 1855.  The average size of a Gervais’ beaked whale is 4.8 meters.  The prominent feature of the Gervais’ beaked whale is the vertical striping along its back along with a dark band just behind the melon.  A white circular spot is located just below the melon.  The dorsal fin is dark.  The male Gervais’ beaked whale has one set of teeth located about one-third of the way back from the tip of the beak.  Males turn dark and lose their striping with age.  Males also rake each other; however, scars from the encounters re-pigment a darker color.

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens)

Sowerby's Beaked Whale

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale

The Sowerby’s beaked whale was first identified by Englishman James Sowerby in 2804.  The average size of a Sowerby’s beaked whale is 5.5 meters.  They are one of the few whales that have a long beak.  Males have one pair of teeth that are located about two-thirds of the way back from the tip of the beak (or rostrum).  Males have make scratch marks along their backs; however, since the teeth are positioned so far back, scratch marks are from just one tooth and not a pair which would create parallel tracks.  Scientists believe the scarring is due to male competition.  The dorsal fin is located approximately two-thirds of the way along the back.  These whales are not very aggressive and more than one male will be seen in a group.  These animals do not usually travel alone unless it is a male.

True’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon mirus)

True's Two

True’s Beaked Whale Photographed on Our Cruise

True's Beaked Whales

True’s Beaked Whales

The True’s beaked whale is the dominant subject of study of this cruise.  The True’s beaked whale was first identified by American Frederick True in 1913.  Due to his excitement over his discovery of the marine mammal, he named it mirus, which means wonderful in Latin.  A True’s beaked whale can grow to be about 5.4 meters.  The identifying features of a True’s beaked whale include: a dark band behind the melon, a large light spot behind the dark band, a pale melon, two tiny flippers, dorsal fin that is small and triangular,  and for males two tiny teeth at the front of the rostrum.  These whales will have paired parallel scarring because their teeth are so close together.

 

Personal Log

First and foremost, I am in awe every day at the different things I see in nature on this cruise.  I have seen so many birds that I cannot remember one from the other… not to mention the dolphins.  I did not know there were so many kinds of dolphins.  I watched the television series “Flipper” when I was a little girl, and now I can say I have seen a bottlenose dolphin in person.  I think the scientists get almost as excited as I do about seeing an animal even though they have probably seen them hundreds, if not thousands, of times.  Nature is always amazing no matter how many times you see it.

During Dr. Pitman’s presentation, I was captivated by the way he spoke about the whales like they were his best friends he had known forever.  I found out why.  He has spent most of his life studying them.  Dr. Pitman is an amazing resource for me on this cruise.  Being a marine mammal observer newbie, Dr. Pitman took the time to answer all of my questions about whales.  I really value the conversations I have had with a famous whale lover.

The weather has not been ideal for marine mammal observation for several days.  If the swell is too high, it makes it hard to see the animals, because they can breach in the waves where we cannot see them.  The fog also makes it difficult to see the animals, and it is not safe on the flying bridge if it is raining.  During times of foul weather, the scientists are busily working on projects except for the seabirder.  The seabirder sees several birds during foul weather.  The chief scientist, Dr. Danielle Cholewiak, has assembled an international crew of scientists who are as passionate as she is about beaked whales.

During the foul weather when people are not working on other projects, the galley is place to be.  The scientists have taught me how to play a card game called Peanut.  It is a wild version of a multiplayer solitaire.  I am usually pretty good at catching on how to play card games, so learning another game was fun.  It gets fast and furious, and you cannot be faint of heart.  The first person to 100 wins, but the person with the lowest score which can be negative also gets to be the winner of the lowest score.  Sometimes even a NOAA Corps officer will join in on the excitement.  All kinds of fun happens on board the Gordon Gunter!

One of the best experiences I have had so far on this cruise is talking with the crew.  They are from all over the country and take their work very seriously.  As different NOAA Corps officers on board get promoted, they may not stay with the Gordon Gunter and may move to other ships.  Most of the crew, however, sticks with the Gordon Gunter.  I thought when we went on the cruise that we were basically going on a “fishing” trip to watch whales and dolphins and no machinery would be on board.  Oh how I was wrong!  There are several pieces of heavy machinery on board including a crane and a wench.  The boatswain is in charge of the anchors, rigging, and other maintenance including the heavy machinery.  Boatswain is not a term I was familiar with before this cruise.  The word is pronounced like “Bosun” not “Boat Swain.”  Boatswain Taylor is the first one I see in the mornings and last one I see at night.  He works tremendously hard to make sure the “work” of the ship is done.

 

Did You Know?

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Marine Mammal Program created a beaked whale identification guide.  Check out the website: http://vertebrates.si.edu/mammals/beaked_whales/pages/main_menu.htm

Animals Seen

  1. Audubon’s Shearwater Bird (Puffinus iherminieri)
  2. Barn Swallow Bird (Hirundo rustica)
  3. Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)
  4. Brown Booby Bird (Sula leucogaster)
  5. Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
  6. Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
  7. Cory’s Shearwater Bird (Calonectris diomedea borealis)
  8. Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
  9. Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
  10. Great Shearwater Bird (Puffinus gravis)
  11. Leach’s Storm Petrel Bird (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)
  12. Parasitic Jaeger Bird (Stercorarius parasiticus)
  13. Pilot Whale (Globicephala)
  14. Pomarine Jaeger Bird (Stercorarius pomarinus)
  15. Portuguese Man O’war (Physalia physalis)
  16. Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps)
  17. Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)
  18. Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus)
  19. Spotted Dolphin (Stenella frontalis)
  20. South Polar Skua Bird (Catharacta maccormicki)
  21. Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens)
  22. Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
  23. Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
  24. True’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon mirus)
  25. White-faced Storm Petrel Bird (Pelagodroma marina)
  26. Wilson’s Storm Petrel Bird (Oceanites oceanicus)

Vocabulary

  1. Barnacles (balanus glandula) – sticky crustaceans related to crabs and lobsters that permanently stick themselves to surfaces
  2. Blowhole – similar to “nostrils” in humans which sits on top of the head to make it easier for cetaceans to breath without breaking their swimming motion.
  3. Dorsal fin – a fin made of connective tissue that sits on the back of a whale believed to be used for balance, making turns in the water, and regulating body temperature
  4. Fluke – a whale’s tail is comprised of two lobes made of tough connective tissue called flukes which help it move through the water
  5. Melon – an oil-filled sac on the top of a beaked whale’s head that is connected it vocal chords.  The melon helps the whale to make clicks which help it to find food.
  6. Rostrum – snout or beak of a whale
  7. Winch – a machine that has cable that winds around a drum to lift or drag things

 

Photograph References

“Beaked Whale Sets New Mammalian Diving Record.” The Guardian. 27 March 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/mar/27/beaked-whale-new-mammalian-dive-record

“Blainville’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon denisrostris).” NOAA Fisheries: Species Directory.  https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/blainvilles-beaked-whale

“Gervais’ Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon europaeus).” NOAA Fisheries: Species Directory. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/gervais-beaked-whale

“Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens).” Ocean Treasures Memorial Library: The Legacy Continues.   http://otlibrary.com/sowerbys-beaked-whale/

Photographs of True’s beaked whales taken by Salvatore Cerchio.  Images collected under MMPA Research permit number 21371.

 

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:

https://www.osc.co.uk/estimate-range-with-reticle-binoculars-2/

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

Michelle Greene: Setting Sail on the Gordon Gunter, July 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Michelle Greene

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

July 20-August 3, 2018

Mission: Cetacean Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Coast

Date: July 20, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 41° 31.838′ N

Longitude: 71° 19.018′ W

Air Temperature:  26.7° C (80° F)

Conditions: Sunny

Science and Technology Log

Beaked whales are elusive creatures that roam all of the world’s oceans.  The purpose of this cetacean cruise is to find the occurrence and distribution of beaked whales in the northeast Atlantic off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  The beaked whale is a toothed whale from the family Ziphiidae.  Several types of beaked whales have been spotted in this region including the True’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus) and the Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).

To find the occurrence of beaked whales, the scientists are using several different methods.  The first method is a visual sighting of the animals.  High-powered binoculars, affectionately termed “big eyes” can see animals from several nautical miles away.  Then regular binoculars are used to scan the areas closer to the ship.  The second method scientists are using is by passive acoustics.  Acousticians are using two different types of listening devices to try to hear the whales.  The first device is called a linear array.  In this device, four hydrophones are attached to a tube in a linear pattern.  The array is then towed in the water behind the ship, and acousticians can hear the whales when they communicate.  The acousticians can then determine how far the whale(s) is(are) from the device.  However, with this type of array, it is difficult to calculate how deep the whale is in the water.

In an effort to improve detection of the depth of a beaked whale, a new array has been designed.  This tetrahedral array is designed so that the four hydrophones are placed in a way that is not linear two-dimensional space but in a more three dimensional space, so scientists can detect not only the distance of a whale but the depth.  We will be testing a new prototype of this array during this cruise.

Personal Log

Arriving the day before the Gordon Gunter sailed allowed me to see some pretty interesting things.  I got to help two of the scientists put up the “big eyes.”  These binoculars are really heavy but can see very far away.  On the day we sailed, we were able to zero the binoculars which means we set the heading on the binoculars to zero with the ship’s bow based on a landmark very far away.  We could not zero them the day before, because there was not a landmark far enough away to get an accurate reading.

The Gordon Gunter is one of the larger ships in the NOAA fleet according to several of the scientists who have been on many cruises.  It took me a while to figure out where all of the doors go and how they open.  I did not realize how hard it was to open some of the doors.  According to the XO, the doors are hard to open because of the pressure vacuum that exists in the house of the ship.  There is not really a reason for the vacuum to exist.  It is just the nature of the ship.

Life on board the Gordon Gunter has been very interesting for the first day.  Before leaving port, we had a fleet inspection.  We had to do all of our emergency drills.  Safety is very important on a ship.  We had to do a fire emergency drill where everyone had to meet at a muster station and be accounted for by one of the NOAA officers.  Then we had to do an abandon ship drill.  Then once we got sailing a short time, we had to do a man over board drill.

Donning the immersion suit in case of an abandon ship order was not a thrill for me but was comical in retrospect.  I am only 4’ll”, and the immersion suit I was given is made for someone who is over six feet tall.  When I tried on the suit, I had two feet of immersion suit left at the bottom.  When the NOAA officer came to inspect, he said I definitely needed a smaller suit.

One of the best features of my cruise so far has definitely got to be the galley.  The Gordon Gunter has the best cook in Miss Margaret.  She is the best and makes awesome food.  She has made cream cheese from scratch.  She makes the best smoothies.  I can only imagine what we are going to be getting for the rest of the cruise.

Did You Know?

All marine mammals, including the beaked whales, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Check out this website on what the law states and what it protects:

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/laws-policies#marine-mammal-protection-act

Michelle Greene: Getting Ready for a Big Adventure, July 18, 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 18, 2018

 

Latitude: 34° 18.967′ N

Longitude: 79° 52.047′ W

Temperature: 89° F (32° C)

Tomorrow is the big day!  I am getting ready to board the plane from Florence, SC to Charlotte, NC to Providence, RI.  I have never been to Rhode Island, so this is going to be a bucket list activity to keep adding states to my history.  Rhode Island will make state number 24…almost half way!

I teach in a very rural high school in Lamar, South Carolina which is approximately 90 miles from Myrtle Beach.  Lamar High School has about 280 students.  This year we had a graduating class of 52 students.  I teach Calculus, Statistics, and Algebra 2 Honors.

Teaching statistics is the main reason I applied to the Teacher at Sea program.  I wanted to give my students some real world experience with statistics.  I try to create my own data for students, but I end up using the same data from the Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Major League Baseball, etc.  I had one student a couple of years ago in Algebra 2 Honors who is a weather lover.  His favorite website is NOAA, and he would give me the daily weather or hurricane updates.  Any time we had a baseball game, he would be able to tell me if we were going to be able to play the game.  Being able to provide him and his classmates projects using data from something he loves will help me to reach that one student.  Hopefully, I might even spark interest in other students.

Helping my students to become statisticians is the main reason I applied; however, I also applied to challenge myself.  Throughout my life, I have not been the kind of person who deals well with creepy crawly things.  Being on a ship on the ocean will definitely force me to deal with that.  I want to do my very best to get involved in all kinds of neat activities.  I hope “Cool Beans!” will be my daily saying.

I am really looking forward to working with the scientists on the Gordon Gunter.  Having read as much as I can about the Passive Acoustic Research Group has helped me to understand a little of what we will be doing on our 15-day journey.  I hope that I can help them to further their research to learn the patterns that cetaceans use to communicate with each other!

Staci DeSchryver: When They Go Low, We Go High (Pilot Whales, that Is!): A view of Cetaceans using Drone Technology July 17, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard: Oscar Elton Sette

Cruise Dates: July 6 – Aug 2

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Northeast of Kauai, headed toward Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI)

Location:  24 deg 41.9 min N, 170 deg 51.2 min W

Date:  July 17, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Visibility:  10 Nmi

Scattered Clouds

Wind:  11 kts at 90 deg

Pressure: 1018.2mb

Wave height: 1-3 m

Swell at 50 deg, 2-3 ft

Air Temp: 29 degrees

Wet Bulb Temp: 25 degrees

Dewpoint: 28 degrees

 

Science Log

Technology definitely finds its way into every corner of life, and cetacean studies are certainly no exception.   One of the most recent additions to the Cetacean team’s repertoire of technology is a fleet of UAS, or unmanned aerial systems.  (UAS is a fancy term for a drone, in this case a hexacopter.  Yes, we are definitely using drones on this mission.  This seriously cannot get much cooler.)  HICEAS 2017 is utilizing these UAS systems to capture overhead photos of cetaceans in the water as they surface.  And the best part of all of this?  I was selected to be a part of team UAS!  

 

The UAS can only fly under certain atmospheric conditions.  It can’t be too windy and the seas can’t be too rough.  We had the chance to practice flying the hexacopters on one of the few days we were off the Kona coast of the Big Island, where the wind and seas are typically calmer.  Dr. Amanda Bradford is leading the HICEAS 2017 drone operations.  She is involved in securing air clearance that might be required for a hexacopter flight, as well as all of the operations that take place in preparation for deployment – of which there are many. The UAS is launched preferentially from a small boat, although it can be launched from the ship.  So, in order to do boat-based UAS operations, we must first launch a boat off of the side of the ship.  There are four people involved in the small boat UAS operations – the UAS pilot, the UAS ground station operator (Dr. Bradford and scientist Kym Yano alternate these positions), a coxswain to drive the small boat (NOAA crewmember Mills Dunlap) and a visual observer/data keeper (me!)  for each flight the hexacopter makes.

We all load up our gear and equipment onto the small boat, along with the coxswain and one team member, from the side of the ship.  The ship then lowers the boat to the water, the remaining teams members embark, and we are released to move toward the animals we are trying to photograph.  I don’t have any photographs of us loading on to the ship because the operation is technical and requires focus, so taking photos during that time isn’t the best idea.  I will say that the whole process is really exciting, and once I got the hang of getting on and off the ship, pretty seamless.

 

Our first trip out was just to practice the procedure of getting into the small boat, flying the UAS on some test flights, and returning back to the ship.  The goal was to eventually fly the hexacopter over a group of cetaceans and use the camera docked on the hexacopter to take photogrammetric measurements of the size and condition  of the animals.

Launching a hexacopter from a boat is quite different from launching one on land.  Imagine what would happen if the battery died before you brought it back to the boat!  This is why numerous ground tests and calibrations took place before ever bringing this equipment out over water.  The batteries on the hexacopter are good, but as a security measure, the hexacopter must be brought back well before the batteries die out, otherwise we have a hexacopter in the water, and probably a lot emails from higher ups to answer as a result.  Each time the hexacopter flies and returns back to the small boat, the battery is changed out as a precaution.  Each battery is noted and an initial voltage is taken on the battery before liftoff.  The flights we made lasted around10 minutes.  As soon as the battery voltage hits a certain low level, the pilot brings the hexacopter back toward the boat to be caught.  My job as the note taker was to watch the battery voltage as the hexacopter comes back to the small boat and record the lowest voltage to keep track of battery performance.

 

The UAS has two parts, one for each scientist – the pilot (who directs the hexacopter over the animals), and a ground station operator.  This person watches a computer-like screen from the boat that has two parts – a dashboard with information like altitude, time spent in flight, battery voltage, distance, and GPS coverage.  The bottom portion of the ground station shows a monitor that is linked to the camera on the hexacopter in real time.

The pilot has remote control of the hexacopter and the camera, and the ground station operator is responsible for telling the pilot when to snap a photo (only she can see from the monitor when the animals are in view), watching the battery voltage, and the hand launching and landing of the drone.  As the hexacopter is in flight, it is the coxswain’s and my responsibility to watch for obstacles like other boats, animals, or other obstructions that might interfere with the work or our safety.

 

To start a flight, the hexacopter is hooked up to a battery and the camera settings (things like shutter speed, ISO, and F-stop for the photographers out there) are selected. 

The ground station operator stands up while holding the hexacopter over her head.  The pilot then begins the takeoff procedures.  Once the drone is ready to fly, the ground station operator lets go of the drone and begins monitoring the ground station.  One important criterion that must be met is that the animals must never come within 75 overhead feet of the drone.  This is so that the drone doesn’t interfere with the animals or cause them to change their behavior.  Just imagine how difficult it is to find an animal in a camera frame being held by a drone and flown by someone else while looking on a monitor to take a photo from a minimum of 75 feet from sea level!  But Amanda and Kym accomplished this task multiple times during the course of our flights, and got some great snapshots to show for it.

 

On the first day of UAS testing, we took two trips out – one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.  On our morning trip, Kym and Amanda took 5 practice flights, launching and catching the hexacopter and changing between piloting and ground station monitoring.  In the afternoon, we were just getting ready to pack up and head back to the ship when out of the corner of my eye I saw a series of splashes at the ocean surface.  Team.  I had a sighting of spinner dolphins!   I barely stuttered out the words, “Oh my God, guys!  There are dolphin friends right over there!!!!”  (Side note:  this is probably not how you announce a sighting in a professional marine mammal observer scenario, but I was just too excited to spit anything else out.  I mean, they were Right. There.  And right when we needed some mammals to practice on, too!)  They were headed right past the boat, and we were in a prime position to capture some photos of them.  We launched the hexacopter and had our first trial run of aerial cetacean photography.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

On the second day, we had a pilot whale sighting, and the call came over the radio to launch the small boat.  Things move really fast on a sighting when there is a small boat launch.  One minute I was up on the flying bridge trying to get some snapshots, and the next I was grabbing my camera and my hard hat and making a speedy break for the boat launch.  We spent a good portion of the morning working the pilot whale group, taking photos of the whales using the hexacopter system.  We were lucky in that these whales were very cooperative with us.  Many species of whales are not good candidates for hexacopter operations because they tend to be skittish and will move away from the noise of a small boat (or a large one for that matter).  These little fellas seemed to be willing participants, as if they knew what we were trying to accomplish would be good for them as a species.  They put on quite a show of logging (just hanging out at the surface), spyhopping, and swimming in tight subgroups for us to get some pretty incredible overhead photographs.  I also had the chance to take some great snapshots of dorsal fins up close, as well.

These side-long photos of dorsal fins help the scientific team to identify individuals.  There were times when the whales were less than twenty yards from the boat, not because we went to them, but because they were interested in us.  Or they were interested in swimming in our general direction because they were following a delicious fish, and I’d be happy with either, but I’d like to think they wanted to know what exactly we were up to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

While photographing the whales a couple of interesting “other” things happened.  I had a brief reminder that I was definitely not at the top of the food chain when Mills pointed out the presence of two whitetip sharks skimming beneath the surface of the water.  Apparently these sharks know that pilot whales can find delicious fish and sort of hang out around pilot whale groups hoping to capitalize.  I wondered if this was maybe my spirit animal as I am following a group of scientists and capitalizing on their great adventures in the Pacific Ocean, as well.

Another “other” thing that happened was some impromptu outreach.  While working on the small boat, other boats approached the whales hoping to get some up close snapshots and hang out with them for a bit, as well.  Two were commercial operations that appeared to be taking tour groups either snorkeling or whale watching, and one was just a boat of vacationers out enjoying the day.  The scientific team took the opportunity to approach these boats, introduce us, and explain what we were doing over the whale groups.  They also took the opportunity to answer questions and mention the HICEAS 2017 mission to spread the word about our study.  It was a unique opportunity in that fieldwork, apart from internet connections, is done in relative isolation in this particular setting.  Real-time outreach is difficult to accomplish in a face-to-face environment.  In this case, the team made friendly contacts with approximately 45 people right out on the water.  Congenial smiles and waves were passed between the passengers on the boats and the scientific team, and I even saw a few cell phones taking pictures of us.  Imagine the potential impact of one school-aged child seeing us working with the whales on the small boats and thinking, “I want to do that for a career someday.”  What a cool thing to be a part of.

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Personal Log

Over the last couple of days, the ship was near the coast of the Big Island, Hawai’i.  One morning, we approached on the Hilo side, which is where Mauna Loa is spewing forth her new basaltic earth.  It treks down the side of the volcano, red-hot and caustic, only to be tempered immediately as soon as it strikes the anesthetic waters of the Pacific.  Having never seen real lava before, I was hoping to capitalize on the big eyes and catch a glimpse of it as it splashed into the ocean’s cool recesses, forming solid rock and real estate on the side of the mountain.  Unfortunately, I failed to account for the laws of thermodynamics – forgetting that hot things make water evaporate and re-condense into steam.  I suppose I was just romanticizing the idea that I could possibly see this phenomenon from an angle that not many get to see it from – miles out on the Pacific Ocean. And the truth is, I did, just not in the way I had imagined.   I did get to see large plumes of steam extending up from the shoreline as the lava met its inevitable demise.  While I didn’t get to see actual real lava, there was definitely hard evidence that it was there, hidden underneath the plumes of white-hot condensation.  I took a few photos that turned out horribly, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I almost sort of saw lava.  (I know, I know.  Cool story, bro.)  If you can’t believe that fish tale, surely you won’t believe what I’m about to tell you next – I didn’t see the lava – but I heard it.

Starting in the wee hours of the morning, the acoustics team deployed the array only to find an unidentified noise – a loud, sharp, almost cracking or popping noise.  They tried to localize the noise only to find out that it was coming from the shores of the big island.  Sure enough, when they figured it out, the acoustics lab was a popular place to be wearing headphones.  The snapping and cracking they were hearing was the lava cooling and cracking just beneath the ocean surface on the lava bench.  So, I didn’t see the lava, but I heard it solidifying and contracting on the acoustics system.  How cool is that?

 

Ship Quiz:

Why do the head stalls (AKA bathroom stalls) lock on both sides of the door?

  1.       So that you can lock your friends in the bathroom as a mean prank
  2.      Extra protection from pirates
  3.       To give yourself one extra step to complete to get to the toilet when you really gotta go
  4.      To keep the doors from slamming with the natural movement of the ship

If you said “D”, you are correct!  The bathrooms lock on both sides because if left to their own devices, they would swing and bang open and shut with the constant motions of the ship.  So, when you use the bathroom, you have to lock it back when you finish.  Now you know!

 

 

Staci DeSchryver: Listening with Your Eyes – How the Acoustics Team “Sees” in Sound, July 10, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Kona Coast, Hawaii

Date:  July 10, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

TAS DeScrhryver_weather data

Location and Weather Data

 

Science Log

While the visual team is working hard on the flying bridge, scanning the waters for our elusive cetacean friends, acoustics is down in the lab listening for any clues that there might be “something” out there.

TAS DeSchryver array

The hydrophone array is a long microphone pulled behind the ship

At any given time, two acousticians are listening to the sounds of the ocean via a hydrophone array. This array is a long microphone pulled behind the ship as she cuts through the water.  When the acousticians hear a click or a whistle, a special computer program localizes (or determines the distance to) the whistle or the click.

But it’s not quite as simple as that. There’s a lot of noise in the ocean.  The array will pick up other ship noise, cavitation (or bubbles from the propeller) on our ship, or anything it “thinks” might be a cetacean.  The acoustics team must determine which sounds are noise and which sounds belong to a mammal.  What the acousticians are looking for is something called a “click train.” These are sound produced by dolphins when they are foraging or socializing and are a good indicator of a nearby cetacean. On the computer screen, any ambient noise shows up as a plotted point on an on-screen graph.  When the plotted points show up in a fixed or predictable pattern, then it could be a nearby cetacean.

The acousticians are also listening to the sounds on headphones.  When they hear a whistle or a click, they can find the sound they’ve heard on the plotted graph.  On the graphical representation of the sounds coming in to the hydrophone, the x-axis of the graph is time, and the y-axis is a “bearing” angle.  It will tell which angle off the ship from the front the noise is coming from.  For example, if the animal is right in front of the bow of the ship, the reading would be 0 degrees.  If it were directly behind the ship, then the plotted point would come in at 180 degrees.  With these two pieces of information, acousticians can narrow the location of the animal in question down to two spots on either side of the ship.  When they think they have a significant sound, the acousticians will use the information from the graph to localize the sound and plot it on a map.  Often times they can identify the sound directly to the species, which is an extraordinary skill.

Here’s where things go a little “Fight Club.”  (First rule of fight club?  Don’t talk about fight club.)  Once the acousticians localize an animal, they must determine if it is ahead of the ship or behind it.   Let’s say for example an acoustician hears a Pilot Whale.  He or she will draw a line on a computerized map to determine the distance the whale is to the ship using the data from the graph.

DeSchryver HICEAS-AC20

This is a “clean” localization of a marine mammal. Notice the two spots where the lines cross – those are the two possible locations of the mammal we are tracking. The ship is the red dot, the blue dots are the hydrophone as it is towed behind the ship.

Because the hydrophones are in a line, the location provided from the array shows on the left and the right sides.  So, the map plots both of those potential spots.  The two straight lines from the ship to the animal make a “V” shape.  As the ship passes the animal, the angle of the V opens up until it becomes a straight line, much like opening a book to lay it flat on the table and viewing how the pages change from the side.  As long as the animal or animal group is ahead of the ship, the acousticians will alert no one except the lead scientist, and especially not the marine observers.  If a crew member or another scientist who is not observing mammals just so happens to be in the acoustics lab when the localization happens, we are sworn to secrecy, as well.  Sometimes an acoustician will send a runner to get the lead scientist to discreetly tell her that there is something out there.

TAS DeSchryver HICEAS-AC25

The screenshot on the left shows a series of spotted dolphin “click trains.” Notice the marks all in a line along the graph. The right photo shows the various localizations that the acoustics team has picked up from the click train graph. The red dot is the ship, the gray line is the “track line”, and the two blue dots behind the ship are the hydrophone arrays. Notice the V shape gradually goes to a straight line and then turns in the opposite direction.

 

This way, the lead scientist can begin the planning stages for a chase on the mammals to do a biopsy, or send the UAS out to get photos with the Hexacopter.  (More on this later.)

As the mammals “pass the beam” (the signal is perfectly on either side of the ship, and starting to make an upside down V from the ship), the acousticians can alert the visual team of the sighting.  As soon as everyone is aware the mammals are out there, either by sight or sound, the whole scientific group goes “off effort,” meaning we funnel our energy in to counting and sighting the mammals we have found.  When this happens, communication is “open” between the acoustics team and the visual team.  The visual team can direct the bridge to head in any direction, and as long as it’s safe to do so, the bridge will aid in the pursuit of the mammals to put us in the best position to get close enough to hopefully identify the species.  Today, one mammal observer had a sighting almost 6 miles away from the ship, and she could identify the species from that distance, as well!  Even cooler is that it was a beaked whale, which is an elusive whale that isn’t often sighted.   They have the capability of diving to 1000m to forage for food!

When the visual team has a sighting, the three visual observers who are on shift have the responsibility to estimate the group size.

TAS DeSchryver chris takes photos

Chris captures photos of Melon Headed Whales for Photo ID.

 

Here we go with Fight Club again – no one can talk to one another about the group sizes.  Each mammal observer keeps their totals to themselves.  This is so that no one can sway any other person’s opinion on group size and adds an extra element of control to the study.  It is off limits to talk about group sizes among one another even after the sighting is over. We must always be vigilant of not reviewing counts with one another, even after the day is done.  The scientific team really holds solid to this protocol.

Once the sighting is over, all parties resume “on effort” sightings, and the whole process starts all over again.

Now, you might be thinking, “Why don’t they just wait until acoustics has an animal localized before sending the mammal team up to look for it?

TAS DeSchryver ernesto big eyes

Ernesto on the “Big Eyes” during a Melon Headed Whale Visual Chase

Surely if acoustics isn’t hearing anything, then there must not be anything out there.”  As I am writing this post, the visual team is closing in on a spotted dolphin sighting about 6.5 miles away.  The acoustics did not pick up any vocalizations from this group.

TAS DeSchryver acoustics lab 2

Shannon and Jen in the acoustics lab “seeing” the sounds of the ocean.

This also happened this morning with the beaked whale.  Both teams really do need one another in this process of documenting cetaceans.  Further, the acoustics team in some cases can’t determine group sizes from the vocals alone.  They need the visual team to do that.  Each group relies on and complements one another with their own talents and abilities to conduct a completely comprehensive search.  When adding in the hexacopter drone to do aerial photography, we now have three components working in tandem – a group that uses their eyes to see the surface, a group that uses the ocean to “see” the sounds, and a group that uses the air to capture identifying photographs.  It truly is an interconnected effort.

 

Personal Log

I haven’t gotten the chance to discuss just how beautiful Hawai’i is.  I would think that it is generally understood that Hawai’i is beautiful – it’s a famed tourist destination in an exotic corner of the Pacific Ocean. But you have to see it to believe it.

TAS DeSchryver melon-headed whales

Melon-Headed Whales take an evening ride alongside the starboard side of Sette.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the islands from a unique perspective as an observer from the outside looking inland, and I just can’t let the beauty of this place pass without mention and homage to its stunning features.

Hawai’i truly is her own artist.  Her geologic features create the rain that builds her famed rainbows, which in turn gives her the full color palate she uses to create her own landscape.  The ocean surrounding the shores of Hawai’i are not just blue – they are cerulean with notes of turquoise, royal, and sage.  She will not forget to add her contrasting crimson and scarlet in the hibiscus and bromeliads that dot the landscape. At night when the moon shines on the waters, the ocean turns to gunmetal and ink, with wide swaths of brass and silver tracing the way back up to the moon that lights our path to the sea.  With time, all of her colors come out to dance along the landscape – including the sharp titanium white foam that crashes against the black cliffs along Kona.  And if a hue is errantly missed in her construction of the landscape, early morning showers sprout wide rainbows as a sign of good fortune, and as a reminder that she forgets no tones of color as she creates.

It is our responsibility to protect these waters, this landscape – this perfect artistry.  It is critically important to protect the animals that live in the ocean’s depths and the ones that cling to the island surface in their own corner of paradise.  I like to think that this study takes on this exact work.  By giving each of these species a name and identifying them to each individual group, we share with the world that these cetaceans are a family of their own with a habitat and a purpose.  When we “re-sight” whales that the team has seen in past studies, we further solidify that those animals have families and a home amongst themselves.   The photo identification team counts every new scar, marking, and change in these animals to piece together the story of their lives since they last met with the scientists.  Everyone on Oscar Elton Sette  talks about the new calves as if we were at the hospital with them on the day of their birth, celebrating the new life they’ve brought forth to continue their generations.  I like to think we all make a little room in the corner of our hearts for them as a part of our family, as well.

Did you know?

The Frigate bird has a Hawaiian name, “Iwa”, which means “thief.”  They call this bird “thief” because they steal prey right from the mouths of other birds!

 

“Spyhopping” is the act of a whale poking his head out of the water and bobbing along the surface.

 

It is legal for research ships to fish off the ship, so long as we eat what we catch while underway.  This led to the shared consumption of some delicious mahi mahi, fresh from the depths for lunch today.  Yes.  It was as good as it sounds.

 

Oscar Elton Sette knows how to celebrate!  Yesterday was Adam’s birthday, a marine mammal observer.  They decorated the mess in birthday theme, cranked up the dinnertime music, and the stewards made Adam his favorite – blueberry cheesecake for dessert!

 

Much of the crew likes to pitch in with food preparation.  The on ship doctor, “Doc”, makes authentic eastern dishes, and the crew made barbeque for everyone a few nights ago at dinner.

Staci DeSchryver: Exploring HICEAS on the High Seas! June 20, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

Mission:  Cetacean Study

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Hawaiian EEZ

Current Location:  Impatiently waiting to sail in Centennial, Colorado

Date:  June 20

Weather Data from the “Bridge” (AKA My Sun Porch):

wxdata_0620

Here’s the weather data from the “Bridge” in Centennial. (In Station Model format, of course. How else would we practice?)

 

Personal Log – An Introduction

Hello!  My name is Staci DeSchryver and I will be traveling this upcoming July on the Oscar Elton Sette as part of the HICEAS program!

I am an Oceanography, Meteorology, and Earth Science teacher at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, CO.  This August will kick off my 14th (yikes!) year teaching.  I know you might be thinking, “Why Oceanography in a landlocked state?”  Well, the reason why I can and do teach Oceanography is because of Teacher At Sea.  I am an alumna, so this is my second official voyage through the Teacher At Sea program.  It was all of the wonderful people I met, lessons I learned, and science that I participated in on the

 

DeSchryverIntroPic

This is my husband, Stephen, and I, at the game that sent the Broncos to the Superbowl!

 

Oscar Dyson in 2011 that led me to encourage my school to put an Oceanography course in place for seniors as a capstone course.  This past year was the first year for the Oceanography and Meteorology courses, and they were very well received!  I have three sections of each class next year, as well!  (Shout out to all my recent senior grads reading this post! You were awesome!)  We study our World’s Ocean from the top of the water column all the way to the deepest parts of the Marianas Trench, and from the tiniest atom all the way up to the largest whale.  I  believe it is one of the most comprehensive courses offered to our students – incorporating geology, chemistry, physics, and biology, but then again, I’m a bit biased.

Apart from being a teacher, I am a wife to my husband of 8 years, Stephen.  We don’t have children, but we do have two hedgehogs, Tank and Willa, who keep us reasonably busy.  Willa only has one eye, and Tank is named Tank because he’s abnormally large for a hedgie.  They are the best lil’ hedgies we know.  We enjoy camping, rock climbing, and hiking – the typical Coloradans, though we are both originally from Michigan.  When we aren’t spending time together, I like to dance ballet, read, write, and I recently picked up a new weightlifting habit, which has led me to an entire new lifestyle of health and wellness with an occasional interjection of things like Ice Cream topped with caramel and Nachos when in the “off” season (hey, nobody’s perfect).

I will be leaving for Honolulu, Hawaii on July 4th to meet up with the fine scientists that make up the HICEAS team.  What is HICEAS?  Read below to find out more about HICEAS and the research we will be doing onboard!

Science Log

The HICEAS (Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey) is a study of Cetaceans (Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises) and their habitats.  Cetaceans live in the ocean, and are characterized by being carnivorous (we will get along just fine at the dinner table) and having fins (since I am a poor swimmer, I will humbly yield to what I can only assume is their instinctive expertise).  This means that the study will cover all manners of these majestic creatures – from whales that are definitely easily identifiable as whales to whales that look like dolphins but are actually whales to porpoises that really look like whales but are actually dolphins and dolphins that look like dolphins that are dolphins and…  are you exhausted yet?  Here’s some good news – porpoises aren’t very common in Hawaiian waters, so that takes some of the stress out of identifying one of those groups, though we will still be on the lookout.  Here’s where it gets tricky – it won’t be enough to just sight a whale, for example and say, “Hey! We have a whale!”  The observers will be identifying the actual species of the whale (or dolphin or possible-porpoise).  The observers who tackle this task are sharp and quick at what is truly a difficult and impressive skill.  I’m sure this will be immediately confirmed when they spot, identify, and carry on before I say, “Wait! Where do you see it?”

hawaiian_archipelago_map_sm

This is the research area for the HICEAS project. Map/photo is credited directly to the HICEAS website, https://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/hiceas/whats_hiceas.php

There are 25 cetacean species native to Hawaiian waters, so that’s a big order to fill for the observers.  And we will be out on the water until we locate every last one.  Just kidding.  But we will be looking to spot all of these species, and once found, we will do our best to estimate how many there are overall as a stock estimate.  Ideally, these cetacean species will be classified into three categories – delphinids (dolphins and a few dolphin-like whales), deep diving whales (whales with teeth), and baleen whales (of the “swim away!” variety).  Once identified in this broad sense, they will then be identified by species.  However, I do have a feeling these two categorizations happen all at once.

Once the data is collected, there is an equation that is used to project stock estimates for the whole of the Pacific.  More on this later, but I will just start by saying for all you math folk out there, it’s some seriously sophisticated data extrapolation.  It involves maths that I have yet to master, but I have a month to figure it out, so it’s not looking too bleak for me just yet.  In the meantime, I’m spending my time trying to figure out which cetaceans that look like dolphins are actually possible-porpoises, and which dolphins that look like dolphins are actually whales.

Goals and Objectives of the HICEAS

The HICEAS study operates as a part of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SFSC), both under the NOAA umbrella.  Our chief scientist is Dr. Erin Oleson, who will be the lead on this leg of the cruise. HICEAS last collected data in 2010, and is now ready for the next round of stock assessments.  HICEAS is a 187-day study, of which we will be participating in approximately 30 of those days for this particular leg.  Our research area is 2.5 million square kilometers, and covers the whole of the Hawaiian Archipelago and it’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ!  The HICEAS study has three primary goals:

  1.  Estimate the number of cetaceans in Hawaii.
  2.  Examine their population structure.
  3.   Understand their habitat.

Studies like the HICEAS are pretty rare (2002, 2010, and now 2017), so the scientists are doing their best to work together to collect as much information as they possibly can during the study.  From what I can gather in lead-up chats with on board scientist Kym Yano, we will be traveling along lines called “transects” in the Pacific Ocean, looking for all the popular Cetacean hangouts.  When a cetacean is sighted, we move toward the lil’ guy (or gal) and all his friends to take an estimate, and if it permits, a biopsy.  There is a second team of scientists working below deck listening for Cetacean gossip (whale calls) as well.  Acoustic scientists will record the whale or dolphin calls for later review and confirmation of identification of species, and, of course, general awesomeness.

But that’s not all!

We will also be dropping CTD’s twice per day, which is pretty standard ocean scientific practice.  Recall that the CTD will give us an idea of temperature, salinity, and pressure variations with depth, alerting us to the presence and locations of any of the “clines” – thermocline, halocline, and pycnocline.  Recall that in areas near the equator, rapid changes of temperature, salinity, and density with depth are pretty common year-round, but at the middle latitudes, these form and dissipate through the course of the solar year. These density changes with depth can block nutrients from moving to the surface, which can act as a cutoff to primary production.  Further, the CTD readings will help the acoustic scientists to do their work, as salinity and temperature variations will change the speed of sound in water.

There will also be a team working to sight sea birds and other marine life that doesn’t fall under the cetacean study (think sea turtles and other fun marine life).  This study is enormous in scope.  And I’m so excited to be a part of it!

Pop Quiz:

What is the difference between a porpoise and a dolphin?  

It has to do with 3 identifiers:  Faces, Fins, and Figures.

According to NOAA’s Ocean Service Website…

Faces:  Dolphins have prominent “beaks” and cone-shaped teeth, while Porpoises have smaller mouths and teeth shaped like spades.

Fins: Dolphin’s dorsal (back) fins are curved, while porpoises fins are more triangle-shaped

Figures: Dolphins are leaner, and porpoises are more “portly.”

Dolphins are far more prevalent, and far more talkative.  But both species are wicked-smart, using sonar to communicate underwater.

Resources:

HICEAS website

Bradford, A. L., Forney, K. A., Oleson, E. M., & Barlow, J. (2017). Abundance estimates of cetaceans from a line-transect survey within the U.S. Hawaiian Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. Fishery Bulletin, 115(2), 129-142. doi:10.7755/fb.115.2.1