Donna Knutson, September 15, 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 15, 2010

KILLER WHALES!

I am holding a tuna that Mills caught.

 

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”,aound Hawaii.  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. Aquatic bird sightings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Killer Whales coming up for air.

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
Orca is another name for Killer Whale.  They are some of the best known cetaceans.  Killer whales are the largest members of dolphin family.
Killer Whales are easily recognized by their huge dorsal fin that is located in the middle of their backs.  The male’s dorsal fin is usually between three and six feet high.  Orcas have unique flippers that are large broad and rounded.  Their bodies have a black and white color pattern.
The male Killer Whale can reach thirty feet long and weigh at least twelve thousand pounds.  The females are smaller in size reaching only twenty-six feet long and weigh eight thousand four hundred pounds.  The females may outlive the males by twenty to thirty years, living between eighty to ninety years.
 Killer Whales are not limited to any particular region.  Depending on the prey they prefer, Killer Whales can be found in cold or warm climates.  Orcas have a varied diet which may consist of fish, squid, large baleen whales, sperm whales, sea turtles, seals, sharks, rays, deer and moose.  Pods tend to specialize in a particular food and follow it.  Killer Whales tend to use cooperative hunting groups for large prey.
Orcas form matrilineal groups sometimes containing four generations.  All females help with calf rearing.  The females are more social and may be associated with more than one pod, but males are usually by themselves.  One group near British Columbia contained approximately sixty whales.
Killer Whales are not endangered, but numbers are declining in Washington and British Columbia.  The reasons for the decrease in whale numbers is not known, but possible factors may include chemical or noise pollution or a decrease in the food supply.
Personal Log:

In the middle is a mother with her calf.

I was just leaving the bridge after the XO (executive officer) asked me if I would like to join her and Doctor Tran to Midway tomorrow.  I knew we were stopping to pick up Jason, a Monk Seal Biologist who needed a boat ride from Midway to Kure Island, but I heard no one was going ashore.  So when she asked, I was totally thrilled and extremely excited to get my feet wet and of course said yes!
As I was leaving the bridge I decided to check out what was doing on the flying bridge.  When I got up there, everyone was on goggles or the big eyes, so I asked Aly what was going on.  She said someone saw a “black fish”, meaning something was seen, but not identified, and she offered me the big eyes she was looking through.  I looked maybe for five seconds and said, “I see it”!  This is very rare for me to see something so quickly!  I’m thinking, “I just saw a KILLER WHALE!!” but no one was excited or talking about it.  So now I begin to doubt myself, “That was a Killer Whale right?”

Three adults and a calf.

In the middle of my self -doubt, Adam comes running up the ladder screaming, “KILLER WHALE!!”  Drat why didn’t I say anything!  There wasn’t only one, but five killer whales!  One was a mother with her small calf! Wow what amazing animals! I couldn’t stop staring, and I wasn’t the only one.  There was a “full house” on deck again with everyone oooing and ahing.
Orcas aren’t typically seen in this area, but then again this is a survey ship, and this area hasn’t been surveyed in a very long time.
When the small boat was launched to try and tag one of the adult whales with a tracking device, they dove never to be seen again.  These animals are just too smart.  What an extraordinary experience!
Tomorrow I will have another adventure!  An adventure few people have taken.  I am going to Midway.  Midway Atoll is now a National Wildlife Refuge and also holds the Battle of Midway National Memorial.  I’m off to see a glimpse of our nation’s past and a birding and seal paradise!

Orca by itseft.

Donna Knutson, September 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 12, 2010

Pearl and Hermes

Me on the “Big Eyes”.

 

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabirds sittings will also be documented.

Jay, a steward, checking out the action!

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 27○ 40.6’ N
Longitude: 175○ 48.7’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature:  27.5○ C
Air Temperature:  27.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.2 mb

A busy flying bridge.

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

Atolls are the remnants of ancient volcanoes.  Over millions of years, volcanic eruptions spill magma onto the sea floor.  The lava eventually becomes higher than sea level creating an island.  With the surface exposed, the now dead volcanoes began to shrink and erode.  Over time the island becomes very flat and barely above the water.  Corals grow in shallow water around the boundaries of the island.  Eventually the island erodes away only leaving the coral reefs around them and a large lagoon in the middle.  Through the actions of wind and waves, sand and coral debris come together to make up small islands called islets in a few places where the original large island used to be.

Ernesto and Allan ready to shoot for biopsy samples.

In 2003 the Pearl and Hermes reef measured 300,000 acres.  This area is home to thirty three species of stony coral.  The islets provide a needed stopping and resting area for seals, turtles and birds.  About 160,000 seabirds of seventeen different species nest at Pearl and Hermes.
The ocean surrounding Pearl and Hermes had never been properly surveyed for cetaceans.  The HICEAS cruise discovered the water is also rich in wildlife, particularly cetaceans.  The beaked whale is one of these cetaceans.  There are twenty different species of beaked whales, but the two found in these waters were the Curvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whales.
One way to tell them all apart from each other is their teeth.  The males all have different sizes, shapes and positions of their teeth in their bottom jaw.  The females and juveniles do not have teeth and need to be identified by other means such as the shape of their beak (rostrum).  Curvier’s Beaked whale has virtually no beak, the melon of the head slopes smoothly onto a short thick beak. It has a sort of “fish face”.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has a moderately long beak.  The melon for the head is small and flat.

Yvonne and Sussanah listening in.

Blainville’s and Curvier’s Beaked Whales seem to have opposite coloring.  The Curvier’s Beaked Whale has a white face and the white coloring continues on to the top of back.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has the dark gray color on the back and the lighter grey on the underside.
Size is another difference between the whales.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale is smaller with adult males measuring up to fourteen feet six inches and the Curvier’s whale at twenty three feet.  All male beaked whales are smaller than the females, but not by much and that is unusual compared to the other species mentioned in previous logs.
Personal Log:

Eddie looking at whales.

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

In addition to the sightings, Yvonne Barkley, Sussanah Calderan and Niky where listening attentively to the sounds picked up by the array.  The array has four mini-mircophones housed in a long rubber cable that picks up various sound frequencies.  The acousticians are inside the ship recording and  analyzing the sounds they hear.  Working together really paid off!  A lot of ocean was covered and many animals were discovered.

Beaked Whales

I brought a plastic lawn chair up on the flying bridge because even though I want to write, I don’t want to miss out on any of the action.  I wasn’t the only one who wanted a look at the animals, the second steward Jay came up to also take a look through the “big eyes”.   I can’t imagine a boat that has a friendlier, more supporting crew!

Bottlenose Dolphin

Some of the sightings included Bottlenose Dolphins, the Curvier’s Beaked Whale, the Blainsville’s Beaked Whale and Sperm Whales (mentioned in log #3), Spinner Dolphins, and Rough Toothed Dolphins (mentioned in log#2).
To me the most exciting part of the two day survey was when the Bottlenose Dolphins were swimming in front of the bow.  At one time there were sixteen abreast.  All sizes of dolphins playing and “singing” right in front of us!  Their whistles were much louder than I ever imagined!
The dolphins were jumping over each other and swimming on their sides and on their backs belly up.  It almost seemed to be a contest on silliness.  It makes your heart warm when they look you in the eye and seem to want your attention.  They had my attention the whole time they swam there!  I had to get up on tip toe just to look over the edge as they were so close to the rush of water caused by the ship.  The group was traveling and frolicking effortlessly in front of a ship going ten knots! I stayed on tiptoe until the last dolphin drifted away to join the rest of the pack.
The Bottlenose Dolphin is definitely the friendliest, playful cetacean I have seen for far!

Donna Knutson, September 10, 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 29, 2010

Kogia!

September 10, 2010

Me and Kogia!


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. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Kogia with sharks.

Latitude: 25○ 35.5’ N
Longitude: 166○ 20.4’ W
Clouds: 3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.5○ C
Air Temperature: 25.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1021.6 mb

There are two types of Kogia. Kogia is a genus name and the two types (species) are the breviceps and the sima. The common name of breviceps is pygmy and the common name for sima is dwarf. These animals are called sperm whales even though they are much smaller because they too have the spermaceti organ located in their heads just like their much larger relative.

One unique feature they do not share with the large sperm whale is a sac in their lower intestine that can hold approximately three gallons of syrupy, re-brown liquid. The dwarf and pygmy sperm whales will expel the liquid when they feel threatened as a defense mechanism. The liquid will cloud the water temporarily allowing time for the whale to escape.

Notice Kogis’s small mouth.

These are not very large whales. The pygmy sperm whale has a maximum length of eleven feet six inches and a maximum weight of nine hundred pounds. The smaller dwarf sperm whale has a maximum of eight feet ten inches and a weight of at least four hundred and sixty pounds.

It is very hard to tell these whales apart, especially in the water. Their dorsal fins are different in that the dwarf has a higher more pointed fin which is set farther back toward the tail than the pygmy which has a more curved dorsal fin in the middle of its body. Their heads have a slightly different shape also. The pygmy sperm whales head is blunt and is more square.

Mills eating in front of the scientists taking measurements.
“If there was ever a “Zissou”esque moment that is it!” from Team Zissou, Life Aquatic

They are both a bluish steel gray color and have a pinkish line where a gill slit would be on a fish. Because of this marking, the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales have often been falsely identified as sharks.
Both species of Kogia can be found at great depths in the tropical and temperate latitudes. They are relatively widespread but they are not abundant. Despite their large range relatively is known about these species. It is hard to find these whales in the wild because they do not “show off”. They do not jump or move in groups together. Even their blow is faint if not invisible.

Left side of Kogia.

Like the large sperm whales the dwarf and the pygmy sperm whales feed mostly on jellyfish, but also on shrimp, crab and fish.
A number of these whales have been stranded and the necropsy showed a gut blockage caused by plastic bags. People usually do not hunt pygmy and dwarf sperm whales for food, but because of their size they are occasionally trapped in fishing nets.
Personal Log:
After lunch on the flying deck Allan Ligon, mammal observer, was viewing through the “big eyes”. He said he saw something green in the water and said it was probably the shadow of an underwater net. As the ship got closer to the object he thought he was seeing a dead shark. A few minutes later he realized it was a dead whale with sharks feeding on it. The green color was caused by the whale’s blood dripping from bite marks.

A close up the head and pectoral fin.

All scientists were on deck to watching viscous sharks. Sure we had all seen similar scenes on television but to see it happen in real life right before your eyes was amazing! There were at least two sharks and they would circle the whale and then attack it. Sometimes a sharks head would come out of the water for a huge powerful bite. Occasionally a shark would push the whale under and swim over it. It definitely reminded me of an animal claiming its kill as the ship approached closer.
The whale was identified as a Kogia because the small mouth narrowed down the possibilities. It was either a breviceps, pygmy sperm whale, or a sima, dwarf sperm whale. Both species of whales are very elusive and are seldom seen on mammal survey cruises. Because there is a lot to learn about these whales, it was decided to bring the whale on board.

Kogia’s teeth in it’s small lower jaw.

Not only was the science crew excited at the extraordinary find, but every member of the ship was in attendance for the whale “capture”. All the officers, the stewards, the engineers, everyone was watching as the deck crew got prepared to lift the whale on the deck.
The boatswain, pronounced bosun (which is a story in itself), had his crew gaff the whale to the side on the ship. (a gaff is a pole with a hook on the end) Once the whale was close enough a rope was tied around its tail and attached to a crane. The Kogia was lifted easily out of the water. By this time the sharks had given up to the much larger ship and were lurking nearby. With all the blood in the water everyone was being extra careful not to fall in!
Once on deck the damage the sharks had inflicted became evident. Large chunks were missing from the whale’s back, head and tail. Everyone was speculating what kind of whale it was, either the dwarf or the pygmy. Nicky, from the acoustics team, approached Erin the chief scientist and asked her if she could perform a necropsy on the animal. Performing necropsies is part of Nicky’s job description at Southwest Fisheries in California and she has worked on dozens of stranded whales, so Erin was happy to have her handle the sampling.

The biginning of the necropsy.

Nicky got together a kit for dissection and also the containers for the samples and off she went. She had help from Aly Fleming, a grad student and visiting scientist, Corey Sheredy an oceanographer, Andrea Bendlin, mammal observer, and myself. We were all decked out in fishing boots and gloves. My chief job was to bag and label samples and to record data about the size and appearance of the whale “parts”, but I ended up using the scalpel and saw as well.
This was a long process and eventually the working scientists had to go back to their jobs, but Nicky, Aly and I kept working until finished. It took over five hours to look at all the major organs and tissues. We took two samples of every organ. One sample will be sent to Hawaii and the other sample to Southwest Fisheries where Nicky works. In the case of the lungs and testes, (yes we discovered it was a male) we had to take a sample from both the left and the right.

Aly and Nicky showing Kogia’s enormous liver.

Nicky did not think the small intestine felt right. It was extremely hard and compact and felt there might be some kind of blockage as the colon was empty. She made sure to get a feces sample for the lab also. Wow what a highlight! Yes, I am being sarcastic. It is a good thing hands are washable. I couldn’t keep gloves on while writing and sealing bags. It sure looks he was a very sick whale in the digestive system!
Nicky showed me some of the parasites she found in the tissue and also in the blubber. That was something I was surprised by but in hind-site all animals have some kind of parasite, even humans. There was foam in the left lung, much more than in the right. This could mean that the real death was drowning. Whether it was from a blockage or a drowning, it seems likely the sharks came across a dead carcass rather than attacked and killed the whale. The actual results will come when the samples are processed in the lab.

Aly holding the extraordinary liver.

The Kogia’s organs are all very similar to ours, comparing mammal to mammal, with a few exceptions. Their stomach has three distinctive sections and the kidney has many bulbous sections forming one large kidney. I did not do any research of kidneys but Aly believes the old shape in the kidney is due to the complex filtration system needed to remove salts from the whale’s body.
I asked the girls about the ears and they were almost impossible to find, but Andrea discovered one on the left side. It was a tiny pin hole behind the eye. Without specifically looking for it, we would not have seen it. We counted the teeth and there were twenty four (bottom only) which is normal.

Feeding the sharks the remains. Nicky, Aly and I eventually needed to use a pulley, it was too heavy.

Many people from all crew came to check on us, some even brought water. It was extremely hot and no breeze was felt the whole time. It sure was fun dissecting again and doing some comparative anatomy! The girls did a great job, at least from my point of view, they were very knowledgeable and taught me a great deal! Everyone seems proud to be on the Sette and be involved in the unusual tasks that this mission has undertaken.
The remainder of the Kogia was returned back to the sharks and the huge clean-up began. That did not even feel like a chore as we were chatting about the findings the whole time.

Cleaning up. Thanks Kogia for helping us learn more about you!

The type of Kogia (species) will not be known for certain until the test results are in, but most scientists feel 60/40 it is a breviceps or the pygmy sperm whale.

Donna Knutson, September 9, 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 9, 2010

Green Sea Turtle Rescue

 

 
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. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

The tangled mass including the turtle.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 24○ 45.4′ N
Longitude: 163○ 04.2′ W
Clouds: 6/8 Ci, Cu,
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.2○ C
Air Temperature: 25.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1022.0 mb
Green Sea Turtles are very ancient animals. These reptiles were around when the dinosaurs still walked the Earth. Their top and bottom shell is actually much harder than other turtles. Another difference between the Green Sea Turtle and its “cousins” is that the Green Sea Turtle cannot pull its head into its shell.
 
Even though the streamlined shell is extremely tough, it is very lightweight. They do not have feet, but rather flippers which allow them to be graceful swimmers without much effort. They usually swim one mile per hour but can reach thirty-five miles per hour when need be.
Sea animals all need a system to dispose of the increased salt content in their bodies, and the Green Sea Turtle is no exception. It has a salt gland behind each eye. The turtle will shed extra salty tears when it needs to remove the excess salt. So when the turtles seem to “cry” they are only keeping their bodies chemistry in check.
Four of the seven species of sea turtles live in the water surrounding Hawaii. The four types are the Green Sea Turtle, the Hawksbill, the Leatherback and the Olive Ridley. The most common is the Green Sea Turtle.
Adult Green Sea Turtles are herbivores and eat mainly sea grass. The young turtles are carnivorous and eat mainly jellyfish and other invertebrates. The adults can weigh up to five hundred pounds and are usually found around coral reefs. The young turtles wander the sea until they are old enough to mate.
In the wild Green Sea Turtles grow slowly and can take ten to fifty years to reach their sexual maturity. This is one reason the popuation, once depleted, can take many years to recover. Their life span is unknown.

Abbie and Ray after cutting the turtle loose.
The Sette is in the background.

Adult females and males look similar with one exception. The male’s tail is much longer and thicker than the female’s short stubby tail. All the juveniles look the same, so determining sex by outside appearance is not possible.

Females return to nest on the same beach they left as a small turtle out of their eggl. It is unknown how they find their way back much like other animals that seem to have similar senses.

Hawaii’s Green Sea Turtle migrates as far as eight hundred miles from their feeding sites along the coast. The males and females migrate together, mate and return. The females do not mate every year. Ninety percent of the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles lay their eggs on French Frigate Shoals which is area North of Kauai and in the southern part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is estimated that only one percent of hatchling turtles survive to mating age.

Scientists watching and waiting.

Green Sea Turtles have only two predators, man and sharks. People hunt the turtles for their meat, particularly for soup, their shells for souvenirs, and also for their eggs. Depending on their location, Green Sea Turtles are either threatened or endangered. They are threatened in Hawaii and endangered in Florida.

Thousands of Green Sea Turtles die every year by other sources as well. Thousands die in nets and other discarded gear. Plastics are harmful to turtles because once ingested they may clog their digestive systems. Green Sea Turtles have also been suffering from a disease discovered in 1980 that causes tumors. These tumors although harmless may block the throat and cause starvation or grow inside around internal organs.

Ray returning the Green Sea Turtle into the sea.

Little is known what causes the tumors. It is speculated that they might be associated with changes in the ocean environment by pollution, or change in water temperature or increased ultraviolet rays.
Personal Log:
While on the flying deck Eddie Balistreri, an observer, noticed something floating about 300 m from the ship. Abbie Sloan, mammal observer, and Scott Mills, bird observer, spotted a turtle in the floating debris. Juan Carlos Salinas, mammal observer, called to the bridge and asked the helmsman to turn the ship inorder to check out the turtle. While the ship was turning the scientists lost track of the tangled turtle.

I felt the ship turning and heard mention of a turtle on the ship’s radio and quickly got to the deck. Just as I looked down there it was, they had found it, a turtle struggling to keep its head up in the floating mass. You could tell it was alive because it was moving its neck back and forth and bubbles where seen when the turtle submerged.

By this time all sixteen people of the science crew were watching the trapped turtle. They were concerned with its fate because so many of these animals die in nets. It was decided that this was a worthwhile rescue mission and a small boat was launched. Abbie and Ernesto Vazquez, mammal observer, were assigned for this mission. Ray and Mills, both deck hands that have been on every small boat launch, were ready to help the turtle also. The scientists tell me it is very rare to do such a thing on these mammal cruises, and no one had done anything like it on previous cruises.  In other words, I was receiving a great bonus!  Everyone was eager to help out an animal in need.

The small boat did not have to go far before it came to the turtle. It was trying desperately to break free of the fishing net. There were crabs and barnacles also clinging to the net. It is possible the turtle thought it could get an easy meal and accidently got trapped. The turtle seemed healthy judging by the amount it was struggling when the small boat crew pulled the net into the boat.

Ray and Abbie cut the turtle lose and identified it as a Green Sea Turtle. Ray gently lowered the turtle back into the water. The size wasn’t measured but I was told it was the size of a large pizza.  I asked Juan Carlos to guess how old the turtle was, and he estimated it was less than five years old.

The science crew on the flying deck knew when the task was done and the turtle was free because we saw the “high fives” in the small boat. Then it was our turn to cheer! Saving this threatened animal was very rewarding!  Hopefully the little Green Sea Turtle will go on to help populate its species.

It was another great day at sea.

Donna Knutson, September 4-5, 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 4-5, 2010

The Whale Chase

Me on the water in the small boat.

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. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

The dorsal fin of a sperm whale.

Science and Technology

Latitude: 13○ 22.3 N
Longitude: 167○ 17.8 W
Clouds: 6/8 Cu, Cb
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-4 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.1○ C
Air Temperature: 25.5○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1021.2 mb
Spermaceti, which means “sperm of the whale”, is commonly called a sperm whale. These whales had great commercial value in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The head of a sperm whale is filled with a semi-liquid oil which was used for making candles and later for cosmetics. This whale was the “villain” in the Herman Melville’s classic tale, Moby Dick.
Sperm whales are easy to identify at sea by their distinctive blow. They are seen almost anywhere around the world, but they especially like the areas around continental shelves.
Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales. The males can reach sixty feet long while the females are smaller at a maximum of thirty-six feet long. The males may weigh up to one hundred twenty thousand pounds while the females may reach fifty-five thousand pounds. The females are usually a third of the male’s size, which is the greatest size difference between all the whale species.
Medium to large sizes squid is the main food source for the sperm whale. One individual had a forty foot squid in its stomach.
Sperm whales may live between sixty to seventy years. Their population is growing steadily and with continued protection they should continue to recover.

A sperm whale blowing.

References for the past three logs:
Seabirds of Hawaii, Natural History and Conservation by Craig Harrison, copyright 1990.
A Field Guide to Sea Birds of the World by Peter Harrison, copyright 1987.
Guide to Marine Mammals of the World, National Audubon Society, copyright 2002.
Personal Log:
I had completed my” job” at 6:00 in the morning and then volunteered to be an independent observer for animals on the flying deck when Erin called me to the main deck for a “small craft safety meeting”. I started getting excited because I might have a chance to go out on the small 19 ft. boat.
Erin Oleson the chief scientist and the other acoustic girls, Suzanne, Yvonne and Nicole wanted to test their array. The array is a device that picks up sounds preferably whale and dolphin sound in the ocean. The small boat’s mission would be to go out ahead of the main ship with a “pinging” device that would be lowered into the water and then the array should be able to pick up the sound if the array is working properly. There had been some problems receiving data from the array so this outing seemed like a likely trip.
Not long after the meeting I was told I could go with Adam U, a mammal observer, and Nicole Beaulieu an acoustician. Woo Woo! I was one of the lucky ones for the adventure! Just being on the boat in the ocean with the rolling waves was a thrill. We needed to get two miles ahead of the ship then stop and lower the pinging device. It was hard to get that far ahead of the ship that was cruising at 10 knots with waves between three and five feet high.
Ray and Mills, both seamen, were with us. Mills drove the boat. He had obviously done it before because he had us soaring over the crests, catching air, and then slamming into the troughs.

The whale chase. My back is to the camera.

It was crazy /exhilarating for me because I hadn’t experienced anything like it. It was hard to hold on and I gave my weak left wrist a good workout! Especially when we slowed down a bit and I tried to take pictures with the right hand while trying to hold on with the left. My pride would have been hurt if I’d fallen out and so would my body considering we trying to outrun the ship, but the water was eighty degrees Fahrenheit and a beautiful royal blue.
When we had finished “pinging” the ship spotted some sperm whales and set out to chase them. We sat for about half an hour bobbing up and down on the waves and watching the ship and the water for whale blows. Listening to the radio we realized the whales were between us and the ship. They were blowing right in front of us! Now it was our turn to follow the whales and off we went!
When we discovered that we could get up close Adam brought out the crossbow. It was quite the frenzy! I was taking pictures, holding on and looking for whales at the same time! Adam was trying to get the crossbow ready and hold on while trying to watch for whales. Nicole was in the middle getting bounced around watching for whales.
Adam got a shot. The arrow hit the back of the whale and skidded off. He did not feel the arrow contained a good biopsy sample so we stopped got the arrow while he reloaded and off we went again. The arrows are hollow tipped for tissue to get trapped and once they strike they fall off and float until retrieved.
We continued our mad chase with Mills at the wheel. Eventually after chasing for approximately twenty minutes we came across a sperm whale” rafting” evidently they do this after being submerged up to forty minutes. Adam shot again and this time he was pleased with the biopsy sample as we could see the tissue dangling off the end of the arrow. Once hit the whale quickly put her head up. The action made me imagine her thinking “What was that?” and she submerged.

A sperm whale coming up for air.

Our whale chasing adventure was over and we returned to the Sette. I took over three hundred photos and five videos. My new little camera held up well in the salt water spray. I saw at least five sperm whales in the pod and one was a small one, a calf. Wow! Definitely a time I will never forget!
I need to tank Erin for letting me go! I’m heading back to the flying bridge with hope of finding more whales and dolphins.
Question: How do N.M. nautical miles compare to miles? How do Knots compare to miles/hour?

Donna Knutson, September 2-3, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 2-3, 2010

Seabirds are Amazing

Me on the Sette in front of Kaui.

 

Mission and Geographical Area:

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

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

Science and Technology:

Thursday September 2, 2010 12:00 pm

Red footed Booby

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

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

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

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

Scott Mills is an avid birder and lover of sea birds.
I have learned a lot from him.

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

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

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

Bulwers Petrel

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

My great “statemate” and avid birder, Dawn Breese.

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

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