NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
August 4, 2023 – September 1, 2023
Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (HICEAS)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaiian archipelago
Date: September 1, 2023
When referring to sailing knots, the bitter end signifies the end of the line (i.e. rope to non-seafarers). I thought this fitting, considering the conclusion of my rich time at sea! From interacting with the different deck crew, I learned different ways to tie knots—sometimes the same type of knot. For example, though I knew the bowline before I set sail, I didn’t have a process that stuck in my memory. With the aid of the crew, I solidified a process for myself. Exposure to different ways to tie a knot (or in the case of the mathematics classroom, different ways to approach a problem) gives the learner autonomy to choose a method that suits their learning. I also learned how to splice. See pictures below!
Science and Technology Log
In the final week, all science teams (birders, marine mammal observers, acousticians, plankton team) wrapped up and prepared to disembark the ship. Traveling a total distance of 4,819.2 km, Leg 2 spanned 28 glorious days at sea. The cetacean team tallied 90 visual sightings (visually identified 15 species) and 122 acoustic detections. The seabird side saw 37 species and 4,124 individuals. The plankton team completed 39 net tows on Leg 2 and totals 44 tows overall. The images below from the HICEAS Map Tour page detail the specific cetaceans sighted and heard. I also include some cetacean photos taken by the marine mammal observers (MMOs).
It was an incredible experience to witness science in action. I often referred to my time at sea as “Science Camp!” Cruise leader-in-training, Yvonne Barkley (featured in this previous blog post), briefly interviewed me for the HICEAS 2023 Map Tour. Aside from the science, she asked me what I’ll bring back home with me from this experience. I had to incubate on this question and after some reflection, realized that what I’ve gained are all the connections I made with my ship mates.
Gigantic mahalo to Fionna Matheson (Commanding Officer). We had many conversations during the Conductivity Temperature Depth operations and over meals. We bonded over being women in leadership positions, as well as sharing family stories. Thank you for a smooth cruise!
My true purpose on the ship was to create crossword addicts. I love collaborating on crosswords, so I brought a book of Monday-Friday New York Times (NYT) crosswords on the ship. The book mostly stayed up on the flying bridge where someone “off effort” (someone not currently observing) would read clues for the marine mammal observers on effort. In many of our jobs, listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, etc, help us focus on the work at hand; similarly, pondering crossword clues helped the MMOs concentrate on searching for mammals. By the end of the leg, Andrea Bendlin (MMO) printed out a clipboard full of more NYT crosswords, and both Suzanne Yin and Paul Nagelkirk (MMOs) made their own crosswords that incorporated both the science and the science team members. I’d say I left my legacy!
Alexa Gonzalez (Acoustician) was one of my roommates! A Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology at University of Hawaii, Manoa initially brought Alexa from sunny California (Santa Clarita! We’re practically neighbors.) to sunny Hawaii. During her time at school, she volunteered for the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) doing data entry and some monk seal responses for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. She also participated in outreach and marine mammal response for the Protected Resources Division of NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office. After graduation in 2018, Alexa had a fun job working on a tour boat wearing many hats as a deckhand, snorkel guide, and bartender. In 2019, she worked on monk seal population assessment efforts at the Hawaiian monk seal field camp at Holoikauaua/Manawai (Pearl and Hermes Atoll). Right after, she was recruited by the Science Operations Division to fill the role she’s in now, Biological Science Technician. She participates on different research projects at PIFSC as a diver, small boat operator, acoustician and lab tech. Below, you can see a photo of Alexa as a small boat operator on Malia.
Pizza and Mexican food top Alexa’s favorite food list, so what’s better than the fusion of the two at one of her favorite restaurants Asada Pizza in Sylmar, California. She loves to get the nopales pizza, topped with jalapeños and cilantro. Yum!! In my time with Alexa, I’ve come to learn the meaning of a quiet sort of connection. We didn’t have to converse much to enjoy each other’s company whether we were decorating Styrofoam cups to crush, playing guessing games in the acoustics lab, or doing crosswords! The lengthy down times made me very thankful for Andrea’s nail polish. Alexa and I had a spa night in the forward mess with Jason Dlugos (3rd Assistant Engineer) and Paul Nagelkirk (MMO).
While most of us keep aurally busy while we work with our hands, the acousticians keep their hands busy while listening for cetaceans! Jennifer McCullough (Lead Acoustician) brought a never-ending supply of pipe cleaners to build objects. See some of the creations below!
Food and Career Blog
I will really miss the meals aboard the Sette as well as all the conversations shared. Mahalo to all the stewards and friends who made sure I was fed, especially during teaching hours!
As mentioned before, I tried to do one small thing that I did not do the day before to break up the routine. This week’s major routine-break involved Hawaiian shave ice, put on by Verne Murakami (1st Assistant Engineer)!! Though I recognize that sweets can taste good, I generally prefer savory, sour, or spicy foods. Regardless, I had a blast making shave ice for others. In particular, Zack High (General Vessel Assistant–GVA) and Paul Nagelkirk (MMO) allowed me to make their shave ices. First, a scoop of ice cream, then some ube. Shaved ice fills the cup, coming to a mound above the lip. Flavored syrups like mango or blueberry color the ice. Finally, a sprinkle of ling hing mui accents.
Zack went to maritime school at Mid-Atlantic School in Norfolk, Virginia. Afterwards, he completed an internship on a vessel with the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command. He learned basic CPR, safety and training, completed his Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping. One of his professors sent his resume to NOAA and a year later, Zack started working in Nov 2021 on the Sette! Though he started in the deck department under Chris Kaanaana (Chief Boatswain/Bosun), two months later, he transferred to the engineering department for a different career opportunity. As part of his role as a GVA, he goes on watch, does rounds, goes down to the main control room to take readings, goes up to the main deck to record temperatures of freezers, look for leaks or other signs of disrepair. He hopes to become a licensed engineer with aspirations to go into private industry or another federal branch. Zack is a big fan of weight lifting and loves fishing with Verne, catching big tuna and mahi mahi. He calls himself a gearhead because he likes working on cars and going to car shows. He also enjoys going to see live music; his last show was an underground punk concert in Seattle. He would like to start hiking. Zack likes boxing and he even gave me a little lesson on the ship!
Paul went to Michigan State University and majored in environmental biology and zoology. He became a fisheries observer in the Bering Sea and then later worked in oil and gas mitigation in the Gulf of Mexico to reduce environmental impacts due to noise pollution. In 2013, he started both ship and aerial surveys with NOAA. In the aerial surveys, the plane follows transect lines 600ft over the water.
Paul has also conducted aerial surveys of the North Atlantic Right Whale through the New England Aquarium. The New England Aquarium is the pioneer and premier research institution for the Right Whale. They run the individual ID catalog for the North Atlantic Right Whales (see https://rwcatalog.neaq.org/#/). They know the whales’ relationships to each other since they perform year to year tracking for conservation efforts. Climate change alters the whales’ prey locations, causing them to move farther north towards Canada. Further, they are susceptible to entanglements from the lobster and crab industry as well as collisions from ship traffic because they tend towards the coast. The number of North Atlantic Right Whales left is disturbingly low, about 350, landing them on the endangered species list.
Paul and I became fast friends. I affectionately call him my “worstie”, but he really is a “bestie”. We shared his favorite food (Detroit-style pizza) at Pizza Mamo in Honolulu–I highly recommend! His other hobbies (some of which we share) include Wordle, biking, hiking, and disc golf.
A very special mahalo to Cruise Leader 💞Marie Hill💞. Marie’s charm brought much energy to the science team. Her vibrant character will be missed!
Regrettably, my career highlights lack comprehensiveness. Give me another month, Teacher at Sea Program 😉, and I could feature everyone. I include some visual shout-outs in the images below!
Did you know?
You may be familiar with the duality of the word “aloha”, embodying both a greeting and a farewell. My exposure to new meanings of “aloha” through Chef Chris’s Aloha Kitchen: Recipes from Hawai’i cookbook by Alana Kysar inspired me to learn more. According to the Hawai’i Law of the Aloha Spirit,
“‘Aloha’ is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ‘Aloha’ means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.”
To all my community aboard the Sette, aloha.