Britta Culbertson, Big Fish Little Fish, Sept 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Saturday, September 15th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind Speed: 11kts
Air Temperature: 12.2 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 87%
Barometric Pressure: 1010.7 mb
Latitude: 59 degrees 26.51″ N              Longitude: 149 degrees 47.53″ W

Science and Technology Log

Finally, as we near the end of the cruise, I’m ready to write about one of the major parts of the survey we are doing.  Until now, I’ve been trying to take it all in and learn about the science behind our surveys and observe the variety of organisms that we have been catching. In my last few entries, I explained the bongo net tow that we do at each station.  Immediately after we finish pulling in the bongo nets and preparing the samples, the boat repositions on the station and we begin a tow using an anchovy net.  It gets its name from the size of fish it is intended to capture, but it is not limited to catching anchovies and as you will see in the entry below, we catch much more than fish.

 Why are we collecting juvenile pollock?

We are interested in measuring the abundance of juvenile pollock off of East Kodiak Island and in the Semidi Bank vicinity.  We are not only focusing on the walleye pollock, we are also interested in the community structure and biomass of organisms that live with the pollock.  Other species that we are measuring include: capelin, eulachon, Pacific cod, arrowtooth flounder, sablefish, and rockfish.  As I described in the bongo entries, we catch zooplankton because those are prey for the juvenile pollock.

Pollock trio
On the top is an age 2+ pollock, below that an age 1 pollock, and then below that is an age zero pollock. (Photo credit: John Eiler)

The Gulf of Alaska juvenile walleye pollock study used to be conducted every year, using the same survey grid.  Now the Gulf of Alaska survey is conducted every other year with the Bering Sea surveyed in alternating years.  That way, scientists can understand how abundant the fish are and where they are located within the grid or study area.  With the data being collected every year (or every other year), scientists can establish a time series and are able to track changes in the population from year to year. The number of age 0 pollock that survive the winter ( to become age 1) are a good indicator of how many fish will be available for commercial fisheries. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will provide this data to the fisheries industry so that fishermen can predict how many fish will be available in years to come.  The abundance of age one pollock is a good estimate of fish that will survive and be available to be caught by fishermen later, when they reach age 3 and beyond, and can be legally fished.

The other part of our study concerns how the community as a whole responds to changes in the ecosystem (from climate, fishing, etc.).  That is why we also measure and record the zooplankton, jellyfish, shrimp, squids, and other fish that we catch.

How does it work?

The anchovy net (this particular design is also called a Stauffer trawl) is pretty small compared to those that are used by commercial fishermen.  The mesh is 5 millimeters compared to the 500 micrometer mesh that we used for the bongo.  The smallest organisms we get in the anchovy net are typically krill.

Trawl net
A picture of a generic trawling net. It’s very similar to the anchovy net that we are using.

Typically, we don’t catch large fish in the net, but there have been some exceptions.  You might wonder why larger fish do not get caught in the net. It’s because the mesh is smaller and it’s towed through the water very slowly.  Fish have a lateral line system where they can feel a change in pressure in the water.  The bow wave from the boat creates a large pressure differential that the fish can detect.  Larger fish are usually fast enough to avoid the net as it moves through the water, but small fish can’t get out of the way in time.  One night we caught several Pacific Ocean Perch, which are larger fish, but very slow moving.  They are equipped with large spines on their fins and are better adapted to hunkering down and defending themselves as opposed to other fish that are fast swimmers and great at maneuvering.

Pacific Ocean Perch
This is one of the Pacific Ocean Perch (rockfish) that got caught in our net.

When we pull in the trawl net, it is emptied into buckets and then the haul is sorted by species and age class.  The catch is then measured, weighed, and recorded on a data sheet.  After that, we return most of the fish to the sea and save 25 of the juvenile pollock, capelin, and eulachon to take back to Seattle for further investigation.  We also save some of the smaller flatfish and sablefish to send back to Seattle. Check out the gallery below to see the process from beginning to end.

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Where are the pollock in the food web?

Eulachon and capelin are zooplanktivores and compete with the juvenile pollock for food. Larger eulachon and capelin are not competitors (those over 150 mm).  Arrowtooth flounder and Pacific Cod are predators of the juvenile walleye pollock.  Cyanea and Chrysaora jellyfish are also zooplanktivores and could potentially compete with juvenile walleye pollock, so that is why we focus on these particular jellyfish in our study.

 What’s in that net?

When we pull in the trawl, we sort it into piles of different species and different age classes.  If we get a lot of juvenile pollock (age 0), we measure and weigh 100 and freeze 25 to take back to the lab so their stomach contents can be examined.  We do the same procedure for young capelin, eulachon, and flatfish.  Other organisms like jellyfish are counted and weighed and put back in the ocean.

Below is a list of different organisms we have found in the anchovy net during this cruise:

  • Walleye Pollock
  • Eulachon
  • Capelin
  • Shrimp
  • Larger zooplankton
  • Pink and Coho Salmon
  • Pacific Ocean Perch
  • Lanternfish
  • Prowfish
  • Arrowtooth Flounder
  • Cyanea Jellyfish
  • Chrysaora Jellyfish
  • Miscellaneous clear jellyfish (some moon jellyfish)
  • Ctenophores (comb jellyfish)
  • Spiny Lumpsucker
  • Toad Lumpsucker
  • Grenadier
  • Flathead sole
  • Pacific cod
  • Herring
  • Sablefish
  • Sand Fish
  • Octopus
  • Snail fish

Personal Log

As we wind down the cruise, I’m feeling a little sad that it’s ending.  I’m looking forward to going home and seeing my husband and our dog, but I’ll miss the friends I’ve made on the ship and I’ll certainly miss collecting data.  Even though it can be quite repetitive after awhile, I can’t think of a more beautiful place to do this work than the Gulf of Alaska.  The last few days we have had a couple of stations near the coastline around Seward, Alaska and we have ventured into both Harris Bay and Resurrection Bay.  There we caught sight of some amazing glaciers and small islands.  There was even an island that had bunkers from WWII on it.  Yesterday, 3 Dall’s Porpoises played in our bow wake as I stood on the bridge and watched.  It’s moments like this that all of the discomforts of being at sea fall away and I can reflect on what an incredible experience this has been!

Beautiful scenery from Resurrection Bay.
Dall's Porpoise
Three Dall’s porpoises that were playing in our bow wake.


Did You Know?

Spiny lumpsuckers are tiny, cute, almost spherical fish that have a suction disk on their ventral (bottom) side.  The suction disk is actually a modified pelvic fin.  They use the suction disk to stick to kelp or rocks on the bottom of the ocean.

Their family name is Cyclopteridae (like the word Cyclops!).  It is Greek in origin.  “Kyklos” in Greek mean circle and “pteryx” means wing or fin.  This name is in reference to the circle-shaped pectoral fins that are possessed by fish in this family.

These lumpsuckers are well camouflaged from their predators and their suction disk helps them overcome their lack of an air bladder (this helps fish move up and down in the water).  Because lumpsuckers don’t have an air bladder, they are not great swimmers.

Spiny lumpsuckers are on average about 3 cm in length, but there are larger lumpsuckers that we have found, like the toad lumpsucker that you can see in the photo below.

You can read more about the spiny lumpsucker on the Aquarium of the Pacific’s website.

Amanda Peretich: Theragra chalcogramma, July 6, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amanda Peretich
Aboard Oscar Dyson
June 30 – July 18, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise:
Bering Sea
July 6, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 58ºN
Longitude: 172ºW
Ship speed: 11.4 knots (13.1 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 4.6ºC (40.3ºF)
Surface water temperature: 6.3ºC (43.3ºF)
Wind speed: 5.7 knots (6.6 mph)
Wind direction: 108ºT
Barometric pressure: 1016.5 millibar (1.00 atm, 762 mmHg)

Science and Technology Log
Today’s lesson is all about the lovely object of FRV (fisheries research vessel) Oscar Dyson’s affection on the summer survey: Theragra chalcogramma, also known as pollock, walleye pollock, Pacific pollock, or Alaska pollock. However, the word pollock could actually refer to the Pollachius genus, which includes Atlantic pollock, but this blog is about the Pacific variety.

DYK? (Did You Know?): biological organisms are classified using a system created by Carolus Linnaeus. Theragra chalcogramma refers to the genus and species classification for Pacific Pollock, just as Homo sapiens is used to classify humans. This is known as binomial nomenclature. You will see this naming throughout the blog. One mnemonic device to remember the order of classification (Kingdom –> Phylum –> Class –> Order –> Family –> Genus –> Species)? King Phillip Called Out For Greasy Spaghetti!

What do they look like?

Alaska Pollock
Alaska Pollock

All pollock are part of the cod family Gadidae. They can grow to a maximum of over 3 feet (91 cm) but will be about 12-20 inches (30.5-50.8 cm) in length on average. Their speckled color pattern allows them to blend in with their surroundings to avoid predators.

This is the main area where pollock can be found.

Where do we find them?
Alaska pollock are a semipelagic schooling fish closely related to Atlantic cod, which means they mainly swim together in the middle of the water column. Alaska pollock are found throughout the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, most notably in the Bering Sea, but also can be found in the Gulf of Alaska.

What do they eat?
Juvenile (younger) pollock eat zooplankton and small fish whereas older pollock eat other fish including juvenile pollock. We have seen some very full stomachs when sexing the pollock this week!

Who studies them?
Scientists are constantly conducting various pollock surveys in the Arctic area. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) as well as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are two places that will use both acoustics and midwater and bottom trawls to determine the relative abundance and more during a pollock survey. You can read more about the AFSC walleye pollock research here. This type of research allows for decisions to be made with respect to how much pollock can be harvested each year.

How are they harvested?

Westward Seafoods
The seafood processor Westward Seafoods in Captains Bay, Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Pollock are harvested by trawlers. This means that the ship has a large net (see my previous blog on trawling) that is towed behind the vessel in midwater. Some vessels (not the scientific ones like the Oscar Dyson) are “catcher-processors”, which means that they will both catch pollock and process them at sea. Other ships are just “catchers” and will then transfer their loot to a shore-based processor or a “tramper” vessel. In Dutch Harbor and Unalaska, there are multiple seafood plants: UniSea, Westward, Alyeska, Icicle, Trident, and Royal Aleutian Seafoods. The “trampers” are most often foreign vessels that are not able to dock in the United States but will instead anchor in a place such as Captains Bay in Dutch Harbor and await a commercial fishing vessel to unload their catch. The tramper can then return back home to somewhere like South Korea with the seafood.

DYK? The two-tone color on the trampers is helpful to know how “full” the ship is – the less red you can see above the water, the more fish that are onboard!

This is a foreign “tramper” vessel, sitting in Captains Bay in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

In the United States, there is a 12-mile boundary from the shore that is marked on nautical charts to allow individual states to determine the fishing rules. They will dictate how many of each species can be kept, what months fishing can occur, and what size fish must be thrown back. Foreign ships can pass through these areas, but are not allowed to fish or look for resources (hence the “trampers”). Outside of this exists the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, 200 nautical miles off shore. Permits are required to travel or fish through a foreign EEZ. For example, on Leg 3 of the Pollock survey, the Oscar Dyson is set to cross the International Date Line into Russian waters, which requires a permit.

Fun Fishy Facts
* You’ve actually probably eaten Alaska pollock and not even known it! It is used to make imitation crab meat (surimi) and fish sticks, amongst other things.
* Compared to Atlantic pollock, Alaska pollock has a milder taste, whiter color, and lower oil content.
* Alaska pollock is considered to be an eco- and ocean-friendly choice due to abundance and the fact that trawling does not cause significant habitat destruction.
* Alaska pollock is the largest fishery in the U.S. by volume and one of the best managed fisheries in the world.

Midwater Pollock Cam Trawl
This photo showing Alaska pollock is from a midwater trawl on the Oscar Dyson on July 6, 2012 using the AWT (Aleutian Wing Trawl) at about 100 meter depth.

NOAA Fishwatch: Alaska Pollock
Wikipedia: Alaska Pollock
New England Aquarium: Alaska Pollock
Assessment of the walleye pollock stock in the Eastern Bering Sea
– Scientists on board the Oscar Dyson 🙂

Personal Log

Pyrotechnics Demonstration
Pyrotechnics demonstration (aka shooting off expired flares after getting permission from a bunch of people) for the Fourth of July off starboard on the Oscar Dyson

I last posted on the Fourth of July, before our big “pyrotechnics demonstration” to celebrate the holiday. What a great ending to a beautiful day filled with blue skies!

I’ve finally gotten my “sea legs”, which I’ve been told isn’t how well you can walk in a straight line on board, but how well you can maintain standing position and move with the rolling, pitching, and yawing of the ship. I may not have mastered the treadmill yet, but I’m quickly learning to enjoy the elliptical again.

During the night shift on the Fourth of July, my wonderful roommate Carwyn came to tell me they were doing a bottom trawl if I wanted to come check it out. The lost hours of sleep were well worth the vast array of new critters and creatures that came up in the net! I plan to do a future blog on what we found, so be sure to look for that.

In adding to the awesome experience I’m having on board, I’ve gotten some great news online in the past few days. First, my amazing AP chemistry class earned all 3s, 4s, and 5s on the AP chemistry exam they took back in May (scores were just posted online for teacher access). Then I received an e-mail with a job offer to teach chemistry and honors biology at La Plata High School in La Plata, Maryland, after having a phone interview from the Anchorage airport the day I was flying out to Dutch Harbor. This helped relieve a little bit of stress from not having a full-time job offer after my big move to Maryland from Tennessee and helped to confirm that teaching high school is what I should be doing with my life!

Animal Love
I have been spending plenty of time on the bridge, up above that on the flying bridge, and looking out my stateroom window for something in the water other than birds. Today was the day I finally saw something (although this was thanks to ENS Kevin Michael coming to get me and show me)!

Introducing a Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli):Dall's porpoise

A Dall’s porpoise swimming next to the Oscar Dyson around 6am on July 6, 2012

They resemble a killer whale in coloring and have a very thick body and smaller head, ranging through much of the northern Pacific Ocean and nearby seas (like the Bering Sea). Lucky for me!

Richard Chewning, June 15th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Chewning
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 4 – 24, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Date: June 15th, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: eastern Bering Sea
Time: 1530
Latitude: N 55 47.020
Longitude: W 165 24.970
Cloud Cover: overcast
Wind: 14 knots
Temperature: 6.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1003.7 mbar

Science and Technology Log

In addition to researchers on the lookout for seabirds, the Oscar Dyson is also hosting researchers hoping to catch a glimpse of some the world’s largest animals: marine mammals. Either ocean dwelling or relying on the ocean for food, marine mammals include cetaceans (whales, porpoises, and dolphins), manatees, sea lions, sea otters, walrus, and polar bears. Although marine mammals can be enormous in size (the largest blue whale ever recorded by National Marine Mammal Laboratory scientists was 98 feet long or almost the length of a ten story building laid on its side!), studying marine mammals at sea can be challenging as they spend only a short time at the surface. Joining the Dyson from the NMML on this cruise are Suzanne Yin, Paula Olson, and Ernesto Vazquez. As a full time observer, Yin spends most of the year on assignment on various vessels sailing on one body of water or another and only occasionally is to be found transitioning through her home of San Francisco, California. Paula calls San Diego, California home and spends most of her time when not observing at sea working on a photo identification database of blue and killer whales. Ernesto is a contract biologist from La Paz, Mexico and has been working on and off with NOAA for several years. Ernesto has worked with several projects for the Mexican government including ecological management of the Gulf of California Islands.

Yin keeping warm from the cold

Ernesto keeping sharp lookout for marine mammals

Paula keeping an eye on the horizon

Yin, Paula, and Ernesto undoubtedly have the best view on the Oscar Dyson. Working as a three member team, they search for their illusive quarry from the flying bridge. The flying bridge is the open air platform above the bridge where the ship’s radar, communication equipment, and weather sensors are located. One observer is positioned both on the front left and front right corners of the flying bridge. Each observer is responsible for scanning the water directly in front to a line perpendicular to the ship forming a right angle. Two powerful BIG EYE binoculars are used to scan this to scan this 90 degree arc. These binoculars are so powerful they can spot a ship on the horizon at over ten miles (even before the Dyson’s radar can detect the vessel!). The third person is stationed in the middle of the flying bridge and is responsible for surveying directly ahead of the ship and for scanning the blind spot just in front of the ship that is too close for the BIG EYES to see. This person is also responsible for entering sightings into a computer database via a lap top computer. The three observers rotate positions every thirty minutes and take a thirty minute break after one full rotation. One complete shift lasts two hours. Yin, Paula, and Ernesto start soon after breakfast and will continue observing until 9:30 at night if conditions allow.

Dall’s porpoise

Weather can produce many challenges for marine mammal observers as they are exposed to the elements for hours at a time. Fortunately, Yin, Paula, and Ernesto are well prepared. Covered from head to toe wearing insulated Mustang suits (the name come from the manufacturer), they are pretty well protected from light spray, wind, and cold. Although a certain amount of the face is always exposed, a shoulder high wind shield helps deflect most of the spray and wind. In addition to wind chill and wind burn, a strong wind can also produce large rolling waves called swells that make viewing through the BIG EYES next to impossible. Sometimes reducing visibility so much that the bow can barely be seen the bridge, fog is undoubtedly a marine mammal observer’s greatest adversary.

Humpback whales through the Big Eyes
Salmon fishing operation through the Big Eyes

So far during the cruise, Yin, Paula, and Ernesto have spotted many blows on the horizon and have identified several species of marine mammals. A common sighting is the Dall’s porpoise. Your eyes are easily drawn towards these fun marine mammals as they produce characteristic white splashes by repeatedly breaking the water’s surface exposing a white stripe on their side. Blows from fin whales have also been regularly observed. Other sightings include killer whales, humpback whales, Pacific white sided dolphins, and a rare sighting of a Baird’s beaked whale.

Personal Log

Life aboard a constantly moving platform can take a little getting used to! I imagine if a person doesn’t live in an area frequented by earthquakes, one will easily take for granted the fact that the ground usually remains stable and firm underfoot (I know I did!). Over the last view days, steady winds from the south have conspired to create conditions ideal for rolling seas. Large swells (waves created by winds far away) make the Dyson very animated as we push forward on our survey transects. In addition to making deployments of gear more difficult, routine personal tasks soon assume a challenging nature as well. Whether you are simply getting dressed in the morning, trying to make your way to your seat with lunch in hand, or taking a shower in the evening, a constantly pitching and rolling deck will make even a seasoned deckhand wobble and stumble from time to time.

Building seas

A piece of advice I have often heard during these conditions calls for “one hand for you and one for the ship”. Maintaining three points of contact with ship, especially when moving between decks, can save you from being tossed off balance. The crew is very considerate of these conditions and allows even more understanding than customary when you bump into shipmates. I have also learned the importance of securing any loose equipment and personal items after usage during rough seas as they might not be in the same place when you return. In addition to waking several times during the night and having a restless sleep, these conditions will also leave you feeling stiff and fatigued in the morning after a bumpy night of being tossed around in your rack. Once you muster the strength to get moving, your legs become surprisingly tired as you constantly try to keep your balance. Along with the rest of the crew, the Dyson also feels the effects of jogging through rough seas as you constantly hear the rhythmic sounds of the bow plowing though the next wave and of the ship’s superstructure groaning under the strain.

Measuring the Dyson’s roll
Passing through the fog

Did you know? Fog is essentially a cloud on the ground’s surface.

Kathleen Harrison: City on the Sea, July 20, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Harrison
Aboard NOAA Ship  Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011

Location:  Gulf of Alaska
Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Date: July 12, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True Wind Speed:  light (< 5 knots), True Wind direction:  variable
Sea Temperature:  9.75° C, Air Temperature:  10.38° C
Air Pressure:  1012.3 mb
Ship Heading:  297°, Ship Speed:  11.3 knots
Latitude:  56.45° N, Longitude:  155.04° W
Patchy fog, very calm seas

Science and Technology Log

The Oscar Dyson is like a self-contained city for 35 people that floats on the sea.  All of the engine fuel and oil, food and provisions for the NOAA staff, ship’s crew, and scientists have to be brought on board while the ship is in port.  On this leg of the Walleye Pollock Survey, the ship will be out to sea for 19 days.  This presents several issues that must be solved in order for the people to be comfortable, and for the research to be performed.

the water maker of the oscar dyson
This piece of machinery converts sea water into fresh water for the people on the Oscar Dyson. (courtesy of Anne Mortimer)

First, fresh water is needed, about 100 gallons per person, per day.  For 35 people, that is 3500 gallons per day.  The ship has a storage capacity of 9000 gallons.  Do the math, and you can see that a daily supply of fresh water is needed.  Well, the ship has 2 water makers that convert sea water into fresh water.  Basically, the water is heated, vacuum pumped, and evaporated, then collected in the fresh water storage.  Salt does not evaporate, so it is left behind.  The evaporator uses the sea water to power an ejector pump (that creates the vacuum) and keep the unit cool. The brine (super salty water) created from the evaporation is sent overboard by the ejector pump.

engineering room control panel
The engineer controls the power that the generators make with this panel. See the horizontal bar running the length of the panel - even the engineers need something to hold on to during rough seas. (courtesy of Anne Mortimer)

Next, electricity is needed to power the galley appliances, run the washers and dryers, lights, computers, ship’s bridge instruments, and a host of other things.  The ship has 4 generators that are capable of producing enough energy to not only power the propeller, but also the whole electrical need of the ship.  The control panels for each generator are used to divert some of the power to each part of the ship, so that I can charge my camera battery, use my computer, or turn on the light in my room.

generator number 2
This is generator number 2 on the Oscar Dyson. There are 4 generators, but only 2 are online at any one time. (courtesy of Anne Mortimer)

Another issue is the power needed to run the propeller.  For the 19 days the ship is out to sea, there are usually 2 generators running.  The ship’s computer decides which generators are needed for the speed that is required at any one time.  In heavy seas, or when more power is needed, a 3rd, or even the 4th generator will be brought on.  As generators are used, they wear and tear, so the computer determines what the most efficient use of them will be for each situation.  Everything can be manually controlled as well.  Every month or so, each generator needs an oil change.

price of fuel
The current price of diesel fuel in Kodiak, Alaska.

They hold about 65 gallons of oil!  The used oil is kept on board until the ship docks back in Kodiak.  Also, about every 20,000 hours, each generator needs to be overhauled.  This is done by a team of mechanics when the ship is in port, during the off season.  About 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel is stored at the beginning of the trip, and 2000 gallons are used each day.

Now, since the Oscar Dyson is a biological research ship, the usually noisy generators have been quieted, so that the fish are not scared away.  One way to quiet a very large, 1600 hp engine, is to put it on a rubber mat.  Another way is to send the energy from the generator through a large box, which then converts it to electrical energy, and that is transmitted to the propeller by thin wires.  This reduces the vibrations in the hull.

To be an engineer on a ship, a person usually would go to a marine academy and obtain a degree in marine engineering.  During school and shortly after, time spent as an intern is valuable to gain experience.  Once the new engineer is employed on a ship, he or she would start at the bottom of the team, maybe as 3rd engineer, depending on how large the ship is.  With experience, and management skills, the engineer could move up to 2nd, then 1st, then Chief engineer.  Of course, a ship’s engineer must love being at sea, and living on a ship.

Personal Log

We had a fabulous day for wildlife and scenery watching – bright sunshine (until 11:00 pm), calm seas, and close proximity to Kodiak Island.  I saw stunning rocky cliffs, Dall’s porpoises, and whales – probably Fin whales.  I was overwhelmed with the beauty and scale of Kodiak Island.

evening sun shine
I love the way that the sun glitters on the water. I took this photo about 7:00 in the evening.
kodiak cliffs
Rocky cliffs of Kodiak Island on a sunny day.
sunlight through the fog
The sun light is breaking through the clouds about 2 miles away.

Deborah Moraga, June 24, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Log: Deborah Moraga
NOAA Ship: Fulmar
Date: July 20‐28, 2010

Mission: ACCESS
(Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies)
Geographical area of cruise: Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries
Date: June 24,2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Start Time: 0705 (7:05 am) End Time: 1658 (4:58 pm)
CBOMP Line 6 start on eastern end: Latitude = 38o 6.6066 N; Longitude = 123o 24.804 W
CBOMP Line 1 end on eastern end: Latitude = 37o 56.1066 N; Longitude = 123o 18.7206 W
Nearshore line 1 start on western end: Latitude = 38o 8.5369 N; Longitude = 123o 5.8019 W
Nearshore line 1 end on eastern end: Latitude = 38o 8.7436 N; Longitude = 122o 57.5893 W
Present Weather: Cloud cover 100%
Visibility: 3‐5 nautical miles
Wind Speed: light, variable winds 5 knots or less
Wave Height: 0 to 1.1 meters Sea
Water Temp: 11.6 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 11 C
Barometric Pressure: 1014.0 mb

We saw Dall’s porpoises riding the bow wake. Riding the bow means the porpoises were using the energy of the wave that is created by the front of the boat to body surf. It is a treat to watch them weave back and forth then leap up out of the water.

Science and Technology Log
Today we worked the Cordell Bank transect lines (COMP). We finished all six lines of bird and marine mammal observations
Marine mammals that were spotted were…
• Blue whale
• Humpbacks‐ adult & calf
• Killer whale – male & female
• Dall’s porpoises
• Harbor porpoises
• Harbor seal
• California sea lion
• Stellar sea lion

Highlighted Birds
• Xantus’s Murrelets
• Parasitic Jaegers

Today, the seas were very calm. This was a good thing because we had guests on board. We also surveyed near shore line one. Near shore lines take about 40 minutes traveling at 10 knots. The offshore lines take more time to survey because they are longer and we deploy the CTD and nets. On our off shore lines today we deployed the CTD seven times and took seven water samples and one of our visitors helped by collecting the last water sample of the day.

Maggie Prevenas, May 1, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: May 1, 2007

Species Profile: Dall’s Porpoise and Northern Fur Seal

The place to be on the ship is up in the bridge. That is the place to see all the animals. We have two different groups of scientists up there from sunrise to about nine at night. We have scientists looking for different kinds of birds and we have scientists looking for ice seals. Sometimes they see other animals. Like today. They saw another kind of cetacean, a porpoise. If you’d like to learn more about them, read on.

Dall’s Porpoise: Phocoenoides dalli

Where do Dall’s porpoises live? Dall’s porpoises only live in the North Pacific Ocean from Japan to Southern California and as far north as Bering Sea.

How many Dall’s porpoises are there? We don’t know.  Although population numbers are unknown, Dall’s porpoises appear abundant through their range.  Dall’s porpoises are not considered endangered.

How can I identify a Dall’s porpoise? Dall’s porpoises are beautiful!  Though individual animal coloring varies slightly, Dall’s porpoises are easy to identify as they are mostly black with white along their sides, on the top half of their dorsal fins and on the trailing edge of their flukes.  Dall’s porpoises mature to around 7 feet (2.1 meters) long and have 19-23 spade-shaped teeth.  When swimming, Dall’s porpoises leave a characteristic splash called a ‘rooster tail.’

How well can a Dall’s porpoise see or hear? Scientists don’t really know.  Captive Dall’s porpoises emit low frequency clicks that are presumably used for echolocation.

What do Dall’s porpoises eat? Dall’s porpoises are thought to have a rather varied diet consisting of hake, squid, lanternfish, anchovy, sardines and small schooling fish.

How do Dall’s porpoises have babies? Female Dall’s porpoises reproduce at approximately six years of age while male Dall’s porpoises mature at 8 years of age.  Dall’s porpoise calves are born in mid-summer after a 12 month gestation period.  They are about 3 feet (0.9 meters) long. Calves and their mothers live separate from main porpoise herds for a time.  Dall’s porpoise mothers usually have calves every 3 years.

How long do Dall’s porpoises live? How do they die? Dall’s porpoises usually live about 16-17 years.  Very little is known about their mortality however many believe that Dall’s porpoises are very susceptible to “incidental” capture by certain types of fishing gear. These porpoises become so intense upon the pursuit of their food that they fail to anticipate or see gill nets set for fish.  Porpoises that get entangled in nets usually drown.

Northern Fur Seal: Scientific name: Callorhinus ursinus

The Healy made a stop at St. George and St. Paul Island this past week. Collectively, they are called the Pribilof Islands. The history of these two islands is very interesting. There is a deep Russian influence as well as Native Alaskan Aleut. The animal that the islands based their economy on was the Northern Fur Seal. Read on if you’d like to learn more!

Northern fur seals range extends from Southern California, up the North American coast, west along the Alaskan coastline, across the sub Arctic sea to the Russian coast and down to waters of northern Japan.

How many Northern fur seals are there? The estimate of the world’s population of Northern fur seals is 1,130,000.  There are about 880,000 northern fur seals in U.S. waters and most breed on the Pribilof Islands. A smaller population of Northern fur seals are found on San Miguel Island off the California coast. But in 1909, there were only 200,000 to 300,000 left to breed on the Pribilof Islands because of commercial seal harvests.  The seal hunters harvested the Northern fur seals for their fur.

How can I identify a Northern fur seal? Males are gray to black, and females are light gray on the back and reddish-brown on the chest with a light patch.  Both have extremely dense fur, so dense that it keeps the cool ocean water from the skin, thereby preserving body heat; but it is not waterproof.  Because of this dense fur they have large, hairless flippers to keep them cool.  The females weigh 90 to 110 pounds on average, and the males between 300 and 615 pounds.  Like all fur seals and sea lions, the Northern fur seal has ears that stick out from its head.  By rotating their flippers forward, they can walk, run and climb out of the water.

What do Northern fur seals eat? Northern fur seals feed mainly at night and may dive to depths of 600 feet (180 m) in search of small schooling fish and squid and prey are typically eaten underwater.  Larger fish are brought to the surface and eaten there.

How do Northern fur seals have their young? After giving birth on one of the rookeries, the mother nurses her pup for 8-10 days.  She then begins a pattern of leaving to feed at sea for 4 to 10 days, and returning for 1 or 2 to nurse her pup. During this time she usually makes short shallow dives at night to feed. The pups are weaned after 4 months.

How long do Northern fur seals live? How do they die? The Northern fur seal can live for 25 years, but most females live to be 18-20 years old and the males to their low teens.

Natural predators of the fur seals include sharks, foxes, killer whales and Steller sea lions. El Ñino and entanglement also are hazardous to the Northern fur seal.

Do you know what is really cool about Northern fur seals? A Northern fur seal bull, that has territory, will defend it against any intruding bulls, and even humans!!

The Northern fur seal can spend extremely long periods in the open ocean.  Before returning to the breeding colonies many pups will remain at sea for up to 22 months!

A Northern fur seal mother find her pup by moving through the breeding colony and listening for the pup’s distinctive voice!

Northern fur seals mainly feed at night, when prey species are closer to the ocean surface!

Northern fur seals have huge flippers, proportionally bigger than a Steller sea lions.  They help keep them cool.

Northern fur seals are famous for the dense fur that covers all but their flippers.  That fur consists of approximately 46,500 hairs per square centimeter.

Kimberly Pratt, July 9, 2005

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

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

Blue whale
Blue whale

Weather Data from Bridge

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

Scientific Log

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

Launching the zodiak
Launching the zodiak

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

Personal log 

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

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