Ellen O’Donnell: The Right Place, May 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Georges Basin
Date: May 21 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Wind at 4 knots, fog with relative humidity around 97%

Science and Technology Log:

Yesterday we started out the day in Canadian Waters. We were about 50-60 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Remember to track me using the NOAA Ship Tracker. The day started off very quickly. I was on the first shift at 7 AM and we started seeing right whales within 30 minutes. I stayed on watch while the first group went out in the little gray boat. From the flybridge, we were seeing right whale blows from west to east across our bow. It was a calm day so you could really see the indicative v-shaped blow.  The first group collected data from 11 whales and biopsied one of them. At one point we radioed the group on the boat because we had around 8 right whales within sight. They radioed back that they were working one whale and had four more close by!  Around lunchtime we switched out the crews and I got to go out again on the little boat.

It is so hard to describe my experience on that boat, but I will give it my best shot. We had right whales all around us. One swam right toward our boat and then veered off at the last minute. At one point we were trying to collect data on around 8 whales who were close to us. The majority were echelon feeding on the surface so it was easy to take pictures. It was not easy, however, to keep individuals separate as they kept swapping places or moving off to join another group close by. Allison Henry, is the biologist in charge of identifying the right whales, and she is amazing. We would come up on a whale and she would say, “Nope, already got him, he was letter H!” (We identify the whales by the alphabet as you go along. In other words, the first is A, then B, etc). So not only could she keep track of the whales we identified, but she often knew which letter we had given it! So to give you an idea of the number of whales we saw that day, our last whale was UU. Some of these whales are most likely duplicates, but that’s still a pile of whales. Peter Duley, our chief scientist dubbed this spot, “the honey pot.” Another really interesting thing was that the ocean was just full of whales where we were, but they were almost all right whales. We just saw the occasional sei whale here and there.

As I mentioned before right whales are identified by large patches of rough tissue called callosities. Calves begin to show these patches shortly after birth, and are usually well established by 7-10 months. These patches are unique to individual whales, and therefore, are used to identify them. The patches themselves are dark, but they become infected by cyamids, otherwise known as “whale lice,” which make them look lighter. I hope all you school nurses are getting a good look at this. You think you have an epidemic!

Right whale showing callosities and cyamids up close

Look at these pairs of  right whales and tell me how you would describe each in a way that you would know them if you saw them again. There is a pair of two right heads and two pictures showing left heads. They are from 4 different individuals. I have a prize for the person from DCS that gives the best description! (I think we can probably come up with another prize for those of you at Hall Memorial school in CT. Right Mrs. Rodriguez?)

To help you with this challenge you might want to play this whale identification game by the New England Aquarium

http://www.neaq.org/education_and_activities/games_and_activities/online_games/right_whale_identification_games.php

Right whale in Georges Basin (right head)

Right whale in Georges Basin (right head)

Right whale in Georges Basin (left head)

Right whale in Georges Basin (left head)

Personal Log:

Chris O’Keefe, Chief Engineer, and Grady Abney, 1st Engineer, explain to me how the ship is powered

A ship isn’t going to go anywhere if you don’t power it. I spoke with Chief Engineer Chris O’Keefe and 1st Engineer Grady Abney about how the Delaware II operates. Chris has been with NOAA for 35 years and Grady has been with NOAA for 25 years. Grady took me into the bowels of the ship and gave me a tour of the systems. It’s like another world down there, full of equipment, and loud noise with a small walkway running through. The Delaware II is run by a 125 HP engine. It uses diesel fuel and the ship carries about 28,000 gallons which will last between one or two months. On a day when we are stopped most of the time, like yesterday when we were surveying whales from the little boat it will use about 500 gallons. When we are going at a steady pace we will burn around 1200 gallons. Grady tells me that this is great fuel efficiency compared to some of the newer ships that may burn as much as 5000 gallons a day.

Chris explained one of the really cool things that the Delaware II has: a desalination unit. This is a process where filtered saltwater is brought in and boiled in an evaporator. The water is under high pressure so that it boils at 160 degrees F. The steam is collected in a condenser where it is cooled and turns back into water, but without the salt. Remember how we separated salt from water in our labs? The ship needs to be moving in order to generate the fresh water and at a steady pace the Delaware makes about 1500 gallons a day. The generation of fresh water is something that the engineers log through-out the day.

Engine control room on the Delaware II

Another interesting thing that Grady explained to me is how the ship can be run from the engine room instead of the bridge. This is a back-up in case there are problems with the ship. I had a lot of fun talking to Chris and Grady. You can see they enjoy their jobs and are very capable in what they do. Good thing for all of us!

Ellen O’Donnell: There’s a Lot of Food in the Ocean and One More Whale to Feed! May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: North Atlantic Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean; Franklin Basin
Date: May 20, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge: Light winds, slightly overcast, ocean swells between 3 to 5 feet.

Science and Technology Log:

We spent the night out at sea and today and we worked the Franklin Basin. It is about 120 miles from Cape Cod. At first we didn’t see many whales, but things started picking up by lunchtime. We launched the little gray boat shortly after to get close to the right whales we were seeing. While I didn’t go on the gray boat today, many of the whales came right up to the ship. It was another amazing day and we were quite successful.

Copepod (photo: at-sea.org)

I have seen so many different ways that the whales catch their prey. I asked the question last time, “Why do sei and right whales often appear together?” This is because they like the same food. Both whales eat copepods. Copepods are tiny crustaceans that range from microscopic to a quarter of an inch. Crustaceans are invertebrates which are related to lobster, shrimp and crabs. They eat diatoms and plankton, which are even smaller! They are the most abundant species on earth and are important in many ocean food webs.

Cool Fact from the Monterey Bay Aquarium: A single copepod may eat from 11,000 to 373,000 diatoms in 24 hours!

So sei and right whales feed on these tiny abundant organisms, which is amazing given their size. Humpbacks and fin whales also filter feed, but they eat krill (another tiny crustacean), plankton and small fish. Humpbacks can consume up to 3,000 pounds of food a day.

Sei and right whale feeding in same area (photo: Genevive Davis)

All of these whales are called baleen whales because they filter their prey out of the water as they move through it. Right whales and sei whales surface feed a lot. They are close to the surface slowly moving through the water filtering out copepods. Often they are seen feeding side by side.

Sometimes right whales do what is called echelon feeding. One whale is up front and then whales along each side create a V-shape. The whales to the side of the one in front pick up prey that didn’t make it into the forward whale’s mouth. We saw a great example of echelon feeding right from the ship. There were six right whales slowly swimming in this V-shape. Every once in a while, if one got out of formation, they would swim back toward the V and turn and get back in formation.

Right Whales Echelon Feeding

Humpback whales also use a method for catching prey. When we got close to the humpback, Slumber, the other day, we noticed large bubbles rising to the surface. This is called bubble feeding. Humpbacks create large bubbles to trap and herd fish. Often they do this in groups.

Mother and new calf (photo: Jenn Gatzke)

So while watching the different whales, and how they feed was very interesting, this was not the most exciting thing. These surveys are important because they keep track of vital information needed to develop good conservation plans. Therefore, information such as where the individual whales are, which females breed, where they breed, and how many calves are born is important.

We identified around 17 whales yesterday and found one that one had not been biopsied. This whale was then biopsied so its information can go into the database. We also saw two mothers and their calves. Right whales typically give birth to their calves after a 12 month gestation period, off the coast of Georgia or North Florida.

This year only six calves were born and one died. This number is not good as biologists hope to have the number of calves born in the double digits. So you can imagine how happy everyone was when we identified a female who hadn’t been seen since 2010 with a new calf! We were able to get a biopsy from the calf as well, which will not only give genetic information from the skin, but also information on contaminants from the mother since it is still nursing. But I’m not finished yet! The icing on the cake was that the baby whale also released some fecal matter. Yes that’s right…whale poop! This may not seem important to you, but the whale biologists were ecstatic. The collected whale poop, yes it was collected in a bucket, gives a wealth of information, such as what it has been eating and the level of contaminants in the calves body.  Adult whale poop also gives hormonal information.  All in all it was a very successful day of collecting important data on right whales.

Relaxing after a hard day’s work

NOAA Scientists Peter Duley and Allison Henry scoop whale poop into a collection bag to be later analyzed

Personal Log 

NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Their reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as they work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them. Obviously the ocean is a big part of our environment. NOAA vessels have differing focuses on the data they collect from the ocean.  The Delaware II is a fisheries vessel. It goes out on various research cruises, which collect data on different organisms within our oceans. As you know they perform right whale cruises, like the one I am on now, but they also perform other studies as well. Midwater trawling is done for studies on herring. Large nets are pulled along the boat at mid-water level, and the data collected gives information on the distribution and abundance of herring. Deep water trawls with nets are done to collect scallops and clams, and determine their relative abundance and distribution. Shark cruises collect sharks by sending out a line with baited hooks. The sharks collected are tagged and released. Lastly, the Delaware II performs ichthyoplanktic studies, which collect eggs and larvae from various species of fish.

Jim Pontz (left) and Todd Wilson (right) getting the trawl net ready (photo: Delaware II)

Herring catch (photo: Delaware II)

Clam and Scallop Survey (photo: Delaware II)

Shark Tag and Release Survey (photo: Delaware II)

It is the deck crew that helps make this possible. Acting Chief Boatswain and Head Fisherman, Todd Wilson heads up a 5-man crew, who not only take care of all ship maintenance, with the exception of the engine, but serve as night-time lookouts, and operators of the fisheries equipment. We rely on them to get the little gray boat in and out of the water, which takes a lot of coordination, and they are always there to help you if you need it.

Launching the little gray boat

Ellen O’Donnell: Whales Up Close, May 18, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Georges Bank
Date: May 18, 2012

Weather observations: Light and variable winds not over 5 knots. Seas with mixed swells from 4 – 7 feet. High pressure system. Partly cloudy

Last night the ship crew worked as we slept. They take conductivity, temperature and pressure readings, through the use of a CTD monitor, which ultimately gives us information on the salinity and depth of the water. The ship ran set transects through the water deploying the CTD monitor at various locations along the transect, collecting this information.

The ship was really rocking and rolling all night long and I woke up at 5:30 AM not feeling very well, and knowing I had to get some fresh air. So I went up on the fly deck, this is where we make our whale observations, and sat up there and watched the sunrise. The ocean is so beautiful and I find myself very drawn to it. It can be a beautiful place and it can be one filled with raw power. Luckily for me today it was on the peaceful side. Looking out at the horizon I can understand why people thought the world was flat. It really does look as if you will reach the end and fall off. As I was waiting for my shift, I saw three whales in the distance, either fin or sei whales, and several Atlantic white striped dolphins. I thought nothing could get better than that. Boy was I wrong!

We started our watch at 7AM and started to see whales very quickly. Even though there were large swells there were no whitecaps. We saw minke, which are small whales, because they swam along the ship. We also saw sei, fin and humpback whales. Around 11:00AM we saw our first group of right whales and that’s when the real fun began.

Today I got to go in the little gray boat and we sped across the water to get close-up shots of whales.

Me getting ready to take pictures

Biologists Jamison Smith and Jen Gatzke help direct the small boat from the flybridge (photo: Genevive Davis)

There is a list of right whales that need biopsies. A biopsy is when you shoot a dart into the back of the whale and get a small piece of skin and blubber. Typically, there is little response from the whales when you do this. You could probably equate it to a mosquito bite for us. The skin biopsy is then analyzed for the genetic code, or DNA, in a lab. This gives scientists an idea of who is related to whom, in the whale world, so to speak. Through this data they have found that there are a small number of male right whales fathering the calves. Why? At this point they don’t know but you can sure whale biologists are trying to figure this out. The blubber is immediately preserved and then it too is analyzed. However, the blubber is analyzed to determine the possible level of contaminants in the whale.

Two right whales together close to our boat

We took close up shots of both the left and right heads of each whale and checked to make sure it wasn’t one we needed to biopsy. Remember, you identify right whales by their callosities. While we didn’t find any that needed biopsies, we got close to eleven right whales! We got close to one group of three right whales who were following each other like a train. One head would come up, then the body, then the fluke went up and it would go under. Just as the first whale went under the second came up right by the first’s fluke, did the same thing, and then the third. It was fascinating. It also gets a bit confusing trying to identify all three animals and making sure you have the correct pictures. The scientists are great at sorting through the information quickly and trying to keep track of the individuals.

At one point we were tracking a right whale and it was surrounded by sei whales feeding in the same location. We had about 10 whales all around us and at times it was hard to follow our right whale because we had to wait for the sei whales to get out of our way! It was amazing we could really see how they fed close up (more on their feeding methods in the next blog). Sei whales have a very different head and of course the dorsal fin I mentioned before. They are very sleek and streamlined looking whereas, I feel the right whales look more like the hippopotamuses of the ocean!

Sei Whale (photo Allison Henry 5/18/12)

Right whale looking like a hippo

Very little is know about sei whales, which are also endangered species, so effort is being made to start biopsying them. Therefore, while we were out there, Peter Duley, our chief scientist biopsied a sei whale. He uses a cross-bow with an arrow, that is designed to cut a small piece of blubber. Pete hit the whale on the first try. It was a great shot!

Peter Duley NOAA biologist targets sei whale (photo: Genevive Davis 5/18/12)

slumber

“Slumber” Humpback whales are identified by their fin patterns

We also got very close to a humpback whale. Humpbacks are identified by the patterns on their flukes. They also have a dorsal fin, but the shape can be quite variable and sometimes is just like a knob. Therefore, they are often mistook as a right whale until you see their fluke. We took pictures of this humpback so that the scientists studying them will get an accurate sighting on where this individual is located. In fact, upon communication with one of the humpback experts we were able to identify this whale which was first identified in 1999 and is called “Slumber”.

On our way back we went near a few basking sharks. These are sharks that are also filter feeders. They just swim slowly with their mouth open and collect any krill in the water. We were just about done, finishing up with our last right whale and he breached in front of us about 30 feet from the boat. It was amazing. We were out on the little gray boat for nearly five hours. It is five hours I will never forget for the rest of my life.

And to top off one of the best days of my life, mother nature decided to give us one spectacular sunset. Life is good.

Sunset off the Delaware II

Personal Log:

Another excellent part of this trip is one I bet a lot of you are thinking about. How is the food? I had heard that the food on board NOAA ships is good, but I wasn’t ready for the exceptional meals I have been served. The food is fantastic! Every night I have had some kind of fish or seafood , although there is always a choice of chicken or beef as well. My family will tell you that although I love seafood, fish is really not my thing. OK, I have officially changed my mind! I have had haddock, swordfish and halibut and every bite was a treat, especially the blackened swordfish with a mango chutney sauce. And meals aren’t everything. There is always some tasty treat hot out of the oven, or fresh fruit, available in between meals.

So why do we have such great meals? Well the credit has to go to John Rockwell, chief steward and Lydell Reed, second cook. John is in charge of purchasing, meal planning, cooking and cleaning. He comes by his culinary ability naturally, as he was raised in the restaurant business, and has an associates degree in culinary arts. He joined the wage mariner program (more on this later) and has been with the Delaware II for six years. Lydell also grew up in the food industry and worked as a sous chef before joining NOAA’s wage mariners.  Lydell has also been with NOAA for six years, but he is in a pool which means he moves around from ship to ship filling in for the second cook slot when needed. Whatever their background, they are amazing in the kitchen and it’s fun to walk down while they’re cooking. They always seem to be having a good time, you never know what music will be playing and there is always a great smell in the air.

John Rockwell and Lydel Reed creating gourmet food

Question of the Day: Why would sei whales and right whales be eating in the same places?

Ellen O’Donnell: Whales, Whales and More Whales May 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole. MA
Date: May 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Winds out of the south about 10-15 knots. Partly cloudy with mid-level clouds.

Science and Technology Log

We left Woods Hole, MA, yesterday afternoon around 2:00PM. All night we traveled until we reached Georges Bank this morning. George’s Bank is a rich feeding area that many cetaceans utilize especially those that eat small crustaceans called copepods. On May 12th a previous right whale survey located a group of 15 right whales. We headed out to that point. We started our watch sessions at 7AM and rotated through three stations.

Me on the “Big Eye”

One person used a mounted binocular which has 25X125 magnification. It is called “Big Eye.” Big Eye is used to scan the horizon from the bow to the port side. It is also used to help identify a whale when it is seen by someone else. The second person has binoculars and looks on the starboard side and the third person records information when any whale is seen and watches for the whales closest to the ship.

I learned a lot today about identifying whales. First off, if helps if you know what species you might be dealing with. In this location, the main species one might see are right whales, fin whales, sei whales and humpback whales.

So, here is the scoop on whale identification. Typically the first thing you see that indicates a whale is present is the spout. Whales are mammals and have lungs. Therefore, they need to inhale and exhale air. Whales have evolved to have their nostrils on their back, called “blowholes.” Baleen whales have two blowholes. The spout that you see is exhaled moist air.

Right Whale Spout (photo Beth Josephson 5/15/2012)

Anyway, back to identifying whales. Whales have somewhat different spray patterns giving an indication of the type of whale. Right whales and humpbacks have v-shaped blows, if you see them head on, or they look like puffy clouds from the side. Sei whales and fin whales have tall columnar spouts.

The second indication is to look for a dorsal fin, a fin on the whale’s backside. Right whales don’t have dorsal fins, but the other three whales do. You can also tell the difference between a sei and a fin whale by how close the spout and the dorsal fin appear. If you see the fin about the same time as the spout, you have a sei whale and if you don’t see the dorsal fin for a while you have a fin whale. (slow to the finish – fin whale, seys I’m here – sei whale. Method of memorizing – compliments of me!)

A third thing to look for is the fluke. Some whales, such as the right and humpback whales, raise their flukes when they dive down into the water. The humpbacks fluke is very broad and more horizontal, whereas the right whales fluke is more upright. In addition, the right whale fluke is more smooth on the inner portion of the fluke and the humpbacks is jagged.  Humpbacks also have white patterns on the back of their fluke, which is used to identify them whereas, right whales are just dark. So when you are looking for right whales it is exciting when you see a more rigid, dark colored fluke go down.

Right whale fluke before diving (photo Jennifer Gatzke 5/15/2012)

Right whale fluke (Jennifer Gatzke 5/15/2012)

Now there is one more thing to look for in a right whale. Right whales often skim along the surface. They open their mouths and let the water run through hoping to catch small crustaceans with their baleen. This gives them a characteristic sloping shape where their head is up higher in the water.

Right Whale Head (photo Allison Henry)

They also have callosities which are used to identify individuals. Callosities are rough patches of skin and each right whale has a different pattern of this skin.

At the location of the previous 15 whales we found 5 right whales. A small boat was lowered into the water in order to get closer to the whales. While whales are identified up in the flying tower of the Delaware II, the mission of this research cruise, however, is not just to identify whales. It is important to individually identify each right whale. Therefore, when right whales are seen, the biologists need to determine if it is one that has already been identified. To this purpose they take pictures of the whales head, remember that’s where the callosities are located. If it turns out to be a whale that scientists haven’t identified, or a new calf, a biopsy is taken of the whale (more to come on this). The biologists took pictures of the right whales, but it was very difficult to get close, as they were feeding below the surface and staying down for long periods of time. Right whales may remain below the surface for up to twenty minutes.

The gray boat heading out to get closer to right whales

After the time it took chasing the 5 whales, we made our way to a previous sighting of nine right whales. We saw 6 whales on the way and tagged the locations, but did not lower the boat. Our time was cut short because the weather is supposed to turn for the worse this evening and we need to get back near land. Therefore, we are heading back to the cape tonight, near Provincetown, as the weather forecast calls for rain, high winds and rough seas. We may be staying closer to land the next day or so.

5/15/2012 species identification: right, fin, sei and humpback whales, basking shark

Personal Log

I arrived in Woods Hole, MA, Sunday evening and made my way to the Delaware II. When I came on board I was told that this may be the Delaware’s last NOAA research trip. It was first deployed in 1968 by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. The Bureau was reorganized when NOAA was formed in 1972.  The Delaware II is the smallest ship in the NOAA fleet. Doesn’t seem to small to me. In June, the Delaware II will be taken down to the Marine Operations Center – Atlantic in Norfolk for layup. Hopefully it will end up with some other organization, such as a university, and sail the seas again.

I know many of you are probably curious as to where I am staying on board the ship. Check this out!

Me with my emergency suit on!

Safety is very important aboard a ship. When the Delaware took off from port we had two important drills to go through. The first was in case of a fire and the second was in case we would need to abandon ship. We all bring survival suits to the back of the ship and need to try them on to make sure we can get them on ourselves. This could be the difference between life and death.

I also have had to learn a new language while aboard the Delaware. Some words I knew and some I didn’t. Lucky for me my Dad drilled me on many nautical words back in the time when we had a small family sailboat. I can remember sitting around the kitchen table being asked to give the definitions. So lets see how you do. How many do you know? Write me back and let me know how many of the words you knew. Be honest! Also let me know if you have any other questions.

Cheers!

Mrs. OD

Nautical words:

Fore

Head

Aft

 Galley

Starboard

Stateroom

Port

Chart

Muster

Bow

Stern

Can you think of others?

Jessie Soder: Geology on Georges, August 17, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessie Soder
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
August 8 – 19, 2011 

Mission: Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northern Atlantic
Date: Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Weather Data
Time: 12:00
Location:  41°19.095 N, 71°03.261
Air Temp:  22°C (°F)
Water Temp:  21°C (°F)
Wind Direction: South
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Sea Wave height:  0
Sea Swell:  0

Science and Technology Log

Gulf of Maine: Including Georges Bank

So far, we have spent this entire trip on Georges Bank.  This famous geographical location off the east coast of the United States is something that I had only heard about before this trip.  After several tows over the past week I have been able to see a variety of materials brought up from the ocean floor of Georges Bank.  I have seen loads of clams, empty shells, sand, mud and clay, and smooth polished rocks.  We have even pulled up a few boulders that must have weighed a couple of hundred pounds.  It was the smooth polished rocks that caught my attention. How would a rock from the bottom of the ocean become smooth and rounded?  It probably meant that Georges Bank must not have always been the bottom of the ocean.

During the Wisconsin Glaciation the ice reached its maximum around 18,000 years ago.  The Laurentide ice sheet paused in the area of Georges Bank and Cape Cod and left behind a recessional moraine that created these landforms.  This ice also had several meltwater streams flowing from it and these streams were responsible for the polishing the rocks and cutting some of the canyons found on the seafloor today.  The Northeast Channel off the northeast side of Georges Bank was the principle water gap for most of the meltwater.

Smooth Polished Rocks From the Ocean Floor

Georges Bank is a huge oval-shaped shoal bigger than Massachusetts that starts about 62 miles offshore.  It is part of the continental shelf and its shallowest areas are approximately 13 feet deep and its deepest areas 200 feet.  In fact, thousands of years ago Georges Bank used to be above water and an extension of Cape Cod.  About 14,000 years ago the sea rose enough to isolate this area and it was home to many prehistoric animals such as mastodons and giant sloths.  Today, traces of these animals are sometimes found in fishing nets!  These animals died out about 11,500 years ago when the sea level rose further and submerged the area.

Georges Bank is a very productive fishing area in the North Atlantic.  (The Grand Banks is more productive, but not as geographically accessible as Georges Banks.)  Why is Georges Bank a prime feeding and breeding area for cod, haddock, herring, flounder, lobsters, and clams?  It has to do with ocean currents.  Cold, nutrient rich water from the Labrador Current sweeps over the bank and mixes with warmer water from the Gulf Stream on the eastern edges of Georges Bank.  The mingling of these two currents, plus sunlight, creates an ideal environment for phytoplankton, which is food for the zooplankton.  In fact, the phytoplankton grow three times faster here than on any other continental shelf.  All of this plankton feeds the ecosystem of fish, birds, marine mammals, and shellfish that flourish on Georges Banks.

Personal Log

Yesterday we left Georges Bank for stations off the coast of Rhode Island.  After dark, I stepped out on the back deck and Jimmy pointed out the lights of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.  We were in sight of land for the first time in a week.  It wasn’t long before people had their cell phones out and were making calls.

A few times during this trip I have thought about sailors in the past and how they would leave for months, and even years, at a time and not have contact with their families and loved ones until they returned.  I have had email contact this entire time, yet I am really excited to go home to see those that I miss.  I can hardly imagine what it would be like to be gone for a year with no contact at all.

Throughout this trip I have been getting to know others on this cruise.  I have learned that several of them have families and young children at home.  Many of them are at sea for many weeks, or months, a year.  After being on this cruise, I have gained a lot of respect for people who choose to work on the ocean for a living.  It takes a certain type of person who can work hard, maintain a positive attitude, and live away from their home and loved ones for extended periods of time.  It has been an honor to work with these people.

Jessie Soder: Drag It Along, Dump It Out, Count ‘Em Up, August 14, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessie Soder
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
August 8 – 19, 2011 

Mission: Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northern Atlantic
Date: Wednesday, August 14, 2011 

Weather Data
Time:  16:00
Location:  41°47N, 67°47W
Air Temp:  18°C  (64°F)
Water Temp:  16.5°C  (62°F)
Wind Direction:  SE
Wind Speed:  6 knots
Sea Wave height:  0
Sea Swell:  0

Science and Technology Log

A fellow volunteer, Rebecca, and myself measuring clams

When I found out that the Teacher at Sea trip that I would be on was a clam survey, I thought, “Oh, clams.  I see those on the beach all the time.  No problem.”  I learned that the clams are collected using a hydraulic dredge.  I knew  that a dredge was something that you dragged along the bottom of the ocean.  That seemed simple enough.  Drag it along, dump it out, count ‘em up, and you’re done.

Quickly, I learned that this project is not that simple!  A few questions came to mind after we had done a couple of tows:  How many people are needed to conduct one tow for clams and quahogs? (operate the machinery, the ship, sort through a tow, collect the data, etc.)  How many different jobs are there during one tow?

Sorting through contents of a dredge

Those questions are hard to answer, and I don’t have a precise answer.  What I have learned is that it takes a lot of people and everyone that is involved has a job that is important.  I asked the Chief Scientist, Victor Nordahl, how many people he preferred to have on a science team per watch.   He told me that it is ideal to have six people dedicated to working on sorting the contents of the dredge, processing the catch, and collecting data per watch.  Additionally, he likes to have one “floater,” who can be available to help during each watch.  This seems like a lot of people, but, when there is a big catch this number of people makes the work much more manageable.  There are six people, including myself, on my watch.  Four of us are volunteers.

Each time the dredge is lowered, pulled along the ocean floor, and then brought back onto the ship it is called an “event.”  In my last post I included a video of the dredge being hauled up onto the deck of the ship after it had been pulled along the bottom.  An entire tow, or “event,” is no small feat!  During my watch Rick operates the machinery that raises and lowers the dredge.  (Don’t forget the dredge weighs 2500 pounds!)

There are also two people working on deck that assist him.  (You can see them in the video from my last post.  They are wearing hard hats and life vests.)  Additionally, an officer on the bridge needs to be operating and navigating the ship during the entire event.  There are specific times where they must speed up, slow down, and stop the ship during a tow.  They also have to make sure that the ship is in the correct location because there are planned locations for each tow.  Throughout the entire event the science team, deck crew, and the bridge crew communicate by radio.

Rick, in front of the controls he uses to lower and raise the dredge

As I said, this project is not simple!  To make it more complicated, equipment often breaks, or is damaged, which means that the deck crew and the science team have to stop and fix it. On this trip we have stopped to fix equipment several times.  Various parts of the dredge get bent and broken from rocks on the ocean floor.  Before the dredge is lowered, the bottom is scouted with a depth sounder to try to avoid really rough terrain.  On the screen of the depth sounder different substrates are shown in different colors.  For example sand is shown in green and rocks are shown in red.  We try to avoid a lot of rocks.  However, all the rocks cannot be avoided and sometimes we hit them!

Personal Log

Vic getting a hair cut

Before coming on this trip I was told that the work can be strenuous and, sure enough, it is.  Sometimes a tow brings up hundreds of pounds of rocks (with some clams mixed in!) that we need to sort through and, as you know, rocks are heavy!  The work is also a bit, well, gross.  We have to measure all the clams, whole and broken and we also have to collect weights of “clam meat.”  That means that we have to open the shells and scrape the meat out.  I have a pretty high tolerance for gross things, but I am starting to grow weary of clam guts!

In between tows there is a little bit of down time to catch your breath, drink coffee and eat cookies, watch the ocean, and read a book.  During one of these breaks, the Chief Scientist Victor Nordahl, took the moment and had his hair cut!

Anne Artz: August 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Artz
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 25 — August 5, 2011

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 8, 2011

Personal Log

I’m home now in Southern California but still reveling in the experience I had aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II.  When people ask me what it was like, I tell them it was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  It was also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had since I left the biotech industry some 23 years ago.  It reminded me of why I enjoy science in general and research in particular.  I tell my students each year that I love science simply because it’s always new.  I hope I can pass along my enthusiasm for learning to my students and share with them the importance of ongoing research.

One of the final thoughts I wanted to share was about the people who choose to do this kind of work on a daily basis.  I met people who were into it for the science, people who just loved being at sea, and those people who had a real aptitude for mechanics and physics.  There were people who could repair just about any piece of equipment on the ship — the mechanical and the electronic.  There were people who had an excellent sense of the ocean and its movements, currents, and the life it holds.  I was impressed by the friendliness of all the people on board the Delaware II and their willingness to answer all my questions and share with me about their daily jobs.

As promised, I’ve included here on my final blog the interview I had with one of the NOAA Commissioned Corps officers, ENS Hefferan.  I intend to have my students do a project investigating the careers available through NOAA as soon as school begins.  I realize not everyone is cut out to work in a lab doing experiments but maybe there is a student out there who will recognize that some of the best science, the most exciting science, is taking place on ships like the Delaware II.