Melissa Barker: Navigation and People of the Oregon II, July 2, 2017

P1030109NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II

June 22-July 6

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 2, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28 37.91 N

Longitude: 89 19.41 W

Air temp: 30.5 C

Water temp: 31.7 C

Wind direction: 340 degrees

Wind speed: 4 knots

Wave height: 0 meters

Sky: partly cloudy

 

Science and Technology Log

Point plotted on electronic chart. We are the little green boat icon on the screen.

I spent some time on the bridge with LT Reni Rydlewicz learning about how the ship is navigated. The officers and crew are reliant on technology to navigate the Oregon II from station to station. There are many obstacles here off the coast of Louisiana that must be avoided including rigs, oil field traffic, shipping boats and shrimpers. The radar, electronic charts and weather screen are vital to successfully navigating the Gulf. The first step in navigation is using the electronic chart to plot a line to the station.

 

Radar is critical to navigation in a busy Gulf

 

We keep at least one mile away from any rigs or other obstacles. The officer on duty will check the radar and then visually confirm what they see out on the water. They may also radio any nearby vessels to discuss their routes and make sure we can safely pass.

 

 

 

Melissa at the helm being instructed by LT Rydlewicz

 

 

Next, the officer will turn the helm to the proper heading using degrees, like on a compass.  Zero degrees is due north. Once on the proper heading, we will go to the way point of the set track-line monitoring for obstructions and vessels along the way.

 

 

 

Plotting our location on the chart

 

About every thirty minutes to one hour, the officer will drop a fixed position on the paper chart to track our progress based on our latitude and longitude.

Wind direction indicator

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see us sitting on the south edge of the storm cell on the weather screen

 

 

 

Another vital piece of technology is the WXWorks weather screen that shows weather patterns and lightning strikes.

 

 

 

 

 

Currently, the water is calm and we are cruising to a station near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The image below shows the route we have taken thus far as we zig zag our way from station to station.

You can see our route as of 7/1/17 marked in blue. The Oregon II is the little green boat on the map.

The pitch and RPM’s can be adjusted to change the speed of the ship. The Oregon II has two engines, but we usually operate on one to save wear and tear and to have a backup engine just in case. Our average cruising speed is about 8 knots. With both engines, we can cruise at 10-11 knots.

When conducting a CTD, the officer often uses one of the side stations to control the speed and rudder so they can see what is happening with the CTD instrument. They must keep the ship as still as possible, which can be challenging in some conditions. Before the trawl is lowered into the water, the officers must plot a course making sure they can trawl continuously for about 1.5 miles at 2.5-3 knots within 5 miles radius of the station. The bridge, deck crew and FPC are in radio communication when setting the trawl. At night, the bridge operates with red screens and lights so the officers can keep their night vision. There is also video feed that shows the bow and stern decks and engine room to keep an eye on folks when they are out doing their work.

I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been for ENS Parrish, when she started on the Oregon II in December, trying to learn how to use all the technology that helps her and the other officers navigate the ship as well as actually learning how the ship moves in the water.

 

Interviews with the People of the Oregon II

I’ve spent some time talking with people who work on the ship from the different departments trying to understand their jobs and their desire to work at sea. I have posted three interviews here and will post more in the next blog.

 

ENS Chelsea Parrish

ENS Chelsea Parrish holding a cobia

Chelsea is a Junior Officer learning to stand her own watch on the bridge. She reported to the Oregon II in December and needs to have at least 120 hours at sea, become proficient navigating the ship and have the Commanding Officer’s blessing to become an Officer Of the Deck. In addition to learning the details of navigation and fishing operations, she also is the Environmental Compliance Officer, completes chart corrections weekly and heads up social media for the ship. You can learn more about the NOAA Corps here.

What did you do before working for NOAA?

I earned my masters in marine science and then applied to the NOAA Corps. The training for NOAA Corps is nineteen weeks, seventeen of which are spent at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT training and taking classes.

ENS Chelsea Parrish in her Service Dress Blues. (photo credit: Chelsea Parrish)

Why did you join the NOAA Corps?

I heard about it in graduate school and it sounded like a great way to serve my country and help scientists do their work. I consider the NOAA Corps a hidden gem because not that many people know about it. We are stewards of our oceans and atmosphere by contributing to oceanographic, hydrographic and fisheries science. I will spend two years at sea and then three years on land and continue that rotation. We even have a song, check it out here.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

The balance between work and personal life can be a challenge on the ship, but I’m finding a routine and sticking to it.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

I love watching the sun rise and set over the ocean each day and the mystery of what we will find in the ocean each day.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Be adaptable and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid to go against the norm and follow your passion.

 

Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols

In Chris’ role as Lead Fisherman, he is second in charge of on the deck crew and leader of the night watch. He operates the cranes and is responsible for fishing operations on the ship. He also stands a look out watch on the bridge. His other responsibilities involve mending fishing nets and handling the sharks (especially during the shark survey). Chris has many certifications that give him additional responsibility such as being a surface rescue swimmer, NOAA working diver and one of the MPIC’s (medical person on duty).

What did you do before working for NOAA?

Lead Fisherman Chris Nelson

I was a charter fishing boat captain, an able body seaman with the Merchant Marines and had a navigation job with the Navy.

Why work for NOAA?

My specialty is big game fish, so I was initially attracted to the NOAA shark surveys. I’ve been at sea since 1986 and am always up for another adventure.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

I have a lot of additional duties besides being a Lead Fisherman. The upkeep of all of my certifications takes a significant amount of time.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

The camaraderie of the people. We have a great steady group of people and our repeat ports are nice places to visit. I really enjoy working with the scientists and the fish too.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Embrace adventure. I was inspired by early on by reading adventure stories like Tom Sawyer. Work has taken me all around the world. And definitely take those math courses, especially algebra and calculus. I use math every day in my work.

 

Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill

For two years Valerie has been the Chief Steward who keeps everyone on the ship well fed. She and her assistant, Arlene, attempt to satisfy 30 different appetites three times per day.

Valerie’s welcoming smile

What did you do before working for NOAA?

I worked oil industry first in food service, but wanted to work for NOAA. I have a small catering business and like to experiment with food.

Why work for NOAA?

I love running a kitchen without the unreliable schedule and endless hours of land based restaurants.

One of the amazing meals from the galley

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

Trying to please everyone is a big task. It can also be challenging to meet people’s dietary restrictions with the limitations of the kitchen.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

I enjoy the people. Even if the boat is rocking and people are tired, I try to being comfort through food.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Never let fear of failure stop you.

 

 

 

Personal Log

Chart of the turn I made

A few days ago, we were on weather hold and I went up to the bridge to see what was going on. I was starting to feel a little sick from all the movement. Being in the bridge, where I could see the horizon, helped sooth my stomach and distract me from the motion. We were running “weather patterns”, which means that we are running a course for the best ride possible while waiting for the weather system to pass. Then we can go back to the station we need to sample. Reni let me turn the ship which was a pretty cool experience. She directed me to turn the helm to 40 degrees to the port side, then as we started to turn, she had me easy back to 30, 20, 10 and finally back to zero to complete our 180 degree turn back towards the station.

Yesterday between trawls, David, Sarah and I went up to the forward most part on the bow. We peered over the railing to see four bottlenose dolphins playing on the bow wake. It was incredible to see them so close. As they were swimming at 7-8 knots right alongside the ship, they rotated position allowing each to take a turn coming to the surface for air. It was similar to bikers rotating in a peloton to stay out of the wind. Once I’m back on shore, I’ll post some video, but here is a still shot for you.

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Bottlenose dolphins riding the bow wake

Standing at the forward most part of the bow

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Looking back from the bow to the bridge

View from the flying bridge

 

I’ve been waking up a few hours before my shift starts to work on my blogs and get a little exercise. I never know what the weather is like when I wake up because I sleep on the lower deck. Technically I sleep under water and hear the water slapping the side of the ship as I’m drifting off to sleep. This morning I decided to go to the flying bridge, which is at the top of the ship, to do a little workout. The sea was glass-like and the visibility was over 10 nautical miles. I decided it was the perfect location for some yoga. I enjoyed the extra challenge of holding poses on the moving ship.

 

 

 

Did You Know?

The northern two-thirds of the continental US and part of Canada drains into the Gulf of Mexico. These rivers bring accumulated runoff from cities, suburbs, rural areas, agriculture and industry and have the potential to influence the health of the Gulf.  (source: flowergarden.noaa.gov)

gomwatershed

Rivers that drain into the Gulf of Mexico (photo credit: http://flowergarden.noaa.gov)

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Are you going to see sharks? (Gemma, Sylvia, Mae, Finn)

We have caught two small sharpnose sharks so far on this cruise. The Oregon II does a shark survey in the late summer where they focus on catching sharks.

How long does the whole process of catching fish take? (Sam)

Once we come upon the station, they set the trawl for 30 minutes. Depending on how deep we are sampling, it might take 10-20 minutes to bring the net back in.

What classes or skills would you have to master to become a marine biologist? (Rowan, Ava, Julia) 

I asked this question to a room full of students studying some sort of marine biology or science and here is what they said…

It depends on your area of interest, but reading and writing skills are critical. It would be helpful to take courses in biology, chemistry, comparative physiology and anatomy, biological and ecological systems and applied math like calculus and statistics. In David’s program at University of Miami, he had to choose a concentration like biology, physics, or chemistry with his marine science degree.

 

David Amidon: All Aboard for Science, June 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Amidon

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 2 – 13, 2017

Mission: Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the California Coast

Date: June 12, 2017

 

Science Log: 

IMG_1908

A Chrysaora colorata  jellyfish with an anchovy

As I end my journey on the Reuben Lakser, I wanted to prepare a post about the people on the ship. As in any organization, there are a lot of different people and personalities on board. I interviewed 15 different people and, looking back, I am particularly amazed by how much “Science” drives the ship. The Chief Scientist is involved in most of the decisions regarding course corrections and the logistics. It is really promising as a science teacher — NOAA offers a place for those interested in science to enjoy many different careers.  

The people working on the ship can be grouped into broad categories. I have mentioned the science crew, but there are also fishermen, deck crew, engineers, stewards and, of course, the ship’s officers. If you like to cook, there are positions for you here. Same thing if you want to be an electrician or mechanic. Each of those positions has different responsibilities and qualifications. For example, the engineers need proper licenses to work on specific vessels. All of the positions require ship specific training. For some, working on the ship is almost a second career, having worked in the private sector or the Navy previously. Kim Belveal, the Chief Electrical Technician followed this path as did Engineer Rob Piquion. Working with NOAA provides them with a decent wage and a chance to travel and see new places. For young people looking to work on a ship, these are great jobs to examine that combine different interests together. IMG_1930

All of the officers on the ships are members of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. They have ranks, titles and traditions just like the Navy and Coast Guard. Commander (CDR) Kurt Dreflak, the Commanding Officer, or CO and Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Justin Keesee, the Executive Officer, or XO, are in charge of everything that happens on the Reuben downloadLasker. To reach these positions, someone must work hard and be promoted through the NOAA Corps ranks. They make the ultimate decisions in terms of personnel, ordering, navigation, etc. The XO acts as most people think a First Mate would work. What impressed me was how they responded when I asked about why they work for NOAA and to describe their favorite moment at sea.  They both responded the same way: NOAA Corps provides a chance to combine science and service – a “Jacques Cousteau meets the Navy” situation. They also shared a similar thought when I asked them about their favorite moments at sea – they both reflected about reaching the “Aha” moment when training their officers.  This is definitely something I can relate to as a teacher.

Other NOAA Corps officers have different responsibilities, such as the OPS or Operations Officer, and take shifts on the bridge and on the deck, driving the ship, coordinating trawls and keeping the ship running smoothly in general. Most of the NOAA Corps has a background in marine science, having at least a degree in some science or marine discipline. When I asked them why they decided to work for NOAA, the common response was that it allows them to serve their country and contribute to science. Again, this is an awesome thing for a science teacher to hear!

IMG_1906

A Butterfish

To emphasize how important science is to the organization, two NOAA Corps officers, LTJG Cherisa Friedlander and LTJG Ryan Belcher, are members of the science crew during this leg of the Juvenile Rockfish Survey. They worked with us in the Science Lab, and did not have the same responsibilities associated with the ship’s operations.

 

Cherisa provided a lot of background about the NOAA Corp and the Reuben Lasker  in particular. I am including her full interview here:

  • What is your name?
    • Lieutenant Junior Grade Cherisa Friedlander
  • What is your title or position?
    • NOAA Corps Officer/ Operations Officer for the Fisheries Ecology Division in Santa Cruz,CA
  • What is your role on the ship?
    • I used to be the junior officer on board, now I am sailing as a scientist for the lab. It is kind of cool to have sailed on the ship in both roles! They are very different.
  • How long have you been working on the Reuben Lasker?
    • I worked on board from 2013-2014
  • Why did you choose to work on the Lasker?
    • I originally listed the RL as one if the ships I wanted after basic training in 2012 because it was going to be the newest ship in the fleet. It was very exciting to be a part of bringing a new ship online. I got to see it be built from the inside out and helped order and organize all of the original supplies. The first crew of a ship are called the plankowner crew of the ship, and it stems from olden times when shipbuilders would sleep on the same plank on the deck while they were building the ship. It is a big task.

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      Cherisa (far right) when the Reuben Lasker was commissioned From: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/marine-operations/ships/reuben-lasker

  • What is your favorite moment on the ship or at sea?
    • I was the first Junior Officer the ship ever had and got to plan and be on board for the transit through the Panama Canal!
  • Why do you work for NOAA?
    • I love my job! I come from a service family, so I love the service lifestyle the NOAA Corps offers while still incorporating science and service. I like that every few years I get to see a new place and do a new job. Next I head to Antarctica!
  • If a young person was interested in doing your job someday, what advice would you give them?
    • Explore lots of options for careers while you are young. Volunteer, do internships, take courses, and find out what interests you. The more activities you participate in, the more well rounded you are and it allows you to find a job you will love doing. It is also appealing to employers to see someone who has been proactive about learning new ideas and skills.
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work or experiences at sea?
    • Working at sea can certainly be challenging. I can get very seasick sometimes which makes for a very unhappy time at sea. It can also be hard to be away from family and friends for so long, so I make sure to spend quality time with those people when I am on land. 🙂

 

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Wrapping up a trawl – measuring & bagging

The remainder of the science crew is at different points in their careers and have followed different paths to be a part of this cruise. Students motivated in science can take something from these stories, I hope, and someday join a field crew like this.   

San Diego red crabs last haul 1703.JPG

Last Haul- off coast of San Diego  Photo by Keith Sakuma

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma has been part of the Rockfish Survey since 1989. He started as a student and has worked his way up from there. Various ships have run the survey in the past, but the Reuben Lasker, as the most state-of-the-art ship in the fleet, looks to be its home for the near future.

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An octopus

Thomas Adams is an undergraduate student from Humboldt State University. He has kept his eyes open and taken advantage of opportunities as they come up. He has been part of the survey for a few years already and looks to continue his work through a Master’s degree program.

Maya Drzewicki is an undergrad student from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. She was named as a Hollings Scholar -in her words this is: “a 2 year academic scholarship and paid summer internship for college students interested in pursuing oceanic or atmospheric sciences. I am a marine biology major and through this scholarship program I have learned so much about ocean sciences and different careers.”

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Measuring Northern Lampfish

Rachel Zuercher is a PhD student associated with the University of California- Santa Cruz. She joined the survey in part because the group has provided her samples in the past that she has used for her research.

Mike Force is a professional birdwatcher who was able to make a career out of something he loves to do. He has been all over the globe, from Antarctica to the South Pacific helping to identify birds. As a freelance contractor, he goes where he is needed. His favorite time at sea was also a common theme I came across- there is always a chance to see something unique, no matter how long you have been on ship.

 

Ken Baltz is an oceanographer who ran the daytime operations on the ship. He was associated with NOAA Fisheries Santa Cruz lab – Groundfish Analysis Team. As advice to young people looking to get in the field, he suggests they make sure that they can handle the life on the ship. This was a common theme many people spoke to – life on a ship is not always great. Seas get rough, tours take time and you are working with the same group of people for a long time. Before making a career of life on a ship, make sure it suits you!

 

Personal Log

Sunday, June 11th

I experienced a truly magical moment on the Flying Bridge this evening as we transited off the coast near Santa Barbara. For a good 20 minutes, we were surrounded by a feeding frenzy of birds, dolphins, sea lions and humpback whales. It was awesome! The video below is just a snippet from the event and it does not do it justice. It was amazing!

 

 

 

Monday, June 12th

Sad to say this is my last night on the ship. We had plans to do complete 4 trawls, but we had a family of dolphins swimming in our wake during the Marine Mammal Watch. We had to cancel that station. After we wrapped up, it was clean up time and we worked through the night. The ship will arrive in San Diego early tomorrow morning.

Thank you NOAA and the crew of the Reuben Lasker for an awesome experience!!!

 

 

 

Emily Sprowls: Shark Bait, March 28, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Sprowls

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

March 20 – April 3, 2017

 

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: March 28, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

RedSnapper

Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

13:00 hours

29°09.3’ N 88°35.2’W

Visibility 10 nm, Scattered clouds

Wind 8 kts 170°E

Sea wave height <1 ft.

Seawater temp 22.9°C

 

Science and Technology Log

In addition to experimenting by sampling deeper, we are varying the fishing gear and using different kinds of bait. We have switched to hooks on a steel leader so that even a strong, big shark cannot bite through the line. We are rotating through squid and mackerel as bait in order to see which species are more attracted to different bait. In addition to many species of sharks, we have also caught and measured eels, large fish and rays.

Nick hooks

Nick prepares hooks for longline gangions.

One of the scientists on board specializes in fishing gear, and helps keep maintain all our gear after it gets twisted by eels or looped up on itself. He also works on turtle exclusion devices for trawling gear.

 

Personal Log

Last night the line pulled in a huge tangle of “ghost gear.” This was fishing line and hooks that had been lost and sunk. It would have been much easier to just cut the line and let the mess sink back to where it came from, but everybody worked together to haul it out so it won’t sit at the bottom tangling up other animals.

Ghost gear

Lost or “ghost” gear that tangled in our lines.

This is just one example of the dedication the scientists and crew have to ocean stewardship. I have been so impressed by the care and speed with which everybody handles the sharks in order to get them back in the water safely.

 

Kids’ Questions

  • Is there any bycatch of dolphins?
Deep seastar

A few seastars come up with uneaten bait as bycatch.

Today we saw dolphins for the first time! They were only a few of them pretty far from the boat, so they did not affect our sampling. Had they decided to come play by riding in our wake, we would have postponed our sampling to avoid any interactions between the dolphins and the gear. One of the reasons that we only deploy the fishing gear for one hour is in case an air-breathing turtle or mammal gets tangled (they can hold their breath for over an hour). However, since dolphins hunt live fish, they don’t try to eat the dead bait we are using.

  • Can sharks use echolocation? How do they find their food?

Sharks do not use echolocation like marine mammals, but they do have an “extra” sense to help them find their food. They can detect electrical current using special sense organs called ampullae of Lorenzini.

  • What are the chances of getting hurt? Why don’t they bite?

While there is a chance of the sharks accidentally biting us as we handle them, we are very careful to hold them on the backs of their heads and not to put our fingers near their mouths! “Shark burn” is a more likely injury, which occurs when a shark wiggles and their rough skin scrapes the person handling them. Sharks do not have scales, but are covered in tiny, abrasive denticles that feel like sandpaper.

 

 

 

Trevor Hance: Life, As You (Already) Know It… June 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 21, 2015

Teacher at Sea?

Teacher at Sea?

Science and Technology Log

The rhythm of a ship rocking and rolling through varied wave heights while catching some zzzz’s in a small, curtain-enclosed bunk provides an opportunity to get some really amazing deep sleep.  Last night I had a dream that one of my childhood friends married Dan Marino.  It seemed completely bizarre until I remembered we saw lots of dolphins yesterday.

Dan? Mrs. Marino? Is that you?

Dan? Mrs. Marino? Is that you?

Seas have calmed substantially from the ride we had a couple of days ago, and for the past few days the ride has been so smooth I feel more like a “Teacher at Pond” than “Teacher at Sea.”  Unfortunately, it looks like that awful weather system my friends and family have been dealing back home in Texas is about to make its way to us here off the coast of New England (what many Texans consider “the southern edge of Santa-land”) and there’s even a chance today might be our last full day at sea.

At the helm: Estoy El Jefe!

At the helm: Estoy El Jefe!

Operations

Operationally, we’ve shifted back and forth from dredge to HabCam work and it is a decidedly different experience, and as with everything, there are pros and cons.

HabCam

As mentioned in an earlier blog, the HabCam requires two people to monitor two different stations as pilot and co-pilot, each with several monitors to help keep the system running smoothly and providing updates on things like salinity, depth and water temperature (currently 4.59 degrees Celsius – yikes!!!).

Views of the screens we monitor: from 6 o’clock, moving clockwise:  the winch, altitude monitor, cameras of back deck, sonar of the sea floor and photos being taken as we travel

Views of the screens we monitor: from 6 o’clock, moving clockwise: the winch, altitude monitor, cameras of back deck, sonar of the sea floor and photos being taken as we travel

The pilot gets to drive the HabCam with a joystick that pays-out or pulls in the tow-wire, trying to keep the HabCam “flying” about 2 meters off the sea floor.  Changes in topography, currents, and motion of the vessel all contribute to the challenge. The co-pilot primarily monitors and annotates the photographs that are continually taken and fed into one of the computers in our dry-lab.  I’ll share more about annotating in the next blog-post, but essentially, you have to review, categorize and sort photos based on the information each contains.

The winch has its own monitor

The winch has its own monitor

Driving the HabCam gives you a feeling of adventure – I find myself imagining I am driving The Nautilus and Curiosity, but, after about an hour, things get bleary, and it’s time to switch and let one of the other crew members take over.  My rule is to tap-out when I start feeling a little too much like Steve Zissou.

Dredge

Dredge work involves dropping a weighted ring bag that is lined with net-like material to the sea floor and towing it behind the vessel, where it acts as a sieve and filters out the smallest things and catches the larger things, which are sorted, weighed and measured in the wet lab on the back deck.

Close up of the dredge material

Close up of the dredge material; HabCam in the background

Dredge work is a little like the “waves-crashing-across-the-deck” stuff that you see on overly dramatized TV shows like “Deadliest Catch.”  As my students know, I like getting my hands dirty, so I tend to very much enjoy the wind, water and salty experience associated with a dredge.

Yours truly, sporting my homemade jolly roger t-shirt after a successful dredge

Yours truly, after a successful dredge, sporting my homemade Jolly Roger t-shirt

While the dredge is fun, my students and I use motion-triggered wildlife cameras to study the life and systems in the Preserve behind our school, and I fully realize the value those cameras provide — especially in helping us understand when we have too much human traffic in the Preserve. The non-invasive aspects of HabCam work provide a similar window, and a remarkable, reliable data source when you consider that the data pertaining to one particular photograph could potentially be reviewed thousands of times for various purposes.  The sheer quantity of data we collect on a HabCam run is overwhelming in real-time, and there are thousands of photos that need to be annotated (i.e. – reviewed and organized) after each cruise.

More Science

Anyway, enough of the operational stuff we are doing on this trip for now, let’s talk about some science behind this trip… I’m going to present this section as though I’m having a conversation with a student (student’s voice italicized).

Life needs death; this is a shot of 8 or 9 different crabs feasting on a dead skate that settled at the bottom. Ain't no party like a dead skate party...

Life needs death; this is a shot of 8 or 9 different crabs feasting on a dead skate that settled at the bottom. Ain’t no party like a dead skate party…

Mr. Hance, can’t we look at pictures instead of having class?  I mean, even your Mom commented on your blog and said this marine science seems a little thick.

We’ll look at pictures in a minute, but before we do, I need you to realize what you already know.

The National Wildlife Federation gives folks a chance to support biodiversity by developing a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” right in their own backyard.  We used NWF’s plan in our class as a guideline as we learned that the mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds we study in our Preserve need four basic things for survival:  water, food, shelter and space (note:  while not clearly stated in NWF’s guidelines, “air” is built in.)

This same guide is largely true for marine life, and because we are starting small and building the story, we should probably look at some physics and geology to see some of the tools we are working with to draw a parallel.

Ugh, more water and rocks?  I want to see DOLPHINS, Mr. Hance!

Sorry, kid, but we’re doing water and rocks before more dolphins.

Keep in mind the flow of currents around Georges Bank and the important role they play in distributing water and transporting things, big and small.  Remember what happened to Nemo when he was hanging out with Crush? You’ll see why that sort of stuff loosely plays in to today’s lesson.

Let There Be Light! And Heat!

Let There Be Light! And Heat!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Georges Bank is a shallow shoal, which means the sea floor has a lot more access to sunlight than the deeper areas around it, which is important for two big reasons. First, students will recall that “light travels in a straight line until it strikes an object, at which point it….” (yada, yada, yada).  In this case, the water refracts as it hits the water (“passes through a medium”) and where the water is really shallow, the sunlight can actually reflect off of the sea floor (as was apparent in that NASA photo I posted in my last blog.)

Also important is the role the sun plays as the massive energy driver behind pretty much everything on earth.  So, just like in our edible garden back at school, the sun provides energy (heat and light), which we know are necessary for plant growth.

Okay, so we have energy, Mr. Hance, but what do fish do for homes?

The substrate, or the sediment(s) that make-up the sea floor on Georges Bank consists of material favorable for marine habitat and shelter.  The shallowest areas of Georges Bank are made mostly of sand or shell hash (“bits and pieces”) that can be moved around by currents, often forming sand waves.  Sand waves are sort of the underwater equivalent of what we consider sand dunes on the beach.  In addition to the largely sandy areas, the northern areas of the Bank include lots of gravel left behind as glaciers retreated (i.e. – when Georges Bank was still land.)

Moving currents and the size of the sediment on the sea floor are important factors in scallop population, and they play a particularly significant role relating to larval transportation and settlement.  Revisiting our understanding of Newton’s three laws of motion, you’ll recognize that the finer sediment (i.e. – small and light) are easily moved by currents in areas of high energy (i.e. – frequent or strong currents), while larger sediment like large grains of sand, gravel and boulders get increasingly tough to push around.

Importantly, not all of Georges Bank is a “high energy” area, and the more stable areas provide a better opportunity for both flora and fauna habitat.  In perhaps simpler terms, the harder, more immobile substrates provide solid surfaces as well as “nooks and crannies” for plants to attach and grow, as well as a place for larvae (such as very young scallop) to attach or hide from predators until they are large enough to start swimming, perhaps in search of food or a better habitat.

With something to hold on to, you might even see what scientists call “biogenic” habitat, or places where the plants and animals themselves make up the shelter.

Substrate samples from one of our dredges; sand, rocks/gravel/pebbles,

Substrate samples from one of our dredges; shells, sand, rocks/gravel/pebbles, “bio-trash” and a very young crab

There is one strand of a plant growing off of this rock we pulled up.  Not much, but it's something to hold on to!

There is one strand of a plant growing off of this rock we pulled up. Not much, but it’s something to hold on to!

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, rocks and one weed, huh… I wonder what’s happening at the pool…

Whoa, hold on, don’t quit — you’re half way there!

Before you mind drifts off thinking that there are coral reefs or something similar here, it is probably important that I remind you that the sea floor of Georges Bank doesn’t include a whole lot of rapid topography changes – remember, we are towing a very expensive, 3500 lb. steel framed camera at about 6 knots, and it wouldn’t make sense to do that in an area where we might smash it into a bunch of reefs or boulders.  Here, things are pretty flat and relatively smooth, sand waves and the occasional boulder being the exceptions.

Okay, our scallops now have a place to start their life, but, what about breathing and eating, and why do they need “space” to survive?  Isn’t the ocean huge?

As always, remember that we are trying to find a balance, or equilibrium in the system we are studying.

One example of a simple system can be found in the aquaponics systems we built in our classroom last year. Aquaponics is soil-less gardening, where fish live in a tank below a grow bed and the water they “pollute” through natural bodily functions (aka – “poop”) is circulated to the grow bed where the plants get the nutrients they need, filter out the waste and return good, healthy water back to the fish, full of the micronutrients the fish need to survive.  I say our system is simple because we are “simply” trying to balance ammonia, nitrates and phosphates and not the vast number of variables that exist in the oceans that cover most of our Earth’s surface.  Although the ocean is much larger on the spatial scale, the concept isn’t really that much different, the physical properties of matter are what they are, and waste needs to be processed in order for a healthy system to stay balanced.

Our simple classroom system

Our simple classroom system

Another aspect of our aquaponics system that provides a parallel to Georges Bank lies in our “current,” which for us is the pump-driven movement of water from the fish to the plants, and the natural, gravity-driven return of that water to the fish.  While the transportation of nutrients necessary to both parties is directionally the exact opposite of what happens here on Georges Bank (i.e. – the currents push the nutrients up from the depths here), the idea is the same and again, it is moving water that supports life.

But, Mr. Hance, where do those “nutrients” come from in the first place, and what are they feeding?

Remember, systems run in repetitive cycles; ideally, they are completely predictable.  In a very basic sense where plants and animals are concerned, that repetitive cycle is “life to death to life to death, etc…”  This is another one of those “here, look at what you already know” moments.

When marine life dies, that carbon-based organic material sinks towards the bottom of the ocean and continues to break down while being pushed around at depth along the oceans currents. Students will recognize a parallel in “The Audit” Legacy Project from this spring when they think about what is happening in those three compost bins in our edible garden; our turning that compost pile is pretty much what is happening to all of those important nutrients getting rolled around in the moving water out here – microscopic plants and animals are using those as building blocks for their life.

Our new compost system

Our new compost system

Oh wait, so, this is all about the relationship between decomposers, producers and consumers?  But, Mr. Hance, I thought that was just in the garden?

Yes, “nutrient rich” water is the equivalent of “good soil,” but, we have to get it to a depth appropriate for marine life to really start to flourish.  Using your knowledge of the properties of matter, you figured out how and why the currents behave the way they do here.  You now know that when those currents reach Georges Bank, they are pushed to the surface and during the warm summer months, they get trapped in this shallow(ish), warm(ish) sunlit water, providing a wonderful opportunity for the oceans’ primary producers, phytoplankton, to use those nutrients much like we see in our garden.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, I think I’m starting to see what you mean. Can you tell me a little more about plankton?

The term plankton encompasses all of the lowest members of the food chain (web), and can be further divided into “phytoplankton” and “zooplankton.”  Yes, “phyto” does indeed resemble “photo,” as in “photosynthesis”, and does indeed relate to microscopic plant-like plankton, like algae.  Zooplankton pertains to microscopic animal-like plankton, and can include copepods and krill.

Plankton are tiny and although they might try to swim against the current, they aren’t really strong enough, so they get carried along, providing valuable nutrients to bigger sea creatures they encounter.  Just like on land, there are good growing seasons and bad growing seasons for these phytoplankton, and on Georges Bank, the better times for growing coincide with the spring-summer currents.

Dude, Mr. Hance, I didn’t know I already knew that…. Mind…. Blown.

Yeah little dude, I saw the whole thing. First, you were like, whoa! And then you were like, WHOA! And then you were like, whoa…  Sorry, I got carried away; another Nemo flashback. While I get back in teacher-mode, why don’t you build the food web. Next stop, knowledge…

You've got some serious thrill issues, dude

You’ve got some serious thrill issues, dude

But, Mr. Hance, you are on a scallop survey.  How do they fit into the food web? You told us that you, crabs and starfish are their primary natural predators, but, what are they eating, and how?

Scallops are animals, complete with muscles (well, one big, strong one), a digestive system, reproductive system, and nervous system.  They don’t really have a brain (like ours), but, they do have light-sensing eyes on their mantle, which is a ring that sits on the outer edge of their organ system housed under their protective shell.  Acting in concert, those eyes help scallops sense nearby danger, including predators like those creepy starfish.

Predators

Predators

Scallops are filter feeders who live off of plankton, and they process lots of water.  With their shells open, water moves over a filtering structure, which you can imagine as a sort of sieve made of mucus that traps food.  Hair-like cilia transport the food to the scallop’s mouth, where it is digested, processed, and the waste excreted.

DSCN0154

The text is small, but, it describes some of the anatomy of the scallop. Click to zoom.

DSCN0158

But, Mr. Hance, do they hunt? How do they find their food?

Remember, scallops, unlike most other bivalves such as oysters, are free-living, mobile animals; in other words, they can swim to dinner if necessary.  Of course, they’d prefer to just be lazy and hang out in lounge chairs while the food is brought to them (kind of like the big-bellied humans in my favorite Disney film, Wall-E), so can you guess what they look for?

Gee, Mr. Hance…. Let me guess, water that moves the food to them?

Yep, see, I told you this was stuff you already knew.

I highlighted the shadows in one of the HabCam photos to show you proof that scallop swim.

I highlighted the shadows in one of the HabCam photos to show you proof that scallop swim.

While plankton can (and do!) live everywhere in the shallow(ish) ocean, because they are helpless against the force of the current, they get trapped in downwellings, which is a unique “vertical eddy,” caused by competing currents, or “fronts.”  Think of a downwelling as sort of the opposite of a tug-o-war where instead of pulling apart, the two currents run head-on into one another.  Eventually, something’s gotta give, and gravity is there to lend a hand, pushing the water down towards the sea floor and away, where it joins another current and continues on.

Those of you who have fished offshore will recognize these spots as a “slick” on the top of the water, and there is often a lot of sea-foam (“bubbles”) associated with a downwelling because of the accumulation of protein and “trash” that gets stuck on top as the water drops off underneath it.

Those

Those “smooth as glass” spots are where currents are hitting and downwellings are occurring

This particularly large group of birds gathered together atop a downwelling, likely because the water helped keep them together (and because fishing would be good there!)

This particularly large group of birds gathered together atop a downwelling, likely because the water helped keep them together (and because fishing would be good there!)

Because plankton aren’t strong enough to swim against the current, they move into these downwellings in great numbers.  You can wind up with an underwater cloud of plankton in those instances, and it doesn’t take long for fish and whales to figure out that nature is setting the table for them.  Like our human friends in Wall-E, scallops pull up a chair, put on their bibs and settle at the base of these competing fronts, salivating like a Pavlovian pup as they wait on their venti-sized planko-latte (okay, I’m exaggerating; scallops live in salt water, so they don’t salivate, but because I’m not there to sing and dance to hold your attention while you read, I have to keep you interested somehow.)

If you become a marine scientist at Woods Hole, you’ll probably spend some time looking for the “magic” 60m isobaths, which is where you see scallop and other things congregate at these convergent fronts.

Before you ask, an isobaths is a depth line.  Depth lines are important when you consider appropriate marine life habitat, just like altitude would be when you ask why there aren’t more trees when you get off the ski lift at the top of the mountain.

Um, Mr. Hance, why didn’t you just tell us this is just like the garden!  I’m immediately bored.  What else ya got?

Well, in the next class, we’ll spend some time talking about (over-)fishing and fisheries management, but for now, how about I introduce you to another one of my new friends and then show you some pictures?

I don’t know, Mr. Hance, all of this talk about water makes me want to go swimming.  I’ll stick around for a few minutes, but this dude better be cool.

Lagniappe: Dr. Burton Shank

Today, I’ll introduce another important member of the science crew aboard the vessel, Dr. Burton Shank.  As I was preparing for the voyage, I received several introductory emails, and I regret that I didn’t respond to the one I received from Burton asking for more information.  He’s a box of knowledge.

That's Burton, on the right, sorting through a dredge with lots and lots of sand dollars.

That’s Burton, on the right, sorting through a dredge with lots and lots of sand dollars.

Burton is a Research Fishery Biologist at National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole working in the populations dynamic group, which involves lots of statistical analysis (aka – Mental Abuse To Humans, or “MATH”).  Burton’s group looks at data to determine how many scallops or lobsters are in the area, and how well they are doing using the data collected through these field surveys.  One of my students last year did a pretty similar study last year, dissecting owl pellets and setting (humane) rat traps to determine how many Great Horned Owls our Preserve could support.  Good stuff.

Burton is an Aggie (Whoop! Gig ‘Em!), having received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M at Galveston before receiving his master’s in oceanography from the University of Puerto Rico and heading off as a travelling technical specialist on gigs in Florida, Alaska and at the Biosphere in Arizona.  For those unfamiliar, the biosphere was a project intended to help start human colonies on other planets, and after a couple of unsuccessful starts, the research portion was taken over by Columbia University and Burton was hired to do ocean climate manipulations.  Unlike most science experiments where you try to maintain balance, Burton’s job was to design ways that might “wreck” the system to determine potential climate situations that could occur in different environments.

As seems to be the case with several of the folks out here, Burton didn’t really grow up in a coastal, marine environment, and in fact, his childhood years were spent in quite the opposite environment:  Nebraska, where his dad was involved in agricultural research.  He did, however, have a small river and oxbow like near his home and spent some summers in Hawaii.

It was on during a summer visit to Hawaii at about 9 years old that Burton realized that “life in a mask and fins” was the life for him.  On return to Nebraska, home of the (then!) mighty Cornhusker football team, many of his fellow fourth grade students proclaimed that they would be the quarterback at Nebraska when they grew up.  Burton said his teacher seemed to think being the Cornhusker QB was a completely reasonable career path, but audibly scoffed when he was asked what he wanted to be and said he would be a marine biologist when he grew up.  I welcome any of you young Burton’s in my class, anytime – “12th Man” or not!

Photoblog:

RSCN0090

Sheerwater, I loved the reflection on this one

Such a nice day

Such a nice day

You'll never look at them the same, will you?

You’ll never look at them the same, will you?

Cleaning up after a dredge

Cleaning up after a dredge; shot from vestibule where wet-gear is housed.  We spent lots of time changing.

So fun to see lobsters and crabs when

So fun to see lobsters and crabs when “HabCam’ing.” They rear back and raise their claws as if to dare you to get any closer.

Good night!

Good night!

Playlist:  Matisyahu, Seu Jorge, Gotan Project, George Jones

Okay, that’s it, class dismissed.  Get outta here…

Mr. Hance

DJ Kast, Interview with the Marine Mammal Observers, May 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast

Date: May 21, 2015, Day 3 of Voyage


Interview with the Marine Mammal Observers

Marine Mammal Observers Marjorie and Brigid Photo by: DJ Kast

Marine Mammal Observers Marjorie and Brigid
Photo by: DJ Kast

Marjorie and Brigid on the Flying Bridge.

Whale Observer Station on the Flying Bridge. Photo by: DJ Kast

Whale Observer Station on the Flying Bridge. Photo by: DJ Kast

These two marine mammal observers are on the Flying Bridge of the ship.

I asked them what they were looking for and they said blows. I thought I spotted one at 11 o’clock and asked if it was supposed to look like a puff of smoke. They turned their cameras and binoculars to that direction and there were two whales right there. Marjorie turned to me and said, “you make our job look very easy”.

I spent some time interviewing the two of them today on May 21st, 2015.

Tell me a little bit about your background:

Marjorie Foster:

“I went to Stetson University and majored in biological sciences and concurrently worked with aquariums and sea turtle and bird rehab. Started flying aerial surveys for right whales, and was pulled into the world of NOAA in 2010. I’ve worked on small boats for bottlenose dolphin surveys as well.”

Brigid McKenna:

“I went to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and received my degree in biology, because I originally wanted to go into veterinary school, and worked in the aquarium medical center as an internship. Afterwards, I realized that veterinary school was not for me and I started an internship with the whale watch, and worked with spinner dolphins. Then I worked with scientists for Humpback Whales in Provincetown. Afterwards, I became a Right whale vessel observer and pursued my masters in Marine Mammal Science at St. Andrews. Afterwards, I became an aerial observer for right whales. This means I got to be in planes above the ocean looking for whales.”

Shoutout to Jen Jakush for keeping up with my blog in Florida.

What is your exact job on this research cruise?

Marine Mammal Observers are contracted by NOAA. We keep an eye out for whales and dolphins from the top of the ship and collect information about what we see.

How do you get trained to be Marine mammal observer?

Field experience is vital. The more you have seen, the more you can easily narrow down behavioral and visual cues to define a species. Also, conversations with other scientists in the field can really help expand your knowledge base.

For me:

Bridget- internship on a whale watch boat

Majorie- working with right whales

What do you enjoy about your job?

Marjorie: Being outside, and getting the opportunity to see things that people don’t normally get to see. Every day is exciting because there are endless possibilities of amazing things to witness. I feel very lucky to collect data that will be used in larger conversation efforts to help preserve these animals.

Brigid: Everything is dynamic, every project is new, I love being outside on the ocean. We can do aerial and vessel observations. We get to travel a lot. It’s a small world in the marine mammal community, so you get to know a lot of cool people.

What are the most common mammals you have seen on this cruise?

Common dolphins: white patch on sides and dark gray on top, and v shaped saddle.

Dolphin spotted by the observers on the side of the boat. Photo by: DJ Kast

Dolphin spotted by the observers on the side of the boat. Photo by: DJ Kast

Bottlenose dolphins: light gray and dark gray on top

Common Bottlenose Dolphin. Photo taken by DJ Kast from the Marine Mammals of the World book.

Common Bottlenose Dolphin. Photo taken by DJ Kast from the Marine Mammals of the World book.

Couple of mola mola – largest of the bony fish

Whales:

Fin whales

Pilot whales.

Sei Whale

Humpback in the distance.

Marjorie: On the ledge and on the shelf there should be much more life than we have been seeing. And that will be in about an hour or two.

Up North- in the Gulf of Maine.

Northern waters are more abundant with the small marine life large whales like to eat. We are expecting to see a lot of baleen whales in the Gulf of Maine later on in this project. Further south we will see more dolphins and other toothed whales. We expect to see bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, and possibly Risso’s dolphins.

Did you know?

Right Whale’s favorite copepod is Calanus finmarchicus, which bloom in Cape Cod waters. The Right whales know when the copepods are in a fatty stage and will only open their mouths if the calorie intake is worth it.

Did you know?

Different humpbacks have different hunting techniques.

The hunting technique specific to the Gulf of Maine is bubble-net feeding with lob-tailing. This means that they make bubbles around a school of fish and then hit the water with their tail to stun them.

Did you know?

Sad Fact: 72% of right whales have been entangled at least once, which we can tell from the scars that remain on their body.

What do you do when you site a marine mammal?

  1. One of us points
  2. Keep track of it. Both of our eyes on it
  3. Take pictures and look through binoculars for a positive identification of the species of marine mammal.
  4. How far they are, what direction they are swimming in, and what behaviors they are exhibiting.
  5. We have a system on our Toughbook computer called Vissurv. The data we input into this system includes:
    • Which side of the boat, and how many meters, and what direction are the animals are swimming to help us keep track of them
    • Our main objective is to ID them to species and count how many of them there are, which is called the pod size.
    • Some example behaviors include: swimming, breaching, porpoising, bow riding
    • Our computer is constantly recording GPS and environmental conditions. This information will ultimately be tied to the sightings. Environmental conditions include: swell, glare, wind, sea state etc.

Sarah Boehm: Home Again, July 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 10, 2013

Personal Log

The Oregon II pulled into port Sunday morning after a successful 2 week leg of the summer groundfish survey. The first thing I wanted to do when we got to land was to go for a walk. It did feel great to stretch my legs and move more than 170 feet at a time. Being on land again felt funny, as if the ground was moving under me. I thought this “dock rock” would pass quickly, but even two days later I had moments of feeling unsteady. On Monday I made my way back home to Massachusetts, arriving after 12 hours of planes and cars to a delightfully cool evening (although I hear it had been very hot while I was gone.)

I still have some photos and videos I wanted to share, so I thought I’d put together one more blog post with some amazing and fun creatures we saw.

We saw sharks swimming near the boat a few times, but this video shows the most dramatic time. This group of at least 8 sharks attacked the net as it brought up a bunch of fish, ripping holes in the net and spilling the fish. They then feasted on all that easy food floating in the water.

puffers

Adult puffer fish on the left from a groundfish trawl and a baby puffer from a plankton tow on the right

jelly nets

Icicles? Nope. Those are jellies that got caught in the net.

small flying fish

A very small flying fish with its “wings” extended.

One of my favorite fish is the flying fish. These fish have very long pectoral fins on the side of their bodies that act like wings. They can’t really fly, but they can soar an impressive distance through the air. We sometimes caught them in the Neuston net as it skimmed the top of the water. They are great fun to watch as groups of them will take to the air to get out of the way of the boat. Even more fun was watching dolphins hunting the flying fish! I was unsuccessful at getting a video, but you can watch them in this BBC clip.

flying fish

It must be the end of watch. Me with a flying fish.

Another cool animal we found were hermit crabs. The ones we caught were bigger than any I had found at a beach. The shell they live in was made by a gastropod (snail). As the hermit crab grows it has to find a bigger shell to move into.

hermit crab

A large hermit crab in its shell.

hermit crab without its shell

We had to take the hermit crab out of its shell to weigh it. The head and claws have a hard shell, but the back part is soft and squishy.

hermit and anemones

This hermit crab has sea anemones living on its shell.

Look closely at the spots of color on this video of a squid. You can see how the color and patterns are changing.

A few more cool critters we found:

stargazer

This stargazer looks like a dragon, but fits in the palm of your hand. It buries itself in the mud and then springs out to grab prey.

mantis shrimp

We found many mantis shrimp. It gets its name because those front legs are similar to those of the praying mantis. Those legs are incredibly fast and strong to kill its prey.

I knew there were many oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, but I was surprised by just how many we passed. There are almost 4,000 active rigs in the waters from Texas to Alabama. While we went through this area there were always a few visible. They reminded me of walkers, the long legged vehicles from the Star Wars movies, with their boxy shapes perched above the water. By comparison, the waters near Florida were deserted because offshore oil drilling is not allowed and there were few other ships.

oil rig

Oil rigs

evening rig

Work on an oil rig also goes on 24 hours a day.

It was fabulous spending this time out on the groundfish survey with the scientists and crew of the Oregon II. Now I have a greater understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and science in action.  I truly appreciate the time people on board spent to teach me new things and answer all my questions. I also have enjoyed all my students’ comments and questions. Keep them coming!

storm approaching

A storm approaches as we pull in to Pascagoula.

Adam Renick, Searching for Cetaceans and Wrapping Up, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12–26, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weather Data
Current Air Temperature: 77° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 3 knots

Finding the Cetaceans…
 
In the final days of our research cruise we set out to get an assessment of cetacean activity in the Kona area that we have been studying. In addition to the ongoing active acoustics, CTD and DIDSON sampling, we have added two new tasks to the science team to find as many cetaceans as possible. We have set up a hydrophone, which is a sound recorder that sits in the water and is pulled by the ship, to listen for the clicks, whistles and any other sounds dolphins and whales might make.

For examples of sounds cetaceans make please check out this website. When the sounds from the cetaceans are received the wave frequencies are recorded using some very interesting software that helps us determine the type of marine mammal it is and where it is located. Specifically locating and identifying the cetaceans requires the cooperation of many people and is not necessarily as simple as I am making it sound here.

Melons

The recording of a pod of approximately 150 Melon-Headed Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

The sounds of Pilot Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

While the acoustics team and the ship’s crew are listening and seeking out the animals we also assist in the effort by making visual observations from the highest deck of the boat called the “flying bridge”. Here one or two people who are in communication with the science team below use binoculars and “big eyes” to visually find and identify marine mammals.

Blog5 013

Looking through the “big eyes”

Some of my personal observing highlights of this operation include a sperm whale, a pod of approximately 150 melon-headed whales and smaller pods of spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, rough-toothed dolphin and pilot whales.

SE 13-04 Melon Heads

Visual observations of the Melon-Headed Whales.
Photo: Chad Yoshinaga

Rough-toothed_Dolphins

Rough Toothed Dolphins
Photo: Ali Bayless

Wrapping Up the Journey…
 
I cannot express enough gratitude to the members of the science team and the crew of the Sette for making my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience so rewarding. There are so many elements of this trip that are worth pause, reflection and appreciation. My emotions ranged from excitement just being at sea for 15 days and living a lifestyle that is unique and different than my own, the contemplative awe of the vast and complicated ocean ecosystem and the exhilaration when one of its own breaches the surface to give us a peek at it. In the end, I think my greatest appreciation gained along this journey was learning to slow myself down to the pace of nature in order to better observe and understand it.What’s next for me? NASA Teacher In Space… 2014 here I come!

Just kidding (is that even possible?) Until then I guess I should practice my moon-walking on Kilauea crater until I head back to my amazing wife and life in San Diego. Thanks for reading and, whatever you are doing out there in the world today, make a memory.