NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II September 15-25, 2008
Mission: Atlantic Herring Hydroacoustic Survey Geographical area of cruise: New England Coastal Waters Date: September 24, 2008
Weather Data from the Bridge
41.27 degrees N, 70.19 degrees W
Partly Cloudy with winds out of the W at 19 knots
Dry Bulb Temperature: 26.0 degrees Celsius
Wet Bulb Temperature: 20.9 degrees Celsius
Waves: 2 feet
Visibility: 10 miles
Sea Surface Temperature: 21.6 degrees Celsius
Science and Technology Log
Marie Martin, the bird watcher, came rushing down from her perch on the flying bridge in the early afternoon announcing that she had just spotted a humpback whale close by. We all rushed here and there to get a view. I went up to the bow and looked for about 10 minutes. As I came back through the bridge LT(jg) Mark Frydrych, the OOD (Officer of the Deck), and Marie were talking about a right whale entangled in a net. Mark called the captain seeking his advice. Whenever a situation like this is observed the captain is expected to report it. The captain told Mark to report it and let the trained people steam out to try to find it. I interjected that I never did spot the pilot whale. Everyone said, “What pilot whale?” Mark said he saw a right whale. Marie piped up that she had said it was a humpback whale. Then I remembered that indeed she had said humpback whale. At that point the whole thing was moot because the humpbacks are not endangered. Then we asked Mike, the chief scientist, what would happen if a right whale got caught in his net. He said he didn’t want to think about it. When a sturgeon got caught he said he had two weeks of doing nothing but filling out forms. If a right whale got caught he would probably have 2 months of paperwork.
Today we finally got to get back to what brought us here, the lobster trapping. As mentioned several times before, the lobster population at Necker Island seems to be smaller than Maro Reef. Today this was evident when at one point we had pulled up more Grey Tipped Reef Sharks than lobsters. It was neck and neck with 20 apiece. I think at the end of the day we had more sharks. (As I am writing this the lab is finishing up the data). Some of the area where we were sampling is a sand bottom which is not the best habitat for the lobsters, so we pulled mostly hermit crabs and sharks out of the traps. That is not to say we did not catch any lobster. We caught a few Chinese slipper and a few spiny. The spiny that we did catch were large adults, with no juveniles. There were several times that we would have an entire string of traps without any lobsters.
The number of sharks did surprise me and at first I was hesitant to handle the sharks, but the other cracker, Matt, showed me the proper way to get a shark out of the trap. I had to first grab the shark behind the head, near the gills and then grab near the tail. One has to grab the head first because a shark does not like to be grabbed as one could imagine and if the head is not grabbed first, it will bite you. After I fumbled the first two, I had enough courage and the ability to take sharks out of the traps on my own. At one point when I was taking a shark out I was called the “Shark Whisperer”. By my estimate, I pulled 12 sharks out of the traps and tossed them overboard. There were a few times when we would have 2 very large sharks in a trap. I have to wonder what would drive such a large animal into such a small space, for so little food. Is the natural drive for food so strong in sharks that they would squeeze themselves into such a small space?
There were also a few eels, Conger eels to be exact and these eels do not have the teeth or the mean disposition of the moray eels. I did not know this at first, so the first time Matt tried to pick up a Conger eel and it slid out of his hands and ended up coming right at me! I was standing on the table in about 2 seconds, I didn’t know it wasn’t going to bite me. The crew got a good laugh at me standing on the table. Eventually, I had the nerve to pick up the eels and was able to remove the last eel of the day and toss it over the side of the ship safely.
We have only 5 days left, 3 of these will be trapping. I am glad to be back to work. The six days we were down were fun at first, but by Thursday I was getting cabin fever or boat fever. I am looking forward to the 3 days of work. I will be a cracker again tomorrow, runner, and my last day I will be a stacker.
I have decided to just combine the logs because we have not had a chance to do any lobster trapping in the past seven days and really have not done a lot of science. I have seen a lot science and ecology in action, but I have not participated in doing any research, so no science log today. Last night at about 1:00 a.m., I watched as the air ambulance took off from Midway. I had the chance to ride in the ambulance to the airstrip and help with the final transport of the injured researcher. Watching the plane take off was the culmination of my unexpected visit to Midway Atoll. I must say, that I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Midway and take in some of the history and nature of the island. I spent the two days here relaxing on the beach, observing several thousand Laysan albatross, and just exploring a remarkable island. So this log will focus on Midway. Most the information comes from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Multi-Agency Education project.
Midway Atoll is a circular-shaped atoll with three small islets (Sand, Eastern, and Spit) on the southern end of the lagoon. Midway is probably the best known location within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. While the land area only covers about 1535 acres, the atoll has approximately 85,929 acres of reef.
During World War II, Midway served as an important naval air station and submarine refit base. The atoll was attacked twice, first on December 7th 1941, and again during the pivotal Battle of Midway, June 4th-6th 1942. A successful American intelligence operation tipped the U.S. forces to the planned attack, and a small U.S. task force was able to surprise and defeat the Japanese invasion fleet bound for the atoll. Many interpret this battle as the watershed moment in the tide of the Pacific War. Though the major carrier-based actions took place to the north, a fierce air battle was waged above and on Sand and Eastern Islands. The atoll was designated as the National Memorial to the Battle of Midway in 2000. Nearly two million birds of 19 species nest at Midway. The atoll has the largest Laysan albatross (also called goonie birds) colony in the world. Other birds include black-footed albatross, red-tailed tropicbirds, white terns, black and brown noddies, shearwaters, and Bonin petrels. The waters abound with dolphins, monk seals, and green sea turtles. More than 250 species of fish live in its waters, including hapu`upu`u, ulua (jack), kumu (goatfish), and sharks. Beyond the reefs are pelagic fishes such as tuna and marlin.
In 1996 the once strategic naval base was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be managed as Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. A massive U.S. Navy clean up prior to their departure removed tons of debris, leaky fuel tanks, and lead paint, as well as rats. Today a fulltime Refuge staff administers a small visitor program, cares for its wildlife, restores native plant life, and protects historic resources.
It would be hard to not mention the Laysan Albatross when not mentioning Midway. Over seventy percent of the world’s population nests at Midway. In 1996, about 387,854 breeding pairs of Laysan Albatross nested on all three Albatross currently on the island, he stated around 400,000 breeding pairs. We just happened to be at Midway when the chicks were beginning to fledge. To get around on the island was at times difficult because the birds would not move when approached. At times the streets were full of adults and chicks and one had to zigzag through the sea of birds. As one passes by an albatross and gets to close, it will snap. It was nothing for me to be walking to the North Beach and have a hundred of these birds snapping at me. I have never seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”, but it was referenced several times as we made our way through the island. It was especially eerie at night because it gets very dark on Midway and I forgot to bring a flashlight with me on the second night. I walked along the beach back to the ship because I knew if I followed the roads back, I might step on an albatross.
Overall, I enjoyed the time at Midway Atoll. We are currently on course back to Necker Island. We’ll have four more days of trapping, and then we’ll depart for Pearl Harbor.
Third week at sea and the course of the rest of the trip is still up in the air. We are currently on our way to Midway. As you may know, Midway was an important sea battle during WWII and an important victory for the Allies in the Pacific Theater (I know this is supposed to be a science log, but history is just as important). Yesterday we picked up two researchers from the island of Lisianski (see below). We traveled from Necker Island to Lisianski, then off to Midway. The Northwest Hawaiian Islands Education Project had some good information about Lasianski Island. Lisianski Island is 1.5 square kilometers (381 acres), about the size of Honolulu. Its highest point is a sand dune about 40 feet above sea level. Though the island is small, the reef area to the southeast, called Neva Shoals, is huge, covering 979 square kilometers (241,916 acres), an area nearly the size of O`ahu.
A ship picking up survivors of a shipwreck introduced mice to the island in 1844. Rabbits were introduced later, and along with mice, they devastated the island’s ecology and are believed to have caused the demise of the Laysan rail. Feather collecting began on Lisianski about 1904. In response to public outcry about the feather trade, Theodore Roosevelt established the Hawaiian Island Bird Reservation, which included Lisianski, in 1909. An armed party landed on the island in 1910.
They arrested feather poachers and confiscated and destroyed about 1.4 tons of feathers, representing 140,400 birds. Today, Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles are common visitors to Lisianski’s sandy white beaches. Migratory shorebirds seen on the island include the kolea (golden plover), ulili (wandering tattler), and kioea (bristle-thighed curlew). Nearly three-fourths of the Bonin petrels nesting in Hawai`i make this island their home. In some years, more than a million sooty terns visit Lisianski.
The Hawaiian Monk Seal is an endangered marine mammal that is endemic to the warm, clear waters of the Hawaiian Islands. `Ilioholo-i-ka-uaua is how it is known to the indigenous people of Hawaii. The Monk Seal gets its common name from its round head covered with short hairs, giving it the appearance of a medieval friar. The name may also reflect the fact that the Hawaiian Monk Seal lives a more solitary existence, in comparison with other seals that in places collect in large colonies.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana October 4 – 28, 2006
Mission: TAO Buoy Array Maintenance Geographical Area: Hawaii Date: October 24, 2006
Plan of the Day
Well it was a long early morning. I was awoken at 2 a.m. to prepare for the 300 CTD profile. By the time I was finished and all was said and done, it was time for the next one. We sailed by the TAO buoy and all looked well so we went ahead and conducted the CTD and deployed the AOML. My last CTD for the day was the 1230 profile at 2.5N/170W. Eric from MBARI will be doing the evening one. I walked on the treadmill for an hour then made a nice salad for lunch. I honestly don’t eat this much on my own. It’s easy to eat when every meal is made for you. One can easily gain weight out here. I did some knot tying and rested a bit but did not want to nap, as I would not sleep tonight. We saw another pod of Pilot whales off the port bow playing in the water. Snapped a few good photos.
Lets talk about whales shall we? Whales are mammals, and there are five distinct groups of marine mammals: Pinnepeds, which include seals, sea lions, fur seals and walruses; Sea Otters; Cetaceans containing whales, dolphins and porpoises; Sirenians which consist of dugongs and manatees; and Polar Bears. So what does it mean to be a marine mammal? Well like all mammals, they are warm-blooded, they have at least a few hairs on their bodies, and they nourish their young with milk. These mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that was enacted in 1979, which made it illegal to “take” any marine mammal. The term “take” includes harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill, or attempt to do the same. “Harass” denotes the act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has potential to disturb marine mammals. In1994 it was amended to strengthen the definition of harass and included feeding.
Pilot whales have been hunted for many centuries, particularly by Japanese whalers. In the mid-1980s the annual Japanese kill was about 2,300 animals. This had decreased to about 400 per year by the 1990s. Killing by harpoon is still relatively common in the Lesser Antilles, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Hundreds or perhaps thousands are killed each year in longline and gillnets. However, due to poor record-keeping it is not known how many kills are made each year, and what the effect this has on the local population. Female pilot whales mature at 6 years of age and a length of about 3.5 m. Males mature much later when 12 years old and 5 m in length. Mature adult males, which are generally larger than females, can weigh as much as 3 tons. At birth, calves weigh slightly over 200 lbs. They are born after a pregnancy of 16 months, and are weaned at around 20 months of age.
Pilot whales have strong social cohesiveness; it is rare to see a single individual. Even when being driven ashore by whalers, they would stay together as a group. Groups typically contain animals of both sexes and many different ages. The males may compete for breeding privileges, forming a hierarchy that excludes smaller males. Large assemblages may also be composed of smaller, close-knit groups, which are stable over time. Pilot whales are some of the noisiest whales in the ocean. Their group structure requires social communication, and they orient to prey objects by echolocation. Vocalizations include a wide variety of whistles and clicks.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai June 26 – July 30, 2006
Mission: Ecosystem Survey Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii Date: July 7, 2006
Science and Technology Log
The majority of the Hawaiian monk seals are found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands from Nihoa Island to Kure Atoll with a small number on the main Hawaiian Islands. Traditionally Monk seals have been killed for food by early sailors. The species was declared depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1976 following a 50% decline in beach counts. Monk seals were also classified as “endangered” under the Endangered Species act in 1976. Undersized female pups from the French Frigate Shoals were rehabilitated and released on Kure from the 1980’s until 1995 in an attempt to re-establish populations.
Most pups are born between February and July with the peak in April and May. The newly born pup is totally black and weighs approximately 20 to 30 lbs. By the time they are weaned (30 to 40 days) they will increase their weight to over 100 lbs. Monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands tend to wean their pups sooner at approximately 30 days, while seals on the Hawaiian Islands tend to nurse longer; as many as 60 days. Northwestern Hawaiian Island pups tend to be smaller in size as a result. Females give birth on beaches with shallow water to protect their pups from sharks. A female will not give birth until they reach five to ten years of age. By the time the researchers arrive on Green Island most female seals will have already pupped.Approximately 90% of the monk seals remain at the island where they were born for life. During our recent visit to Green Island, I interviewed monk seal researchers Tracy Wurth and Antonette Gutierrez from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Tracy and Antonette have been in the field on Green Island since May 16, 2006 collecting data on the monk seal population.
Field researchers from the National Marine Fisheries Service on all the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands keep careful track of each seal in the colony; identifying individuals with applied tags and bleach marks as well as natural markings or scars. Every seal is photographed by taking photos of all sides and flippers and are documented in a digital photo library. New pups are tagged as soon as they are weaned at 30 to 40 days. Plastic “temple” tags are applied to each rear flipper and injected with a micro-chip pit tag. Flipper tags are color specific to each island; Kure uses grey tags, while Pearl and Hermes uses light blue tags. The letter assigned will tell researchers what year the pup was born. One pup with a bleach mark “Z26” swam close enough to our boat for us to read his marks. Later the researchers knew exactly what seal we had seen and told us it was a “weaner;” a pup born is this year that had already weaned.Tracy and Antonette conduct seal patrols on Green Island on a daily basis. They walk the beach collecting information on each seal observed. Approximately every fourth day they conduct an atoll count, which is a standardized seal patrol that is time sensitive and basically captures a “snapshot” of the population at a given time. For their atoll counts the seal team start their survey on Green Island at 1:00 pm and when finished take their boat to Sand islet and conduct a survey there. Atoll counts take the researchers approximately three hours.
Researchers also collect marine debris such as nets on shore or in shallow water and move it to a secure location to be picked up at a later date by the National Marine Fisheries Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. The collection of marine debris is extremely important because monk seals can become entangled in the nets.During the field season information is collected on injuries, wounds, illnesses, abnormalities, as well as deaths/disappearances, births, and any unusual events. If a dead seal is found a necropsy is performed and samples from organs and tissues are collected. Researchers also collect specimens of scat and spew (vomitus) in an effort to analyze the monk seal’s diet. Tissue plugs are taken from tagged pups for DNA analysis to determine maternity. Priorities for the Kure researchers include all of the above, while male aggression and shark predation mitigation is not a significant problem here at Kure Atoll. However, researchers are concerned about the future seal population due to low juvenile survival. As the current breeding females get older or die there will not be younger seals to take their place in the breeding population.
At Kure Atoll, the adult seal population in 2005 was 86 individuals with 23 pups born. The population at Kure has been slowly decreasing over the last several years. One major factor is the low juvenile survival rate due to lack of nutrients and resulting emaciation. However, this year their numbers show an increase in juvenile survival with a re-sight rate of over 60 percent. In the past the re-sight rate has been closer to only 30 percent.
While on Kure Atoll, the researchers enter their data in the field database system. When the researchers return from their assignment they will file their final report. This information will be summarized in published papers and used by various institutions such as the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team.
The future of the protected monk seal is unclear. Today, researchers estimate the total monk seal population in existence is approximately 1,300 to 1,600 seals. Researchers are concerned if the population continues to decline the total number could fall below 1,000 within the next five years. Scientists and researchers work together to find solutions to aid the recovery of the Hawaiian monk seal.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Lisa Kercher Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather June 11 – 24, 2006
Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey Geographic Area: Alaska Date: June 14, 2006
Science and Technology Log
Today the crew worked on deploying several devices that work to collect information about the ocean floor. Together with the fisheries department, the FAIRWEATHER is able to gather information about the layout of the ocean floor and the substrate itself which helps them better understand what type of fish live in what area and what kind of habitat they prefer. For example, it may be known that a certain fish whose existence may be threatened and protected lives in a specific area. Therefore it is important to protect that area. With the new information that is being collected, we can tell what the bottom habitat looks like and then also work to protect not just specific locations in the water, but also specific habitats.
This large torpedo-like device is called a towfish. It is dropped into the water behind the ship to collect pictures of the ocean floor. Teacher at Sea Lisa Kercher assists in bringing it back to deck.
I was able to help in deploying and retrieving several of the instruments used today. While it was cold and rainy, the learning experience outweighed the negatives in the climate. It is great to be out learning what goes on in the research aspect of the science field, rather than just within the classroom!
The penetrometer has been deployed into the water to collect information about the consistency of the ocean floor.
Question of the Day
I was told that there were many sea otters surrounding the ship last night. The water was also full of kelp. Why might the two of these organisms be found in the same location of the water at the same time?