Andrea Schmuttermair: Engineering Extravaganza! July 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 21, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 57 09.0N
Longitude: 151 16.5W

Sky:  broken clouds

Visibility: 10nm
Wind Direction: 245 degrees

Wind Speed: 24 knots
Sea wave height: 3ft

Swell wave: 5-7 ft

Sea water temp: 11.3 C
Dry temperature: 11.1 C

Science and Technology Log

Aside from our survey, there is a lot of other science taking place on the ship. In fact, science is all around us. The officers on the bridge are using science when they use weather patterns and sea swells to calculate the best course of navigation for the ship. The survey technicians are using science when they collect water samples each day and test the salinity of the water. The engineers are using science when they are monitoring the ballast of the ship. Science is happening in places we don’t always take the time to look.

Today we look at a different realm of science, the engineering world. I recently had the opportunity to tour the brains of the ship with two of our engineers on board. I not only learned about the construction of the ship, but I also learned about the various components that help the ship run. The Oscar Dyson was constructed as one of NOAA’s first noise-reduced fisheries vessels. Data have been collected over the years that show fish avoid loud vessels by diving down deeper or moving out of the way of the noise. There was concern that this avoidance behavior would affect the survey results; thus the creation of acoustic quieting technology for research vessels. Another interesting part of the ship’s construction is the retractable centerboard, which allow the transducers to be lowered down below the ship and away from the hull in order to reduce noise and gather higher quality sound data for the surveys.

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It turns out 2 of our engineers are from San Diego, the place I lived for my first 21 years of life. Nick even graduated from Westview High School, the rival of my high school, Mt. Carmel (albeit 10 years after me). The engineers are responsible for making sure everything is working on the ship. They, along with the rest of the engineering team, have to anticipate and troubleshoot problems, and be ready to fix something at a moment’s notice.

In addition to taking me on a tour around the innards of the ship, Nick and Rob also sat down for an interview about marine engineering.

Interview with the Engineers: Rob Ball and Nick Cuellar

Nick, Rob, and....Wilson!

Nick, Rob, and….Wilson!

What is your educational/working background?

Nick: I played soccer throughout high school and was recruited during my senior year by the US Merchant Marine Academy. I went to school there, played soccer, and received a BS degree in marine engineering. I spent 1 of my 4 years at sea doing hands-on training. I was also commissioned into the US Navy as a reservist.

Rob: I’m what they call a hawespiper in the merchant marine world- I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I started at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 1988 and worked my way up ranks from oiler to engineer. I received my captain’s license, and ran sport fishing boats because I wanted to know boats from top to bottom. I went to professional college for refrigeration, and my main forte is refrigeration and air conditioning, I know I’ll never be out of work. I’m a first engineer now, and am going to go for my chief’s license.

How long have you been working on the Oscar Dyson?

Nick: I came on in August of 2014.

Rob: I just came on board in April of 2015

What are your main responsibilities as an engineer on board?

Nick: As a second engineer, I give fuel reports and transfer fuel to maintain stability of the ship. We have saltwater tanks for ballast, which changes as we burn fuel, and I help monitor this. I check the electricity, lights, fuel, water, and AC and make sure everything’s running. I fix anything that’s breaking.

Rob: As a first engineer, I am the supervisor of engine room and am responsible for how everything is operating. I get updates on the fuel status, and communicate with CO of the ship if changes need to be made. I also look at when the oil/filter needs to be changed. My position is more supervisory, and I oversee responsibilities and delegate tasks. I handle the plant and the people.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Nick: Travel; getting work experience, marine life

Rob: Money and travel; getting to see things in ocean that most people would only see on National Geographic

What is most challenging about your job?

Nick: The different personalities you have to work with

Rob: I agree with Nick. Our life exists in 204ft. I am able to take frustrations and put it into things I enjoy, such as working out, reading, or playing guitar.

What is something unique to being an engineer on a ship as opposed to an engineer on land?

Nick: You have to have knowledge of every square inch of the ship; the two things I think about are: are we sinking and are the lights on.

Rob: You have to keep things going when you have big seas, and you have to have the knowledge and ability to handle problems and stay on your feet (literally). You have everyone’s lives in your hands- you have to be on all the time.

What would tell students who are looking at careers in engineering?

Nick: Don’t give up and keep on fighting. Don’t let hardships get in the way. If it makes you happy, keep doing it. And know your math!

Rob: it’s a limitless field; you can build anything, and fix anything. If someone else made it, you’ll have the ability to figure out what they did. You get to break stuff and fix it.

What is your favorite marine animal?

Nick: Humpback whale

Rob: Orca and Great white shark

Rob, Nick and I

Rob, Nick and I

Thanks gentlemen for the interview!

 

Personal Log

This baby humpback whale was having a blast breaching over and over again.

This baby humpback whale was having a blast breaching over and over again.

The ringing of the phone woke me up from the gentle rolling of the ship. I had told the officers and scientists to wake me up if there was anything cool happening, and an excited ENS Gilman spoke into the receiver claiming there were hundreds (ok, maybe hundreds was a bit of an exaggeration) of whales breaching and swimming around the ship. Throwing on a sweatshirt and grabbing my camera, I raced up to the bridge to get a view of this. I had low expectations, as it seemed that every time we got the call that there were whales around, they left as soon as we got up there. This time, however, I was not disappointed. It was a whale extravaganza! Humpback whales, fin whales, orcas, there were so many whales it was hard to decide where to point my camera or binoculars. Like one of those fountains that spurt up water intermittently through different holes, the whales were blowing all around us. I was up on the bridge for over an hour, never tiring to see which one would spout next, or show us a fluke before it dove down deep, only to resurface somewhere else 15 minutes later. It was truly a treat to be able to watch them, and the weather couldn’t have been better. My favorite shot was of a baby humpback breeching – we had been tracking him for a while, his blow noticeably smaller than the adults around him. He looked as if he was just playing around in the water, enjoying himself without a worry in the world. I had been hoping to see Alaska wildlife on this trip, and am thrilled my wish was granted.

The bathroom in our staterooms

The bathroom in our staterooms

stateroomI had a question about our living accommodations on the ship, and I must admit they aren’t too shabby. I share a room with another one of the scientists, and she works the opposite shift. This works out nicely as we can each have our own time in the room, and can sleep uninterrupted. We have bunks, or racks as many refer to them, and I am sleeping on the top bunk. We have a bathroom with a shower in our room, and it’s nice not to have to share those amenities. The walls are pretty thin, and the ship can be loud when operations are going, making earplugs or headphones helpful.

Angela Greene: “Surface Active Groups and Good Medicine” May 5, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Angela Greene
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: May 5, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Air temperature-8.4°C or 47°F, Sea temperature-8.4°C or 47°F, Wind Speed 14 knots, Winds are out of the northeast, Barometric Pressure- 1024.4 mb, wave height- 1-2 feet.

Science and Technology Log:  To say the environment aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter changes when a right whale is spotted during a watch duty, would be a major understatement.  The goal is to find a Northern Right Whale, and when we do, the frenzy begins.

Me with Whale

Believe it or not, that white splash is a Northern Right Whale. Photo credit Mark Baumgartner

A quick decision must be made as to whether the small boats will be launched.  The small boats enable the scientists to get extremely close to the whales.  This proximity allows them the chance to photograph whales from many angles for later identification.  This distance may also provide an opportunity for scientists to use a crossbow to acquire a biopsy sample.  The sample will provide genetic information needed to determine the gender, parents, and siblings of the whale.  The biopsy also can give a toxicity level of the animal.

Crossbow

Holding the crossbow used to collect whale biopsy sample. Photo credit Eric Matzen

Being in the small boats also gives the team of four the opportunity to scoop a fecal sample from the ocean that a right whale may present.  Poop samples can give diet information and hormone levels.  Checking hormone levels enable scientists to determine the stress levels of the whale and whether or not the whale is pregnant.

Whale Poop

Whale Poop in a baggie.

Our team spotted a right whale, and the boats were launched.  The small boat was able to get extremely close to what is called a SAG, or “surface active group”.  This particular group of four Northern Right Whales was so close to the small boat that it looked as if the whales were performing a show for the scientists!  It was one of the most incredible events I have ever witnessed!

small boat blow

Small boat and a right whale blow. Photo taken under NOAA fisheries permit number 775-1875

good fluke

Small boat and a right whale fluke. Photo taken under NOAA fisheries permit number 775-1875

During the SAG event, many photos were taken under a NOAA fisheries permit, which is necessary due to the endangered status of the species.  It’s interesting to note here, that the public is not allowed to be within five hundred yards of a Northern Right Whale without a permit, making the opportunity to be in the small boat a momentous occasion.

A fecal sample was acquired, which is considered a rare opportunity, however a biopsy was not in the cards for this small boat launch.

Biopsied Last year

Northern Right Whale photo taken from small boat- a biopsy was acquired from this whale on last year’s trip. Photo Credit Jennifer Gatzke. Photo taken under NOAA fisheries permit number 775-1875

Stateroom

My stateroom. You may notice the trash can right next to my bunk.

Personal Log:  This is difficult fieldwork, indeed!  Two days of rough seas made our flying bridge observations come to a grinding halt.  I woke up Friday morning knowing I had a 7:00 am watch duty, and was throwing up the nothingness in my stomach.

My roommate came back to our stateroom with the news that many others, including the crew, were also experiencing seasickness.  I took an odd sense of comfort hearing that other people were also ill.  We were in the middle of ten foot ocean swells that made the boat feel like the inside of Maytag washing machine.  My roommate’s water bottle fell out of her top bunk and landed squarely on my forehead, and our desk chair toppled over on its side. Motion sickness medications work wonders, but make me incredibly sleepy.  Seems like everyone was either sleeping or watching movies… basically just surviving until calmer waters.

This morning’s sunrise brought much happier seas, and the whale watch continues.  It’s cold enough for me to finally don the “Mustang Suit” as everyone tells me I will feel more comfortable than my lined jeans and Tecumseh Arrows jacket.  I am hoping for my chance to get to be in the small boat!

Animal Sightings Log: 

Aquatic-

Right Whale

Sei Whale

Fin Whale

Minke Whale

Humpback Whale

Atlantic Whitesided Dolphin

Harbor Porpoises

Birds-

Herring Gull

Wilson’s Storm Petrel

Northern Gannet

Sooty Shearwater

Northern Fulmar

Atlantic Puffin

Kathleen Harrison: CTD, XBT, Drop, July 18, 2011

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


Location:  Gulf of Alaska
Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Date: July 18, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True Wind Speed:  19.35 knots, True Wind Direction:  231.44°
Sea Temperature:  10.5° C, Air Temperature:  10.11° C
Air Pressure:  1010.53 mb
Latitude:  57.54° N, Longitude:  154.37° W
Ship speed:  12.4 knots, Ship heading:  134.5°
Fog on the horizon, overcast

Science and Technology Log

One thing that I have learned on this trip (don’t worry, I have learned more than one thing) is that the government, and scientists, like to use abbreviations for equipment, procedures, and groups of people.  For example,  did you know that MACE stands for Midwater Assessment Conservation Engineering?   Well, now you do. The NOAA scientists that are aboard the Oscar Dyson work for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, which is part of MACE.  Three of the abbreviations that I have become familiar with are:  CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth), XBT (expendable bathythermograph), and Drop (Drop camera).  These are devices or procedures that the NOAA scientists use on board the Oscar Dyson to gather information that will help in determining the biomass of Pollock.

Conductivity, Temperature and depth device

The CTD measures conductivity, temperature and depth of sea water.

When I say “the CTD”, I am referring to a device, but the letters actually come from the procedures that the device performs.  It is lowered into the water on a cable, and its instruments measure the conductivity (how much electricity will pass through – an indirect way of measuring salinity) and  temperature of the sea water, and depth.  Niskin bottles may be attached to the CTD frame to collect sea water at selected depths.  This information gives scientists knowledge about sea water properties, and over time, will indicate changes in the environment.

Watch this video to see the data as it is being collected.

launching the XBT

A hard hat and flotation device are required on the weather deck (any deck open to the weather), even to launch the XBT.

Launching the XBT has been one of my jobs on the Oscar Dyson, at least during my shift.  This device measures temperature and depth of sea water.  It is basically thrown overboard out of a handheld launcher, which looks like a giant pistol thing, and remains attached to a very thin wire.  Data is sent through this thin wire until it reaches the ocean floor, then the wire is broken.  The device is not retrieved – hence the name – expendable.

thermocline

The data is graphed, and a beautiful thermocline is produced.  An XBT is launched 3 – 4 times a day, in different locations.

camera and light attached to frame

The Drop Camera is attached to a frame to protect it. The light is at the bottom of the frame.

The Drop Camera is an underwater camera that is lowered to the ocean floor.  The camera is pressure activated, so it starts recording at a certain depth.  It has a bright light that comes on when the camera is operating.  Extra line is fed out, because the ship is still moving, and the scientists do not want the camera to drag across the bottom.  It records for a few minutes, then it is hauled back to the boat, the memory card is retrieved, and the video is examined.  This information about the ocean floor is valuable to commercial fishermen, and future scientific missions.

sea stars and flat fish

The ocean floor close to Alaska's coast is home to a variety of sea stars, including brittle stars, as well as flat fish such as sole, flounder, and halibut. (NOAA Ocean Explorer)

New Species Seen  

Minke whale

Great Northern Diver (Loon)

Harbor Seal

Fin Whale

Humpback whale

4:30 am, Shelikof Strait

I was blessed to see this full moon about 4:30 am, with Mt. Douglas (elev. 7000 ft) in the background, in the Shelikof Strait.

Personal Log

Today was a fantastic day for wildlife and scenery viewing, as the sun was shining, the winds were calm, and it stays light until midnight here in the Shelikof Strait, west of Kodiak Island.  I started the day by going to the bridge around 4:30 am, and was delighted to see a bright full moon, and volcanoes of the Alaskan Peninsula.  The day only got better, as the sun rose around 5:30 am.

fin whale blow and dorsal fin

I have new respect for whale photographers, they are very hard to capture in a photo, here is my amateur attempt.

I spent a lot of time on the flying bridge, looking for whales, and finally took a photo of a spout and fin.  I was so excited!  You have to be looking at the right spot, at the right time.  Our transects take us close to Kodiak Island and its rocky cliffs, as well as the Alaskan Peninsula with its impressive glacier covered volcanoes.

bold and steep cliffs of Kodiak

The cliffs of Kodiak rise straight up out of the sea, bold and stunning.

We had a successful trawl today, and I spent several hours in the fish lab.  My head was kept warm by this pink knit hat that my sister made for me.  Thanks, Jan!

the fish lab is cold, need a hat

Thanks, Jan, for making this hat for me, I was nice and warm while processing fish today!

Jillian Worssam, July 15, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jillian Worssam
Onboard U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Healy
July 1 – 30, 2008

Ron Heinz

Ron Heinz

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 15, 2008

For the past thirteen days I have predominantly been working with the MOCNESS team. These scientists have opened their nets to me, and I have entered a world of plankton, juvenile fish, copepods, jelly fish, crab larva, and even juvenile squid.  There is though one member of our team who I have been remiss in mentioning, meet Ron! Ron Heinz is the head of the nutritional ecology lab for AFSC (Alaska Fisheries Science Center) in Juneau, Alaska. And well Ron collects samples of species and literally blows them up!  Yes you heard me, he combusts his samples.

Ron has a quest, he wants to know how much energy is stored in a fish and how it is partitioned, specifically in either fat or protein.  Basically juvenile fish want protein to help them grow muscle to avoid predators, they also want to store fat for the winter when there is nothing to eat.

The underlying question in Ron’s research is:  what happens to juvenile fish as the climate warms and there is a “mis-hatch” between when the food is available and the fish, hatch.   Ron’s current project is collecting fish, identifying the species, and saving samples for the lab in Juneau.  He will freeze his samples for transport, and then the fun begins again.

The MOCNESS is deployed ready to catch juvenile fish, and other micro critters.

The MOCNESS is deployed ready to catch juvenile fish, and other micro critters.

To extract fat from juvenile fish the process is simple: -Grind up the sample. -Add solvents to the sample to dissolve the fat. (the fat is trapped in suspension with the solvent) -Filter the sample to remove all other “stuff.” -Evaporate the solvent and weigh the left over and voila, you have fat.

Ron and Elizabeth are working together in identifying these juvenile fish; it is not an east task.

Ron and Elizabeth are working together in identifying these juvenile fish; it is not an east task.

To extract protein we now need the other “stuff.”    Nitrogen is found in protein, so simply put, burn the fish sample, remove the CO2 and you have Nitrogen.  Multiply by 6.25 and voila, you have the amount of protein.  To do this he… drum roll please, combusts the sample,  torches it, and poof.  Since there is not a lot of existing data on larval fish Ron is a forerunner in his field.

Ron is ready to collect a sample from this cod-end from on of the MOCNESS nets.

Ron is ready to collect a sample from this cod-end from on of the MOCNESS nets.

Basically Ron is developing nutritional labels for marine species.  He finds out what the different species are made of and in turn can then figure out what would be considered a healthy ecosystem for that specific species.  Right now the target species in his research are pollock, pacific cod, and arrow tooth flounder.  Ron has also made nutritional  labels for other species including a five foot sleeper shark.    In a nutshell his “nutritional labels” tell of metabolic demand, and how who eats whom when and why is so important.

I think I have been up for a day, really bad hair but over 120 fish at this sampling station.

I think I have been up for a day, really bad hair but over 120 fish at this sampling station.

Right now the pollock we are collecting have approximately less than 1% body fat, in the fall it is hoped that they will have 3- 4% body fat so as to survive the winter.  The diet of pollock is predominantly micro-zooplankton.  And for those of you who do not know pollock, every time you eat a fish stick, you are eating pollock! So there you have it “Ron’s World.”  It might be a small and microscopic world but in marine ecology it is very important!

Can you find the pollock, the lumpsucker, and the copepods?

Can you find the pollock, the lumpsucker, and the copepods?

 

Quote of the Day: The Earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone – and to no one.  -Edward Abby

FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you find a quote about nature that inspires you?

Seven to Eight fin whales sighted off the port bow, close enough to hear and see.

Seven to Eight fin whales sighted off the port bow, close enough to hear and see.

Greta Dykstra-Lyons, August 15, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Greta Dykstra-Lyons
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 1 – 20, 2005

Mission: Cetacean Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: U.S. West Coast
Date: August 15, 2005

Science and Technology Log

Last night I was invited to attend an early morning session in the oceanography lab with oceanographer Candy Hall. Like most mornings on this cruise, she and colleague Liz Zele were collecting water samples from 1000 meters and up with a device known as the CDT (Conductivity, temperature with depth).  These samples are used to test things like  nutrient, salt, and chlorophyll levels. Candy also runs a primary productivity test on the samples.  This test will identify the rate at which phytoplankton grow.

After a short nap, I was off to the flying bridge.  Due to the fact that the sun was shining (a first in over 2 wks) and the seas were calm, it felt like a promising day.  There was the typical early morning fin whale sighting, followed by a lull.  During this let-up it must have been decided that our time would be best spent fishing for albacore (as several trawlers were within sight). Almost as soon as the fishing lines were tossed over a blue whale appeared not far from the boat.  The sun on the whale’s back made for a beautiful sight in and out of the water.  It did not take long to get the small boat launched and on the trail of the whale for a biopsy and photographs.  The time between mammal sightings was spent watching birds. My highlight today was observing a flock of arctic terns headed to Antarctica. This I am told is the longest migration of any animal.  Today became more fruitful when four adorable Dall’s porpoises flirted with our bow for several minutes.  To top it all off…as we were beginning to enjoy our first visible sunset and the rising of a nearly full moon, observers found spunky dolphins engaging in acrobatics worthy of gold medals near the horizon.  It was not long before they graced us with their playful presence. Several of us took turns in the bow chamber and caught some underwater glances as well as auditory treats!  Smiles all around.

Yesterday, Monday, a somewhat elusive whale species showed itself despite the horrid weather. Two Baird’s beaked whales appeared around the boat for several surfacings.  Luckily, the photographers were able to get a few good head shots. And, like most days, there was the morning fin whale sighting! Due to poor visibility, observers went off effort a bit early.  Sunday also supplied us with less than perfect condition, but a fin whale was recorded before noon. The JORDAN picked up a worn-out, far from home hitchhiker in the afternoon.  The deck of the ship hosted this cowbird for the evening. She hasn’t been seen since.

Saturday’s conditions were similar to Sundays, but it was even colder.  The only sighting was…you guessed it, a morning fin whale. When there are few sighting to report and animals to observe, the members of the JORDAN become curious about floating objects. During these “slow times” the ship has collected a few things, three buoys to be exact. Two of them are your standard orange plastic fishing buoys (probably headed for the dumpster).  These buoys provided bonus entertainment because they had lines attached to them and thus “things” attached to the lines. The other buoy is a much more prized and sought after glass fishing buoy once used by Japanese fishermen.  It was given to the captain.

Tomorrow is our last full day of the cruise.  Currently we are about 60 miles from the coast. Due to our position and course, tomorrow has the potential to be an outstanding day for observing marine mammals and birds.

Greta Dykstra-Lyons, August 12, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Greta Dykstra-Lyons
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 1 – 20, 2005

Mission: Cetacean Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: U.S. West Coast
Date: August 12, 2005

Working in the lab

Working in the lab

Science and Technology Log

Since I last checked in, several days and a lot of water have passed by.  I wish I could say the same for marine mammals!  For quite some time we have been in international waters between 200 and 300 miles off shore. Some time last night we made a turn that put us at a heading of about 105 for most of today.  The turn of the boat also seems to have brought a turn of good luck for the observers.  Up until today the sightings have been very sparse. Tuesday only one sighting of sperm whales was recorded and observations were delayed due to uncooperative weather. We did manage a successful fire-and- abandon-ship drill.  At about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday a sperm whale was sighted and the decision to launch a small boat for photos and biopsy was made.  Luckily for me, it was my turn in the rotation to take a ride. Despite using a directional hydrophone we were not as successful as we had hoped in tracking the whale while it was submerged.  The closest we were able to get was about 30 yards away.

Whale sighting

Whale sighting

Oddly enough, in our pursuit of the sperm whale we stumbled upon a fin whale and had good luck pursuing him/her.  The small boat returned to the JORDAN about at 6:30 p.m.  It was quite a unique and thrilling experience to get that close to a such a gigantic animal!  I am told that under normal circumstances, vessels must be at least 100 yards away from the whales or risk a hefty fine. Due to special permits we are allowed a more intimate experience.  Wednesday evening I assisted with the oceanography chores, including the bongo net tow. Thursday was a slow sighting day. It was not until the afternoon that a sperm whale was sighted. Shortly after dinner we passed by a weather buoy.  This excited the crew because often fish will hang out by buoys and other floating objects.  The observers took a short break and the boat made a few slow circles around the buoy.  To everyone’s dismay, no fish were caught.  By Thursday evening we had reached our western most position.

Today, Friday, was a relatively busy day for sightings.  In total, nine animals were observed. Most exciting was a blue whale that passed within a good viewing distance from the ship. Cameras were clicking away! One other blue whale was sighted and the small boat was launched. In addition to the blue whales, sperm whales and fin whales were added to today’s list.  Due to equipment failure and malfunction in the oceanography lab, I stayed away today!

lyons_log5b

Using the hydrophone to track whales

 

Philip Hertzog, July 26, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 26, 2005

Fin whales

Fin whales

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 44.95’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 47.42’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: 065˚
Wind Speed: 7 kts
Sea Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  13.3˚C
Sea Level Pressure: 1011 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, stratus, cirrocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Today the RAINIER continues its journey from Kodiak Island to Mitrofania Island where our mapping work will start.  I awoke and found the ship off the coast of Kodiak Island in the Shelikof Strait that separates Kodiak Island with the southwestern Alaskan peninsula. A straight is a long stretch of water where the wind can travel great distances without being blocked and build up large waves. The waves in the Strait are between 1 and 2 feet high, but it is enough to rock the ship back and forth. I have to be careful not to spill any food or drinks in the cafeteria and it takes a while to get use to the rocking back and forth.

Breathing fin whales

Breathing fin whales

Though we are traveling today, our ship’s crew is already working and mapping the bottom of the Shelikof Strait.  I attended a meeting lead by Lt. Ben Evans and listened to him explain our plan for the next several days.  Today we are using the ship’s sonar to map the main portion of the Shelikof Strait and to look for anything that could harm ship traffic. The sonar sends beams of energy in the form of sound waves to the bottom which then bounce back to the ship. By measuring how long it takes for the sound to return to the ship, a computer can determine how deep the channel is. Behind the bridge is the plot room where the mapping action takes place.  The plot room has a big table in the middle to lay out charts and several computer stations line the walls around the table. Each computer station has two monitors hooked together so the hydrographer (a person who maps the ocean bottom) can put up sonar images and compare it to maps and other information.  Today we had one of the computer stations working to show the data being collected for the Shelikof Strait.  The bottom is around 400 meters deep and relatively flat.  The computer monitor shows us a colorful image of the bottom depths as we move along the straight.

In the late afternoon, we enter into a large bay and circle around to the back side of Mitrofania Island. Suddenly, I see four sprays of water in the air, one right after another, about half a mile from the ship.  As we move farther into the bay, we see more sprays and soon see curved, dark backs surface and then glide along the surface in an arch before disappearing below the surface. As we move closer we can make out a tiny fin on these large creatures toward the rear of their backs and realize these are fin whales.

Fin whales are one of the largest whales found in the world and can reach 24 meters in size. All around us we see spray being blown out by the fin whales as they surface and mill about with each other.  One whale surfaces right in front of the RAINIER and the Captain had to back off on the engine to avoid a collision.  The whale moved to the side of our ship as we slowed down and I could see it staying in the same place for 3-5 seconds looking up at us before moving away below the surface.

After our greeting by the fin whales, the Captain anchored the RAINIER in a quiet bay off Mitrofania and the crew prepared for a busy day of mapping tomorrow.

Personal Log 

Though I find I am excited to be on the RAINIER, I found myself dizzy with a little bit of motion sickness from the rocking of the ship in Shelikof Strait.  Taking the advice from books and several of the crew members, I kept myself from becoming sicker by getting fresh air on the deck and looking at the horizon.  I also drank plenty of fluids and ate all of my meals. After a couple of hours and a nap, I felt much better.

The high point of the day came when we entered Mitrofania Bay and saw the fin whales. We also saw salmon jumping throughout the bay and several of the crewmembers fished off the back of the RAINIER after they had finished their duties for the day.

Question of the Day 

What do fin whales eat and where do they spend the winter?