Jenny Hartigan: Whales and Birds Everywhere! July 23, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jenny Hartigan
Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar
July 21 – July 28, 2017

 

Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, zooplankton, and water column survey

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 23

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 37.8591° N,

Longitude: 122.4853° W

Time: 0700

Sky: 100% cloud cover

Visibility: 8 nautical miles

Wind Direction: NW

Wind speed: 10-20 knots

Sea wave height: 2-4 feet

NW Swell 7-9 feet at 8 seconds

Barometric pressure: 30.02 inches

Sea Water Temperature: 58.6

Air Temperature: 52 degrees F

Wind Chill: 34 degrees F

Rainfall: 0mm

Scientific Log:

Saturday was my first day out, and it was an excellent day for wildlife observation. In fact, that is what I did for most of the day. A highlight of my day was seeing two blue whales spouting right in front of the Fulmar. I tried to get a photo, but they went below the surface quickly. Blue whales are the largest marine mammals, averaging 20-25meters long and blue grey in color. It is called a cetacean, which means it has flukes, (tail fin), and may or may not have a dorsal fin (the fin on the back or top of the body.) This is in contrast to pinnipeds, which are marine mammals that use their flippers to walk. The blue whale is a baleen whale, which feeds by chasing prey up to the surface of the water. There it forages by swimming with its mouth open to catch small invertebrates such as krill and copepods. The baleen in its mouth filters out the invertebrates from the water.

The whale we saw most often was the humpback whale. This baleen whale averages 11-13 meters in length, and is dark grey to black in color. I was so excited to observe 3 tail flukes of humpbacks today!

The scientists spotting marine mammals from the flying bridge.

 

Cassin’s auklets and humpback whales – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Marine mammals seen Saturday:

6 blue whales

23 humpback whales

22 unknown whales

several harbor porpoise

4 California sea lions

 

Layman’s albatross – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Birds seen Saturday:

Cassin’s auklets

Black–footed albatross, layman’s albatross

Western gulls

Hearman’s gull

Common murre – including the first murre chicks of the season the ACCESS crew has sighted.

Many marine animals tend to be found where upwelling occurs. Deep ocean nutrient-filled waters are brought to the surface by changes in sea floor topography, winds and currents. These nutrients fertilize phytoplankton (tiny plant life) that serves as the base of the food web. Whales return to these areas to feed on the small invertebrates that flourish there. These hotspots occur just off the Ca Coast. Protecting and managing these ecosystems is one major reason we have established National Marine Sanctuaries such as The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Cordell Bank, and Monterey Bay. In a later post, I’ll tell you more about the procedures the scientists use to observe and record the mammal and bird sightings.

Personal Log:

That’s me, in front of the Fulmar!

I settled into my berth onboard the R/V Fulmar. The ship can sleep 10 people, has a galley (shipspeak for kitchen), a wet lab (place to conduct experiments that are wet!) and one head (shipspeak for bathroom). Although the ship is only 67 feet long, the scientist and crew work together so efficiently that it is very comfortable. It has everything we need. I am rooming with Dani Lipski, who is one of the scientists. I’m on the bottom bunk. I’ll introduce her to you later on. She has spent a lot of time teaching me how to use the equipment to take samples. She has graciously answered my millions of questions!

My bunk on the bottom. Do you see the ladder to the escape hatch on the right?

I am delighted to find that I am not feeling seasick. My doctor did prescribe me the patch to wear behind my ear, and I guess it’s working! In any case, I’m not taking it off to test it out. We have had some pretty bumpy experiences transiting to sampling sites and so far so good.I have learned to always keep one hand on the boat when walking around, and not to go below deck when the ship is moving. It surprises me to experience what a workout my legs are getting simply by working to maintain my balance. Even while sitting here writing on my computer I have to constantly engage my legs so I don’t fall over.

Did you know?

The Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) separates ship traffic going in opposite directions, much like a median strip separates opposing lanes of cars on a freeway. The TSS is marked on nautical charts so that traffic proceeds safely.

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!

Alexandra Keenan: Right Whales Everywhere! June 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra Keenan
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 18 – 29, 2012

Mission: Cetacean Biology
Geographical area of the cruise: Gulf of Maine
Date: June 25, 2012

Science and Technology Log:

Greetings from Canadian waters!

Bigelow flying Canadian flag

Ships must fly the flag of the nation whose territorial water they are sailing in.

Thanks to a tip from an aerial survey, we are on Georges Basin– the northern edge of Georges Bank. Incredibly, we saw around 30 right whales yesterday! The science crew quickly got to work photo-identifying every right whale we could safely approach.

Photo-identification is the process of distinguishing individuals of a species from one another using markings and other cues in photographs of an individual. It is possible to identify individual right whales by markings called callosities on their heads, scars on their bodies, and notches in their flukes.

Photographing right whales

I use a telephoto lens to photograph right whale callosities to use in identifying individuals.

taking good notes

Research analyst Genevieve Davis takes good notes on each whale that is photographed, including frame numbers and identifying characteristics. These are essential when going through the photographs later.

the chief

Chief Scientist Allison Henry knows right whales. I was amazed by her ability to recognize individuals by name or number.

Callosities are patches of rough skin on right whales’ heads that appear white because of small organisms called cyamids that inhabit these areas (a sort of “whale lice”). Like human fingerprints, each right whale has a unique callosity pattern. In order to photo-ID a whale, photographs of the animal’s head and body are taken with a telephoto lens when the animal surfaces. These photographs can later be compared to a catalog of right whale individuals to determine who has been spotted (some whales have names, some have numbers).

Scientists use unique markings on the head called callosities to identify individual whales. (graphic/photo: New England Aquarium)

The team also has “cheat sheets,” or laminated cards containing information on certain whales that are of interest or need to be biopsied. These references can help scientists quickly identify whales in the field that need to be studied further.

cheat sheets

These sheets contain photographs and drawings of individual whales’ markings and callosities.

As one of the most endangered whale species, there are only about 450 individual right whales left. We were privileged to see a little less than 10% of the entire right whale population in one day. This is amazing, but also quite disturbing.  Even though right whaling has been illegal since 1937 , right whales still face entanglement from commercial fishing gear and getting hit by vessels. They are particularly vulnerable because they seasonally migrate through world shipping lanes, are relatively slow swimmers, and closely approach vessels.

One right whale we encountered, named Ruffian, had huge scars all over his back. I asked Allison the Chief Scientist what happened to him.

Below are two videos: the first a shot of the numerous spouts (note the characteristic v-pattern of the spouts) that gives an idea of how surrounded we were by right whales, the other is a short video of a right whale surfacing near our bow.