Christopher Faist: Limited Visibility, July, 21 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Faist
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 20 — August 1, 2011

Mission: Cetacean and Seabird Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 21, 2011

Weather Data
Air Temp:  21 ºC
Water Temp: 19 ºC
Wind Speed: 19 knots
Water Depth: 163 meters

Science and Technology Log
The purpose of cruise is to accurately count marine mammals and seabirds in the North Atlantic.  There are two separate groups of scientists: the marine mammal team and the seabird team.

Chris Faist using the "Big Eyes"

Chris Faist using the "Big Eyes"

Mammals
The first order of business on a trip to count marine mammals is to ensure that all observers (including myself) are familiar with the types of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) that may be seen during the survey.  Last night all of the marine mammal observers gathered in the conference room to review photographs and field guides depicting each of the species that might be seen on the trip.  Using high-resolution photographs, we reviewed length, coloration, body shape and behaviors that distinguish each dolphin and whale to the most specific level of classification, Genus and species.

To make sure that all (or as close to all as possible) animals in the study area are counted, observers will be using high power binoculars, or “Big Eyes”, to extend their ability to see and identify animals even at great distances (about 7 miles from the ship).

Observation Station

Observation Station

Two teams of four, highly experienced observers will work simultaneously during the survey time.  From two different locations on the ship, the flying bridge (top deck) and the roll tank deck (about 15 feet below the flying bridge) each team of observers will rotate stations every 30 minutes.  One observer will start on the port (left) “Big Eyes” to observe animals on that side.  The second observer will be at the computer to record what is seen and search for animals close to the boat without using binoculars.  The 3rd observer will start on the starboard (right) “Big Eyes”, while the 4th person is on break.

It is believed that this method, of two teams of 4 observers each, will allow observers to count all of the animals in the survey area.  After the cruise is over the scientists will use math equations to get estimates of animals within the North Atlantic.

Pencil Close Up

Pencil Close Up

Birds
Since the weather was windy today, the mammal team did not work but there is a team of seabird observers on-board as well.  Mike and Marie are here to count all of the seabirds that occur in the survey area.  They are able to spot seabirds in rougher conditions (higher wind speeds) allowing them to collect data during most daylight hours.  Today, Mike was showing me how to accurately judge the distance between the boat and birds.  While technology may help others Mike likes to use an old fashion “pencil method”.  If you look carefully at the picture you will see marks on the pencil.  When he holds the pencil at arm’s length and puts the top of the pencil at the horizon, each of the marks indicate a different distance.  The top mark is 300m from the ship, middle is 200m and the bottom mark indicates 100m.  This gives Mike and Marie a quick guide to accurately judge distance to record their seabird observations.

Personal Log

Due to foggy and windy conditions the marine mammal observers are waiting for better conditions to start surveying.  While this is bad for the scientists, it is great for me.  I have had some time to learn to navigate the ship, nap, get my “sea legs” and interview many of the scientists and crew.

What I am finding is a highly trained, experienced group of individuals that love the ocean.  Each person brings a unique set of talents and background forming a complete team with the same goal, accurately counting the numbers of protected species in the North Atlantic.  I am very excited to be a part of such a great team.