Elaine Bechler: A Survey on the R/V Fulmar! July 21, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elaine Bechler
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 21- 26, 2011 

Mission: Survey of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones NMS
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Off the California Coast
Date: July 21, 2011 

Science and Technology Log

Welcome to the July 2011 Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies  six-day survey of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the  Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  The purpose of this survey was  to find out if there were any biotic or abiotic changes happening in the sanctuaries. Prior to the trip, transect lines

transect lines along study area

This map shows transect lines in the areas we are studying in the sanctuaries.

were drawn on a map.  The science team onboard the R/V Fulmar planned to survey as many of the lines as was possible.  While following the transect lines, all animal sightings were recorded.  Once the data is collected, the scientists can compare the 2011 survey results to other years of data. What questions do you think a marine biologist might have while surveying the organisms in the marine sanctuary?  What might motivate an organization to send scientist on a survey such as this?


R/V Fulmar

R/V Fulmar

The vessel we boarded was the R/V Fulmar .  If you check the website you will see it is a survey machine!  For this cruise there were seven of us on the science team and two crew – the captain and the mate.   What features make this vessel a good one for ocean surveys?

Prior to disembarking, the crew and scientists frequently checked the conditions of the ocean in order to determine if the survey could be safely conducted. They used a computer on board to check the conditions from NOAA websites.  Another website was  real time buoy data . The computer indicated that the ocean was going to be very active on our first two days with 10-foot swells. It felt like we were in a washing machine.  Needless to say a few of us were feeling sea sick!  It was quite a humbling experience yet it bonded us too.  What remedies are there for sea sickness?  What would you do to prepare yourself for a trip on the R/V Fulmar?

abiotic: nonliving

The science team was divided into two groups: those working on the flying bridge at the bow or front of the vessel and those working on the back deck with nets.  On the flying bridge there were three observers, two on either

observers on the flying bridge

Observers on the flying bridge

end, the port (left) and the starboard (right),  who would spot all marine mammals (Carol Keiper and Jan Roletto).  An ornithologist on board would identify birds (Sophie Webb).  The other member (Jaime Jahncke) recorded what the animal was, where it was, how many there were and what the organisms were doing.  Sometimes there was a lot going on at one time and they would use a second recorder (Kaitlin Graiff) temporarily to document all the animals. The data is always gathered in this way.  Those who were not observers were allowed to watch but not to assist the observers.  Can you think of a reason why?

They spotted 50 whales: 10 blues and 40 humpbacks; some breaching, some tail lobbing.  We documented 16 different species of birds including the Tufted Puffin, Cassin’s Auklet, Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater,  Western Gull, Heermann’s Gull, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Ashy Storm-Petrel, Brown Pelican, Brandt’s Cormorant, Common MurreElegant Tern, Pigeon Guillemot, Red-necked Phalarope and Black-footed Albatross. (Sophie Webb, the ornithologist on board took these shots). Each of these animals are predators and some of them were found in the thousands out in the sanctuaries.  What would be possible prey for all of these animals? 

male Common Murre and chick

Male Common Murre and chick

Black-footed Albatross

Black-footed Albatross

Having many different species living in an area is called biological diversity.  Diversity is a measure of health in an ecosystem, the more different species that are supported, the better the ecosystem can deal with environmental change.  What would be some possible environmental changes that the organisms in this ecosystem might be experiencing?  

Many of these animals are pelagic, which means they live their entire life without visiting a mainland.  Many of them are predatory on the fish and zooplankton living in the ocean.   Where does the energy to support such large numbers of predatory animals come from?   What organisms are at the bottom of the food chains that support these animals?  

Check out the other posts from this cruise to learn more!

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin