Alex Eilers, September 1, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Teacher at Sea Alex Eilers releasing an XBT

Teacher at Sea Alex Eilers releasing an XBT

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: September 1, 2008

Science Log

The second week has been absolutely fabulous as we found a leatherback – in fact we found three!!! This week has been all about the turtle: from identifying the biotic and abiotic conditions that define leatherback turtle habitat and foraging grounds, to tracking and tagging – we’ve done it all.

• Abiotic oceanographic data provided by scientific instruments such as XBTs (expendable bathythermographs), CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth), and water samples containing nutrient data to characterize the abiotic foraging habitats of the leatherback turtle.

Alex working with the CTD device

Alex working with the CTD device

• Net tow samples characterized the biotic conditions such as the jellyfish species prevalent in the turtle diet: moon jellies, sea nettles, and egg yolk jellies.

Alex Eilers measuring a moon jelly

Alex Eilers measuring a moon jelly

Egg yolk jelly with pipefish and larval rex sole

Egg yolk jelly with pipefish and larval rex sole

Tracking the turtles via air surveillance and handheld antenna

Tracking the turtles via handheld antenna

Aerial survellance

Aerial surveillance

Tagging a big leatherback

Tagging a big leatherback

Alex Eilers, August 31, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 31, 2008

Alex putting glow sticks on branch line.

Alex putting glow sticks on branch line.

August 29 – Longline fishing for swordfish

Today’s major objective was to catch swordfish for tagging using a fishing method called longlining. Longline fishing uses one main line held just below the water’s surface with several buoys.  Attached to the main line are several smaller branch lines with hooks and bait.  The branch lines extent 42 feet or 7 fathoms into the ocean.

Preparing to launch the longline is quite a sight and it requires a number of individuals, each working in unison. There is a person who baits the hooks on the branch line then hooks it to the main line, another person attaches a glow stick (used to attract the swordfish), and a third person attaches the buoy to the main line.  There are also a number of people working behind the scenes sorting lines and working the winch. After all the branch lines are hooked to the main line, the line soaks in the water for several hours – in hopes that a swordfish will take the bait.

Crew setting gear

Crew setting gear

Reeling in the line took about two hours because the line was 4 miles long and held over 200 hooks.  I thought this was an extremely long line but was told that commercial fishing vessels use between 40 to 60 miles of line with thousands of branch lines. Wow!

Unfortunately, we were unable to tag any swordfish but hope to try again on Labor Day. What an incredible experience today has been.

August 30 and 31 – Rock’n and Roll’n

Whoa, Whoa… is about all you heard me say over the past two days.  We’re going through a rough patch today – high winds and swells up to 5 or 7 meters – between 15 and 20 feet.  We sure were glad the scientific equipment was secured during the first few days – because everything that wasn’t tied down went flying – including chairs, drinks and the crew.  The closest thing I could come to describing this experience would be like riding a non-stop Disney ride.  The inclinometer reading (an instrument that is use to detect the degrees a boat rolls) recorded a maximum tilt of about 36 degrees.   To put thing into perspective, I am now typing with one hand and holding the table with the other.  Unfortunately, many of the science projects were cancelled due to high seas.  We hope to be in the calmer waters of Monterey Bay area tomorrow.

Alex Eilers, August 27, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 27, 2008

Everyone! Here’s the latest from my adventures at sea.

Today the crew was busy testing equipment.  We tested both long-line fishing gear and box trawl netting!  Both

tests were successful and we are looking forward to the real thing – more to come on this subject later. The picture below shows Scott Benson holding the box trawl net “catch.”  Although it looks like group of eggs, they are actually members of the jellyfish family know as ctenophores or “comb jellies.”

Jellies

Jellies

We had a successful observation session today.  I’ll introduce you to some of the “stars” of the day.

Common Dolphins were everywhere.  We saw over 100 riding the waves on the bow of our boat.  They move with great speed – especially when you are trying to take a picture of them.

Common dolphins

Common dolphins

Risso’s Dolphins – This is an unusual looking dolphin with a rounded head – unlike the traditional dolphin we all know. These creatures have numerous scratches and scars over their body from other Risso’s and from the squid they eat.  They are gray when born and gradually become white with age.

Fin Whales – OK – I must admit – We didn’t actually see the Fin Whale but we did see the whale spouts from the three that we spotted.

Jelly Fish – We were excited to see so many Jellies – a favorite food of the Leatherback.  Most looked like “Moon Jellies” but without catching them we cannot be sure of the type since there are many species.

To Do… Research one or more of the animals highlighted above.

Alex Eilers, August 24, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

In the picture, the “Big Eyes” are covered and on the left side of the picture, the antennas are directly above me.

In the picture, the “Big Eyes” are covered and on the left side of the picture, the antennas are directly above me.

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 24, 2008

Today we were in assembly mode and I spent the majority of my time on the flying bridge (top deck). With the help of several scientists, we cleaned and replaced the viewing seats, installed the “Big Eyes” – (the largest pair of binoculars I’ve ever seen), and assembled and tested the Turtle tracking antennas.  The “Big Eyes” will be used to help track and identify marine mammals, leatherbacks and birds near the boat.  This is especially important prior to and during the times scientists have equipment in the water so we don’t catch or injure these animals. The receiver will be used to track the Leatherback Sea Turtles who have a transmitter attached to their carapace. The good news is we are receiving reports that there is a Leatherback approximately 110 miles off the coast of Monterey – the bad news is he may not be there when we arrive.

Safety training During our first true “day at sea” we had two practice safety drills; a fire in the galley (kitchen) and an abandon ship.  The crew handled both drills quickly and efficiently.  The abandon ship drill was exciting. When the bell rang, everyone was responsible for his or her own billet (job duty). My billet required me to grab my life preserver and survival suit and muster to the O1 deck (report to an area for role call).

Survival suit

Survival suit

Training to be a VO – visual observer We started the day on the flying bridge. Karin Forney, marine mammal researcher, trained us on how to be a marine animal visual observer or VO for short.  During the first observing session, we only saw a few animals – sea lions and various birds.

I’m getting fairly good at spotting kelp beds (seaweed), however, the scientists are not interested in them, so I still need more practice identifying marine mammals.

By the afternoon, we started to see more marine life.  A large pod of common dolphins swam playfully near the ship.  This was a beautiful sight to see but not ideal for net testing. We waited 30 minutes without a mammal sighting then successfully tested the nets. As the scientists were pulling the nets aboard we spotted another smaller pod of common dolphins, some California sea lions and a small mola mola (sun fish).  All in all it was a good day!

Watching for kelp

Watching for kelp

Alex Eilers, August 21, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 21, 2008

Well I’ve arrived in San Diego safe and sound.  The weather here is fantastic – warm, mostly sunny and a bit breezy.  Let’s hope it stays like his throughout my time at sea.  Here is a brief outline of how I’ve been preparing for the research cruise.  I started the day at a LUTH survey orientation meeting.  LUTH stands for Leatherback Use of Temperate Habitat. Lisa Ballance, the director of Protected Resources Division and Scott Benson, Chief Scientist welcomed the entire team.  We spent the morning listening to the research planned for the trip and I was amazed at the amount of science to be conducted.  This is going to be an exciting adventure. I must admit though – I’ve got some homework to do.  I have to become more familiar with the acronyms the scientists are using, like CTD’s, TSG’s and especially XBT’s – because I have to load these this afternoon.

After lunch we piled in the vans and headed toward the ship to begin the loading process.  My assignment was to load and store the XBT’s and help load the oceanographic equipment.  And, I did my homework – I found out that the XBT stands for eXpendable BathyThermograph and they are used for the collection of oceanographic temperature data.

I took a quick break after unloading the van to pose for a picture.  I’m standing beside NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan and the real work is now beginning.  Better get busy – more to come later.  Keep checking the website.

I took a quick break after unloading the van to pose for a picture. I’m standing beside NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan and the real work is now beginning. Better get busy – more to come later.