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!

Terry Welch, July 1, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 23-July 3, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Pavlov Islands, Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 1, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: S/SE 15-20
Precipitation: clearing
Temperature:  High 47 Seas 1-3’

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Terry Welch, at the helm of the RAINIER

Science and Technology Log 

Today, we are in transit to Seward after surveying the Pavlof Island area for the past week.  We cut our surveying down a day due to incoming weather.  The RAINIER made good headway and we stayed ahead of the storm.  The seas never seemed all that bad in the last 12 hours and today we have sun! I spent some time observing what the ensigns (ENS) and crew do on the bridge while underway. There are always 2-4 people on a “watch” and they continually monitor navigation instruments, weather, and look for any possible obstructions like boats out there. A “watch” lasts four hours.

The RAINIER uses two different kinds of radar to track vessels or land around us. The ensigns also observe through binoculars a lot.  When I was at the bridge, there were two larger fishing vessels ahead of us. The radar tracks how far a boat is in nautical miles from us, their speed and direction headed.  Many larger boats and ships carry an AIS (Automatic Identification System), which allows the exchange of ship data such as identification, position, course and speed, with nearby ships. GPS (Global Positioning System) plays an important role in their navigation also and is tied into theequipment.

RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER
RADAR on the bridge of the RAINIER

The ensigns and captain also plan out our routes using maps, compasses, and straight edges.  Plotting our course is done the old fashioned way – paper and pencil. Below is ENS Schultz plotting our course. I spent a little time in the plotting room, where the hydrographic crew cleans up the data that has been collected during the day. I mentioned in an earlier log that the Multibeam SONAR system collects sounds waves, casually called “pings” that are bounced off the ocean floor and are sent back to the system.  How well these transmissions are sent and received depends on several physical factors of the water including water depth, temperature, salinity and conductivity.  I was a little stumped on how all of these factors play a roll in understanding the data and Ian, the Hydrographer Tech, reminded me about Snell’s Law, which describes how waves refract differently through different mediums.  There are a couple of short QuickTime movies on the NOAA education website that show Multibeam sonar at work.  Click here.

ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.
ENS Christie Schultz plots the RAINIER’s course with old fashioned pencil and paper.

The “casts” we took every few hours with the CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) instrument help the software determine the speed of sound by applying Snell’s Law, more or less, and make corrections for the differences in the water layers. It’s interesting to note that the first layer of water may have much less salinity than deeper water due to stream flow into the ocean.  In a column of water:  as the temperature increases, sound speed increases; as the pressure increases, sound speed increases; and as salinity increases, sound speed increases.  For more info on Snell’s Law and sound waves, go here.

Personal Log 

The CTD instrument
The CTD instrument

The sun came out for most of the day today, which enabled me to see the wonderful mountains around here.  We are transiting through the Shelikof Straight just north of Kodiak and south of the Alaska Peninsula.  We should be in Seward in the morning.

Questions of the Day: 

  1.  How do sounds waves travel through water differ from light waves?
  2. What is the speed of light and speed of sound?
  3. Is the speed of sound different in salt water rather than fresh water?

Animals Seen Today: Porpoises along the bow

The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight
The magnificent mountains surrounding Shelikof Straight

Kimberly Pratt, July 16, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kimberly Pratt
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
July 2 – 24, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Wildlife Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Northwest
Date: July 16, 2005

Humpback Fluke – white and black
Humpback Fluke – white and black

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 3650.918 N
Longitude: 12159.753 W
Visibility: < 1
Wind Direction: 280
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Sea Wave Height :< 1
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Sea Level Pressure: 1011.6
Cloud Cover: Foggy/light drizzle
Temperature: 16.7 c

Scientific Log 

Our days lately have been mostly foggy and drizzly, making marine mammal observations very difficult. During the times that observations were made, we’ve seen Humpback Whales, Fin Whales, Harbor Porpoise, a Blue Whale, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Grampus Dolphins, and Sea Lions.  I’ve attached pictures that show Humpback Whale flukes.  The scientists are using the pictures to ID them.  Yesterday, Fin Whales surfaced approx. 200 meters off our bow and swam with the ship for a little while.

Humpback Fluke – all black
Humpback Fluke – all black

We observed Harbor Porpoise as we entered Monterey Bay. They are a small porpoise and are identified by their small pointy dorsal fin.  Observation of Harbor Porpoise is difficult and you can only get a fleeting glance at their dorsal fins before they are gone.

At first you might mistake Grampus dolphins for Killer Whales by looking at their dorsal, but upon closer inspection you’ll find they have a light body marked by scratches or lines. Two nights ago, we did a Bongo Net drop and were able to collect 7 jars full of krill, plankton and myctophids (small Lantern fish).  This showed that the area was very healthy and full of abundance. As far as birds go, we observed part of the Monterey Bay flock of Sooty Shearwaters numbered at approximately 250,000. Today we picked up Scientist Rich Pagen in Santa Cruz, joining us after being ill and we hope to continue observations as we head back out to sea from Monterey Bay.

Humpback Fluke – barnacle marking
Humpback Fluke – barnacle marking

Personal log

We’ve had quite a bit of down time enabling me to answer e-mail, do logs, and interviews. When we are “on effort” I am on the Flying Bridge helping with data entry, observations and trying to video our sightings. At night I help the Oceanographers, Mindy Kelley and Liz Zele doing the Bongo Net Tows and we are often out until 10:30 or 11:00 pm.  Today, we were close to shore, so we had cell service to call friends and loved ones.   I’m still having a really good time, the whales and dolphins are breathtaking. I envy your hot weather!

Sea Lions
Sea Lions