Catherine (Cat) Fuller: An Introduction, June 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

(Not Yet) Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (NGA-LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: 18 June 2019

Weather Data

(From Honolulu, HI)

Latitude: 21.33 N

Longitude: 157.94 W

Wind Speed and Direction: NE 15 G 23

Wind Swell Height and Direction: NE 3-5 ft

Secondary Swell Height and Direction: SSW 2-4 ft

Humidity: 47%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.1 mb

Heat Index: 93 F (34 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: clear and sunny

(From Seward, AK)

Latitude: 60.12 N

Longitude: 149.45 W

Wind Speed and Direction: S 9

Swell Height: 2 ft

Humidity: 77%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.0 mb

Heat Index: 56 F (13 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: Overcast

Personal Log

Aloha kākou! Greetings everyone! In about a week, I will be exchanging currently very warm and sunny Honolulu for the vastly different climate and ecological zone in Seward and the Northern Gulf of Alaska.  I will be embarking on R/V Sikuliaq there to participate in one part of a long-term study of the variability and resiliency of species in the area, but I will get to that in a bit.

In August, I will begin my seventeenth year as a sixth grade social studies teacher at ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school that is academically competitive at a national level.  In sixth grade social studies, our students focus on the development of the modern world from ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome.  I enjoy challenging my students to broaden their worldviews, especially about the impacts ancient civilizations have had on today’s world. We cover those for three quarters, and in the fourth quarter we examine the choices these civilizations have made and whether or not they contribute to a sustainable society.  I want my students to understand that sustainability is more than just picking up trash and conserving water, but it is also about choices in government, society, culture, behavior and environment. The content of our fourth quarter is predicated on the reality that we live in Hawai’i, an island group that is roughly 2000 miles from any other major point of land.

Living in Hawai’i can be just as idyllic as advertisements make it seem, with daily rainbows, colorful sunsets and blue ocean waves.  However, it also comes with challenges that we all have to face.  Our cost of living is among the highest in the nation, and we face constant struggles between maintaining culture and environment in a place with limited room for population growth.  We have a high homeless population, yet many of us joke that the (construction) crane is our state bird.  We are also braced to be at the forefront of climate change.  With a rise in sea level of 3 feet, most of Waikiki and much of downtown Honolulu is at risk of inundation.  In addition, changes in sea surface temperature affect our coral reefs and fish populations as well as minimizing or eliminating our trade winds through changes in weather patterns.  For these reasons, I hope to plant the awareness in my students that their generation is poised to make some major decisions about the state of the world.

My passion for sustainability and ocean health stems from the amount of time I spend in and on the water.  I have been a competitive outrigger canoe paddler for the last 30 or so years, and in the summers, I paddle five to six days a week.  I go to six-man team practices as well as taking my one-man canoe out with friends.  I also have coached high school paddling at ‘Iolani School for the last sixteen years. Being on the ocean so much makes me much more aware of the wildlife our waters shelter: monk seals, dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales.  It also makes me aware of the trash, especially plastics that are more and more present in the ocean.  I’ve picked up slippers, coolers, bottles, bags and even pieces of cargo net out of the water on various excursions.  Being on the water so often also fuels my interest in meteorology; you need to know what weather and ocean conditions to expect when you go to sea.  One major impact that being on the water has is that it allows you to see your island from offshore and realize that it is an ISLAND, and not a very big one at that!

Cat on Canoe
Me on my one-man canoe off He’eia, O’ahu

Some of the biggest lessons about the ocean that I’ve learned have come from my experiences with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a non-profit organization founded in 1973 to recreate the original settlement of Hawai’i by ocean voyaging canoes, as well as revive the ancient art of non-instrument navigation.  PVS is most well known for the voyaging canoe Hõkūlea, which sailed to Tahiti (and back again) in 1976 to prove the validity of these cultural arts.  I began working with the organization in 1994, helping to build a second voyaging canoe, Hawai’iloa, and have been there ever since.  As a part of this organization, I have sailed throughout the Pacific, to locations such as Tahiti, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Mangareva, and the Marquesas.  With Te Mana O Te Moana, another voyaging canoe initiative, I sailed to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. I’ve seen many faces of the Pacific Ocean on my travels and I look forward to seeing another. 

Between 2012 and 2017, PVS sent Hõkūle’a on a journey around the world.  The name of the voyage was Mālama Honua (To Protect the Earth) and the goal was to visit with indigenous communities to learn what challenges they face and how they work to preserve their lands and cultures.  One of the founding principles for this voyage is a Hawaiian saying, “he wa’a he moku, he moku he wa’a”, which means “the canoe is an island and the island is a canoe”.  The saying refers to the idea that the choices we make about positive behavior, bringing what we need as opposed to what we want, and what we do with our resources and trash while living in the limited space of a voyaging canoe are a reflection of the choices we need to make living on the islands of Hawai’i as well as living on island Earth.  I strive every day to make my students aware of the consequences of their choices.

voyaging canoe
Hõkūle’a en route to Aotearoa, 2014


Science and Technology Log

I’m pretty excited to go to Alaska, first of all, because I’ve never been there!  Secondly, we have species in Hawai’i (birds and whales) that migrate between our shores and Alaska on an annual basis.  Although the two locations are distant from each other, there are connections to be made, as Hawai’i and Alaska share the same ocean. 

The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). R/V Sikuliaq is an NSF ship working with the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  LTER encompasses 28 sites nationwide, of which the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) is one.  In this area, three surveys a year are made to monitor the dynamics of the ecosystem and measure its resilience to environmental factors such as variability in light, temperature, freshwater, wind and nutrients.  The origins of the NGA portion of this project have been in place since 1970 and have grown to include the Seward Line system (s series of points running southeast from Seward).

On our trip, we will be looking at microzooplankton and mesozooplankton as well as phytoplankton, the size and concentration of particles in the water, and the availability of nutrients, among other things.  Information gathered from our study will be added to cumulative data sets that paint a picture of the variability and resiliency of the marine ecosystem. I will be a part of the Particle Flux team for this expedition.  I have a general idea of what that entails and the kind of data we’ll be gathering, but I certainly need to learn more!  If you’re curious, more detailed information about ongoing research can be found at https://nga.lternet.edu/about-us/.

I always ask my students, after they complete preliminary research on any project, what they want to learn.  I want to know more about particle flux (as previously mentioned).  I would like to learn more about seasonal weather patterns and how they influence the NGA ecosystem.  I would like to find out if/how this ecosystem connects to the Hawaiian ecosystem, and I REALLY want to see the kinds of life that inhabit the northern ocean! For my own personal information, I am really curious to see how stars move at 60 degrees north and whether or not they can still be used for navigation. 

Mahalo (Thank you)

I’m spending my last week sorting through my collection of fleece and sailing gear to prepare for three weeks of distinctly cooler temperatures.  I’m going to be doing a lot of layering for sure!  My two cats, Fiona and Pippin are beginning to suspect something, but for now are content to sniff through the growing pile on the couch. While packing, I’m keeping in mind that this is just another type of voyage and to pack only what I need, including chocolate.  As departure gets closer, I’d like to thank Russ Hopcroft, Seth Danielson, and Steffi O’Daly for their information and help in getting to and from Seward.  I’m looking forward to meeting you all soon and learning a lot from each of you!  Thanks also to Lisa Seff for her on board life hacks and detailed information…much appreciated!

Heather O’Connell: Excited and Eager for Imminent Exploration, April 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 11 -22, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: 04/26/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude 19.6400° N

Longitude 155.9969° W

The current weather in Kona, Hawaii on the Big Island is 86 degrees Fahrenheit with 59% humidity. Winds from the west are coming in at 6 miles per hour or 5.2 knots as we will say on the ship. It is mostly sunny with a 20 % chance of rain.

Personal Log and Introduction

My fascination with the intricacies of the human body led me to pursue biochemistry and earn a bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College in 2002. While I enjoyed analyzing pharmaceuticals for Pfizer and conducting sleep research with Weill Cornell Medical College, I missed the social aspects of a profession. This prompted me to pursue teaching and I received a Master’s Degree in Education from Pace University in 2007.

I began teaching at a small private school in Westchester County, New York, where I taught both middle school and high school science and founded a Habitat for Humanity club and traveled to Nicaragua with a group of students to build homes for the community.  My love of hands on tasks and community service made this an enriching endeavor.

Eight years ago, my adventurous spirit transported me from Long Island, NY to Maui, Hawaii, where I shared my enthusiasm for science with students while exploring the vast terrain, plant life and coral reefs. My next adventure brought me to Hilo on the Big Island where I was part of an enriching professional development program, Ku’Aina Pa, that taught about gardening and culture. Here is where I met my friend Ben who told me about West Hawaii Explorations Academy, W.H.E.A., an outdoor science project based school with a shark lagoon. I never knew charter schools like this existed!

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the W.H.E.A. high school team for the past five years, where I advise science projects, teach Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus and an after school Chemistry class. I advise an Urchin Survey project where we monitor the population of urchins at a Marine Life Conservation District and I love providing the opportunity for students to collect real data.  We have access to deep ocean water which students have used for cold agriculture projects in the past and more recently to precipitate O.R.M. (orbitally realigned molecules) to use as a fertilizer. Some of my favorite parts about my job are learning alongside students, as I knew nothing about plumbing a marine tank before W.H.E.A., and working with such a great team! When I am teaching students how to be stewards of the land through the lens of science and math, I feel as if I am pursuing my passion in life and it fulfills me greatly.

WHEA Urchin Survey
Freshman conducting an urchin survey for their research paper.

I participated in the Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute last year, where I learned to teach math through a cultural lens with environmental service work. I was inspired by a group of amazing colleagues and met Christina who told me about the NOAA Teacher at Sea opportunity. Since I love experiential learning, I eagerly completed the application and am thrilled to be embarking on this amazing opportunity.

Hikianalia Sail Picture
Cohort 9 of Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute on Oahu

I am passionate about teaching and developing culturally relevant projects that instill a sense of wonder and I seek out soul nourishing experiences like Ku’Aina Pa and the Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute.  I am certain that the Teacher at Sea program will provide a profound, enriching experience that will allow me to develop meaningful curriculum to share with students and fellow educators, while allowing me to grow personally.

When I’m not utilizing my enthusiasm and creativity to instill students with curiosity and responsibility to make a more sustainable future, I enjoy exploring the beautiful Big Island by backpacking or hiking to some of its exotic locations. I also enjoy long distance running, beach yoga, any activity in or around the ocean and cooking nourishing meals.

Kona Sunset
Spectacular Kona sunset…one of my favorite parts of the day

Did you know?

Lo’ihi is the new volcanic island of Hawaii that is forming 20 miles Southeast of the Big Island. This seamount formed from volcanic activity over the hot spot currently rises 10,100 feet off of the ocean floor but is still 3,100 feet from the surface of the water.

 

Samantha Adams: Mahalo Nui Loa, August 10, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 3, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Thursday, 10 August 2017

Weather Data from the “Bridge”:

Latitude & Longitude:21.3245#oN,157.9251oW. Air temperature: 86oF. Humidity: 48%.Wind speed: 14 knots. Wind direction: 45 degrees. Sky cover: Scattered.

Science and Technology Log:

blog.final.image4
Downloading data from the MicroCats on the WHOTS-13 buoy’s mooring line. Back on land, the instruments will be given a more thorough cleaning, re-calibrated, and re-used next year on the WHOTS-15 buoy.

blog.final.image1
Packing gear into the shipping container returning to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, at the end of the WHOTS-14 buoy deployment.

The data has been downloaded. The instruments have been cleaned and removed from the buoy. The lines and winches and capstans have been removed from the Hi’ialakai‘s deck. It’s all been packed away into a a shipping container, headed back to the East Coast. Next summer, it will all be shipped to Hawaii again, to head out to Station ALOHA for another year at sea, as part of the WHOTS-15 buoy deployment.

As I sit in the gate area at the Honolulu International Airport, waiting for my flight back to New York City, I’m thinking about everything I learned in my time aboard the Hi’ialakai. I’m thinking about the best way to convey it all to my students — because I love using data in my classroom. One of my favorite things to do, when I am introducing a topic, is to give them a data set — either raw numbers, graphs, or other visualizations — and have them draw some preliminary conclusions. What is the data doing? Are there trends that you notice? Does anything stand out to you? Look weird? Because I teach Earth Science, there is a wealth of publicly available data, from the USGS, from NASA, from NOAA. For just about anything I choose to teach, from the atmospheres of exoplanets to mass extinction events, a quick Google search almost always yields useful, peer-reviewed, scientific data. However, until I had the opportunity to sail aboard the Hi’ialakai and observe the deployment of the WHOTS-14 buoy and the retrieval of the WHOTS-13 buoy, I never quite appreciated just how difficult obtaining all the data I use could be.

blog.final.image2
Members of the science team and crew of the Hi’ialakai. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Maloney, University of Hawaii.

Despite my best efforts, I think my students still believe that science is a solitary pursuit — something done by people in white coats in a lab somewhere. I hope that my experiences aboard the Hi’ialakai will help me paint a more realistic picture of what science is all about for my students. It’s a highly collaborative profession that needs people with all sorts of skills; not only science, but computer programming, mathematics, technology, logistics, resourcefulness and patience. I also hope be able to impress upon my students just how difficult doing good science can be. I know that I will certainly never look at the data sets I download with just a few clicks of my mouse the same way again.

Personal Log:

I would like to take this opportunity to say mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) to everyone aboard the Hi’ialakai for the WHOTS-14 cruise — for answering all my questions, even the ones I didn’t think to ask; for sharing data, seasickness medication, hardhats, and the occasional power tool; for the fabulous meals (and the best chocolate chip cookies ever!); for the impromptu education about monk seals and the philosophical discussion on fidget spinners.

It’s been a truly unforgettable experience, and I can’t wait to dig into the hard-won data from the WHOTS buoys and share it all with my students.

blog.final.image3
Enjoying yet another gorgeous Hawaiian sunset at sea. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Maloney, University of Hawaii.

Did You Know?

Dry land can feel like it’s moving, too! After spending an extended amount of time at sea, your body seems to expect the ground to be rolling underneath your feet, just like the deck of the ship… but nope! Just you! One slang term for this is “dock rock” — and it’s more than a little strange.

Staci DeSchryver: Super Bonus Spiritual History Blog! July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Sanctuary  

Date:  July 29, 2017


Location:  
20 deg, 20.0 min N, 156 deg, 08.6 min W

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Scattered Clouds

Visibility: 10 nmi

Wind @ 23 kts from 65 degrees

Pressure: 1015.1 mb

Waves: 4 – 5 feet

Swell:  7-8 feet at 70 deg

Temp: 26.5 deg

Wet bulb:  23.5 deg

Dewpoint: 25 deg

Bonus Spiritual History Blog

On July 23, we briefly suspended our operations to help out fellow scientists camped out on the French Frigate Shoals (Lalo), located along the Northwest Hawaiian Island chain – about halfway between the northernmost main islands and Midway (Kuaihelani).  The trip was brief, and we never set foot on terra firma, but with the help of the Big Eyes we could see something that we had not seen up close in 3 days – land.

Two nights prior, we finally crossed over to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands – a sacred and certainly mysterious (at least to me)  area for the Hawaiian People.  I was waiting with some anticipation for the moment we would cross into these waters.  The entire Northwest Hawaiian Island chain and its surrounding seas are limited-access for the vast majority of seafarers; the waters are protected by a proclamation signed by President George W. Bush in 2006, and expanded by President Barack Obama in 2016. This Marine Sanctuary’s designated area begins near the start of the Northwest Hawaiian Island chain, and stretches all the way to the Kure Atoll (Hōlanikū), just past Midway Island (Kuaihelani).  We were not permitted to cross into these waters until we had a permit, part of which included a component requirement of a briefing on the history of the area before we entered.  ers Native Hawaiian Program Specialist Kalani Quiocho introduced us to this sacred ground during our pre-cruise training with this briefing on this Marine National Monument, Papahānaumokuākea.  His presentation was so moving that I felt it necessary that the story of these waters (through my limited experience) must be told.

Mr. Quiocho’s presentation began with the name song for Papahānaumokuākea.  His voice bellowed out in an ethereal chant – one in a smooth and haunting language with sound combinations like nothing I had ever heard before.  His song was punctuated with ‘okinas and kahakōs, and accented with stunning photographs of ocean life, ritual, and artifact.  The music moved me to a tear, though I couldn’t quite pinpoint the emotion that was supposed to accompany it.

name song for papahanamoukuakea
The Name song for Papahānaumokuākea, reprinted with permission from Kalani Quiocho.

I realize now that I have traveled to this sacred place that it was one of simple reverence for the culture and its people who belong so fully to it.  It was at that moment that I realized that this trip would be a whole other ball game – one that is sacred, cosmic, and mysterious.

Papahānaumokuākea (pronounced Papa-hah-now-mow-coo-ah-kay-a) is the first officially designated Mixed Cultural and Heritage site, and is the largest fully protected conservation area in the United States.   Its name commemorates the union of two Hawaiian ancestors – Papahānaumoku and Wākea, who according to Hawaiian ancestry gave rise to the Hawaiian archipelago, the taro plant and the Hawaiian people.  These two ancestors provide a part of the Genesis story for Hawaiʻi – land to live on, food to eat, and people to cultivate, commune, and thrive as one with the gifts of their ancestors. The namesake alone of this marine sanctuary highlights the importance of its existence and its need for protection.  Many of the islands are ancient ceremonial sites, two of which we passed on the way to the Shoals (Lalo).

Crossing over to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands also marks a celestially significant line in the Hawaiian archipelago – the Tropic of Cancer.  The Tropic of Cancer is the furthest north that the sun will reach a direct overhead path during the solar year – you might know this as the summer solstice.  Right on the Tropic of Cancer lies the island Mokumanamana, a sacred place of cultural distinction for the Hawaiian people.  The Tropic of Cancer divides the entire Hawaiian archipelago into two distinct sections, Pō and Ao – the Ao represents the more southern islands and spiritual daylight, and the Pō representing the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and spiritual twilight.

ao and po
This diagram shows the separation between the NWHI and the main Hawaiian Islands. The horizontal line through the center divides day (Ao) from night (Pō) and lines up with the Tropic of Cancer. The Island Mokumanamana lies directly on the boundary between the living and spiritual realms. Our destination was Lalo, or French Frigate Shoals, though our travels took us much further northwest than that. (Diagram Credit: Kalani Quiocho)

The crossing over as we passed Mokumanamana is significant in that we entered a different spiritual zone of the Hawaiian Islands.   The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument’s website (click here to read much more about it) describes the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as “a region of primordial darkness from which life springs and spirits return after death.”  In this sense, transiting past Mokumanamana represented a “crossing over” into a different realm of ancient history.  Mokumanamana is known for its high density of ancient ceremonial sites and is considered a center of Hawaiian religion and ideology.  Mr. Quiocho expands on the geographical importance of the area to the Hawaiian people in his commentary stating that,

“Papahānaumokuākea encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands which is ¾ of the Hawaiian archipelago and includes high basalt islands and low-lying atolls, and surrounding marine environments. It stretches nearly 2,000 kilometers and straddles the Tropic of Cancer also known to Hawaiʻi as Ke Ala Polohiwa a Kāne – The sacred black glistening path of Kāne, the patron god of the sun. It is believed that the Hawaiian Archipelago is divided into two regions called Pō and Ao, which essentially means night and day. Most of the NWHI is within Pō, a place of creation and origin where ancestors return to after death. The region known as Ao includes the main Hawaiian Islands where man resides. The entire Hawaiian Archipelago represents the dualisms and cycles of the Hawaiian universe. From the east where the sun rises and the islands are volcanically birthed from the oceanic womb to the west where the sun sets and the islands return to the sea. And all of the extraordinary biology that is found in the Northwestern and main Hawaiian Islands are accounted for in our oral traditions. The Kumulipo, a creation chant with more than 2,000 lines expresses the cosmology of the Hawaiian Islands, beginning with the birthing of the coral polyp and eventually the Hawaiian people. Naturally this is an inspiring place that is the framework of our worldview and the knowledge systems that tell us we are people of place. Which is why many refer to this area as the kūpuna islands, kūpuna meaning elder or grandparent.”

Today, Native Hawaiians will travel by double-hulled canoes from the main islands all the way up to Nihoa and Mokumanamana during times of ritual importance and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors to honor the tradition and the spiritual practice.  I’m sure the journey is both treacherous and fulfilling, one that would rival other more commonly known great expeditions, especially considering its spiritual significance.

rainbow
Papahānaumokuākea is rich with history – both ancient and recent, and full of its own surprises!

Mr. Quiocho continues by expanding on the importance of the navigation of these waters to the Hawaiian people and how it honors their homeland connections:

“Native Hawaiians believe that the vast region that makes up the NWHI is an incredibly sacred place and is regarded as the construct of their cosmological genealogy. This region is rooted in creation and origin as a place where all life began and to which ancestors return after death. Native Hawaiians have historical connections to all parts of their homeland, which encompass all the islands, atolls, shoals, coral reefs, submerged seamounts and ocean waters that connect them. While the islands themselves are focal destinations for traditional voyages, the vast ocean is equally important. It is a cultural seascape that is imbued with immense value. The ocean is more than an unknown empty space that isolates islands, but rather a pathway for movement and potential.

orca
A rare sighting of Tropical Pacific Orca – one of the first Cetaceans to welcome us to the Monument. What a gift!

Long-distance voyaging and wayfinding is one of the most unique and valuable traditional practices that Native Hawaiians have developed and continue to advance. It is an ancient way of interacting with the ocean that continues to inspire and create social change. The ocean region surrounding the NWHI is the only cultural voyaging seascape within the Hawaiian Archipelago. The main Hawaiian Islands are large enough for any novice navigator to find, but the ocean region throughout and surrounding Papahānaumokuākea provides challenging opportunities for apprentice navigators to excel. This expansive ocean environment was the setting for ancient Hawaiian chiefs to voyage back and forth between the main Hawaiian Islands and the NWHI over the course of 400 years.”

On our journey, we slipped passed Mokumanamana in the cover of night – through the invisible gates and into this ancient ancestral realm.  Although we had been in the monument since the previous day, for some reason this crossing marked a distinction for me personally in an indescribable way.  Since arriving on Oahu and in my travels since, I’ve known there was something special and different about this place, and I’ve known that part of the “different” was me.  Walking through Ala Moana Park on the 4th of July revealed threads of a culture that formed a beautiful tapestry of family, community, and heritage as I strolled past hundreds of families camped out in anticipation of the upcoming fireworks over the ocean.

volcanic neck
A volcanic neck stands high above the waters surrounding the shoals.

There was something communal and sacred about it, even though the time and event was modern.  There was an “old” feeling of togetherness that buzzed through the park amongst strangers and friends.  I knew I was an outsider to this energy, but I didn’t feel entirely left out of it.  It’s one thing to feel like a foreigner on the “day” side of the Tropic of Cancer, but the “night” side held a spiritual distinction, as though I was trespassing in a dimension to which I did not belong. Knowing that the only passage of ships through this area would come with permits and regulations left a feeling of emptiness in an already vast ocean.  Knowing the ocean is full beneath with life both current and past – fish and whale and ancient Hawaiian spirit alike gave back some reassurance that we were not entirely alone.  For the first time I didn’t want to just know about Papahānaumokuākea, I wanted the ocean to tell me the story herself.

Nestled in the middle of Papahānaumokuākea was our target destination – French Frigate Shoals (Lalo).  On this tiny island a small team of scientists have been camped out for a little over six weeks studying the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal.  We were tasked with delivering critical supplies to the scientific team – fuel, replacements of scientific gear, and a small care package with a few creature comforts they had not had access to in quite some time.  (I mean, seriously.  Who drops off fuel without dropping off chocolate? Not us!)   We also picked up some specimens from them to take back to the lab in Honolulu. The Shoals are a special place – a World War II military outpost slowly decays on the far side of the island, providing some cover for the scientists as they work. The island hosts thousands upon thousands of terns, flying en masse around the island in huge swarms.

FFS
A closer view of the island. The dots in the air above the island are all birds.

The terns were in preparation of fledging, and in anticipation of that day, tiger sharks stalked the surrounding waters, waiting for their next meal. On the opposite side of the island a few hundred meters away from shore, a lone sandbar (formerly dredged up for use as a military runway) rose to the surface providing a quiet place for a monk seal and her two pups to lounge in the sand.  One seal pup practiced swimming in the shallows as the mother casually glanced in its direction.  The other pup would hobble a few feet away down the beach, only to run back to its mother and lie next to her for a time.  It was a little reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell beach vacation painting, had Rockwell chosen an animal personification route as his medium.  A turtle dotted the far edge of the landscape on the main island, basking in the rising sun as the waves gently rolled on to the beach behind him.

runway
This flat strip of land is a dredged up runway, slowly returning back to the ocean after years of abandonment from use. A mother seal and two pups lounge on the sand, enjoying the sun.

The structures on the land from afar looked like a distant movie set for an apocalyptic storyline. The wind howled as we approached the atoll, and birds fought against the invisible currents in frantic circles around the island.  Two boats lay destitute along the far side of the island while waves crashed merciless against the sea wall built to hold the atoll in place during the time the island was volunteered to serve in a wartime capacity. The island itself is a surreal duplicity – serving both as a protector of life and a vessel of war.  I found myself taking stock of this history;  watching from far away to learn the eternal evolution of this strange place – first a volcano, sunk beneath the surface, then to a primordial breeding ground for coral, fish, and shark – onto a pristine landscape, possibly used by ancestral Hawaiians for ceremony and stopover en route to Kure (Hōlanikū) – a military base as a refueling station and an outpost – and finally a protected home for hundreds of species, some hanging desperately onto the last strings of life but finally thriving under the care of a dedicated research team.

As much as I desperately wanted to go on to the island to have a look at this former military operations base-turned-endangered-animal-sanctuary, none of us could go on shore – even those who shuttled supplies to the scientists.  French Frigate Shoals marked the first time I had ever seen a coral atoll in anything other than a picture, and it seemed a natural part of my inner explorer to want to pop on to shore to have a look about, even for just a few minutes.  Everything in French Frigate Shoals is protected under the Papahānaumokuākea permitting restrictions.

pulley system
Supplies were hauled ashore by the small pulley system jutting up from the shoreline – visible on the left-middle portion of the island.

Had we wanted to explore the land, we would have needed to quarantine our clothing and ourselves for a minimum of 72 hours to protect the landscape from anything foreign taking foot on shore. Our ship couldn’t make it much closer than a mile or two from the island so as not to put it in danger of running aground. So, a team of four people shuttled supplies in the small boat, navigating the shallows and hauling the supplies on shore through a pulley system.  Two quick trips out to the island, and we were soon on our way again in our search for cetaceans.

When Mr. Quiocho parted ways with us after our training, he made a casual but powerful statement in closing.  He told us the whale dives deeply to commune with ancient wisdom commissioned to the deep ocean, bringing this deep knowledge from the ancestral depths to the surface so that it can become part our collective consciousness. Our trip, then, is a not merely a collection of data or a series of samples.  Each time we interact with the whales, they are bringing us the knowledge of the ancients in hope that we will continue to pass that information on to anyone at the surface willing to listen. The responsibility of our work when described in this light brought a new reverence to the study – one that is not just a story for the present in hopes of preserving for the future, but that weaves ancient knowledge from the past into our work, as well.

Did you know?

  •         Each day at noon, the ship’s alarms are tested to ensure they will work in an emergency situation.  Guess who got to test the alarms?

    fire alarm
    Yup! I got to test the alarm. Thanks Lieutenant Commander Rose!
  •         Ship safety is the height of the focus of everyone on board.  Each Friday, we complete drills to make sure we are ready in the event of an emergency.  Of the many dangers at sea, a fire can prove to be most catastrophic.  It’s not like the fire department can come out to the middle of the Pacific at the first sign of burning bacon (which may or may not have happened to me two days before I left for Oahu).  The entire Sette crew acts as the fire department, so it is important for them to practice in the event of an emergency.  This week we simulated a live-fire scenario, complete with a fog machine.  I got to call the drill up to the bridge!  It was a little extra fun built into a very serious situation.
  •         Classes are still continuing each afternoon on the bridge, Monday through Friday. 

    amanda and hexacopters
    Dr. Amanda Bradford gives the Wardroom a lesson on Hexacopter Operations (see blog #5 for more!)

    tim and msds
    ENS Tim Holland gives a lesson on MSDS chemical safety sheets.
  •         Officers are in a friendly competition to see who is on watch when the most sightings occur, among other friendly battles.  It is the topic of lively discussion at most meal times.  

    The tallys
    Officers can make a competition out of ANYTHING!  Here are the tallys for the past 25 days.

Samantha Adams: Day 8 – My, What a Fabulous Smell You’ve Discovered, July 31, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 3, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Monday, 31 July 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude & Longitude: 22o45’N, 157o45’ oW. Ship speed: 0.8 knots. Air temperature: 27.9oC. Sea temperature: 27.3oC. Humidity: 72%.Wind speed: 11.2 knots. Wind direction: 93 degrees. Sky cover: Few.

Science and Technology Log:

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The WHOTS-13 buoy after a year at sea. These three red-footed boobies will lose their perch soon!

It’s deja vu all over again! The WHOTS-14 buoy is stable and transmitting data, and all the in situ measurements necessary to verify the accuracy of that data have been taken. Now it’s time to go get the WHOTS-13 buoy, and bring it home.

WHOTS-13 Buoy Diagram
Diagram of the WHOTS-13 mooring. Image courtesy of the University of Hawaii.

The process of retrieving the WHOTS-13 buoy is essentially the same as deploying the WHOTS-14 buoy — except in reverse, and a lot more slimy. Take a look at the diagram of the WHOTS-13 buoy (to the left), and you’ll notice that it looks almost identical to the WHOTS-14 buoy. Aside from a few minor changes from year to year, the configuration of the buoys remains essentially the same… so the three and a half miles of stuff that went into the ocean on Thursday? The same amount has all got to come back up.

At 6:38AM HAST, a signal was sent from the ship to the acoustic releases on the WHOTS-13 buoy’s anchor. After a year under three miles of water, the mooring line is on its way back to the surface!

 

 

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From the time the signal was sent to the acoustic releases on the anchor to last instrument coming back on board, recovering the WHOTS-13 buoy took 9 hours and 53 minutes.

Personal Log:

Now that I have witnessed (and participated in, however briefly) both a buoy deployment and retrieval, one of the things that impressed me the most was how well coordinated everything was, and how smoothly everything went. Both deployment and retrieval were reviewed multiple times, from short overviews at daily briefings (an afternoon meeting involving the ship’s officers, crew and the science team) to extensive hour long “walk throughs” the day before the main event. Consequently, everyone knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing, and where and when they were supposed to be doing it — which lead to minimal discussion, confusion and (I assume) stress. Each operation ran like a well choreographed dance; even when something unexpected happened (like the glass ball exploding on deck during deployment of the WHOTS-14 buoy), since everybody knew what the next step was supposed to be, there was always space to pause and work through the problem. Communication is most definitely key!

The other thing that really made an impression was how much emphasis was placed on taking breaks and drinking enough water. It was hot, humid and sunny during both deployment and recovery, and since Hi’ialakai had to be pointed directly into the wind during the operations, there was virtually no wind on the working deck at all. I’ve always thought as the ocean as a place you go to cool off, but, at least for these few days, it’s been anything but! With apologies to Coleridge: “Water, water, everywhere, nor any place to swim!”

Did You Know?

blog.5.Day8.image17
A tangled mess of anything can be called a wuzzle. For example: “I don’t know how my headphones got into such a wuzzle.” The mess of glass balls on the deck is most definitely a wuzzle.

Samantha Adams: Day 6 – Testing… 1 – 2 – 3, July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 3, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Saturday, 29 July 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude & Longitude: 22o 45’N, 157o 56’W. Ship speed: 1.3 knots. Air temperature: 27.8oC. Sea temperature: 27.0oC. Humidity: 72%.Wind speed: 14 knots. Wind direction: 107 degrees. Sky cover: Few.

Science and Technology Log:

The most difficult part of Thursday’s buoy deployment was making sure the anchor was dropped on target. Throughout the day, shifting winds and currents kept pushing the ship away from the anchor’s target location. There was constant communication between the ship’s crew and the science team, correcting for this, but while everyone thought we were close when the anchor was dropped, nobody knew for sure until the anchor’s actual location had been surveyed.

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Triangulation of the WHOTS-14 buoy’s anchor location. Look at how close the ‘Anchor at Depth’ location is to the ‘Target’ location — only 177.7 meters apart! Also notice that all three circles intersect at one point, meaning that the triangulated location of the anchor is quite accurate.

To survey the anchor site, the ship “pinged” (sent a signal to) the acoustic releases on the buoy’s mooring line from three separate locations around the area where the anchor was dropped. This determines the distance from the ship to the anchor — or, more accurately, the distance from the ship to the acoustic releases. When all three distances are plotted (see the map above), the exact location of the buoy’s anchor can be determined. Success! The buoy’s anchor is 177.7 meters away from the target location — closer to the intended target than any other WHOTS deployment has gotten.


After deployment on Thursday, and all day Friday, the Hi’ialakai stayed “on station” about a quarter of a nautical mile downwind of the WHOTS-14 buoy, in order to verify that the instruments on the buoy were making accurate measurements. Because both meteorological and oceanographic measurements are being made, the buoy’s data must be verified by two different methods.

Weather data from the buoy (air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, etc.) is verified using measurements from the Hi’ialakai’s own weather station and a separate set of instruments from NOAA’s Environmental Sciences Research Laboratory. This process is relatively simple, only requiring a few quick mouse clicks (to download the data), a flashdrive (to transfer the data), and a “please” and “thank you”.

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July 28, 2017, 5:58PM HAST. Preparing the rosette for a CDT cast. Notice that the grey sampling bottles are open. If you look closely, you can see clear plastic “wire” running from the top of the sampling bottles to the center of the rosette. The wires are fastened on hooks which, when triggered by the computer in the lab, flip up, releasing the wire and closing the sampling bottle.

Salinity, temperature and depth measurements (from the MicroCats on the mooring line), on the other hand, are much more difficult to verify. In order to get the necessary “in situ” oceanographic data (from measurements made close to the buoy), the water must be sampled directly. This is done buy doing something called a CTD cast — in this case, a specific type called a yo-yo. 

The contraption in the picture to the left is called a rosette. It consists of a PCV pipe frame, several grey sampling bottles around the outside of the frame, and multiple sets of instruments in the center (one primary and one backup) for each measurement being made.

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July 28, 2017, 6:21PM HAST. On station at WHOTS-14, about halfway through a CDT cast (which typically take an hour). The cable that raises and lowers the rosette is running through the pulley in the upper right hand corner of the photo. The buoy is just visible in the distance, under the yellow arm.

The rosette is hooked to a stainless steel cable, hoisted over the side of the ship, and lowered into the water. Cable is cast (run out) until the rosette reaches a certain depth — which can be anything, really, depending on what measurements need to be made. For most of the verification measurements, this depth has been 250 meters. Then, the rosette is hauled up to the surface. And lowered back down. And raised up to the surface. And lowered back down. It’s easy to see why it’s called a yo-yo! (CDT casts that go deeper — thousands of meters instead of hundreds — only go down and up once.)

For the verification process, the rosette is raised and lowered five times, with the instruments continuously measuring temperature, salinity and depth. On the final trip back to the surface, the sampling bottles are closed remotely, one at a time, at specific depths, by a computer in the ship’s lab. (The sampling depths are determined during the cast, by identifying points of interest in the data. Typically, water is sampled at the lowest point of the cast and five meters below the surface, as well as where the salinity and oxygen content of the water is at its lowest.) Then, the rosette is hauled back on board, and water from the sampling bottles is emptied into smaller glass bottles, to be taken back to shore and more closely analyzed.

On this research cruise, the yo-yos are being done by scientists and student researchers from the University of Hawaii, who routinely work at the ALOHA site (where the WHOTS buoys are anchored). The yoyos are done at regular intervals throughout the day, with the first cast beginning at about 6AM HAST and the final one wrapping up at about midnight.

blog.4.Day6.image4
July 29, 2017, 9:43AM HAST. On station at WHOTS-13. One CDT cast has already been completed; another is scheduled to begin in about 15 minutes.

After the final yo-yo was complete at the WHOTS-14 buoy early Saturday morning, the Hi’ialakai traveled to the WHOTS-13 buoy. Today and tomorrow (Sunday), more in situ meteorological and oceanographic verification measurements will be made at the WHOTS-13 site. All of this — the meteorological measurements, the yo-yos, the days rocking back and forth on the ocean swell — must happen in order to make sure that the data being recorded is consistent from one buoy to the next. If this is the case, then it’s a good bet that any trends or changes in the data are real — caused by the environmental conditions — rather than differences in the instruments themselves.

Personal Log:

blog.4.Day6.image5
The Hi’ialakai’s dry lab. Everyone is wearing either a sweatshirt or a jacket… are we sure this is Hawaii?

Most of the science team’s time is divided between the Hi’ialakai’s deck and the labs (there are two; one wet, and one dry).  The wet lab contains stainless steel sinks, countertops, and an industrial freezer; on research cruises that focus on marine biology, samples can be stored there. Since the only samples being collected on this cruise are water, which don’t need to be frozen, the freezer was turned off before we left port, and turned into additional storage space.  The dry lab (shown in the picture above) is essentially open office space, in use nearly 24 hours a day. The labs, like most living areas on the ship, are quite well air conditioned. It may be hot and humid outside, but inside, hoodies and hot coffee are both at a premium!

Did You Know?

The acronym “CTD” stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. But the MicroCats on the buoy mooring lines and the CTD casts are supposed to measure salinity, temperature and depth… so where does conductivity come in? It turns out that the salinity of the water can’t be measured directly — but conductivity of the water can.

When salt is dissolved into water, it breaks into ions, which have positive and negative charges. In order to determine salinity, an instrument measuring conductivity will pass a small electrical current between two electrodes (conductors), and the voltage on either side of the electrodes is measured. Ions facilitate the flow of the electrical current through the water. Therefore conductivity, with the temperature of the water taken into account, can be used to determine the salinity.

Samantha Adams: Day 4 – D(eployment) Day, July 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 8, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Thursday, 27 July 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude & Longitude: 22.38oN, 158.01oW. Ship speed: 1.3 knots. Air temperature: 27.7oC Sea temperature: 27.1oC. Humidity: 75%.Wind speed: 12.9 knots. Wind direction: 59.7 degrees. Sky cover: Scattered.

Science and Technology Log:

It’s deployment day! After months of preparation and days of practice, this buoy is finally going in the water!

The sheer volume of stuff that’s involved is mind boggling. There’s the buoy itself, which is nearly 3 meters (approximately 9 feet) tall; one meter of that sits below the surface. There’s 16 MicroCats (which are instruments measuring temperature, salinity and depth of the water) attached to over 350 meters of chain and wire. Then there’s another 1,800 meters of wire and 3,600 meters of two different types of line (rope) — heavy nylon and polypropylene. Then there’s 68 glass balls, for flotation. After that, there’s another 35 meters of chain and nylon line. Attached to that is an acoustic release, which does exactly what it sounds like it does — if it “hears” a special signal, it detaches from whatever is holding it down. In this case, that’s a 9,300 pound anchor. (The acoustic release and the glass balls make sure that all the instruments on the mooring line can be recovered.) All in all, nearly 6,000 meters — three and a half miles — of equipment and instrumentation is going over the stern of the Hi’ialakai. The length of the mooring line is actually longer (approximately one and a quarter times longer) than the ocean is deep where the buoy is being deployed. This is done so that if (or when) the buoy is pulled by strong winds or currents, there is extra “space” available to keep the buoy from getting pulled under water.

WHOTS-14 mooring diagram.
Diagram of the WHOTS station. Notice how many instruments are on the mooring line, below the surface! Photo courtesy of the University of Hawai’i.

Take a look at the diagram of the WHOTS-14 buoy. It’s easy to assume that the everything goes into the water in the exact same order as is shown on the diagram — but the reality of deployment is actually very different.

First, the MicroCats that are attached to the first 30 meters of chain (6 of them) go over the side. Approximately the first five meters of chain stay on board, which is then is attached to the buoy. After that, the buoy is hooked up to the crane, and gently lifted off the deck, over the side, and into the water. Then, the remaining ten MicroCats are attached, one by one, to the 325 meters of wire and, one by one, lowered into the water. Then the additional 3,400 meters of wire and nylon line are slowly eased off the ship and into the ocean. After that, the glass balls (two-foot diameter spheres made of heavy glass and covered by bright yellow plastic “hats”) are attached and join the rest of the mooring line in the ocean. Finally, after hours of hard work, the end of the mooring line is attached to the anchor. Then, with a little help from the ship’s crane, the anchor slides off the stern of the ship, thunks into the water, and slowly starts making its way to the bottom.

 

 

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4:18PM HAST: Splashdown! The anchor is dropped. 

 

From the morning-of preparations to the anchor sliding off the Hi’ialakai’s stern, deploying the WHOTS buoy took 9 hours and 41 minutes.

Personal Log:

blog.3.Day4.image14
My laptop, secured for sea!

Another item to file under Things You Never Think About: Velcro is awesome. Ships — all ships, even one the size of the Hi’ialakai — frequently move in unexpected, jarring ways. (If you’ve never been on a ship at sea, it’s a bit like walking through the “Fun House” at a carnival — one of the ones with the moving floors. You try to put your foot down, the floor drops a few inches underneath you, and you’re suddenly trying to walk on air.) For this reason, it’s important to keep everything as secured as possible. Rope and straps are good for tying down things that can stay in one place, but something like a laptop, which needs to be mobile? Velcro!

Did You Know?

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Getting ready to attach the glass balls to the mooring line. The light blue Colmega is in the upper right hand corner of the picture, trailing out behind the ship. The buoy, at the end of over three miles of mooring line, is no longer visible.

Not all line is created equal. Aside from obvious differences in the size and color, different lines have different purposes. The heavy nylon line (which is white; see the picture in slideshow of the line being deployed) is actually able to stretch, which is another safety precaution, ensuring that the buoy will not be pulled under water. The light blue polypropylene line, called Colmega, floats. In the picture to the left, you can see a light blue line floating in the water, stretching off into the distance. It’s not floating because it’s attached to the ship — it’s floating all by itself!

 

Samantha Adams: A Brief Introduction to… July 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 3, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: 21 July 2017

Weather Data from the “Bridge” (New York City, NY):

Latitude & Longitude: 40.78°N, 73.97°W. Air temperature: 90°F. Wind direction: Variable. Wind speed: 7 mph. Sky Cover: Broken.

… the Science:

Aerial view of the Hi'ialakai
The NOAA ship Hi’ialakai. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

In just a few short days (huzzah!) I’ll have the privilege of sailing aboard NOAA ship Hi’ialakai on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s fourteenth Hawaii Ocean Time-series station deployment. Although I’ve not yet seen the ship or met the scientists I’ll be learning from and working with (I haven’t even left the mainland US!), I’ve been eagerly doing research to catch up on some of the basics.

ALOHAStationLocation
The location of the ALOHA measurement site. Photo courtesy of the University of Hawai’i.

Since 2004, the WHOTS stations have been measuring the interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere, as part of a long term study on ocean circulation. The site where the WHOTS stations are deployed is called ALOHA (A Long-Term Oligotrophic Habitat Assessment), located about 100 kilometers north of Oahu, Hawaii. The ALOHA station, maintained and monitored by the University of Hawai’i since 1988, makes oceanographic measurements (like water temperature, direction and speed of ocean currents, and amounts of plankton). The objective of the project is to use the area as a case study, as it is representative of the North Pacific subtropical gyre.

 

Diagram of Pacific Ocean circulations.
Diagram of the gyres (circulations) in the North Pacific Ocean. The green circles labeled “WGP” and “EGP” show the locations of the Western and Eastern Garbage Patches. Image courtesy of NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

WHOTS-14 mooring diagram.
Diagram of the WHOTS station. Notice how many instruments are on the mooring line, below the surface! Photo courtesy of the University of Hawai’i.

 

WHOTS stations are moored (anchored) buoys. The buoy includes instruments floating on the surface to measure the weather (air temperature, wind speed, relative humidity, etc.), and there are also instruments along the mooring line to measure things like water temperature, currents and salinity. The instruments below the surface make measurements at the same time as the meteorological measurements on the surface, so that air and sea interactions can be accurately studied.

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution visit the ALOHA site every year, to deploy a new WHOTS station, and retrieve older ones. Check out this video of the WHOTS-13 research cruise!

… the Teacher:

The summer I turned five, my house was struck by lightning. The bolt blew out my window, scattering glass shards across my bed, blasted chunks of concrete out of the driveway below, and set the garage on fire — which was almost immediately put out by torrential rain. I have been fascinated by the atmosphere ever since. When I learned I had been chosen for the WHOTS-14 research cruise, I was ecstatic. Not only because I’d been selected to participate in such an amazing opportunity, but because I would have the chance to learn more about the oceans, and how they interact with the ocean of air above them. 

Students making weather measurements.
PAIHS Monroe students measuring water vapor and aerosols in the atmosphere, November 2016. Photo by SJ Adams.

I have taught science in New York City for eight years. For the past six years, I have taught twelfth grade geoscience at Pan American International High School at the James Monroe campus (PAIHS Monroe), in the Bronx. Each year, I do my best to get my students as excited about science as I am. For the past few years, that has meant dragging them outside in near-freezing temperatures to measure the local air quality. (So, maybe not the best method I could have chosen!)

(All of my students: “It’s too cold, Miss!” Samantha: “If it’s not too cold for the instruments, it’s not too cold for you!”)

These measurements were made as part of NASA GLOBE‘s Air Quality Student Research Campaign, and I was able to present their work at NASA Langley Research Center.

I hope that my experiences aboard the Hi’ialakai with the WHOTS-14 research cruise will teach me more about the ocean of air we live in, and help me develop more — warmer — ways to get my students interested in science!

Scientific poster of atmospheric water vapor measurements.
PAIHS Monroe students studied a method of measuring water vapor in the air with an infrared thermometer as part of NASA GLOBE’s Air Quality Student Research Campaign.

Did You Know?

From NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation operations page: “Hi‘ialakai is a combination of Hawaiian words. Hi‘i means “to hold in one’s arms”; ala is route; and kai is the sea. Thus, NOAA named this ship to signify “embracing pathways to the sea”.”

Staci DeSchryver: Listening with Your Eyes – How the Acoustics Team “Sees” in Sound, July 10, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Kona Coast, Hawaii

Date:  July 10, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

TAS DeScrhryver_weather data
Location and Weather Data

 

Science Log

While the visual team is working hard on the flying bridge, scanning the waters for our elusive cetacean friends, acoustics is down in the lab listening for any clues that there might be “something” out there.

TAS DeSchryver array
The hydrophone array is a long microphone pulled behind the ship

At any given time, two acousticians are listening to the sounds of the ocean via a hydrophone array. This array is a long microphone pulled behind the ship as she cuts through the water.  When the acousticians hear a click or a whistle, a special computer program localizes (or determines the distance to) the whistle or the click.

But it’s not quite as simple as that. There’s a lot of noise in the ocean.  The array will pick up other ship noise, cavitation (or bubbles from the propeller) on our ship, or anything it “thinks” might be a cetacean.  The acoustics team must determine which sounds are noise and which sounds belong to a mammal.  What the acousticians are looking for is something called a “click train.” These are sound produced by dolphins when they are foraging or socializing and are a good indicator of a nearby cetacean. On the computer screen, any ambient noise shows up as a plotted point on an on-screen graph.  When the plotted points show up in a fixed or predictable pattern, then it could be a nearby cetacean.

The acousticians are also listening to the sounds on headphones.  When they hear a whistle or a click, they can find the sound they’ve heard on the plotted graph.  On the graphical representation of the sounds coming in to the hydrophone, the x-axis of the graph is time, and the y-axis is a “bearing” angle.  It will tell which angle off the ship from the front the noise is coming from.  For example, if the animal is right in front of the bow of the ship, the reading would be 0 degrees.  If it were directly behind the ship, then the plotted point would come in at 180 degrees.  With these two pieces of information, acousticians can narrow the location of the animal in question down to two spots on either side of the ship.  When they think they have a significant sound, the acousticians will use the information from the graph to localize the sound and plot it on a map.  Often times they can identify the sound directly to the species, which is an extraordinary skill.

Here’s where things go a little “Fight Club.”  (First rule of fight club?  Don’t talk about fight club.)  Once the acousticians localize an animal, they must determine if it is ahead of the ship or behind it.   Let’s say for example an acoustician hears a Pilot Whale.  He or she will draw a line on a computerized map to determine the distance the whale is to the ship using the data from the graph.

DeSchryver HICEAS-AC20
This is a “clean” localization of a marine mammal. Notice the two spots where the lines cross – those are the two possible locations of the mammal we are tracking. The ship is the red dot, the blue dots are the hydrophone as it is towed behind the ship.

Because the hydrophones are in a line, the location provided from the array shows on the left and the right sides.  So, the map plots both of those potential spots.  The two straight lines from the ship to the animal make a “V” shape.  As the ship passes the animal, the angle of the V opens up until it becomes a straight line, much like opening a book to lay it flat on the table and viewing how the pages change from the side.  As long as the animal or animal group is ahead of the ship, the acousticians will alert no one except the lead scientist, and especially not the marine observers.  If a crew member or another scientist who is not observing mammals just so happens to be in the acoustics lab when the localization happens, we are sworn to secrecy, as well.  Sometimes an acoustician will send a runner to get the lead scientist to discreetly tell her that there is something out there.

TAS DeSchryver HICEAS-AC25
The screenshot on the left shows a series of spotted dolphin “click trains.” Notice the marks all in a line along the graph. The right photo shows the various localizations that the acoustics team has picked up from the click train graph. The red dot is the ship, the gray line is the “track line”, and the two blue dots behind the ship are the hydrophone arrays. Notice the V shape gradually goes to a straight line and then turns in the opposite direction.

 

This way, the lead scientist can begin the planning stages for a chase on the mammals to do a biopsy, or send the UAS out to get photos with the Hexacopter.  (More on this later.)

As the mammals “pass the beam” (the signal is perfectly on either side of the ship, and starting to make an upside down V from the ship), the acousticians can alert the visual team of the sighting.  As soon as everyone is aware the mammals are out there, either by sight or sound, the whole scientific group goes “off effort,” meaning we funnel our energy in to counting and sighting the mammals we have found.  When this happens, communication is “open” between the acoustics team and the visual team.  The visual team can direct the bridge to head in any direction, and as long as it’s safe to do so, the bridge will aid in the pursuit of the mammals to put us in the best position to get close enough to hopefully identify the species.  Today, one mammal observer had a sighting almost 6 miles away from the ship, and she could identify the species from that distance, as well!  Even cooler is that it was a beaked whale, which is an elusive whale that isn’t often sighted.   They have the capability of diving to 1000m to forage for food!

When the visual team has a sighting, the three visual observers who are on shift have the responsibility to estimate the group size.

TAS DeSchryver chris takes photos
Chris captures photos of Melon Headed Whales for Photo ID.

 

Here we go with Fight Club again – no one can talk to one another about the group sizes.  Each mammal observer keeps their totals to themselves.  This is so that no one can sway any other person’s opinion on group size and adds an extra element of control to the study.  It is off limits to talk about group sizes among one another even after the sighting is over. We must always be vigilant of not reviewing counts with one another, even after the day is done.  The scientific team really holds solid to this protocol.

Once the sighting is over, all parties resume “on effort” sightings, and the whole process starts all over again.

Now, you might be thinking, “Why don’t they just wait until acoustics has an animal localized before sending the mammal team up to look for it?

TAS DeSchryver ernesto big eyes
Ernesto on the “Big Eyes” during a Melon Headed Whale Visual Chase

Surely if acoustics isn’t hearing anything, then there must not be anything out there.”  As I am writing this post, the visual team is closing in on a spotted dolphin sighting about 6.5 miles away.  The acoustics did not pick up any vocalizations from this group.

TAS DeSchryver acoustics lab 2
Shannon and Jen in the acoustics lab “seeing” the sounds of the ocean.

This also happened this morning with the beaked whale.  Both teams really do need one another in this process of documenting cetaceans.  Further, the acoustics team in some cases can’t determine group sizes from the vocals alone.  They need the visual team to do that.  Each group relies on and complements one another with their own talents and abilities to conduct a completely comprehensive search.  When adding in the hexacopter drone to do aerial photography, we now have three components working in tandem – a group that uses their eyes to see the surface, a group that uses the ocean to “see” the sounds, and a group that uses the air to capture identifying photographs.  It truly is an interconnected effort.

 

Personal Log

I haven’t gotten the chance to discuss just how beautiful Hawai’i is.  I would think that it is generally understood that Hawai’i is beautiful – it’s a famed tourist destination in an exotic corner of the Pacific Ocean. But you have to see it to believe it.

TAS DeSchryver melon-headed whales
Melon-Headed Whales take an evening ride alongside the starboard side of Sette.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the islands from a unique perspective as an observer from the outside looking inland, and I just can’t let the beauty of this place pass without mention and homage to its stunning features.

Hawai’i truly is her own artist.  Her geologic features create the rain that builds her famed rainbows, which in turn gives her the full color palate she uses to create her own landscape.  The ocean surrounding the shores of Hawai’i are not just blue – they are cerulean with notes of turquoise, royal, and sage.  She will not forget to add her contrasting crimson and scarlet in the hibiscus and bromeliads that dot the landscape. At night when the moon shines on the waters, the ocean turns to gunmetal and ink, with wide swaths of brass and silver tracing the way back up to the moon that lights our path to the sea.  With time, all of her colors come out to dance along the landscape – including the sharp titanium white foam that crashes against the black cliffs along Kona.  And if a hue is errantly missed in her construction of the landscape, early morning showers sprout wide rainbows as a sign of good fortune, and as a reminder that she forgets no tones of color as she creates.

It is our responsibility to protect these waters, this landscape – this perfect artistry.  It is critically important to protect the animals that live in the ocean’s depths and the ones that cling to the island surface in their own corner of paradise.  I like to think that this study takes on this exact work.  By giving each of these species a name and identifying them to each individual group, we share with the world that these cetaceans are a family of their own with a habitat and a purpose.  When we “re-sight” whales that the team has seen in past studies, we further solidify that those animals have families and a home amongst themselves.   The photo identification team counts every new scar, marking, and change in these animals to piece together the story of their lives since they last met with the scientists.  Everyone on Oscar Elton Sette  talks about the new calves as if we were at the hospital with them on the day of their birth, celebrating the new life they’ve brought forth to continue their generations.  I like to think we all make a little room in the corner of our hearts for them as a part of our family, as well.

Did you know?

The Frigate bird has a Hawaiian name, “Iwa”, which means “thief.”  They call this bird “thief” because they steal prey right from the mouths of other birds!

 

“Spyhopping” is the act of a whale poking his head out of the water and bobbing along the surface.

 

It is legal for research ships to fish off the ship, so long as we eat what we catch while underway.  This led to the shared consumption of some delicious mahi mahi, fresh from the depths for lunch today.  Yes.  It was as good as it sounds.

 

Oscar Elton Sette knows how to celebrate!  Yesterday was Adam’s birthday, a marine mammal observer.  They decorated the mess in birthday theme, cranked up the dinnertime music, and the stewards made Adam his favorite – blueberry cheesecake for dessert!

 

Much of the crew likes to pitch in with food preparation.  The on ship doctor, “Doc”, makes authentic eastern dishes, and the crew made barbeque for everyone a few nights ago at dinner.

Julia Harvey: The Nearest Land is 3 Miles Down, June 28, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Julia Harvey

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

June 25 – July 3, 2016

 

Mission: WHOI Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Station (WHOTS)

Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii

Date: June 28th, 2016

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
(June 28th at 2pm)

Wind Speed: 12 knots

Temperature: 26.2 C

Humidity: 81%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.3 mb

 

Science and Technology Log

The Aloha Station is about 100 miles north of Oahu, Hawaii and was selected because of its closeness to port but distance from land influences (temperature, precipitation etc).  The goal is to select a site that represents the north Pacific, where data can be collected on the interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Hawaii Ocean Time Series (WHOTS) has used this site for research since 2004.  You can find real time surface and meteorological data and archived data at the WHOTS website.

We are stationed in the vicinity of mooring 12 and 13 in the Aloha Station to begin intercomparison testing.  CTD (conductivity/temperature/depth) casts are conducted on a regular schedule. This data will help align the data from mooring 12 to mooring 13. If CTDs don’t match up between the two moorings then efforts will be made to determine why.

Mooring 13 is being inspected to make sure sensors are working. Photographs have been taken to determine measurement height of the instruments and where the water line is.

When I was aboard the Oscar Dyson, there were multiple studies going on besides the Walleye Pollock survey. The same is true on the Hi’ialakai. The focus is on the mooring deployment and recovery but there are a professor and graduate student from North Carolina State University who are investigating aerosol fluxes.

Professor Nicholas Meskhidze earned his first Physics degree from Tbilisi State University (Georgia).  He completed his PhD at Georgia Institute of Technology (USA).  He is now an Associate Professor at NC State University Department of Marine Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Meskhidze’s study on this cruise is looking at sea spray aerosol abundance in marine boundary layer and quantifying their flux values. Sea spray is formed from breaking waves. Sea spray analysis begins by collecting the aerosol. Using electrical current, particles of a given size (for example 100 nanometer (nm)) are selected for. This size represents the typical size of environmental climatically important particles (70-124 nm). The next step is to remove all other particles typically found in the marine boundary layer, such as ammonium sulfate, black carbon, mineral dust and any organics. The remaining particles are sea salt.

Sea spray analysis
Dr. Nicholas Meskhidze with the sea spray analysis equipment

Meskhidze is looking at the fluxes of the salt aerosols.  Sea salt aerosols are interesting.  If a salt aerosol is placed in 80% humidity, it doubles in size.  But then placed in 90% humidity, it quadruples in size. Due to their unique properties, sea salt aerosols can have considerable effect on atmospheric turbidity and cloud properties.

Aerosols are key components of our climate but little is known about them. Climate models are used to predict future climatic change, but how can one do this without understanding a key component (aerosols)?

little is known
Source: IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Summary for Policy Makers

 

Personal Log

The galley (ship’s kitchen) is a happening place three times a day.  The stewards are responsible for feeding 30-40 people.

Chief Steward Gary Allen is permanently assigned to the Hi’ialakai. He has worked for NOAA for 42 years and he has stories to tell. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida and his early work was at his father’s BBQ stand. He attended Southern University on a football scholarship and majored in food nutrition. After an injury, he finished school at Florida A & M. He worked for a few years in the hotel food industry, working his way up to executive chef. Eventually he was offered the sous chef job at Brennan’s in New Orleans. He turned it down to go to sea.

Chief Steward Allen Gary
Chief Steward Allen Gary

In 1971, he sailed for the first time with NOAA. The chief steward was a very good mentor and Gary decided to make cooking at sea his career. He took a little hiatus but was back with NOAA in 1975, where he would spend 18 years aboard the Discoverer and would become chief steward in 1984. He would sail on several other ships before finding his way to the Hi’ialakai in 2004.

In the 42 years at sea, Gary has seen many changes. Early in his career, he would only be able to call home from ports perhaps every 30 days. Now communication allows us to stay in contact more. He is married to his wife of 43 years and they raised 3 daughters in Seattle.

I asked him what he enjoys the most about being at sea. He has loved seeing new places that others don’t get to see. He has been everywhere, the arctic to Antarctica. He enjoys the serenity of being at sea. He loves cooking for all the great people he meets.

I met Ava Speights aboard the Oscar Dyson in 2013 when she was the chief steward and I was participating in the walleye pollock survey as a Teacher at Sea. She has been with NOAA for 10 years.

Ava Speights (on the right) and me
Ava Speights (on the right) and me

She and a friend decided to become seamen. Ava began working in a shipyard painting ships. In 2007, she became a GVA (general vessel assistant) and was asked to sail to the Bahamas for 2 weeks as the cook. This shifted her career pathway and through NOAA cooking classes and on the job training, she has worked her way up to chief steward.

She is not assigned to a specific ship. She augments, meaning she travels between ships as needed. She works 6 months of the year, which allows her to spend time with her 2 daughters, 1 son, 2 stepdaughters and 4 grandchildren. Her husband is an engineer with NOAA. Her niece is an AB (able bodied seaman) on deck. Her son is a chief cook for Seafarer’s.  And her daughter who just graduated high school will be attending Seafarer’s International Union to become a baker.  Sailing must run in her family.

She loves to cook and understands that food comforts people. She likes providing that comfort.  She has also enjoyed traveling the world from Africa to Belgium.

2nd Cook Nick Anderson
2nd Cook Nick Anderson

Nick is 2nd cook and this is his first cruise with NOAA. He attended cooking school in California and cooked for the Coast Guard for 6 years where he had on the job training. In 2014, he studied at the Culinary Institute of America and from there arrived on the Hi’ialakai. He also is an augmenter, so he travels from ship to ship as Ava does.

 

 

 

Did You Know?

The Hi’ialakai positioned mooring 13 in an area with a 6 mile radius known as the Aloha Station. Check out all of the research that takes place here at Station Aloha. There is a cabled observatory 4800 meters below the ocean surface. A hydrophone picks up on sounds and produces a seismograph. Check the results for the night the anchor was dropped.

Seismograph
Seismograph during Mooring Deployment

Click here to hear whales who pass through this area in February.

Pacific Sunset
Pacific Sunset

Julia Harvey: More to a Mooring than meets the Eye, June 26, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Julia Harvey

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

June 25 – July 3, 2016

 

Mission: WHOI Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Station (WHOTS)

Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii

Date: June 26th, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Wind Direction: 100 degrees (slightly east southeast)

Temperature: 24.5 degrees C

Barometric Pressure: 1014.7 mb

Science and Technology Log

One of the primary objectives of this WHOTS project is to deploy WHOTS-13 mooring. This will be accomplished on our second day at sea.

Site of Mooring-13 courtesy of WHOTS Project Instructions
Site of Mooring-13
(courtesy of WHOTS Project Instructions)

The mooring site was chosen because it is far enough away from Hawaii so that it is not influenced by the landmasses. Mooring 13 will be located near mooring 12 in the North Pacific Ocean where the Northeast Trade Winds blow. Data collected from the moorings will be used to better understand the interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean. Instruments on the buoy record atmospheric conditions and instruments attached to the mooring line record oceanic conditions.

A look at interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean.
A look at interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean. [R. Weller, WHOI]
 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a lot more going on than just plopping a mooring in the sea. Chief Scientist Al Plueddemann from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and his team began in-port prep work on June 16th. This included loading, positioning and securing the scientific equipment on the ship.  A meteorological system needed to be installed on the Hi’ialakai to collect data critical to the mission.  And then there was the assembly of the buoy which had been shipped to Hawaii in pieces.  Once assembled, the sensors on the buoy were tested.

Meteorological Station on the Bow
Meteorological Station

As we left Oahu, we stopped to perform a CTD (conductivity/temperature/depth) cast. This allowed for the testing of the equipment and once water samples were collected, the calibration of the conductivity sensors occurred.

Sunday, June 26th, was the day of deployment. Beginning very early in the morning, equipment was arranged on deck to make deployment efficient as possible. And the science team mentally prepared for the day’s task.

Predeployment
The deck before deployment began. The buoy is the blue item on the left.

Promptly at 7:30 am, deployment began. The first stage was to deploy the top 47 meters of the mooring with sensing instruments called microcats attached at 5 meter intervals. A microcats has a memory card and will collect temperature, conductivity and pressure data about every three minutes until the mooring is removed next year.

Sensing instruments for the morring
Microcats for recording oceanic conditions

readied microcats
Microcats readied for deployment. They are lined up on the deck based on their deployment depth.

This portion of the mooring is then attached to the surface buoy, which is lifted by a crane and lowered overboard. More of the mooring with instruments is lowered over the stern.

The remainder of the mooring is composed of wire, nylon, 68 glass balls and an anchor.  At one point, the mooring wire became damaged. To solve this problem, marine technicians and crew removed the damaged portions and replaced the section with wire from a new spool. This process delayed the completion of mooring deployment but it showed how problems can be solved even when far out at sea.

After dinner, the nylon section of the rope was deployed. Amazingly, this section is more than 2000 meters long and will be hand deployed followed by a section of 1500 m colmega line. It was dark by the time this portion was in the water. 68 glass floats were then attached and moved into the water. These floats will help in the recovery of the mooring next year. The attachment to the anchor was readied.

glass floats for recovery
These glass floats will help when the mooring is recovered next year.

The anchor weighs 9300 pounds on deck and will sit at a depth of 4756 meters. That is nearly 3 miles below the ocean surface. The crane is used to lift the anchor overboard. The anchor will drop at 1.6 m/s and may take about 50 minutes to reach the bottom.  As the anchor sinks, the wire, nylon and the rest of the mooring will be pulled down. Once it reaches the bottom, the mooring will be roughly vertical from the buoy to the anchor.

 

Mooring Structure
Mooring Structure

Personal Log

I sailed aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson in 2013 so I already had a general idea of what life aboard a ship would be. Both ships have workout areas, laundry facilities, lounges, and of course messes where we all eat. But on the Hi’ialakai, I am less likely to get lost because of the layout. A door that goes up is near a door that goes down.

On our first day aboard, we held two safety drills. The first was the abandon ship drill. As soon as we heard 6 short and 1 long whistles, we grabbed our life jacket, survival suit and a hat. We reported to our muster stations. I am assigned to lifeboat #1 and I report the starboard side of 0-3 deck ( 2 levels up from my room). Once I arrived, a NOAA officer began taking role and told us to don the survival suit. This being my first time putting the suit on, I was excited. But that didn’t last long. Getting the legs on after taking off shoes was easy as was putting one arm in. After that, it was challenging. It was about 84 F outside. The suit is made of neoprene. And my hands were the shapes of mittens so imagine trying to zip it up. I finally was successful and suffered a bit to get a few photos. This was followed by a lesson for how to release the lifeboats. There are enough lifeboats on each side of the ship, to hold 150% of the capacity on board.

Survival Suit & Julia
Abandon Ship drill with Survival Suit

Safety is an important aspect of living aboard a NOAA ship. It is critical to practice drills just like we do at school. So when something does happen, everyone knows what to do. A long whistle signals a fire. All of the scientists report to the Dry Lab for a head count and to wait for further instruction.

I am reminded of how small our world really is.  At dinner Saturday, I discovered one of the new NOAA officers was from Cottage Grove, Oregon. Cottage Grove is just a short drive south of Eugene. She had a friend of mine as her calculus teacher.  Then a research associate asked me if I knew a kid, who had graduated from South Eugene High School and swam in Virginia. I did. He had not only been in my class but also swam with my oldest son on a number of relay teams growing up. Small world indeed.

 

Did You Know?

The Hi’ialakai was once a Navy surveillance ship (USNS Vindicator) during the Cold War. NOAA acquired it in 2001 and converted it to support oceanic research.

 

 

 

Julia Harvey: Here I Go Again/Getting Ready to Sail

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia Harvey
NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 25 – July 3, 2016

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Station Thirteenth Setting
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean North of Hawaii

Grand Canyon
My boys and I at the Grand Canyon in March 2016.

My name is Julia Harvey and I currently teach biology and environmental science at South Eugene High School in Eugene, Oregon. Next year I will also be teaching AP Biology. I have been teaching for 25 years beginning on the island of Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga. Some of my students have now become science teachers.

Julia with Sea Urchin copy
Early interest in marine sciences.

Eugene is at the southern end of the Willamette Valley and just about an hour away from the Pacific Ocean. In the valley, we are closely connected to the Pacific Ocean. The salmon that swim up our McKenzie River have made their way from the Pacific. Our wet and rainy climate is the result of weather patterns that originate off shore. And when it gets to hot in the valley, we head over to cool off on the beaches of the Pacific.

In 2013, I sailed aboard the Oscar Dyson on the Gulf of Alaska out of Kodiak. I was part of the third leg of the Pollock fish survey. Pollock is the fish used to make fish sticks and imitation crab. I didn’t know until this cruise, that the Pollock fishery is the one of the largest fisheries in the world. And I had never even heard of a Pollock until I was going to be sailing on the Oscar Dyson. I worked with amazing scientists on board who kindly helped me learn the process for finding schools of fish in the water using acoustics and then how to process the catch in order to provide information about the health of the fishery.

Pollock Survey
Happily surveying pollock

There were other studies going on the Oscar Dyson.  One involved surveying the ocean bottom and another involved counting  krill.

Enlarged Sorting Krill copy

Preparing to count krill.

I leave aboard the Hi’ialakai (easy to say after learning Tongan) in a few days. We will be at sea for 9 days, north of Hawaii.   The Chief Scientist is affiliated with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and other scientists are from University of Hawaii, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, and North Carolina State University. The main purpose of the study is to recover and deploy WHOTS moorings while collecting CTD (conductivity/temperature/depth) casts and data from shipboard sensors. I am especially interested to learn more about the sea spray analysis and how it relates to climatic effects.

This will be my first physical oceanography cruise. All of the studies I did aboard the Vantuna at Occidental College were biological as was the work done on the Oscar Dyson. I am excited to take my learning in a different direction.

I found it more difficult to pack for the cruise out of Hawaii then out of Alaska. This time, there is a larger range of weather that could be expected. Beginning on Oahu (shorts and tank tops) to the open ocean (steel toe boots and layers of clothes). But there are a few items that are making the trip with me again. I could not leave the Go Pro behind. I captured Dall porpoises bow surfing in 2013 as well as the processing of thousands of fish. And of course I have the anti-seasickness medication. It was wonderful to feel good the whole cruise last time. I will not be streaming videos but I will be entertained with a few books I packed.

I will be blogging several times while I am at sea and I hope you will continue to follow my journey at sea.

 

 

 

Sandra Camp: Aloha from San Francisco! June 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sandra Camp
Soon to be aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 14 – 24, 2015


Mission: Main Hawaiian Islands Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands, North Pacific Ocean
Date: Friday, June 5, 2015


Personal Log

ocean and bay
The Golden Gate Bridge between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay

My name is Sandra Camp, and I teach math and science to 5th graders at Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School in the Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco in northern California. San Francisco is located on a peninsula, which means it is surrounded by water on three sides. On the eastern part of the city lies San Francisco Bay. The western side is bordered by the Pacific Ocean. The famous Golden Gate Bridge spans the divide between these two large and important bodies of water.

 

tide pools
Me exploring tide pools

 

The Pacific is sometimes called the “Mother of all Oceans” because it is the largest ocean on our planet. Although we have many beautiful beaches here, in San Francisco the Pacific Ocean is much too cold for humans to swim in. Even though I can’t swim in it, I do love to go tide pooling along the Pacific Ocean, looking for tiny sea creatures when the tide goes out like sea stars, crabs, and anemones.

 

sea star
Sea star in tide pool

 

elephant seals
Elephant Seals

kelp forest
Kelp Forest – photo courtesy of NOAA

Being surrounded by so much water makes us care a great deal about the health of the world’s oceans and the plants and animals that live there. In our part of the Pacific Ocean, there are giant kelp forests. We are also home to many different kinds of marine animals, such as sea otters, harbor seals, elephant seals, crabs, sea lions, bat rays, and sharks. When there are healthy populations of these creatures living off the coast of northern California, it indicates that our part of the Pacific Ocean is healthy.

I am very excited, because in about a week I will be visiting a different part of the Pacific Ocean, a part where the ocean is warm enough to swim in! Hawaii is a chain of islands located in the northern Pacific Ocean.  Unlike San Francisco, islands are surrounded on all sides by water, and because the ocean water there is warmer, it allows coral reefs to grow.  I will be flying to Honolulu, Hawaii where I will board the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Ship Hi’ialakai at its home port in Pearl Harbor. Do any of you know what Pearl Harbor is famous for?  If so, write your answer to me in the comments section of this blog.  As a Teacher at Sea, I will spend 10 days aboard the ship while scientists conduct reef fish surveys around the main Hawaiian Islands. This means that they will be studying the fish that normally live in the coral reefs around the islands. If there are healthy populations of these fish in the reefs, then that means the coral reefs are healthy. If not, then that indicates the reefs are having problems. Here is a picture of the Hi’ialakai. Its name means “embracing pathways to the sea” in Hawaiian.

Hi'ialakai
The Hi’ialakai – photo courtesy of NOAA

It takes a lot of people to run a ship this big.  Stay tuned, because in addition to the scientists, I will introduce some of the people who work aboard the ship to you in my upcoming blogs.


Science and Technology Log

coral polyps
Coral Polyps – photo courtesy of NOAA

What exactly is a coral reef, anyway? Coral reefs are ecosystems located in warm, shallow ocean water that are home to a very diverse amount of sea creatures, including fish, crabs, turtles, octopus, sharks, eels, and shrimp. Reefs are structures that are made from the skeletons of colonies of tiny animals called coral. The individual animals that make up the colonies are called polyps.  Polyps usually have a cylindrical-shaped body with a mouth surrounded by tentacles at one end.  The polyps use these tentacles to catch tiny animals that drift by called zooplankton, which they eat for food.

 

coral reef
Coral Reef – photo courtesy of NOAA

 

The coral polyps have a symbiotic relationship with algae. The algae help corals build their skeletons, and the corals provide the algae with protection and compounds they need for photosynthesis. Coral reefs are the largest structures built by animals on Earth! Sadly, coral reefs around the world are in danger because of human factors like pollution, over-fishing, and global warming.

 

diver
Scientist Diving – photo courtesy of NOAA

Most of the scientific work aboard the Hi’ialakai will be conducted by scientists who are scuba diving. While they are under the water, scientists can take pictures of the ocean floor and the coral reefs, as well as count the number of reef fish they find. The information they gather will help them determine if the reefs around Hawaii are healthy places for animals to live. I will be sharing a lot more about the work they do with you in the blogs I write while I am aboard the Hi’ialakai.

 


Did You Know?

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is over 1400 miles long! Even though coral reefs are the largest structures built by animals and are home to so many diverse species, they cover less than one percent of the ocean floor.


Important Words

peninsula – a body of land surrounded on three sides by water

symbiotic – a relationship between two different species that benefits them both

polyp – the individual body of a coral animal, which is shaped like a cylinder, and has a mouth surrounded by tentacles at one end

zooplankton – tiny aquatic animals

Suzanne Acord: Cetaceans Are Among Us! March 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 26, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 13:00
Wind: 6 knots
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Weather: Hazy
Depth in fathoms: 2,473
Depth in feet: 14,838
Temperature: 26.0˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Cetaceans Are Among Us!

Our Marine Mammal Observation (MMO) crew was in for a treat today. Just after lunch, we spot a pod of sperm whales. We spotted them off the port side, off the starboard side, and eventually off the bow of the Sette. We frequently see Humpback whales in Hawaii, but sperm whales often evade us. Sperm whales can dive down to extreme depths and they feed on squid. These same squid feed on the micronekton that we are observing during the cruise. Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales. Their enormous size is obvious when they slap the ocean with their giant tails. Another unique characteristic of the sperm whale is their blow hole, which sits to the left rather than on top of the head. This feature allows our MMO team to easily identify them.

Our MMO lead, Ali Bayless, determines that we should take the small boat out for a closer examination of the pod. Within minutes, the small boat and three scientists are in the water following the pod. We think that a calf (baby) is accompanying two of the adult whales. Throughout the next few hours, our small boat is in constant contact with our flying bridge, bridge, and acoustics team to determine the location of the whales. We keep a safe distance from all of the whales, but especially the calf. While on the small boat, MMO scientists also identify spotted and spinner dolphins. We are essentially surrounded by cetaceans. The small boat is just one of the many tools we use to determine what inhabits the ocean. We also use an EK60 sonar, our Remotely Operated Vehicle, our hydrophone, and sonar buoys.

Our acoustics lead, Adrienne Copeland, is especially excited about our sperm whale sightings. Adrienne is a graduate student in zoology at the University of Hawaii. She earned her Bachelor’s of Science in biology with a minor in math and a certificate in mathematical biology from Washington State University. She has served on the Sette four times and is currently serving her third stint as acoustics lead. This is a testament to her expertise and the respect she has earned within the field.

Adrienne Copeland monitors our acoustics station during our 2014 IEA cruise.
Adrienne Copeland monitors our acoustics station during our 2014 IEA cruise.

Adrienne Copeland studies the foraging behavior of deep diving odontocetes (toothed whales). She shares that some deep diving odontocetes have been known to dive more than 1000 meters. Short finned pilot whales have been observed diving 600-800 meters during the day. During night dives we know they forage at shallower depths on squid and fish. How do we know how deep these mammals dive? Tags placed on these mammals send depth data to scientists. How do we know what marine mammals eat? Scientists are able to examine the stomach contents of mammals who are stranded. Interestingly, scientists know that sperm whales feed on histioteuthis (a type of squid) in the Gulf of Mexico. A 2014 IEA trawl operation brought in one of these squid, which the sperm whales may be targeting for food.

Notice the distinct blue and gray lines toward the top of the screen. These are the think layers of micronekton that migrated up at sunset. The number at the top of the screen expresses the depth to the sea floor.
Notice the distinct blue and gray lines toward the top of the screen. These are the thick layers of micronekton that migrated up at sunset. The number at the top of the screen expresses the depth to the sea floor.

Examine the acoustics screen to the left. Can you identify the gray and blue lines toward the top of the screen? These scattering layers of micronekton ascend and descend depending on the sun. Adrienne is interested in learning how these scattering layers change during whale foraging. Our EK60, Remotely Operated Vehicle, and highly prescribed trawling all allow us to gain a better understanding of the contents of the scattering layers. A greater understanding of whale and micronekton behavior has the potential to lead to more effective conservation practices. All marine mammals are currently protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Sperm Whales are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Interesting fact from Adrienne: Historical scientists could indeed see the scattering layers on their sonar, but they thought the layers were the ocean floor. Now we know they represent the layers of micronekton, but old habits die hard, so the science community sometimes refers to them as false bottoms.

Live Feed at 543 Meters! 

The ROV prior to deployment.
The ROV prior to deployment.

Our Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) deployment is a success! We deploy the ROV thanks to an effective team of crew members, scientists, and NOAA Corps officers working together. ROV deployment takes place on the port side of the ship. We take our ROV down to approximately 543 meters. We are able to survey with the ROV for a solid five hours. A plethora of team members stop by the eLab to “ooh” and “ahh” over the live feed from the ROV. Excitingly, the ROV is deployed prior to the vertical migration of the micronekton and during the early stages of the ascent. The timing is impeccable because our acoustics team is very curious to know which animals contribute to the thick blue and gray lines on our acoustics screens during the migration. In the ROV live feed, the micronekton are certainly visible. However, because the animals are so small, they almost look like snow falling in front of the ROV camera. Periodically, we can identify squid, larger fish, and jellies.

Did you Know? 

Kevin Lewand of the Monterey Bay Aquarium constructs a hyperbaric chamber for marine life on board the Sette.
Kevin Lewand of the Monterey Bay Aquarium constructs a hyperbaric chamber for marine life.

Mini hyperbaric chambers can be used to save fish who are brought to the surface from deep depths. These chambers are often used to assist humans who scuba dive at depths too deep for humans or who do not effectively depressurize when returning to the surface after SCUBA diving. The pressure of the deep water can be life threatening for humans. Too much pressure or too little pressure in the water can be life threatening for marine life, too. Marine life collector, Kevin Lewand, constructed a marine life hyperbaric chamber aboard the Sette. He learned this skill from his mentor. Be sure to say Aloha to him when you visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California.

 

 

 

 

Personal Log

Daily Life Aboard the Sette

There is never a dull moment on the ship. Tonight we have ROV operations, squid jigging, acoustics monitoring, and a CTD deployment. We of course can’t forget the fact that our bridge officers are constantly ensuring we are en route to our next location. Tonight’s science operations will most likely end around 05:00 (tomorrow). Crew members work 24/7 and are usually willing to share their expertise or a good story. If they are busy completing a task, they always offer to chat at another time. I find that the more I learn about the Sette, the more I yearn to know. The end of the cruise is just two days away. I am surprised by how quickly my time aboard the ship has passed. I look forward to sharing my new knowledge and amazing experiences with my students and colleagues. I have a strong feeling that my students will want to ask as many questions as I have asked the Sette crew. Aloha and mahalo to the Sette.

 

Suzanne Acord: Teamwork Is a Must While at Sea, March 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 25, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 14:00
Wind: 7 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Weather: Hazy
Depth in fathoms: 577
Depth in feet: 3,462
Temperature: 27.0˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Teamwork

Kona cruise map
2014 Kona IEA Cruise Map. Locate H1 and H2 to determine where our HARPs are retrieved and deployed.

Throughout the past week, it has become obvious that all operations aboard the Sette require team work. Scientific projects and deployments require the assistance of the Bridge, engineers, and heavy equipment operators. This was clear during our recent deployment of our HARP or High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (see my earlier posts to learn why we use the HARP). Marine Mammal Operations lead, Ali Bayless, leads our morning HARP retrieval and deployment operations. We first prepare to retrieve a HARP that has completed its duty on the floor of the ocean. At least a dozen scientists and crew members attempt to locate it using binoculars. It is spotted soon after it is triggered by our team. Crew members head to the port side of the ship once the HARP at station H2 surfaces. H2 is very close to the Kona Coast. A fresh HARP is deployed from the stern of the ship later in the morning. Both the retrieval and deployment of the HARPs take immaculate positioning skills at the Bridge. Hence, the Bridge and the HARP crew communicate non-stop through radios. The coordinates of the drop are recorded so the new HARP can be retrieved in a year.

A Conversation with Commanding Officer (CO) Koes

A selfie with CO Koes
A selfie with CO Koes

Morale is high and teamwork is strong aboard the Sette. These characteristics are often attributed to excellent leadership. CO Koes’ presence is positive and supportive. CO Koes has served with NOAA for the past thirteen years. She came aboard the Sette January 4, 2013. She is now back in her home state of Hawaii after serving with NOAA in California and Oregon. She is a graduate of Kalani High School in Hawaii and earned a BA in chemical engineering at Arizona State University.

As CO of the Sette, Koes believes it is important to create trust amongst crew members and to delegate rather than to dictate. She provides support and guidance to her crew twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. She is the CO of all ship operations such as navigation, science operations, deck activities, trawling, and engineering. She is highly visible on board and is genuinely interested in the well-being of her crew and ship. She does not hesitate to start a conversation or pep talk in the mess or on the deck. When asked what she enjoys most about her job, she states that she “likes to see the lights go on in the eyes of junior officers when they learn something new.” Koes goes on to state that her goal as CO is to have fun and make a difference in the lives of her officers and crew.

Personal Log

Ship Life

Bunkmate and scientist, Beth Lumsden, and I during an abandon ship drill on the Texas deck.
Bunkmate and scientist, Beth Lumsden, and I during an abandon ship drill on the Texas deck.

I have found that one can acclimate to life aboard a ship quite quickly if willing to laugh at oneself. The first couple of days on board the Sette were fun, but shaky. We had some rough weather on our way to the Kona Coast from Oahu. I truly felt like I was being rocked to sleep at night. Showering, walking, and standing during the rocking were a challenge and surely gave me stronger legs. Regardless of the weather, we must be sure to completely close all doors. We even lock the bathroom stall doors from the outside so they don’t fly open. The conditions quickly improved once we hit the Kona Coast, but conditions change frequently depending on our location. When up in the flying bridge for Marine Mammal Observation, we can easily observe the change in the wave and wind patterns. It is difficult to spot our dolphins and whales once the water is choppy. It is these changes in the weather and the sea that help me understand the complexity of our oceans.

Meal time on board is tasty and social. Everyone knows when lunchtime is approaching and you are sure to see smiles in the mess. All meals are served buffet style so we are able to choose exactly what we want to eat. We can go back to the buffet line numerous times, but most folks pile their plates pretty high during their first trip through the line. After our meals, we empty our scraps into the slop bucket and then rinse our dishes off in the sink. This gives us the chance to compliment our stewards on the great food. If we would like, we can eat our meals in the TV room, which is next door to the mess. It has a TV, couches, a few computers, a soda machine, and a freezer filled with ice-cream.

Chain of command is important when performing our science operations, when net fishing, when in the engineering room, and even when entering the Bridge. Essentially, if someone tells me to put on a hard hat, I do it with no questions asked. Everyone on board must wear closed toed shoes unless they are in their living quarters. Ear plugs are required on the engineering floor. Safety is key on the decks, in our rooms, in the halls, and especially during operations. I have never felt so safe and well fed!

Dr. Tran is always smiling.
Dr. Tran is always smiling.

“Doc” Tran

Did you know that we have a doctor on board who is on call 24/7? The Sette is fortunate to have “Doc” Tran on board. He is a commander with the United States Public Health Service. Doc Tran has served on the Sette for four years. He is our doctor, our cheerleader, our store manager, and our coach! When not on duty, he can be seen riding an exercise bike on the deck or making healthy smoothies for anyone willing to partake. He also operates the ship store, which sells shirts, treats, hats, and toiletries at very reasonable prices. He truly enjoys his service on the Sette. He loves to travel, enjoys working with diverse groups of people, and appreciates our oceans. He is a perfect match for the Sette and is well respected by the crew.

 

 

Suzanne Acord: Learning the Ropes off the Kona Coast, March 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 24, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 14:00
Wind: 7 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Weather: Hazy
Temperature: 24.3˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Trawl Operations on the Sette

Monitoring the acoustics station during our trawl operations.
Monitoring the acoustics station during our trawl operations.

Trawling allows scientists to collect marine life at prescribed depths. Our highly anticipated first trawl begins at 21:06 on March 23rd. Hard hats, safety vests, and extremely concerned crew members flock to the stern to prepare and deploy the trawl net. Melanie is our fearless trawl lead. Once we bring in our catch, she will coordinate the following tasks: Place our catch in a bucket; strain the catch; weigh the total catch; separate the catch into five groups (deep water fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, gelatinous life, and miscellaneous small life); count the items in each group; weigh each group; measure the volume of each group; take photos of our catch; send the entire catch to the freezer.

Our trawling depth for this evening is 600 meters. This is unusually deep for one of our trawls and may very well be a hallmark of our cruise. We are able to deploy the net with ease over our target location, which is located within the layers of micronekton discussed in an earlier blog. The depth of the net is recorded in the eLab every 15 minutes during the descent and ascent. Once the trawl is brought back up to the stern, we essentially have a sea life sorting party in the wet lab that ends around 05:00. Our specimens will be examined more thoroughly once we are back in Honolulu at the NOAA labs. Throughout this cruise, it is becoming clearer every day that a better understanding of the ocean and its inhabitants can allow us to improve ocean management and protection. Our oceans impact our food sources, economies, health, weather, and ultimately human survival.

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Science Party Interview with Gadea Perez-Andujar

Ali and Gadea anticipate the raising of the HARP.
Ali and Gadea anticipate the raising of the HARP.

The University of Hawaii and NOAA are lucky to have Gadea, a native of Spain, on board the Sette during the 2014 IEA cruise. She initially came to Hawaii to complete a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology with Hawaii Pacific University. While a HPU student, she studied abroad in Australia where she received hands-on experience in her field. Coursework in Australia included fish ecology and evolution and coral reef ecology, among other high interest courses. Between her BA and MA, Gadea returned to Spain to work on her family’s goat farm. She couldn’t resist the urge to return to Hawaii, so she left her native land yet again to continue her studies in Hawaii. Gadea is now earning her master’s degree in marine biology with the University of Hawaii. In addition to her rigorous course schedule, she is carrying out a teaching assistantship. To top off her spring schedule, she volunteered to assist with Marine Mammal Operations (MMO) for the 2014 IEA cruise. She assists Ali Bayless, our MMO lead, during small boat deployments, HARP operations, and flying bridge operations.

Gadea’s master’s studies have increased her interest in deep water sharks. More specifically, Gadea is exploring sharks with six gills that migrate vertically to oxygen minimum zones, or OMZs. This rare act is what interests Gadea. During our IEA cruise, she is expanding her knowledge of the crocodile shark, which has been known to migrate down to 600-700 meters.

Once her studies are complete in 2015, Gadea yearns to educate teachers on the importance of our oceans. She envisions the creation of hands-on activities that will provide teachers with skills and knowledge they can utilize in their classrooms. She believes teacher and student outreach is key. When asked what she appreciates most about her field of study, Gadea states that she enjoys the moment when people “realize what they’re studying can make the world a better place.”

Personal Log

Morale in the Mess 

Jay displays a cake just baked by Miss Parker. I can't wait to try this tonight at dinner.
Jay displays a cake just baked by Miss Parker. I can’t wait to try this tonight at dinner. We will also be eating Vietnamese soup, salad, and macaroni and cheese with scallops.

The mess brings all hands together three times a day and is without a doubt a morale booster. Hungry crew members can be found nibbling in the mess 24/7 thanks to the tasty treats provided by Jay and Miss Parker. Jay and Miss Parker never hesitate to ensure we are fed, happy, and humored. It is impossible to leave the galley without a warm feeling. A few of my favorite meal items include steak, twice baked potatoes, a daily fresh salad bar, red velvet cookies, and Eggs Benedict. Fresh coffee, juice, and tea can be found 24/7 along with snacks and leftovers. At the moment, my shift spans from 15:00 to 00:00, which is my dream shift. If we need to miss a meal, Jay ensures that a plate is set aside for us or we can set aside a plate for ourselves ahead of time.

Did you know?

Merlin Clark-Mahoney gives me a tour of the engineering floor.
Merlin Clark-Mahoney gives me a tour of the engineering floor.

Did you know that NOAA engineers are able to create potable water using sea water? The temperature of the water influences the amount of potable water that we create. If the sea water temperature does not agree with our water filtration system, the laundry room is sometimes closed. This has happened only once for a very short period of time on our cruise. NOAA engineers maintain a variety of ship operations. Their efforts allow us to drink water, shower, do laundry, enjoy air conditioning, and use the restroom on board–all with ease.

Adam Renick, Searching for Cetaceans and Wrapping Up, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12–26, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weather Data
Current Air Temperature: 77° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 3 knots

Finding the Cetaceans…
 
In the final days of our research cruise we set out to get an assessment of cetacean activity in the Kona area that we have been studying. In addition to the ongoing active acoustics, CTD and DIDSON sampling, we have added two new tasks to the science team to find as many cetaceans as possible. We have set up a hydrophone, which is a sound recorder that sits in the water and is pulled by the ship, to listen for the clicks, whistles and any other sounds dolphins and whales might make.

For examples of sounds cetaceans make please check out this website. When the sounds from the cetaceans are received the wave frequencies are recorded using some very interesting software that helps us determine the type of marine mammal it is and where it is located. Specifically locating and identifying the cetaceans requires the cooperation of many people and is not necessarily as simple as I am making it sound here.

Melons
The recording of a pod of approximately 150 Melon-Headed Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

The sounds of Pilot Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

While the acoustics team and the ship’s crew are listening and seeking out the animals we also assist in the effort by making visual observations from the highest deck of the boat called the “flying bridge”. Here one or two people who are in communication with the science team below use binoculars and “big eyes” to visually find and identify marine mammals.

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Looking through the “big eyes”

Some of my personal observing highlights of this operation include a sperm whale, a pod of approximately 150 melon-headed whales and smaller pods of spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, rough-toothed dolphin and pilot whales.

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Visual observations of the Melon-Headed Whales.
Photo: Chad Yoshinaga

Rough-toothed_Dolphins
Rough Toothed Dolphins
Photo: Ali Bayless

Wrapping Up the Journey…
 
I cannot express enough gratitude to the members of the science team and the crew of the Sette for making my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience so rewarding. There are so many elements of this trip that are worth pause, reflection and appreciation. My emotions ranged from excitement just being at sea for 15 days and living a lifestyle that is unique and different than my own, the contemplative awe of the vast and complicated ocean ecosystem and the exhilaration when one of its own breaches the surface to give us a peek at it. In the end, I think my greatest appreciation gained along this journey was learning to slow myself down to the pace of nature in order to better observe and understand it.What’s next for me? NASA Teacher In Space… 2014 here I come!

Just kidding (is that even possible?) Until then I guess I should practice my moon-walking on Kilauea crater until I head back to my amazing wife and life in San Diego. Thanks for reading and, whatever you are doing out there in the world today, make a memory.

Adam Renick, The DIDSON Pilot, June 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Friday, June 21, 2013

Current Air Temperature: 75° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 16 knots

Happy Solstice Everybody! Welcome to astronomical summer!

Giacamo Giorli explains the DIDSON deployment process to the team.
Giacomo Giorli explains the DIDSON deployment process to the team.

What is a Didson?

The DIDSON sonar in a protective case.
The DIDSON sonar in a protective case.

We are well into the second week of our cruise and I want to tell you all about a new pilot project that NOAA is working with through the Marine Mammal Research program at the Univ. of Hawaii that is using a DIDSON sonar. A DIDSON (Dual frequency IDentification SONar) is an advanced type of sonar that has many advantages over a traditional sonar for finding fishes and other marine life.

Images of fish on a DIDSON . http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=sonar.didson
Images of fish on a DIDSON . http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=sonar.didson

The first advantage of a DIDSON is that it gives us a very highly detailed image of what types of marine life are present in the water. When our shipboard acoustics team “sees” that there is a layer of creatures in the water column it appears as very small dots on a computer screen.

Here you can see the DIDSON going down to record the scattering layer (the very thin line near the finger).
Here you can see the DIDSON going down to record the scattering layer (the very thin line near the finger).

This is great because it tells us the depth and location, but it does not tell us what it is. When we see something of interest, we can deploy the DIDSON to give us an actual “picture” of that creature or even a video of its behavior. The reason I am describing the “imaging” properties of this tool in quotes is that it is not a camera and it does not use light to see at all. Rather, it uses high frequency sound waves to produce an image much like a sonogram gives us a picture of a baby in a mother’s uterus.

Comparison of different types of sonar.
Comparison of different types of sonar.

This leads us to another major advantage of the DIDSON over traditional technologies such as beam sonar or videos. This thing can go very deep into the ocean to explore the life that is there. If you recall back to my previous post you will remember that mesopelagic fish hang out much deeper in the water column during the day than at night. Trawling that deep is challenging and requires more effort and resources than using the DIDSON. If we want to see what is down there we can deploy the DIDSON into the scattering layer and get a sense of the marine life in the deeper parts of the ocean. Also, because it uses sound it can give us data about behaviors that are occurring in the dark regions of the ocean.

Mr. Giorli wishing luck to the DIDSON equipment as it is deployed.
Mr. Giorli wishing luck to the DIDSON equipment as it is deployed.

Giacomo Giorli and others that are leading this project on the cruise are still going through the data they’ve collected with the DIDSON.  So far, they have seen a lot of success and have a identified a few squids – but they won’t tell us more than that until they go back to the lab to fully analyze their data.  “We don’t exactly know what is down there right now, but with emerging technology, one day we will,” says Mr. Giorli. See a video clip of the DIDSON data here.

The ever-useful duct tape makes its debut on this cruise.
The ever-useful duct tape makes its debut on this cruise.

Adam Renick, Getting To Know the Ocean – The Kona Ecosystem, June 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Sunday, June 16, 2013

Current Air Temperature: 78° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 79° F
Wind Speed: 20 knots

Personal Log
 

Sunrise in Hawaii
Sunrise in Hawaii

All is well on the Sette! Skies have been clear, waters have been relatively calm and the mood onboard has been positive. With the cooperative work of the scientists, the crew’s expert ship handling and Clem and Jay’s fine cooking it has been a very interesting week for me. For years I have taught about physical oceanography with a focus on what we know, not necessarily how we know it. I had a sense of how things were done in general; using sonar and taking samples, but I never understood the details of how we can target specific locations to study in such a vast ocean to get a picture of it as a whole system. In just a few days aboard this research vessel I have been given a look at how ocean science is conducted and how our knowledge about the expansive oceans is built one piece of thoughtful data at a time. In the last week I have learned how a well-organized research plan is executed and have also learned about some of the difficulties of conducting science at sea as well.

 
Science and Technology Log – Night Trawling
 

The zones of life in the ocean.
The zones of life in the ocean.

One of my nightly tasks is to help a team of scientists conduct trawls of the mesopelagic zone to identify the organisms that live there. The mesopelagic zone (pictured) is also known as the twilight zone because it is where there is a small amount of sunlight that penetrates the water, but not enough for photosynthesis to occur. If you recall from my last blog, the Sette has an active acoustics team that is using active sonar to identify layers of organisms at specific depths in the water column. During the daytime this layer is too deep for our nets to catch them. But at nighttime this layer migrates up towards the surface allowing us catch them with in a net in a process called a trawl. We do two trawls each night. Before each trawl the acoustics team tells the trawl team the depth of the target layer. The deck crew then deploys a fairly large net down to that depth and drags it through the water to scoop up the organisms that we have targeted. Blog4 (1)After about an hour of doing this the net is pulled back up to the ship where all the creatures are collected in a bag called a “cod end”. It may sound fairly simple, but this process requires the coordination of many different people as the scientists need to communicate with the deck operations crew, and the deck crew has to work with the captain to ensure that the very long net line hits the target and does not get tangled or damaged in the process. Keep in mind that this is happening at 1:00am with 20 knot winds and 10 foot waves. It is a wonder to see and be a part of this operation.

Krill...
Krill…

Once we have collected all of the organisms we move on to sorting the catch. We separate the contents of the net into five main categories and then measure the number, mass and volume of each of the types. Perhaps the most commonly abundant of the groups that we classify are mesopelagic fish, which are dark in color and contain photophores to provide them camouflage in the night. Cephalopods (squid) are also quite common along with gelatinous creatures such as jellyfish and crustaceans over 4cm in length, such as shrimp. The final category of interest to us is the shore-fish, which are juvenile fish that will eventually move more towards the land or reefs once they are bigger. The shore-fish are typically the most beautiful looking of the catch.

Shore-fish sorting
Shore-fish sorting

Everything that is left over is then lumped into a general category called miscellaneous, which is mainly composed of krill. Some cool stuff we’ve gotten in the bag that don’t really have their own category have been two cookie-cutter sharks, a seahorse and two remoras.

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Examining a Cookie-Cutter Shark

Shark
Close-Up of Shark

So what does this all have to do with cetaceans? I have yet to mention them in my blogs. By studying the composition of the mesopelagic layer we can better understand the food chain and ecosystem that the whales and dolphins depend on. Next week when we begin actively searching for cetaceans we will be able to better understand their behaviors because we have background data on where their food is, what it is composed of and how it behaves. Hope all is well back on land…

 
Best,
Adam Renick
NOAA Teacher at Sea

Adam Renick, Heading Out and The Science Begins, June 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: June 13, 2013

The Oscar Elton Sette in port.
The Oscar Elton Sette in port.

Personal Log       

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The ocean brings us life.

 I arrived in beautiful Honolulu, HI, where I prepared myself to sail on the Sette. In what seemed like no time at all I was aboard and operations were underway. Meeting the team of scientists and the crew of the Sette has been a very welcoming experience and I look forward to getting to know them all better. I will interview and write some biographical sketches for them later. Mahalo, thank you.

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Heading out of Pearl Harbor

Heading out to sea on Wednesday was a great way to get our sea legs under us. Leaving beautiful Pearl Harbor past the picturesque Honolulu skyline butted up against Diamond Head could hardly get any better. That is, until our first wildlife sighting – a green sea turtle breached the surface right next to our boat to wish us a safe journey.

Once we left the calm of the harbor the sea started rocking and rolling almost immediately. Without the islands to protect us, the wind picked up and waves started tossing the boat all around. I quickly transitioned from enjoyment of the beauty to holding on to my lunch. The seasickness lasted through the safety drills and well into the night as we sailed southeast to Kona, our research destination.

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Research Site off the Kona Coast

I spent the afternoon trying to identify my sensations as they were occurring. Was I pitching or rolling, or both? Pitch is when the front of the ship, the bow, goes up and down. Roll is when the ship leans left and then right from its center of axis. Once my stomach settled down it actually became quite fun to lie in my bunk as everything around me got thrown into the air. My dreams of being able to fly were coming true. No worries though, by sunrise the seas had calmed and the beautiful Hawaiian sunrise began our first day of scientific operations.

 Science and Technology Log

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Jessica at the Active Acoustics ELab

Science operations began just before sunrise with two very important tasks. The first, called active acoustics, will be ongoing 24hrs/day for our entire two-week cruise. This important task uses the ship’s hull-mounted echo sounder to locate layers of marine animals that cetaceans such as whales and dolphins might like to eat.  These layers of animals are composed of small fish, shrimp, and squid that tend to group together in a layer at specific depths at different parts of the day and night. We use the sonar to track that layer of creatures, which allows us to drop down nets to that specific ocean depth to catch some of them in a process called a trawl. These trawls will be conducted twice each night to sample these layers and to learn more about their composition.

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Me taking care of the CTD after its deployment.

The other ongoing scientific procedure that was begun today is the conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) casts. A CTD is a tool (pictured) that is lowered deep into the ocean and allows us to measure some of the most important physical and chemical characteristics of the water, which are depth, salinity, dissolved oxygen and temperature. Additionally, the CTD has a fluorometer attached to it that tells us the amount of phytoplankton, or chlorophyll, that is in the water. As the CTD is being pulled back up it also collects 10 samples of water in tanks for us to analyze in the lab. We try to determine the size and structure of the phytoplankton and zooplankton community, the amount of nutrients and the amount of chlorophyll in the water at different depths. This data will help the scientists make connections between the physical properties of the water and its biological productivity.

So much more to write about, but that is all for today…

Best,
Adam Renick
NOAA Teacher at Sea

Adam Renick, Getting Ready to Sail, June 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: June 6, 2013

Personal Log

TASPhotoAdamRenick
Me in San Diego

Hello from San Diego, California! My name is Adam Renick and I am an Earth and Planetary Sciences teacher at Health Sciences High and Middle College (HSHMC) in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Health Sciences High is the best school in the universe and specializes, as its name implies, in preparing students for careers in the health sciences field. Students at our school begin weekly internships at local hospitals and college-level health classes during their freshman year of study so that they are equipped with four years of specialized training and career pathway experience by the time they graduate. The staff and students at our school are truly special and it is an honor to represent them during this Teacher At Sea experience.

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Violet and I in Niagara Falls, NY

Here is a picture of my incredible wife Violet and I at Niagara Falls. We both love the outdoors and have nature-related careers. She is a marine ecologist and someday maybe we will get to go on a research cruise together. Until then, she will be back in San Diego studying the effects of environmental pollutants on fish in San Diego.  She will also be playing extensively with our canine best friend, Higgs. With the addition of Higgs to our family I have fallen into third place in our house in the categories of intelligence, cuteness and talent. Higgs and I are currently tied in the messiness category and ability to say “Sorry!”

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Higgs playing ball and warming hearts.

I applied for the NOAA Teacher At Sea program for a variety of reasons. As a teacher of the marine environment I know that this experience will allow me to deepen my knowledge of the content I teach about and to understand the scientific processes that contributes to our knowledge of the oceans.  The ocean plays an integral part of my life. I can smell the salty mist of the Pacific from my house and I am playing at the beach or riding the waves almost every single day (unless I am in the mountains). The first international adventure I ever went on was to explore the reefs off the coast of Belize. I am not sure what mysteries await me in my time at sea but I know I can rely on mother nature to reveal some of her knowledge to me over the next three weeks. It is my goal to share the discoveries of my journey with you.

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Map of the cruise region.

My journey begins in Honolulu, Hawaii where I will be boarding the vessel Oscar Elton Sette with a team of scientists to embark on a 15-day assessment of the marine ecosystem of the west coast of the Big Island near Kona. The primary scientific goal of our trip will be to collect data to gain a better understanding of the characteristics of the oceanography and associated cetacean activity off the leeward coast of Hawaii. Cetaceans are a classification of marine mammals such as dolphin and whales. I will be providing details on how this is done in upcoming posts and am very excited to learn more about the behaviors of such incredible creatures.

You can learn more about our Ship and the Mission here to learn more about where I’ll be! I am very excited to be part of this experience as it will contribute to my understanding of the world and myself. As I gear up and head to the airport next Monday I will be thinking of my family, whom I thank for giving me the world and of my many students who allow me to share my world with them. See you in Hawaii!

Best,

Adam Renick

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Rita Salisbury: Winding Down, April 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 29, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Temperature: 79°F / 26°C
Dewpoint: 68°F / 20°C
Humidity: 70%
Pressure: 29.98 in (1015 mb)
Winds: S 10.4 mph (S 17 kph)

Science and Technology Log:
This has been an amazing voyage for me; I have learned about science process and technology in a real world application that I can take back to my classroom and incorporate throughout my curriculum. Real science on this cruise involved using multiple survey methods to determine the population and of Bottomfish species in a prescribed area. Acoustics, video recording by BotCam, AUV, and ROV, fishing by professional fishermen, and fishing from the side of the research vessel were all techniques employed in this study. These different methods will be compared and, eventually, a process will be formulated that will probably combine several of the methods in order to compile data to help regulate the bottom fisheries.

Some of the methodologies, such as the BotCams, have been compiling data for five or more years, so there is a sizable amount of information upon which to base decisions. Adding to the general knowledge base is an important part of scientific research; without data it is impossible to make informed decisions.
After the last deployments of the AUV and ROV yesterday, we all pitched in to help pack equipment to get ready for today’s end of the cruise.  We cleaned floor mats, vacuumed, mopped, wiped down counters, and also cleaned our staterooms, heads, and common rooms. Even though this is a scientific research cruise, the scientists are considered guests on the ship and it only makes sense to help clean up. You never know when you’ll be back on the ship for more research and you sure want to be welcomed back!

Personal Log:
My mind is racing like a runaway train, thinking of ways to integrate what I’ve seen and learned on this cruise into my curriculum when I get back to Delaware. I cannot wait to sit down with my co-teachers, Dara Laws and Kenny Cummings, and brainstorm ways to make the science standards I am required to cover more meaningful and engaging to our students. We teach in a project-based, technology-rich environment and the possibilities to “amp up” the lessons and make them more rigorous, as well as captivating, are enormous. In addition to a fresh insight into science process, environments, populations, communities, and the overarching ecosystem, I now have real people I can contact to act as experts and representatives of their fields of study. I cannot thank NOAA, the Teacher at Sea program, Dr. Donald Kobayashi, Chief Scientist, or the Officers and Crew of the Oscar Elton Sette enough. Their openness and willingness to host another Teacher at Sea will make a difference to countless students in the years to come.

Not only did I make new contacts, I made new friends. I’m looking forward to making Clementine’s Chicken Curry for my family and friends and staying in touch with my new friends. I only wish every teacher I know could take advantage of such an amazing opportunity.

Rita Salisbury: More on the Mission, April 23, 2013

CDTs record conductivity, depth,  and temperature
CDTs record conductivity, depth, and temperature

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date:
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Science and Technology Log

CDT being lowered over the starboard side
CDT being lowered over the starboard side

A few days ago we dropped the CDT, an apparatus that collects data on the conductivity, the depth, and the temperature of the sea water in which the acoustic survey is taking place. All of these three things impact how quickly sound travels underwater. The scientists collect the information and then use it to figure out an accurate rate of speed for the sound waves. Once they have that information, they can determine how far a target is from the ship.I was able to ride along in a small boat to Maui to pick up parts for the AUV. While in the Maui harbor, I had the opportunity to visit the Huki Pono, a small boat working on this survey that is using BotCams to survey the fish population. The palu, or bait, that I help make every day is frozen and then transferred to the fishing boats. It is frozen in a shape that fits into a cage on the BotCam located near the camera. As the bait breaks up, fish are attracted to it and come close enough to the BotCam to be visually recorded. There is a lot of video to go through so Dr. Kobayashi says they won’t have the data from the BotCams for a while.  But the other three fishing boats assigned to this project turn their survey information in every evening and I get to add it to a spreadsheet to help keep track of what section the boats were in and what they found while they were there.

BotCam on the deck of the Huki Pono
BotCam on the deck of the Huki Pono

Chris Demarke, Jamie Barlow, and Bo Alexander retrieving a BotCam aboard the Huki Pono with Maui in the background
Work continues with the ROV and AUV. The scientists are always working on them, trying to make them run as smoothly as possible. We worked on calibrating the acoustics again this morning for the same reason. The better the information you have when you start a project, the better chance you have of having a successful outcome.

As I mentioned before though, not everything we are doing is high tech. We fish off the side of the ship in the evenings, dropping our lines all the way to the bottom so they are on the sea floor. The scientists running the acoustics tell us if they see fish and then we do our best to catch a representative sample.  Here are two of the fish I caught off the bottom: an opakapaka and a taape. The observers that ride in the small boats every day spend the night on the Sette. That way, they can turn their logs in and I can record the data. As a bonus, a few of them are expert fishermen and are a huge help to us as we fish from the ship.

Opakapaka and ta'ape
Opakapaka and ta’ape

Personal Log
I’m really enjoying my time on the Sette. In addition to learning new things that I can apply in my classroom, I’m making new friends. Everyone is exceptionally friendly and they go out of their way to explain things to me. Most of them call me “Teach” or “Taz” and almost all of them have sailed with a Teacher at Sea before.

Did You Know?
You can tell the age of a fish by their otoliths? The picture has the otoliths from an opakapaka, an ehu, and a hogo. Otoliths are a fish’s “ear bones” and they have growth lines in them much like a tree has growth rings.

Otoliths
Otoliths

Additional Section

Why are these bottom-dwelling fish red?

Red fish?
Red fish?

Becky Moylan: Beginning a New Adventure, July 1, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Becky Moylan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 1 — 14, 2011

Mission: IEA (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment)
Geographical Area: Kona Region of Hawaii
Captain: Kurt Dreflak
Science Director: Samuel G. Pooleye, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist: Evan A. Howell
Date: July 1, 2011

Loving the ocean by paddling
Loving the ocean by paddling

Personal Log
My name is Becky Moylan and I am a teacher at Central Middle School in Honolulu, HI, where I teach 8th grade Earth Science.  NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) , through its Teacher at Sea Program, is allowing me to join them on their research ship, the Oscar Elton Sette, to see exactly what they are doing and how they are doing it and to participate in the science being conducted.  We will be leaving on July 1, 2011 to study an area of the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. I’m excited to be a part of this endeavor and will be returning home to Honolulu with important knowledge to pass on to my students.

jellyfish in ocean
Jellyfish

The oceans run our world.  A lot of people don’t realize just how important oceans are to our survival. The oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. They contain 99% of the living space on earth! Without this space for organisms to survive, there would be at least five fewer phyla of animals on Earth.

Human impacts on the ocean can upset Earth’s biodiversity, which in turn upsets our survival.  More than 90% of the trade between countries is carried out by ships and about half the communications between nations use underwater cables.  The oceans also interact and affect our weather and atmosphere.  Without the ocean currents, Earth’s processes would come to a standstill and die.

Three Penguins Standing
Three Penguins Standing

Oceans are the most unexplored area of Earth with endless possibilities. Less than 10% of this space has been explored.  It is said that the oceans contain nearly 20 million tons of gold.  Unexplored plant and animal life could possibly contribute to our health and our way of life.  As we know, this precious part of our environment is being polluted, and 80% of ocean pollution is coming from land-based activities.

Ocean research is uncovering knowledge about the interior of our planet and how it was formed, discovering how we are harming it, and what needs to be done to save it.

Donna Knutson, September 29, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 29, 2010

The last night on the Sette.

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sightings will also be documented.

Jay the second steward during a drill.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 19○ 53.8’ N
Longitude: 156○ 20.8’ W  
Clouds:  2/8 Cu, VOG (volcanic ash fog)
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  2 ft.
Water Temperature:  26.3○ C
Air Temperature:  26.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1015.5 mb
The first leg of the Sette’s HICEAS cruise is almost over.  By tomorrow noon we will come into port at Pearl Harbor.  The mission has been highly successful!  The scientists and birders have had an action filled thirty days.
The HICEAS cruise birders, Dawn Breese and Scott Mills have documented thirty-nine species of seabirds.
 In the “tubenosed” or Procellariformes order, there are the Petrels and Shearwaters.  The Petrels include the Kermadec, Herald, Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, White-necked, Back-winged, Bonin, Wilson’s Storm, Band-rumped Storm, Cook’s, and Bulwer’s.  The Shearwaters include the Christmas, Wedge-tailed, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, and Newell’s.

Clementine, the chief steward, in the galley. Her and Jay made a banquet for every meal! I surprised her!

From the order Pelicaniformes the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird have been recognized and also the Brown, Red-Footed Booby, Masked Booby, and Great Frigatebirds.

Harry, the chief engineer, during a drill.

The shore birds seen so far are the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Wandering Tattler. Terns include the Brown and Black Noddies, the White, Sooty, and Grey-backed Terns; Jaegers include Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed plus the South Polar Skua.
The HICEAS mammal observers, Andrea Bendlin, Abby Sloan, Adam U, Allan Ligon, Ernesto Vazquez and Juan Carlos Salinas, have had ninety-seven sightings!  The whales observed have been the sperm whale, Bryde’s whale, and Cuvier’s and Blainville’s beaked whales.

The CO,commanding officer, Anita Lopez.

The dolphins that were documented were the bottlenose dolphin, striped dolphin, Pantropical spotted dolphin, spinner dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, killer whale, false killer whale, pygmy killer whale, and pilot whale.
The scientists were able to obtain nearly 50 biopsy samples from live cetaceans, 1 necropsied Kogia, 3 tracking tags, and hundreds of pictures!
Personal Log:
If someone asked me what qualities and or skills are needed to work on a ship, I would use the Sette crew as my model.
You must have dedicated, respected and competent officers.  The engineers need to be resourceful and good problem solvers.  The deck hands must be hard working and possess a good sense of humor.  The doctor should be a model for good physical health and have a inspiring positive attitude.   The stewards need to make creative delicious dishes, and be friendly and caring. The computer technician must be a great troubleshooter in order to work on anything that requires electricity.

Dr. Tran and the XO, executive officer, Stephanie Koes went to Midway with me.

The science crew must be focused, persistent and knowledgeable.  I have observed that scientists, regardless of their role, whether they are mammal observers, accousticians, oceanographers or chief scientists, need to collect data, organize the information into the correct format, and then report it.  All variables need to be accounted for.
 I am very impressed with the kind and helpful crew!  They truly made me feel at home.  That is exactly how it feels like on the Sette – like a home.  They have welcomed me with open arms.

Kinji, the boatswain, cut up the yellow fin tuna into shashimi.

I have learned much, much more than anticipated on this cruise.  I was included in activities in all divisions. I was encouraged to help out the scientists by being an independent mammal observer, run security on the CTD, and help package and label biopsy samples.
In the kitchen I learned how to sanitize the dishes and where to put them away, plus I got some helpful cooking hints to take back home and a lot of good conversation.
I helped the deck crew when working with the CTD and learned how to tie a bowline knot.
I went up to the bridge and helped look –out during an emergency situation, was invited to the officer’s book review, and drove the ship.  Wow! Do I have respect for people who can do that accurately!
 I received a thorough and informative engineering tour, and I am still impressed by all the systems that need to work together to keep the ship (which is like a mini city) afloat.

The “girls” of the science crew displaying their cups before sending them down 3000 ft. with the CTD. They came back up less than half the original size.

I wanted to be involved where ever I went. Learning by observing is great, but I wanted to be an active member of the crew and learn through experience.  It is impossible to write down everything I learned from this experience, but I want to ensure everyone who was over-run with my many questions, that I appreciate all your time and patience with me.
It feels as though I have a whole different world to show my students!  Our Earth really is an amazing place of adventure!  You never know who you will have a chance to meet or what you can learn from them!
Thank you to everyone who shared their life with me.  It allowed me to have a wonderful “soul filling” experience!

Donna Knutson, September 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 27, 2010

The Elusive Pseudorca

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sightings will also be documented.

This is me “looking” like I am driving the ship.

Science and Technology:

Pseudorca “spy hopping”.

Latitude: 22○ 09.1’ N
Longitude: 160○ 12.3’ W  
Clouds:  1/8 Cu
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  9 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature:  26.6○ C
Air Temperature:  25.2○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1015.9 mb
Compared to its cousin the Killer Whale, little is known about the False Killer Whales.  They do not have many similar traits other than their coloring.  They both have black upper bodies with patches of white below.  On the pseudorca the lighter color is on the chin and tapers along the stomach backward to the tail.

False Killer Whales traveling side by side.

They are a much smaller animal, with a male maximum length of nineteen feet six inches and a weight of around three thousand pounds.  The female is smaller with similar coloring.  They have an erect dorsal fin that may be up to fifteen inches high.
The false killer whales may not sound so impressive but as cited in the Honolulu , September 2010 magazine, the pseudorca are not the typical marine mammals. They are actually a type of dolphin (as is the “true” killer whales), they swim extremely fast and have a unique community/friendship relationships.  Pseudorca may stay with a group for more than twenty years.

This is how biopsy samples are acquired.

To show a sense of community spirit, when a pseudorca catches a fish it may pass it around to all the other members before it comes back to the original thrower, (kind of like “throwing around the horn” in baseball).  They are typically found in groups of ten to twenty members but can be found in broad bands several miles wide.
One population of pseudorca in the Main Hawaiian Islands has been dwindling from several hundred in the late 1980s to about one hundred fifty members today.  These animals live primarily within seventy miles of the islands.
Fishing is one reason for the decline in numbers.  The whales may see a free meal in yellow fin tuna or mahi mahi on a fisher’s line and become hooked and drown.  This has caused an average of eight false killer whales to be drowned or seriously injured in each of the last five years.

Pseudorca between the small boat and Sette.

Pseudorcas have a low reproduction rate.  Their calving interval is very long, up to seven years, so not many whales are being born into the pod to replace those lost accidentally by humans. In July a team of scientists, fishermen and conservationalists turned in a plan on how to reduce the number of false killer whales injured on longlines.  One of the recommendations is to close off an area abut 50-75 miles from the Hawaiian longline fishery.  There is already a non-fishing mandate that protects the National Monument.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will decide if these regulations should be enacted and then determine if the pseudorcas should be protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
Personal Log:

Pseudorcas have a gregarious personality.

One of the prime objectives of the HICEAS cruise is to find, tag, take a biopsy samples of, and pictures  of pseudorcas. Because of the interest in protecting these animals, it is very important to get as much information on these animals as possible.
So now here we are into day 26 of our 29 day cruise, and guess who shows up!  The pseudorcas!  And when they come, get ready!  The animals seen yesterday were traveling by themselves or in groups up to ten, and they were spread out over twelve miles!
Erin had established a protocol for monitoring all the different subgroups which would allow the scientists to get a count on the number of individuals present. Once a scientist spotted a group, they had to follow that group until it passed the ship.  That was very challenging especially for the groups that were a long distance from the ship and took several minutes to pass.
Then you have the group that wants to merge with that group or one leaves this group and wants to go with that other group.  It is not like they have brightly colored clothing to tell them apart!  It was quite an exercise in patience and determination.

Pseudorcas feed mainly on fish and squid.

I did not have a group, but I did have white board markers, which I acquired from running down to the exercise room to snatch them from the maker board below deck.  Erin had mentioned someone should be a recorder of groups.  I definitely know my way around a marker board, so I started writing the names of the observers, their group’s location and assigned them a letter.  At one time we had five different groups being monitored.  By the end we had groups A through S!

The scientists could not look away from their group for the entire time it was being counted until it left the area.  Wow, they did a great job!  As soon as their group left they picked up on another.  Some scientists where watching two groups at the same time if they were close to each other.  It took a lot of concentration.
Erin copied the data from the board to make sure all was accounted for and then the board was erased to start all over again.  We did this for over two hours!  The animals were spread over twelve miles!  Now that may sound like a lot of pseudorcas, but there typically were not that many animals in a subgroup.  They just needed to be monitored for a long time until all data was recorded properly.
When the last pseudorca was past the ship, Erin sent out the small boat.  Allan was there to shoot the satellite tag into a fin for tracking the whale.  Ernesto was in charge of getting biopsy samples and Corey was in the boat to get pictures with the laser camera.  Of course the small boat driver, Mills was there along with Ray to help with lines and such.

A pod of four pseudorca.

They looked like they had a fun time!  The whales, who are very curious in nature, would pop up beside the small boat and often swim in small groups beside them.  I read that these animals have been seen to act like the bottlenose and spinner dolphins and ride the bow wakes.  They never did that on our ship, but were never far away.
The small boat was out for about two and a half hours.  They did an amazing job of getting three animals tagged with tracking devices, eight biopsy samples and many great pictures.   They were a lot of fun to watch!  Their community structure in amazing.   I can see why they are not “your typical dolphin”!

Donna Knutson, September 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: e Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 25, 2010

Oceanography

Me with the CTD.

Mission and Geographical Area: 
The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sightings will also be documented.

Getting the CTD ready for the water.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 24○ 28.8’ N
Longitude: 165○ 50.5’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu,Ac
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
 Wave height:  1-2ft.
Water Temperature:  26.6○ C
Air Temperature:  25.2○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.1 mb

Ray uses the crane to lift the CTD into the water.

Oceans cover 71% of the Earth.  They contain 97% of the water on the planet, and amazingly 95% of the world under the ocean is unexplored!

Oceanography or marine science is a branch of earth science that covers many topics.  The studies can include marine organisms, ecosystems, ocean currents, waves, plate tectonics, and changes in the chemistry or physical properties within the ocean.  Physical properties are properties which can be measured from the water such as temperature, salinity, mixing of waves, tides and acoustics.
There are many reasons to study the ocean, but one reason is to understand global changes.   The atmosphere and oceans are linked through processes of evaporation and precipitation.  Weather worldwide is determined by the oceans physical and chemical properties, and its influence on air currents.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collects data from oceans throughout the world, evaluates it, then distributes weather forecasts to various weather reporting agencies.  NOAA has the largest archives of oceanographic data in the world, and is using the information in long term monitoring of ocean climates and ocean research.

Corey is processing her chlorophyll.

The Oscar Elton Sette is obtaining such data.  The bridge of the Sette is transmitting data (as seen at the top of this blog) such as latitude, longitude, temperatures, pressure etc. to NOAA recording sites in order to plan weather forecasts.   The scientists are also acquiring data, but this data is more specific to the ocean water’s chemistry. They are measuring temperature, conductivity, salinity, and chlorophyll abundance.
Temperature and salinity differences within the ocean lead to increased circulation.  Water has a similar circulation pattern to air.  They are both fluids and behave accordingly.  When heated, fluids will absorb the heat causing the molecules to move faster.  Now that the molecules are colliding more often, they become farther apart.  The spread out molecules, in air or water, do not have the same density as before.  Because they are less dense, they are pushed up and away from the more dense portion of the fluid.

Corey is dropping in the XBT to measure temperature.

Due to the differences in density, either caused by changes in temperature or salinity, a small current will form.  This circulation causes a turn-over effect, and increases the amount of nutrients in the water. These nutrients will feed the phytoplankton (measured as chlorophyll) and microbes.  These “animals” are on the bottom of the food chain, will become food for larger animals and so on.  Changes in density and salinity are only a small but important means to move nutrients within the water column.

Most of the mixing of water is due to large currents.  The Hawaiian Archipelago, because of its location, does not have a lot of mixing water.  It is in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre.  A gyre is a large system of rotating currents.  The North Pacific Gyre is a system of four ocean currents converging in the same area causing a circular motion.  At the “edges” of the gyre, a lot of mixing is taking place due to the motion of the incoming currents, while at the center of the gyre, there is the least amount of movement and therefore the least mixing up of nutrients.
The North Pacific Gyre is located between the equator and 50 latitude.  It makes up the largest ecosystem on Earth measuring twenty million square kilometers.  If the nutrients are more plentiful at the edges of the gyre, then the ecosystem has an uneven distribution of animal life.

These are used for the bucket sample.

Testing for nutrients is part of the research being done on the Sette.  They are trying to match up animal populations in a location to the ocean water’s chemistry.  By understanding the variables that a particular species need in order to have a healthy community, will aid in population studies, and also in the tracking of more animals of that species in order to study them in a different context.

Personal Log:
I have been assisting Corey, the oceanographer on the Sette.  My “job” is not in analyzing her data, but rather to help make sure the main instrument that is used to take data is not at risk of hitting the boat when it is in the water.  It sounds as though I’m in charge of security.  Yeah that’s right I am part of the CDT security team!
The CTD (conductivity, depth, temperature) device consists of twelve bottles attached to a large rack.  The entire mechanism weighs several hundred pounds, and is lowered into the water by a crane.  When in the water, it is important that the device goes all the way down to one thousand meters without being pulled side to side or under the ship where the cable may become wrapped around a propeller.  That would be tragic!  So in the scheme of things, my meager “security” position is very important. The CTD is lowered into the ocean one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset.  (I only do the morning “security”).
Because this is a very sophisticated piece of electronic equipment, there is also a person in charge of maintaining the CTD to make sure the instrument is working correctly.  This position is called a survey tech. Scott is the survey tech who supports Corey.  As the CTD is lowered into the water, Scott checks to make sure everything is working properly, and once it reaches one thousand meters, he starts taking readings.

Scott is the “survey tech” that works of the CTD.

Scott takes a reading every one hundred meters until it reaches the surface once again.  From his work station, the data of conductivity (which is a measurement caused by salinity), depth, temperature, and oxygen is plotted on a graph.  From the data collected, Corey organizes it and reports it along with latitude and longitude.
The bottles on the CTD “fire” or rather trap water at various depths.  When brought back to the surface Corey tests the water for chlorophyll which is her nutrient indicator.  The more nutrients suggest that the water is more productive and can maintain larger animal populations.
Corey has other tests to check chlorophyll and temperature just to make sure the instrumentation on the CTD is working properly.  Three times a day along the route, (the boat stays in one place for the CTD), she does another temperature test down to 760 m, it is called the XBT (expendable bathometric temperature). The XBT is a small black sensor which is weighted and connected by a copper wire to the ships computer back in the lab.  As the XBT is dropped behind the ship it records temperature data all the way down.  The ship’s computer graphs the temperature changes from 0 – 760m for two minutes.

Only two more days left of my “security” position. I enjoyed talking to Ray, and watching the squid that kept us company. Not a bad view to start off your day!

Another back-up test is the bucket test, it will recheck the chlorophyll.  The bucket test is as it says, a narrow bucket lowered over the side.  It too is dropped into the moving water, but is brought to the surface with a water sample.  Corey pours it into a sample bottle which she will test in the lab 24 hours later.  Temperature is also recorded at the same time.
All of this testing and retesting is what is needed to provide reliable data that can be stored and evaluated at a later date.  The data may seem inconsequential at the time, but it is truly the glue that holds the clues to why animals are in some areas and not in others.
Oceanography is a very exciting science because there is so much left to learn. The more information we have, the more clearly we can understand our global environment.

Donna Knutson, September 24, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 24, 2010

I Hear Them!

I am in the stateroom writing.

I Hear Them!
September 24, 2010
Teacher at Sea:  Donna Knutson
Ship Name:  Oscar Elton Sette

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and  sea bird sightings will also be documented.

Erin, Sussanah, and Kim working on the array.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 25○ 13.6’ N
Longitude: 168○ 23.7’ W  
Clouds:  4/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 28.2○ C
Air Temperature:  25.6○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.6 mb
Of the five senses, hearing is the most important sense to cetaceans.  Sea animals depend on hearing to feed and communicate.  In water it is impossible for whales see long distance, their sense of smell is not as developed as in sharks, their sense of taste and touch will not help in traveling through the water seeking food, so therefore the sense of sound has become the most developed.

“Guts” of the array.

Cetaceans whether odontocetes, the “toothed whales” such as the sperm whales and dolphins, or Mysticetes, the baleen whales such as the Bryde’s or humpback whales, have different ways of producing sound.  Because their methods and mouths are different, different kinds of whales produce different kinds sounds with varying frequencies.
Frequency is the number of waves or vibrations that pass a certain point in one second.  People have a hearing range of approximately 150 – 20,000 Hz.  Hertz or Hz is the unit for frequency meaning how many waves are reaching a destination in one second.   People talk within this frequency range and can hear slightly above and below this range.
Cetaceans have a much broader frequency range.  The “toothed whales” produce rapid bursts of high frequency clicks and whistles.  Their hearing range is 250 – 150,000 Hz.  Single clicks are used for echolocation and a collection of clicks for are used for communication.

Erin, Sussanah, Yvonne, Nicky and Kim checking the connections.

The baleen whales have a lower frequency range of about 10 – 31,000 Hz.  They too use sound for echolocation and communication, but the “whale song” often associated with humpback whales is primarily for sexual selection.
When comparing whales to other land animals, they even have a higher frequency range than dogs or bats.  The bat has a hearing range of 10,000 – 100,000 Hz and the dog’s range in 15,000 – 50,000 Hz.  In whales and bats the higher frequencies are used for echolocation.
 Another difference between the land and aquatic animals, is where their sound is transmitted.  Land animals send and receive sound through the air and cetaceans do both through water.  Sound travels almost four times faster through the water. That is the reason whale noises can travel thousands of kilometers.

Listening in.

Whale noise is not the only noise in the ocean. People are making a lot of noise themselves.  With increased noise from ships, sonar, and seismic surveys the ocean is becoming a noisy place. Environmentalists and cetalogists are concerned with the added noise.
Noise may be one of the factors in animal strandings.  The strandings may due to stress from noise, but in some cases cetaceans have had damaged ears.  It is unknown if increased noise levels have caused the ear damage or it is only old age.  This is definitely an area which could use more study.
Personal Log:

A group of sperm whales sound like the patter of rain.

It has been through my observations aboard the Sette, the acousticians have a challenging job! They of course have a love of cetaceans like all marine biologists, and want to locate and study these animals, but they need to work with very sophisticated electronic equipment rather than be out on the flying bridge looking through the “big eyes”. If the equipment is not designed properly, whale and dolphin sounds cannot be detected.
Yvonne, Sussanah and Nicky are the acousticians on the ship.  These young women have had additional adventures over and above others on the cruise, and adventures that they would probably wish they didn’t have to experience.  I am very impressed with their trouble-shooting abilities, their patience and their tenacity!

Each dot is a click, every color is a different animal.

At the beginning of the cruise the acousticians were gifted with a brand new array!  An array is a long clear soft plastic tube containing all the electronic equipment needed to absorb and transmit sound to the sound equipment back in the ships lab.  The array had (notice I said had – past tense) hydrophones and transmitting boards throughout its 50 foot length.  In order for the sound to travel through the water and be received by the array, the entire electronic circuitry inside the array needed to be immersed in a liquid similar to salt water’s density.  If the electronics were exposed to sea water there would be too much corrosion for the system to work properly. So, they chose a colorless oil to fill the array. The array is laid out on the fantail (back deck) bridge and is connected to a spool of power and relay cords (ok, you realize by now I know virtually nothing about electronics) and then the cords are slipped into the lab and connected to the sound equipment.  I know that last part for certain, because I helped Nicky wire tie them together at the beginning of the cruise.

Dawn listening to the sperm whales.

When the array was (yes, still past tense) lowered into the water behind the ship, it was 300 m back and 6 m deep.  It needed to get a long way past the boat, so the boatnoise wasn’t the only thing heard.  Unfortunately the acousticians could not pick up the normal ocean sounds and animal clicks that they have become accostumed to on past cruises.They looked at the inside equipment, took out boards, tested solders, and electrical power strips.  They checked out the transmitters, connections and screws.  (They reminded me of the Grinch not overlooking one last detail!)  Still the blasted thing did not work.  I hate to admit that I shyed away from them for a time, because all the help I could provide would be in giving inspirational clichés, and I know they had enough of those already. Eventually, enough was enough and even though, and yes remarkably so, they were in good spirits, time had come to take the array apart.  Erin was there to assist, and Kim the Sette’s electronic technician was working side by side with Sussanah, Nicky and Yvonne.  They gutted the whole thing, oil and all.  Then they checked the mini-microphones and relay boards.  I was very impressed!

You could hear the sperm whales loud blows.

All was done that could be so it was decided to put it back together, and try it again.  It worked!  I wasn’t surprised but rather amazed!  Unfortunately two of the four hydrophones stopped working.  Each hydrophone picks up different frequencies so if they don’t all work.  The array doesn’t work. Drat! Not to be overcome with minor setbacks.  (Minor to them, I’m thinking definitely Major if I had to work on it!) The acousticians set to work making an entirely new array!  One day I decided to stop down in the lab to check things out and see what new adventures they were presented with.  As Sussanah sat and stripped wires, I asked Yvonne and Sussanah how much electronic background they had to have for this job because I was clearly impressed.  Neither of them has had any classes, only the experience of working on similar equipment in the past.

Sperm whales use echolocation to find food. This is what you see before they make their vertical dive.

None of them had an electronic background, but they decided to make a new array themselves with the left-over parts. They were determined to become an active part of the survey team!   And they did it!  They built their own array!  It was (yes drat, past tense again!) working great until one day it was getting progressively worse. When the girls pulled it in, they noticed it had been bitten!  Some fish came up behind it and bit the newly fabricated array!  What kind of luck was that!   Salt water was leaking in.  “How can you fix that?” I asked Sussanah at dinner.  She said, with her British accent, (which is so much fun to listen to, and one of the reasons I like to ask her questions) the kevalar material inside the device, which is giving the new array strength and structure, is acting like a wick and soaking up the salt water.  So they split the kevalar and it is being held together with a metal s-connector to try and stop the wicking.

Ernesto, Adam and Juan Carlos gave a valiant effort. Unfortunately no biopsy samples were collected.

It will hold for the next six days until we can get back to port.  Wow, for all the adventures/troubles they are picking up some good information!  The array will receive the sounds from the “toothed whales” but to pick-up the lower frequencies from the baleen whales, the acousticians send out a sonobuoy.  A sonobuoy  is an independent device that is dropped over board, and floats on the surface while sending the signals back to the ship. As I am writing this I am told the acousticians are hearing pilot whales!  They can not only hear them, but can also tell where the whales are at!  I need to go check it out!  They are truly an amazing group of young women.  Even though I have known them for only for a short time, I am truly proud.  Their hard work has definitely paid off.  Their determination is to be admired

Donna Knutson, September 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 29, 2010

Visitors of the Monument

Back in the boat trying to get a biopsy from pilotwhales.

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sittings will also be documented.
Science and Technology:
Latitude: 26○ 33.6’ N
Longitude: 177○ 05.5’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu,Ac, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  4-6 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.8○ C
Air Temperature:  26.8○ C
Level Pressure:  1024.0 mb

Female Great Frigatebird is a large bird with a wingspan up to 86 in.
They do not walk or swim and are the most aerial of the seabirds.

The Northwest Hawaiian Islands became a Marine National Monument called Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  Papahanaumoku is a mother figure represented by the earth.  Wakea is a father figure represented by the sky. They are the honored and  highly recognized ancestors of Native Hawaiian people.  Together they resulted in the creation of the entire Hawaiian archipelageo and naming the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after these names to strengthen Hawaii’s cultural foundation.

Layson ducks are only found on Laysan and Midway.
They were near extinction from hunting and invasive species, now they are protected and their numbers have increased to over 500.

Papahanaumokuakea is considered a sacred area. Native Hawaiians believe that life springs from this area and spirits come to rest there after death.  That means they also believe that they are descended from the same gods who birthed the Hawaiian Archipelago and it is therefore their responsibility to become stewards to care for the natural and cultural resources in Papahanaumokuakea.

Short-tailed Shearwaters often fly in flocks. These birds were on their migratory route.

The HICEAS cruise has track lines that cross into the National Monument, so while in the Monument, we must abide by the rules set forth to protect the natural and cultural resources within.

 This area is indeed rich in life as well as tradition.  Over ninety percent of the Monument’s area is deep sea.  Some depths are greater than three thousand feet. Hawaiian monk seals may travel more than one thousand feet down into the ocean to feed on gold and bamboo corals.  Some of the corals are over four thousand years old.  Scientists are just beginning to understand deep sea habitats such as that of sleeper sharks, hagfish and crabs.
Even though there is not much land within the monument, many animals make it their home.  Over fourteen million seabirds of twenty-two different species breed and nest in less than six square miles.  The reason these islands are so populated is because of the island’s isolation and conservation measures.

White tern on Midway. The oldest White terns on the island are 50years old!

The greatest threat of the Monument is climate change.  An increase in sea surface temperature is linked to disease and coral bleaching.   Rising sea levels cause less land for green sea turtles, monk seals and seabirds.
The HICEAS cruise has documented thirty-seven species of seabirds.  Not all of these birds live on the islands, many are migrating.  Within the “tubenosed” , Procellariformes  order, there are the Petrels and Shearwaters.  The Petrels include the Kermadec, Herald, Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, White-necked, Back-winged, Bonin, Wilson’s Storm, Band-rumped Storm, Cook’s, and Bulwer’s.  The Shearwaters include the Christmas, Wedge-tailed, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, and Newell’s.

Bonin petrels are coming back to their burrows on Midway.
The burrows may be 9ft. long and 3 ft. underground.

From the order Pelicaniformes the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird have been recognized and also the Brown, Red-Footed, and Masked Bobby.   Great Frigatebirds, the largest of all within this order, have also been seen soaring high above the ocean.

A third order is the Charadriiformes, the shorebirds, terns and jaegers. The HICEAS track line is bringing us close (within three miles) to the shores of atolls and islands so therefore shore birds are seen as well.  The shore birds seen so far are the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, the Brown and Black Noddies, the White, Sooty, and Grey-backed Terns, the Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed Jaegers, and the South Polar Skua.
The HICEAS cruise will agree with the National Monument in proclaiming this area has an abundance of seabirds!
Personal Log:

The bottom view of a Wedge-tailed Shearwater.
Like most seabirds, they mate for life.

My roommate or “statemate” (on ships there are no bedrooms rather staterooms) is Dawn Breese, she is an avid Birder.  Scott Mills, also a Birder mentioned in Log #2, have been noticing a trend in their daily bird population densities.

As we headed northwest, they noted on September 17, 2010 when the Sette was at 28 24.7’ N and 178○ 21.1’ W, they saw their last Short-tailed Shearwater.  They did not see any Short-tailed Shearwaters after those coordinates and felt that it was odd considering the large amounts they had seen previously.  Near the International Dateline past Kure we headed back southeast once again and the Short-tailed Shearwaters reappeared at 27○ 6.28’ N and 178○ 27.9’W.  They concluded that they had passed twice through the Shearwater’s migratory route and seemed to find its NW edge.  On a single day alone, they estimated that there were over fourty thousand birds in that area!

White-tailed tropicbird likes to plunge dive for fish and squid.

When they mentioned the huge numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters they saw, I decided to do some checking on them. I discovered the Short-tails are about forty centimeters long and have a wing span of 100 centimeters.  It is chocolate brown with a darker brown cap and collar.  It is often observed in large flocks and will dive fifty meters into the ocean for fish and squid.

Juan Carlos brought the Wedge-tail Shearwater down for Dawn to see.

The Short-tails breed on islands off southeastern Australia and migrate north to feed in the Bering Sea.  The Sette crossed their route flying back to the South Pacific!  It is a good thing they are “tubenosed” because they will not land until they have reached their destination.  The “tubenose”, (mentioned blog #2), will help the birds eliminate salt from their bodies.  Some short-tails on the breeding grounds will actually commute to the Antarctic to feed on fish along the ice.

The Wedge-tails tubenose is on the top of the beak.

On September 20, 2010 Juan Carlos knocks on our door after sunset to show Dawn a Wedge-tailed Shearwater, cousin of the Short-tailed Shearwater. The nocturnal animal got distracted by the ships’ light, and ended up on deck.  According to the Hawaii Audubon Society, Wedge-tail Shearwaters on O’ahu are often hit by cars because of the car’s lights at night.  O’ahu and Kaua’I both have rescue shelters for hurt birds from car accidents.

The Wedge-tail posing with Dawn and I.

Juan Carlos rescued the stunned bird, making sure it could not bite him with its sharp beak, and brought it down to show the bird observers.  I took close-ups of the bird because I wanted a picture of its tubenose.  Dawn showed me the unique features of the Wedge-tail.  It smelled fresh like a sea breeze.  We looked for the small ears behind the eyes but it’s feathers were so dense we couldn’t get a good look at it.

The bird had light brown feathers with a white belly, it was very soft and dainty looking.  It didn’t seem to mind people staring at it within a ship, but it probably just seemed content because Dawn knew the correct way to hold a bird.  After the Wedge-tail was checked out, Dawn took it up to the fantail (back) deck and released it.   The bird flew away unhurt into the night.

Donna Knutson, September 16, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 16, 2010

Midway

It is hard to smile wearing a mask!

September 16, 2010 
Teacher at Sea:  Donna Knutson
Ship Name:  Oscar Elton Sette

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sittings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 28○  22.6’ N
Longitude: 177○ 28.5’ W  
Clouds:  6/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  3-4 ft.
Water Temperature:  28.0○ C
Air Temperature:  26.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1020.2 mb
History:

Memorial surrounded by Bonin petrel underground nests.

Midway is the second to the last island in the line of islands/atolls extending northwest of Hawaii.  Midway has a lot of history dating back to 1859 when it was first discovered by Captain N. C. Brooks.  The island, called Sand Island, at that time was nothing but sand and an occasional tuft of grass with birds everywhere.

In 1870 after the Civil War it was felt necessary to have access to Midway for political reasons and a company was hired to cut a path through the coral for steam engine ships to come and refuel.  It became too costly and never was finished.
On 1903 the Pacific Commercial Cable Company set to work to provide communication between Guam, Waikiki, Midway and San Francisco.  At this time President Theodore Roosevelt put Midway under the protection of the Navy because of Japanese poachers.  The workers for the cable company became the first planned settlement on Midway.
 In 1935 Pan American Airlines built a runway and refueling station for their Flying Clipper seaplane operation. They also helped the little community prosper as they transferred goods between Manila and Wake and Guam.

An inside corridor to the Naval facility.
The pictures were still on the wall.

Midway was made famous in 1942 during World War II.  The island had been named Midway as it is “midway” between the continental United States and Japan.  The United States had naval control over the island for approximately thirty years, but it wasn’t until 1938 that the Navy made it into a full naval base.
They hauled in over a hundred tons of soil in order to plant gardens and trees,  to make it appear more like home, and also to build roads and piers.   The navy base at one time housed ten thousand people, and was a very important strategic base.  Hawaii was at risk from an invasion from Japan and Midway was added defensive support.
The Japanese recognized Midway as a threat and attacked it on June 4-6, 1942.  It was a fierce battle with many fatalities.  It was reported that the Japanese lost 2,500 soldiers while the United States lost 320.  The victory of the Battle at Midway was a major turning point in WWII.

The airstrip has not been used since the ’60’s.

After the war ended there was less need for the Midway Naval Base.  Most of the people left Midway 1950, leaving behind buildings with the holdings intact.  In 1988 the military released the island to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Midway became a national park and refuge to protect the shorebirds, seabirds, and threatened and endangered species.
The upkeep of the naval base has fallen on the shoulders of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  They have torn down some of the buildings constructed before 1950 that are not repairable.  The fish and wildlife service is making room for more birds by clearing out some of the ironwood trees which have overgrown the island.  There are sixty-three places on Midway that are considered eligible for National Historic Landmarks.

Dr. Tran and Stephanie riding ahead of me on the old runway.
The trees were filled with common myna birds.

In addition to the historical significance of Midway, many animals find a sanctuary within the atoll.  Nineteen species of birds, approximately two million birds, nest on Midway.  In the water there are about two-hundred fifty spinner dolphins, the threatened green sea turtles, about sixty endangered Hawaiian monk seals, more than two-hundred sixty-five species of fishes, and forty plus species of stony corals that make Midway atoll home.
Resources:
Isles of Refuge, Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, by Mark J. Rauzon, copyright 2001.

A white tern chick.
White terns lay an egg without a nest.
The chick must have strong feet to hold on to it’s
precarious perch.

Personal Log:
Today I am lucky enough to go to Midway!  I have read up on it and expect not only to see a beautiful destination with an abundance of wildlife, I will be seeing first hand a historical site few people have had the pleasure to explore.
My swimming suit is under my clothes so I’m also ready to try out the beaches! Mills and Chris are escorting me, Dr. Tran and the XO, Stephanie, on the small boat to the island. Mills has to weave in and out because of all the coral.  Mills is one of the few who have had the opportunity to see Midway and he is giving us last minute advice.
We are met at a small dock by John, a warden for the U.S. Wildlife Service, he is going to be our tour guide. As I watch the small boat head back to the Sette, I can’t help thinking that it feels like the beginning of one of those “stranded” movies. This is not what I pictured.  There is trash everywhere.  To the right I see the rocky shore littered with garbage. Plastics everywhere, all shapes and sizes right next to the sparkling clean water.  Ugh!  Piles of twisted metal are heaped in piles twenty feet high.  Then there are the piles of uprooted trees and old lumber.  I guess it is organized waiting to be hauled out, but I didn’t see any of that in the literature I read.

I am standing on the deck at”Captain Brooks”.
It was named after the man who claimed the island for the United States.
This was my first view of North Beach!

Unfortunately the garbage people throw out to sea is being collected on the atolls and banks of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  Crates, buckets, balls, anything and everything imaginable that is made from plastic is showing up on these unpopulated, remote islands.  It is the currents that carry the debris to the islands and the corals and beaches trap and collect the material.  Very sad.  People are so uncaring and oblivious to what they do daily to the environment.
John is very friendly and laid back, ok, I don’t feel like the star in one of those silly sci-fi movies I love to watch, any longer.  We three hop on a Kawasaki “mule” and head away from the dock.  Most of the buildings we pass are left-overs from the war, rusty, broken windows and even bullet holes.  John drives up to the Visitor Center/Office.  He gives us a general briefing on how things work there and mentions some of the sites we should see, and off we go again.  Now our mode of transportation is a golf cart.  He shows us where we can go on our own and tells us where not to go – the air strip.  Now I’m thinking “bad movie plot” again.

John described how the cannons were bolted to the center.
At that time there were no trees and the guns were aimed at the Japanese ships in the ocean.

He gives us bikes and we start our own tour.  We need to stay on paths or roads because the land is covered with holes for Bonin petrels.  They are nocturnal birds and burrow underground to nest and lay their eggs.  At one time Midway had a rat problem and they ate the chicks and eggs, so now that they have been eliminated, this is a true bird paradise.  It is fun to ride around and look leisurely at the island.
Doc had been there before so he was in the lead.  As we look around at the wonderful wildlife the ground is also littered with small plastic objects.  I see a toothbrush, a lighter, and bottle tops all over!  Other plastic objects with strange shapes seem to catch my eye. What is going on?
Doc explains to me that the albatross that go to feed in the ocean will see something resembling a fish, swoop down to get it and bring it back to shore for its offspring.  Once regurgitated, the fledgling may also eat it and then die with a stomach full of plastic.  Great!  Where is this plastic coming from?  Why hasn’t it stopped?  I am told later that tons of trash washes up every year.  Ugh!  Back to our tour.

A monk seal basking in the sun at “Rusty Bucket”.

Little white terns are above us following us on our paths. There are so many trees! From once an island with only a few tufts of grass, and now seventy years later, Midway has a forest.  It smells musty, old and slightly sweet, if you didn’t look too close, you would think you had fallen back in time.
We head for the beach!  Nothing eerie about the beach!  Absolutely spectacular! Soft white sand bordered by lush, thick leaved tropical plants.  The water was so clear, not a rock, not a piece of garbage, if it hadn’t been for the four beach chairs you could have imagined discovering an untouched pristine utopia.  I could not help but stand and stare at the soft pale turquoise water.  It felt as good as it looked.  We all loved our limited time playing in the water as though we were kids in the biggest swimming pool imaginable.

One of the machine shops.
All the tools were left behind.

Unfortunately we had to get back to the Visitor Center so we trodded up the incline back to the bikes.  With John on the golf cart, we resumed out guided tour.  One of the first places we go is the “rusty bucket”.  It is a site along the shore where ships and other vehicles have been left.  We see a basking Monk seal.  Monk seals are nearly extinct, they only live on the shores of the Hawaiian Archipelago.
John shows us where the large cannons were bolted to shoot into the bay, a graveyard of the early inhabitants, and in town many old buildings.  Some of the shops have all the tools still in them.  It is as if it is being left just so, waiting for the people to return and continue their projects.
One of the buildings that is still in pretty good shape is the theater.  It has all the old felt covered seats, the wood floors and the dull yellow colored walls you see in old movies. The stage is still intact and you can almost picture the place full of people watching Bob Hope perform.  He stayed at Midway entertaining the troops off and on throughout the war.  John gives us a great tour, but has other jobs to do, so we are alone once again to fend for ourselves.  Where do we go…the beach!

It is called North Beach.  A Coast Guard ship has docked on the other side of the beach around a corner.  I just lay and float trying to appreciate every second I have been given!  A green sea turtle swims up to check out the strange humans and off he goes.  They are threatened and this is a refuge for him.  Mills has lent me his snorkel and fins so off to explore I go.  We are within the atoll and can see waves crash on the corals miles away.  No risk of anything catching you off guard with such great visibility.

The movie theatre still decorated with the original pictures.

It was truly spectacular! The Sette is coming back to the area and the small boat will be coming to get us soon.  We head back to the dock.  On the radio Stephanie hears we have one more hour to be tourists.  John suggests snorkeling by the cargo pier and that sounds wonderful to me!
Stephanie and I jump off the pier to the water fifteen feet below.  The water is thirty feet deep and looks and feels wonderful!  There are fish of all shapes and sizes!  I feel as though I am swimming in a giant aquarium.
 I even saw a sleeping green sea turtle on a broken pier support.  Incredible!  We were weaving in and out of the pier supports looking all the way down thirty feet and seeing everything crystal clear.
All good things come to an end and our little vacation at Midway was over.  Doc, Stephanie and I had a “fabulous” time!  The small boat was back.  It was time to go back home to the Sette.

Midway is definitely a place of contrasting sites and interests.
I leave with mixed emotions, which are the seeds for memories, of a place I will never forget.

Donna Knutson, September 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 12, 2010

Pearl and Hermes

Me on the “Big Eyes”.

 

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabirds sittings will also be documented.

Jay, a steward, checking out the action!

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 27○ 40.6’ N
Longitude: 175○ 48.7’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature:  27.5○ C
Air Temperature:  27.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.2 mb

A busy flying bridge.

Pearl and Hermes is the name of an atoll named after two English whaling ships, the Pearl and Hermes, which ran into the surrounding reef in 1822.  The twenty by twelve mile atoll is under water most of the time.  It has a rich history including shipwrecks, over harvesting of oysters, a military site for war practice, and finally conservation.

Atolls are the remnants of ancient volcanoes.  Over millions of years, volcanic eruptions spill magma onto the sea floor.  The lava eventually becomes higher than sea level creating an island.  With the surface exposed, the now dead volcanoes began to shrink and erode.  Over time the island becomes very flat and barely above the water.  Corals grow in shallow water around the boundaries of the island.  Eventually the island erodes away only leaving the coral reefs around them and a large lagoon in the middle.  Through the actions of wind and waves, sand and coral debris come together to make up small islands called islets in a few places where the original large island used to be.

Ernesto and Allan ready to shoot for biopsy samples.

In 2003 the Pearl and Hermes reef measured 300,000 acres.  This area is home to thirty three species of stony coral.  The islets provide a needed stopping and resting area for seals, turtles and birds.  About 160,000 seabirds of seventeen different species nest at Pearl and Hermes.
The ocean surrounding Pearl and Hermes had never been properly surveyed for cetaceans.  The HICEAS cruise discovered the water is also rich in wildlife, particularly cetaceans.  The beaked whale is one of these cetaceans.  There are twenty different species of beaked whales, but the two found in these waters were the Curvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whales.
One way to tell them all apart from each other is their teeth.  The males all have different sizes, shapes and positions of their teeth in their bottom jaw.  The females and juveniles do not have teeth and need to be identified by other means such as the shape of their beak (rostrum).  Curvier’s Beaked whale has virtually no beak, the melon of the head slopes smoothly onto a short thick beak. It has a sort of “fish face”.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has a moderately long beak.  The melon for the head is small and flat.

Yvonne and Sussanah listening in.

Blainville’s and Curvier’s Beaked Whales seem to have opposite coloring.  The Curvier’s Beaked Whale has a white face and the white coloring continues on to the top of back.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has the dark gray color on the back and the lighter grey on the underside.
Size is another difference between the whales.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale is smaller with adult males measuring up to fourteen feet six inches and the Curvier’s whale at twenty three feet.  All male beaked whales are smaller than the females, but not by much and that is unusual compared to the other species mentioned in previous logs.
Personal Log:

Eddie looking at whales.

The past two days we have been circumnavigating the Pearl and Hermes Atoll.  There are only two other “land masses” before we reach the top of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  This region has more animals than anticipated.  The science crew of the Sette had 16 sittings and 17 biopsy samples to report.  It was a very exciting couple of days.  The little boat was launched both mornings and was traveling around the atoll also, but at a closer distance to the coral on its own mission.

In addition to the sightings, Yvonne Barkley, Sussanah Calderan and Niky where listening attentively to the sounds picked up by the array.  The array has four mini-mircophones housed in a long rubber cable that picks up various sound frequencies.  The acousticians are inside the ship recording and  analyzing the sounds they hear.  Working together really paid off!  A lot of ocean was covered and many animals were discovered.

Beaked Whales

I brought a plastic lawn chair up on the flying bridge because even though I want to write, I don’t want to miss out on any of the action.  I wasn’t the only one who wanted a look at the animals, the second steward Jay came up to also take a look through the “big eyes”.   I can’t imagine a boat that has a friendlier, more supporting crew!

Bottlenose Dolphin

Some of the sightings included Bottlenose Dolphins, the Curvier’s Beaked Whale, the Blainsville’s Beaked Whale and Sperm Whales (mentioned in log #3), Spinner Dolphins, and Rough Toothed Dolphins (mentioned in log#2).
To me the most exciting part of the two day survey was when the Bottlenose Dolphins were swimming in front of the bow.  At one time there were sixteen abreast.  All sizes of dolphins playing and “singing” right in front of us!  Their whistles were much louder than I ever imagined!
The dolphins were jumping over each other and swimming on their sides and on their backs belly up.  It almost seemed to be a contest on silliness.  It makes your heart warm when they look you in the eye and seem to want your attention.  They had my attention the whole time they swam there!  I had to get up on tip toe just to look over the edge as they were so close to the rush of water caused by the ship.  The group was traveling and frolicking effortlessly in front of a ship going ten knots! I stayed on tiptoe until the last dolphin drifted away to join the rest of the pack.
The Bottlenose Dolphin is definitely the friendliest, playful cetacean I have seen for far!

Donna Knutson, September 10, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 29, 2010

Kogia!

September 10, 2010

Me and Kogia!


Mission and Geographical Area: 

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Kogia with sharks.

Latitude: 25○ 35.5’ N
Longitude: 166○ 20.4’ W
Clouds: 3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.5○ C
Air Temperature: 25.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1021.6 mb

There are two types of Kogia. Kogia is a genus name and the two types (species) are the breviceps and the sima. The common name of breviceps is pygmy and the common name for sima is dwarf. These animals are called sperm whales even though they are much smaller because they too have the spermaceti organ located in their heads just like their much larger relative.

One unique feature they do not share with the large sperm whale is a sac in their lower intestine that can hold approximately three gallons of syrupy, re-brown liquid. The dwarf and pygmy sperm whales will expel the liquid when they feel threatened as a defense mechanism. The liquid will cloud the water temporarily allowing time for the whale to escape.

Notice Kogis’s small mouth.

These are not very large whales. The pygmy sperm whale has a maximum length of eleven feet six inches and a maximum weight of nine hundred pounds. The smaller dwarf sperm whale has a maximum of eight feet ten inches and a weight of at least four hundred and sixty pounds.

It is very hard to tell these whales apart, especially in the water. Their dorsal fins are different in that the dwarf has a higher more pointed fin which is set farther back toward the tail than the pygmy which has a more curved dorsal fin in the middle of its body. Their heads have a slightly different shape also. The pygmy sperm whales head is blunt and is more square.

Mills eating in front of the scientists taking measurements.
“If there was ever a “Zissou”esque moment that is it!” from Team Zissou, Life Aquatic

They are both a bluish steel gray color and have a pinkish line where a gill slit would be on a fish. Because of this marking, the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales have often been falsely identified as sharks.
Both species of Kogia can be found at great depths in the tropical and temperate latitudes. They are relatively widespread but they are not abundant. Despite their large range relatively is known about these species. It is hard to find these whales in the wild because they do not “show off”. They do not jump or move in groups together. Even their blow is faint if not invisible.

Left side of Kogia.

Like the large sperm whales the dwarf and the pygmy sperm whales feed mostly on jellyfish, but also on shrimp, crab and fish.
A number of these whales have been stranded and the necropsy showed a gut blockage caused by plastic bags. People usually do not hunt pygmy and dwarf sperm whales for food, but because of their size they are occasionally trapped in fishing nets.
Personal Log:
After lunch on the flying deck Allan Ligon, mammal observer, was viewing through the “big eyes”. He said he saw something green in the water and said it was probably the shadow of an underwater net. As the ship got closer to the object he thought he was seeing a dead shark. A few minutes later he realized it was a dead whale with sharks feeding on it. The green color was caused by the whale’s blood dripping from bite marks.

A close up the head and pectoral fin.

All scientists were on deck to watching viscous sharks. Sure we had all seen similar scenes on television but to see it happen in real life right before your eyes was amazing! There were at least two sharks and they would circle the whale and then attack it. Sometimes a sharks head would come out of the water for a huge powerful bite. Occasionally a shark would push the whale under and swim over it. It definitely reminded me of an animal claiming its kill as the ship approached closer.
The whale was identified as a Kogia because the small mouth narrowed down the possibilities. It was either a breviceps, pygmy sperm whale, or a sima, dwarf sperm whale. Both species of whales are very elusive and are seldom seen on mammal survey cruises. Because there is a lot to learn about these whales, it was decided to bring the whale on board.

Kogia’s teeth in it’s small lower jaw.

Not only was the science crew excited at the extraordinary find, but every member of the ship was in attendance for the whale “capture”. All the officers, the stewards, the engineers, everyone was watching as the deck crew got prepared to lift the whale on the deck.
The boatswain, pronounced bosun (which is a story in itself), had his crew gaff the whale to the side on the ship. (a gaff is a pole with a hook on the end) Once the whale was close enough a rope was tied around its tail and attached to a crane. The Kogia was lifted easily out of the water. By this time the sharks had given up to the much larger ship and were lurking nearby. With all the blood in the water everyone was being extra careful not to fall in!
Once on deck the damage the sharks had inflicted became evident. Large chunks were missing from the whale’s back, head and tail. Everyone was speculating what kind of whale it was, either the dwarf or the pygmy. Nicky, from the acoustics team, approached Erin the chief scientist and asked her if she could perform a necropsy on the animal. Performing necropsies is part of Nicky’s job description at Southwest Fisheries in California and she has worked on dozens of stranded whales, so Erin was happy to have her handle the sampling.

The biginning of the necropsy.

Nicky got together a kit for dissection and also the containers for the samples and off she went. She had help from Aly Fleming, a grad student and visiting scientist, Corey Sheredy an oceanographer, Andrea Bendlin, mammal observer, and myself. We were all decked out in fishing boots and gloves. My chief job was to bag and label samples and to record data about the size and appearance of the whale “parts”, but I ended up using the scalpel and saw as well.
This was a long process and eventually the working scientists had to go back to their jobs, but Nicky, Aly and I kept working until finished. It took over five hours to look at all the major organs and tissues. We took two samples of every organ. One sample will be sent to Hawaii and the other sample to Southwest Fisheries where Nicky works. In the case of the lungs and testes, (yes we discovered it was a male) we had to take a sample from both the left and the right.

Aly and Nicky showing Kogia’s enormous liver.

Nicky did not think the small intestine felt right. It was extremely hard and compact and felt there might be some kind of blockage as the colon was empty. She made sure to get a feces sample for the lab also. Wow what a highlight! Yes, I am being sarcastic. It is a good thing hands are washable. I couldn’t keep gloves on while writing and sealing bags. It sure looks he was a very sick whale in the digestive system!
Nicky showed me some of the parasites she found in the tissue and also in the blubber. That was something I was surprised by but in hind-site all animals have some kind of parasite, even humans. There was foam in the left lung, much more than in the right. This could mean that the real death was drowning. Whether it was from a blockage or a drowning, it seems likely the sharks came across a dead carcass rather than attacked and killed the whale. The actual results will come when the samples are processed in the lab.

Aly holding the extraordinary liver.

The Kogia’s organs are all very similar to ours, comparing mammal to mammal, with a few exceptions. Their stomach has three distinctive sections and the kidney has many bulbous sections forming one large kidney. I did not do any research of kidneys but Aly believes the old shape in the kidney is due to the complex filtration system needed to remove salts from the whale’s body.
I asked the girls about the ears and they were almost impossible to find, but Andrea discovered one on the left side. It was a tiny pin hole behind the eye. Without specifically looking for it, we would not have seen it. We counted the teeth and there were twenty four (bottom only) which is normal.

Feeding the sharks the remains. Nicky, Aly and I eventually needed to use a pulley, it was too heavy.

Many people from all crew came to check on us, some even brought water. It was extremely hot and no breeze was felt the whole time. It sure was fun dissecting again and doing some comparative anatomy! The girls did a great job, at least from my point of view, they were very knowledgeable and taught me a great deal! Everyone seems proud to be on the Sette and be involved in the unusual tasks that this mission has undertaken.
The remainder of the Kogia was returned back to the sharks and the huge clean-up began. That did not even feel like a chore as we were chatting about the findings the whole time.

Cleaning up. Thanks Kogia for helping us learn more about you!

The type of Kogia (species) will not be known for certain until the test results are in, but most scientists feel 60/40 it is a breviceps or the pygmy sperm whale.

Donna Knutson, September 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 9, 2010

Green Sea Turtle Rescue

 

 
Mission and Geographical Area:
The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

The tangled mass including the turtle.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 24○ 45.4′ N
Longitude: 163○ 04.2′ W
Clouds: 6/8 Ci, Cu,
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.2○ C
Air Temperature: 25.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1022.0 mb
Green Sea Turtles are very ancient animals. These reptiles were around when the dinosaurs still walked the Earth. Their top and bottom shell is actually much harder than other turtles. Another difference between the Green Sea Turtle and its “cousins” is that the Green Sea Turtle cannot pull its head into its shell.
 
Even though the streamlined shell is extremely tough, it is very lightweight. They do not have feet, but rather flippers which allow them to be graceful swimmers without much effort. They usually swim one mile per hour but can reach thirty-five miles per hour when need be.
Sea animals all need a system to dispose of the increased salt content in their bodies, and the Green Sea Turtle is no exception. It has a salt gland behind each eye. The turtle will shed extra salty tears when it needs to remove the excess salt. So when the turtles seem to “cry” they are only keeping their bodies chemistry in check.
Four of the seven species of sea turtles live in the water surrounding Hawaii. The four types are the Green Sea Turtle, the Hawksbill, the Leatherback and the Olive Ridley. The most common is the Green Sea Turtle.
Adult Green Sea Turtles are herbivores and eat mainly sea grass. The young turtles are carnivorous and eat mainly jellyfish and other invertebrates. The adults can weigh up to five hundred pounds and are usually found around coral reefs. The young turtles wander the sea until they are old enough to mate.
In the wild Green Sea Turtles grow slowly and can take ten to fifty years to reach their sexual maturity. This is one reason the popuation, once depleted, can take many years to recover. Their life span is unknown.

Abbie and Ray after cutting the turtle loose.
The Sette is in the background.

Adult females and males look similar with one exception. The male’s tail is much longer and thicker than the female’s short stubby tail. All the juveniles look the same, so determining sex by outside appearance is not possible.

Females return to nest on the same beach they left as a small turtle out of their eggl. It is unknown how they find their way back much like other animals that seem to have similar senses.

Hawaii’s Green Sea Turtle migrates as far as eight hundred miles from their feeding sites along the coast. The males and females migrate together, mate and return. The females do not mate every year. Ninety percent of the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles lay their eggs on French Frigate Shoals which is area North of Kauai and in the southern part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is estimated that only one percent of hatchling turtles survive to mating age.

Scientists watching and waiting.

Green Sea Turtles have only two predators, man and sharks. People hunt the turtles for their meat, particularly for soup, their shells for souvenirs, and also for their eggs. Depending on their location, Green Sea Turtles are either threatened or endangered. They are threatened in Hawaii and endangered in Florida.

Thousands of Green Sea Turtles die every year by other sources as well. Thousands die in nets and other discarded gear. Plastics are harmful to turtles because once ingested they may clog their digestive systems. Green Sea Turtles have also been suffering from a disease discovered in 1980 that causes tumors. These tumors although harmless may block the throat and cause starvation or grow inside around internal organs.

Ray returning the Green Sea Turtle into the sea.

Little is known what causes the tumors. It is speculated that they might be associated with changes in the ocean environment by pollution, or change in water temperature or increased ultraviolet rays.
Personal Log:
While on the flying deck Eddie Balistreri, an observer, noticed something floating about 300 m from the ship. Abbie Sloan, mammal observer, and Scott Mills, bird observer, spotted a turtle in the floating debris. Juan Carlos Salinas, mammal observer, called to the bridge and asked the helmsman to turn the ship inorder to check out the turtle. While the ship was turning the scientists lost track of the tangled turtle.

I felt the ship turning and heard mention of a turtle on the ship’s radio and quickly got to the deck. Just as I looked down there it was, they had found it, a turtle struggling to keep its head up in the floating mass. You could tell it was alive because it was moving its neck back and forth and bubbles where seen when the turtle submerged.

By this time all sixteen people of the science crew were watching the trapped turtle. They were concerned with its fate because so many of these animals die in nets. It was decided that this was a worthwhile rescue mission and a small boat was launched. Abbie and Ernesto Vazquez, mammal observer, were assigned for this mission. Ray and Mills, both deck hands that have been on every small boat launch, were ready to help the turtle also. The scientists tell me it is very rare to do such a thing on these mammal cruises, and no one had done anything like it on previous cruises.  In other words, I was receiving a great bonus!  Everyone was eager to help out an animal in need.

The small boat did not have to go far before it came to the turtle. It was trying desperately to break free of the fishing net. There were crabs and barnacles also clinging to the net. It is possible the turtle thought it could get an easy meal and accidently got trapped. The turtle seemed healthy judging by the amount it was struggling when the small boat crew pulled the net into the boat.

Ray and Abbie cut the turtle lose and identified it as a Green Sea Turtle. Ray gently lowered the turtle back into the water. The size wasn’t measured but I was told it was the size of a large pizza.  I asked Juan Carlos to guess how old the turtle was, and he estimated it was less than five years old.

The science crew on the flying deck knew when the task was done and the turtle was free because we saw the “high fives” in the small boat. Then it was our turn to cheer! Saving this threatened animal was very rewarding!  Hopefully the little Green Sea Turtle will go on to help populate its species.

It was another great day at sea.

Donna Knutson, September 2-3, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 2-3, 2010

Seabirds are Amazing

Me on the Sette in front of Kaui.

 

Mission and Geographical Area:

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabird sightings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Thursday September 2, 2010 12:00 pm

Red footed Booby

Latitude: 21○ 47.4 N
Longitude: 160○ 35.7 W
Clouds: 6/8 Cumulus
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 ft
Water Temp: 27○ C or 80○ F
Air Temp: 26.5○ C or 80○ F
Sea Level Pressure: 1019.6 mb

Locating whales and dolphins is a science in itself! It takes great patience and experience to know and be able to recognize the signs of marine life. Birds play an integral part of this “game” of locating marine mammals.

Ed Bali, one of the observers with 31 years of experience tells me to look for the food. Where there is food, there are animals. Today they have not seen much of any life. So I remember what Ed said no food, no birds, no birds, no large animals.

Yesterday was a big bird day. Scott, a Bird Observer, showed me the difference between the types of seabirds we were seeing. Of the 9,000 different species of birds in the world, only 260 are seabirds. Those seabirds are categorized into four “groups” called orders. We saw birds from three of the four orders.

Scott Mills is an avid birder and lover of sea birds.
I have learned a lot from him.

Birds in the order Procellariiformes, commonly called the tubenosed, have a special desalinization system. They have a nasal gland with many blood vessels that filter out the salt from the blood. The reason the salt is in the blood is because they drink salt water while flying long distances over the ocean and also because the food they eat is salty. In most birds of this species the concentrated salt water from the nasal gland drips out of the tube which is located above the nose, and  drips down their beak. The birds that belong to this order are commonly called albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels, storm petrels and terns. We saw many tubenosed birds such as the shearwaters; Newell and Wedgetail, the petrels; Bulwers and storm.
Birds from the Pelecaniformes order are known for their four webbed toes. These birds include the boobies; red-footed the most common, brown and masked. The great frigatebird, also from this order was spotted, it is a very large bird related to the pelican.

Birds from the Charadriiformes order consist of the gulls and terns. They are special unto themselves for example the Sooty Tern can live above the water for up to five years from the time it leaves the nest until it finds a breeding territory. The terns that were spotted were the noddy, brown, black, white (which is also called faerie) and the sooty tern.

Overall seventeen different species of seabirds were identified on September 2, 2010.

Bulwers Petrel

The birds’ activity is a sign to look for larger animals especially where flocks are seen. The two marine mammals that were identified were the steno and the Bryde’s (pronounced brutus) whale.
Steno bredanesis is a species of dolphin.  They are commonly called stenos, meaning “rough toothed” dolphin, and are common in many tropical waters. Almost nothing is known about its reproduction because it is very hard to follow at sea. Stenos have a very smooth beak and head with no melon shape for the forehead. The maximum length is 8’8” (2.65 m) and weight 350 lb. (160 kg). Its life span is 32 years.
Brydes’s (pronounced Brutus) Whale is a baleen whale. It was named after John Bryde a Norwegian whaler in South Africa. Bryde’s Whale is large and sleek, dark grey above and grey white or pinkish below. They have modified teeth which form 250 – 370 baleen plates that are used to filter the water for small animals. The maximum length is 51 ft. (15.6 m) and weight 90,000 lb (40,000 kg). Its dorsal fin is tall and ragged on the trailing edge. No one knows what its life span is.
Personal Log:

My great “statemate” and avid birder, Dawn Breese.

I haven’t been seasick! So far. The waves right now are larger than before, and as I sit I need to keep my stomach tight for balance. If it weren’t for the wonderful food, I could get in better shape in this month at sea.

I did my job this morning at 5:00 am, it was beautiful out with bright stars and a calm sea. During the day I really enjoy sitting out on deck and just watching. I hope to spot an animal. It is very peaceful and the motion is comforting.
I have been practicing with my camera. If I zoom it in 12x and then put it up the “Big Eyes” I can get some great pictures. Hopefully I’ll get some good shots of whales and dolphins. Most of the day was spent doing research on the animals we have seen. It was another great day at sea!

Donna Knutson, September 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 1, 2010

Getting Underway
 
 

Mission and Geographical Area:

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands. To locate these animals the science crew will deploy acoustical equipment engineered to capture whale and dolphin sound and also locate animals visually with binoculars with magnification up to 25x. Another goal of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance. Along with aquatic mammals, aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

This survey’s data is necessary to estimate the abundance and understand the distribution of whales and dolphins in the EEZ. The data will be compiled for the Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Report. The assessment is required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

The old control tower for midway.

Science and Technology:

The Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor

Before the Sette left Pearl Harbor on its mission, it had to stop for fuel, at least 90,000 gallons worth according to the boatswain. While at the fueling station the Lieutenant Collin Little talked to the science crew about protocol on the ship and then Chief Scientist, Erin Oleson, gave essential information about the mission. There are sixteen people on the science crew including the Chief Scientist and myself. We are split into five groups: the Chief Scientist, the Acousticians, the Marine Mammal Observers, the Birders, an oceanographer and the Teacher at Sea.

The day was wrapped-up with a fire drill. Everyone had to report to their muster stations to be counted. Safety is extremely important on this ship as I have ascertained by the frequent encouragement to do tasks/activities correctly with as little risk of an accident as possible.
We are still heading out to sea. Tomorrow, when on course, the data collecting will begin.
Personal Log:
I hadn’t realized the time change would be so drastic. We are now 5 hrs. behind North Dakota time. I don’t think it will take me long to adjust, but I am very tired now.  I am impressed with all the young professional scientists! I am also pleased to see many are women, because sometimes it is hard to get girls motivated to do labs in the science classroom.
I will have a “job” soon. It is not very complicated, but I am needed to make sure the extremely expensive CTD (conductivity, temperature at depth measuring device) is not being pulled in any direction by the waves during readings. I don’t have to hold it.  I informed Ray one of the able-bodied seaman, and he reports the angle the CTD is in to the bridge.
Everyone has been very friendly and kind. If I had to go home today I would be sincere in saying I had a truly great time!

A view from the ship while heading to the Northwest Hawiaan Islands.

Steven King, July 30, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Steven King
R/V Kilo Mauna
June 30, 2010 – August 2, 2010

Mission: Ocean Atmosphere Dynamics
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: July 30,  2010

On the Night Shift

CTD
CTD

For the past two nights I have been on watch from 9 pm to 5 am. I helped out with the implementation of the CTD Rosette which measures conductivity, temperature, oxygen anddepth of the ocean. The Rosette is also used to take water samples at different depths in the ocean. The Rosette descended to 500 meters below the surface of the ocean to take measurements and collect water samples. That is about 1,640 yards, or the same as lining up about 16 football fields end to end. This is a picture of me taking a water sample from the Rosette. One reason why the water samples are taken is that the water can be analyzed on land with tools to give precise measurements. These measurements are then compared to the measurements taken by the electronic equipment that is submerged in the water. Consequently, the two sets of measurements are compared to make sure the electronic equipment is accurately measuring the different elements of the water. Scientists also use the water samples to test for phosphorus as well as examining the samples for organisms living in the water.It is really quite phenomenal how the entire process occurs. On the side of the Rosette is a series of bottles which we set opened to a trigger system. The entire Rosette is attached to a cable on the crane. If you look at the bottom of my blog, you will see the crane and its operator. The netting, which you see behind me, is taken down and set aside. The crane picks up the Rosette, and two people tag it, or help it into the water using guide lines. The purpose of the tagging is to prevent the Rosette from spinning or careening into the side of the boat.

Yesterday, when the Rosette came back up, it was covered in a clear, viscous material. The gel appeared to have small black spheres suspended in it which makes me theorize that it could have been some sort of egg spawn that the Rosette collected when it was in the water. One scientist believed it could be also have been some sort of bacteria.

Last night I also went to one of the upper decks to see what it was like, and was it ever dark out. Dr. Weller explained to me that there are no lights on at that time so that the captain and his crew can see at night. Man-made lights make it hard for the pilot of the ship to navigate at night. This would be similar to keeping the dome light in your car off during nighttime driving so that your night vision is not affected.

So here I am in the picture taking the water sample. We had just brought the Rosette back in from the ocean. This was all done in the darkest of nights. Sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it? Actually, it was kind of exhilarating seeing the waves crashing against the stern of the boat while the Rosette descended into the surf. Of course, there were plenty of people supervising me and making sure I was safe and sound. I was also wearing a life jacketwhich also has a light attached to it in case I should fall overboard. It is important in science and in life to always take the necessary precautions from danger.

Steven King, July 27, 2010

4000 pound bouy
4000 pound bouy

The Kilo Moana left port on July 27, 2010. It is based out of the University of Hawaii. We will be mooring a 4,000 pound buoy which will measure water temperatures, conductivity, and current flow as well as taking other important oceanic measurements. It will take about five hours to moor it properly. Mooring means to anchor it to a particular place or location. We are heading north of Oahu about 110 kilometers, which is about 68 miles. So far, the ship has sailed smoothy. It is a catamaran-style of ship, which keeps it stable in all types of surf conditions.

From speaking to the scientists on the mission, I have learned that is takes months, if not years, to build and implement these enormous buoys. Needless to say, it is much different from setting a “No Swimming” buoy.

This buoy will take measurements which will be used to calibrate models generated by other scientists. Likewise, we will be recovering an old mooring, cleaning it, and returning it to port. The entire mission will last eight days.

Today, Wednesday, we actually deployed the buoy and the instruments that are suspended below it. To help you understand how it is working, imagine that you have a beach ball with a rope attached to it. A series a knots have been tied into the rope. The beach ball is then released into a pool of water and the rope dangles below the part of the beach ball that is floating on the surface of the water. Each knot represents a different scientific instrument; each instrument collects real-time data.

How I helped was that I held the line which helped guide the chains and instruments into the water. I was reponsible for keeping the chains and instruments away from one of the ship’s propellars. It was a bit strenuous and unsettling, for if the instruments and chain drift into the propellar, then the mission is destroyed. I am happy to report that this did not happen.

After the instruments were guided into the water, a series of lines were attached and lowered as well. This process took several hours to complete, and we had to help feed the line out into the ocean. After the line was lowered, a series of glass balls were attached and slowly released following the lines. Once these balls were released, they stayed afloat. However, a 9,300 pound anchor was then attached and released into the ocean, causing the balls and line to descend into the ocean. Finally, the anchor descended about 4,700 meters (1,651 feet) and the buoy was finally moored to the seafloor.

Karen Matsumoto, April 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 27, 2010

Science and Technology Log

In addition to the deployment of the acoustic sonobouys and monitoring of the towed hydrophone array, we also do “XBT” drops three times a day, at sunrise, noon, and sunset. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) has been used by oceanographers for many years to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean. The XBTs deployed by the Sette research team measures temperature to a depth of 1000 meters.

The XBT is a probe which is dropped from a moving ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water. Two thin copper wires transmit the temperature data to the ship where it is recorded for later analysis. The probe is designed to fall at a known rate, so that the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time since it was launched. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water. It is amazing to think that over 1000 meters of thin copper wire is packed into that small tube! When I first launched an XBT, I was expecting to shoot it off like a rifle, but it actually just falls out of the unit by gravity. I was relieved that I didn’t experience “kick-back” from the probe unit when I pulled the lynch pin!

Chief Scientist Marie Hill preparing to launch the XBT unit.

XBT deployed and falling to a depth of 1000 feet.

Marie cutting the copper wire ending the connection to the probe and computer.

Bellow: Temperature and depth information is sent to the computer from the probe attached to the XBT unit by thin copper wires. The wires are cut when the unit reaches a depth of 1,000 meters, and the unit falls to the ocean floor. The researchers on the Sette use XBTs to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean, as seen on the computer screen at bellow.

We are continuing to conduct visual observations on the “Flying Bridge.” I had a chance to take a shift on the “Big Eyes” which are 25 x 150 magnification binoculars. The person at each of the Big Eye stations does a slow 90 degree sweep toward the bow and then back again, searching the ocean from horizon to ship to spot whales. I have a renewed appreciation for the skill it takes to use binoculars, especially one that weighs over 40 pounds! I had to use stacked rubber mats to be able to reach the Big Eyes at its lowest height setting, and even then it was a struggle to keep them steady every time we hit a wave! I think the Big Eyes were designed by the same people that made the huge Norwegian survival suits!

Karen on the “Big Eyes.”

Personal Log

The more I learn about sperm whales, the more I want to see one! I heard sperm whale clicks this morning, which was super exciting. John Henderson, a member of our science team sent me a cool website that shows an MRI of a juvenile sperm whale. I’ve included it below. Sperm whales are still on my wish list for whale sightings on this trip!

QuickTime™ and a decompressorare needed to see this picture.

MRI Image of a juvenile sperm whale. © 1999 Ted W. Cranford.
See website at: http://www.spermwhale.org/SpermWhale/spermwhaleorgV1.html

Question of the Day: How do sperm whales make their vocalizations? Sperm whale clicks are produced when air is passed between chambers in the animals’ nasal passages, making a sound that is reflected off the front of the skull and focused through the oil-filled nose. It has been suggested that powerful echolocation clicks made by sperm whales may stun their prey. Recent studies have shown that these sounds are among the loudest sounds made under water by animals (they can travel up to six miles despite being fairly high frequency).

Sperm whale clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are diving and foraging. These sounds may be echolocation (“sonar”) sounds used to find their prey, calls to coordinate movement between individuals, or both. Clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are in groups, while individual sperm whales are generally silent when alone. Most of the sounds that sperm whales make are clicks ranging from less than 100 Hz to 30 kHz

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: Expendable Bathythermograph or the XBT was developed in the 1960s by former The Sippican Corporation, today Lockheed Martin Sippican. Over 5 million XBT’s have been manufactured since its invention. The XBT is used by the Navy and oceanographic scientists to provide an ocean temperature versus depth profile. Some XBTs can be launched from aircraft or submarines, and have been used for anti-submarine warfare. How many XBTs do you think are on the bottom of the ocean?

Something to Think About:

“Thar she blows!” was the cry of the whaler!

Whale researchers can identify many whales by their “blows,” when the whale comes to the surface to breathe. Observers look for the direction and shape of the blow. For example, sperm whale blows are almost always directed at a low angle to the left, as their single nostril is located on the left side.

Grey whales, on the other hand, have two blowholes on the top of their head, and have very low heart-shaped or V-shaped blows, with the spray falling inwards. What do you think are you seeing when you see whale blows?

Animals Seen Today:

• Flying fish

Did you know?

Cetaceans evolved from land mammals in the even-toed ungulates group. The hippopotamus is most likely their closest living relative!

Picture of the Day

Abandon ship drill on the Sette!

Karen Matsumoto, April 22, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: April 22, 2010

Science and Technology Log

Acoustic monitoring for cetaceans is a major part of this research effort. A hydrophone array is towed 24 hours each day, except when it needs to be pulled up on deck to allow for other operations, or required by weather or other maneuvers. The hydrophone array is hooked up to a ship-powered hydraulic winch system that brings up or lowers the hydrophone into the water. A team of two acoustic scientists listen to the hydrophone array during daylight hours and collect and record data by recording the sounds made by cetaceans, and locating their positions.

Sonobuoys, as described in the previous log entry are also used to collect acoustic data. Sonobuoys transmit data to a VHF radio receiver on the ship. Scientists monitor these buoys for an hour each recording session, and often communicate with the other group monitoring the hydrophone array about what they are hearing or seeing on the computer screen. They often don’t hear or see the same things!

Launching the hydrophone array

Monitoring the array.

A standard set of information is recorded each time a sonobuoy is launched. This includes the date, time (measured in Greenwich Mean Time!), Latitude and Longitude, approximate depth of the ocean where the buoy was launched, as well as specific information on the buoys. This is just like the information you would record in your field journals when conducting your own field investigations.

Setting the buoy instructions.

Launching the buoy into the water.

Success! When the buoy is deployed, the orange flag pops up.

One of my duties as Teacher at Sea is to conduct acoustic monitoring. This means checking the buoy and setting it to the correct settings so information can be received by VHF radio, and data collected by computer on any cetacean vocalizations we may observe. Many of the cetacean calls

can’t be heard, only seen on the computer screen! The computer must be visually monitored, and it takes a keen eye to be able to pick out the vocalizations from other “noise” such as the ship’s engine, sounds of the water hitting the buoy, and even the ship’s radar!

The person monitoring the buoy also wears headphones to hear some of the vocalizations. Clicks and “boings” made by some cetaceans can be heard by humans. Other sounds made by cetaceans, especially the large baleen whales are very low frequency, and can’t be heard by the human ear.

Karen listening in and visually monitoring the Sonobuoy. I can actually hear minke whales “BOINGING”!

Data is collected and recorded on the computer on a program called “Ishmael”.

All observations are also hand written in a “Sonobuoy Log Book” to help analyze the computer data and as back up information.

Personal Log

There is so much to learn, and I am anxious to get up to speed with the research team (which could take many years!). I have always been fascinated by cetaceans, and have had a keen interest in gray whales since whale-watching on the coast of California since I was a child. Grey whales have also been an integral part of the culture of First Peoples living on the Washington Coast, and so I have been interested in learning more about them.

I am an avid birder, and it is always an exciting challenge to go to a new place, learn about other ecosystems and see birds I am not familiar with. I have always loved pouring through and collecting field guides, which are like wish lists of animals I want to see someday. Out here in the western Pacific ocean, I have a whole new array of whales for me to learn about, and learn how to identify by sight and sound! I have been reading my new field guide to whales and dolphins, reviewing PowerPoint presentations about them, and trying to learn all I can, as fast as I can! I have been drawing whales in my journal and taking notes, which helps me to remember their shape, form, and field identification features. At the top of my wish list is to see a sperm whale! I’ll be happy just to hear one, knowing they are here!

Karen sketching whales in her journal to learn their profiles and field marks.

Question of the Day: Did you know that many baleen whale vocalizations are at such a low frequency, that they can’t easily be heard by the human ear? We need computers to help us “visually hear” calls of fin, sei, blue, and right whales.

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: mysticetes = baleen whales. Mysticeti comes from the Greek word for “moustache”.

Something to Think About:

“Call me Ishmael,” is one of the most recognizable opening lines in American literature and comes from the novel, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, published in 1851. The story was based on Herman Melville’s experiences as a whaler. Melville was inspired by stories of a white sperm whale called “Mocha Dick” who allegedly battled whalers by attacking ships off the coast of Chile in the early 1800s! Melville’s story was also an inspiration to the founders of Starbucks and also influenced the maker of the acoustic software we are using to track cetaceans on our research trip! (Can you tell me how?)

Animals Seen Today:

  • Sooty shearwater
  • Wedge-tailed shearwater

Did you know?
The earth has one big ocean with many features. The part of the ocean we are studying is called the
North Pacific Ocean and divided into three very general regions east to west: The western Pacific,
eastern Pacific, and the central Pacific. We are traveling along a transit from Guam, northeast to
Wake Island, then almost due east to O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. Can you trace our route on a map of the
Pacific?

Karen Matsumoto, April 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 16, 2010

Science and Technology Log

The research mission for this cruise is to follow a transit from Guam to O‘ahu, Hawai‘i via Wake Island, and conduct an acoustic (hearing) and visual (seeing) survey of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) along the way. A transit is similar to a transect line you use to monitor our beaches in our nearshore studies! This transit study will be conducted from April 19 to May 4, 2010. This project represents important and groundbreaking research for whale biologists, since very little is known about the distribution and vocal behavior (the sounds made by whales) of baleen whales in this part of the Pacific.

Our research mission has several objectives:

  • Collect data on the presence of whales/dolphins and their abundance (how many)
  • Collect tissue samples from whales/dolphins for genetic studies
  • Collect photo identification on any whales/dolphins observed
  • Collect acoustic (sound) data on whales/dolphins to help in species identification and understanding their vocalizations
  • Collect acoustic data on fisheries to understand the distribution of prey species along the transit line
  • Recover and install underwater acoustic monitoring equipment, called a HARP (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package), near Wake Island that will remain there for a year.

The research team consists of 12 scientists who are trained in visual observations of cetaceans and acoustic monitoring. I am part of the research team, and will fill in for staff conducting the visual observations and routinely conduct the acoustic monitoring.

The visual observation team consists of eight biologists rotating between four stations: Two “big eye” (25 x 150) binocular stations, one on the port (left) side and one on the starboard (right) side; one station forward observing with the naked eye and 7X binoculars; and one station rear-facing looking behind the ship with naked eye and 7X binoculars. Scientists work on 2-hour shifts and rotate among the scientists.

Visual observation station on flying bridge.

Research team member Adam on a “Big Eye”.

The acoustic team monitors whale vocalizations using two different methods. One method uses a hydrophone array towed behind the ship 24 hours a day (mostly to monitor toothed cetaceans, including dolphins). This hydrophone array is similar to the ones installed at Seattle Aquarium, Neah Bay, and other locations to monitor orcas and other whales in Washington State.

The other acoustic monitoring method uses Navy surplus sonobuoys (which were originally developed to detect submarines) that are launched three times a day at 0900, 1300, and 1700. The sonobuoys have a wide range in frequency response. They are able to pick up sounds between 5 Hz (cycles per second) and 20,000 Hz. Although humans have a hearing range of about 20 Hz to 20 kHz (20,000 Hz), our hearing is most sensitive between the frequencies of 1 kHz (1000 Hz) and 10 kHz (10,000 Hz). So, we can hear some of the clicks, whistles, and ‘boings’ of some dolphins and whales (‘boings’ are made by minke whales), but we have to “visually hear” others that are too low for humans to hear. The vocalizations of some baleen whales are not audible to the human ear, but are detected by the sonobuoy and are visible on the computer with the use of special software. We visually monitor from a range of 10 Hz to 240 Hz, to detect the presence of baleen whales, while listening for higher frequency vocalizations. Signals picked up from the sonobuoys are transmitted to a radio receiver on the ship. All data, including measurements of a vocalization frequency range and duration are recorded on a computer program and also logged in a hand-written journal and rerecorded on an Excel spreadsheet. All data collected will be carefully analyzed in a lab at a later date.

So far on the research cruise, there has been very little cetacean activity observed by visual observers or the scientists conducting acoustic monitoring. These waters have not been widely surveyed for cetaceans, so any data will add to the collective knowledge base of this area. As a scientist, it is important to remember that “the absence of data is data” in understanding the presence/absence and abundance of cetacean species in these deep, low productivity ocean waters.

Personal Log

The Oscar Elton Sette received its sailing orders to leave at 1500 on Monday, April 19, 2010. The generator part we were waiting on finally arrived (by way of Japan!) and we set sail promptly at sailing time. I am finally getting used to using the 24-hour clock!

Sailing orders.

Leaving the dock at Guam.

Sette’s colors flying!

We left Guam with fairly calm seas, but the winds picked up and we were soon rockin’ and rollin’! We had our “Welcome Aboard” meeting, where we learned about ship protocols and safety, as well as getting to know some of the ship’s crew. Of course, a large part of sailing preparation is the “safety drill” and I had my first “close encounter” with a survival suit! The Safety officer, Mike promptly provided me with a survival suit that actually fits much better…the first one could have accommodated two of me!

Karen in survival suit made for 2 Karens.

…and out of the survival suit! Whew!

I was ill prepared for what was to come. With high seas, and no “sea legs” I was struck by seasickness, which sent me right to my bunk to sleep—in fact that was about all I could do! We are fortunate to have a wonderful Doc on board, who provided me with the right meds and advice to be able to recover and feel human again! The greatest comfort I’ve gotten in a long time was to know that “the survival rate for seasickness is 100%!”

Doc Tran who took care of all of the seasick scientists!

My bunk, where I spent most of two days recuperating!

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: sonobuoy

Question of the Day: Did you know that sonobuoys were first developed by the U.S. Navy, made to be dropped from aircraft, and designed to locate submarines during WWII?

Something to Think About:

Whales migrate to tropical waters to give birth in winter and spring, and travel to colder, food rich waters for feeding during the summer.

Animals Seen Today:

• Spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata)

Did you know?

…that scientists take tissue biopsy samples from cetaceans by using a crossbow to shoot a special dart with a metal tip that penetrates the skin and blubber then pops out. The dart has a float and string attached to one end so that it can be retrieved easily with the tissue sample (about the size of a pencil eraser) still inside the tip. Whale research scientists have to be good archers! Don’t worry, the animals rarely notice when they are darted!

Scott Sperber, July 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Sperber
Onboard Research Vessel Kilo Moana
July 9-17, 2009 

Mission:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Hawaii Ocean Time series Station; Albert J. Plueddemann, Chief Scientist
Geographical area of cruise: Central Pacific, north of O’ahu
Date: July 16, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 22.64 C
Humidity: 80.6%

Science and Technology Log 

I am up very early today, 0530, the last full day at sea.  I did not make a log entry yesterday it was a very busy day. The day totaled a full 12 hour hard work day for me.  The day started out a about 0545 with the initial recovery of the old buoy.  The acoustic (sound) release mechanism was triggered and the glass balls cam up to the surface with the rope attached.  The glass balls were in a large cluster once onboard and had to be untangled.

Glass balls coming onboard (left) and popped glass ball (right).
Glass balls coming onboard (left) and popped glass ball (right).

Five of the glass balls have imploded at some time and the glass that had remained had turned into a fine white powder.  After the glass balls were brought onboard and untangled and put into their boxes the chore of bringing the 5 miles of line and cable began.  I started out in the box to flake (lay the rope down) the line as it came in.  After quite a while and a lot of rope the capstan (the vertical winch) broke. It was the only break I had since we began. A break when the brake broke. LOL. The line was cut and placed on the main winch to complete the process.  This slowed the whole procedure down because once the rope was on the winch; we had to unwind it all into its storage boxes. This had to be down 2 times and it set the whole recovery procedure behind about 2 hours. If you remember the procedure of deploying the new buoy, one chain link section at a time with the sensors attached, this procedure was now reversed for the recovery.

Scott in the box (left) and Scott on deck (right).
Scott in the box (left) and Scott on deck (right).

When the sensors came up each one was taken into the lab, photographed, videoed and a narrative was taken on to the condition of the sensor including what type of marine (ocean) growth had taken place over the year. I was given the task of taking the sensors into the lab, hanging them for photographic purposes and then bring them back outside.  A dirty job but some one had to do it. This process from start to finish, recovery of the buoy to the end of documenting the condition of the sensors took 10 hours.  After this the real fun started, cleaning the sensors. Now we are talking dirty. We had to clean off all marine growth from the sensors so Jeff could then start recovering data. 

Personal Log 

Well today I was able to put on my new steel toed boots. I should have broken them in a couple of times before this; my feet ached at the end of the day, wore a hard hat all day, a safety vest, got to climb into a box with miles of rope, got to smell like an old aquarium.  All and all a great day. Sure didn’t need to ride the bike, Carly passed on it too.

Jeff and the sensors in the lab (left) and dirty sensor with goose barnacles (right).
Jeff and the sensors in the lab (left) and dirty sensor with goose barnacles (right).

All this said and done I would really like to take the time to thank all the people who made this possible. I have done many things in my professional career to broaden my professional knowledge and this has got to be one of the best experiences of all.  First and utmost I would like to thank the NOAA Organization.  Without their desire to stress the importance of Science education through increasing the knowledge base of the educators of the world this would not have been possible. Thank you to Dr. Al Plueddemann, Chief Scientist, Dr. Roger Lukas and Dr. Fernando Santiago, both of the University of Hawaii. Not only did they share their wealth of knowledge with me but guided me through the practices of this WHOTS project and confirmed in me my beliefs of the importance of long term research in science.  Thank you to the rest of the Science Party. You all put up with me and showed me how to do what you needed.  Thank you to the Captain and the crew of the R/V Kilo Moana.

The R/V Kilo Moana (left) and Dr. Plueddeman, Paul Lethaby, Sean Whelan and Dr. Roger Lukas (right).
The R/V Kilo Moana (left) and Dr. Plueddeman, Paul Lethaby, Sean Whelan and Dr. Roger Lukas (right).

What a great experience. Thank you to my principal, Robert Weinberg, at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies and to my students. Keep it up kids, it is you that make SOCES number one.  I would also like to thank my wife.  Without her encouragement and enthusiasm towards our profession, she is also a teacher, I don’t know if I would have applied.  She is my inspiration.  Thank you one and all for allowing me to participate in this career and life enriching experience.

I see skies of blue….. clouds of white Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world

~ Louis Armstrong

Folks on the ship take in the beautiful Hawaiian sunset…
Folks on the ship take in the beautiful Hawaiian sunset…

Scott Sperber, July 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Sperber
Onboard Research Vessel Kilo Moana
July 9-17, 2009 

Mission:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Hawaii Ocean Time series Station; Albert J. Plueddemann, Chief Scientist
Geographical area of cruise: Central Pacific, north of O’ahu
Date: July 14, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 23.66 C
Humidity: 76.34%

R/V Kilo Moana
R/V Kilo Moana

Science and Technology Log 

Today is another slow scientific day today. So today I am doing some other type of scientific learning, some local marine biology.  Today I am learning about how to fish in the local Hawaiian Islands style.  Breeze Simmons, research associate student level 1, is showing me all of his riggings for various types of fish and fishing conditions.  He is even rigging up something for me so I might have an opportunity to try to catch something later today or tomorrow. I have learned that Mahi has eyes like humans and they can see up to the surface.  They are a very strong food source in the ocean the world record is close 86 pounds and that only took about 18 months of growth. Mahi mahi is also known as the dolphin fish, not to be confused with “Flipper” of dolphin fame, also known as Dorado.  Ahi is tuna, Ono is Wahoo. There are also Marlin and Aku, a member of the mackerel family.

Breeze setting up gear for fishing
Breeze setting up gear for fishing

I am also sharing the Pacific Ocean with Hurricane Carlos. It’s a big ocean out here and I have not felt any effect from it and we don’t plan to.  Carlos is still off the coast of Mexico now. This is so cool to be on board this ship with all these experts and to be adding to my knowledge. The meteorologists on board say that if Carlos comes close to Hawaii its strength will die out (lose its energy). The weather balloon launches are continuing on schedule every 4 hours with Tom and me taking the 0700 and 1100 launches. Tomorrow promises to be a very hectic day aboard ship.  We will be recovering the old buoy.  Everything will begin at a 0600 and continue all day.

Mahi mahi
Mahi mahi

Personal Log 

Since today is such a mellow day I have taken this opportunity to catch up on some reading, sun, listening to music and continue by bike riding.  It has now become a bit of competition between, Carly, one of the very young interns, 25 years young from the University of Hawaii, and me as to who is riding the most miles each day. Today she rode more.

The ship has an onboard DVD system where movies and such are piped into each berth (room) along with scientific information.  I was in my berth and I put on one of the channels and what did I see that someone had put on in the main lounge? It was an episode of National Geographic and who was on the episode but my good friends from UCLAs’ Marine Biology Department, Dr. Bill Hamner and his wife Peggy. Small world, Peggy wrote one of my letters of recommendation for this expedition. They are part of the reason I am so involved in Ocean Sciences.

Today’s Task 

Look up and find a picture of all the fish that were mentioned above. 

Me and Carly
Me and Carly

Scott Sperber, July 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Sperber
Onboard Research Vessel Kilo Moana
July 9-17, 2009 

Mission:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Hawaii Ocean Time series Station; Albert J. Plueddemann, Chief Scientist
Geographical area of cruise: Central Pacific, north of O’ahu
Date: July 13, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 24.13 C
Humidity: 72%

Kuhio setting up for fishing
Kuhio setting up for fishing

Science and Technology Log 

The ship moved to the location of the old buoy last night. Visually, what a difference between the two. This one is certainly not the bright yellow color of the new one launched just 3 days ago. Yesterday I mentioned that the two thermometers on the new buoy were not reading identical temperatures and that they were about 0.4 degrees difference.  After asking a few questions I came to be informed that the importance of this particular series of expeditions, WHOTS, is that it is the accuracy of this longevity study that gives it its validity.  NOAA’s value of this study is that the study is an ongoing study not one that collects data brings it back to a lab and analyzes it and that is the end of it.

Science is not a one shot deal.  This is something I have tried to stress with my students over the years.  Good science, good data, is done with multiple sampling, either longevity study or many samples over a shorter period of time.  Any data can happen once but for it to be valid it needs to be substantiated.  For a number of years now the WHOTS study has not only brought back this type of data but has been able to note the small changes in this particular environment.  It has shown how these micro changes, shown over time, have an overall affect on a macro scale. This is the credence of this study is.  The fact that small changes do over a long period of time do show an effect.  The simple fact that the ship stayed on station for 3 days to calibrate the measurements with the new buoy, and then moved to the location of the old buoy shows the effort to make sure that even the most infinitesimal piece of data is made constant and notable.

Fresh Mahi mahi
Fresh Mahi mahi

Today, at this second location, there is being made shallow casts (samplings) with the SEABIRD at depths up to 200m every 4 hours.  These depths are the same depths as those of the instruments on the buoys.  Sometimes during the course of a years study the sensors will have a tendency to drift (change) or jump in their data.  These casts, engineering calibration casts, close to the buoys standardize the CTDs again reading temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and then calculating density. These calibrations of any drifts serve as a comparison over the course of the year and are used to recalibrate the data.  With the recovery of the old buoy, one year worth of data will be downloaded and the similarities of all data with past weather conditions will be analyzed.  Again the sensors that are on the buoy are; MICROCATS, acoustic Doppler current meters and vector measuring current meters.

Personal Log 

Kuhio gave a shot at fishing this morning. Because the old buoy has been in the water for a year it has become a floating reef. So far Kuhio has hooked into and rough aboard 4 Mahi mahi. YUM, fresh fish tonight. I have been told that all over the old buoy and its sensors will be organisms of all types.  Jeff has asked be if I would help scrap off the old sensors.  OH BOY. Dirty smelly job I am sure. 

Scott Sperber, July 11-12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Sperber
Onboard Research Vessel Kilo Moana
July 9-17, 2009 

Mission:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Hawaii Ocean Time series Station; Albert J. Plueddemann, Chief Scientist
Geographical area of cruise: Central Pacific, north of O’ahu
Date: July 11-12, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 24.2 C

Bringing in the SEABIRD CTD
Bringing in the SEABIRD CTD

Science and Technology Log 

Compared to yesterday today is a very slow scientific day.  After releasing the WHOTS buoy, things really calmed down.  Let me take this opportunity to tell you a bit about some of the instrumentation on the buoy itself.  The overall goal of the project is to collect data about the ocean and atmosphere over a long period of time.  These data will serve to help answer questions about such things as global warming and its impact in the tropics. On the buoy itself, pictured in a previous log, there are instruments that measure temperature, humidity, solar radiation, wind direction and speed. A GPS unit keeps track of the buoy’s location at all times. On the buoy there is also an antenna which transmits data to satellites. Each of the two buoys [explain why there are two in the ocean for this 4-day comparison period] in the water has enough slack in the lines to allow for an approximate 2-mile radius circle.

Profile of CTD on shallow casts
Profile of CTD on shallow casts

The weather balloon launching continues every four hours with teams of two or three taking each launch in shifts. Some CTD casts have been done with the small package SEABIRD CTD.  This is set over the side, lowered down by crane and yo-yoed up and down for about four hours.  During this time, data are sent directly to an onboard computer and collected by the scientists. These data include temperature and salinity. This is important information to assess changes going on in the crucial air/sea interface.

These particular locations, ones where temperature and salinity difference vary worldwide, the thermocline and halocline are dependent on variables such a currents and air temperature.  On the final assent collection bottles are closed to collect water samples for further analysis. With all of this sophisticated instrumentation onboard surface water temperature samples are still taken with the old fashioned method of lowering thermometers into the water several times to take an average reading. Some things never change. The information collected by both the oceanographic crew as well as the meteorological crew aboard is truly showing the links, the association between the interaction of the air and sky, in the crucial air/sea interface.

I found out today that the temperatures on the two thermometers on the WHOTS-6 buoy are not matching. They are off by about 0.4 degrees C; that is the level of precision necessary for this research.  The scientists are looking into which one is closest to the temperatures read on the ship before we move off to the old buoy’s location tomorrow. Apparently, this is not something that can be reconfigured so the scientists need to know which thermometer they can rely on for information. There are two of just about every instrument on the WHOTS buoys. This serves as a backup and a comparison for the same location and enables the greatest accuracy in the data.

Profile of weather balloon sonde
Profile of weather balloon sonde

Personal Log 

I’d like to share a bit more about my onboard life. I have gotten acclimated finding my way around the ship (sort of). Well, at least I don’t get lost going to the mess hall anymore.  I am in a berth on an upper bunk with Jeffrey Snyder, one of the primary researchers from the University of Hawaii. The berth is quite comfortable as berths can go since it has been years since I was in a bunk bed. Various alarm clocks go off at anytime at night so the crew can go on their watch.  There is even a ghost alarm that goes off at 01:15 that Jeff and I cannot locate.  Food is not at a shortage. It seems that every time you turn around it is time to eat, and what great food it is too.  There is fresh salad lunch and dinner, fresh fruit, at least 3 entries to choose from each mea and desserts. LA Fitness here I come. I received what I consider a gift today from Fernando Santiago, one of the principle scientists, a DVD of the procedures that are used on the Hawaii Ocean Time-series Project.

July 12, 2009 

Had some down time today after setting off another weather balloon and a great fruit and yogurt breakfast. Took a 7 mile bike ride. You may ask where in the middle of the ocean you can take a 7 mile bike ride.  They have a nice little fitness room on board.

Words of the day: Mahimahi, calibration, dissolved oxygen, interface, thermocline, conductivity, temperature, depth.

Scott Sperber, July 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Sperber
Onboard Research Vessel Kilo Moana
July 9-17, 2009 

Mission:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Hawaii Ocean Time series Station; Albert J. Plueddemann, Chief Scientist
Geographical area of cruise: Central Pacific, north of O’ahu
Date: July 10, 2009

The crew readying the glass balls for deployment
The crew readying the glass balls for deployment

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature:  23.83 C

Science and Technology Log 

This morning will be when the WHOTS-6 buoy will be deployed. Via the A-frame on the aft deck, the buoy will be hoisted and placed into the water. This process is done after 40m of chain and MicroCats are lowered into the water. These serve as a keel for the buoy prior to attaching the balance of the chain instruments and then thousands of feet of line which is belayed out by tension and hand over hand from many volunteers, the 80 glass balls that provide for floatation and then the massive anchor weights (air weight of 9300 lbs) to hold the whole thing down to a final depth of 4720m. Each individual section of chain with instrumentation has to me attached prior to releasing the buoy. Note the instrumentation on the top along with the large flat white “tail” to keep the buoy set with the wind.

The WHOTS-6 Buoy. Note the instrumentation on top and the wide white fin.
The WHOTS-6 Buoy. Note the instrumentation on top and the wide white fin.

Along with the oceanographic research and data collecting going on there is also atmospheric data being collected with the use of weather balloons. These helium filled balloons are to be launched every 4 hours for the entire expedition. The balloons are filled to 500 psi (pounds per square inch) of helium, the tanks of which are on board, attached to a calibrated sonde (sensing) device which reads data, temperature, air pressure and humidity and transmits the data back to the ship.  Under the careful and watchful eye of Ludovic Bariteau of CIRES and the University of Colorado, at 0730, I was able to successfully set up and launch the fourth balloon of the study. Thomas Dunn and Julie Kelly, also from the University of Hawaii research team aboard, were there to assist.

Preparing the weather balloon for launch
Preparing the weather balloon for launch

Personal Log 

I got to launch a weather balloon.  The thrills and new experiences never stop. I am very anxious to take my experiences and new knowledge back to school. I also had to practice putting on a survival suit during our safety drill. Will the fun never end?

Words of the Day: acoustics; Doppler shift; calibrate, psi

Here I am launching a weather balloon! Donning my survival suit
Here I am launching a weather balloon! Donning my survival suit

Donning my survival suit
Donning my survival suit

Scott Sperber, July 9, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Sperber
Onboard Research Vessel Kilo Moana
July 9-17, 2009 

Mission:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Hawaii Ocean Time series Station; Albert J. Plueddemann, Chief Scientist
Geographical area of cruise: Central Pacific, north of O’ahu
Date: July 9, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 23.9 c

The WHOTS-6 buoy getting prepared to be placed on the ship
The WHOTS-6 buoy getting prepared to be placed on the ship

Science and Technology Log 

As a first log I would like to explain a little about this project. Much of what you will be reading will be directly from correspondence I have received from NOAA themselves prior to the expedition.  The following is the cruise plan that the chief scientist, Al Plueddemann sent me before the cruise:

Overview 

The R/V Kilo Moana (KM) will participate in mooring operations associated with the WHOI Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Station (WHOTS) project. The primary intent of the WHOTS mooring is to provide long-term, high-quality air-sea changes and upper ocean temperature, salinity and velocity at a specific location in the central Pacific Ocean.

Receiving tower for the weather balloon information
Receiving tower for the weather balloon information

The first WHOTS mooring was deployed in August 2004, and the site has been continuously occupied since that time by means of annual mooring service cruises. The KM will depart from the UH Marine Center at Sand Island on 9 July 2009 to the WHOTS site. The cruise will include participants from WHOI, U. Hawaii, NOAA ESRL, U. Colorado CIRES, and possibly a NOAA Teacher at Sea (ME). The WHOTS moorings are a design utilizing wire rope, chain, nylon and polypropylene line. The surface buoy is a 2.7-meter diameter foam buoy with a watertight electronics well and aluminum instrument tower. Instruments are attached to the mooring line in the upper 150 m. An acoustic (sound) release is placed above the 9300 lb anchor, and 80 glass balls above the release provide backup flotation. 

These receive information from the sun. The temperature skimmers.
These receive information from the sun. The temperature skimmers.

Two meteorological systems will be deployed aboard the KM in addition to the ship’s standard sensors. The first system is one developed at WHOI to meet the need for more accurate meteorological observations from volunteer observing ships. The configuration on Kilo Moana will include five main components: a splash-proof housing with sensors for AT/RH (Atmospheric temperature and relative humidity), SWR (short wave radiation) and LWR (long wave radiation), a second housing with a BP (barometric[atmospheric] pressure sensor and central data logger, a rain gauge, a wind sensor, and a GPS) global positioning system) logger. Data are made available in real-time using a computer kept temporarily in the ship’s chart room.

Cruise Plan 

Staging/Destaging: Preparation of the WHOTS-6 buoy and mooring equipment will take place at the UH Marine Center during 1-6 July. Loading and staging of scientific equipment on the KM will be done on 7 July (or earlier as the situation permits). As part of the preparation, the two meteorological systems described above will be mounted on the KM. One will be mounted on the bridge mast. Others will be installed on a 30′ high tower on the port bow, and the instrumentation and computers for theses will be kept on the port (left) side of the ship There will also be an installation along the railing for a boom that will support a sea surface temperature skimmer device and mounted on the port side of the bridge.

Operations: The cruise involves four principal operations, as listed below. These operations are expected to require 9 ship days.

1. Deployment of the WHOTS-6 mooring. The buoy will be deployed through the A-frame, after which the ship will proceed slowly ahead. The remainder of the mooring will be deployed over the stern using the mooring winch, capstan, air tuggers, and crane as necessary.  Acoustic ranging from three stations will allow the mooring anchor position, to be determined by triangulation.

2. Sensor comparison period. During a period of approximately 4 days between release of WHOTS-6 and recovery of WHOTS-5, the KM will establish and hold position, with bow into the wind. During the comparison period satellite transmissions from the buoys will be monitored using equipment supplied by the scientists. A series of shallow (200 m) CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) casts will be done at approximately 4 hr intervals using a CTD and rosette supplied by the science party.

3. Recovery of the WHOTS 5 mooring. The WHOTS-5 mooring is presently on station at another location not far from the new buoy. The WHOTS mooring release will be fired and recovering of the old buoy will begin with the glass balls (lower end) and proceed to about 50 m below the buoy while the ship moves ahead slowly. The work boat will be used tograb the glass balls and pass a leader line to the KM. The work boat will be lowered again and used to connect a line to the buoy and pass the line to the stern of the ship. The buoy will be recovered through the A-frame. Recovery operations will use the A-frame, the mooring winch, capstan, air tuggers, and crane as necessary.

4. Deep CTD casts and CTD Survey. At certain times during operations,several deep (1000 m) CTD casts will be made. The fifth WHOTS WHOI-Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Site (WHOTS) buoy was deployed from the Kilo Moana at 03:24:39 UTC June 5, 2008.

The R/V Kilo Moana will be deploying the WHOTS-6 mooring and will for a number of days be used in the comparison of real time data between the new mooring, the WHOTS-5 mooring and that of the ship.  After which the WHOTS-5 mooring will be recovered via the A-frame on the stern.

Real Time Data 

Hourly averaged meteorological data for the current deployment of the WHOI Hawaii Ocean Time Series Station are received via Service Argos four times daily. Hourly averages are also being transmitted for an engineering study using the Iridium Satellite service. Preliminary data is displayed in unedited form as time series plots, and is available for download as ASCII files.

Personal Log 

Wow. That is a lot of scientific jargon and acronyms which I will try to clear up in the next week. As for my responsibilities they will include but not be limited to:

During this expedition I will try to match the NOAA goals of which are:

Short-term Goals 

I will:

  1. Understand how NOAA oceanic and atmospheric research is linked to National Education Science Standards and Ocean Literacy Principles.
  2.  Understand the education and training paths that lead to NOAA-related careers.

Mid-term Goals 

I will:

  • Use NOAA data and resources in classroom activities. (oh boy)
  • Use NOAA-related career information in classroom activities, when mentoring students and when working with colleagues.

Why am out here in the middle of the ocean?

The vision of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program is to be NOAA’s main provider to teachers of opportunities to participate in real-world scientific research and maritime activities.

Assembling the long line of sensors
Assembling the long line of sensors

Tasks and Responsibilities 

I will have a defined set of tasks and responsibilities before, during, and after the mission. During the mission, I will be under the ultimate command of the ship’s Commanding Officer. AYE, AYE CAPTAIN. However, I will also be considered a member of the science party, And will also be under the direction of the mission’s Chief Scientist and will be expected to take part in the tasks assigned by the Chief Scientist.

MICROCat sensor to be located at 155 meters
MICROCat sensor to be located at 155 meters

Everyone here is very accommodating of the new guy. I am going to quietly sit back and observe for a while, there is so much going on I do not want to get in the way.  From my berth window, I look directly out on the A-frame, great cautious way to observe the deployment without stepping on anyone’s toes. I am watching the crew assemble the line of MICROCat and other monitoring devices. Lengths of chain, shackles and hitches are laid over the deck in what seems like a chaotic mess but I have been assured that it will all flow out nicely when the deployment of the system begins. You can see how the MicroCATs are labeled with their respective depths.. There is also another device, the Seabird, that will be the one that bobs (yo-yo’s) up and down for daily data regarding, temperature, conductivity and depth.

Words of the day: deployment, winch, capstan, crane, acoustic, triangulation, comparison, bow, stern, A-frame 

Taylor Parker, April 27, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Parker
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19-29, 2009 

Mission: Hawaii Bottom fish Survey
Geographical Area: South side of Oahu
Date: April 27, 2009

Weather Data 
Partially cloudy.
Minimal Winds.
Air temp: 75F.

Scientists deploying the CTD
Scientists deploying the CTD

Science and Technology Log 

Similar to the smaller CTD that we dropped from the SAFE boats, there is a much larger one on the Sette that is dropped almost nightly. The large CTD is different in several ways: it drops to a depth of 6800 meters while the smaller one will only go 600 and the larger CTD can measure many more components. It determines conductivity, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and flourescence. Conductivity is the amount of electrical current allowed within the sample, salinity is then measured by the conductivity and temperature, dissolved oxygen is the amount of oxygen found within between the water molecules and fluorescence is, well, exciting. Flourescence is the measurement of chlorophyll at different depths; to do this a little LED light is shone into the water to see the excitability of the algae. Determining the amount of chlorophyll, and subsequently the amount of algae, helps to, among other things, measure the amount of the oceans ability to absorb greenhouse gases.

Prior to the departure of the cruise, the scientists set up sampling sites along transects on a grid system near shore off the Kona coast. They are compiling data over the years to analyze changes in the physical characteristics of the ocean. This part of the research aboard the Sette is really interesting and the impacts of the data are obvious. However, there wasn’t much for me to do with this other than take photos of the Science Techs do their job and ask them questions. That is quite alright though; I lost a couple hooks while bottom-fishing but I don’t think that I want to be responsible for losing that big piece of equipment.

A Sample of the Marine Debris Encountered
A Sample of the Marine Debris Encountered

Earlier in the day, I was participating in the routine I/K trawl and we came across a slick that had perfect conditions for the billfish we were looking for. We dropped the net and slowly came upon the slick. We set everything in the water and even put the safety line across up. Within ten minutes the entire trawl was filled with marine debris, it was filled with trash. Debris accumulation is apparently normal for slicks; along with being an area where small fish can be found, the same ocean currents bring planktonic debris. And, according to the scientists who study billfish, it is good habitat for fish larvae. Not this time. This time the whole net was filled with trash and very little of anything else. We started going through it and found a crab and a shrimp and pounds of plastic. We collected everything and dropped the net in again hoping to keep it down there longer. While the remaining trawls were less trashy, there were still significant amounts of litter strewn about.

Personal Log 

The large CTD required trained professionals so I sat back and watched the two techs maneuver the large instrument. I spoke with them after to understand what they were doing. What I found most interesting was the use of the fluorometer to help measure the ocean’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases. Considering the challenges facing our planet and oceans, this is incredible data that they are collecting and when the results are analyzed, I can’t wait to see what they read.

Sargassum fish
Sargassum fish

Another challenge is one that we faced when trying to run I/K trawls. The amount of litter in the oceans is staggering. I have worked on many beach cleanups and have run tons of classes, educating hundreds of kids about the importance of watershed responsibility. Seeing the garbage floating freely in the water, clogging the runways of slow currents in the oceans is depressing. Talking with the other scientists they suggested I take a look at NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. This is a very useful and informative website describing the many factors of trash in the ocean: awareness and information about hazards, education, removal projects, etc. This is a very pressing problem considering debris, and specifically small plastics that look like food, is found everywhere where the ocean touches shore.

Animals Seen Today 
Like I said, we were picking up mostly trash in our trawls and the CTD doesn’t pick up many animals. One of the small boats did happen to pick up a kind of Frogfish called a Sargassum fish (Histrio histrio). I was reading about them and apparently they have one of the smallest brains in proportion to their body and they are highly cannibalistic. 

Taylor Parker, April 24, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Parker
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19-29, 2009 

Mission: Hawaii Bottom fish Survey
Geographical Area: South side of Oahu
Date: April 24, 2009

Sunset with glassy water
Sunset with glassy water

Weather Data 
2ft rolling swells.
Air temp: 75F.
Slightly cloudy with variable winds 3-5 Knots.

Science and Technology Log 

One of the things that I’ve figured out is that fisheries scientists like nets. Big nets, small nets, blue nets and red nets. While I won’t go any further with the rhyme, the nets do collect some rather Suess-like creatures. Tonight, we worked a big net and found those creatures. The big net is the biggest on the boat and is called a Cobb trawl. The Cobb is deployed at night and is designed to capture pelagic organisms at deeper depths than the I/K or regular dip nets.

Lowering the net into the water
Lowering the net into the water

The target species for this trawl is snappers. It is deployed at night for two reasons: 1) at night there is a better chance the fish won’t be able to avoid the net because they can’t see it and 2) a lot of the fish targeted follow the amount of light that penetrates the surface, they stay at the bottom during the day and swim up at night – this is called vertical migration.  The Cobb is about 30 feet long and has a mouth opening of 7.5 feet that gradually tapers down to a foot long detachable cod-end. It can be dropped to different depths depending on the amount of line let out. There is a 2:1 difference, so if 1,000 feet of net is released then it will drop to 500 feet below the surface. The Sette motors at 3 knots for about 3 hours while the Cobb is busy collecting the ocean denizens. The cod-end is only in the water for two of those hours. The scientists have been either targeting two depths and spending an hour at each or have been staying at one site for two hours.

Bringing in the catch
Bringing in the catch

It takes a crew of at least 4 line-handlers, a crane operator, engineers working on the hydraulics and synchronizing between the officers piloting the boat from the stern and those on the fly-bridge just to keep the large net in the water safely. It is a long and coordinated process to retrieve the necessary sample of a couple pounds.

The catch, ready to be analyzed
The catch, ready to be analyzed

For safety reasons, the scientists are required to stay away from the net until everything is on deck and the winch holding the net is off. But once the Cobb is brought up, it is like horses at a track: there is a rush to see what was caught. And I’ve never seen such large 8-year-olds as the scientists; mesmerized by the hundreds of fish, larvae, jellies and other fascinating creatures the group piles in around the sampling trays and quietly picks through trying to find the rare and unique. The haul is definitely something to get lost within. With so many different fish stacked on top of each other and the seemingly infinite number of marine invertebrates, trying to find a juvenile Snapper or rare Lantern fish with a pair of small forceps is much like those claw-games that keep eating your quarters. Of course, the rare and interesting species are analyzed but the rest of the fish need to be sorted also. While trawling took 3 hours, going through the collection was easily a couple hours.

A hydro-lab full of scientists
A hydro-lab full of scientists

In the end, I was most intrigued by the eel larvae, the Snaggletooth and the flat fish. If you’ve ever had monsters in your dreams these are probably the culprits. The eel larva is flat, nearly transparent and when stretched out is almost a foot long. It has a black spot (maybe two but it is hard to tell) at the front of its body (you can’t tell that either, really) that I am supposing is its eye. Imaging this creature swimming around my feet is already making me shiver. The Snaggletooth is probably the most horrifying. They are only 5 inches or so but if they were the size of, say, my arm, I would never go in the ocean again. The flat fish babies are just gross. While all of these creatures are going make me sleep with the lights on tonight, they are marvelous representatives of the ocean creatures these NOAA scientists are studying.

Personal Log 

The snaggletooth
The snaggletooth

The Cobb is interesting because it starts 7.30pm and is a whole lot of nothing with bookends of activity. There is a lot of action to get it out, you watch the net in the water for 3 hours, a lot more activity to get it in and then for two hours is the fish sorting. I knew this before-hand and that is why it took me a week to stay up for it. But today I took a nap in the afternoon and was determined to wait for the net.

Flat-fish larvae
Flat-fish larvae

I’m very happy I did because I wouldn’t have seen the stars in the cloudless Hawaiian sky on the moonless night, nor would I have been privy to the green bioluminescence off the bow wake. Also, the catch was a catalyst for the scientific banter in the hydro-lab where everything was sorted. Names of fish were flying past me at exceedingly high speeds and were volleyed by the appropriate guttural sound of “ohh” and “awe” from across the lab. It was well worth a late night bed time, even if the Snaggletooth is waiting for me.

Did You Know? 

Scientist Bruce Mundy with eel larva
Scientist Bruce Mundy with eel larva

The net is named after John N. Cobb who lived from 1868- 1930. He was, among other things, Dean of the College of Fisheries at University of Washington in 1919, the only college of fisheries at the time. My roommate on the Sette, scientist Bruce Mundy, told me another interesting thing. Just off of where we stationed for the Cobb trawl is the site where Captain Cook was killed by the local Hawaiian population on Valentine’s Day in 1779. He was the first European to reach Hawaii on his way to discover the Northwest Passage. Everything was good on the first trip. After a year, however, he returned and he didn’t manage the local politics well. Hawaiians stole one of his boats and he was subsequently beaten and stabbed after trying to take the Hawaiian’s King as a hostage for ransom of his boat. Nevertheless, the local peoples honored him as they would have their own royalty, giving his funeral similar rites.  Apparently there is shrine dedicating his place of death in Kealakekua Bay.

A “caught and released” seahorse
A “caught and released” seahorse

Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua Bay

Taylor Parker, April 22, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Parker
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19-29, 2009 

Mission: Hawaii Bottom fish Survey
Geographical Area: South side of Oahu
Date: April 22, 2009 – Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day!
Happy Earth Day!

Weather Data: 
Winds: 1-3 knots variable.
1-2 ft swells.
Water temp: 24 C.
Air temp: 80 F.
Voggy.

Science and Technology Log

This morning I awoke with a cup of tea and this beautiful sunrise coming over the big island. There is something auspicious about a morning like this and our day turned out truly favorable. At 6am we started our safety meeting with the regular GAR survey. The GAR survey is a standard safety check before deploying small boats. It stands for Green, Amber and Red and those are the colors associated with the number that represents the amount of danger with the operation. Apparently we were green because the crew prepared the boats. The larger boat dropped into the water with Chief Scientist Ryan Nichols leading the bottom-fishing. I jumped in the smaller boat with scientist Don Kobayashi to do CTD surveys. CTD’s stand for Conductivity, Temperature and depth. Depth and temperature are pretty self-explanatory but conductivity is the measurement of electrical current that is found in the water. This conductivity is proportional to the amount of salt in the water and it increases with a rise in temperature. Therefore, you can figure out the salinity by analyzing the temperature and conductivity. Don is working on measuring the unique circumstances that occur when two or more ocean currents come together and create calm waters known as slicks.

Me holding the handheld CTD
Me holding the handheld CTD

Lighter plankton collect within the slicks along with debris. It is curious to note whether the calm waters draw the weaker fish or whether they search the slicks out on their own. Not much is known about these converging points of down-welling and Don is trying to find out what makes them special.The weapon of choice for his study is an instrument that is about 5 pounds and about a foot and a half long. For our original drop we set a buoy down in the middle of the slick with a drogue, a sea anchor that works by means of an underwater parachute. We then dropped the CDT 5 times on each side of the buoy at 10 meter intervals, which expanded outside of the slick. This level of specificity allows for accurate readings of what is occurring just below the surface. The way the slicks start to appear and just as quickly disappear or even elongate is mysterious.  The final page of this log has the results from one of the CTD drops with an explanation.

Larvae found while dip-netting
Larvae found while dip-netting

After measuring the physical characteristics of the slicks we started dip-netting them, chasing the plankton and debris. Don sat on the bow and I leaned over the port side cruising along at about 1-2 knots trying to find bubbles, debris or any sign of life like a glimmer from the side of a fish or a Pilot Whale (I’ll get to those soon). We caught a few things; well, actually Don caught almost everything while the baby fish evaded me diligently. We collected our, or rather, Don’s haul and kept in a bucket for safe keeping. We caught a big red light bulb with Goose-neck barnacles on it, but more importantly, fish hiding underneath it. The light bulb brought in most of our haul but we did find some other larvae hanging out under a bunch of bubbles.

The Drogue
The Drogue

After dip-netting for a while we found the other boat and helped them bottomfish. We grabbed one of their reels and spent the remaining two hours of our trip trying to catch fish. Where I wasn’t successful with the larvae, I made up in catching a Yellowbarbel Goatfish (Parupeneus chyrsonemus). Unfortunately for us, yet fortunately for him, this colourful bearded fish was not a target species. We let him go safe and sound with only an odd abduction story to tell his friends.

Personal Log 

Our haul from the slick. The light bulb has life underneath, I swear.
Our haul from the slick. The light bulb has life underneath, I swear.

Today I learned a lot about slicks, conductivity and goatfish. The amount of stuff that congregates in the slicks is fascinating and it was wonderful being on the hunt with my net for hours. Even better though was being out on the crystal clear, calm waters off of Kona. There was hardly a breeze, the water was nice and warm and all I wanted to do was jump in. Right when I was thinking about ditching my boat and going for a swim, a 4-5 foot Oceanic White-Tip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) swam under us. I was told not to pet it. I have never seen a shark with the reputation as ferocious as this one so close. The ends of his dorsal and pectoral fins were shining white in the clear Hawaiian water and he looked formidable yet tranquil.

Goatfish
Goatfish

While we were dropping the CTD, a call came over the radio from the Sette informing us that Pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchos) were in the vicinity. We paid it no mind as a sighting like that would most likely pass without our noticing it. Sure enough, within half an hour a pod of about 8 whales were heading directly for us. The whales were cruising around us showing us their giant domed heads and curved dorsal fins. When they got within about 10 yards of the boat they all disappeared and didn’t reappear until they were well beyond our position. But for a while, we were schooling with Pilot whales.

On our way back to the boat we were flagged down by Ensign Norris, Lieutenant Little and CO Lopez from the Fly Bridge. They needed photos of the Sette with the large NOAA logo while underway. Well, here is one of the shots and if you look closely you can see all three up there.

The Whitetip is in the lower left hand corner with a Pilot Whale in the upper right
The Whitetip is in the lower left hand corner with a Pilot Whale in the upper right

Pilot Whale
Pilot Whale

The Oscar Elton Sette with three officers
The Oscar Elton Sette with three officers

Here are some of the data from the handheld CTD dropped in the slicks. As you can see the area surveyed within the slick has higher temperatures deeper and more heterogeneity. This is opposed to just outside the slick where it is colder with little variation.
Here are some of the data from the handheld CTD dropped in the slicks. As you can see the area surveyed within the slick has higher temperatures deeper and more heterogeneity. This is opposed to just outside the slick where it is colder with little variation.

Taylor Parker, April 21, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Parker
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19-29, 2009 

Mission: Hawaii Bottom fish Survey
Geographical Area: South side of Oahu
Date: April 21, 2009

The crew does an incredible job of lowering these SAFE boats into the water with Kona coast in the background.
The crew does an incredible job of lowering these SAFE boats into the water with Kona coast in the background.

Weather Data 
Winds: 7-16 knots variable.
3-5 ft swells.
Water temp: 24 C.
Air temp: 70 F.

Science and Technology Log 

Oh man, I am so happy that we’re underway! The swells found us today and we’re finally rocking around – it is great! Today, the game-plan is that at 6am the 15ft SAFE boat runs out into the sapphire blue Hawaiian waters to study the slicks (areas of converging down-welling currents- the glassy parts in the ocean) while the 19ft boat tries to find juvenile bottom-fish. Good luck!

Retrieving the trawl
Retrieving the trawl

I, however, am helping three other scientists with trawling for billfish. We’re working with the Isaacs-Kidd trawl (I/K). This is a 10 meter long net with 5mm mesh that is connected to a detachable cod-end which collects the plankton. The I/K was named after the researchers from Scripps in La Jolla who developed the technology in the 60’s. We dropped the net bearing their names into the water by an A-Frame winch maintaining just below the surface for an hour. At this time the net is retrieved and the cod end is removed for study. It is replaced with a fresh end and the net is thrown back into the water for another hour.

The codend is replaced
The codend is replaced

The cod-end is brought into the hydro-lab and the contents are splayed out into a tray and analyzed. The marine organisms are then sorted, organized and labeled for any rare or special fish – my personal favorite is the long, skinny Lizardfish in the middle of the tray. The different fish in this photo are really interesting. The small one in the top left is a Slender Mola which as an adult lives in the open water, the longer Lizardfish lives on the bottom, the Blenny lives near shore in shallow water while the Lantern-fish grows up, lives in mid-water and develops light organs. As adults they grow into different sizes, scatter into different waters in the ocean and adapt accordingly. But as larvae they are all found together—in the slicks.

The contents of the cod-end are readied for analysis
The contents of the cod-end are readied for analysis

The target specimens for this trawl are Marlin, Swordfish and other billfish larvae. And you know what? We caught a couple; the one pictured is a baby Swordfish. From this photo it is hard to believe this creature grows up to be the extremely muscular fish in the same sub-Order as the one Hemingway writes about, but it is true. Not much is known about the life histories of these fish, that is why we’re here, but it is believed that it takes many years to reach adult. The specimen were photographed and then placed in a 32oz plastic jar with ethyl alcohol for further analyzing later. We repeated this process 6 times throughout the day.

Personal Log 

My personal favorite, the lizardfish
My personal favorite, the lizardfish

The I/K collects a lot of very small marine organisms. It looks like gumbo. Luckily, this isn’t our dinner; we’re fed a lot better looking— and definitely tasting— food on this cruise. We collected numerous jellies, shrimp, fish larvae, debris, eggs, nudibranchs and crabs. All of it is relatively transparent so you don’t notice it while in the ocean. The I/K concentrates the gelatinous biota and truly illustrates what is in the water. And considering the warmer waters of the tropics are less productive than colder waters, this isn’t everything that could be there. Just don’t think about this when you open your mouth underwater!

A baby swordfish
A baby swordfish

The trawl was fun and definitely a new experience. It is truly incredible the amount of life that is in the water. Until you see you it pulled out, you don’t believe it. This is one of the paradigm-shifting results from being on this ship that I am only now beginning to realize. This entire vessel is designed to study the ocean; every facet of this boat is geared toward understanding the marine world. The researchers and crew on the Sette are actively embracing NOAA’s mission of stewardship.

Question of the Day 

"Gumbo" from the trawl
“Gumbo” from the trawl

Why are the fish we catch the colors they are—orange, yellow, red, etc? This was one of the questions I asked some of the expert marine biologists over dinner the other day and I was told that one of the reasons is that the colors makes the fish invisible. Red absorbs the spectrum of light that gets down around 100 fathoms and makes the fish look grey.

New Term/ Phrase/ Word 
New words: Vog –volcanic fog. Here the marine layer is normal condensation coupled with volcanic particulates. Kai – Hawaiian for the sea; Nalu – Hawaiian for waves; Kuliana— Hawaiian for responsibility. This can be responsibility for anything: your job, your family, etc. But as Ensign Norris says, it is also responsibility for the environment and it reminds us to protect what we have.

Animals Seen Today 
We saw a Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) today zooming the boat. It is a beautiful bird that I’ve never seen before and its wings were truly massive. We also caught a few billfish and fish larvae so tiny they look like they are just heads!

Taylor Parker, April 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Parker
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19-29, 2009 

Mission: Hawaii Bottom fish Survey
Geographical Area: South side of Oahu
Date: April 19, 2009

Weather Data 
Calm winds of about 5 knots.
30% -50% Cloud cover.
80F degrees.

Science and Technology Log 

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Welcome to my ship logs!  On our cruise we are studying bottom fish in the waters around the Hawaiian Islands. The purpose of studying bottom fish is because of their popularity by commercial interests. These animals are well fished by local boats and there is much to learn about them and their life histories for sustainable fisheries management. Better knowledge of life history traits, such as age, growth and size and age at maturity will help current efforts to assess the bottom fish fisheries in the main Hawaiian Islands.

This weekend was exciting. After our cruise being delayed about a week due to various generator problems, it was decided that we would begin some of the bottom fish research from the smaller SAFE boats. On Saturday, April 19th, two teams hauled two boats (a 15 ft and 20 ft SAFE boat) to a boat ramp near Diamondhead on Oahu. Both were deployed at approximately 8:00am with the smaller boat studying “slicks” for conductivity, salinity and temperature as well as phyto- and zooplankton. The other boat, the one I was on, studied the bottom fish we pulled up. The smaller boat concluded their operations around 2pm while our boat finished at 4:30pm. All together our boat spent about 8 ½ hours on the water; we ate several sandwiches, drank a lot of Gatorade and used about a bottle of sunscreen. The weather was incredible with very little wind and few clouds until 2pm. The winds around Oahu pick up in the early afternoon and create some challenging swells.

As for the work done on the boats, we studied “slicks” and bottom fish. Slicks are the visible trails created in the water due to converging water flow. This trail has less turbulence than surrounding current and many fish larvae are found within these mini-refuges. They are called slicks because of their resemblance to oil slicks and that is partially because of the accumulation of oils from the many marine species. The smaller boat worked with specially adapted collection devices and finished the day with a bucket worth of sample to analyze.

Our boat dropped lines in the water several times to depths ranging from 100 – 230 meters to hopefully catch different bottom fish species. The gear we used consisted of two motorized reels and several hundred meters worth of monofilament mainline on each reel. At the bottom of the mainline a “blood” line was connected. It is called so because of the red color of the stronger line. A “pigtail” connection is attached to the lower end of the blood line to easily connect the interchangeable hooks and weight.  Three or four hooks are then attached to an interchangeable line connected to the pigtail.

Finally, a two pound weight is attached to the end of the line of hooks to bring the whole rig to the bottom. The fish we are targeting remain at a depth of more than 100 meters on semi-hard to hard bottom (rock and crushed coral). Once an appropriate site was found, the coxswain maintained position while we fished. In total we caught 6 fish: 4 Ehu (Etelis corbunculus), a Gindai (Pristipomoides zonatus) and a kind of Large-headed Scorpion fish, Hogo (Pontinus macrocephalus). We released the scorpion fish because it is not part of the study and one of the Ehu because it was healthy enough to return after we took measurements.

Personal Log 

I’ve never caught fish before. The only challenge I had in applying for this position was in my ability to kill another animal but I believe in the importance of research and recognize the beneficial impacts this work has toward promoting better stewardship of our natural resources. Catching a few fish for this cause seems justifiable and studying these creatures and their physiology is fascinating. After pulling the Ehu and Gindai from the water and seeing their remarkable oranges, red and yellows contrast against the blue of the swirling Hawaii waters, it surprises me that we cannot see these fish at all swimming directly underneath us. If the waters were truly clear, visible to the bottom, I believe the amount of and variety of colors we would see would mystify us.

Speaking of mystifying: the behemoth Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) visited us on our day trip. Although it is late in the season for them –most are on their way to the plankton buffet outside Alaska – we saw several momma whales swimming with their calfs. One time, on the horizon, we saw two humpbacks slapping their pectoral fins on the surface and crashing around with each other playing.

Additional: New term/ phrase/ word 

I’m learning new Hawaiian words: Puka means a hole or divet of any size and Pau is a term that has traditionally meant dead but has come to mean finished.

Dena Deck, July 20, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dena Deck
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 26 – July 30, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: July 20, 2006

Science and Technology Log

Because of their remoteness, the largely uninhabited, and dynamic ecosystems of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are often thought of as pristine environments. A more accurate term is “near-pristine,” because this isolated archipelago acts as a giant filtering comb in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, picking up debris that float from afar. Signs of trouble are not immediately apparent to the casual observer, but a closer look reveals ghost nests (discarded or lost fishing nets) caught on the reefs, debris of all sorts on the beaches, and plastics inside the skeleton of albatrosses. Even here, pollution has left its mark. But it is not an indelible mark, and there are devoted groups working hard to erase it from the map of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The majority of the debris that accumulates on these islands is fishing gear, and lots of it. In addition to destroying the coral upon which it settles, derelict fishing gear can also cause entanglement for the highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the threatened green sea turtle, fish, invertebrates, and seabirds.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are in the path of the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, which stretches from Japan to the West Coast of the US. This zone is a large, shifting line that is the product of ocean currents and wind interactions where areas of the surface waters meet. The convergence of different water masses result in the aggregation of trash, being carried by each water mass and deposited along this zone. The subtropical convergence zone can actually be observed from a thousand feet in the air as a semi-continuous line of trash, earning its nickname as “East Pacific Garbage Patch.”

The group charged with the removal of these pieces from these remote atolls and islands is the Marine Debris Project, part of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, under the NOAA Fisheries, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. The group recently completed a large-scale project over the course of the last five years (which just ended in 2006) to remove as much of the derelict fishing gear in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as possible. Going out on missions stretching up to four months at a time, two liveaboard mother vessels would carry eight divers each. As the seasons change, the subtropical convergence zone can be observed performing an annual dance in the North Pacific Ocean ballroom. When in the winter this line shifts south and passes the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands around January and February, the large, fractured atolls become a giant comb, trapping these floating debris from all around the North Pacific rim. During the summer, this convergence zone shifts north again.

After reaching a predetermined location, the Marine Debris Project has two methods for covering an area. In shallow reef areas, they snorkel, with the boat nearby. In deeper areas, they do “towboarding,” which involves a small board attached to the boat, which is running on average of between 1-2 knots. Inhaling deeply, and with a quick maneuver of the board, the free diver pairs can then go to the bottom, covering it in a serpentine fashion. Each diver covers a transect of 7.5 meters apiece, checking both sides of this transect while staying within visual range of the divers on either side. The distance among divers varies according to the visibility, but it’s never more than 15 cumulative meters, or approximately 45 feet, between the combined diver pair.

One of the initial efforts undertaken in 1999 at Lisianski Island and Pearl & Hermes Atoll recovered 14 tons of derelict fishing gear. Most of this gear came from trawl netting, followed by mono-filament gillnet, and maritime line. This effort also showed this gear to affect the coral reef ecosystem of the Hawaiian Archipelago (Donnohue et al., 2001). To ensure that the whole swath is observed, divers take a daily visibility measurement by placing a small piece of net underwater, and determining from how far away this net can be seen. Surveys are then conducted, with a slight overlap among each swath to ensure full coverage. When derelict debris is found, they release the board, go to the surface, and raise their hand. At this point, the towing boat turns back, obtain latitude and longitude with a GPS unit, and help the diver retrieve the fishing gear.

The Marine Debris Project, having completed their focused clean up activities on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, has now entered into a maintenance phase. This will help them estimate the accumulation rates at repeated zones, which will allow them to determine the frequency of future clean up efforts, and the amount of funds needed. All of this to ensure that trash does not become constant stain in an otherwise vibrant and healthy environment. Since 2002, about 200,000 lbs of net have been recovered this way each year. Many of these pieces can be retrieved by one or two divers, but occasionally a particularly large net is found. One particular net had a weight in excess of 5,000 lbs, and took all divers working together to cut it into sections and pull it out of the water. Over the years, the group has found sharks, sea turtles and monk seals trapped in these nets. One even had a portion of a whale’s spine, apparently having caught the animal in the high seas.

Patricia Greene, July 19, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patricia Greene
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 26 – July 30, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: July 19, 2006

A large green sea turtle basking in the sand.
A large green sea turtle basking in the sand.

Science and Technology Log

Unlike the spinner dolphins, we have observed the Hawaiian green sea turtles tend to be rather shy and elusive. We managed to catch just glimpses of them from a distance.  Based on past slaughters by man it is no wonder these creatures would avoid contact with humans. Historically, from the late 1800’s until 1970’s these creatures were slaughtered and harvested. Finally, in 1978 turtles were recognized under the U.S. Endangered Species Act however, they are still harvested in many parts of the world.

Several adaptations make the green sea turtle well suited for life in the ocean. Special lachrymal glands in the eye assist in the regulation of salt in the turtle’s body, preventing it from becoming dehydrated. When sea turtles shed tears they are actually removing salt from their bodies. Sea turtles are capable of storing large amounts of oxygen in their blood and muscle tissue, and lungs are adapted for rapid exchange of oxygen. Green sea turtles can stay under water up to five hours. Modified forelimbs give the sea turtle an efficient forward power-stroke. Protective coloration in the form of counter shading and blending gives the sea turtles camouflage. The underneath of the shell is cream color so the turtle blends with the sky and water to anything looking up and has a dark top shell for any predator looking down.Our luck changed on Southeast Island at Pearl and Hermes Atoll in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. While circumnavigating the island we viewed a large adult green sea turtle pulled out and basking on the beach. After lunch we viewed from a distance two more green sea turtles basking and swimming in the surf. Researchers told us that they often observe 10 to 20 turtles pulling out at sunset and sleeping on the beach at night. It is more common in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands than the main Hawaiian Islands for green sea turtles to exhibit this basking behavior. It is thought the behavior may be an adaptation to the cooler waters (i.e., a mechanism of thermoregulation, or a predation avoidance strategy due to the high populations of tiger sharks).

Three endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles bask on Southeast Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Three endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles bask on Southeast Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Green Sea turtles reach sexual maturity at approximately 25 to 30 years and reach a weight in excess of 200 lbs. Green sea turtle’s breeding behaviors demonstrate great stamina. Pairs may remain coupled for 10 to 12 hours and both sexes have multiple partners throughout the mating season. Adult males can be distinguished from females by their longer tails and curved claws on their flippers.  After the hatchling breaks out of the shell it must then reach the surface. Hatchlings demonstrate “protocooperation” meaning they work together as a group for several days in a joint effort to reach the surface. The hatchlings take turns digging and resting. Once they are near the surface the heat of the day will immobilize them and they will not continue their escape until the evening temperatures have cooled the sand. In this way they avoid heat stress and predators.Green sea turtles are oviparous (lay eggs externally) in a sand pit on the beach. Nesting starts in May and continues through August. Critical components of the nest site must include: lack of predators, a moist substrate, and suitable temperatures and be located beyond the high tide mark. Typically the green sea turtle will lay 75 to 150 eggs at night, in a clutch and lay multiple clutches during the breeding season. Incubation takes 50 to 70 days depending upon ambient temperatures. Sex of the hatchlings is not determined at the time of fertilization or conception (no sex chromosomes) but dependent upon the temperature of the sand and individual position of the egg in the nest. This is called “TSD” or Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination. The pivotal temperature for the green sea turtle is 28.26 degrees Celsius (82.9 degrees Farenheit). This is the temperature at which equal number of male and female hatchlings will be produced. If the temperature falls below this number more males will be produced; above more females will be hatched.

Now the hatchlings must find their way to ocean, avoiding the ghost crabs of the night. It is thought they employ a variety of visual clues, “wave compass” and perhaps a “magnetic compass” in their effort to reach the ocean. Scientists believe the wave compass allows the hatchlings to get orientated directly against the incoming waves. The magnetic compass refers to the magnetite found within their brains that may align them with earth’s magnetic fields. Once they arrive at sea, they will dog paddle to open water; hiding in algae, drift lines or other floating debris.

A curious Hawaiian green sea turtle approaches underwater at Puako in the main Hawaiian Islands.
A curious Hawaiian green sea turtle approaches underwater at Puako in the main Hawaiian Islands.

During this pelagic stage they are carnivores and feed on plankton. They will remain at sea in this hatchling/early juvenile stage for years, sleeping with their flippers folded over their back to diminish their chance of becoming a morsel for some predator. This stage is a period of rapid growth; perhaps 8 to 10 cm the first year. The young turtles will re-appear in coastal waters where they will continue to grow, graze on algae and become life-long herbivores. The green sea turtle has specialized microorganisms in the hind gut that digest the cellulose in the plant material. It is possible that juveniles establish this flora by practicing “scatophagy” or the ingestion of adult turtle feces.

Another concern for the green sea turtle population has been the appearance of fibropapilloma tumors. Tumors on the eyes, throat, lungs, kidneys, liver and intestines have been documented. Scientists believe a Herpes-type virus may be responsible. The disease is quite common in the mainland Hawaiian Islands but relatively rare in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These tumors may blind the turtle or choke them depending on the location of the tumor.  Fortunately, we did not observe any tumors while we have been in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.Typically sea turtles thrive on sea grasses, seaweeds and algae. Depending upon where they live their diets may vary; for example green turtles of the Pacific Ocean are more dependent upon algae and seaweeds than the sea turtles of the Atlantic Ocean that thrive on the sea grasses such as turtle grass. The diet of the green sea turtles at Kure Atoll consist of an algae called Codium edule. In the main Hawaiian Islands invasive alien species of algae in the marine ecosystems have displaced the native species of algae that the turtles have traditionally fed on. This has caused widespread damage to the coral reef habitats.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are extremely important to the green sea turtles. It is one of the last places where turtles are not affected by man’s desire for beach front property; no issues of coastal development, domesticated predators, recreational activities, artificial lights, high speed boat traffic, or general coastal degradation of the habitat. Over 90% of Hawaii’s green sea turtles return to nest at the French Frigate Shoals. Turtles come from the far north end of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands chain (Kure, Pearl and Hermes, Midway Atolls) and from outreaches of the main Hawaiian Islands to lay their eggs at French Frigate Shoals.

Special thanks to the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, United State Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Interior for access to Southeast Island and an opportunity to spend a day with the NOAA Fisheries biologists to learn more about the spinner dolphin research they conduct during their field season.

Patricia Greene, July 17, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patricia Greene
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 26 – July 30, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: July 17, 2006

Spinner dolphins in the lagoon around Green Island at Kure Atoll, State Wildlife Refuge.
Spinner dolphins in the lagoon around Green Island at Kure Atoll

Science and Technology Log

The first creatures we experienced at Kure Atoll were the spinner dolphins. These creatures delight in playing in the wake of our bow; doing somersaults, spins, and jumps; crisscrossing fearlessly in front of our boat, then losing interest when we slow down. Scientists are not sure what make spinner dolphins exhibit this type of behavior. Interestingly, scientists have observed that spinners in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have a different social structure than those around the main Hawaiian Islands. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, dolphins demonstrate group cohesion and typically stay together in the same group socializing in the lagoons or when they feed offshore. In the main islands a spinner dolphin may join a different feeding group every night; scientists have dubbed this behavior “fission-fusion,” since groups form and split repeatedly.We observed mothers with calves at their side; the babies easily keeping up and enjoying the sport as much as the adults. During the day the dolphins are relatively inactive and take group naps but at night they leave the atoll to forage and feed.

Cynthia Vanderlip and her team conduct spinner dolphin surveys in the lagoon around Green Island at Kure Atoll.
Cynthia Vanderlip and her team conduct spinner dolphin surveys in the lagoon around Green Island at Kure Atoll.

We observed a large group of spinner dolphins at Kure; approximately 70, although they swam so rapidly they were difficult to count. Other pods or groups have been identified at Pearl and Hermes and Midway. Typically, crossover between these groups in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is rare. Recently we visited Southeast Island at Pearl and Hermes and interviewed NOAA Fisheries monk seal researchers; Hugh Finn, Jessie Lopez, and Kennedy Renland regarding their spinner dolphin research. Basically, the dolphin research is done at the same time as they do the atoll counts for the monk seals; approximately every third day if the weather cooperates. If winds exceed 15 knots, safety becomes a concern and researchers will not go out in the small boats. During an atoll count day the researchers leave camp at 9:00 am and return at approximately 4:00 pm. For safety reasons, only two researchers go out in the boat at a time; one person remains on shore and monitors the radio in case assistance is needed. During an atoll count they will visit North Island, Seal Kittery, Grass Island, and various sand spits to assess the population.

Majestic Hawaiian spinner dolphins in the clear lagoon waters of Kure Atoll, State Wildlife Refuge.
Majestic Hawaiian spinner dolphins in the clear lagoon waters of Kure Atoll, State Wildlife Refuge.

Dolphins at Pearl and Hermes Atoll usually travel in groups or pods of 50 to 60. Mothers with calves are often seen at this time of year. Researchers explained that the age of the calf can often be estimated by the existence of “fetal folds.” The female dolphin has a 12-month gestation period and while inside the mother the calf develops creases in its body.  These “fetal folds” will exist until the calf is two or three months of age.Dolphin surveys involve taking digital photographs of as many dolphins as possible. This year the Pearl and Hermes Atoll researchers have taken approximately 2,000 photographs to date. These digital images will be forwarded to Dr. Lezek Karczmarski at Texas A&M and fed into a database for his research. Individual dolphins usually have distinctive cuts, scars or marks that help identify them. Researchers also take small biopsy samples from the dolphins. This is accomplished by using a crossbow type instrument with a dart that removes a tiny piece tissue from the skin.

During a dolphin survey, researchers record the start and end times, initial and final GPS coordinates, swell, water depth, water temperature and bottom type. They assess the numbers and ages of any calves observed and record the numbers of juveniles and adults.  Total number of digital images taken and any ID ratio is also recorded. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands spinner dolphin pods have a habitat relatively free from typical human interference. Threats to dolphins in more populated areas include collisions with vessels, entanglement in fishing nets and other marine debris, and acoustic disturbances. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands few of these threats exist. Spinner dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Exact population numbers worldwide are unknown.Spinner dolphins have a wide range; found in tropical waters, subtropical, the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. They feed on mesopelagic fish, squid, and shrimp. The females reach sexual maturity at 7 to 10 years, and give birth to a single calf every other year. Calves are weaned at seven months. Spinner dolphins may have a life span exceeding 20 years.

Special thanks to the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Interior for access to Southeast Island and an opportunity to spend a day with the NOAA Fisheries biologists to learn more about the spinner dolphin research they conduct during their field season.

Patricia Greene, July 16, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patricia Greene
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 26 – July 30, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: July 16, 2006

The ornate butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus) is one type of butterflyfish that is also a coral predator.
The ornate butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus) is one type of butterflyfish that is also a coral predator.

Science and Technology Log

When you think of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and predators, the first thing that comes to mind may be the apex predators; tiger sharks, Galapagos sharks and species of huge fish such as the jacks. Corallivores (an animal that feeds on corals) may include fish, sea stars or mollusks.  Generally, two types are recognized; obligate corallivores; those that feed only on corals and facultative corallivores; which feed on corals, algae, sponges, and mollusks.However, while snorkeling the Kure Atoll, I was reminded that there is another group of predators here; the corallivores. I observed a crown of thorns that appeared to be feeding on the coral and upon further research I discovered and recognized a variety of Northwestern Hawaiian Islands creatures that I have seen that also specialize in feeding on corals.

The crown of thorns feeds by inverting its stomach through its mouth, and then digests the corals externally. Human attempts at controlling populations of crown of thorns have been relatively unsuccessful and causes of these population spikes or outbreaks have been a topic of debate. Some believe they are natural occurrences and occur in cycles while other scientists believe they are due to human causes such as increased sedimentation and pollution.The crown of thorns (Acanthaster planci) has cryptic coloration and toxin-filled spines.  It prefers to feed on rice corals (Montipora), lace corals (Pocillopora), and cauliflower corals (Acropora). Ironically, the crown of thorn eggs and larvae are often fed on by the stony corals. Other natural enemies of the crown of thorns is the harlequin shrimp and the fireworm. This little shrimp does not kill the crown of thorns, but merely creates a small, open wound. This is known as “facilitated predation.” The larvae of the fireworm then enter the cavity, reproduce, and the offspring eat the crown of thorns from the inside out; eventually causing death.

The crown of thorns (Acanthaster planci) is a major predator of coral reefs.
The crown of thorns (Acanthaster planci) is a major predator of coral reefs.

We have also observed a variety of butterflyfish on the reefs; all that are also coral predators. The ornate butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus), the oval butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunulatus), the fourspot butterflyfish (Chaetodon quadrimaculatus), and the multiband butterflyfish (Chaetodon multicinctus), are all obligate corallivores. Other butterflyfish that eat both corals and invertebrates include; the threadfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga) and the teardrop butterflyfish (Chaetodon unimaculatus).

We have also identified the spotted pufferfish (