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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Staci DeSchryver: The First Rule of Mammal Club, July 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Near the Maro Reef, Northwest Hawaiian Islands

Date:  July 24, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Location: 23 deg, 39.5 min N, 169 deg, 53.5 min W

Wind:  85 degrees at 12 kts

Pressure:  1017.0

Waves: 2-3 feet at 95 degrees

Swell: 3-4 feet

Temperature 27.5

Wet bulb temp: 26.2

 

Science Log

Most of us know the first rule of Fight Club – Don’t talk about Fight Club.  In previous blogs, we’ve established that if acoustics hears a vocalization from the lab, they do not inform the observers on the flying bridge – at least not until all members of the vocalizations are “past the beam”, or greater than 90 degrees from the front of the ship.  Once the vocalizations are past the beam, acoustics can elect to inform the observers based on the species and the specific protocols set for that particular species.  The purpose of this secrecy is to control for bias.  Imagine if you were a marine mammal observer, headed up for your last two hour shift on your ten hour day.  If you stopped by the acoustics lab to say hello and found the acoustician’s computer screens completely covered with localizations from a cetacean, you might change the way you observe for that animal, especially if you had a general idea of what angle or direction to look in. One experimental goal of the study is to eliminate as much bias as possible, and tamping the chatter between acousticians and the visual team helps to reduce some of this bias.  But what about the observers?  Could they bias one another in any way?  The answer to that question is yes, and marine mammal observers follow their own subset of Fight Club rules, as well.

Let’s say for example, a sighting of Melon-Headed Whales is occurring.  On the flying bridge, available observers come up to assist in an abundance estimate for that particular group (more on how these estimates are made later).  They also help with photographing and biopsy operations, when necessary.  Melon-Headed Whales are known to travel in fairly large groups, sometimes separated into sub groups of whales. After spending some time following the group of whales, the senior observer or chief scientist will ensure that everyone has had a good enough opportunity to get a best estimation of the number of Melon Headed Whales present.  At this point, it’s time for the observers to write their estimates.  Each observer has their own “green book,” a small journal that documents estimation numbers after each observation occurs.  Each observer will make an estimation for their lowest, best, and highest numbers.  The lowest estimate represents the number of cetaceans the observer knows for certain were present in the group – for example they might say, “There couldn’t possibly be fewer than 30”.  The highest estimate represents the number that says “there couldn’t possibly be any more than this value.”  The best estimate is the number that the observer feels totally confident with.  Sometimes these values can be the same.  The point is for each observer to take what he or she saw with their own eyes, factor in what they know about the behavior of the species, and make a solid personal hypothesis as to the quantitative value of that particular group.  In a sighting of something like our fictitious Melon Headed Whales, those numbers could be in the hundreds.

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Marine Mammal Observer Allan Ligon records his cetacean estimates in his “green book” after a sighting.

Once the documentation is complete in the green books, the observers direct the ship to return back to the trackline, and begin observing again.  They never discuss how many animals they saw.  This is such an important part of what marine mammal observers do as professionals.  At first glance, one would assume that it would be beneficial for all observers to meet following an observation to come to a consensus on the numbers sighted.  But there are a lot of ways that discussion on numbers can turn sideways and skew overall data for the study.  Let’s take an obvious example to highlight the point.

Imagine if you were a new scientist in the field, coming to observe with far more senior observers.  Let’s assume you’ve just spotted a small group of Pygmy Killer Whales and although you are new on the job, you know for an absolute fact that you counted six dorsal fins – repeatedly – through the course of the sighting.  If the sighting ends, and the more senior observers all agree that they saw five, the likelihood that you are going to “cave” and agree that there were only five could be higher.

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Scientist Paula Olson recording her numbers after a sighting, keeping her information separate from others.

If you never talk about your numbers, you never have to justify them to anyone else.  The question often comes up, “What if an observer consistently over or underestimates the number of cetaceans?”  It’s much better for the scientists to consistently over or underestimate their counts than to spend time trying to fine tune them against the rule of another’s estimate.  If counts skew high or low for a scientist each leg of the trip as the co-workers change, that can create a problem for those trying to analyze the abundances after the study is complete.  Further, not discussing numbers with anyone at all ever gives you a very reliable estimation bias over time.  In other words, if you consistently over estimate, the people who complete the data analysis will know that about you as an observer and can utilize correction factors to help better dial in cetacean counts.  It is because of this potential for estimation bias that all marine mammal observers must never talk numbers, even in casual conversation.  You’ll never hear a marine mammal observer over dinner saying, “I thought there were 20 of those spinner dolphins, how many did you think were there?”

Where do these data go after the study is over?  Data from each sighting gets aggregated by the chief scientist or other designee and the group size for each sighting is determined.  Then, via many maths, summations, geometries, and calculuses, population abundance estimates are determined.  This is a dialed-in process – taking the number of sightings, the average sighting group size, the length of the transect lines, the “effective strip width” (or general probability of finding a particular cetacean within a given distance – think smaller whales may not be as easy to see from three miles away, and therefore the correction factor must be taken into account), and finally the probability of detection – and combining those values to create a best estimate for population density within the Hawaiian EEZ.

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Scientist Kym Yano on the bow of the ship, trying to get an up-close ID photo.

The probability of detection is an interesting factor in that it used to always be considered as a value of 1 – meaning that if a cetacean shows his friendly (or ferocious) mug anywhere on the trackline (the predetermined path the ship is taking in the search) the value assumes that a mammal observer has a 100% chance of spotting it.  This is why there is a center observer in the rotation – he or she is responsible for “guarding the trackline,” providing the overlap between the port and starboard observers in their zero to ninety degree scans of the ocean.  Over time, this value has created statistical issues for abundance estimates because there are many situations when a 100% detection rate is just not a realistic assumption.  Between the HICEAS 2002 study and the HICEAS 2010 study, these detection factors were corrected for, leading to numbers that were reliable for the individual study itself, but not reliable to determine if populations were increasing or decreasing.

Other factors can play a role in skewing abundance estimates, as well.  For example, beaked whales often travel in smaller-sized groups and only remain at the surface for a few minutes before diving very deeply below the surface.  Sightings are rare because of their behavior, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are declining in population.  In HICEAS 2002, there was an unusual sighting of a large group of these whales.  When the statistical methods were applied for this group as a whole, the abundance numbers were very high.   In 2010, the sighting frequency was more “normal” than finding the anomalous group, and the values for the numbers of these whales dropped precipitously.  There wasn’t necessarily a decline in population, it just appeared that way because of the anomalous sighting from 2002. Marine mammal observer Adam Ü assists on a sighting by taking identification photos.

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Marine mammal observer Adam Ü assists on a sighting by taking identification photos.

Statistical analysis methods have also changed over the years once scientists took a harder look at some of the variables that the marine mammal observers must contend with in their day to day operations.  At the start of every rotation, mammal observers make general observations about the sea conditions – noting changes in visibility, presence of rain or haze, wind speed, and Beaufort Sea State.  Observers will go “off effort” if the Beaufort Sea State reaches a 7.  To give you an idea of how the sea state changes for increasing numbers, a sea state of Zero is glass-calm.  A sea state of 12, which is the highest level on the Beaufort scale, is something I’m glad I won’t see while I’m out here.  Come to think of it, we have gone “off effort” when reaching a sea state of 7, and I didn’t care for that much, either.    

Most of our days are spent in at least a Beaufort 3, but usually a 4 or 5.  Anything above a 3 means white caps are starting to form on the ocean, making it difficult to notice any animals splashing about at the surface, especially at great distances – mainly because everything looks like it’s splashing.  Many observers look for splashing or whale blows as changes against the surrounding ocean, and the presence of waves and sea spray makes that job a whole heck of a lot more difficult.  Beaufort Sea States are turning out to be a much bigger player in the abundance estimate game, changing the statistical probabilities of finding particular cetaceans significantly.  

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Everyone loves a cetacean sighting! Corps officers Maggied and Frederick on the bow looking at a dolphin sighting.

One species of beaked whale has a probability of sighting that drops off exponentially with increasing sea state.  As sea state goes up, the chances of seeing any cetacean at all decreases.  Other factors like sun glare play a role in decreased sightings, as well.  When a beaked whale “logs” at the surface in glass calm waters, chances are higher that it will be spotted by an observer. When the ocean comes up, the wind is screaming, and the waves are rolling, it’s not impossible to see a whale, but it sure does get tough.

The good news is that for most species, these abundance estimates account for these variables.  For the more stealthy whales, those estimates have some variation, but overall, this data collection yields estimate numbers that are reliable for population estimates.

 

Personal Log

It is darn near impossible to explain just how hard it is to spot mammals out in the open ocean.  But, being the wordy person I am, I will try anyway.

I had some abhorrently incorrect assumptions about the ease at which cetaceans are spotted.  These assumptions were immediately corrected the first time I put my forehead on the big eyes.  Even after reading the reports of the number of sightings in the Hawaiian EEZ and my knowledge of productivity levels in the tropical oceans,  I had delusions of grandeur that there would be whales jumping high out of the water at every turn of the ship, and I’d have to be a blind fool not to see and photograph them in all of their whale-y glory.

I was so wrong.

Imagine trying to find this:

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Try spotting this from two miles away. There is a Steno Dolphin under that splash!

In this:

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Sun Glare. It’s not easy to find mammals in these conditions.

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Beaufort 6 sea conditions: When you’re looking for splashes…and it’s all splashes…

Here’s the long and short of it – there were times when we were in pretty decent conditions, and marine mammal observers were “on” a sighting, and I trained the big eyes in exactly the direction and my eyes at the exact distance and I still couldn’t see them.  There were times when the mammals pretty much had to be launching themselves out of the water and onto the ship before I was like, “Oh, hey!  A whale!”  I can think of at least four sightings where this happened – whales were out there, everyone else could see them…and I couldn’t find them if they were pulled out of the water and handed to me in a paper bag.  Which is extra disappointing because a) a whale doesn’t fit in a paper bag, and 2) if it did, it would likely soak the bag so that it fell out of the bottom and now I’d have a whale that I couldn’t see anyway who now has a headache and is ornery because someone shoved him in a paper bag that he promptly fell face first out of.  And as I’ve learned over the time I’ve been on the ship and through many forays into the wilderness – don’t anger things with teeth.

I have had the good fortune of watching our six marine mammal observers as they do their work and I am continually floored at the ability and deftness in which they do their jobs.  I have done a few independent observation rotations – I try to get in at least three each day – and I have only once been able to complete a rotation in the same way the observers do.  Looking for forty minutes through the port side big eyes, sitting and guarding the trackline for 40 minutes, and looking for forty minutes through the starboard side big eyes is exhausting.   Weather conditions are constantly changing and sometimes unfavorable.  The sun could be shining directly in the path of observation, which turns the whole ocean into the carnage that could only be rivaled by an explosion at a glitter factory.  While the canopies protect the observers from a large majority of incoming sunlight, there’s usually a few hours in the day where the sun is below the canopy, which makes it blast-furnace hot.  Today the winds are blowing juuuuust below the borderline of going off effort due to sea state conditions.  Sometimes the wind doesn’t blow at all, or worse –  it blows at the exact speed the ship is traveling in – yielding a net vector of zero for wind speed and direction.  Out on the open ocean, Beaufort Sea States rarely fall below a 3, so observers are looking through piles of foam and jets of sea spray coming off the waves, searching for something to move a little differently.  Trying to look through the big eyes and keep the reticle lines (the distance measures on the big eyes) on the horizon during the observation while the ship moves up and down repeatedly over a five foot swell?  I can say from direct experience that it’s really, really hard.

The animals don’t always play nice, either.  It would be one thing if every animal moved broadside to the view of the observers, giving a nice wide view of dorsal fin and an arched back peeking out of the water.  A lot of cetaceans see ships and “run away.”  So, now as an observer, you have to be able to spot the skinny side of the dorsal fin attached to a dolphin butt.  From three miles away.   Some whales, like sperm whales, stay at the surface for about ten minutes and then dive deep into the ocean for close to an hour.  We’re lucky in that if we aren’t on the trackline and spot their telltale blows when they are at the surface, the acoustics team knows when they are below the surface and we can wait until they do surface, so that’s a benefit for everyone on the hunt for sperm whales.

But overall? These things are not easy to find.   We aren’t out here on a whale watching tour, where a ship takes us directly out to where we know all the whales are and we have endless selfie opportunities.  The scientific team couldn’t bias the study by only placing ourselves in a position to see cetaceans.  In fact, the tracklines were designed years ago to eliminate that sort of bias in sampling.  Because we cover the whole Hawaiian EEZ, and not just where we know we are going to see whales (looking at you, Kona) there could be times where we don’t see a single cetacean for the whole day.  As an observer, that can be emotionally taxing.

And yet, the marine mammal observers persevere and flourish in this environment.  Last week, an observer found a set of marine mammals under the surface of the water.  In fact, many observers can see mammals under the water, and it’s not as though these mammals are right on the bow of the ship – they are far far away.  Most sightings happen closer to the horizon than they do to the ship, at least initially.  The only reason why I even have pictures of cetaceans is because we turn the ship to cross their paths, and they actually agree to “play” with us for a bit.   

Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried to hone my non-skill of mammal observation in to something that might resemble actual functional marine mammal observation.  I have been thwarted thus far.  But I have gotten to a certain point in my non-skill – where at first, I was just in glorious cod-faced stupor of witnessing cetaceans, and trying to get as many photos as possible – now, a sighting for me yields a brief moment of awe followed by an attempt to find what the observers saw in order to find the animal.  In other words, I “ooh and ah” for a few moments at first, but once I can find them, I start asking myself, “Ok, what do the splashes look like?”  “How do the fins look as they come out of the water?”  “What does the light look like in front or behind the animal, and would I be able to see that patterning while I’m doing an observation?”  So far, I’ve been unsuccessful, but I certainly won’t stop trying.  I have to remember that the marine mammal observers who are getting these sightings have been doing this for years and I have been doing this for hours comparatively.  Besides, every sighting is still very exciting for me as an outsider to this highly specialized work, and the star-struck still hasn’t worn off.  I imagine it won’t for quite some time.  

 

Ship Fun!

Being at sea for 28 days has its advantages when it comes to building strong connections between scientists, crew, and the officers.  Everyone pitches in and helps to make life on this tiny city a lot more enjoyable.  After all, when you spend 24 hours a day on a ship, it can’t all be work.  Take a look at the photos below to see:

 

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Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana hosts a shave ice party (a traditional Hawaiian treat) on a Monday afternoon

 

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The scientific team gets fiercely competitive when it comes to cribbage!

 

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The Doc and I making apple pie after hours for an upcoming dessert!

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Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana fires up the smoker for a dinnertime pork shoulder. Yum!

 

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Husband and wife team Scientist Dr. Amanda Bradford and Crewmember Mills Dunlap put ice on a freshly caught Ono for an upcoming meal.

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Commanding officer CDR Koes makes a whale shaped ice cream cake to “call the whales over” and aid in our search effort.

Staci DeSchryver: Boobies, Wedgies, and the Neurolinguistic Re-Programming of a TAS, July 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  French Frigate Shoals, Northwest Hawaiian Islands

Date:  July 21, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

 

Science and Personal Log

I’m putting both the science and personal log together this time around for a very special reason.

See, I have a confession to make.  Many of my friends from home know this about me, but I have a secret I’ve kept under wraps for the vast majority of this trip, and it’s time to officially reveal it now, because it just seems to fit so well.  Ready?  True confessions from a Teacher At Sea:

I have an irrational fear of birds.

There.  I said it.  It stems from a wayward trip to London in the Study Abroad program and involves me, innocently consuming an over-priced deli sandwich on a bench outside of the Museum of Natural History when I was suddenly accosted by a one-footed pigeon who made away with my lunch – but not before attacking my face full-force with every wing, beak, and claw it had.  My lunch then became a free sidewalk hoagie, available for all nearby pigeons (you know, like every pigeon from London to France) to feast upon as I sat helplessly watching the gnashing of beaks and flyings of feathers in a ruthless battle to the end for over-processed deli ham and havarti on rye.  I was mortified.  From that moment forth, I was certain every bird wanted a piece of my soul and I was darned if I was going to let them have it.

After many years of active bird-avoidance, my first Teacher At Sea experience allowed me to remove Puffin from the exhaustive list of these ruthless prehistoric killers.  After all, Puffins are not much more than flying footballs, and generally only consume food of the underwater persuasion, so I felt relatively sheltered from their wrath.  Plus they’re kind of cute.  The following year, a Great Horned Owl met its demise by colliding face-first into one of our tall glass windows at the school. When the Biology teachers brought him inside, I felt oddly curious about this beast who hunts with stunning accuracy in the black of night, and yet couldn’t manage to drive himself around a window.  I felt myself incongruously empathetic at the sight of him – he was such a majestic creature, his lifeless body frozen in time from the moment he met his untimely ending.   I couldn’t help but wish him alive again; if not for his ability to hunt rodents, but simply because nothing that beautiful should have to meet its maker in such a ridiculous manner.  And so, I cautiously removed Owls from the list, so long as I didn’t have to look much at their claws.

This has suited me well over the years – fear all birds except for Puffin and Owl, and as a side note Penguin, too, since they can’t do much damage without being able to fly and all.  Plus, you know, Antarctica.  But when I found out that the cetacean study also happened to have bird observers on the trip, I felt momentarily paralyzed by the whole ordeal.  I had (incorrectly) assumed that we wouldn’t see birds on this trip.  I mean, what kind of bird makes its way to the middle of the Pacific Ocean?  Well, it turns out there are a lot that do, and it’s birders Dawn and Chris who are responsible for sighting and cataloging them alongside the efforts of the marine mammal observers.  I promise I’ll come back to my story on bird fear, but for now, let’s take a look at how our birders do their job.

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NOAA bird observer Dawn scans the horizon from her seat on the flying bridge

The birders follow a similar protocol to the marine mammal observers.  Each birder takes a two-hour shift in a front seat on the flying bridge.  While the marine mammal observers use big eyes to see out as far as they possibly can out onto the horizon, the birders only watch and catalog birds that come within 300m of the ship.

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You can find the distance a bird is from the ship using a basic pencil with lines marked on the side. Each line is mathematically calculated using your height, the ship’s height, and the distance to the horizon.

How do they know how far away the 300m mark is?  Over the years they just become great visual judges of the distance, but they also have a handy “range finder” that they use.  The range finder is just a plain, unsharpened pencil with marks ticked off at 100m intervals.  By holding the pencil up to the horizon and looking past it, they can easily find the distance the bird is from the ship. They divide this 300m range into “zones” – the 200-300m zone, the 100-200m zone, and the less than 100m zone from the bow of the ship.  Anything further than 300m or outside of the zero to 90 degree field of vision can still be catalogued if it is an uncommon species, or a flock of birds.  (More on flocks in a moment.)

They choose which side of the ship has the best visibility, either the port or starboard side, and like the mammal observers, birders take only the directional space from zero (directly in front of the ship) to 90 degrees on the side of their choosing.  If the visibility switches in quality from one side to the other during a shift, he or she can change sides without issue.

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A sooty tern soars high above the ship. We’ve seen many sooty terns this trip!

The bird team also records information such as wind speed and direction (with respect to the ship), the Beaufort Sea State, visibility, observation conditions, and the ship’s course.  Observation conditions are a critical component of the birder’s tool bag.  They mark the observation conditions on a five-point scale, with 1 being extremely bad conditions and 5 being very good conditions.  What defines good conditions for a birder? The best way to make an observation about the conditions is to think about what size and species of smaller birds an observer might not be able to see in the outermost range. Therefore, the condition is based on species and distance from the ship.  Some birds are larger than others, and could be easier to spot farther out from the ship.  The smallest birds (like petrels) might not be observable in even slightly less than ideal conditions. Therefore, if a birder records that the conditions are not favorable for small birds at a distance of 200m (in other words, they wouldn’t be able to see a small bird 200m away), the data processing team can vary the density estimates for smaller birds when observers are in poor visibility.

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White terns look like they belong on holiday cards! A new favorite of mine.

If a bird flies into the designated “zone”, the species is identified and recorded on a computer program that will place a time stamp on the GPS location of the sighting. These data are stored on the ship for review at a later time.  Ever wonder where the maps of migration patterns for birds originate?  It is from this collected data.  Up until this point, I had always taken most of these kinds of maps for granted, never thinking that in order to figure out where a particular animal lives let alone its migratory pattern must come from someone actually going out and observing those animals in those particular areas.

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An albatross glides behind the ship, looking for fish.

The birder will record other information about the bird sighting like age, sex (if able to identify by sight) and what the lil’ fella or gal is up to when observed.  Birds on the open ocean do a lot more than just fly, and their behaviors are important to document for studies on bird behavior.  There are 9 different codes for these behaviors, ranging from things like directional flight (think, it has a place to go and it’s trying to get there), sitting on the water, or “ship attracted.”  There are certain species like juvenile Red-Footed and Brown boobies and Tropic Birds that are known to be “ship attracted.”  In other words, it could be out flying along a particular path until it sees this super cool giant white thing floating on the water, and decides to go and check it out.  This is how I wound up with that fun photo of the Booby on the bridge wing, and the other snapshot of the juvenile that hung out on the jackstaff for two full days.  These birds would not normally have otherwise come into the range to be detected and recorded, so their density estimates can be skewed if they are counted the same way as all other birds.

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This Brown Booby wants in on the food action near the ship. Boobies are ship attracted, and we’ve had a few hang out with us while they take a rest on the mast. This is not the exact booby that made me change my bird ways, but he’s a close cousin (at least genetically speaking) of the one who did.

Any groups of five or more birds within one “reticle” (a measuring tool on the glass of the big eyes seen when looking through them) can be flagged by the marine mammal observers for the birders.  While many flocks are found miles away and might be difficult to see in the big eyes by species, the birders know the flight and feeding behaviors of the birds, and can usually identify the different species within the flock. They have a special designation in their computer program to catalog flocks and their behavior, as well.

I sat with Dawn on a few different occasions to learn how she quickly identifies and catalogs each bird species.  At first, it seems like all the birds look fairly similar, but after a few hours of identification practice, I can’t imagine that any of them look the same. The first bird Dawn taught me to identify was a Wedge-Tailed White Shearwater, more affectionately known as a “Wedgie White.”  To me, they were much more easily characterized by behavior than anything else.  Shearwaters are called “Shearwaters” because they…you guessed it… shear the water!  They are easy to spot as they glide effortlessly just above the water’s surface, almost dipping their wings in the cool blue Pacific.

I then continued my bird observation rotation learning all kinds of fun facts about common sea birds – how plumages change as different species grow, identifying characteristics (which I’m still trying to sort out because there are so many!), stories of how the birds got their names, migration patterns, population densities, breeding grounds, and what species we could expect to see as we approached different islands on the Northwest Hawaiian Island Chain.  Dawn knows countless identifiers when it comes to birds, and if she can’t describe it exactly the way she wants to, she has multiple books with photos, drawings, and paragraphs of information cataloging the time the bird is born to every iteration of its markings and behaviors as it grows.  To be a birder means having an astounding bank of knowledge to tap into as they have a limited time to spot and properly identify many species before they continue on their journey across the Pacific.

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This Great Frigate Bird was flying about fifteen feet overhead, with a mast directly in front of him as he flew. He’s looking around for birds to steal food from. The Hawaiian term for Frigate Bird is ‘Iwa, meaning “thief.”

After two weeks of watching for birds with Dawn and Chris, I feel like I can properly identify a few different species – Wedgies, Frigate Birds (these are the klepto-parasite birds that steal other birds’ dinners), Tropic Birds, two types of Terns, and boobies, though I can only best ID boobies when they are not in flight.  I find myself up on the flying bridge on independent observation rotations calling forward to the birder on rotation, “Was that a tern?”  And now, my identifying skills have vastly improved over the last few days as I have engaged in the process of this very important data collection.

So, what has become of my irrational bird fear?  Well, I have to be honest; much like Puffin and Owl, the Red-Footed Booby melted my heart.  There he was, perched on the bridge’s shade railing, a lonely little fellow staring up at me with no reservation about my presence or expectation of a sandwich.  There we were in the middle of a vast ocean, and he was all alone – simply looking for a place to rest his wings or search more earnestly for the hint of a delicious flying fish escaping the water.  I spent a fair amount of time photographing the little guy, working with my new camera to find some fun angles and depth of field, and playing with the lighting.  He was a willing and I daresay friendly participant in the whole process (in fact I wondered if he had seen a few episodes of America’s Next Top Model), and I felt myself softening my stance on placing the Red Footed Booby amongst the likes of attack pigeons.  By the end of our encounter, I had mentally noted that the Booby should now be placed on the “safe bird” list.

As I’ve spent more time with Dawn and Chris and learned more about each species, seabirds have one by one slowly migrated over to the safe list – to the point now where there are just too many to recite and I feel it is time after fifteen years to do away with the whole of it entirely.  As soon as I changed my perspective, the beauty of all of them have gradually emerged to the point where I can easily find something to appreciate (even admire) about each of the species we’ve seen.  Terns fight fiercely into the wind as they fly, but when they can catch a thermal or pose for an on-land photograph for an ID book, look dainty and regal in their appearance – as if they should be a staple part of every holiday display.  And baby Terns?  Doc (our Medical Doctor on board) showed me a photo of a tern chick that followed him around Midway Island last year and the lil’ guy was so darn cute it could make you cry glitter tears.  Today near French Frigate Shoals many of the species I’ve seen from afar came right up to the ship and glided effortlessly overhead, allowing me to observe them from a near perspective as they flew.  (None of them pooped on me, so if they weren’t off the list by that point, that act of grace alone should have sealed their fate for the positive.)  Frigate Birds can preen their feathers while they fly.  Watching each species cast their wings once and glide on the air while looking all around themselves was oddly entertaining, certainly peculiar, but also impressive.  I can’t walk on the ship looking anywhere besides exactly where I want to go and yet birds can fly five feet away from a mast and casually have a proper look about.

If this has taught me anything, it has shown me the truth in the statement that fear is just ignorance in disguise.  When I accidentally gave my bird aversion away during our quick stop at French Frigate Shoals (more on this in an upcoming blog post) many of the scientists said, “I’d have never guessed you were scared of birds.  How did you keep it secret?”  The easy answer is “Teacher Game Face.” But, more deeply rooted in that is a respect and admiration for those who enjoy the things that I’m afraid of.  Dawn and Chris have dedicated their entire careers to identifying and cataloging these creatures, and they are both so kind and respectable I find it hard to imagine that they would study anything unequal to the vast extent of their character.  Thankfully I learned this early enough on in the trip that it was easy to trust their judgement when it comes to Procellariiformes.   This experience is once-in-a-lifetime, and how short-sighted would I be to not want to explore every aspect of what goes on during this study because I’m a little (a lot) afraid?

In Colorado, before I ever left, I made a personal commitment to have a little chutzpah and learn what I can about the distant oceanic cousins of the sandwich thieves.  And when it came to that commitment, it meant genuinely digging in to learn as much as I can, not just pretend digging in to learn at little.  I figured if nothing else, simple repeated exposure in short bursts would be enough for me to neurolinguistically reprogram my way into bird world, and as it turns out, I didn’t even really need that.  I just needed to open up my eyes a little and learn it in to appreciation.  Learning from Dawn and Chris, who are both so emphatically enthusiastic about all things ornithology made me curious once again about these little beasts, who over the last two weeks have slowly transformed into beauties.

Sorry, pigeons.  You’re still on the list.

Pop Quiz

What is to date the silliest question or statement Staci has asked/made during her TAS experience?

  1.       In response to a rainy morning, “Yeah, when I woke up it sounded a little more ‘splashy’ than usual outside.”
  2.      “So, if Killer Whales sound like this, then what whale talk was Dory trying to do in Finding Nemo?”
  3.       “So, there is no such thing as a brown-footed booby?”
  4.      After watching an endangered monk seal lounging on the sand, “I kind of wish I had that life.”  (So…you want to be an endangered species? Facepalm.)
  5.       All of the above

If you guessed e, we’re probably related.

 

Staci DeSchryver: Things We Deliberately Throw Overboard Part Deux: The Ocean Noise Sensor July 20, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – Aug 2

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Northwest Hawaiian Island Chain, Just past Mokumanamana (Necker Island)

Date:  July 20, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Science and Technology Log:

As promised in Blog Post #3, I mentioned that “Thing number four we deliberately throw overboard” would have a dedicated blog post because it was so involved.  Well, grab some popcorn, because the time has arrived!

Thing number 4 we deliberately throw over the side of a ship does not get thrown overboard very often, but when it does, it causes much hubbub and hullaballoo on the ship.  I had the unique opportunity to witness one of only ten ocean noise sensors that are deployed in US waters come aboard the ship and get redeployed.  These sensors are found all over US waters – from Alaska to the Atlantic.  One is located in the Catalina Marine Sanctuary, and still others are hanging out in the Gulf of Mexico, and we are going to be sailing right past one!  To see more about the Ocean Noise Sensors, visit the HICEAS website “other projects” tab, or just click here.  To see where the Ocean Noise Recorders are, click here.

The Ocean Noise Sensor system is a group of 10 microphones placed in the “SOFAR” channel all over US waters.  Once deployed, they collect data for two years in order to track the level of ocean noise over time.  It’s no secret that our oceans are getting louder.  Shipping routes, oil and gas exploration, and even natural sources of noise like earthquakes all contribute to the underwater noise that our cetacean friends must chatter through.  Imagine sitting at far ends of the table at a dinner party with a friend you have not caught up with in a while.  While other guests chat away, you and the friend must raise your voices slightly to remain in contact.  As the night progresses on, plates start clanging, glasses are clinking, servers are asking questions, and music is playing in the background.  The frustration of trying to communicate over the din is tolerable, but not insurmountable.  Now imagine the host turning on the Super Bowl at full volume for entertainment.  Now the noise in the room is incorrigible, and you and your friend have lost all hope of even hearing a simple greeting, let alone have a conversation.  In fact, you can hardly get anyone’s attention to get them to pass you the potatoes.  This is similar to the noise levels in our world’s ocean.  As time goes on, more noise is being added to the system.  This could potentially interfere with multiple species and their communications abilities.  Calling out to find a mate, forage for food, or simply find a group to associate with must now be done in the equivalent din of a ticker-tape parade, complete with bands, floats, and fire engines blaring their horns.  This is what the Ocean Noise Sensor is hoping to get a handle on.   By placing sensors in the ocean to passively collect ambient noise, we can answer two important questions:  How have the noise levels changed over time?  To what extent are these changes in noise levels impacting marine life?   

Many smaller isolated studies have been done on ocean noise levels in the past, but a few years ago, scientists from Cornell partnered with NOAA and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab to streamline this study in order to get a unified, global data source of ocean noise levels.  The Pacific Marine Environmental Lab built a unified sound recording system for all groups involved in the study, and undertook the deployments of the hydrophones.  They also took on the task of processing the data once it is recovered.  The HICEAS team is in a timely and geographical position to assist in recovery of the data box and redeploying the hydrophone.   This was how we spent the day.

The recovery and re-deployment of the buoy started just before dawn, and ended just before dinner.

 Our standard effort of marine mammal observation was put on hold so that we could recover and re-deploy the hydrophone.  It was an exciting day for a few reasons – one, it was definitely a novel way to spend the day.  There was much to do on the part of the crew, and much to watch on the part of those who didn’t have the know-how to assist.  (This was the category I fell in to.)

At dawn, an underwater acoustic command was sent to the depths to release a buoy held underwater attached to the hydrophone.  While the hydrophone is only 1000m below the surface seated nice and squarely in the SOFAR channel, the entire system is anchored to the ocean floor at a depth of 4000m.  Once the buoy was released, crew members stationed themselves around the ship on the Big Eyes and with binoculars to watch for the buoy to surface.  It took approximately 45 minutes before the buoy was spotted just off our port side.  The sighting award goes to CDR Stephanie Koes, our fearless CO.  A crewmember pointed out the advancement in our technologies in the following way:  “We can use GPS to find a buried hydrophone in the middle of the ocean…and then send a signal…down 4000m…to a buoy anchored to the ocean floor…cut the buoy loose remotely, and then actually have the buoy come up to the surface near enough to the ship where we can find it.”  Pretty impressive if you think about it.

The buoy was tied to the line that is attached to the hydrophone, so once the buoy surfaced, “all” we had to do was send a fast rescue boat out to retrieve it, bring the buoy and line back to the ship, bring the crew safely back aboard the ship, hook the line up through a pulley overhead and back to a deck wench, pull the line through, take off the hydrophone, pull the rest of the line up, unspool the line on the wench to re-set the line, re-spool the winch, and then reverse the whole process.

Watching the crew work on this process was impressive at least, and a fully orchestrated symphony at best.  There were many tyings of knots and transfers of lines, and all crew members worked like the well-seasoned deck crew that they are.  Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana is no stranger to hauling in and maintaining buoys, so his deck crew were well prepared to take on this monumental task.

Much of the day went exactly according to plan.  The buoy was safely retrieved, the hydrophone brought on board, the lines pulled in, re-spooled, and all sent back out again.  But I am here to tell you that 4000m of line to haul in and pay back out takes. A Long. Time.  We worked through a rainstorm spooling the line off the winch to reset it, through the glare of the tropical sun and the gentle and steadfast breeze of the trade winds.  By dinner time, all was back in place, the buoy safely submerged deep in the ocean waters, waiting to be released again in another two years to repeat the process all over again.  With any luck, the noise levels in the ocean will have improved.  Many commercial vessels have committed to adopting “quiet ship” technology to assist in the reduction of noise levels.  If this continues to improve, our cetacean friends just might be able to hear one another again at dinner.

 

Personal Log

So, I guess it’s pretty fair to say that once you’re a teacher, you’re always a teacher.  I could not fully escape my August to May duties onboard, despite my best efforts.  This week, I found myself on the bridge, doing a science experiment with the Wardroom (These are what all of the officers onboard as a group are called).   How is this even happening, you ask?  (Trust me, I asked myself the same thing when I was in the middle of it, running around to different “lab groups” just like in class.)  Our CO, CDR Koes, is committed to ensuring that her crew is always learning on the ship.

 If her staff do not know the answer to a question, she will guide them through the process of seeking out the correct answer so that all  officers learn as much as they can when it comes to being underway –  steering the ship, preparing for emergencies, and working with engineers, scientists, and crew.  For example, I found out that while I was off “small-boating” near Pilot Whales, the Wardroom was busy working on maneuvering the ship in practice of man overboard scenarios.  She is committed to ensuring that all of her staff knows all parts of this moving city, or at a minimum know how to find the answers to any questions they may have.  It’s become clear just how much the crew and the entire ship have a deep respect and admiration for CDR Koes.  I knew she was going to be great when we were at training and word got out that she would be the CO of this Leg on Sette and everyone had a range of positive emotions from elated to relieved to ecstatic.

As part of this training, she gives regular “quizzes” to her staff each day – many of them in good fun with questions for scientists, crew, engineers, and I.  Some questions are nautical “things” that the Wardroom should know or are nice to know (for example, knowing the locations of Material Safety Data Sheets or calculating dew point temperatures), some questions are about the scientific work done onboard, while others are questions about personal lives of onboard members.

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The Chief Medical Officer, “Doc” gives a lesson on water quality testing.

 It has been a lot of fun watching the Wardroom and Crew seek out others and ask them where they live while showing them their “whale dance” to encourage sightings.  It has exponentially increased the interactions between everyone onboard in a positive and productive way.

The other teaching element that CDR Koes has implemented is a daily lesson each day from Monday to Friday just after lunch.  All NOAA Officers meet on the bridge, while one officer takes the lead to teach a quick, fifteen minute lesson on any topic of their choosing.  It could be to refresh scientific knowledge, general ship operations, nautical concepts, or anything else that would be considered “good to know.”

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The Chief Engineer gives a rundown on the various ship emergency alarms.

 This sharing of knowledge builds trust among the Wardroom because it honors each officer’s strong suits and reminds us that we all have something to contribute while onboard.

I started attending these lunchtime sessions and volunteered to take on a lesson.  So, this past Tuesday, I rounded up some supplies and did what I know best – we all participated in the Cloud in a Bottle Lesson!

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Here I am learning to use a sextant for navigation.

The Wardroom had fun (I think?) making bottle clouds, talking about the three conditions for cloud formation, and refreshing their memories on adiabatic heating and cooling.  It was a little nerve wracking for me as a teacher because two of the officers are meteorologists by trade, but I think I passed the bar.  (I hope I did!)

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Teaching about adiabatic cooling with the the Cloud in a Bottle Demo with the Wardroom!

It was fun to slide back into the role of teacher, if only for a brief while, and served as a reminder that I’m on my way back to work in a few weeks!  Thanks to the Wardroom  for calling on me to dust up my teacher skills for the upcoming first weeks of school!

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ENS Holland and ENS Frederick working hard making clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facebook Asks, DeSchryver Answers

I polled all of my Facebook friends, fishing (ha ha, see what I did there?) for questions about the ship, and here are some of the questions and my answers!

 

Q:   LC asks, “What has been your most exciting moment on the ship?”

It’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll tell you the times I was held at a little tear:  a) Any sighting of a new species is a solid winner, especially the rare ones  b) The first time I heard Sperm Whales on the acoustic detector c) The first time we took the small boat out for UAS operations….annnndddd d) The first time I was on Independent Observation and we had a sighting!

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A group of Melon-Headed Whales, or PEPs, cruise along with the ship.

Q:  JK asks, “What are your thoughts on the breakoff of Larsen C?  And have there been any effects from the Alaskan quake and tsunami?”

We’re actually pretty isolated on board!  Limited internet makes it hard to hear of all the current events.  I had only briefly heard about Larsen C, and just that it broke, not anything else.  I had no clue there was a quake and tsunami!  But!  I will tell a cool sort of related story.  On Ford Island, right where Sette is docked, the parking lot is holding three pretty banged up boats.  If you look closely, they all have Japanese markings on them.  Turns out they washed up on Oahu after the Japan Tsunami.  They tracked down the owners, and they came out to confirm those boats were theirs, but left them with NOAA as a donation.  So?  There’s tsunami debris on Oahu and I saw it.

 

Q:  NG asks, “Any aha moments when it comes to being on the ocean?  And anything to bring back to Earth Science class?”

So many aha moments, but one in particular that comes to mind is just how difficult it is to spot cetaceans and how talented the marine mammal observers are! They can quite literally spot animals from miles away!  There are a lot of measures put in place to help the marine mammal observers, but at the end of the day, there are some species that are just tougher than nails to spot, or to spot and keep an eye on since their behaviors are all so different.  And as far as anything to bring back to our class?  Tons.  I got a cool trick to make a range finder using a pencil.  I think we should use it!

 

Q:  MJB asks, “Have you had some peaceful moments to process and just take it all in?”

Yes.  At night between the sonobuoy launches, I get two miles of transit time out on the back deck to just absorb the day and be thankful for the opportunities.  The area of Hawai’i we are in right now is considered sacred ground, so it’s very powerful to just be here and be here.

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These sunsets will give Colorado sunsets a run for their money.  No green flash in Colorado = point awarded to Hawai’i.

 

Q:  SC asks, “What souvenir are you bringing me?”

Well, we saw a glass fishing float, and we tried to catch it for you, but it got away.

Q:  LC asks, “What’s the most disgusting ocean creature?”

Boy that’s a loaded question because I guarantee if I name a creature, someone out there studies it for a living.  But! I will tell you the most delicious ocean creature.  That would be Ono.  In sashimi form.  Also, there is a bird called a Great Frigate bird – it feeds via something called Klepto-parasitism, which is exactly how it sounds.  It basically finds other birds, harasses them until they give up whatever they just caught or in some cases until it pukes, and then it steals their food.  So, yeah.  I’d say that’s pretty gross.  But everyone’s gotta eat, right?

Q:  KI asks, “Have you eaten all that ginger?”

I’m about two weeks in and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten about a pound. I’m still working on it!

Q:  HC asks, ”Have you seen or heard any species outside of their normal ocean territory?”

Sort of.  Yesterday we saw Orca!  They are tropical Orca, so they are found in this area, but they aren’t very common.  The scientific team was thinking we’d maybe see one or two out of the entire seven legs of the trip, and we saw some yesterday!  (I can’t say how many, and you’ll find out why in an upcoming post.)  We have also seen a little bird that wasn’t really technically out of his territory, but the poor fella sure was a little far from home.

Q:  JPK asks, “What kinds of data have you accumulated to use in a cross-curricular experience for math?”

We can do abundance estimates with a reasonably simplified equation.  It’s pretty neat how we can take everything that we see from this study, and use those numbers to extrapolate how many of each species is estimated to be “out there.”

Q: AP asks, “What has surprised you about this trip?”

Many, many things, but I’ll mention a couple fun ones.  The ship has an enormous movie collection – even of movies that aren’t out on DVD yet because they get them ahead of time!  Also? The food on the ship is amazing.  We’re halfway through the trip and the lettuce is still green.  I have to find out the chef’s secret!  And the desserts are to die for.  It’s a wonder I haven’t put on twenty pounds.  The crew does a lot of little things to celebrate and keep morale up, like birthday parties, and music at dinner, and shave ice once a week.  Lots of people take turns barbecuing and cooking traditional foods and desserts special to them from home and they share with everyone.  They are always in really high spirits and don’t let morale drop to begin with, so it’s always fun.

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Celebrating Engineer Jerry’s Birthday.

Q:  TS asks, “What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done?”

I’ve done lots of exciting things, but the one thing that comes to mind is launching on the small boat to go take photos of the pilot whales.  Such a cool experience, and I hope we get good enough weather to do it again while we’re out here!  Everything about ship life is brand new to me, so I like to help out as much as I can.  Any time someone says, “Will you help with this?” I get excited, because I  know I’m about to learn something new and also lend a hand. 

 

Staci DeSchryver: Exploring HICEAS on the High Seas! June 20, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

Mission:  Cetacean Study

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Hawaiian EEZ

Current Location:  Impatiently waiting to sail in Centennial, Colorado

Date:  June 20

Weather Data from the “Bridge” (AKA My Sun Porch):

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Here’s the weather data from the “Bridge” in Centennial. (In Station Model format, of course. How else would we practice?)

 

Personal Log – An Introduction

Hello!  My name is Staci DeSchryver and I will be traveling this upcoming July on the Oscar Elton Sette as part of the HICEAS program!

I am an Oceanography, Meteorology, and Earth Science teacher at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, CO.  This August will kick off my 14th (yikes!) year teaching.  I know you might be thinking, “Why Oceanography in a landlocked state?”  Well, the reason why I can and do teach Oceanography is because of Teacher At Sea.  I am an alumna, so this is my second official voyage through the Teacher At Sea program.  It was all of the wonderful people I met, lessons I learned, and science that I participated in on the

 

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This is my husband, Stephen, and I, at the game that sent the Broncos to the Superbowl!

 

Oscar Dyson in 2011 that led me to encourage my school to put an Oceanography course in place for seniors as a capstone course.  This past year was the first year for the Oceanography and Meteorology courses, and they were very well received!  I have three sections of each class next year, as well!  (Shout out to all my recent senior grads reading this post! You were awesome!)  We study our World’s Ocean from the top of the water column all the way to the deepest parts of the Marianas Trench, and from the tiniest atom all the way up to the largest whale.  I  believe it is one of the most comprehensive courses offered to our students – incorporating geology, chemistry, physics, and biology, but then again, I’m a bit biased.

Apart from being a teacher, I am a wife to my husband of 8 years, Stephen.  We don’t have children, but we do have two hedgehogs, Tank and Willa, who keep us reasonably busy.  Willa only has one eye, and Tank is named Tank because he’s abnormally large for a hedgie.  They are the best lil’ hedgies we know.  We enjoy camping, rock climbing, and hiking – the typical Coloradans, though we are both originally from Michigan.  When we aren’t spending time together, I like to dance ballet, read, write, and I recently picked up a new weightlifting habit, which has led me to an entire new lifestyle of health and wellness with an occasional interjection of things like Ice Cream topped with caramel and Nachos when in the “off” season (hey, nobody’s perfect).

I will be leaving for Honolulu, Hawaii on July 4th to meet up with the fine scientists that make up the HICEAS team.  What is HICEAS?  Read below to find out more about HICEAS and the research we will be doing onboard!

Science Log

The HICEAS (Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey) is a study of Cetaceans (Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises) and their habitats.  Cetaceans live in the ocean, and are characterized by being carnivorous (we will get along just fine at the dinner table) and having fins (since I am a poor swimmer, I will humbly yield to what I can only assume is their instinctive expertise).  This means that the study will cover all manners of these majestic creatures – from whales that are definitely easily identifiable as whales to whales that look like dolphins but are actually whales to porpoises that really look like whales but are actually dolphins and dolphins that look like dolphins that are dolphins and…  are you exhausted yet?  Here’s some good news – porpoises aren’t very common in Hawaiian waters, so that takes some of the stress out of identifying one of those groups, though we will still be on the lookout.  Here’s where it gets tricky – it won’t be enough to just sight a whale, for example and say, “Hey! We have a whale!”  The observers will be identifying the actual species of the whale (or dolphin or possible-porpoise).  The observers who tackle this task are sharp and quick at what is truly a difficult and impressive skill.  I’m sure this will be immediately confirmed when they spot, identify, and carry on before I say, “Wait! Where do you see it?”

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This is the research area for the HICEAS project. Map/photo is credited directly to the HICEAS website, https://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/hiceas/whats_hiceas.php

There are 25 cetacean species native to Hawaiian waters, so that’s a big order to fill for the observers.  And we will be out on the water until we locate every last one.  Just kidding.  But we will be looking to spot all of these species, and once found, we will do our best to estimate how many there are overall as a stock estimate.  Ideally, these cetacean species will be classified into three categories – delphinids (dolphins and a few dolphin-like whales), deep diving whales (whales with teeth), and baleen whales (of the “swim away!” variety).  Once identified in this broad sense, they will then be identified by species.  However, I do have a feeling these two categorizations happen all at once.

Once the data is collected, there is an equation that is used to project stock estimates for the whole of the Pacific.  More on this later, but I will just start by saying for all you math folk out there, it’s some seriously sophisticated data extrapolation.  It involves maths that I have yet to master, but I have a month to figure it out, so it’s not looking too bleak for me just yet.  In the meantime, I’m spending my time trying to figure out which cetaceans that look like dolphins are actually possible-porpoises, and which dolphins that look like dolphins are actually whales.

Goals and Objectives of the HICEAS

The HICEAS study operates as a part of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SFSC), both under the NOAA umbrella.  Our chief scientist is Dr. Erin Oleson, who will be the lead on this leg of the cruise. HICEAS last collected data in 2010, and is now ready for the next round of stock assessments.  HICEAS is a 187-day study, of which we will be participating in approximately 30 of those days for this particular leg.  Our research area is 2.5 million square kilometers, and covers the whole of the Hawaiian Archipelago and it’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ!  The HICEAS study has three primary goals:

  1.  Estimate the number of cetaceans in Hawaii.
  2.  Examine their population structure.
  3.   Understand their habitat.

Studies like the HICEAS are pretty rare (2002, 2010, and now 2017), so the scientists are doing their best to work together to collect as much information as they possibly can during the study.  From what I can gather in lead-up chats with on board scientist Kym Yano, we will be traveling along lines called “transects” in the Pacific Ocean, looking for all the popular Cetacean hangouts.  When a cetacean is sighted, we move toward the lil’ guy (or gal) and all his friends to take an estimate, and if it permits, a biopsy.  There is a second team of scientists working below deck listening for Cetacean gossip (whale calls) as well.  Acoustic scientists will record the whale or dolphin calls for later review and confirmation of identification of species, and, of course, general awesomeness.

But that’s not all!

We will also be dropping CTD’s twice per day, which is pretty standard ocean scientific practice.  Recall that the CTD will give us an idea of temperature, salinity, and pressure variations with depth, alerting us to the presence and locations of any of the “clines” – thermocline, halocline, and pycnocline.  Recall that in areas near the equator, rapid changes of temperature, salinity, and density with depth are pretty common year-round, but at the middle latitudes, these form and dissipate through the course of the solar year. These density changes with depth can block nutrients from moving to the surface, which can act as a cutoff to primary production.  Further, the CTD readings will help the acoustic scientists to do their work, as salinity and temperature variations will change the speed of sound in water.

There will also be a team working to sight sea birds and other marine life that doesn’t fall under the cetacean study (think sea turtles and other fun marine life).  This study is enormous in scope.  And I’m so excited to be a part of it!

Pop Quiz:

What is the difference between a porpoise and a dolphin?  

It has to do with 3 identifiers:  Faces, Fins, and Figures.

According to NOAA’s Ocean Service Website…

Faces:  Dolphins have prominent “beaks” and cone-shaped teeth, while Porpoises have smaller mouths and teeth shaped like spades.

Fins: Dolphin’s dorsal (back) fins are curved, while porpoises fins are more triangle-shaped

Figures: Dolphins are leaner, and porpoises are more “portly.”

Dolphins are far more prevalent, and far more talkative.  But both species are wicked-smart, using sonar to communicate underwater.

Resources:

HICEAS website

Bradford, A. L., Forney, K. A., Oleson, E. M., & Barlow, J. (2017). Abundance estimates of cetaceans from a line-transect survey within the U.S. Hawaiian Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. Fishery Bulletin, 115(2), 129-142. doi:10.7755/fb.115.2.1

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.