Christopher Faist: It Happened, July 27, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Faist
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 20 — August 1, 2011

Mission: Cetacean and Seabird Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 27, 2011

Weather Data
Air Temp:  17 ºC
Water Temp: 17 ºC
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Water Depth: 4365 meters

Science and Technology Log

Well it happened.  This morning I was taking care of a few things before heading to the observation post and while I was below deck they spotted Killer Whales.  By the time I got to the deck the animals were gone.  Initially, I was disappointed but the day continued with another sighting of Killer Whales, some Risso’s dolphins, a pod of Atlantic Spotted dolphins, a couple of Sperm Whales, a group of Sowerby’s Beaked Whales and a couple of Basking Sharks.  This list of animals is long but keep in mind this was over the course of 11 hours of observation.

Marine Mammal Observers use a variety of strategies to keep themselves “fresh” and able to look for animals for long periods of time through every weather condition.  The design of their survey procedure allows each observer to take a 30-minute break during each 2-hour session.  This gives them time to rest their eyes, get out of the weather and get something to eat.  Some of the other techniques to stay sharp may go unnoticed but are important and can only be learned from experienced observers.

Observer with Fireball

Observer with Fireball

Standing for hours and looking through binoculars on a rolling ship is not for everyone.   After spending some time observing animals at sea I can pass along a few tricks.  The days can be long but playing music can help keep the time moving.  Talking to other observers keeps your mind engaged and helps to stay focused.  When you start to feel like you need a jolt to stay awake try an Atomic Fireball.  These small candies pack a spicy reminder that you need to stay alert.  In this picture, one of the observers is holding her Fireball in her hand because she was not able to handle the intense heat.

To get a job as a Marine Mammal Observer you need to withstand these challenges while maintaining your ability to tell the difference between a splash and a white cap from three miles away.  Once you do detect the animal you still need to identify the animal with only a quick glimpse of the animal.  Below are a few pictures taken recently for you to test your skills.  Can you use the links above to correctly ID the animals?

RD ID

RD ID

AtSp ID2

AtSp ID2

SW ID

SW ID

BS ID

BS ID

Personal Log

Now that I have overcome my run in with seasickness, life at sea is great.  We are so far out, over 200 nautical miles, that we have lost our satellite TV connection and that is fine with me.  I have seen a variety of species for the first time and I am enjoying being surrounded by people who share my passion for the ocean and marine mammals.

Donna Knutson, September 15, 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 15, 2010

KILLER WHALES!

I am holding a tuna that Mills caught.

 

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”,aound Hawaii.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sightings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Killer Whales coming up for air.

Latitude: 27○ 40.6’ N
Longitude: 175○ 48.7’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.5○ C
Air Temperature:  27.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.2 mb
Orca is another name for Killer Whale.  They are some of the best known cetaceans.  Killer whales are the largest members of dolphin family.
Killer Whales are easily recognized by their huge dorsal fin that is located in the middle of their backs.  The male’s dorsal fin is usually between three and six feet high.  Orcas have unique flippers that are large broad and rounded.  Their bodies have a black and white color pattern.
The male Killer Whale can reach thirty feet long and weigh at least twelve thousand pounds.  The females are smaller in size reaching only twenty-six feet long and weigh eight thousand four hundred pounds.  The females may outlive the males by twenty to thirty years, living between eighty to ninety years.
 Killer Whales are not limited to any particular region.  Depending on the prey they prefer, Killer Whales can be found in cold or warm climates.  Orcas have a varied diet which may consist of fish, squid, large baleen whales, sperm whales, sea turtles, seals, sharks, rays, deer and moose.  Pods tend to specialize in a particular food and follow it.  Killer Whales tend to use cooperative hunting groups for large prey.
Orcas form matrilineal groups sometimes containing four generations.  All females help with calf rearing.  The females are more social and may be associated with more than one pod, but males are usually by themselves.  One group near British Columbia contained approximately sixty whales.
Killer Whales are not endangered, but numbers are declining in Washington and British Columbia.  The reasons for the decrease in whale numbers is not known, but possible factors may include chemical or noise pollution or a decrease in the food supply.
Personal Log:

In the middle is a mother with her calf.

I was just leaving the bridge after the XO (executive officer) asked me if I would like to join her and Doctor Tran to Midway tomorrow.  I knew we were stopping to pick up Jason, a Monk Seal Biologist who needed a boat ride from Midway to Kure Island, but I heard no one was going ashore.  So when she asked, I was totally thrilled and extremely excited to get my feet wet and of course said yes!
As I was leaving the bridge I decided to check out what was doing on the flying bridge.  When I got up there, everyone was on goggles or the big eyes, so I asked Aly what was going on.  She said someone saw a “black fish”, meaning something was seen, but not identified, and she offered me the big eyes she was looking through.  I looked maybe for five seconds and said, “I see it”!  This is very rare for me to see something so quickly!  I’m thinking, “I just saw a KILLER WHALE!!” but no one was excited or talking about it.  So now I begin to doubt myself, “That was a Killer Whale right?”

Three adults and a calf.

In the middle of my self -doubt, Adam comes running up the ladder screaming, “KILLER WHALE!!”  Drat why didn’t I say anything!  There wasn’t only one, but five killer whales!  One was a mother with her small calf! Wow what amazing animals! I couldn’t stop staring, and I wasn’t the only one.  There was a “full house” on deck again with everyone oooing and ahing.
Orcas aren’t typically seen in this area, but then again this is a survey ship, and this area hasn’t been surveyed in a very long time.
When the small boat was launched to try and tag one of the adult whales with a tracking device, they dove never to be seen again.  These animals are just too smart.  What an extraordinary experience!
Tomorrow I will have another adventure!  An adventure few people have taken.  I am going to Midway.  Midway Atoll is now a National Wildlife Refuge and also holds the Battle of Midway National Memorial.  I’m off to see a glimpse of our nation’s past and a birding and seal paradise!

Orca by itseft.