Daniel Rivera, Days 3 & 4 Bird & Mammal Observation

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Daniel Rivera

Aboard the Ship R/V Fulmar

July 16-24, 2014

 

Mission: Water conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) readings; marine bird and mammal counts

Geographical Area: Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries; Sonoma County Coast, Pacific Ocean

Dates: July 18 and 19, 2014

 Weather Data from the bridge: Wind speed variable, less than 10 knots; wind waves less than 2 feet; visibility about 3 KMs, temperature range from 59-68

 Science and Technology Log: Friday and Saturday are mostly filled with marine bird and mammal observations, and we covered many transect lines in the last 2 days: Lines 1, 3, 5, 7, N1, and N3-N7.

These are the paths, or transect lines, taken by our ship on our cruise.

These are the paths, or transect lines, taken by our ship on our cruise.

The transects lines with an “N” stand for near-shore lines, and they are shorter. During these two days the near-shore lines were the only lines where we took CTD readings, so the majority of the time was spent monitoring birds and mammals from the flying bridge, which is the top deck of the boat.

Scanning for birds and mammals while riding atop a moving vessel can be quite challenging for a number of reasons. First of all, a boat is at mercy of the waves, so the bobbing motion makes it hard to focus your eyes. Second, the organisms you are monitoring are in motion as well, so you have to have a quick eye to see them and follow them. Finally, many of the organisms aren’t directly in front of the boat, so you have to be well-trained in spotting the subtle and not so subtle differences in hundreds of organisms. It’s a tough job that requires good eyes, patience, a strong stomach, lots of practice, and the ability to withstand ever-changing weather conditions.

When a marine bird is spotted, there are a series of codes that the watcher calls out to the person recording the sightings on the laptop. As mentioned in an earlier post, these codes stand for location, number of organisms, etc. For example, when on the top deck you might here this: Common Murre 2, zone 1, flying, 160. This means that there are two Common Murre birds within 100 meters of the boat, and they are flying toward 160 degrees in relation to the boat (in a 360-degree circle). For this protocol, zero degrees is always at the bow, or the front, of the boat, and 180 degrees points directly to the stern, or the back, of the boat.

When a marine mammal is sighted, there are even more codes. For example, you may hear this: Mammal, by eye, bearing 270, reticle 7, observer 9, side 1, traveling, immature, sex unknown, 2-2-2.

Now, that is a lot of information. What does all this mean? Take a look at this picture, which has the meanings for all of the codes.

Here are the codes that are called out while monitoring marine mammals and birds. As you can see, there is a lot of information that is called out during a spotting.

Here are the codes that are called out while monitoring marine mammals and birds. As you can see, there is a lot of information that is called out during a spotting.

Now look at the bottom half of this picture where it’s labeled Line Transect Entries-Marine Mammals and Vessels. In order to make sense of these codes, start with the left column and work your way down, moving along to the second column on the right and back down again. By using this chart, you realize what is being said: Marine mammal, spotted by eye (as opposed to binoculars), and it’s located at 270 degrees. Next up is reticule, which is a bit more complicated.

On reticule binoculars, there are 14 tick marks in a vertical column that the observer can see when looking through the lens; the top tick mark is 0 and the bottom is 14. When looking for marine mammals, you can estimate where they are located by these tick marks, called reticules. Reticule 0 is the horizon, and reticule 14 is the boat. If you have a mammal sighting at reticule 7, that means the mammal is roughly somewhere in the middle between the horizon and the boat, which is quite a distance. It takes a lot of practice to accurately estimate distance this way, especially on a rocking boat, but the ACCESS crew is well versed in this task. This is an important data point because the computer program will use compass direction and distance to provide a location on the ocean for the observation. At the end of the cruise, all the observations will be mapped out and you can see how many of which animals were seen in what locations as we criss-crossed the ocean on the boat.

The rest of the codes are pretty self-explanatory until you reach the counts, which gives your best estimate for number of organisms. A count of 2-2-2- means your best estimate of number of organisms is 2, the high number of organisms is 2, and the low count is 2; when you hear a call like this, the observer is certain that the number of organisms is 2 because there is no fluctuation. If you heard a count of 2-3-2, the observer saw at least 2 organisms but it could have been 3. The observers include these different estimates because sometimes it is very hard to count exactly how many dolphins or other fast-moving animals there are.

Here are some pics from the flying bridge (or top deck of the boat). Notice the different weather conditions on two different days, and how the observers have to be prepared to bundle up for the fog and have on hats and sunglasses against the sun. Conditions can change rapidly while at sea.

Many hours are spent perched atop the flying bridge when marine mammal and bird observations take place.

Many hours are spent perched atop the flying bridge when marine mammal and bird observations take place.

A sunny day on the flying bridge.

A sunny day on the flying bridge.

 

Personal Log: I woke up later these past two days because I learned there is time to wake up while the boat is heading out to the first transect. There is no need to wake up before the crew starts the engines because on days such as these we have at least one hour from when we leave port to ready ourselves for the tasks at hand.

As mentioned earlier in the blog, these past two days were mostly bird and mammal observations with CTD readings toward the end of the day. When the boat first set out in the morning, we headed out to the west end of the transect line, and because we have more time, everyone on board shares stories, some work-related, some personal. It’s quite nice to have time for these conversations because even though you spend 8 days at sea with everyone, it’s hard to fit in conversation when you’re watching for organisms or trying not to fall off the boat while deploying a net.

Dani Lipski, the Research Coordinator from Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, is a dive master for NOAA. She has lots of wonderful stories about diving, conducting research on different ships and islands up and down the West coast, and she is great at preventing me from tripping over myself on the back deck (I work with Dani the most). Kirsten Lindquist, from the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, loves to cook, spent two seasons in Alaska studying whales, and is an expert seabird observer. Rudy, the man in charge of IT at Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, can spot birds, mammals, and even mylar balloons; if it’s on or in the ocean, he’ll notice it. He is also the resident comedian, providing many instances of humor throughout the day. In short, everyone on board is knowledgeable about their jobs and dedicated to protecting the health of the world’s oceans, and it’s inspiring to be around a group as dedicated as the ACCESS cruise team.

Some other tidbits learned: Jaime–the director of all the marine work at Point Blue Conservation and the master of the Tucker Trawl–has a favorite spot to rest on the boat; the bunk rooms never seem to completely dry out; the best place to feel well on a boat is the back because of the least amount of up and down motion; and Dru, mammal spotter extraordinaire from Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, can make an excellent guacamole.

Speaking of food, Cheez-It’s are a favorite of everyone on board, Coke Zero is consumed at nauseam, and apparently the presence of M&Ms brings whale sightings (having a Teacher at Sea on board also seems to bring good whale sightings). Everyone takes turns cooking dinner, but breakfast and lunch are a free-for-all; you basically eat when you want or can while at sea, but dinner is a time for everyone to come together and share their day.

One interesting fact I forgot to mention is that when you come back to shore after spending 10 hours at sea, you still feel like you are moving up and down. When I was in the shower or even just sitting down on land, I felt like I was bobbing up and down and moving back and forth. You have a dizzy-like feeling,. Some people who don’t get sick at sea will get sick from this feeling when they return to land; this is called dock rock. Who knew?!

 

Did you know? Northern Right whale dolphins do not have dorsal fins.

Question of the Day? What types of foods do you think are ideally suited to a trip to sea with limited or no refrigeration?

New Term/Phrase/Word: Reticule

Something to Think About: Bananas on a boat are considered bad luck for several reasons. First, when they go bad the give off a gas that causes other fruit to rot faster. But there are more superstitious reasons as well: banana boats tended to be overloaded and, thus, sank a lot. Bananas carry tarantulas in them, so sailors didn’t want to get bit. You don’t want to bring something from the mountains to the sea, so you can’t bring bananas; there are sure to be more reasons why.

Challenge Yourself: Next time you’re at the shore or beach, count how many different species of birds you see and try to estimate their direction of travel, using a 360-degree circle as reference and using the horizon as 0 degrees.

Rebecca Kimport, JUNE 29, 2010 part2

NOAA Teacher at Sea Rebecca Kimport
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 30, 2010 – July 19, 2010

Mission: Summer Pollock survey
Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 29,  2010

Time with Birds and Mammals

On our way out of Dutch Harbor and Captain’s Bay, I spent some time on the bow with Katie, Michele and birder Nate Jones. As I know very little about birds, I quizzed him on every flying specimen we encountered and used his binoculars to observe the birds up close. After a few sightings, I was able to identify the Fulmar by its unique wing movement (quick quick quick soar). We also saw tufted puffins and a black-footed albatross. There are two birders (Nate and Marty from US Fish and Wildlife Service) on this leg who are responsible for scanning the horizon and counting and identifying the seabirds they observe from the bridge.Here is bird observer Nate Jones scanning the horizon for seabirds:

Nate Jones observing

Nate Jones observing

We were distracted from our bird watching by a call of orcas. We hustled up to the “flying bridge” to join the marine mammal observers. There are three “mammals” (Paula, Yin and Ernesto from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory) on this leg and they are constantly scanning the horizon with their “big eyes” to observe and identify cetaceans. I was able to observe two separate groups of orcas and heard that porpoises were also spotted.Here is marine mammalian observer Ernesto Vazquez looking through the big eyes on the flying bridge:

Ernesto observing mammals

Ernesto observing mammals

Although I am technically on the fish shift, I hope to check in with the “birds” and “mammals” later in the cruise. After spotting birds and mammals, it’s time for the first installment of the “animals seen” list:Animals Seen in Dutch Harbor
Bald eagles
Ground Squirrel
Sea Urchin
Sea Stars
Sea Cucumber
Pigeon Guillemot
Oyster Catchers
Mussels
Chiton
Limpets
Hermit Crabs
Snails
(but no horses…)Animals Seen in Transit
Orcas
Fulmars
Black Footed Albatross
Tufted Puffin

UPDATE
As many of you know, I am a horrible speller. When I went to check the spelling for the birds I had seen, I spotted a Thick-billed Murre from the bridge. Okay, in reality, the observation and identification went more like this:

Me: “Hey that’s a bird”
Nate: “Yes, it was a Thick-billed Murre”

I am impressed by the seabird and marine mammal observers’ abilities to spot and identify birds and mammals from such far distances. Like any recall-related skill, I recognize that animal identification takes both an innate talent and years of practice. But the animal observers also need to have extreme patience to maintain a clear focus, a methodologically-sound routine and a sense of possibility (as the weather is not always in their favor). We’re lucky to have such talented scientists counting species in the Bering Sea.

As we say goodbye to land, we know the real adventure is about to begin

Goodbye Land

Goodbye Land

More soon!