Michelle Greene: Visual Sighting Team, July 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Michelle Greene

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

July 19 – August 3, 2018


Mission: Cetacean Survey

Geographic Area: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Coast

Date: July 22-23, 2018

Latitude: 40° 35.213″ N

Longitude: 66° 6.692″ W

Sea Surface Temperature: 23.4° C (74.1° F)

Knots: 7.85 knots

Science and Technology Blog:

The visual sighting team started early this morning at 6:00 am and had rotating shifts of 30 minutes each until 7:00 pm.  The different shifts included watching with regular binoculars on the port and starboard sides, watching with the big eyes on the port and starboard sides, and being the data recorder for sightings.  I had the opportunity to shadow scientists in each of these positions throughout the first day and actually performed the duties on the second day.

Members of the Cetacean Survey Visual Team on Lookout
Members of the Cetacean Survey Visual Team on Lookout

One of the important jobs the data recorder has is to input the environmental conditions at a certain point in time.  The first measurement to input is the percent of cloud cover which is just a number from 0 to 100. Then the glare magnitude is determined on an ordinal scale from 0 to 4 with a value of zero meaning none and a value of four meaning severe.  After determining the glare magnitude, the percent of glare cover is determined.  Since the two sets of big eyes cover from 90 degrees left of the bow to 90 degrees right of the bow, the glare covering this spaced is what is determined.  The data recorder also has to determine the degree angle and height of the ocean swell.  Swell is not the wind waves generated by local weather.  It is the wind waves that are generated by distant weather systems.  Then the Beaufort scale is used to determine the amount of wind on the ocean.  The scale was developed by Sir Francis Beaufort of the United Kingdom Royal Navy in 1805.  The scale ranges from 0-12.  A zero score means the surface is smooth and mirror like, while a score of 12 means there are hurricane force winds.  Rain or fog is also determined by the data recorder.  Finally, the data recorder has to determine a subjective condition of the weather overall.  This is on an ordinal scale from 1 to 4 with 1 being poor and 4 being excellent.

When a marine animal is sighted by one of the observers, the data recorder has to input several measurements about the event.  The bearing of the location of the animal has to be determined using the big eyes.  Also, the big eyes have a scale in the lens called reticles that determines distance from the ship to the animal.  A conversion scale can then be used to determine how far away the animal is in meters or nautical miles.  The number of animals sighted, including any calves that are in the group, has to be given.  The group’s swim direction has to be determined based on bearing from the ship.  If possible, the species of the group has to be given.  Since the objective of this survey is to find the occurrence of Mesoplodons in the North Atlantic Ocean, determining the species is very important.  Also the observer has to give the initial cue as to what determined the identification of the species.  Several different cues are available such as the body of the animal, the blow of a whale or dolphin, or the splash.

The software used to input the occurrence of a marine mammal automatically inputs the GPS of a sighting.  The initial route for this survey is a zig zag pattern out of Rhode Island towards Georges Bank.  There are several canyons with very deep waters (over 1,000 meters) which is where the Mesoplodons make foraging dives to get food.  Instead of making a straight line through the canyons and only making one pass through the area, using zig zag routes gives the survey a better chance of locating Mesoplodons.  The chief scientist uses the information from sightings to track a path for the ship to take the next day.  Sometimes the acoustics team hears possible Mesoplodons.  If the acoustics team can find a convergence of the area of an animal, they will tell the ship to go at a slower rate or turn.

The map here shows the sightings of Mesoplodons from the beginning of our journey and the zig zag pattern taken by the chief scientist.  The first day of our journey, a storm was coming up the East Coast.  The Gordon Gunter‘s Commanding Officer (CO) determined that we could run from the storm by going east in a straight line direction instead of doing the zig zag motion.  The CO was correct, because we did not have bad weather.  The ocean had a lot of high swells which made the boat rock tremendously at times but no rain.

A map of the daily route of the Gordon Gunter based on sightings.


Personal Log

I have found my favorite place to be on the visual sighting team…being the data recorder.  Statistics is my passion, and being the data recorder puts me in the middle of the action getting mass amounts of data.  It also helps that the data recorder sits in a high chair and can see a wide area of the ocean.  The scientists have been very helpful in finding me a milk crate, because that chair is so high I cannot get onto it without the milk crate.  Being the data recorder can be intense sometimes, because multiple sightings can be made at the same time.  In any free time I have, I will fill in as the data recorder.  It is lots of fun!

Data Recorder
Favorite place to be on the visual team – Data Recorder

One thing that was a little intimidating to me at first was the intercom system.  I would hear things like, “Fly Bridge Bridge.”  Then the data recorder would say “Bridge Fly Bridge.”  I had no clue of what they were talking about.  Then all of a sudden it made sense to me.  In “Fly Bridge Bridge,” someone from the Bridge is calling up to us on the Fly Bridge.  The Bridge has a question or wants to tell the people on the Fly Bridge something.  Since I figured it out, I am ready to go.

I have learned so much on this cruise in the short time I have been aboard the Gordon Gunter.  My head is exploding with the numbers of lessons that I can incorporate into my statistics classes.  I have also talked with the acousticians, Jenny, Joy, Emily, and Anna Maria, and have come up with lessons that I can use with my algebra and calculus classes as well.  The scientists have been very generous in sharing their knowledge with a science newbie.  Being a math teacher, I want to be able to expose my students to all kinds of content that do not deal with just the boring math class.  Being a Teacher at Sea has opened up a whole new experience for me and my students.

We have an interesting participant in our cruise that I was not expecting but was happy to meet…a seabird observer.  Before this cruise I did not know there were birds that pretty much lived on the surface of the ocean.  These birds have been flying around the ship which is about 100 nautical miles from shore.  The seabird observer documents all sightings of seabirds and takes pictures to include in his documentation.

Did You Know?

Reticles are the way a pair of binoculars helps observers to determine the distance to an animal; however, the conversion from reticles to distance is not an instantaneous solution.  Based on the height of a pair of binoculars on the ship, reticles can mean different distances.  A conversion chart must be used to determine actual distance.

Check out this article on how to estimate distance to an object with reticles in a pair of binoculars:

Using reticle binoculars to estimate range

Animals Seen

  1. Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)
  2. Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus)
  3. Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
  4. Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus)
  5. Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
  6. Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
  7. Great shearwater bird (Puffinus gravis)
  8. Cory’s shearwater bird (Calonectris borealis)
  9. Wilson’s storm petrel bird (Oceanites oceanicus)
  10. Leach’s storm petrel bird (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)
  11. White-faced storm petrel bird (Pelagodroma marina)
  12. Red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)


  1. acoustician – someone whose work deals with the properties of sound
  2. bearing – the direction from your location to an object in the distance starting at 0° which is located at absolute north.  For example, if an animal is spotted at 90°, then it is due east of your location.
  3. blow of a whale – the exhalation of the breath of a whale that usually looks like a spray of water and is an identifying feature of different species of whales
  4. bow of a ship – the point of the ship that is most forward as the ship is sailing (also known as the front of the ship)
  5. cloud cover – the portion of the sky that is covered with clouds
  6. foraging dive – a type of deep dive where a whale searches for food on the ocean floor
  7. glare – the light reflected from the sun off of the ocean
  8. nautical mile – a measurement for determining distance on the ocean which is approximately 2025 yards (or 1.15 miles) or 1852 meters
  9. port side of a ship – when looking forward toward the bow of the ship, the left side of the ship is port
  10. starboard side of a ship – when looking forward toward the bow of the ship, the right side is starboard

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.

Kimberly Gogan: Science Spot Light – Marine Mammal Observing, April 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance Survey Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area of Cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: April 12, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 10.3 degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 10.5 knots
Water Temp: 8,2 degrees Celsius
Water Depth: 145.65 meters


Jen Gatzke, Chief Scientist of AMAPPS Leg 2 aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.
Jen Gatzke, Chief Scientist of AMAPPS Leg 2 aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

Science and Technology Log

In the last blog I talked about all the different scientists who are working on Gordon Gunter. Today I am going to explain why. First, all of the scientists are here working under a program called the  Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, or AMAPPS for short. It is a multi-year project that has a large number of scientists from a variety of organizations whose main goal is “to document the relationship between the distribution and abundance of cetaceans, sea turtles and sea birds with the study area relative to their physical and biological environment.” The scientists are here working under the AMAPPS because of several government acts: the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act require scientists to do periodic checks of the populations of the protected species and the ecosystems they live in to make sure there have been no major human activities that have affected these species.

The National Environmental Policy Act also requires scientists to evaluate human impacts and come up with new plans to help the protected and endangered species. Finally the Migratory Bird Treaty requires that counties work together to monitor and protect migratory birds.  The project has a variety of activities that need to be conducted which is why all the different scientists are needed from the different groups like NOAA, Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Navy, and NOAA Northeast  and Southeast Fisheries Science Centers.  The variety of activities that are being done over multiple years under the AMAPPS include: aerial surveys, shipboard surveys, tag data, acoustic data, ecological and habitat data,  developing population size and distribution estimates, development of technology tools and modes, as well as development of a database that can provide all the collected data to different users. The AMAPPS project is also collecting  in depth data at a couple of areas of  special interest to NOAA & BOEM where there are proposed Offshore Wind Farms  to be built in the ocean.


Two of the Observer Team working their shifts on the Fly Bridge in on the "
Two of the Observer Team members working their shifts on the Fly Bridge in on the “Big Eyes”

Science Spot Light

Let me introduce the Chief Scientist, Jen Gatzke and the Marine Mammal Observer Team. Chief Scientist Jen works with the Protected Species Branch at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). She primarily studies right whales.

Her main job here on the ship is to coordinate the teams of scientists so that each team is able to accomplish what it needs most efficiently while meeting the goals of the research mission. In this case the goal is to survey a large number of transect lines in a variety of marine habitats, both inshore and offshore.

She started sailing on NOAA ships 24 years ago in Pascagoula, Mississippi! Even thought Jen oversees all the science going on here on the Gordon Gunter, she is also part of the Marine Mammal Observer Team that does a rotating watch for mammals. The observer team starts its day at 7AM and works until 7PM except  for the 1 hour break at lunch when the daytime Oceanography team can conduct some of their sampling.

When they start their day observing it is called “on effort.” This means that the observer team and NOAA Corps are all ready to conduct the shipboard surveys the way they have determined would be best. This means a group of scientists that are all at their stations are ready to go and the NOAA Corps makes sure the ship stays on a particular designated course for a particular amount of time. When the team is “on effort” they have 4 rotating stations. There are two on the very upper deck, called the fly deck that watches with 2 very large (25×150) binoculars they call the “big eyes” on each side, port (left) and starboard (right) of the ship  Then there is another station on the lower starboard (right)  side deck that also use the “big eyes”  to scan for marine mammals as well. The last  station is the recorder who is located on the Bridge, or wheelhouse, where the NOAA Corps man the ship. The recorder is entering valuable data into a computer program designed specifically for this activity. Not only is the recorder keeping track of the different mammals that are spotted on the “big eyes,” they are also keeping track of important information about the weather, glare of the sun, and conditions of the ocean.

I learned the teams use some cool nautical terms during their observations and recordings. The first one is  the Beaufort Scale for sea state, or basically how calm or rough the seas are. Beaufort is measured by a numerical system with 0 being very calm and with no ripples to a 5 which is lots of white caps with foamy spray. Beaufort numbers go higher but it is very difficult to spot any sort of mammal evidence in seas that are rougher than a Beaufort 5. The team also measures the distance of the sighting using another measurement tool called a Reticle. The reticle is a mark on the inside of the “big”eye” binoculars. Its scale goes from 0 -20 and the 0 is always lined up with the horizon and allows the observer to give a quick reference number that can be used in a hurry to provide distance with a simple geometry equation.

The head shot of' "Thorny" the Right a whale taken by observer Todd Pusser on the Gordon Gunter AMAPPS Leg 2.
The head shot of’ “Thorny” the Right Whale taken by observer Todd Pusser on the Gordon Gunter AMAPPS Leg 2.

Although there are several other pieces of information the observers are looking for and giving to the recorder, the positive identification of the particular species of mammal is the most important. There are some species like the North Atlantic Right Whale, that is of particular interest to the team because they are the most endangered large whale in the North Atlantic Ocean. Not only is it exciting for the team and the rest of the ship as well to see sightings of them, their detected presence in particular areas could mean the implementation of tighter rules, like speed limits for ships that might be in the areas these animals are seen frequently. When the teams sights one of these whales, the ship is allowed to go “off effort” and follow the swim direction of the whales in order to get pictures with very large cameras that will allow the scientist to positively identify the particular whale.  Some of the other species seen frequently are humpback whales, fin whales, sei whales, minke whales, pilot whales, striped dolphins, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, gray seals, harbor seals, loggerhead sea turtles, sharks and ocean sunfish.

Me on the Fly Bridge watching for whales and seals.
Me on the Fly Bridge watching for whales and seals.

Personal Log

So far for the first leg of the trip we have taken one very rough trip offshore and because of the weather we have been doing a string of transect lines that are close to the shore off Martha’s Vineyard, which is one of the areas of special interest to NOAA due to the projected offshore wind farm.

The day before yesterday, at just about dusk, the Chief Scientist Jen was the first to spot one of the North Atlantic Right Whales. I was in the lab at the time that Jen came running through yelling “we have right whales!”

She very quickly came back with a huge case which held the team’s camera used for close-ups of the whales. By the time I was on deck, so were many of the off duty scientists and the ship’s crew. Everyone was very excited and joined the frenzy of following, tracking and getting some good shots of the group of right whales. There ended up being 4 whales in all, which mean that there are enough to trigger a Dynamic Management Area (DMA), a management zone designed to provide two weeks of protection to three or more right whales from ship collisions. Ships larger than 65 ft are requested to proceed through the designated area at no more than 10 knots of speed.

One of the observers, Todd Pusser also had a large camera and was able to get a good head shot of one of the whales to send back to the lab. Allison Henry, another right whale biologist at NEFSC, was able to positively identify the whale as an adult male known as “Thorny”, aka EGNO (Eubalaena glacialis number) 1032, who has been seen only in the northeast since the 1980s! (click on “Thorny” to see the New England Aquarium Right Whale Catalog which houses and handles the identifications for all North Atlantic right whales.) It’s pretty cool that I actually got to see him too. Even thought it’s not the warmest job, it makes it all worth it just to see something as amazing as that!

Genevieve & I  up on the Fly Bridge on the "Big Eyes!"
Genevieve & I up on the Fly Bridge on the “Big Eyes!”

Did you know?

Did you know you can listen to Right Whale sounds and see where Right Whales are on the East Coast? Check out this page!  Click on this link for The Right Whale Listening Network.  NEFSC even has an Apple APP for seeing where the Right Whales are on the east coast and explains how to avoid them 🙂 Go to the app store – its free!

Me all dressed up in the "Mustang' suit helping the team keeping an eye out for whales.
Me all dressed up in the “Mustang” suit helping the team keep an eye out for whales.

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

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log

Cetaceans Are Among Us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live Feed at 543 Meters! 

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

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

Did you Know? 

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

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





Personal Log

Daily Life Aboard the Sette

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


Suzanne Acord: Underway off the Kona Coast of the Big Island, March 18, 2014

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

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 18, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 08:00
Wind: 20 knots
Visibility: 12 nautical miles
Weather: Clear
Depth in fathoms: 2,521
Depth in feet: 15,126
Temperature: 23.5˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Kona cruise map
2014 Kona IEA Cruise Map

HARP (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package) deployment: 06:00

Ali Bayless leads this early morning deployment of the HARP, or High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package. This is an instrument that monitors marine mammals and studies ambient ocean noise over long periods of time. Peruse the cruise course map above to find the red circle with H1. This is where the HARP was deployed. We will pick up another HARP in the location marked H2 later during the cruise. The H1 HARP will be at the bottom of the ocean for a whole year recording all acoustics in the vicinity. We are listening for various species of cetaceans in order to determine their presence near this unique oceanographic feature, the Jaggar Seamount. This is a first because a HARP has never been dropped in the area. Sixteen discs of data will ultimately provide a snap shot of what has been happening acoustically in the area. Unfortunately, we can’t take a sneak peak at the data prior to the HARP’s retrieval.

Marine Mammal Observation (MMO) training by Ali: 08:00

Ali is also our Marine Mammals Operations lead. While on the flying bridge, Ali encourages our team to keep an eye out for sperm and pilot whales. Each MMO participant will serve 45 minutes on portside and 45 minutes on starboard side in rotating shifts. We must be sure to complete the sighting form to ensure we keep track of our mammal friends. Ali provides illustrations for our team and points out a few key features of marine mammals so that we can more effectively identify them.

MMO watch
Suzanne and Beth on MMO watch in the flying bridge 

MMO begins: 09:30

Scientists rotate through the flying bridge throughout the day with handy binoculars. When we see a mammal, we radio acoustics to let them know the location. This is more fun than it sounds. Ocean + binoculars + flying bridge = awesome!

Science Party Interview with Aimee Hoover

Official title: JIMAR Research Data Specialist

Aimee Hoover
Aimee Hoover at the acoustics monitoring station

Aimee has spent the past two and a half years with JIMAR (Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research). She is technically a State of Hawaii employee who often has the opportunity to work with NOAA.

Her job is flexible. She can analyze data on a variety of projects. In addition to our IEA, Aimee has worked with swordfish and tuna long line fisheries, species composition, and the size and structure of animals. She frequently examines large oceanographic features such as transition zone chlorophyll front (TZCF). She analyzes the movements and the locations of the TZCF, which travel from the north to the south. She mentions that turtles often feed off of this mysterious matter.

Aimee’s favorite job task: Cruises.

On this cruise, Aimee is hoping to find: Squid in the acoustics.

Coolest thing Amy has ever seen at sea:  In Maui, Aimee witnessed a female humpback riding next to and under their ship to avoid potentially mating males. This lasted for two hours!

Personal Log

My first days on board have been a whirlwind. Our push off time was delayed by six hours. Despite this, the NOAA crew was sure to use every moment of our delay wisely. We practiced our abandon ship drill and fire drill in addition to receiving a ship safety and etiquette briefing by OPS Officer, Ryan Wattam. It looks like my muster point during emergencies is on the Texas deck, port side. There is so much to learn and so much to do aboard the Sette. I have eaten great food, visited the bridge, assisted with a CTD deployment, and have met countless amazing crew members and scientists. It is only day two!

Pre boarding
Prior to boarding at Ford Island
Abandon ship
Note to self: Get suit and lifejacket and head to the Texas deck when I hear seven blows of the horn

Did You Know?

What is the difference between a rope and a line? “A line is a rope with a purpose,” according to Mills Dunlap, NOAA crew member.

A Tasty Surprise

Lines were immediately cast once underway. During an intense moment, Mills Dunlap ran toward a starboard line off the stern of the ship. Excitingly, an Ono would serve as our first catch. An omen? I think so. The food aboard the Sette is delicious!

Mills catches an Ono
NOAA crew member, Mills Dunlap, with a recently caught Ono