Donna Knutson, September 1, 2010

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

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

Getting Underway

Mission and Geographical Area:

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

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

The old control tower for midway.
Science and Technology:
The Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor

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

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

Melinda Storey, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Melinda Storey
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 21, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum fine for violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Personal Log

Watching the dolphins playfully swim below us at the bow is like watching water nymphs. I can almost see them smiling. They spring out of the water just ahead of the ship and then peel off at a ninety degree angle. FAST doesn’t even begin to describe their movement. I especially enjoy watching some of them swim upside down, their white bellies gleaming. The CO is really good at spotting them far away. The dolphins swim straight toward the ship lickity-split as if someone just let kids out for recess and they run straight for the playground. We’ve seen some babies with their mothers as well as some older spotted dolphins. It is totally amazing to look straight down into their blowholes! You can even hear them “snort” when they come up for air. Never in my life did I think I would ever have an up-close and personal relationship with a dolphin!


The sunsets here are so spectacular. Check out the middle of the cloud on the left. If you look carefully you can see that the cloud has a heart-shaped opening. Last night’s sunset was purple and orange and just looked like a painting by one of the Masters. Our scientists have told us to watch for the “green flash.” If conditions are right and there aren’t many clouds, you can see a flash of neon green just as the sun plops below the horizon. We keep watching but so far no green flash.

The night is also spectacular. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. One night I went out to the bow about 12:00am and it was pitch black. Then when I looked up, it was if God had thrown diamonds into the night sky. The half moon glistened against the ocean and the lapping of the water against the bow made it just so peaceful. You don’t see that many stars at home because of all the city lights. This is almost indescribable.

One evening the ship’s crew was fishing with fishing poles off the stern (back) of the ship when one guy said his hook had gotten stuck on something. I find that amazing since they were fishing 60 feet deep. He yanked and pulled and yanked again and finally pulled up what you see here.


The orange mass that you see here is a lot of animals called crinoids. They’ve wrapped themselves around a wire coral, which you can see here at the left side and the top right hand corner. The wire coral is green. The cool thing is all of this was alive and moving. Holding it felt surreal. It was somewhat like holding a big batch of worms.

New Term/Vocabulary

Pod – a group of dolphins

Slipstream – the wake created by the dolphins as they swim

Echelon – the dragging of the babies in the slipstream

Logging – a type of dolphin sleep where they are floating and they look like a log

Cat-napping – a light stage of sleeping

Fluke – the tail of the dolphins

“Something to Think About”

Dolphins are “social animals,” which means they travel together. What would be the benefits for traveling in pods?

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that a mama dolphin doesn’t stop swimming for the first several weeks after the birth of its young? This is because a baby needs to sleep and rest and can only do that by sleeping beside its mother. The baby sleeps while its mother swims, towing the baby along in her slipstream, the drag behind the mom. This is called echelon swimming. If the mother stops swimming, the sleeping baby will sink below the surface and drown.

Karolyn Braun, October 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karolyn Braun
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
October 4 – 28, 2006

Mission: TAO Buoy Array Maintenance
Geographical Area: Hawaii
Date: October 24, 2006

A pilot whale breeches the surface of the water.
A pilot whale breaches the surface of the water.

Plan of the Day 

Well it was a long early morning. I was awoken at 2 a.m. to prepare for the 300 CTD profile. By the time I was finished and all was said and done, it was time for the next one. We sailed by the TAO buoy and all looked well so we went ahead and conducted the CTD and deployed the AOML. My last CTD for the day was the 1230 profile at 2.5N/170W.  Eric from MBARI will be doing the evening one.  I walked on the treadmill for an hour then made a nice salad for lunch.  I honestly don’t eat this much on my own.  It’s easy to eat when every meal is made for you.  One can easily gain weight out here. I did some knot tying and rested a bit but did not want to nap, as I would not sleep tonight.  We saw another pod of Pilot whales off the port bow playing in the water. Snapped a few good photos.

Lets talk about whales shall we?  Whales are mammals, and there are five distinct groups of marine mammals: Pinnepeds, which include seals, sea lions, fur seals and walruses;  Sea Otters; Cetaceans containing whales, dolphins and porpoises; Sirenians which consist of dugongs and manatees; and Polar Bears.  So what does it mean to be a marine mammal?  Well like all mammals, they are warm-blooded, they have at least a few hairs on their bodies, and they nourish their young with milk.  These mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that was enacted in 1979, which made it illegal to “take” any marine mammal.  The term “take” includes harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill, or attempt to do the same.  “Harass” denotes the act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has potential to disturb marine mammals.  In1994 it was amended to strengthen the definition of harass and included feeding.

Pilot whales have been hunted for many centuries, particularly by Japanese whalers.  In the mid-1980s the annual Japanese kill was about 2,300 animals.  This had decreased to about 400 per year by the 1990s. Killing by harpoon is still relatively common in the Lesser Antilles, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Hundreds or perhaps thousands are killed each year in longline and gillnets.  However, due to poor record-keeping it is not known how many kills are made each year, and what the effect this has on the local population. Female pilot whales mature at 6 years of age and a length of about 3.5 m.  Males mature much later when 12 years old and 5 m in length.  Mature adult males, which are generally larger than females, can weigh as much as 3 tons.  At birth, calves weigh slightly over 200 lbs. They are born after a pregnancy of 16 months, and are weaned at around 20 months of age.

Pilot whales have strong social cohesiveness; it is rare to see a single individual.  Even when being driven ashore by whalers, they would stay together as a group.  Groups typically contain animals of both sexes and many different ages.  The males may compete for breeding privileges, forming a hierarchy that excludes smaller males.  Large assemblages may also be composed of smaller, close-knit groups, which are stable over time.  Pilot whales are some of the noisiest whales in the ocean. Their group structure requires social communication, and they orient to prey objects by echolocation.  Vocalizations include a wide variety of whistles and clicks.