Catherine (Cat) Fuller: An Introduction, June 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

(Not Yet) Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (NGA-LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: 18 June 2019

Weather Data

(From Honolulu, HI)

Latitude: 21.33 N

Longitude: 157.94 W

Wind Speed and Direction: NE 15 G 23

Wind Swell Height and Direction: NE 3-5 ft

Secondary Swell Height and Direction: SSW 2-4 ft

Humidity: 47%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.1 mb

Heat Index: 93 F (34 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: clear and sunny

(From Seward, AK)

Latitude: 60.12 N

Longitude: 149.45 W

Wind Speed and Direction: S 9

Swell Height: 2 ft

Humidity: 77%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.0 mb

Heat Index: 56 F (13 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: Overcast

Personal Log

Aloha kākou! Greetings everyone! In about a week, I will be exchanging currently very warm and sunny Honolulu for the vastly different climate and ecological zone in Seward and the Northern Gulf of Alaska.  I will be embarking on R/V Sikuliaq there to participate in one part of a long-term study of the variability and resiliency of species in the area, but I will get to that in a bit.

In August, I will begin my seventeenth year as a sixth grade social studies teacher at ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school that is academically competitive at a national level.  In sixth grade social studies, our students focus on the development of the modern world from ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome.  I enjoy challenging my students to broaden their worldviews, especially about the impacts ancient civilizations have had on today’s world. We cover those for three quarters, and in the fourth quarter we examine the choices these civilizations have made and whether or not they contribute to a sustainable society.  I want my students to understand that sustainability is more than just picking up trash and conserving water, but it is also about choices in government, society, culture, behavior and environment. The content of our fourth quarter is predicated on the reality that we live in Hawai’i, an island group that is roughly 2000 miles from any other major point of land.

Living in Hawai’i can be just as idyllic as advertisements make it seem, with daily rainbows, colorful sunsets and blue ocean waves.  However, it also comes with challenges that we all have to face.  Our cost of living is among the highest in the nation, and we face constant struggles between maintaining culture and environment in a place with limited room for population growth.  We have a high homeless population, yet many of us joke that the (construction) crane is our state bird.  We are also braced to be at the forefront of climate change.  With a rise in sea level of 3 feet, most of Waikiki and much of downtown Honolulu is at risk of inundation.  In addition, changes in sea surface temperature affect our coral reefs and fish populations as well as minimizing or eliminating our trade winds through changes in weather patterns.  For these reasons, I hope to plant the awareness in my students that their generation is poised to make some major decisions about the state of the world.

My passion for sustainability and ocean health stems from the amount of time I spend in and on the water.  I have been a competitive outrigger canoe paddler for the last 30 or so years, and in the summers, I paddle five to six days a week.  I go to six-man team practices as well as taking my one-man canoe out with friends.  I also have coached high school paddling at ‘Iolani School for the last sixteen years. Being on the ocean so much makes me much more aware of the wildlife our waters shelter: monk seals, dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales.  It also makes me aware of the trash, especially plastics that are more and more present in the ocean.  I’ve picked up slippers, coolers, bottles, bags and even pieces of cargo net out of the water on various excursions.  Being on the water so often also fuels my interest in meteorology; you need to know what weather and ocean conditions to expect when you go to sea.  One major impact that being on the water has is that it allows you to see your island from offshore and realize that it is an ISLAND, and not a very big one at that!

Cat on Canoe
Me on my one-man canoe off He’eia, O’ahu

Some of the biggest lessons about the ocean that I’ve learned have come from my experiences with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a non-profit organization founded in 1973 to recreate the original settlement of Hawai’i by ocean voyaging canoes, as well as revive the ancient art of non-instrument navigation.  PVS is most well known for the voyaging canoe Hõkūlea, which sailed to Tahiti (and back again) in 1976 to prove the validity of these cultural arts.  I began working with the organization in 1994, helping to build a second voyaging canoe, Hawai’iloa, and have been there ever since.  As a part of this organization, I have sailed throughout the Pacific, to locations such as Tahiti, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Mangareva, and the Marquesas.  With Te Mana O Te Moana, another voyaging canoe initiative, I sailed to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. I’ve seen many faces of the Pacific Ocean on my travels and I look forward to seeing another. 

Between 2012 and 2017, PVS sent Hõkūle’a on a journey around the world.  The name of the voyage was Mālama Honua (To Protect the Earth) and the goal was to visit with indigenous communities to learn what challenges they face and how they work to preserve their lands and cultures.  One of the founding principles for this voyage is a Hawaiian saying, “he wa’a he moku, he moku he wa’a”, which means “the canoe is an island and the island is a canoe”.  The saying refers to the idea that the choices we make about positive behavior, bringing what we need as opposed to what we want, and what we do with our resources and trash while living in the limited space of a voyaging canoe are a reflection of the choices we need to make living on the islands of Hawai’i as well as living on island Earth.  I strive every day to make my students aware of the consequences of their choices.

voyaging canoe
Hõkūle’a en route to Aotearoa, 2014

Science and Technology Log

I’m pretty excited to go to Alaska, first of all, because I’ve never been there!  Secondly, we have species in Hawai’i (birds and whales) that migrate between our shores and Alaska on an annual basis.  Although the two locations are distant from each other, there are connections to be made, as Hawai’i and Alaska share the same ocean. 

The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). R/V Sikuliaq is an NSF ship working with the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  LTER encompasses 28 sites nationwide, of which the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) is one.  In this area, three surveys a year are made to monitor the dynamics of the ecosystem and measure its resilience to environmental factors such as variability in light, temperature, freshwater, wind and nutrients.  The origins of the NGA portion of this project have been in place since 1970 and have grown to include the Seward Line system (s series of points running southeast from Seward).

On our trip, we will be looking at microzooplankton and mesozooplankton as well as phytoplankton, the size and concentration of particles in the water, and the availability of nutrients, among other things.  Information gathered from our study will be added to cumulative data sets that paint a picture of the variability and resiliency of the marine ecosystem. I will be a part of the Particle Flux team for this expedition.  I have a general idea of what that entails and the kind of data we’ll be gathering, but I certainly need to learn more!  If you’re curious, more detailed information about ongoing research can be found at

I always ask my students, after they complete preliminary research on any project, what they want to learn.  I want to know more about particle flux (as previously mentioned).  I would like to learn more about seasonal weather patterns and how they influence the NGA ecosystem.  I would like to find out if/how this ecosystem connects to the Hawaiian ecosystem, and I REALLY want to see the kinds of life that inhabit the northern ocean! For my own personal information, I am really curious to see how stars move at 60 degrees north and whether or not they can still be used for navigation. 

Mahalo (Thank you)

I’m spending my last week sorting through my collection of fleece and sailing gear to prepare for three weeks of distinctly cooler temperatures.  I’m going to be doing a lot of layering for sure!  My two cats, Fiona and Pippin are beginning to suspect something, but for now are content to sniff through the growing pile on the couch. While packing, I’m keeping in mind that this is just another type of voyage and to pack only what I need, including chocolate.  As departure gets closer, I’d like to thank Russ Hopcroft, Seth Danielson, and Steffi O’Daly for their information and help in getting to and from Seward.  I’m looking forward to meeting you all soon and learning a lot from each of you!  Thanks also to Lisa Seff for her on board life hacks and detailed information…much appreciated!

Melanie Lyte: May 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: May 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Air temperature: 15.5 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature: 12.01 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit);
Wind speed: 10 knots (12 miles per hour);
Relative humidity: 85%;
Barometric pressure: 1005.5

Science and Technology Log

Here we are on Sunday afternoon and we’ve been anchored off Provincetown since Thursday evening to wait out bad weather and unworkable conditions. When the fog cleared, the view of Provincetown was quite pretty from the ship, but I have seen enough of it, and am ready for some adventure . Luckily, we set sail this evening and will begin our watch for right whales again tomorrow morning. While Monday looks to be quite windy, Tuesday shows promise as a good day for whale sightings. All the scientists aboard are anxious to get back to work!

During our down time I was able to interview two people aboard with very different jobs – Peter Duley, one of the NOAA scientists, and Margaret Coyle, the ship steward.

Peter Duley NOAA scientist
Peter Duley NOAA scientist

Peter has worked for NOAA for 10 years, and has also worked for The National Science Foundation. He has literally been to the ends of the earth doing research. He did his under graduate work at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor Maine . Upon graduation  Peter did field work in Belize banding birds. While his first love was birds, he became interested in marine mammals and has done research work studying harbor porpoises in the Gulf of Maine, pilot whales in the mid Atlantic to the Gulf of Maine, bowhead whales in Alaska, right whales along the East Coast, and even spent time in Antarctica studying leopard seals. He now spends his summers on right whale survey cruises, and his winters doing aerial surveys of right whales.

While interviewing Peter I was struck by the passion and excitement he has for his work. It is obvious that he loves what he does and is very dedicated to saving the “giants of the sea”. All of the whales Peter studies are endangered and it is imperative  that scientists have a handle on the populations of these endangered whales so they can determine if the number of whales is rising or falling over a period of time, and what factors are influencing their survival. These scientists are so familiar with some of the right whales that they can identify the whales that have already been cataloged when they see them. They are cataloging all the whales using a number system that includes the year the whale was first seen, and another number that matches their mother if she is a whale that has previously been cataloged.

Peter’s favorite marine mammal is  the leopard seal.  He told me a story about the most dangerous situation he has been in while doing field work. He was in Antarctica in a small inflatable boat called a Zodiac and a leopard seal swam right up to the boat. He and his colleagues were excited and started taking pictures when the seal jumped out of the water and came down with its mouth on the side of the boat. The seal put a large hole in the boat. Fortunately, the boat had several different air compartments so the entire boat didn’t deflate in the frigid Antarctic waters, but Peter and his colleagues got back to shore as quickly as possible. My next question was, “What was your best research experience?” Peter said smiling, “The time the leopard seal put a hole in the boat!”

The other person I interviewed is Margaret Coyne, the ship steward. She  probably is one of the most important people on the ship because she keeps us all fed! Not only does she make three meals a day for everyone on board, we actually eat like we are at a 4 star resort. There is always an amazing variety of delicious food at every meal.

Margaret Coyle Ship's Chief Steward
Margaret Coyle
Ship’s Chief Steward

Margaret and her 2nd cook Tyrone  Baker, work 12 hour days from 5:30-6:30 with an hour break during the day. The galley is always buzzing with crew and scientists enjoying meals, snacks, leftovers, or anxiously awaiting for the homemade soup of the day to be brought out. There are always plenty of choices for all types of eaters – Margaret makes vegetarian options for each meal. She also makes her own yogurt, soy milk,  fresh salad, ice cream,  and a delicious dessert daily.

Lunch menu
Lunch menu

Spinach lasagna roll, squash and onions, black eye peas, and roasted potatoes
Spinach lasagna roll, squash and onions, black eye peas, and roasted potatoes

Spaghetti with meat sauce, pesto grilled chicken breast , squash and onions, and  a garlic bread stick
Spaghetti with meat sauce, pesto grilled chicken breast, squash and onions, and a garlic bread stick

Blueberry cobbler with whip cream
Blueberry cobbler with whip cream

Personal Log

I will be happy when we start moving again and get back to the mission of surveying right whales. It has been difficult to be stationary for such a long time, but luckily, the scientists and crew are all so friendly that there is always someone to talk to. It is really interesting to learn about other people’s lives, and what brought them to where they are today. Hopefully I will remember this experience because of all the amazing whales I will get to see, but if not, I know I will carry fond memories of all the people I met.