Donna Knutson, September 19, 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 29, 2010

Visitors of the Monument

Back in the boat trying to get a biopsy from pilotwhales.

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.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sittings will also be documented.
Science and Technology:
Latitude: 26○ 33.6’ N
Longitude: 177○ 05.5’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu,Ac, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  4-6 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.8○ C
Air Temperature:  26.8○ C
Level Pressure:  1024.0 mb

Female Great Frigatebird is a large bird with a wingspan up to 86 in.
They do not walk or swim and are the most aerial of the seabirds.

The Northwest Hawaiian Islands became a Marine National Monument called Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  Papahanaumoku is a mother figure represented by the earth.  Wakea is a father figure represented by the sky. They are the honored and  highly recognized ancestors of Native Hawaiian people.  Together they resulted in the creation of the entire Hawaiian archipelageo and naming the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after these names to strengthen Hawaii’s cultural foundation.

Layson ducks are only found on Laysan and Midway.
They were near extinction from hunting and invasive species, now they are protected and their numbers have increased to over 500.

Papahanaumokuakea is considered a sacred area. Native Hawaiians believe that life springs from this area and spirits come to rest there after death.  That means they also believe that they are descended from the same gods who birthed the Hawaiian Archipelago and it is therefore their responsibility to become stewards to care for the natural and cultural resources in Papahanaumokuakea.

Short-tailed Shearwaters often fly in flocks. These birds were on their migratory route.

The HICEAS cruise has track lines that cross into the National Monument, so while in the Monument, we must abide by the rules set forth to protect the natural and cultural resources within.

 This area is indeed rich in life as well as tradition.  Over ninety percent of the Monument’s area is deep sea.  Some depths are greater than three thousand feet. Hawaiian monk seals may travel more than one thousand feet down into the ocean to feed on gold and bamboo corals.  Some of the corals are over four thousand years old.  Scientists are just beginning to understand deep sea habitats such as that of sleeper sharks, hagfish and crabs.
Even though there is not much land within the monument, many animals make it their home.  Over fourteen million seabirds of twenty-two different species breed and nest in less than six square miles.  The reason these islands are so populated is because of the island’s isolation and conservation measures.

White tern on Midway. The oldest White terns on the island are 50years old!

The greatest threat of the Monument is climate change.  An increase in sea surface temperature is linked to disease and coral bleaching.   Rising sea levels cause less land for green sea turtles, monk seals and seabirds.
The HICEAS cruise has documented thirty-seven species of seabirds.  Not all of these birds live on the islands, many are migrating.  Within the “tubenosed” , Procellariformes  order, there are the Petrels and Shearwaters.  The Petrels include the Kermadec, Herald, Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, White-necked, Back-winged, Bonin, Wilson’s Storm, Band-rumped Storm, Cook’s, and Bulwer’s.  The Shearwaters include the Christmas, Wedge-tailed, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, and Newell’s.

Bonin petrels are coming back to their burrows on Midway.
The burrows may be 9ft. long and 3 ft. underground.

From the order Pelicaniformes the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird have been recognized and also the Brown, Red-Footed, and Masked Bobby.   Great Frigatebirds, the largest of all within this order, have also been seen soaring high above the ocean.

A third order is the Charadriiformes, the shorebirds, terns and jaegers. The HICEAS track line is bringing us close (within three miles) to the shores of atolls and islands so therefore shore birds are seen as well.  The shore birds seen so far are the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, the Brown and Black Noddies, the White, Sooty, and Grey-backed Terns, the Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed Jaegers, and the South Polar Skua.
The HICEAS cruise will agree with the National Monument in proclaiming this area has an abundance of seabirds!
Personal Log:

The bottom view of a Wedge-tailed Shearwater.
Like most seabirds, they mate for life.

My roommate or “statemate” (on ships there are no bedrooms rather staterooms) is Dawn Breese, she is an avid Birder.  Scott Mills, also a Birder mentioned in Log #2, have been noticing a trend in their daily bird population densities.

As we headed northwest, they noted on September 17, 2010 when the Sette was at 28 24.7’ N and 178○ 21.1’ W, they saw their last Short-tailed Shearwater.  They did not see any Short-tailed Shearwaters after those coordinates and felt that it was odd considering the large amounts they had seen previously.  Near the International Dateline past Kure we headed back southeast once again and the Short-tailed Shearwaters reappeared at 27○ 6.28’ N and 178○ 27.9’W.  They concluded that they had passed twice through the Shearwater’s migratory route and seemed to find its NW edge.  On a single day alone, they estimated that there were over fourty thousand birds in that area!

White-tailed tropicbird likes to plunge dive for fish and squid.

When they mentioned the huge numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters they saw, I decided to do some checking on them. I discovered the Short-tails are about forty centimeters long and have a wing span of 100 centimeters.  It is chocolate brown with a darker brown cap and collar.  It is often observed in large flocks and will dive fifty meters into the ocean for fish and squid.

Juan Carlos brought the Wedge-tail Shearwater down for Dawn to see.

The Short-tails breed on islands off southeastern Australia and migrate north to feed in the Bering Sea.  The Sette crossed their route flying back to the South Pacific!  It is a good thing they are “tubenosed” because they will not land until they have reached their destination.  The “tubenose”, (mentioned blog #2), will help the birds eliminate salt from their bodies.  Some short-tails on the breeding grounds will actually commute to the Antarctic to feed on fish along the ice.

The Wedge-tails tubenose is on the top of the beak.

On September 20, 2010 Juan Carlos knocks on our door after sunset to show Dawn a Wedge-tailed Shearwater, cousin of the Short-tailed Shearwater. The nocturnal animal got distracted by the ships’ light, and ended up on deck.  According to the Hawaii Audubon Society, Wedge-tail Shearwaters on O’ahu are often hit by cars because of the car’s lights at night.  O’ahu and Kaua’I both have rescue shelters for hurt birds from car accidents.

The Wedge-tail posing with Dawn and I.

Juan Carlos rescued the stunned bird, making sure it could not bite him with its sharp beak, and brought it down to show the bird observers.  I took close-ups of the bird because I wanted a picture of its tubenose.  Dawn showed me the unique features of the Wedge-tail.  It smelled fresh like a sea breeze.  We looked for the small ears behind the eyes but it’s feathers were so dense we couldn’t get a good look at it.

The bird had light brown feathers with a white belly, it was very soft and dainty looking.  It didn’t seem to mind people staring at it within a ship, but it probably just seemed content because Dawn knew the correct way to hold a bird.  After the Wedge-tail was checked out, Dawn took it up to the fantail (back) deck and released it.   The bird flew away unhurt into the night.