Kimberly Gogan: Science Spot Light: Marine Bird Observer, April 27, 2014

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

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance SurveyEcosystem Monitoring
Geographical area of cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: April 27, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 10.5 Degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 15 -20 Knots
Water Temp: 8.8 Degrees Celsius
ater Depth: 10  Meters

Science and Technology Log

One of the other groups of scientist that have not received as much attention so far are our Birders. We have two Sea Bird Observers on this trip; Michael Force and Nick Metheny . The work of the birders supports the AMAPPS project by giving addition information about the health of the ecosystem the Marine Mammals live in. Many people don’t realize that out on the open ocean Sea Birds are the top predators.  They are a good indicator as to the health of the ecosystem because they are closely linked with the sea holding most of the bird’s vital food source. If there is a change in the birds food sources the birds are likely to be affected. Birds are easy to see and can be used as a quick and easy indicator without having to get into the ocean. What they mainly do during the day is rotate watching for birds between the two birders every 2 hours. Once they are up on the Flying Bridge with the Marine Mammal Observers, they will choose one side of the ship and watch for birds in quadrant or  arch that stretches from the bow of the ship to the beam which is 90 degree to the side out 300 meter, they call this a strip transect. They will use this know area to calculate populations of birds in entire area.  The birders are not using the “big eyes” like the Marine Mammal Observers; they spot bird with the naked eye.  The birding team really needs to be able to identify every bird they see, they need to be expert birders. The data they collect will go the scientist at the NEFSC and be linked to the physical oceanography to better understand the birds use of the ocean and quantify their habitat.  In different places in the ocean the birders will find very different species of birds depending on what is underneath. On this trip The Sea Birds Observers had a very exciting bird watching day because they spotted a rare Bermuda Petrel.   This bird was thought to be extinct for over 300 years but because of intensive conservation efforts the Bermuda Petrel is making a comeback.  The sighting was the first for Canada, as we were in Canadian waters and it was the most northerly sighting. The birder team was very, very excited.

This is Michael Force.  Mike is a Contract Sea Bird Observer.
This is Michael Force. Mike is a Contract Sea Bird Observer.

Science Spot Light

Science Spot Light: Meet Michael Force. Michael is a Canadian native. Mike refers to himself as Contract Sea Bird Observers for NOAA, which means he doesn’t work out of a specific office; he is just hired by contract for the duration of the cruise. He has been contracting with NOAA as a Sea Bird Observer on ships for 26 years. He has been one 26 different ships all over the world in places like Antarctica, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and of course the Atlantic. During this trip Michael exceeded 3700 days at sea!!! His hobby is also birding, which means that Michael works his hobbies into his career. He never thought he would be able watch birds and get paid for it!

Personal Log

On this trip we had some pretty rough weather. There were several days were we just had to hunker down and ride it out, or make a run from a storm and secure the boat in a protected place like Cape Cod Bay. This gave the scientist and sometimes the crew extra time on their hands to hang out and make friends, do computer work,  watch movies, or participate in the ships cribbage tournament.  I didn’t make it very far as I have not played seriously in several years, but it was fun to see the tournament continue for the entire trip.  Our resident birder mentioned earlier,  Michael Force, was the one who organized the entire tournament and was the one who really kept the momentum going. Mike was nice enough to play me in a few practice rounds where he taught me a good moto “pegging wins games!”  Mike and his fellow birder Nick were in the top three spots, along with one of the mammal observers and professional photographer Todd Pusser.  It was a very entertaining way to pass the time in bad weather or off duty before bed.


Anne Mortimer: Fishing, July 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 9.53 C, Foggy
Sea temperature: 8.19 C
Wind direction: 145
Wind Speed: 18.73 knots
Barometric pressure: 1013.22 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Last night, we attempted a bottom trawl for walleye pollock. The way scientists know that fish are present is by using acoustic sampling. The centerboard of the ship is set-up with sound emitting and recording devices. When a sound wave is emitted toward the bottom, it will eventually be returned when it hits a fish or the ocean bottom. This is called echo-sounding and has been used by sport & commercial fisherman and researchers for many decades. The sound waves are sent down in pulses every 1.35 seconds and each returned wave is recorded. Each data point shows up in one pixel of color that is dependent on the density of the object hit. So a tightly packed group of fish will show as a red or red & yellow blob on the screen. When scientists see this, they fish!

This echogram shows scientists where fish can be found.

The scientists use this acoustic technology to identify when to put the net in the water, so they can collect data from the fish that are caught. The researchers that I am working with are specifically looking at pollock, a mid-water fish. The entire catch will be weighed, and then each species will be weighed separately. The pollock will all be individually weighed, measured, sexed, and the otolith removed to determine the age of the fish. Similar to the rings on a tree, the otolith can show the age of a fish, as well as the species.

pollock otolith
A pollock otolith.
Pollock otolith in my hand

These scientists aren’t the only ones that rely on technology, the ships navigation systems is computerized and always monitored by the ship’s crew. For scientific survey’s like these, there are designated routes the ship must follow called transects.

globe chart
This chart shows the transects, or route, that the ship will follow.
This chart shows the route (white line) of the ship once fish were spotted. When scientists find a spot that they want to fish (green fish symbol), they call up to the bridge and the ship returns to that area. As the ship is returning, the deckhands are preparing the net and gear for a trawl.

Personal Log

I think that I must have good sea legs. So far, I haven’t felt sick at all, although it is very challenging to walk straight most times! I’ve enjoyed talking with lots of different folks working on the ship, of all ages and from all different places. Without all of the crew on board, the scientists couldn’t do their research. I’ve been working the night shift and although we’ve completed a bottom trawl and Methot trawl, we haven’t had a lot of fish to sort through. My biggest challenge is staying awake until 3 or 4 am!

Did you know?

That nautical charts show depths in fathoms.  A fathom is a unit of measurement that originated from the distance from tip to tip of a man’s outstretched arms. A fathom is 2 yards, or 6 feet.

Species list for today:

Humpback Whale

Northern Fulmar

Tufted Puffin

Stormy Petrel

Fish biologist Kresimir found this petrel in the fish lab; attracted to the lights it flew inside by accident. The petrel is in the group of birds called the tube-nosed sea birds. They have one or two "tubes" on their beak that helps them excrete the excess salt in their bodies that they accumulate from a life spent at sea.

In the Methot net:

Multiple crab species including tanner crabs

Multiple sea star species, including rose star


Juvenile fish

Brittle stars


Multiple shrimp species including candy striped shrimp

shrimp variety
These are some of the shrimp types that we found in our Methot net tow.

Justin Czarka, August 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 15, 2009

Weather data from the Bridge

This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD
This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD

Sunrise: 6:29 a.m.
Sunset: 20:33 (8:33 p.m.)
Weather: patchy mist
Sky: partly to mostly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: north-northwest 15-20 knots (kt), gust to 25 kt
Visibility: unrestricted to 1-3 nautical miles in mist
Waves: northwest 6-9 feet
Air Temperature: 18°C high, 12°C low
Water Temperature: 17.5°C

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made it out to 200 miles off the Oregon Coast; the farthest out we will go. The depth of the ocean is 2867 meters (9,406 feet).  It is pretty interesting to imagine that we are on the summit of a nearly 10,000-foot mountain right now!  Last night the CTD was deployed 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).  Even at this depth, the pressure is immense (see photo, page one). When taking the CTD down to this depth, certain sensors are removed from the rosette (the white frame to which the CTD instruments are attached) to prevent them from being damaged.

Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II.  These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers
Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II. These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers

The crew aboard the McArthur II is such an informative group. Many possess a strong insight into NOAA’s research mission.  Today I spoke with Kevin Lackey, Deck Utility man.  He spoke to me about the cruises he has been on with NOAA, particularly about the effects of bioaccumulation that have been studied.  Bioaccumulation is when an organism intakes a substance, oftentimes from a food source, that deposits in the organism at increasing levels over time.  While sometimes an intentional response from an organism, with regards to toxins, this bioaccumulation can lead to detrimental effects.  For example, an organism (animal or plant) A on the food web experiences bioaccumulation of a toxin over time.  Imagine organism B targeting organism A as a food source. Organism B will accumulate concentrated levels of the toxin. Then, when organism B becomes a food source for organism C, the effects of the toxins are further magnified.  This has serious effects on the ocean ecosystem, and consequently on the human population, who rely on the ocean as a food source.

While aboard the McArthur II, Morgaine McKibben, a graduate student at Oregon State University (OSU), shared with me her research into harmful algal blooms (HABs), which potentially lead to bioaccumulation.  Certain algae (small plants) accumulate toxins that can be harmful, especially during a “bloom.” She is collecting water samples from the CTD, as well as deploying a HAB net, which skims the ocean surface while the ship is moving to collect algae samples.  She is utilizing the data in order to create a model to solve the problem of what underlying conditions cause the algae blooms to become toxic, since they are not always as such.

Personal Log 

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!
Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!

The weather has cleared up allowing grand ocean vistas—a 360° panorama of various blues depending on depth, nutrients, clouds overhead, and so forth.  At first glance, it just looks blue.  But as you gaze out, you see variance. A little green here, some whitecaps over there. As the ship moves on, the colors change. Wildlife appears, whether it is a flock of birds, kelp floating by, or an escort of pacific white-sided dolphins. I wondered if the ocean would become monotonous over the course of the eleven days at sea.  Yet the opposite has happened. I have become more fascinated with this blue water.

It was interesting today to notice how we went back in time.  Two nights ago the sun had set at 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)  But because we went so far out to sea, last night the sunset had changed to 20:33 (8:33 p.m.).  While this happens on land as well, it never occurred to me in such striking details until out to see.

Animals Seen from the Flying Bridge (highest deck on the ship) 

  • Rhinoceros Auklet – closely related to puffins
  • Whale (breaching)
  • Common Murres
  • Western Gull
  • Hybrid Gull – We are at a location off the coast of Oregon where different species interbreed
  • Leech’s Storm Petrel – Mike Force, the cruise’s bird and marine mammal observer, found the bird aboard the ship by in an overflow tank.  It will be rereleased.

Did You Know? 

NOAA has a web page with information especially for students?

Kazu Kauinana, May 13, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kazu Kauinana
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
May 9 – 23, 2006

Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical Area: Hawaiian Islands
Date: May 13, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Latitude:  25, 33.1N
Longitude: 121:28.9W
Visibility:  10nm
Wind direction:  090
Wind speed:  19Kts
Sea wave height: 2-3
Sea swells height: 4-6
Sea water temperature: 24.8
Sea level temperature: 24.8
Sea level pressure: 1021.4
Cloud cover: 4/8, altocumulus, cumulostratus, cumulonimbus, cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I left the OSCAR SETTE at 8:30 this morning on a Zodiac with cargo and a crew of five for Laysan Island. This island was not a military landing strip so it still looks like what you might imagine a desert island would look like.  It is really beautiful—nice sandy beaches, clear water with coral reefs, low shrubs and grasses, a patch of coconut trees and even a lake.

Sarah Luecke took us on a tour from the beach where we had landed to the hyper-saline lake in the northern, middle of the island.  As with all of the islands, you cannot explore without a guide. Shearwater noddys, Tristan’s petrels, and bonin petrels burrow into the ground to make their nests, and if you do not follow your guide carefully, there is a good chance that you could cave in their nests. We managed to cave in only two, and we had to re-dig the tunnels to make sure the birds could continue using them.  Birds are everywhere and they have no fear of humans. They behave like barnyard birds, so when you are walking you have to go around them, because they will not move.  When they get  irritated with you being too close they clack their beaks like plastic toy wind-up dentures.  The two breeds that are the most oblivious to human space are the large Laysan Albatross and the black-footed Albatross. The chicks are almost as large as the adults, covered with patches of downy molting fuzz, and are really goofy looking.  They plant themselves everywhere, especially on the paths, in front of tent doorways and chairs, and next to your belongings.

It was great to see so many birds, because at about the turn of the century the bird population had been decimated by the Japanese feather industry.  An American Guano contractor had subleased the right to taking wings, breasts, skins, and tons of feathers to the Japanese company.  This went on for at least a couple of years before it was stopped but, by then, the damage was done.  At least a million birds were killed and three out of the five endemic species became extinct.  Fortunately, most of the sea birds came back.

The bird population here had at one time been so dense that you could see the cloud of birds way before you ever saw the island. It was so thick that a guano industry was established here in the late 1800’s into the early 20th century.  The Japanese immigrant workers who worked for Haole American businessmen based on Oahu, had to use picks and axes to break up the caked up thick layers of it.

There had also been an attempt at rabbit farming by a family, but that didn’t work.  It did, however, destroy almost all of the vegetation on the island.  Through a lot of work and expense, the rabbits were eradicated and an intensive replanting program was established and is still active. In spite of all of these man-made disasters, the island today, looks like paradise.  So it did give me a lot of hope that we may still be able to maintain some of the few precious resources that we have left.

Personal Log 

We walked along the beach and saw monk seals in the water and on the beach.  We found a spot where it looked like it would be terrific snorkeling and it was.  After that, it was time to go back to the OSCAR SETTE.

Greta Dykstra-Lyons, August 2, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Greta Dykstra-Lyons
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 1 – 20, 2005

Mission: Cetacean Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: U.S. West Coast
Date: August 2, 2005

Science and Technology Log 

Due to a backlog of scheduled repairs, the JORDAN did not depart from its homeport, San Diego on July 30th as scheduled. On Monday August 1st, the ship headed into San Diego Bay so that adjustments could be made to its acoustic backscatter (somewhat like an echo sounder). While this was being done, cruise members not trained in small-boat operations were given a brief training.  After which, the Zodiacs were lowered into the bay and we spent part of the afternoon putting our training to use zipping around the bay.  Anchors were hoisted and the JORDAN left the bay about 5:00 p.m. Sightings since we left San Diego include the following: bottle nose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, short beaked common dolphins (which surrounded the boat by the 100s), two separate blue whale sightings, two separate sperm whale sightings (multiple animals each sighting),and a fin whale. Small boats were launched for the first blue whale and sperm whale sightings, and this allowed for photo identification and biopsies.  The two bird identifiers on board were thrilled to spot and photograph a Hornsby’s storm petrel.  This is the only documented North American sighting.