Amy Pearson, August 25, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amy Pearson
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
August 13 – 30, 2007

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 25, 2007

Teachers Amy Pearson and Kim Pratt deploy a drifter buoy
Teachers Amy Pearson and Kim Pratt deploy a drifter buoy

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 4130  Longitude: 6650
Air temp: 17.8
Water temp: 16.7
Wind direction: 220
Wind speed: 16 kts.
Sea wave height: 2 ft.
Visibility: 4 nm

Science and Technology Log 

Woke to another foggy day, though the air temperature is warm (18.6 at 1:30 p.m.).  When a humid air mass hits the cooler Gulf of Maine water, fog results.  At about 1 p.m. we got a call from the bridge saying we just crossed into Canada – could we see the line in the water? (everyone has a sense of humor here). Yesterday we decorated the surface drifter buoy that will send location, air and water temperature data to a satellite. Our school logos and websites are written on the buoy as well as the message “leave in the water”.   NOAA will post this data on the Internet for anyone to track. Today we will deploy the buoy. Our school communities can watch this for over 400 days! Deployment went well, but the cloth drogue (holey sock) came apart and seemed to disappear below the buoy. We wore inflatable life vests and were tethered to the boat when we tossed the buoy off the ship.

Amy and Kim decorate the buoy for launch
Amy and Kim decorate the buoy for launch

Shortly after this, we took a plankton sample and as the net was coming up, I spotted some pilot whales about 40 ft. off the starboard side of the ship. There were six together, then another group appeared off the stern. They seem to stay very close together. Length was approximately 12-16 feet. They seemed to enjoy riding the stern waves.  They were very cute, as the photo below shows.

Science Topic 

This cruise is called an Ecosystems Monitoring Cruise. They happen four times per year, during January, May, August and November.  Additional data to support this data set is collected on Fish Survey Cruises that occur in March, April, September and October.  As I said in an earlier log entry, its mission is to assess changing biological and physical properties which influence the sustainable productivity of the living marine resources of the mid-Atlantic Bight, southern New England, Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank portions of the northeast continental shelf ecosystem.

Amy Pearson with a harnass connecting with ship for buoy deployment.
Amy Pearson with a harness connecting with ship for buoy deployment.

The plankton that is collected and analyzed must be collected in the same exact manner during each cruise in order to compare it from season to season and year to year. The constant materials used are identical 61 cm diameter Bongo Nets with mesh size of 335 microns.  The net is towed at a constant speed of 1.5-2 knots, 5 meters from the bottom or to a maximum depth of 200 meters.  The rate of release of the nets into the water is constant as is the rate of return. There is always a 45 kg weight at the end of the wire that the nets are clipped to. The angle of the wire with the water is maintained at 45 degrees. Keeping these parameters constant allows scientists to compare the net catches because the only variable is what is very enthusiastic and dedicated. Even when I offered to take over the hosing of nets at the end of his shift, his response was, “I live for this!” NOAA is fortunate to have so many dedicated scientists and employees who work at sea.  This is definitely not like any job I’ve experienced. The challenges of life at sea make it not something everyone can do. Betsy Broughton, the other scientist aboard is also high energy when it comes to this work. She clearly loves every minute and enjoys sharing her knowledge with others.  I have learned much from both of them.

A flowmeter in each net measures how much water passes into each net and its data is part of the equation when amount of plankton per amount of water is calculated. Jerry Prezioso has been involved with this project since the 1970’s and is very enthusiastic and dedicated.Even when I offered to take over the hosing of nets at the end of his shift, his response was, “I live for this!” NOAA is fortunate to have so many dedicated scientists and employees who work at sea. This is definitely not like any job I’ve experienced. The challenges of life at sea make it not something everyone can do. Betsy Broughton, the other scientist aboard is also high energy when it comes to this work. She clearly loves every minute and enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. I have learned much from both of them.

Pilot whale observed in the Gulf of Maine, following our ship.Others were underwater when I snapped the photo!
Pilot whale in the Gulf of Maine, following us. Others were underwater when I shot the photo!

Methea Sapp-Cassanego, August 3, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Methea Sapp-Cassanego
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 19 – August 8, 2007

Mission: Marine Mammal Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: August 3, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 5 in haze lowering 3 to 5 in showers
Wind Direction: Southwest
Wind Speed: 10-15 knt increasing to 20 knt.
Swell height: 3-5 feet building 4-6 feet

Pilot whales as seen from the zodiac—note the calf in the foreground.  Photo courtesy of Brenda Rone.
Pilot whales as seen from the zodiac—note the calf in the foreground.

Science and Technology Log 

Today was another great day for sightings. Critter counts include sperm whales, white sided dolphins, a whopping 17 minke whales, a Sei whale, offshore bottle nose dolphins, a finback whale, another pod of pilot whales and 100’s of common dolphins.  At one point during my starboard observation shift, both I and my portside counterpart were calling off sightings so rapidly that the recorder was having problems keeping up with us.  We both paused for a moment and pulled away from the big eyes to look around and discover that we were surrounded by literally 100’s upon 100’s of common dolphins.  The sea was frothing with their activities; some doing aerobatics, others charging, some came to bow-ride of the ship, while other could be seen chasing large fish which were identified as yellow-fin tuna.

Researchers position themselves to rejoin the main ship.
Researchers position themselves to rejoin the ship.

In a repeat from several days ago the pilot whale sighting prompted another launch of the zodiac…only this time I got to climb down the Jacob’s ladder and go for a zodiac ride which brought me as close to pilot whale as I could ever hope to be.  We were able to procure 5 tissue samples for further genetic study along with an untold number of dorsal fin photographs. (Please see log from August 1st for further explanation of these genetic studies and photos.) My job on the zodiac was to fill out the photography data sheets which record the GPS headings, frame numbers, animal position within pod, approximate size of animal, special markings on the animal, if an attempt to biopsy the whale was made, if the shot resulted in a hit or miss….etc.  I was madly recording all this information as cameras were shooting and crossbows were firing and the whole experience whizzed past me.  I hope I didn’t forget to record anything!

An ill-fated Northern yellow warbler rests on the deck of the DELAWARE II
An ill-fated Northern yellow warbler rests on the deck of thevDELAWARE II

Aside from all the sightings (some of which have become rather common place), and my zodiac ride I really have nothing left to report for the day….except of course that the day flew by. In fact every day passes in a blink…even the foggy ones.  I suppose that’s what happens when each day is filled with something new to see and do. Before I sign off for the day I’ll leave you with two more species profiles.  One of which may surprise you!

Yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia)

There are approximately 40 subspecies of this widely distributed little bird. This bird, in particular, was most likely from the subspecies aestiva thus making it a ‘Northern’ yellow warbler.

As a true bird-lover I’ve been taking notice and taking note of every new bird I’ve seen while out at sea, and naturally all of the birds I’ve seen lately from black-backed gulls to shearwaters are suppose to be out here in the open ocean searching for fish and bobbing around in the waves while resting.  The yellow warbler however is not suppose to be here….and in fact being at sea means certain death for the delicate songbird as its food source is almost non-existent out here and it is ill-equipped to handle a lack of freshwater.  The warbler pictured above probably hitched a ride with us following our 24 hour port call in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.  Sad to say that this warbler did in fact perish at sea despite my offerings of fresh water and bread crumbs (I was all out of their primary food which are insects!)  A second warbler and a grosbeak did however find the boat as we were coming back into harbor so we hope they were more fortunate then the first stowaway.

Common Dolphins Bow-riding off the DELAWARE II: Note the crisp crisscross markings on the dolphins’ side.
Common Dolphins Bow-riding off the DELAWARE II: Note the crisp crisscross markings on the dolphins’ side.

Identification: The yellow warbler is fairly large compared to other warblers and has an exceedingly short set of tail feathers.  Both sexes have a yellowish green head and back with yellow underbellies. Females tend to be a bit duller in color while males typically have brown streaks on the cheek and breast. Distribution: The Northern Warbler breeds from Alaska to Newfoundland and Southern Labrador, south to South Carolina and into Northern Georgia, and as far west as the Pacific Coast. It is also found periodically in the American Southwest.   Migration: Winters in the Bahamas, Northern Mexico, Peru and the Brazilian Amazon.  Diet and Habitat: In its northern and eastern distribution the warblers live in damp habitats surrounding swamps, bogs, marshes, ponds and stream or river banks.  They will also feed and nest in woodland areas, meadows, and overgrown pasture lands.  In the west and southwest the bird is restricted mainly to riparian habitats.  Unfortunately riparian habitat is rapidly decreasing in the Southwest as are the population of yellow warblers within this region.  The warbler feeds primarily on insects, but will occasionally eat berries. Listen to its song here.

Common Dolphin

Until recently both the short-beaked and long-beaked common dolphins were considered to be one species. Although much of the recent research and literature still does not differentiate between short-beaked and long-beaked, they are technically two different species.  For the purposes of our survey we also did not distinguish between the two as they are nearly identical in physical appearance.   

Short Beaked Common Dolphin and Long-beaked Common Dolphin

Identification: Very distinctive crisscross patterning on the sides; yellow/tan patches on the side, dark gray over the topside and pale underside. Light grey patch along the peduncle of the tail.

Max length and weight: 330 pounds and 9 feet. Males are just slightly larger then females

Diet and Feeding: Fish and squid

Migration: No organized or seasonal migration

Distribution:  Widely distributed throughout the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans as well as the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Special Note: Common Dolphins are especially active and are commonly seen doing aerobatics and bow riding. They are also extremely vocal; to such a degree that their high pitched whistles and clicks may be heard above water.


Collins Wild Guide: Whales and Dolphins. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, New York, 2006.

More Common Dolphins riding the bow.
More Common Dolphins riding the bow.

Methea Sapp-Cassanego, August 1, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Methea Sapp-Cassanego
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 19 – August 8, 2007

Mission: Marine Mammal Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: August 1, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 7nm lowering to less then 1 in fog
Wind Direction: Southerly
Wind Speed: 3-8 knt increasing to 8-13
Swell height: 3-5 feet

The flexible Jacob’s ladder rolled up for easy storage.
The flexible Jacob’s ladder rolled up for easy storage.

Science and Technology Log 

Fog has kept our sightings to a minimum over the past two days. In fact we’ve had only two sighting since my last log on July 27th. Yet despite today’s weather forecast, the fog horn has been silenced and everyone is outside enjoying the sunshine and stretching their eyes.  It is a wonder to see color other then a shade of grey!  The change in weather has also brought new sightings including 3 humpback whales, a pod of harbor porpoises, 4 right whales, a minke whale and a dozen or so pilot whales (spotted by your’s truly).  These sightings kept the observers busy as well as those involved in the launching of the zodiac (aka little grey boat) and the Tucker trawl. The morning sighting of the right whales prompted a Tucker trawl sampling in order to examine the copepod densities in the surrounding areas.

Dr. Richard Pace assists with deployment of the zodiac.
Dr. Richard Pace assists with deployment of the zodiac.

The trawl did yield a higher density of copepods then all of our previous trawls which where carried out in the absence of right whale sightings, however compared to their prior experiences most of the researchers thought that the copepod densities were still on the sparse side. The sighting of pilot whales brought the first launching of the zodiac boat.  The goal for this expedition is two fold:  1. To attain tissue samples from some of the pods larger whales so that genetic analysis and subsequent pedigrees may be chronicled and;  2. Acquire photographic images of individual dorsal fins in an effort to establish a method of identifying individuals based on their unique dorsal fin features. Such features may include nicks, scratches, unusual scars and or color patterns. Deployment of the zodiac requires numerous experienced hands and a wherewithal for safety. First the boat is loaded with all the supplies (photography equipment, biopsy tips and crossbows, and tissue specimen jars) that will be needed for the sampling and documentation of the pilot whales.  Then the crane on the back deck is used to hoist the zodiac up and over the side of the DELAWARE II.  Chief scientist, Dr. Richard Pace then climbs on board the zodiac while the crane slowly lowers the boat into the water.   Dr. Pace keeps the zodiac in position while a special flexible hanging ladder called a Jacob’s ladder is unrolled down the side of the DELAWARE II.  All other persons enter the zodiac from the DELAWARE’s back deck via the Jacob’s ladder. 

Once deployed, the researchers make final adjustments before pursuing the pilot whales.
Once deployed, the researchers make final adjustments before pursuing the pilot whales.

After the little grey boat is loaded it sets off in the direction of the whales as indicated by the observers on the fly bridge, who have all the while been communicating the whales’ position to the captain of the DELAWARE who then makes sure that the ship stays relatively close to the pod.   As one can imagine three-way communication between the fly bridge, the wheel house and the zodiac is critical for not only tracking the swiftly moving whales but also for the safety of all involved. Today was my day to be on the fly bridge as all of this was going on but if the weather holds and we keep seeing pilot whales then I too may get to ride on the zodiac.

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.