Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 6, 2019
I’m glad to get my land legs back. As I reflect on the wonderful experience of 2 weeks out at sea with scientists, I wish to sum it all up by two images below.
I re-posted (above) an important slide I presented earlier, that of a food web that includes plankton, krill, fish, birds, whales, and even us. Both the above images drive home the important message that all species are threads in this delicate fabric of life, coexisting and interdependent in a fragile planet with an uncertain and unsettling future. The loss of threads from this tapestry, one by one, however minuscule or inconsequential they may seem, spells doom for the ecosystem in the long run. The NOAA Corps personnel and NOAA scientists are unsung heroes, monitoring the ecosystems that sustain and support us. In this age of fake news and skepticism of science, they are a refreshing reminder that there are good folks out there leading the good fight to save our planet and keep it hospitable for posterity.
The Teacher at Sea (TAS) program gives hope that the fight to study and protect precious ocean ecosystems will be taken up by future generations. I was privileged to work with NOAA’s Teacher at Sea staff (Emily Susko et al.) in their enthusiastic and sincere work to set teachers on a stage to inspire students towards conservation and science. They too are unsung heroes.
And one final note. Why is the TAS program predominantly K-12 in nature? Why aren’t more college professors participating? In the past few weeks, I have directly connected with hundreds of college students, many with the impression that being a biology major was all about going to med school or other health professions. Research, exploration, and science are unfortunately not in their horizon. If the TAS program makes one Harvey Walsh (our Chief Scientist) or Michael Berumen (my former student!) or even the iconic Jacques Cousteau in the future, imagine the positive impact it will have on our oceans for decades to come. I urge readers to forward this blog to college teachers and encourage them to apply for this fantastic program. We owe it to our planet and to all its denizens (including us) to recruit more future marine scientists.
In my final blog from the ship, I included a poster on Right Whales that covered NOAA’s strict policy guidelines for ships when the endangered Right Whales are around. It turns out it was a timely posting. Just as our cruise ended, Right Whales were seen just south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. NOAA triggered an immediate bulletin announcing a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (see map below). While I am sad that we so narrowly missed seeing them, it is good to know that they are there in the very waters we roamed.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kelly Dilliard
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter May 15 – June 5, 2015
Mission: Right Whale Survey Geographical area of cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean Date: June 4, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Pressure: 1025.1 mb
Air Temperature: 13.3 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 64%
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Wind Direction: 63 degrees
Science and Technology Log:
The sounds marine mammals make are often used to study them. Dolphins make clicks and whistles whereas humpback whales mostly sing. North Atlantic right whales also make sounds with their signature sound being described as an up-call, a rising whoop that lasts for about a second. Sei whales, on the other hand make a down-call, a sinking whoop. Right whales also make a variety of other sounds including: 1) eerie moans, 2) shrill screams which often occur when gathered in groups, and 3) a gunshot sound that sounds like a very loud pop and is thought to be an aggressive call towards males. These sounds are not easily heard, but can be observed on a sound spectrogram. A sound spectrogram is a graph of frequency (the number of cycles in a second, given as hertz) on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis. Right whale up-calls range in the low hertz levels of 100-300 hertz, while dolphins are much higher in pitch. The darker the call on the spectrogram, the louder the call is. To listen to a variety of right whale calls go to the Right Whale Listening Network for examples.
Whale acoustics can be recorded by a variety of methods. On this cruise we are using two methods: sonobuoys deployed from the ship and autonomous acoustic technology (aka “gliders”). Let’s talk about sonobuoys first. The sonobuoys used on this cruise were first designed for the military but have found a second use in scientific research. They are housed in an aluminum tube about a meter in length and 10 centimeters in diameter. When the tube hits salt water it starts a chain reaction starting with deployment of the bright orange float. The sonobouy, with hydrophones, then bobs freely in the ocean and sends radio signals to an antenna high on the ship’s mast. The signal is then captured by a computer and a spectrogram of the sound is displayed and recorded. The sonobuoy has about an eight hour life span and a five mile range.
There are some limits to sonobuoys, namely the five mile (or more depending on model and antenna location) range. Doctors Baumgartner and Fratantoni at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have developed a means of retrieving real-time detection of whale acoustics from autonomous acoustic gliders. The particular glider used in the Great South Channel is a Slocum glider. It looks a bit like a torpedo. It is programmed to follow a specific track and come to the surface every two hours to send data. The two researchers also developed a computer program that detects, classifies and reports interesting marine mammal calls otherwise the amount of data coming in would be completely overwhelming. The Slocum glider also measures fluorescence and other oceanographic conditions, similar to the CTD.
Today is the last full day on the ship and it is bittersweet. I have had a wonderful time and will be sad to go (but also glad to get home). I have learned so much about whales and the ocean. I have met some absolutely wonderful people, both scientists and crew. I am very grateful to all for incorporating me into their family. I would love to do this again next year.
Even though we did not see the as many of the right whales that we wanted to, we did see several species including: humpbacks, sei whales, fin whales, minke whales, and Pete saw a sperm whale. Yesterday (June 4th) we were deploying plankton nets encircled by a few dozen feeding humpback whales. It was a spectacular show.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kelly Dilliard
Onboard NOAA ShipGordon Gunter May 15 – June 5, 2015
Mission: Right Whale Survey Geographical area of cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean Date: May 17, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Pressure: 1018.34 millibars
Air Temperature: 11.3 degrees C
Wet Bulb Temperature: 11.0 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 97%
Wind Speed: 10.4 knots
Wind Direction: 33. 69 degrees
Science and Technology Log
The Right Whale cruise that I am on has several objectives. The main objective is to collect photo identification and biopsy samples of baleen whales, specifically Right Whales and Sei Whales, and apply dermal tags to the whales via small boats (RHIB = Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) launched from the stern on the Gordon Gunter.
Once the targeted whales are tagged, a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) will conduct oceanography sampling around the tagged whales using a CTD (which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth). The CTD will be deployed every 20 minutes for as long as the tag stays on the whale and will collect vertical profile data including conductivity, temperature, depth, and information about zooplankton using a video plankton recorder (VPR) and an optical plankton counter (OPC).
Zooplankton will also be sampled via ring nets off the ship or the small boats. Another objective is to do visual scans and report observations from the observation deck via large binoculars referred to as “big eyes”. These observations will be tied into acoustical data being collected by two autonomous vehicles, referred to as gliders, which are surveying the Great South Channel, and sonabouys that can be deployed from the ship or small boats. The gliders can detect and classify the calls of various baleen whales almost in real time. Today let’s talk about identification of various marine mammals that we have seen and might see on this cruise. In future blogs we will look into the acoustics of marine mammals and zoo plankton.
Every day there is a watch schedule with three scientists on watch at once, unless there is fog, and then there is only one monitoring the weather. These scientists stand above the bridge with two big eyes, one on the port side (left) and one on the starboard side (right). The third scientist is stationed at the computer inputting sightings.
Via the big eyes, you can record the bearing of the sighting, somewhere between 270 and 90 degrees, and the distance of the sighting, in reticles. The binoculars are at 25 power, that is an object looks 25 times larger than seen with the naked eye. The scientists are on the half hour rotation between the three stations, starting with the port side, then the computer, then starboard side. Watch starts at 6 am and ends at 8 pm (or until it gets dark). Data collected for a sighting includes the type of animal (right whale, sei whale, minke whale, unidentified dolphin, unidentified whale, etc…), number seen, number of calves, swim direction, certainty of identification, and what was the indicator (blow, breach, body…). So in order to help out with watch, one needs to learn how to recognize the different species that one might see.
The target species of the cruise are North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis), which are an endangered species and are protected under both the U.S Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Right whales are identified by: their “V” shaped blow, a large head with an arched jaw, black and white patterns on the head (callosities are the white), and no dorsal fin or hump.
Another targeted species are sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis), which are another endangered species. Sei whales are large whales reaching almost 19.5 meters (64 feet) long. Sei whales are identified by: their pointed head with one ridge, a tall dorsal fin, and seeing the blow and the dorsal fin at the same time.
Other whales include humpback whales, fin whales, and minke whales. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are identified by: knobs on their head, white or black undersides (ventral), a low dorsal fin with a broad base that can have distinct nicks or scarring, an S-shaped fluke with a distinct notch, and unique white or black coloring on the ventral side of their fluke. Humpback whales also tend to breach (come up out of the water) and flap their tails and flippers. Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are commonly mistaken for Sei Whales and vice versa.
Luckily the data collected usually groups the two whales, fin/sei. Fin whales have a dorsal fin that sits far back, like a sei whale. They have a lower, white right jaw and a chevron pattern behind their blowhole. Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) have a pointed head with a ridge, they are small in size, and have a pointed fluke. Their blow is not usually seen. Other marine mammals that can be seen include dolphins (various species) and seals.
Today is day three on the ship. We set sail from Newport, RI on Friday at 5 pm and headed towards the Great South Channel, which is located to the southeast of Cape Cod between the Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank. Both the Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank are remnants of past glaciations and have been subsequently modified by marine transport. The Great South Channel provides a link between the Gulf of Maine and the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and is funnel-shaped with a wider and deeper end toward the north and the Gulf of Maine. Water flowing in the channel results in the upwelling of nutrients and zooplankton that whales, especially right whales, like to feed on. The autonomous acoustic gliders picked up signals of whales in the area so we headed towards those waypoints.
We had a beautiful day on Saturday, May 16th. We woke up to glassy water and blue skies. The watch started around lunchtime and we had an active day of spotting whales and other marine animals. We saw humpback whales, minke whales, fin whales and sei whales. We also saw lots of dolphins playing, a seal or two and some basking sharks. Towards the later afternoon/early evening we came across a group of sei whales and we stopped the ship to observe. A sonabouy was deployed in the midst of the whales. It was a fun experience watching these whales swim around the sonabouy for hours (marked by a small orange blow-up float). Last light, three of the scientists saw two right whales, recognized by their distinct V-shaped blow.
In the middle of the afternoon we performed the safety drills, including mustering on the correct deck with our life jacket and immersion suit, also known as the “gumby suit”. We then went back to our rooms and had to put on our “gumby suit” in under a minute, without assistance. This is not an easy feat and after doing it once with a large size (which was way to big for me), I had to do it again with a small size.
Sunday, May 17th, we woke to the ships’ foghorn. We had fog for most of the morning and off and on during the day. When fog occurs the person who would normally be on the computer (the center) is stationed up on the bridge observing the weather. I was a bit intimidated about going on the bridge, but once there had some wonderful conversations with the Captain and several of the crew. I ended up spending an hour and half up there (well past my shift). Today was not as active with whales, but we saw several dolphins playing off the bow of the ship.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Alexandra Keenan Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow June 18 – 29, 2012
Mission: Cetacean Biology Geographical area of the cruise: Gulf of Maine
Date: June 25, 2012
Science and Technology Log:
Greetings from Canadian waters!
Thanks to a tip from an aerial survey, we are on Georges Basin– the northern edge of Georges Bank. Incredibly, we saw around 30 right whales yesterday! The science crew quickly got to work photo-identifying every right whale we could safely approach.
Photo-identification is the process of distinguishing individuals of a species from one another using markings and other cues in photographs of an individual. It is possible to identify individual right whales by markings called callosities on their heads, scars on their bodies, and notches in their flukes.
Callosities are patches of rough skin on right whales’ heads that appear white because of small organisms called cyamids that inhabit these areas (a sort of “whale lice”). Like human fingerprints, each right whale has a unique callosity pattern. In order to photo-ID a whale, photographs of the animal’s head and body are taken with a telephoto lens when the animal surfaces. These photographs can later be compared to a catalog of right whale individuals to determine who has been spotted (some whales have names, some have numbers).
The team also has “cheat sheets,” or laminated cards containing information on certain whales that are of interest or need to be biopsied. These references can help scientists quickly identify whales in the field that need to be studied further.
As one of the most endangered whale species, there are only about 450 individual right whales left. We were privileged to see a little less than 10% of the entire right whale population in one day. This is amazing, but also quite disturbing. Even though right whaling has been illegal since 1937 , right whales still face entanglement from commercial fishing gear and getting hit by vessels. They are particularly vulnerable because they seasonally migrate through world shipping lanes, are relatively slow swimmers, and closely approach vessels.
One right whale we encountered, named Ruffian, had huge scars all over his back. I asked Allison the Chief Scientist what happened to him.
Below are two videos: the first a shot of the numerous spouts (note the characteristic v-pattern of the spouts) that gives an idea of how surrounded we were by right whales, the other is a short video of a right whale surfacing near our bow.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Alexandra Keenan Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow June 18 – June 29, 2012
Mission: Cetacean Biology Geographical area of the cruise: Gulf of Maine
Date: June 21, 2012
Weather data from the bridge: Air temperature: 15.84° C
Wind speed: 7.42 knots
Wind direction: coming from N
Relative Humidity 94.9%
Science and Technology Log:
We departed from Naval Station Newport (NAVSTA) shortly after 2:00 pm on June 18th. During our first three full days at sea, we have been intermittently retrieving marine acoustic recording units (MARUs–more on this later) and recording whale sightings on Georges Bank.
Georges Bank is an elevated area of sea floor extending from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Sable Island in Nova Scotia. This special place is a feeding ground for cetaceans because the topography and position of the bank result in an upwelling of nutrient-rich water which supports a high level of productivity.
Our day begins at 7:30 am when we begin watch sessions. Every hour and a half, we rotate through three stations. Scientists at two stations use high-power binoculars, dubbed “big eyes,” while a scientist at another station records sightings.
The following information is recorded for each sighting:
Environmental conditions and ship position data are recorded concurrently. All of this data can then be used together to monitor certain species and to create statistical models of whale populations.
In this area, we expect to see humpback, sei, fin, pilot, and right whales. In order to distinguish species while on watch, we must take into account a few important characteristics:
Spout: The spout is a column of moist air emitted from the whale’s nostril (blowhole) on its back as it exhales. Right whales and humpbacks have short, bushy spouts, while fin and sei whales have tall, columnar spouts. If the wind is strong, it can be hard to distinguish them. Luckily, there are a couple of other ways to identify whales from a distance.
Dorsal fin: This is the fin on the whale’s back behind the blowhole. Right whales do not have dorsal fins, and humpback whales have a bit of an extra “hump” on their dorsal fin. Fin and sei whales are slightly more tricky to distinguish. The best way to distinguish them is to recognize that the dorsal fin on a sei whale is taller than on a fin whale. There is also a white coloration pattern forward of the dorsal fin on a fin whale called a chevron. Sei whales do not have these. Fin whales also have white markings on their lower jaws, which sei whales do not have.
Fluke: The fluke is the whale’s “tail.” Humpbacks and right whales show their flukes more often than the others when they dive. Right whales have a very smooth black fluke, while humpback whales have more deeply notched flukes that can range in color from all white to all black.
So far on this cruise we have seen: humpback whales, pilot whales, fin whales, sei whales, minke whales, sperm whales, common dolphins, white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, striped dolphins, bottle-nose dolphins, mola-mola, and a Portuguese man o’ war.
No right whales yet, though tomorrow we plan to cross the Great South Channel in order to retrieve more MARUs, with a possibility of a sighting there. There was also an aerial survey over Georges Basin– the extreme northern edge of George’s Bank– today that reported 12 right whales. We hope to see plenty before the cruise is over, as right whales are the species targeted for biopsy and photo-identification on this mission.
From the starboard 01 weatherdecks (the decks on the right side of the boat when facing forward), I was able to hear the dolphins whistling to each other as they played around the ship on June 19th. Scientists Denise Risch and Genevieve Davis recorded their acoustics using a hydrophone mounted on the ship’s centerboard.
Seeing the Bigelow from my cab as we drove onto the pier on June 17th was a bit of a shock for me. I didn’t realize quite how huge it was going to be. As I sauntered up the gangway with my backpack, I thought there was no way I could get seasick on a ship this big. My confidence grew as we left port on the 18th and I felt fine. By the end of the next day (our first full day at sea), though, I was looking for a rock to hide under. A stationary rock.
Happily, today felt great. I feel like my normal self again, have gotten into the swing of things aboard, and know my way around the ship. Everyone here has been exceptionally welcoming and nice which made the seasickness easy to forget. Tonight the ship had a summer solstice party on the flybridge. The weather was absolutely beautiful– complete with an orange sunset and glassy seas.
Overall, things are going great here. The ship is comfortable, the food is delicious, and the whale sightings have been absolutely incredible. I could get used to this.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Alexandra Keenan (Almost) Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow June 18 – June 29
Mission: Cetacean biology Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine Date: June 16, 2012
Saludos! My name is Alexandra Keenan, and I teach Astronomy and Physics at Rio Grande City High School. Rio Grande City is a rural town located at the arid edge of the Rio Grande Valley. Because of our unique position on the Texas-Mexico border, our community is characterized by a rich melding of language and culture. Life in a border town is not always easy, but my talented and dedicated colleagues at RGC High School passionately advocate for our students, and our outstanding students gracefully rise to and surmount the many challenges presented to them.
I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program because making careers in science seem real and attainable to students is a priority in my classroom. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provides a wonderful opportunity for teachers to have an interdisciplinary research experience aboard one of their research or survey ships. I believe that through this extraordinary opportunity, I can make our units in scientific inquiry and sound come alive while increasing students’ interest in and enthusiasm for protecting our ocean planet. I will also be able to provide my students firsthand knowledge on careers at NOAA. I hope to show my students that there is a big, beautiful world out there worth protecting and that they too can have an adventure.
The adventure begins on June 18th when the NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow departs from Newport, RI. I’ll be on the vessel as a member of the scientific research party. We will be monitoring populations of the school-bus-sized North Atlantic right whale by:
using photo-identification techniques
obtaining biopsies from live whales (wow!)
recovering specials buoys that have been monitoring the whales’ acoustic behavior (the sounds they make)
Why would we do all of this? Because North Atlantic Right Whales are among the most endangered whales in the world. Historically, they were heavily hunted during the whaling era. Now, they are endangered by shipping vessels and commercial fishing equipment. The data we gather and analyze will help governing bodies make management decisions to protect these majestic animals.
The next time you hear from me, it’ll be from the waters of the Gulf of Maine!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Ellen O’Donnell Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II May 14 – May 25, 2012
Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Georges Bank Date: May 18, 2012
Weather observations: Light and variable winds not over 5 knots. Seas with mixed swells from 4 – 7 feet. High pressure system. Partly cloudy
Last night the ship crew worked as we slept. They take conductivity, temperature and pressure readings, through the use of a CTD monitor, which ultimately gives us information on the salinity and depth of the water. The ship ran set transects through the water deploying the CTD monitor at various locations along the transect, collecting this information.
The ship was really rocking and rolling all night long and I woke up at 5:30 AM not feeling very well, and knowing I had to get some fresh air. So I went up on the fly deck, this is where we make our whale observations, and sat up there and watched the sunrise. The ocean is so beautiful and I find myself very drawn to it. It can be a beautiful place and it can be one filled with raw power. Luckily for me today it was on the peaceful side. Looking out at the horizon I can understand why people thought the world was flat. It really does look as if you will reach the end and fall off. As I was waiting for my shift, I saw three whales in the distance, either fin or sei whales, and several Atlantic white striped dolphins. I thought nothing could get better than that. Boy was I wrong!
We started our watch at 7AM and started to see whales very quickly. Even though there were large swells there were no whitecaps. We saw minke, which are small whales, because they swam along the ship. We also saw sei, fin and humpback whales. Around 11:00AM we saw our first group of right whales and that’s when the real fun began.
Today I got to go in the little gray boat and we sped across the water to get close-up shots of whales.
There is a list of right whales that need biopsies. A biopsy is when you shoot a dart into the back of the whale and get a small piece of skin and blubber. Typically, there is little response from the whales when you do this. You could probably equate it to a mosquito bite for us. The skin biopsy is then analyzed for the genetic code, or DNA, in a lab. This gives scientists an idea of who is related to whom, in the whale world, so to speak. Through this data they have found that there are a small number of male right whales fathering the calves. Why? At this point they don’t know but you can sure whale biologists are trying to figure this out. The blubber is immediately preserved and then it too is analyzed. However, the blubber is analyzed to determine the possible level of contaminants in the whale.
We took close up shots of both the left and right heads of each whale and checked to make sure it wasn’t one we needed to biopsy. Remember, you identify right whales by their callosities. While we didn’t find any that needed biopsies, we got close to eleven right whales! We got close to one group of three right whales who were following each other like a train. One head would come up, then the body, then the fluke went up and it would go under. Just as the first whale went under the second came up right by the first’s fluke, did the same thing, and then the third. It was fascinating. It also gets a bit confusing trying to identify all three animals and making sure you have the correct pictures. The scientists are great at sorting through the information quickly and trying to keep track of the individuals.
At one point we were tracking a right whale and it was surrounded by sei whales feeding in the same location. We had about 10 whales all around us and at times it was hard to follow our right whale because we had to wait for the sei whales to get out of our way! It was amazing we could really see how they fed close up (more on their feeding methods in the next blog). Sei whales have a very different head and of course the dorsal fin I mentioned before. They are very sleek and streamlined looking whereas, I feel the right whales look more like the hippopotamuses of the ocean!
Very little is know about sei whales, which are also endangered species, so effort is being made to start biopsying them. Therefore, while we were out there, Peter Duley, our chief scientist biopsied a sei whale. He uses a cross-bow with an arrow, that is designed to cut a small piece of blubber. Pete hit the whale on the first try. It was a great shot!
We also got very close to a humpback whale. Humpbacks are identified by the patterns on their flukes. They also have a dorsal fin, but the shape can be quite variable and sometimes is just like a knob. Therefore, they are often mistook as a right whale until you see their fluke. We took pictures of this humpback so that the scientists studying them will get an accurate sighting on where this individual is located. In fact, upon communication with one of the humpback experts we were able to identify this whale which was first identified in 1999 and is called “Slumber”.
On our way back we went near a few basking sharks. These are sharks that are also filter feeders. They just swim slowly with their mouth open and collect any krill in the water. We were just about done, finishing up with our last right whale and he breached in front of us about 30 feet from the boat. It was amazing. We were out on the little gray boat for nearly five hours. It is five hours I will never forget for the rest of my life.
And to top off one of the best days of my life, mother nature decided to give us one spectacular sunset. Life is good.
Another excellent part of this trip is one I bet a lot of you are thinking about. How is the food? I had heard that the food on board NOAA ships is good, but I wasn’t ready for the exceptional meals I have been served. The food is fantastic! Every night I have had some kind of fish or seafood , although there is always a choice of chicken or beef as well. My family will tell you that although I love seafood, fish is really not my thing. OK, I have officially changed my mind! I have had haddock, swordfish and halibut and every bite was a treat, especially the blackened swordfish with a mango chutney sauce. And meals aren’t everything. There is always some tasty treat hot out of the oven, or fresh fruit, available in between meals.
So why do we have such great meals? Well the credit has to go to John Rockwell, chief steward and Lydell Reed, second cook. John is in charge of purchasing, meal planning, cooking and cleaning. He comes by his culinary ability naturally, as he was raised in the restaurant business, and has an associates degree in culinary arts. He joined the wage mariner program (more on this later) and has been with the Delaware II for six years. Lydell also grew up in the food industry and worked as a sous chef before joining NOAA’s wage mariners. Lydell has also been with NOAA for six years, but he is in a pool which means he moves around from ship to ship filling in for the second cook slot when needed. Whatever their background, they are amazing in the kitchen and it’s fun to walk down while they’re cooking. They always seem to be having a good time, you never know what music will be playing and there is always a great smell in the air.
Question of the Day: Why would sei whales and right whales be eating in the same places?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Ellen O’Donnell Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II May 13 – May 25, 2012
Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole. MA Date: May 10, 2012
Greetings from Deerfield, New Hampshire. My name is Ellen O’Donnell and I am currently in my twelfth year working as a middle school science teacher at Deerfield Community School (DCS) in Deerfield, NH. DCS is an outstanding K-8 school in a small rural town located in between the larger cities of Manchester and Concord, NH. My high regard for DCS does not stem solely from my experience as a teacher here, but also from having all four of my sons attend DCS from kindergarten to eighth grade. The creative and dedicated teachers here did a great job preparing them for high school and beyond.
I applied for the NOAA Teacher at Seaprogram because I think it is a wonderful opportunity to bring real scientific research into the classroom. I want students to become familiar with the various scientific careers available, as well as the importance of using good scientific research as the foundation for policy decisions. I found out about the program mainly from my sister, Laura Rodriguez, who participated in the Teacher at Sea program two years ago. She is also a middle school science teacher but in Connecticut, Hall Memorial School in Willington. We both only taught seventh grade science, but then two years ago both our schools asked us to teach 8th grade science as well. We like to tease each other about who did what first! You can imagine what the conversation entails when we both get together. I’m looking forward to her students following my trip as well as my own. Our students will be working together, while I am at sea, on a variety of ocean topics. They will communicate with each other through a community wiki and Skypeing. I can’t wait to see their final products!
So here I am on the brink of an exciting adventure. I will be joining the crew of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the Delaware IIout of Woods Hole, MA. We will be conducting a North Atlantic Right Whale Survey. North Atlantic Right Whales are one of the most endangered whales in our oceans. Some estimates say there are only about 300 individuals left. During our survey we will also be gathering information on other whales that we see, such as minke, humpbacks and sei. Right now I don’t know very much about how to tell them apart. In fact, I don’t know that much about ocean ecology specifically. I can’t wait to jump in and learn more about the Atlantic Ocean which is right in our backyard. Keep in touch and you can learn with me.
As part of the 8th grade math classes, taught by Rod Dudley, our 8th grade students created scaled drawings of the actual sizes of the whales that I hope to see on my trip. They started from small drawings to get the correct shape of each whale and them blew them up to their actual size. These were then drawn outside of our school for all to enjoy. We wanted the whole school to appreciate the size of the various whales that live in the Northern Atlantic Ocean. You don’t realize how big they are until you do something like this.
So soon I will be heading out on the NOAA Delaware II into the Atlantic Ocean and I will be finding out more about the various jobs my shipmates have, information about ocean ecology, and life onboard a ship. Stay tuned
Science and Technology Log On a NOAA ship, similar to a military vessel, everyone has specific titles. It would be like calling your principal or mom a CEO (Chief Executive Officer) followed by their last name. Comparably on a ship there are tons of acronyms like (f.y.i., a.k.a, or my favorite o.m.g.). However, the acronyms the shipmates use are for titles and instead of fun text phrases they are based on status and certification. Ship acronym/name examples: CO: Commanding Officer XO: Executive Officer FOO: Field Operations Officer Ensign: “Fresh Meat” or Junior Officer Boatswain (Bosun): a Wage Mariner in charge of equipment and the crew GVA: General Vessel Assistant Today was full of events. I awoke at around 6:02am and went outside to breathe in the fresh air and watch the day break. After eating yet another delicious breakfast in the mess hall (cafeteria…we aren’t that messy) I was told by the FOO Davidson I would be going out on my first launch. I was placed on the 3102 which unfortunately does not currently have any hydrographic equipment (we hope to obtain a scanner this weekend sent from a Pacific Ocean NOAA ship). Today our mission is to go to the shores of Montauk, Long Island and retrieve data from a tidal instrument that was logging the daily tidal changes. Normally these instruments can be accessed via satellites, however the most recent Nor’ Easter compromised the instruments and made its information inaccessible via the internet. BGL Rob (BoatswainGroup Leader) normally would be taking the helm (steering wheel of boat) and Frank (surveyor) and Ensign Storm’n Norman also came along. Ensign Norman is currently learning how to navigate a small ship for a new license so took the helm while BGL Rob supervised (she needs to log so many hours behind the helm before sitting for the exam). All four of us piled into the 3102 while a massive davit (hydraulic lift) placed the 3102 from the TJ into the Atlantic Ocean. The technology behind the davit blew me out of the water (not really), but it was pretty amazing. The ship was moving 5.8 mph (you walk about 1.5-2mph) while 3102 was being lifted out of the water. Boatswain Rob gave great tips to Ensign Norman; however, Ensign Norman was confident and very much in control of 3102 and did a fantastic job driving us to and from Montauk. Once we arrived at Montauk, Frank opened the weather station and a huge amount of water poured out (probably why it wasn’t transmitting data). It took quite a while to get the information downloaded on the computer we brought, because the system was out of date with current technology (so interesting how fast technology moves). While Frank was on the phone with an engineer stationed in Seattle I walked along the dock and met a lovely gentleman named Joe and his dog, Lil’ Sugar. Joe was also a captain of a ship and ferried people to and from Block Island. Joe was a very warm gentle soul who spoke of his years at sea and all of the unique experiences he has been fortunate to have on multiple vessels. Currently Joe works as a Captain for a whale watching company (apparently Right Whales are migrating). After my lovely chat with Joe and quick walk around I returned to the group.
Upon returning Frank had found a note in a bottle that a woman named “Karen” had thrown into the ocean and washed ashore in Montauk. We presumed Karen was from somewhere in Connecticut (based on the cell phone number). We called her number, but she did not retrieve her phone. I will say for all of you wistful bottle throwers. If you do this, make sure you use glass (it doesn’t break down to little plastic bits that fish mistakenly eat for food) and be imaginative with your note (I am not advocating for anyone to throw a bottle into the ocean). Karen’s was very plain and gave little background or visual. It was more fun talking with the group and imagining all of the personality and character she may have had (most of this was based on the jar she placed the note in…it was a Trappist Preserves jelly jar). Trappist Preserves usually retails for $27.00 and is hand-made by monks in an Abbey located in Massachusetts.
When I returned to the TJ I spent the rest of the day (almost 6 hours) in the acquisition room, located on the bridge, with Kimberly the Great. Kimberly is a seasoned surveyor (meaning she has been aboard the TJ for seven years) and was able to break down each surveying screen in an incredible way. (Read Nov. 3-4 for a break down of Hydrographic surveying)
Personal Log Breakfast: 2 fried eggs, oatmeal, 1 hashbrown Lunch: Deli sandwich with coffee Dinner: Vegetarian “chicken” patty with tomato sauce and cheese, and corn Dessert: Chocolate Cake (Happy Belated birthday XO!!!)