In addition to NOAA’s juvenile walleye pollock survey, this leg of voyage is also hosting a seabird survey. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) sent a scientist aboard Oscar Dyson to identify and record bird species as the boat travels from one sampling station to the next. To do this, a bird observation station has been set up on the port side (left hand side) of the bridge. This is a good spot to get a clear view of the water and sky ahead of the boat and to the port side.
Not every bird that is seen from the bridge is included. There are some guidelines that must be followed in order to collect data that has scientific validity. One of the major guidelines is that the ship should be moving at a consistent speed for each of the observation periods. If a scientist were to observe birds at a slower speed, he or she might end up recording more species because there is more time to look for and identify then. If a scientist were to observe birds at a faster speed, he or she might end up recording fewer species because there is less time to look for them and identify them.
It is difficult to correctly identify birds at a distance further than 300 meters away. It is also much more likely that a bird will be identified correctly if it closer than if it is further away. In order to account for differences in how accurately a bird can be identified, scientists have set up a system to put the data collected into different categories. First of all, only birds that are 300 meters away or closer are counted and identified. Birds that are seen between 0 – 50 meters away are considered in “Bin 1” and can be identified with the most accuracy. Bin 2 is 50 – 100 meters away, Bin 3 is 100 – 200 meters away, and Bin 4 is 200 -300 meters away. The further away a bird is, the greater the chance that it will not be identified correctly or missed altogether.
Some of the common birds seen on this survey in the Gulf of Alaska include northern fulmars, auklets, shearwaters, black-footed albatross, tufted and horned puffins, storm petrels, kittiwakes, and common murres. Some of these birds, like the fulmars and albatross like to hang around the boat and look for an easy meal from the fishing net. This can make it difficult to avoid counting the same bird more than once. Adjustments are made by the scientist to prevent an overestimation in the number of birds recorded.
We have also seen some very unexpected bird species. There was a trio of peregrine falcons that landed on the ship and traveled with us for a day. Some of the crew on the bridge saw one of them catch a smaller bird and fly off with it! There was also a masked booby that spent a few hours cruising along with us. Masked boobies are native to the waters much further south and have never been seen in the Gulf of Alaska!
Other data about the weather conditions are automatically recorded with the help of a computer. Air temperature, water temperature, wind speed, and wind direction are recorded at the start of each observation session. A GPS device also records the latitude and longitude of the ship every few seconds. All this information helps scientists get a better understanding of which birds were present at different times of year and how weather conditions may affect where they go.
This is the last day of the survey and it is finally sunny! It has been an interesting two weeks for me. It was full of observing new animals and gaining a new understanding of how marine science is conducted. It has also been a great opportunity to meet some very interesting people passionate about their work.
Did you know?
Flatfish have one eye that migrates, or moves, from one side of their head to the other! This happens within the first few months after they hatch. The result is that both of their eyes end up on the same side of their head. This allows flatfish to swim along the bottom of the ocean floor while keeping both eyes facing upward to look for food and to spot predators.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Faist Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow July 20 — August 1, 2011
Mission: Cetacean and Seabird Abundance Survey Geographical Area: North Atlantic Date: July 21, 2011
Weather Data Air Temp: 21 ºC
Water Temp: 19 ºC
Wind Speed: 19 knots
Water Depth: 163 meters
Science and Technology Log The purpose of cruise is to accurately count marine mammals and seabirds in the North Atlantic. There are two separate groups of scientists:the marine mammal team and the seabird team.
The first order of business on a trip to count marine mammals is to ensure that all observers (including myself) are familiar with the types of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) that may be seen during the survey. Last night all of the marine mammal observers gathered in the conference room to review photographs and field guides depicting each of the species that might be seen on the trip. Using high-resolution photographs, we reviewed length, coloration, body shape and behaviors that distinguish each dolphin and whale to the most specific level of classification, Genus and species.
To make sure that all (or as close to all as possible) animals in the study area are counted, observers will be using high power binoculars, or “Big Eyes”, to extend their ability to see and identify animals even at great distances (about 7 miles from the ship).
Two teams of four, highly experienced observers will work simultaneously during the survey time. From two different locations on the ship, the flying bridge (top deck) and the roll tank deck (about 15 feet below the flying bridge) each team of observers will rotate stations every 30 minutes. One observer will start on the port (left) “Big Eyes” to observe animals on that side. The second observer will be at the computer to record what is seen and search for animals close to the boat without using binoculars. The 3rd observer will start on the starboard (right) “Big Eyes”, while the 4th person is on break.
It is believed that this method, of two teams of 4 observers each, will allow observers to count all of the animals in the survey area. After the cruise is over the scientists will use math equations to get estimates of animals within the North Atlantic.
Since the weather was windy today, the mammal team did not work but there is a team of seabird observers on-board as well. Mike and Marie are here to count all of the seabirds that occur in the survey area. They are able to spot seabirds in rougher conditions (higher wind speeds) allowing them to collect data during most daylight hours. Today, Mike was showing me how to accurately judge the distance between the boat and birds. While technology may help others Mike likes to use an old fashion “pencil method”. If you look carefully at the picture you will see marks on the pencil. When he holds the pencil at arm’s length and puts the top of the pencil at the horizon, each of the marks indicate a different distance. The top mark is 300m from the ship, middle is 200m and the bottom mark indicates 100m. This gives Mike and Marie a quick guide to accurately judge distance to record their seabird observations.
Due to foggy and windy conditions the marine mammal observers are waiting for better conditions to start surveying. While this is bad for the scientists, it is great for me. I have had some time to learn to navigate the ship, nap, get my “sea legs” and interview many of the scientists and crew.
What I am finding is a highly trained, experienced group of individuals that love the ocean. Each person brings a unique set of talents and background forming a complete team with the same goal, accurately counting the numbers of protected species in the North Atlantic. I am very excited to be a part of such a great team.
NOAA Teacher at Sea: Story Miller NOAA Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Summer Pollock III
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: July 29, 2010
Time: 1922 ADT
Wind: 5 knots (approx. 5.8 mph or 9.3 km/h)
Direction: 9.8° (N)
Sea Temperature: 10.1°C (approx. 50.2°F)
Air Temperature: 8.7°C (approx. 47.7°F)
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1015
Wave Height: 0 – 1 feet
Swell Height: 1 – 2 feet
I decided that it would be beneficial to provide some information regarding some of the animals I have seen over the past week.
Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus)
Yesterday morning during breakfast, one of the NOAA Corps Ensigns came down to tell me that there was a Short-tailed Albatross off the port side (left side) of the boat. This was a very special event, especially if you are an avid birder because currently there are about 2000-2500 in the world. The short-tailed albatross is one of three species of albatross living in the North Pacific Ocean and is the largest of all seabirds in this location. This bird has a wingspan of approximately two meters. One could conclude that the bird I saw was younger because young short-tailed albatross have “chocolate brown” feathers when young and as they grow larger they turn white. This bird likes to eat squid, small fishes like pollock, and zooplankton. The albatross population dwindled because the birds were very easy to access due to them only nesting on a couple islands in Japan and they were not afraid of humans. As a result they were really easy to kill and because there was a high market value for their feathers, hunters pursued them to near extinction. In fact it is said that in 1953 there were only about 10 pairs left in the world.
Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
This species of bird has been consistently following our ship since we left Dutch Harbor. They are primarily a pelagic bird which means that unless they are breeding, they are living out at sea throughout the year. The Northern Fulmar can be found in a range of different colors depending on where they were born. Generally, the darker birds are found in the southern parts of Alaska and the white are found farther north. However, if you are on the Atlantic side of the US the pattern is just the opposite with the darker birds originating in the high Arctic and the light are found farther south! These birds typically feed on squid and small fish. One fact that I find fascinating about the Northern Fulmars is that they have the ability to launch their puke up to 6 feet as a defense mechanism! I shall now remember it as the projectile vomiting bird!
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
One interesting fact about this bird is that it has only three functional toes, hence the tri prefix in its scientific name. These birds are white and their wings are gray. Because I grew up in the desert, my untrained eye mistakenly identified them as a seagull but thanks to USFWS scientists Marty Reedy and Liz Labunski, I am now informed of the differences! This bird is also pelagic and their breeding season is during this time. These birds feed on small fish and they are found around the coasts of Alaska, the Bering Sea, and in the northern Canadian Atlantic Coast. When the black-legged Kittiwake feeds, it usually catches its prey on the surface of the ocean but it has been known to plunge underwater. Typically they feed on zoopankton.
Red-legged Kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris)
As stated in its name this bird has bright coral red legs and is typically shorter than the Black-legged Kittiwake. These birds are most commonly found mostly in the Pribilof Islands and there are only about five or six places in the world where they breed, all of which are in the Bering Sea.
Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris)
These birds are known to breed off Australia. In the summer they migrate to Alaska, a trip of about 9000, and have been known to take as little as six weeks! In Australia they are important in the Aboriginal culture in Tasmania and are commercially harvested for food, feathers, and oil. These birds usually eat crustaceans but are also known to eat fish and squid. To catch their prey, they will plunge or dive into the water. One interesting adaptation is that they are able to convert their food to oil and the benefit is that oil does not have as much weight as an ingested animal which allows the birds to travel long distances.
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma furcata)
When I first saw these birds I thought a bat was flying over the water due to a slightly more erratic flight pattern than the smooth flights of the other birds I have observed. These birds typically feed at the surface of the water. Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels are also pelagic, living approximately 8 months at sea and when they do return to their breeding grounds in late-spring, they will dig burrows in the soil or find ideal nest locations in rock crevices. The baby chicks are thought to have a unique adaptation for survival. Sometimes the parents leave the baby alone for many days to look for food. During this time the baby’s body head drops into a state of torpor until the parents return and raises its body temperature.
Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus)
These birds are capable of backward somersaults in the air and take part in acts of piracy as they have been known to harass other birds until the lesser bird gives up its food. The Pomarin Jaegers primarily feed on lemmings and even have a reproductive period that is dependent on the brown lemming! According to the USFWS they are “the only avian predator that digs for lemmings.”
Smooth Lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus)
Lumpsuckers live in cold waters in the Northern Hemisphere. They have a disk underneath their body that allows them to cling to rocks. “All but a few lumpsuckers have spiny tubercles on the head and body” (2002). There are 27 species of lumpsuckers and 10 are confirmed to occur in Alaska with 3 more species are known to be near Alaska. These fish can be found on the bottom of the sea, usually on the continental shelf.
After my shift ended yesterday, I hung out on the bridge and looked at seabirds and tried to find evidence of land (Russia) since we are so close. The day was clear and sure enough, right after supper, Russia was spotted! While I have not been out to sea that long, the idea of land coming into view was an exciting feeling. Perhaps the feeling was because the land belonged to Russia and I had never been there before or that the sighting of land broke up the monotony of the never-ending stretch of moving water. I feel that the feeling was derived from a little bit of both. While I was searching for Russia, I had the opportunity to observe a Fin Whale about one mile (~1.5km) ahead of the boat. A few times, it came out of the water enough so that you could see its total back and dorsal fin! For me, Fin Whales have been the most commonly spotted.
This morning, after repeatedly launching the experimental Cam-Trawl with no results, we finally snagged a picture of a fish early this morning! The picture was very dark and the fish, mostly a blur but it was obvious that the image was a fish! This is yet another example of how a scientist must be patient as it is common in real-life experiments, as opposed to structured labs in the classroom, to have tests fail multiple times before useful results occur!
In the evening, I decided to spend time on the bridge again and watch for whales. I was in luck yet again as I was able to see two Humpback whales! They were swimming very close to the ship, but not close enough for the zoom on my camera! I was able to watch them for a good twenty minutes before they “fluked” (showed their tail) and dove deep underwater!
Overall it was a very interesting couple of days!
Denlinger, L.M. 2006. Alaska Seabird Information Series. Unpubl. Rept., U.S. Fish and Wildl. Serv., Migr. Bird Manage., Nongame Program, Anchorage, AK
Mecklenburg, C.W., Mecklenburg, T.A., & Thorsteinson, L.K. (2002). Fishes of alaska. Bethesda, MD: American Fisheries Society.
USFWS scientists Liz Labunski and Marty Reedy
Shrimp (unidentified) but they looked like what I have for dinner!
Something to Consider:
Many people, including myself, enjoy watching animals but never learn what their common names are! We take for granted the wonders of Mother Nature that we see everyday and sometimes disregard them as being “normal.” However, what you see may not be normal for other people, such as seeing high populations of bald eagles in Dutch Harbor and Unalaska! It is never too late to learn and if, for example, you move to a different location with different flora and fauna, you can share with your new friends the environment from which you came! I find when traveling to other countries or other locations in the “Lower 48” that they assume Alaska is always cold, snowy, and that penguins live there (which they don’t)! When I take my pictures with me, it is exciting to see other people’s reactions and the conversations afterward are always engaging!
Now would be a great time to photograph the animals and plants you see inhabiting the land surrounding your home. You never know when you may bump into an avid “birder” or other animal specialist that could tell you their names. Or, if you are feeling particularly enthusiastic on a foul weather day, there are many identification books available in your local library.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009
Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle Date: September 4, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 780 12’N
Longitude: 1360 33’W
Science and Technology Log
Part of NOAA’s mission is to conserve and manage marine resources. To this end, the Healy has a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) on board. Our MMO is Justin Pudenz. He collects data on any interactions we might have with marine mammals during our voyage. Both the Louis and the Healy have observers on board.
Justin spends his time on the bridge of the Healy, binoculars in hand, notebook near by, always on the lookout for life on the ice or in the air. He lives in southern Minnesota when he is not on a ship. Justin tries to spend 6 months at sea and 6 months at home. He has been a fisheries or marine mammal observer since 2001. The company he works for is MRAG Americas. NOAA hires observers from this company when they are needed. While on board the Healy, Justin spends hours each day watching for marine mammals and recording his observations. The data he collects goes back to NOAA.
Justin has traveled to many bodies of water as an observer including the Pacific near Hawaii and the Bering Sea for fisheries observation. His next mission will be on a crabbing vessel in mid-October. If you can picture the television show “DEADLIEST CATCH” – that is the type of vessel he will sail on. On a fisheries trip Justin will collect data on the species of fish caught, their sex, weight, length and other information NOAA needs, to understand the health of ocean ecosystems. Justin grew up enjoying the outdoors and always knew a desk job was not for him. He has a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science and has been lucky enough to find a job that gets him outdoors and is ever changing.
FOR MY STUDENTS: How are your observation skills? Would a job at sea be a good match for you?
I asked Justin what he has seen from the Healy. Our “trip list” follows. The farther away from land we get, the fewer species of birds we see. Most of these bird species were spotted before we hit the heavy ice.
The Marine Mammal Observer has seen these birds since we departed Barrow, AK: Pacific loon, Northern fulmar, red phalarope, long-tailed jaeger, Ross’ gull, Arctic tern, spectacled eider, pelagic cormorant, parasitic jaeger, glaucous gull, black-legged kittiwake, yellow wagtail.
The Marine Mammal Observer has seen these mammals since we departed Barrow, AK: bearded seal, ringed seal, Arctic fox, polar bear.
Many people have asked about the living spaces inside this ship. It is an amazing vessel when you think about all that happens here. The Healy is truly a floating city with 120 people on board. Any function that your town does – this ship needs to do. A city needs to clean water, sewage treatment, trash pick up, recycling, electrical power, food, shelter, and recreation. All of these are provided for on the Healy. I have attached a few pictures of life on the Healy below.
Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA. Date: July 18, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind speed: 40 knots
Wind direction: 350°from the north
Visibility: foggy Temperature: 12.9°C (dry bulb); 12.0°C (wet bulb)
Wave height: 8-10 feet
Science and Technology Log
Acoustics: Lisa Bonacci, chief scientist, and Melanie Johnson, fishery biologist, are in the acoustics lab onboard the Miller Freeman as it travels along a transect line. NOAA scientists can detect a variety of marine life under the sea. They use sonar—sound waves bouncing off an object—to detect the animals. There is an onboard sonar system that puts out four different frequencies of sound waves. Each type of fish will give off a different signal depending on its size, shape, and anatomy. The fish are then identified on the sonar computer readout. The strength of the sonar signal will determine the number of hake and the way that they are swimming. As soon as it appears on the sonar as if hake are present, Ms. Bonacci then calls the bridge to request that we trawl for fish.
The boat was rocking in all directions with 40 knot winds and 8-10 foot waves. The fishing trawl brought up scores of fish including a lot of hake. The sonar signals worked really well to locate them. We dissected and measured many fish, but not before we sat in a giant vat of hake (see photo.) It was a great learning day.
Animals Seen Today
Hake,spiny dogfish, Humbolt squid, Myctophidae, and Birds.
Discovery from the Briny
As the trawl net was raised from the depths
The sun broke through the clouds revealing a sparkling azure sky.
Scores of seagulls circled the stern
In the hopes of a bountiful offering
Tasty morsels from the deep
Soon to be thrown overboard.
Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA. Date: July 15, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed: 19 kts.
Wind direction: 355° north
Temperature: 15.4°C (dry bulb); 13.2°C (wet bulb)
Science and Technology Log
Our cruise was delayed for a day due to poor weather conditions and heavy seas. We began with a meeting of the scientific team which consists of 8 members all with their specific scientific knowledge and expertise. We will be conducting several types of oceanographic sampling during our cruise: 2-3 hake tows per day, weather permitting, an open net tow where fish are viewed through a camera, XBTs: Expendable Bathythermograph, HABS: Harmful Algal Bloom Sampling, and CTD: Conductivity, Temperature, and Density. The ship conducted Man Overboard and Fire drills.
The research vessel Miller Freeman set sail from Eureka, California on Wednesday, July 15th at approximately 12:30. Each person aboard is assigned a specific job and place to report on the Miller Freeman during such an event. Our assignments are posted on our stateroom door. During a Fire/Emergency Drill the signal is a 10 second blast of the general alarm and/or ship’s whistle. I am to report or muster to the Chemical Lab.
In the event of an Abandon Ship Drill, I am assigned to life raft #2 and muster on the O-1 deck, port (left) side. The Abandon Ship signal is more than 6 short blasts followed by one long blast of the general alarm and/or ship’s whistle. If a Man Overboard Drill is called, we will hear 3 prolonged blasts of the general alarm and/or ship’s whistle. The muster station is the Chemical Lab. If we personally see a person go overboard the ship there are three things to do immediately: Throw a life ring overboard, call the bridge, and keep your eyes on the person.
These things all need to be done as simultaneously as possible to assure the safety and recovery of the person who is in the sea. It is important to conduct these emergency drills so that everyone is ready and prepared in the case of an emergency event.
I am sharing a stateroom with Julia Clemons, an oceanographer on board the Miller Freeman. She works for NOAA Fisheries in Newport, Oregon. Her educational background includes a Bachelors’ degree in Oceanography and a masters’ degree in Geology. The scientists and crew on board are so professional and willing to teach and tell about their job. They are an amazing group of people.
Questions of the Day?
What does a hake look like in person?
Animals Seen Today
1 great blue heron
Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA. Date: July 14, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
No data (In port)
After arriving at the Eureka airport I found my way to the Miller Freeman thanks to many friendly Eurekan locals. What a lovely town with many interesting sights including the dock area, downtown with its renewed turn of the century architecture. Upon arriving at the Miller Freeman I was greeted by Ensign Heather Moe who graciously gave me a tour of the ship.
There were four decks or levels to the ship which include:
Flying Bridge Deck: observations take place as well as storage
Bridge Deck: Navigation can take place from the bridge or the trawl house. The trawl house faces toward the stern of the ship and is used to control the ship during “fishing.”
Boat Deck: Officers’ & Chief Scientist’s staterooms. A stateroom is where you would sleep on a boat or ship. Your bed is called a “rack.” Most staterooms on the Miller Freeman have bunk beds. The boat deck is where the small launches/rescue boats are stored.
There is: a FRB, Fast Rescue Boat, and a small launch.
Quarterdeck/ Main Deck: Ship’s store, survey officers’ staterooms and the back deck, used for fishing. *The term quarterdeck was originally, in the early 17th century, used for a smaller deck, covering about a quarter of the vessel. It is usually reserved for officers, guests, passengers. It is also an entry point for personnel. Lower/ Galley Deck: Crew’s and scientists’ staterooms, library, two lounges, galley, where everyone eats their meals.
Hold: Gym for exercising and engineer’s storage area.
Question of the Day
Where did the word quarterdeck* originate? (see answer above)