Helen Haskell: Watching the Wildlife, June 15, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017


Mission: Hydro Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: June 15, 2017

Weather Data:

Wind: 3 knots from the west

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer: 997.6 hPa

Air temperature: 9°C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’


54°54.4’N 132°52.3’W

Science and Technology Log:

While Fairweather is a hydrographic research ship, responsible for collecting data for navigational charts, one of the side reports the survey crew makes is a Marine Mammal Observation Log. When a marine mammal is spotted on a survey, its location is noted, the species is identified if possible and notes about the numbers, behavior and any other observations are documented. Along with documenting sightings of these animals, the coxswains also follow protocols for minimizing disturbance and impact to these creatures.

Since joining this leg of the hydrographic research, humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangilae) have been the most numerous whale species seen. These whales that spend the summer in South-east Alaska winter mainly in Hawaii. Mating happens during the winter and the calves are born 11 months later. The calves stay with their mother for about 11 months after they are born. Individuals can grow up to 60 feet in length and live 50 years. These large grey whales have numerous barnacles that attach to their skin and filter feed as the whale travels. It is thought that the whales find shallower rocky areas to swim alongside in order to rub off the barnacles. It was in some of the shallower survey areas that I first saw humpbacks.


Harbor seals have fast become one of my favorites during my time here in Alaska. Growing to about six feet in length, the harbor seal, Phoca vitulina, have a diet of shellfish, crustaceans and fish and appear to be non-migratory, staying here year round. They are grey in color and can weigh up to 250 lbs as a mature male. Data seems to suggest that in some areas of their range in Alaska, the populations are declining but in other areas, seem stable. As the seals give birth in the summer, we’ve been fortunate enough to see seal pups too on this leg of the research.


The Northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, has perhaps been the most numerous marine mammal so far on this trip. Appearing small next to the seals and whales, upon reading more about them, I learned that they not small creatures, as they measure up to five feet in length and weigh up to 100 lbs. Feasting on a diet of invertebrates, such as clams and sea urchins, the sea otters are often spotted floating on their backs and are often associated with kelp beds. The otter fur trade began in the 1700’s and by 1900 populations were on the brink of extinction. Legislation has allowed the populations to rebound in most areas in the last 100 years, and they are seen regularly by survey crews and from the bridge.


Another species I saw here, up a small shallow cove, was the river otter, Lutra Canadensis. Five heads popped up in front of me and then bobbed under. Seconds later the otters were up on land running in to the trees. Seemingly fast and sleek, they were not acting like sea otters. It was not any behavior we had observed before. A little bit of research confirmed our suspicions that these were indeed river otters. Sea otters rarely come out on land, and when they do, do not move swiftly, having more flipper-like back legs, making land movement more arduous. River otters are smaller than sea otters weighing up to 35lbs and are 40-60 inches in length.


While obviously not a marine mammal, the bald eagle is pretty much a guaranteed daily sight as the surveys are being done. A friend referred to the bald eagle as an Alaskan pigeon, and while I have not experienced as many bird species or numbers of birds here as I thought I would, the eagle has been one of the main species sighted. With an estimated population of 30,000 in Alaska, more numerous here than any other state, that hasn’t always been the case. With bounties on them at the turn of the 20th century, and population reductions due to pesticides and habitat loss, especially in the lower 48 states, the bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, was put on the Endangered Species List in 1967. Measures put in place both locally and nationally have been so successful that in 2007 the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List.


Another species I have seen regularly but not up at close range, is the Marbled Murrelet, Brachyramphus marmoratus. These small, almost 10 inch long marine birds are in breeding plumage right now and, although they have been hard to see, due to distance and poor light conditions in the rain, are beautiful shades of brown and cinnamon. They build nests here in southeast Alaska in the mossy branches of old growth conifer trees or on the ground.


A little blurry but here are the Marbled Murrelets


Personal log

While it’s easy to get sidetracked with the mammals and birds here, there is a host of other species here that play significant roles in the food web. Kelp has been one of the organisms that I’ve seen a lot while doing the small boat surveys, and on our first completely sunny day, I got the chance to get up close and personal with the kelp from the vantage point of a kayak. The Fairweather has several kayaks that on occasion the crew uses to explore the local area. Together with NOAA Corps Junior Officer ENS Peter Siegenthaler and Hollings scholar Carly Laroche, we filed a Small Boat Plan with the bridge, stating where we were going and our anticipated return time, picked up radios, and carried the kayaks down from the top deck. It’s a little tricky to get a small kayak in the water from a large ship, but with the help of a small boat, we launched and paddled, in almost glassy water, over towards the shoreline.

FullSizeRender (1)

Me in one of the kayaks

Being even closer to the water in a shallow keel-less boat, allowed us to paddle through those kelp forests, pick up the otter-opened clamshells and explore the intertidal community much more easily. We were also able get close to some of the terrestrial species, the Sitka spruce and the other trees species growing vertically out of often steep slopes, right down to the high tide mark. We paddled along these inter-tidal edges listening to hermit thrush sing from the trees up the hillsides as we debated how logging companies actually cuts trees on such steep slopes. It was a glorious day, a rare sunny, calm day in the early summer of southeast Alaska, and perfect for paddling. This area is filled with small islands and coves, waiting to be explored, especially at low tide, when more inter-tidal life is exposed. My fingers are crossed that the weather and water conditions will allow for more explorations by kayak before I have to leave Fairweather in Kodiak.




Fact of the day: KELP

There are three species of kelp found here in southeast Alaska: bull kelp, ribbon kelp and sugar kelp. Kelp is an algae, not a plant, although it does photosynthesize. It is an essential part of the ecosystem here and many species are dependent on it.

Word of the day: Baleen

Humpbacks are a baleen whale, meaning that they have these plates, up to 600, make out of a substance called keratin in their mouths that act as filters in feeding. The keratin is referred to as baleen and is similar to our fingernails. In an earlier blog posting I held up a piece of baleen in an art store in Ketchikan. Below is a picture of baskets woven out of strips of baleen.


What is this?

(Previous post: The picture is of the sonar equipment on the bottom of the small boats).


Helen Haskell: Life on a Ship, June 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 22, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West of Prince of Wales Island 

Date: June 7, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55 04.473 N

Longitude: 133 03.291 W

Wind: 9 knots from the east

Air temperature: 17C

Visibility: 10 miles

Barometer: 1004.2 hPa

Science and Technology Log

The mission of the Fairweather is to conduct hydrographic surveys for nautical charting. The Fairweather does this work in the waters off the United States Pacific coast, but principally in Alaskan coastal waters. The data is collected using sonar both by the Fairweather but also using a series of smaller boats that are launched as often as possible, each with a small crew of 3-4 people. These smaller boats are able to conduct the surveys much closer to the shoreline, and spend about 8-9 hours each day surveying a specific region. Many of the waters up here have had no recent data collected, and mariners are relying on charts that may have measurements taken in the 1800’s or 1900’s when technology was very different.


NOAA Ship Fairweather

During the field season, Fairweather spends about 210 days at sea. During the rest of the year, the Fairweather stays at her homeport, allowing the crew to work on maintenance issues, take leave, work on the data and outfit the boat for the following season. During the field season, the boat conducts different legs of the research, spending 12-20 days out at sea at a time before returning to a port to re-supply. There are six departments on the ship: Command, Deck, Electronics, Engineering, Steward and Survey. Each person on the ship is hired with specific duties and responsibilities.

As a government vessel, the Fairweather is also available for use during the time of war or in case of an emergency. In the event of something along these lines, the ship and the officers would be transferred to the Armed Forces of the United States.

The Fairweather is named after the tallest peak in the Fairweather range in Alaska. The ship served in Alaskan waters for over 20 years but was decommissioned in 1988. In 2004, due to increasing demand for modern surveys in Alaska, it was retrofitted and put back in to the research fleet. Previously staterooms housed up to 4 people, but after the retrofit a maximum of two people share a room. The boat can house 58 people in 24 single staterooms and 17 double staterooms. The boat itself is 231 feet in length and 42 feet wide. Its cruising speed is 13 knots, with a survey speed of 6-10 knots.   The Fairweather has 7 levels, A-G, each containing many rooms and areas essential to the mission of this ship. Wires and pipes run throughout the ship with sensors monitoring equipments, sensors ready to trigger if needed. Lower levels of the ship contain tanks, ballast and engines. Diesel, drinking water and grey water are stored in the tanks. The next three levels contain staterooms, lots of machinery and storage, the Mess, the Galley, laundry, labs, the sick bay and one deck with small boat storage. The last two levels contain the ships Navigation Bridge, the data processing center, electronics office, and lots more equipment.

Personal Log

A few days in to my journey with the ship, things are starting to make more sense. While there are still doors I haven’t opened and rooms I am sure I have not been to, I feel that I am getting a better sense of the Fairweather and how it works, the roles that people play, and a slightly better understanding of what it means for home to be a ship.

There is a lot going on. Unlike many of the fisheries boats, where science staff works on a shift system, here on the Fairweather, much of the hydro data acquisition needs to be done on the small vessels during daylight. After the 8am meeting, boats are launched and the survey crew leave for the day. Meanwhile the rest of the scientists and survey crew works with the previously acquired data. Shift systems are in operation for most of the rest of the staff. There are always engineering projects and issues to sort out on a boat of this size, and engineers are always available and always problem solving. There are always NOAA Corps officers and deck crew on the bridge to monitor the ship and coordinate communication. From early in the morning there is always food to prepare, parts of the ship to be cleaned and decisions to be made, reviewed and modified. Somewhere around 4:30pm the survey boats return. Meal times and group meetings are places where most of the crew comes together to hear about how the day has gone and what is needed for the next day. After dinner, there is still work to be done. The day’s data needs to be processed in order for the plans for the next day to solidify. Small boats are checked after their day in the water, re-fueled and parts fixed if need be. After working hours the ship is patrolled hourly to make sure equipment is working and things are safe.


In between all these jobs, the crew does have down time. Those on a shift system hopefully manage to get some decent sleep, even if it is daytime. Laundry gets done. Personal emails are sent to communicate with families. Movies are watched in the lounge/conference room. Showers happen. People visit the exercise room. The ships store opens up for a while each night, allowing crew to splurge on a bag of chips or a candy bar. So, it’s a busy place. Whether it’s visible or not, there are always things going on.


In some very simple ways it is no different to your home or mine. There is food, shelter and water. In most other respects, it is very far removed from living on land. Most people don’t have breakfast, lunch and dinner with their work colleagues. Here we do. Most people don’t have bedrooms without windows in them. Here we do. Most people don’t have the floor swaying beneath their feet due to wave action. Here we do. And for what it’s worth, most people don’t get to look over the deck and watch curious sea otters swim by, knowing that a whale may breach any minute. Here we do.



Fact of the day:

NOAA has nine key focus areas: Weather, Climate, Fisheries, Research, Satellites, Oceans and Coasts, Marine and Aviation, Charting and Sanctuaries. NOAA employs 12,000 people worldwide, of which 6,773 are scientists and engineers studying our planet. NOAA’s roots began over 200 years ago with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey by President Thomas Jefferson. In 1870 the Weather Bureau was formed closely followed by the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. In 1970 these three organizations became the beginning of NOAA. For more information: http://www.noaa.gov/about-our-agency

Word of the day: Knot

Knot, in nautical terms is a unit of speed.  One knot is the equivalent of going one nautical mile per hour.

What is this?

What do you think this is a picture of? (The answer will be in the next blog installment).


(Previous answer: The picture is of a light and whistle that are attached to my PFD (personal flotation device).

 Acronym of the Day

MPIC: Medical Person In Charge


Julia Harvey: Calibration in Sea-Otterless Sea Otter Bay, August 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia Harvey
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 22 – August 10, 2013 

Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Alaska
Date: 8/7/13 

Weather Data from the Bridge (as of 21:00 Alaska Time):
Wind Speed:  10.42 knots
Temperature:  13.6 C
Humidity:  83%
Barometric Pressure:  1012.4 mb

Current Weather: A high pressure system is building in the east and the swells will increase to 8 ft tonight.

Science and Technology Log:

Before I begin, I must thank Paul for educating me on the calibration process.  Because calibration occurred during the day shift, I was not awake for some of it.

The EK60 is a critical instrument for the pollock survey.  The calculations from the acoustic backscatter are what determines when and where the scientists will fish.  Also these measurements of backscatter are what are used, along with the estimates of size and species composition from the trawling, to estimate fish biomass in this survey.  If the instruments are not calibrated then the data collected would possibly be unreliable.

Calibration of the transducers is done twice during the summer survey.  It was done before leg one in June, which began out of Dutch Harbor, and again now near Yakutat as we end leg three and wrap up the 2013 survey.

As we entered Monti Bay last night, Paul observed lots of fish in the echosounder.  This could pose a problem during calibrations.  The backscatter from the fish would interfere with the returns from the spheres.  Fortunately fish tend to migrate lower in the water column during the day when calibrations were scheduled.

This morning the Oscar Dyson moved from Monti Bay, where we stopped last night, into Sea Otter Bay and anchored up.  The boat needs to be as still as possible for the calibrations to be successful.

Monti and Sea Otter Bays Map by GoogleEarth

Monti and Sea Otter Bays
Map by GoogleEarth

Site of calibration: Sea Otter Bay

Site of calibration: Sea Otter Bay

Calibration involves using small metal spheres made either of copper or tungsten carbide.

Chief Scientist Patrick Ressler with a tungsten carbide sphere

Chief Scientist Patrick Ressler with a tungsten carbide sphere

Copper sphere photo courtesy Richard Chewning (TAS)

Copper sphere
photo courtesy Richard Chewning (TAS)

The spheres are placed in the water under transducers.  The sphere is attached to the boat in three places so that the sphere can be adjusted for depth and location.  The sphere is moved throughout the beam area and pings are reflected.  This backscatter (return) is recorded.  The scientists know what the strength of the echo should be for this known metal.  If there is a significant difference, then data will need to be processed for this difference.

The 38 khz transducer is the important one for identifying pollock.  A tungsten carbide sphere was used for its calibration. Below shows the backscatter during calibration, an excellent backscatter plot.

Backscatter from calibration

Backscatter from calibration

The return for this sphere was expected to be -42.2 decibels at the temperature, salinity and depth of the calibration  The actual return was -42.6 decibels.  This was good news for the scientists.  This difference was deemed to be insignificant.

Personal Log:

Calibration took all of the day and we finally departed at 4:30 pm.  The views were breathtaking.  My camera doesn’t do it justice.  Paul and Darin got some truly magnificent shots.

Goodbye Yakutat Bay

Goodbye Yakutat Bay

As we left Yakutat Bay, I finally saw a handful of sea otters.  They were never close enough for a good shot.  They would also dive when we would get close.  As we were leaving, we were able to approach Hubbard Glacier, another breathtaking sight.  Despite the chill in the air, we stayed on top getting picture after picture.  I think hundreds of photos were snapped this evening.

The Oscar Dyson near Hubbard Glacier

The Oscar Dyson near Hubbard Glacier

Location of Hubbard Glacier.  Map from brentonwhite.com

Location of Hubbard Glacier. Map from brentonwhite.com

Many came out in the cool air to check out Hubbard Glacier

Many came out in the cool air to check out Hubbard Glacier

I even saw ice bergs floating by

I even saw ice bergs floating by

Lots of ice from the glacier as we neared

Lots of ice from the glacier as we neared

Nearby Hubbard Glacier with no snow or ice

Near Hubbard Glacier

And there it is: Hubbard Glacier

And there it is: Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier

Did You Know?

According to the National Park Service, Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America.  At the terminal face it is 600 feet tall.  This terminal face that we saw was about 450 years old.  Amazing!

Read More about Hubbard Glacier

Jason Moeller: June 28, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Whale Pass
Date: June 28-29, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 58.01 N
Longitude: -152.50 W
Wind: 23.95 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 9.4 degrees C
Air Temperature: 10.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 71%
Depth: 177.72 m

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

Due to the injury to the deck hand, we are done fishing. Our trip has been cut a day short and we are now headed back to Kodiak. We should arrive tomorrow morning, and I will fly back home on the 30th.

The shortest route to Kodiak was through Whale Pass, a break in Kodiak Island. The pass made for some spectacular scenery.

The entrance to Whale Pass

The entrance to Whale Pass, from the back of the Oscar Dyson

Steep hills rolling down into the water were a common sight in the pass.

Steep hills rolling down into the water were a common sight in the pass.

nav point

An island with a navigational marker in whale pass.

mountain 1

There were some spectacular views of the mountains in the pass as well.

Mountains 2

Another view of the mountains.

Mountain 3

Another view of the mountains.


And another...


Last one, I promise! We all liked the shape of this one.


A waterfall drops away into the ocean.

The coolest part of the pass, though, is definitely the wildlife. We saw sea otters everywhere! Unfortunately, they were so fast and at a great enough distance that the following shot is the only decent one I was able to take.


A sea otter at Whale Pass.

We also saw an animal that I have been hoping to see for a long time.

killer whales

Sorry about the grainy image, but it is the only one of the Orcas we were able to get.

We also saw a puffin, but it moved so quickly that there was no hope at a photo for it. Bummer. Several humpback whales were also spotted, along with numerous gulls and other seabirds.

Science and Technology Log

Today, lets talk about krill!

What are krill, you ask? They’re animals in the Phylum Arthropoda, which means they’re related to insects, spiders, crabs, lobsters, etc. They have jointed legs and an exoskeleton, are usually a couple of centimeters in length, and are reddish/orange-ish in color. They can often be found in dense schools near the surface of the water, and play an important role in the ecosystem as a source of food for lots of larger animals (like fish, whales, & penguins).

I’ve mentioned the two types of trawl gear that we use to catch fish, but if we want to catch smaller things like plankton, the mesh on those nets is way too small. Therefore, we use a third type of trawl called the Methot which has very fine mesh to corral the plankton down into a collection container at the end of the net. In addition to having a hard container at the end — as opposed to just a bag/codend that you see in the fish trawls — the Methot trawl also has a large metal frame at the beginning of the net. Check out the photos below.

The Methot trawl being taken from the water. Note the square frame.


The container that collects all of the plankton in the net.

After the net is brought back on deck, one of the fishermen or deck hands brings the container of krill into the fish lab. The first thing we do is dump the container into a sieve or a bucket and start picking out everything that isn’t krill. The two most common things that are collected (besides krill) are gelatinous animals (like jellyfish & salps) and larval fish. The fish get weighed (as one big unit, not individually) and then frozen for someone to look at later on.


The larval fish that we separated from one plankton tow.

After sorting the catch, we’re left with a big pile of krill, which gets weighed. We then take a small subsample from the big pile of krill (it’s a totally random amount depending on how much we scoop out!) and then weigh the subsample. Then the fun begins, as I’m the one that does this job; I get to count every single individual krill in the subsample. Tedious work. All of the data is then entered into the computer system, and the krill and anything else that we’ve caught (besides the larval fish) are thrown back into the water.

Tammy sorts through the pile of krill.

Tammy sorts through the pile of krill.

counting krill

How many individual krill are in this picture?

Species Seen

Northern Fulmar
Humpback Whales
Killer Whale!!!
Sea Otters!!!

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Q. What has been your favorite thing about this trip so far?

A. I’ve been asked this question several times over the course of the last few weeks, but I’ve waited until the end to answer it.

Truth be told, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite thing that I’ve seen or done. There are so many candidates! Exploring the Buskin River and seeing bald eagles before we set sail was a blast! Eating fresh caught salmon for the first time was a great experience, as it just melted in my mouth. Leaving shore for the first time was a lot of fun, as there is no feeling like the salt air blowing past your face at the front of a boat. Trying to take pictures of flying birds with a digital camera was a challenge, and we all had a good time laughing at the blurred images. Getting better at photography is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I feel like I have improved that. The first fish lab with the sleeper shark was great! Working in the fish lab, as messy as it was, was also a lot of fun! The XBT prank that was pulled on me was one of the best executed pranks I’ve ever seen, and it was hilarious! Hanging out and reading Martin’s Game of Throne series during breaks with my fellow scientists was a lot of fun as well, as it was just like a book club. Today’s ride through Whale Pass with the otters, whales, and mountains was exactly what I dreamed Alaska would be like.

The scientists sense of humor also made it an enjoyable trip. For example, this is what happens when you play around with the net camera for too long.

Cam Trawl Dinner

See what I mean?

That being said, if I was absolutely forced to pick a favorite memory, it would probably the impromptu fishing trip at Sand Point. You know you love your job when you decide to keep going at it on your day off.

There will be one last log posted, so if you have questions please send them to me at jmoeller@knoxville-zoo.org!

Jill Stephens, June 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jill Stephens
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 15, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Visibility 10 nautical miles
Wind from 170° at 2 knots
Sea Temp 7.2° C
Air temperature: 13.3°C dry bulb; 10°C wet bulb
Pressure 1015.2 mb

Donning the survival suit is necessary if you are forced to abandon ship in cold water.  The suit must be donned quickly. This is not an easy task, but I was successful.  Now, please step aside so that I can make my way to life raft number 10 on the port side of the ship!

Donning the survival suit is necessary if you are forced to abandon ship. The suit must be donned quickly. This is not an easy task, but I was successful. Now, please step aside so that I can make my way to life raft number 10 on the port side of the ship!

Science and Technology Log 

Safety is of the utmost importance on all NOAA vessels at all times.  New crew members are required to go through safety training upon arrival.  The training covers important details that include breathing devices to use in a fire emergency, correct procedure for donning survival suits, entry into life rafts, and lowering and raising launches. Survival suits, life vests, hard hats, and float jackets were issued at our safety meeting. We were taken on an orientation of the ship, during which we were shown our muster stations for fire, man overboard, and abandon ship emergencies.

The training video depicting the deployment and recovery of the launches was fascinating from a physics standpoint. Although we will not be handling any of the lines or equipment, there is safety protocol to be followed during this activity.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Personal Log 

Everyone on board the ship has been very friendly and helpful. My roommate is NOAA Corps Ensign Marina Kosenko. The NOAA Corps is actually the smallest of the seven uniformed services.  She has been with NOAA since August of 2008. She was an astrophysics major at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she received a scholarship from NOAA that paid for her junior and senior year of college. She interned at a NOAA lab in Miami, Florida. While in Miami, she met a NOAA Corps officer that interested her in the NOAA Corps.  After receiving her BS, she applied to NOAA Corps, was accepted and went to training a year later in New York, New York.  Upon completion of the four month training program, she became an ensign and was assigned to the Rainier. Ensign Kosenko’s duties aboard the ship include assistant medical officer, assistant damage control officer, movie and morale officer, assistant sound velocity officer, discharge slip officer in addition to standing anchor watch, and 12-4 bridge watch when underway. During bridge watch she serves as Conn and ensures safe navigation of the ship with the assistance of the Officer of the Deck.

Ensign Kosenko has taken me under her wing and been a terrific roommate!  She is also teaching a great deal about many facets of her job.

This actually holds a life raft.

This actually holds a life raft.

Animal Sightings 

Hundreds of red jellyfish surrounded the ship after the engines were powered up and we prepared to get underway.

I counted 81 sea otters as we were leaving Kodiak.  The otters were extremely playful and most were swimming on their backs.  It was amazing to see so many of them wishing us bon voyage.

While up on the flying bridge, the deck above the bridge, we were watching for whales.  Steve Foye was very helpful in helping us to look for “blows”.  (Whales are spotted by seeing the water blown into the air, hence the term.)  Once we knew what to look for, they were easier to spot. Although we were too excited to count, there must have been between 15 and 20 sightings, but we were not close enough to see their bodies. 

Mary Patterson, June 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 15, 2009

A life ring aboard the Rainier

A life ring aboard the Rainier

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Overcast 10 nautical mile visibility
Sea Temp 7.2◦ C
Sea level air pressure 1015.2 mb
Dry Bulb 13.3 Wet Bulb 10.0

Science and Technology Log 

After lunch came safety training and a quick tour of the ship. We watched several videos about survival at sea, fire and abandon ship drills and even conflict resolution. Some of the same principles of conflict resolution that we use in school were in the film. JO (Junior Officer) Russell Quintero passed out our bunk cards. These cards fit into a pocket in our bunks and list all our stations for all our drills.

Next, we were fitted for our bright orange survival suits otherwise know as the “Gumby” suit. These suits are designed to help minimize the shock of extremely cold water. They may look funny, but I’d be glad we had them in an emergency. We were also issued a lightweight vest, a bright orange deck coat and a hard hat. It’s good to know that all the emphasis I put on safety in my classroom, really does translate to the real world of science. NOAA is all about safety first! After dinner, we had our first fire drill and not long after that, an abandon ship drill.

With a ship this size it is crucial that everyone knows what to do in an emergency. Usually, by dinnertime, the orders for the next day are posted in several spots throughout the ship. These list the survey boats that will be going out, their crews and where they are going and what they will survey. This is called he Plan of the Day (POD) and everyone is expected to read them when they are posted.

Being able to put out a fire on a ship is really important when you’re at sea.  There are no fire departments to save you.

Being able to put out a fire on a ship is really important when you’re at sea. There are no fire departments to save you.

Personal Log 

Excitement built as fellow Teacher at Sea, Jill Stephens and I made our way to the ship. We were greeted by ENS Matt Nardi and shown to our bunks to unpack. Our first chow in the crew mess hall was at 12 noon.  This food is nothing like cafeteria food! Our cooks, Dorethea, Raul, Floyd and Sergio like to keep the crew happy! Our first lunch was roasted veal or a chicken cheese sandwich. I also learned that there is always ice cream in the freezer and salad available 24 hours a day.

Here I am in my survival suit, also called a “Gumby” suit.

Here I am in my survival suit, also called a “Gumby” suit.

As we left the dock, we saw quite a few puffins. Those crazy birds flap and flap their wings but look afraid to fly. They are quite entertaining. We also passed approximately 50 or so sea otters playing and feeding in the kelp. Later in the evening, I saw whales spouting in the distance. I really hope we get to see one up close. As the engines were turned on, it seemed like all the jellyfish in the water came towards the ship. I wonder if they are attracted to the vibrations made by the engines. The sun set at 11:10 pm and so did I.

“New Terms/Phrases/Words” 
Bunk card, POD, Rack, Standing orders

Matt Lawson, June 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Matt Lawson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 9-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bay of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 10, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge as of Wednesday 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (Nm.)
Wind Direction: none
Wind Speed: none
Sea Wave Height: none
Seawater Temperature: 7.8 Celcius (C)
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.1 millibars (Mb.)
Cloud Cover & skies: overcast
Air Temperature: Dry bulb – 12.2 C Wet bulb – 8.3 C

One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat

One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat

Science and Technology Log 

Out to Launch! 

June 10: At 7:50 am CO Haines met with everyone involved in today’s launches to talk about the work, weather and safety. Acting FOO Smith covered the particulars of the survey work each launch boat would be conducting. Chief Boatswain Kruger briefly reminded us about safety and being in your positions at the right times, then the order in which the launches would depart from the ship. Very shortly after 8am, we climbed aboard RA-#4 (RAINIER launch boat #4) and were lowered into the water. All six launch boats are similar to each other in that they are about 30 feet long, have built-in diesel engines, a cabin, and a canopy over the coxswain’s wheel.  They are housed upon gravity davits, which are not the latest in technology, but very durable and reliable.  More modern davits use hydraulic systems and they require fewer deckhands to operate. It appears to me that each system has its advantages. Today, we mainly used the side scan sonar system on that boat to survey some of the rocky off shore areas of Biali Rock.

RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.

RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.

The weather was pretty good except that the waves were 6-7 feet tall, making it a little rough for the new guy. Amy Riley, Lead Survey Technician, invited me below deck to see the work she and Grant were doing. Basically, they had a computer with three monitors, showing the current GPS map of where we were, the scanning in real time and a 3-D image of the ocean floor as it was being processed. The job here for the technicians is to monitor the computers as they accumulate data that will later be processed. But this is not yet the end product.  The processed data is finally sent ashore where NOAA cartographers will create the actual charts used for navigation.  Even though quite a number of other things were going on in other smaller windows, I’m not above admitting I didn’t fully understand it all!  I was allowed to take the tech’s chair for a while and we did 4-5 passes with me in control of the system.  Somehow, I managed not to crash us into anything!

The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued.  Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued. Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

Later, I sat in on the survey de-briefing in the wardroom.  This meeting takes place every day immediately after the last launch returns to the ship.  Everyone involved in the launches participates in this meeting.  While everyone is given an opportunity to speak about the day, the lead survey technician for each launch specifically makes an official report on accomplishments, areas of interest or concern, problems and/or issues that need to be addressed before the next set of launches departs. I found this part of the day just as interesting because it created a summary for the entire day’s mission.

Personal Log 

Drill or No Drill? 

NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.

NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.

While out on the launch, we were able to catch a little of the radio chatter.  It’s always good to listen to the radio, even when it doesn’t pertain to you.  It keeps you in the know and alert to possible hazards in your path. I’m adding “listening to the radio” as a rule on my “to do” list, and I’m about to give you a good example as to why.  As we listened, it sounded like a “Man Overboard” drill was taking place on the ship. Ha, ha.  Better them than us.  However, the more we listened, we began to realize we were really missing the event of the day.  Apparently, two fishermen were out on a fairly old boat when they began to sink. We don’t know the cause, just that it was going down fast. They were able to get out only one mayday call. However, RAINIER’s bridge was able to pick up on and respond to the call.

Despite the fact that much of the ship’s personnel were out on launches, a sufficient rescue team was mustered and conducted a flawless rescue mission.  The two fishermen were in their emergency immersion or “Gumby suits” and had not suffered too much when they were picked up.  After allowing them time to rest and somewhat recover from shock, they were taken to the nearest port.   I had read how NOAA vessels frequently play vital roles in various rescue missions, but being here when it happens makes a much bigger impression.  Today proved just how easily things can get hairy out here and  how important it is to know how to handle emergency situations.  Drills and safety meetings occur regularly on RAINIER, and once again, came in very helpful.

Ian Colvert, a NOAA Survey Technician was on board RAINIER when the rescue mission took place. He is credited for the rescue pictures.

Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.

Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.

Not Yet a Salty Dog 
I have to diverge a little here.  Operating a computer on a wildly thrashing boat was indeed a new experience in and of itself, as well as a point of hilarity for the Lead Technician, Amy, who’s been doing this for a long time.  Just working the mouse was like riding Ferdinand the Bull after being stung by an unfriendly bee. Anyway, after an hour of this, I began to get seasick.  Yes, the new experiences just keep coming!  At the risk of using too many analogies in one paragraph, I will say sea sickness pretty much just feels as if you’ve been traveling in the back of a tired old Chevy Impala being driven through very hilly country roads by a driver who should’ve had his/her license taken away 35 years ago.  Basically, puke city. I had to return to the deck where I could see the horizon and let my brain make sense of things again.  Recovery was a slow process in 6-7 foot waves, but I did eventually manage and was normal again long before we returned to the relative steadiness of the ship.

Sailing/Nautical terms for all you land lovers:

  1. FOO – Field Operations Officer
  2. SONAR – SOund Navigation Ranging – technology which uses sound to determine water depth.
  3. Side scan SONAR – a category of SONAR that is used to create an image of a large area of the sea floor. This type of SONAR is often used when conducting surveys of the seafloor in order to create nautical charts for navigation.
  4. Gravity Davit – davit system which relies on the weight of the boat to lower it into the water.
  5. GPS – Global Positioning System – a mechanism which uses satellite systems to determine location.
  6. Coxswain the helmsman or crew member in command of a boat.
  7. Manual Floatation Device – any life jacket that must be activated by the wearer (usually a rip cord and air canister system) to make it buoyant.
  8. Positive Floatation Device – a life jacket that does not require manual activation and is designed to keep the wearer’s head above water.
  9. Immersion Suit – a full body suit which functions as a positive floatation device.  Used in emergency situations, such as abandoning ship.  The insulation and water proofing of these suits are important factors in colder waters.
  10. Muster – to gather.
  11. Bridge – sometimes called a pilot house, the place from which the ship is steered.  This is the heart of ship operations.

Animals Seen Today 
No new ones, but it was still exciting to see so many.  Even though the somewhat higher waves kept me busy with the challenge of standing up, I did notice a large colony of starfish hanging on some rocks in calm waters.

“Did You Know?” 

  • There are cold water corals which grow in the Alaskan waters.
  • The Gulf of Esquibel (pronounced “es-ki-bell”) was originally named by Fransisco Antonio Maurelle about May 22,1779 in honor of Mariano Nunez de Esquivel, the surgeon of the ship La Favorita.
  • Alaska itself was purchased by the United States from Russia in 1867.
  • Prior to its sale to the U.S., the Russians referred to it as “Russian America.”
Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.

Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.