Michelle Greene: Meet the Beakers, July 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Michelle Greene

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

July 19 – August 3, 2018

 

Mission: Cetacean Survey

Geographic Area: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Coast

Date: July 26, 2018

 

Latitude: 40° 0.989″ N

Longitude: 67° 30.285″ W

Sea Surface Temperature: 22.1° C (71.8° F)

Sailing Speed: 4.65 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

Premier marine ecologist Dr. Robert Pitman is a member of our cruise.  He works at the NOAA Fisheries at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division.  He has traveled the world in search of cetaceans, turtles, flying fish, and seabirds.  Currently he is doing extensive work with killer whales.  Dr. Pitman has viewed almost all of the 80 plus species of whales known to man; however, seeing some of the Mesoplodon beaked whales in person has been elusive… until now.  Dr. Pitman gave an excellent presentation on the different species of beaked whales that we might to see in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Blainville’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon densirostris)

Blainville's Beaked Whale

Blainville’s Beaked Whale

The Blainville’s beaked whale was first identified by Frenchman Henri de Blainville in 1817 from a piece of a jaw.  The average length of a Blainville’s beaked whale is 4.4 meters.  The most prominent feature of the whale is a high arching jaw. Blainville’s beaked whales have scars from raking which heal white.  Males are very aggressive and proud.  Dr. Pitman stated, “They want a pair of horns but only have a pair of teeth.”  They leave deep scars with their pairs of teeth, because they will savagely charge each other.  Sometimes barnacles will settle on their teeth.  The head of a Blainville’s beaked whale is flat to expose the teeth.

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

Cuvier's Beaked Whale

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

The Cuvier’s beaked whale was first identified by Frenchman Georges Cuvier from a skull in 1823.  The skull had a large cavern in the head which was the reason for the name cavirostris (cavi means hollow or cavernous in Latin).  Cuvier’s beaked whales also go by the name of goose beaked whale.  The whale can grow to a length of seven meters.  Cuvier’s beaked whales have the most variable coloration.  Some Cuvier’s will be grey in color while others may be reddish brown in color.  They have white sloping melons.

Gervais’ Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)

Gervais' Beaked Whale

Gervais’ Beaked Whale

The Gervais’ beaked whale was first identified by Frenchman Paul Gervais in 1855.  The average size of a Gervais’ beaked whale is 4.8 meters.  The prominent feature of the Gervais’ beaked whale is the vertical striping along its back along with a dark band just behind the melon.  A white circular spot is located just below the melon.  The dorsal fin is dark.  The male Gervais’ beaked whale has one set of teeth located about one-third of the way back from the tip of the beak.  Males turn dark and lose their striping with age.  Males also rake each other; however, scars from the encounters re-pigment a darker color.

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens)

Sowerby's Beaked Whale

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale

The Sowerby’s beaked whale was first identified by Englishman James Sowerby in 2804.  The average size of a Sowerby’s beaked whale is 5.5 meters.  They are one of the few whales that have a long beak.  Males have one pair of teeth that are located about two-thirds of the way back from the tip of the beak (or rostrum).  Males have make scratch marks along their backs; however, since the teeth are positioned so far back, scratch marks are from just one tooth and not a pair which would create parallel tracks.  Scientists believe the scarring is due to male competition.  The dorsal fin is located approximately two-thirds of the way along the back.  These whales are not very aggressive and more than one male will be seen in a group.  These animals do not usually travel alone unless it is a male.

True’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon mirus)

True's Two

True’s Beaked Whale Photographed on Our Cruise

True's Beaked Whales

True’s Beaked Whales

The True’s beaked whale is the dominant subject of study of this cruise.  The True’s beaked whale was first identified by American Frederick True in 1913.  Due to his excitement over his discovery of the marine mammal, he named it mirus, which means wonderful in Latin.  A True’s beaked whale can grow to be about 5.4 meters.  The identifying features of a True’s beaked whale include: a dark band behind the melon, a large light spot behind the dark band, a pale melon, two tiny flippers, dorsal fin that is small and triangular,  and for males two tiny teeth at the front of the rostrum.  These whales will have paired parallel scarring because their teeth are so close together.

 

Personal Log

First and foremost, I am in awe every day at the different things I see in nature on this cruise.  I have seen so many birds that I cannot remember one from the other… not to mention the dolphins.  I did not know there were so many kinds of dolphins.  I watched the television series “Flipper” when I was a little girl, and now I can say I have seen a bottlenose dolphin in person.  I think the scientists get almost as excited as I do about seeing an animal even though they have probably seen them hundreds, if not thousands, of times.  Nature is always amazing no matter how many times you see it.

During Dr. Pitman’s presentation, I was captivated by the way he spoke about the whales like they were his best friends he had known forever.  I found out why.  He has spent most of his life studying them.  Dr. Pitman is an amazing resource for me on this cruise.  Being a marine mammal observer newbie, Dr. Pitman took the time to answer all of my questions about whales.  I really value the conversations I have had with a famous whale lover.

The weather has not been ideal for marine mammal observation for several days.  If the swell is too high, it makes it hard to see the animals, because they can breach in the waves where we cannot see them.  The fog also makes it difficult to see the animals, and it is not safe on the flying bridge if it is raining.  During times of foul weather, the scientists are busily working on projects except for the seabirder.  The seabirder sees several birds during foul weather.  The chief scientist, Dr. Danielle Cholewiak, has assembled an international crew of scientists who are as passionate as she is about beaked whales.

During the foul weather when people are not working on other projects, the galley is place to be.  The scientists have taught me how to play a card game called Peanut.  It is a wild version of a multiplayer solitaire.  I am usually pretty good at catching on how to play card games, so learning another game was fun.  It gets fast and furious, and you cannot be faint of heart.  The first person to 100 wins, but the person with the lowest score which can be negative also gets to be the winner of the lowest score.  Sometimes even a NOAA Corps officer will join in on the excitement.  All kinds of fun happens on board the Gordon Gunter!

One of the best experiences I have had so far on this cruise is talking with the crew.  They are from all over the country and take their work very seriously.  As different NOAA Corps officers on board get promoted, they may not stay with the Gordon Gunter and may move to other ships.  Most of the crew, however, sticks with the Gordon Gunter.  I thought when we went on the cruise that we were basically going on a “fishing” trip to watch whales and dolphins and no machinery would be on board.  Oh how I was wrong!  There are several pieces of heavy machinery on board including a crane and a wench.  The boatswain is in charge of the anchors, rigging, and other maintenance including the heavy machinery.  Boatswain is not a term I was familiar with before this cruise.  The word is pronounced like “Bosun” not “Boat Swain.”  Boatswain Taylor is the first one I see in the mornings and last one I see at night.  He works tremendously hard to make sure the “work” of the ship is done.

 

Did You Know?

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Marine Mammal Program created a beaked whale identification guide.  Check out the website: http://vertebrates.si.edu/mammals/beaked_whales/pages/main_menu.htm

Animals Seen

  1. Audubon’s Shearwater Bird (Puffinus iherminieri)
  2. Barn Swallow Bird (Hirundo rustica)
  3. Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)
  4. Brown Booby Bird (Sula leucogaster)
  5. Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
  6. Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
  7. Cory’s Shearwater Bird (Calonectris diomedea borealis)
  8. Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
  9. Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
  10. Great Shearwater Bird (Puffinus gravis)
  11. Leach’s Storm Petrel Bird (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)
  12. Parasitic Jaeger Bird (Stercorarius parasiticus)
  13. Pilot Whale (Globicephala)
  14. Pomarine Jaeger Bird (Stercorarius pomarinus)
  15. Portuguese Man O’war (Physalia physalis)
  16. Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps)
  17. Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)
  18. Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus)
  19. Spotted Dolphin (Stenella frontalis)
  20. South Polar Skua Bird (Catharacta maccormicki)
  21. Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens)
  22. Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
  23. Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
  24. True’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon mirus)
  25. White-faced Storm Petrel Bird (Pelagodroma marina)
  26. Wilson’s Storm Petrel Bird (Oceanites oceanicus)

Vocabulary

  1. Barnacles (balanus glandula) – sticky crustaceans related to crabs and lobsters that permanently stick themselves to surfaces
  2. Blowhole – similar to “nostrils” in humans which sits on top of the head to make it easier for cetaceans to breath without breaking their swimming motion.
  3. Dorsal fin – a fin made of connective tissue that sits on the back of a whale believed to be used for balance, making turns in the water, and regulating body temperature
  4. Fluke – a whale’s tail is comprised of two lobes made of tough connective tissue called flukes which help it move through the water
  5. Melon – an oil-filled sac on the top of a beaked whale’s head that is connected it vocal chords.  The melon helps the whale to make clicks which help it to find food.
  6. Rostrum – snout or beak of a whale
  7. Winch – a machine that has cable that winds around a drum to lift or drag things

 

Photograph References

“Beaked Whale Sets New Mammalian Diving Record.” The Guardian. 27 March 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/mar/27/beaked-whale-new-mammalian-dive-record

“Blainville’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon denisrostris).” NOAA Fisheries: Species Directory.  https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/blainvilles-beaked-whale

“Gervais’ Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon europaeus).” NOAA Fisheries: Species Directory. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/gervais-beaked-whale

“Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens).” Ocean Treasures Memorial Library: The Legacy Continues.   http://otlibrary.com/sowerbys-beaked-whale/

Photographs of True’s beaked whales taken by Salvatore Cerchio.  Images collected under MMPA Research permit number 21371.

 

Lacee Sherman: Teacher With Fish Scales in Her Hair, June 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6 – 28, 2018

Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  June 22, 2018

rain gear

TAS Lacee Sherman getting in rain gear to process a haul

Weather Data from the Bridge at 19:00 on 6/24

Latitude: 56° 0.7 N

Longitude: 169° 34.5 W

Sea Wave Height: 3-4 ft

Wind Speed: 16 knots

Wind Direction:107° (E)

Visibility: 10 nmi

Air Temperature: 8.1°C

Water Temperature: 7.7° C

Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

With this blog, I will be focusing on the biodiversity in the Eastern Bering Sea. Biodiversity includes all of the different types of plant and animal species in a given environment. All of the species that I will be discussing I’ve seen come up in the trawl net, or have seen from the ship.

Adult Walleye Pollock

Adult Walleye Pollock

Common Name: Walleye Pollock

Scientific Name: Gadus chalcogrammus

Identifying Features: 3 Dorsal Fins, large eyes

Ecological Importance: Polllock influence the euphausiid populations and are food to many larger marine species, and humans.

Interesting Facts:  Walleye pollock produces the largest catch by volume of any single species inhabiting the 200-mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

 

 

Common Name: Krill

Scientific Name:  Euphausiidae (Family)

Identifying Features:  1-2 centimeters in length on average.  They look similar to very small shrimp, and often swim in schools.

Ecological Importance:  Krill are a very important food source for many fish and also larger marine mammals such as whales.

Interesting Facts:  They are filter feeders and eat zooplankton and phytoplankton, which makes them omnivores.

Chrysaora melanaster

Chrysaora melanaster

Common Name:  Northern Sea Nettle, Brown Jellyfish

Scientific Name: Chrysaora melanaster

Identifying Features: 16 lines from the center of the bell to the outer edges of the bell.  Large range in sizes, from very small to very large.

Interesting Facts:  Jellyfish may become a problem for the Bering Sea in the future because they reproduce in large numbers and they can dominate an entire environment easily.

Pacific Ocean Perch

Pacific Ocean Perch

Common Name: Pacific Ocean Perch

Scientific Name: Sebastes alutus

Identifying Features: Bright to light red with brown blotches dorsally near fins, large spines on dorsal and anal fins, knob on lower jaw

Ecological Importance: delicious

Interesting Facts: Pacific Ocean Perch are a type of Rockfish.  Pacific Ocean Perch have a swim bladder similar to that of pollock, so they reflect similar acoustic signals and can sometimes be acoustically confused for pollock if no sample is taken in a specific area.

Yellowfin Sole

Yellowfin Sole

Common Name: Yellowfin Sole

Scientific Name: Limanda aspera

Identifying Features: Black line between body and dorsal and ventral fins, fins may appear yellow in color

Ecological Importance: Yellowfin sole are benthic (live and feed on the ocean floor).

Interesting Facts: Yellowfin sole grow slowly and may be 10.5 years old by the time they reach 30 cm in length.

Magister Armhook Squid

Magister Armhook Squid

Common Name: Magister Armhook Squid

Scientific Name: Berryteuthis magister

Identifying Features: 8 tentacles and two larger feeding arms, dark red in color, but white when damaged

Ecological Importance: Prey on fishes and other squid

Interesting Facts: These are the most abundant squid found in the waters of Alaska.

Chum Salmon

Chum Salmon on the conveyer belt with pollock

Common Name: Chum Salmon

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus keta

Identifying Features: Metallic dark blue on the top and silvery on the sides

Ecological Importance:  Chum Salmon have adapted to live in saltwater and freshwater.  They mainly eat copepods, fishes, squid, mollusks and tunicates.

Interesting Facts:  Chum salmon eggs are hatched in freshwater rivers and streams.  They then travel downstream to live most of their life in the ocean.  When it is time, Chum Salmon spawn (reproduce) in the same freshwater stream they hatched in.  Once a salmon spawns, they die.

Pacific Herring

Pacific Herring

Common Name:  Pacific Herring

Scientific Name:  Clupea pallasii

Identifying Features: Large scales that are shiny silver along the sides and shiny blue along the top of the fish.  Tail has a fork and there is only one dorsal fin.

Ecological Importance: Eat phytoplankton and zooplankton.  Herring and their eggs are eaten by fish, birds, marine mammals, and humans.

Interesting Facts: Herring eggs (roe) are considered a traditional delicacy in Japan called kazunoko.

Yellow Irish Lord

Yellow Irish Lord

Common Name: Yellow Irish Lord

Scientific NameHemilepidotus jordani

Identifying Features: Yellowish tan to dark brown, white to yellow bottom, and yellow gill membranes

Ecological Importance: Since they are usually found close the ocean floor, they regularly eat things like fish eggs, isopods and amphipods, worms, and small fishes.

Interesting Facts: There is another species of Sculpin that is similar called a Red Irish Lord.

Fish Lab Gloves

A photo of our fish lab gloves

 

Personal Log

During our hauls, a member of the science team is needed on the bridge to watch for the presence of marine mammals and endangered bird species.  I am one of the people that gets to do this, and I must admit, there is a slight conflict of interest.  I, of course, want to see all of the marine mammals possible, but if they are nearby during a haul, we are required to give them space until they pass so that they are not injured in any way by the ship.  This can definitely slow down the process of hauling if we see them, but of course I don’t mind it if I get to see more whales.  Most of the time I don’t see any marine mammals and just end up enjoying a beautiful view of the open ocean.

I am definitely feeling more comfortable and at home on the ship now. Constant motion from the swells is the new normal, and the creaks and sounds of the ship are a new soundtrack to listen to (on repeat). Sometimes I like to push the limits and see how far forward or backward I can lean during larger swells to maintain balance and have a few superhero moments as I pretend to defy the laws of physics.

I’m getting to know more about the other people on the ship every day and it’s nice to get into a rhythm and start to really work well together and have a good flow, especially in the fish lab. If we are motivated to finish before meal times, we can process a good haul of Pollock in around 45 minutes. That is much quicker than we started at, and it’s because we have really learned how to capitalize on each other’s strengths and just being willing to do whatever job is needed in the lab, even if it is not our favorite task.

Scientists in the Fish Lab

Some of the science team in the fish lab. (left to right) TAS Lacee Sherman, Darin Jones, Sarah Stienessen, Denise McKelvey, Matthew Phillips, and Mike Levine

I have claimed a workspace in “the cave” (acoustics lab) that is perfectly in the way of the phone when it rings, but it’s usually quiet in there and I can focus on these blogs, reading, or planning for next school year. I’ve also been reading the transcripts to a ton of TED talks when we don’t have access to the internet.

Did You Know?

In Alaska, during the summer, they experience what is called “the midnight sun”. It is rarely ever dark enough to see the stars during the summer.  This happens because of how far north it is!

Midnight Sun

This photo was taken just after midnight on 6/21/18 (summer solstice).

 

Bonus!  Cool Photo time!

Cam Trawl image

Cam Trawl image of pollock and pacific ocean perch. Can you tell the difference?

Bird on the fish table

This bird flew into the table where the fish are held before being processed. It was just hoping for a free meal, but ended up getting stuck. After realizing it couldn’t get out on its own, a survey technician helped to get it out and back on its way.

Watertight door

The black bars on the sides of the doors hold it shut and are controlled by the black lever on the left of the photo. Talk about a tough door!

 

 

References:

Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “Yellowfin Sole Research.” NOAA Fisheries, 25 Oct. 2004, http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/species/yellowfin_sole.php.
“Crustaceans.” Crustaceans , Marine Education Society of Austrailasia, 2015, http://www.mesa.edu.au/crustaceans/crustaceans07.asp.
“Facts.” Facts | Pacific Herring, http://www.pacificherring.org/facts.
Jorgensen, Elaina M. Field Guide to Squids and Octopods of the Eastern North Pacific and Bering Sea. Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2009.
Mecklenburg, Catherine W., et al. Fishes of Alaska. American Fisheries Society, 2002.
NOAA. “Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus Keta).” NOAA Fisheries, 21 Jan. 2015, http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/fish/chum-salmon.html.
TenBrink, Todd & W Buckley, Troy. (2013). Life-History Aspects of the Yellow Irish Lord ( Hemilepidotus jordani ) in the Eastern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. Northwestern Naturalist. 94. 126-136. 10.1898/12-33.1.

Maggie Prevenas, April 20, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 20, 2007

Species Profiles

Bald Eagle: Haliaeetus luecocephalus

When I walked around the back of the hotel in Dutch, I surprised a big ‘ol bald eagle dumpster diving with three of

Bald eagle (Credit: Michele Brustolon)

Bald eagle (Photo by TAS Michele Brustolon)

his raven friends. Later I found out the ravens were not really his friends. They tricked him into surrendering his meal! Bald Eagles play an important role in this ecosystem. They are scavengers, not only in Nature, but out of garbage dumps too.

The eagle is called ‘bald’ because of white feathers on their heads. Its yellow eyes and beak stand in contrast to its dark brown body. Eagles can reach flight speeds between 35 and 44 miles per hour.

How big are bald eagles?

The bald eagle is 32 to 40 inches long with a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet. Males are smaller than females.

How many Bald Eagles are alive today?

80,000 to 110,000 eagles exist in the wild. There are 4,500 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states.

How long do they live?

Over 30 years in the wild. They live longer in captivity because they have a better diet and are protected.

Where do they live?

Bald Eagles live in Canada, Alaska and lower 48 states. They like to hang out in forests, valleys, mountain regions, lakes, rivers and along waters’ edge.

They build nests in the limbs of tall trees. Their nests are used year after year with new additions of mosses and sticks. Nests can reach 5 feet across, 2 feet high and weigh 4,000 pounds!

What do they eat?

Bald eagles eat fish, waterfowl, and small to medium mammals. They kill their prey with their talons (feet and claws) and use their beaks for tearing flesh. They are scavengers that will eat anything from dead fish, to road kill, and dumpster food.

How do they reproduce?

Bald Eagles often mate for life. Once paired, the female lays two eggs in the spring. After 35 days, one or two chicks hatch. If two are hatched, usually only the chick that is more aggressive, and takes most of the food, survives. At 15 weeks of age, the young permanently leaves the nest.

What threats do they have?

Bald Eagles have lost their homes to humans in many coastal areas. Since they scavenge (eat dead or decaying food) heavy metals and other poisons can concentrate in their body and kill them.

Did you know?

Bald eagles can swim! They use an overhand movement of the wings that is very much like the butterfly stroke.

Most all of the information for this creature feature was taken directly from:

http://www.kidsplanet.org/factsheets/bald_eagle.html Word for word, just copied and pasted. I’d like to credit them for writing and researching it. You can find lots more information there too! Make sure you give them credit if you are using this information for reference!

NOAA Ocean Explorer: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 2002

Hawaiian Monk Seal, NOAA Ocean Explorer: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 2002

Hawaiian Monk Seal: Monachus schauinslandi

Since I am going to be learning a lot more about ice seals, I thought that I’d do a creature feature on the Hawaiian Monk Seal so when the time comes, you will be able to compare and contrast them.

The Hawaiian monk seal has a streamlined body to aid in swimming. Their front and back limbs are flipper-like. The front flippers are smaller than the back flippers. The front flippers have five fingers. The hind flippers cannot be turned forward, so they must wiggle when on land. In the water, they propel themselves by moving the hind flippers and use their front flippers as rudders. They are dark gray on their backside and silvery gray on their stomachs.

How big are monk seals?

Males are approximately seven feet long and weigh about 400 pounds. Female Hawaiian monk seals are larger than males, up to 7.5 feet long and weigh up to 600 pounds.

How many monk seals are alive today?

The population is estimated around 1300.

How old do they get?

Hawaiian monk seals can live for up to 30 years.

Where does it live?

Once found all over the Hawaiian Islands, the Hawaiian monk seal is now found only in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It likes to hang out in reefs, shallow lagoons, open ocean and beaches.

What do they eat?

Fish, eels and crustaceans.

monk seal and baby

Monk seal and baby

 

Do they have any special adaptations that allow them to survive in the very warm water of the Pacific Ocean?

These seals do not have special physical adaptations to deal with the warm climate in which they live. Instead, they remain inactive during the heat of the day, finding a resting spot with shade or wet sand. They are solitary animals. The Hawaiian monk seal evolved in an area without people or other land predators. Therefore, it did not learn to fear people and is easily approachable and disturbed.

How often do they reproduce?

A pregnant female gives birth to a single pup from mid-March to late May. Pups are about three feet long and weigh about 37 pounds when they are born. Pups stay with their mothers for 35 to 40 days while they nurse. During this time the mother gives the pup swimming lessons each day. While the pup is nursing, the mother fasts and may lose up to 200 pounds during this time. When the pup has been weaned, the mother returns to the sea and the pup must fend for itself.

What are the threats to the Monk Seal?

Humans; commercial hunting for skins, entanglement in fishing nets and long lines. They also die from disease.

Did you know?

A close relative of the Hawaiian Monk Seal, the Caribbean Monk seal, went extinct 10 years ago.

Most all of the information for this creature feature was taken directly from:

http://www.kidsplanet.org/factsheets/monk_seal.html

Word for word, just copied and pasted. I’d like to credit them for writing and researching it. You can find lots more information there too! Make sure you give them credit if you are using this information for reference!

Maggie Prevenas, April 20, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 20, 2007

Species Profiles

Bearded Seal: Scientific name: Erignathus barbatus

For the past few days, we have been seeing bearded seals. Bearded seals are extremely important to the Alaskan Native population that live along the Bering Sea. They use their skins for watertight boats, and their meat for food. They are solitary, love to hang out by themselves and are bottom feeders. Many times their heads appear reddish brown, stained from the benthic muck.

Alaskan Natives carve beautiful animals from walrus ivory. This carving is located on the  second floor of the Anchorage Airport.

Alaskan Natives carve beautiful animals from walrus ivory. This carving is located on the second floor of the Anchorage Airport.

Where do bearded seals live?
Bearded seals live in areas of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans that freeze and form ice during the winter.

How many bearded seals are there?
There is no accurate population count at this time, but it is estimated that there are probably over 500,000 bearded seals worldwide.

Bearded seals often have reddish heads from grubbing for  their food in the bottom sediment. Photo by Gavin Brady.

Bearded seals often have reddish heads from grubbing for their food in the bottom sediment.

How can I identify bearded seals?
A bearded seals most distinguishing feature is the beard of white whiskers they use to find food on the sea floor. Adult bearded seals are gray to brown, pups silver-gray, and do not have spots or other identifying markings. They do have small heads and flippers for the size of their bodies. The average length of adult bearded seals is 6.5 to 7 feet. They can weigh as much as 700 pounds, but the average weight is 400 to 500 pounds.

What do bearded seals eat?
Bearded seals are mainly bottom feeders that eat shrimps, crabs, clams and whelks. They will prey on fish such as cod and sculpin when they get a chance.

How do bearded seals have their young?
The bearded seal pups are born on the ice from the middle of March to the early May. Pups are weaned in approximately 3 weeks, and during those three weeks they gain a lot of weight. Their mothers then leave them to fend for themselves. The bearded seal pups learn to swim and dive within the first week of life. The pups then live a solitary life-like the rest of the bearded seals.

How long do bearded seals live? How do they die?
The life span of bearded seals is believed to be up to 31 years. The main predator of the bearded seal are the polar bear. Sharks, and walrus have been known to feed on pups, and humans also hunt bearded seals for subsistence.

Bearded seal pups usually stay on the ice. The mother seal will dive into the water but hangs around the pup.

Bearded seal pups usually stay on the ice. The mother seal will dive into the water but hangs around the pup.

Do you know what is really cool about bearded seals?
Bearded seals will ram their heads through thin ice to produce breathing holes!

Bearded seals lay on the edge of the ice looking downward into the water. They can then get away if a predator approaches!

The bearded seal gets its name from the white whiskers on its face! The whiskers are very sensitive and are used to find food on the ocean bottom!

Within a week of birth pups are capable of diving to a depth of 200 feet!

The bearded seals can be easily recognized because the body looks too big for the size of its head and front flippers!

Orca: The Killer Whale

The pilot from the helicopter gave us a heads up. Two killer whales headed our way. The announcement resounded through the ship via the pipes (announcement system). For some people on board ship, this was their first glimpse of the orca. Keep on reading if you are interested in learning more about the whale called Killer.

We saw a pod of killer whales all eating heartily. What was on their menu for dinner? Take a guess.

We saw a pod of killer whales all eating heartily. What was on their menu for dinner? Take a guess.

Killer whales are social animals that live in stable family-related groups.  Killer whales display a high level of care for their offspring.  In addition to the mothers, various pod members (mainly adolescent females) perform most of the care for the calves.  As with most mammals, killer whales are very protective of their young.

Different killer whale pods “sound” different.  Each pod has their own dialect of sounds.  They can easily recognize their own pod from several miles away based on the differences in calls.

Killer whales are often compared to wolves because both species are top predators, maintain complex social relationships, and hunt cooperatively.

To some, killer whales look exactly alike however they can be distinguished from one another by the shape and size of their dorsal fins, the distinctive grayish-white saddle patches behind their dorsal fins, as well as distinctive scars, nicks and marks on their dorsal fins.

What are killer whales like?
Though killer whales, also called orcas, are considered whales by most people, they are actually members of the Delphinidae (dolphin) family. Killer whales are excellent hunters that a wide range of prey, including fish, seals, and big whales such as blue whales. Despite their hunting of other animals, free-ranging killer whales have never been reported killing a human being.

Where do killer whales live?
Killer whales can be found in all oceans but they seem to prefer coastal waters and cooler regions.  Killer whales occur in family groups called pods.  Three types of pods have been described:

* Resident pods: remain stable over time     * Transient pods:  dynamic in structure (are constantly changing)     * Offshore pods:  Are seen only in outer coast waters and not much else is known of them.

Killer whale pods are based on the lineage of the mother (mothers, daughters, and sons form groups); the whales live and travel with their mothers even after they are full-grown, forming strongly matriarchal whale societies.

How many killer whales are there?
There are no official killer whale worldwide population estimates.  There are minimum counts in local areas.  For example, approximately 1000 whales have been individually identified in Alaskan waters through photographs. Killer whales are at the top of the food chain and are not considered endangered.

How can I identify a killer whale?
Killer whales are extremely distinctive with jet-black bodies and white patches usually over the eyes, under the jaw, on the belly, and extending onto their sides.   Female killer whales can grow up to 26 feet (7.9 meters) with a 3 foot dorsal fin while males are larger than the females growing up to 28 feet (8.5 meters) with a 6 foot (1.3 meters) dorsal fin. Killer whales have 48 to 52 teeth that are large and conical shaped as well as slightly curved back and inward.

How well do killer whales see or hear?
Killer whales have well-developed, acute senses.  They can hear a vast range of sounds and possess skin that is sensitive to touch.  Killer whales have excellent vision in and out of water.  It is not known whether or not they may have some sort of sense of taste.

What do killer whales eat?
The killer whale diet consists of fish, squid, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, porpoises and large whales like the blue whale.  Some killer whales have been known to slide on to beaches in order to capture a good meal.   Resident pods (pods that primarily reside in one area) prefer fish whereas transient pods (pods that travel over a relatively wide area) appear to target other marine mammals as prey.

Killer whales are very successful hunters due to their cooperative hunting, where all animals within the pod  participate.  This coordination is apparently developed and learned within pods.

How do killer whales have their young?
Killer whale males reach breeding age when they are around 22 feet (6.7 meters) long while females can breed when they are about 16 feet (4.9 meters) long. Killer whales breed all year around and calves are born about 8 feet (2.4 meters) long after a 17 month gestation period. Female killer whales usually give birth every 3 to 10 years.

How long do killer whales live? How do they die?
Killer whales have no natural predators (they are the top predators of the oceans) and can live to about 50-80 years old. Killer whales have been hunted by humans but not with enthusiasm as it takes 21 killer whales to produce the same amount of oil as 1 sperm whale.

Ribbon Seals: Phoca fasciata

I saw my first ribbon seal today! These beautiful creature are the most highly vulnerable critter that live up in the Arctic. Why? They never touch land. They spend their entire lives on ice flows, even give birth there. What will happen to them if there is less and less ice? Think about it.

Where do ribbon seals live?

Ribbon seals range northward from Bristol Bay in the Bering Sea into the Chukchi, Okhotsk and western Beaufort Seas.

This walrus tusk caving is a perfect minature of the beautiful animals know as ribbon seals.

This walrus tusk caving is a perfect miniature of the beautiful animals know as ribbon seals.

How many ribbon seals are there? In the mid-70s, the estimate of the world’s population of ribbon seals was thought to be 240,000, but there is no accurate estimate at this time.

How can I identify a ribbon seal? Ribbon seals are very distinctive. Males are dark brown to black with four ribbons of white. Females are lighter with less distinctive stripes. The stripes are located around the front shoulders, the neck and the rear section. Young seals are gray and will acquire the distinctive ribbons by the age of four. Ribbon seals have large eyes and small teeth.

Ribbon seals are generally easy to catch because they do not fear humans.

Ribbon seals are generally easy to catch because they do not fear humans.

What do ribbon seals eat? Ribbon seals feed mainly on groundfish and shrimp, along with some crustaceans.

How do ribbon seals have their young? Ribbon seal pups are born on the ice in the spring. They are white at birth and become silver gray in 3 to 6 weeks. They are weaned in about at month and then spend time learning to move on ice and to dive.

How long do ribbon seals live? How do they die? The life span of ribbon seals is believed to be up to 25 years.

The main predators of the ribbon seal are the killer whale, sharks and humans. There seems to be little interaction between commercial fishing and the ribbon seal.

Do you know what is really cool about ribbon seals? Ribbon seals have an internal air sack, over their ribs on the right side of their body. They are the only seals with this air sack! We do not know what it is used for!!

Ribbon seals move on the ice differently than other Arctic seals, they move one fore flipper at a time at a time, while other seals pull with both their front flippers to move forward! For short distances, they can move on the ice as fast as a man can run!!

Ribbon seals hang out where humans are not. They love to spend time out in the Bering Sea. The ice flow is their home.

Ribbon seals hang out where humans are not. They love to spend time out in the Bering Sea. The ice flow is their home.

Why do we know so little about ribbon seals? Ribbon seals are hard to study because of the amount of time they spend floating on pack ice and in open water, away from land. Luckily, this also makes it harder for predators to prey on them. At birth the pups are pure white. We know that ribbon seals stay close to the pack ice, but after most of the pack ice has melted, the ribbon seals are believed to be in the open sea.

Maggie Prevenas, April 18, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 18, 2007

Species Profile: The Walrus

Yesterday the helicopter crew flew over some walrus. Walrus are touchy feely kinda animals. They love to get together in great big piles and just sprawl all over each other. It’s also a way they keep warm. You can read more about the walrus below.

Scientific name: Odobenus rosmarus

This healthy walrus is hanging out in its favorite place, the ice!

This healthy walrus is hanging out in its favorite place, the ice!

 

Everyone knows what a walrus looks like! Its long ivory tusks are used for many things, including protection from attack by polar bears, killer whales and local hunters in kayaks.

Walrus are very slow on land because they are so big and clumsy, but in the water they are very fast and strong.  They can dive down 300 feet to retrieve their favorite food, clams, from the sea bottom. A walrus can eat 4,000 clams in one feeding!

Air sacs in the walrus’ neck allow it to sleep with its head held up in the water. Nursing females use this standing position as they nurse. The pups, born approximately every two years, nurse upside down.

Walrus will dive into the water at the faintest scent of a human.  Walrus numbers were very reduced by commercial hunters until 1972 when the Marine Mammal Act started protecting them.  Now only native people in the Arctic may hunt them and the populations have grown in size. Native peoples in the Arctic hunt the walrus for food and put every part of its body to good use. They use the tusks for the delicate art of carving called “scrimshaw.”

 

Uglat is walrus poop. Scientists can tell where walruses have been by these dark brown patches. They can also tell what they’ve been eating.

Uglat is walrus poop. Scientists can tell where walruses have been by these dark brown patches. They can also tell what they’ve been eating.

 

DESCRIPTION: Walruses are large animals with a rounded head, short muzzle, short neck and small eyes. They are able to turn their hind flippers forward to aid in movement on land. Their front flippers are large and each has five digits. Males have special air sacs that are used to make a bell-like sound. Both males and females have large tusks that are used for defense, cutting through ice and to aid in getting out of the water. The tusks can be more than three feet long in males and about two and a half feet long in females. Walruses are cinnamon brown in color.

SIZE: Females are smaller than male walruses. Male walruses stand up to five feet tall, are nine to 11 feet long and weigh 1,700 to 3,700 pounds. Females weigh 880 to 2,700 pounds and are seven to ten feet long.

POPULATION: 250,000

LIFESPAN: Walruses can live for 40 years.

RANGE: Coastal regions of the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas.

HABITAT: Moving pack ice in the shallow waters found near land, coastal beaches. They spend the majority of their time in the water.

FOOD: Clams, mussels and other bottom dwelling organisms that are located by their sensitive whiskers.

BEHAVIOR: Most groups of walruses migrate north in the summer and south in the winter. During the nonbreeding season, males and females tend to stay in groups segregated from one another. Many interactions between walruses are agonistic and may end in fighting.

OFFSPRING: Walruses breed in January or February. Following a 15 to 16 month gestation, a single calf is born. Females are very protective of their young. Female walruses help one another in raising calves. Babies are weaned from their mother at about two years of age.

THREATS: Historically, walruses were hunted commercially for their ivory tusks, oil and hides.

19th Century Naturalist Edward Nelson Recounts:

“To many of the Eskimo, especially on the Arctic shores, this animal is of almost vital importance and upon Saint Lawrence Island, just south of Bering Straits, over eight hundred Eskimo died in one winter, owing to their missing the fall Walrus hunt.

To these northern people this animal furnishes material for many uses.  Its flesh is food for men and dogs; its oil is also used for food and for light in oil lamps and heating the houses.  Its skin when tanned and oiled makes a durable cover for their large skin boats; its intestines make waterproof clothing, window-covers, and floats.  Its tusks make lance or spear points or are carved into a great variety of useful and ornamental objects, and its bones are used to make heads for spears and other purposes.”

This material taken directly from the following URLs, just copied and pasted. Make sure you give them credit should you use it in a report!

http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/html/walrus.html

http://www.kidsplanet.org/factsheets/walrus.html

Maggie Prevenas, April 17, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 17, 2007

Species Profiles

belugawhale-368x400Beluga Whale

Today a beluga whale was spotted from the helicopter. The whale was swimming in a small open area in the middle of an ice flow. This open water is called a ‘polynya.’ Read on to learn more about these beautiful whales. In the next few days, I will have the chance to add photos from Belugas we see.

What is really cool about beluga whales?

Beluga whales (also called white whales) are known to strand on mud flats without apparent harm. They are able to wait for the next high tide to swim away.

Adult beluga whales have been observed carrying odd objects such as planks, buoys, and even caribou skeletons during calving seasons. It is believed that if a female beluga loses her newborn, she might interact with these objects as a calf surrogate.

Beluga whales have a flexible neck due to cervical vertebrae (backbone) that are not fused, as in other cetaceans. This allows them to move their head up, down, and to the side. Their bulbous forehead, called a melon, is also very flexible allowing them to make many different facial expressions. Movement of the melon is associated with the production of sounds.

Beluga whales are known as the “canaries of the sea” because they produce a vast repertoire of sounds including whistles, squeals, moos, chirps, and clicks. These sounds are used for communication within their social groups and also use to locate prey through echolocation.

What are beluga whales like?

The name beluga comes from the Russian word “bielo” meaning white. Beluga whales live, hunt, and migrate together in pods of a few, to hundreds of whales. Beluga whales are extremely social. In the summer, they are often found near river mouths, and sometimes even venture up river (as far as 621.4 miles (1000 kilometers) in the Yukon River). However, recent satellite tagging research has shown that beluga whales also spend time offshore, diving to depths of at least 1,148 feet (350 meters) where they are likely feeding on deepwater prey.

Where do beluga whales live?

Beluga whales inhabit the Arctic and subarctic regions of Russia, Greenland, and North America. Some populations are strongly migratory, moving north in the spring and south in the fall as the ice forms in the Arctic. As the ice breaks up in the spring, the whales move north again feeding near river mouths and offshore. There are a few isolated populations that do not migrate in the spring, including those in the Cook Inlet, Alaska and the St. Lawrence estuary in Canada.

How many beluga whales are there?

Beluga whales are not considered an endangered species however some stocks are faring better than others. NMML has done extensive work with some stocks of beluga whales including the Beaufort Sea, Eastern Chukchi Sea, Eastern Bering Sea, Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet stocks. You can read more about these stocks in the NMFS Alaska and Atlantic stock assessment reports.

How can I identify a beluga whale?

Belugas are born dark gray. They turn white as they mature sometimes taking 3-8 years to reach their adult coloration. Adult beluga whales can grow up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) long. Females are generally smaller than males. Belugas have large melons and very short snouts. Interestingly enough, unlike other cetaceans, beluga whales also have the ability to move their head independent of their body.

Beluga whales do not have dorsal fins. Dorsal fins would be a major hindrance during the winter when they live in the loose pack ice of the Arctic. A dorsal fin would cause extra heat loss when Arctic animals, such as belugas, need to conserve heat. They do have a tough dorsal ridge which, along with their head, can be used to break ice for breathing holes.

How well can a beluga whale see or hear?

Beluga whales have well-developed, acute senses. They can hear a vast range of sounds and have excellent vision in and out of water. Belugas may have some sense of taste, but they do not have the brain receptors or olfactory structures for the sense of smell.

Belugas often hang in pods. This huge pod was seen on Saturday April 21 by the Ice Seal team as they were recording a transect.

Belugas often hang in pods. This huge pod was seen on Saturday April 21 by the Ice Seal team as they were recording a transect.

What do beluga whales eat?

Beluga whales are diverse eaters, with more than 100 prey species identified including salmon, capelin, herring, shrimp, Arctic cod, flounder, and even crab. They feed in both open water (pelagic) or on the bottom (benthic) and in shallow and deepwater habitats.

How do beluga whales have their young?

Female beluga whales are old enough to reproduce at 4-7 years of age and males at 7-9 years. Beluga whales mate in the spring, the exact time varying geographically. The following year, after a 14-15 month gestation period, females give birth to single calves (and on a rare occasion twins) that are about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long. Calves nurse for at least 12-18 months, but may continue to nurse for another year after beginning to eat solid food.

How long do beluga whales live? How do they die?

Beluga whales are thought to live for 35-50 years. Beluga whales are prey to killer whales and polar bears. They can also die when entrapped by ice.

Some beluga whale populations have been greatly reduced as a result of hunting practices. Historically, large numbers of beluga whales were hunted commercially. Today only subsistence hunting is allowed in U.S. waters. Beluga whales’ affinity for shallow coastal waters puts them at risk as humans alter coastlines and estuaries with pollution, dams, and off-shore petroleum exploration and extraction. Canada’s St. Lawrence Estuary is an example where industrial pollution has caused high beluga whale mortality.

More information can be found on the internet at:

This material was taken word for word from the following website. Please give them all the credit in the world should you wish to use this information in a report.

 

On the hunt

On the hunt

Polar Bear: Ursus maritimus

On board the Healy, there is one helicopter that is being used by the folks from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory to do population studies. Today they went out for two runs. In the first run, the team saw a Polar Bear eating walrus. The photos for polar bear will be added as soon as they become available. If you’d like to learn more about them, read on.

Polar bears live year round near arctic waters hunting seal and other animals, rarely coming on land except on islands and rocky points.  In winter they hunt along the Arctic shelves looking for tasty seals, fish, and even humans!  Their white coats provide camouflage in the ice and snow which make them almost invisible as they stalk their prey.

In winter, when they are far from land they search for breathing holes made by seals.  When the seal comes up for air, the polar bear will kill it and flip it out of the water with a single blow of its great clawed paw! Polar bears are very dangerous, and grow to a huge size and weigh as much as small automobile (1000 pounds). They have longer legs than other bears and large furry feet. These big feet help to distribute their weight as they walk on thin ice in the arctic waters. Polar bears are strong swimmers and can stay submerged for two minutes at a time. Their fur is made of hollow hairs which trap air and help to insulate them in the frigid waters.

After the kill

After the kill

In November polar bears retire to dens dug out of the snow or permafrost. The females remain until the spring when they emerge with one or two cubs who stay with them for the next year and a half. The males spend a shorter time in the dens and may be seen out and about at any time of the year.

19th Century Naturalist Edward Nelson Recounts:

“The Eskimo of Saint Lawrence Island and the American coast are well supplied with firearms which they use when bear-hunting.  In winter, north of the straits, the bears often become thin and very savage from lack of food.

A number of Eskimo on the Alaskan coast show frightful scars obtained in contests with them in winter.  One man, who came on board the Corwin, had the entire skin and flesh torn from one side of his head and face including the eye and ear, yet had escaped and recovered. One incident was related to me which occurred near Point Hope during the winter of 1880-’81. Men went out from Point Hope during one of the long winter nights to attend to their seal nets, which were set through holes in the ice.  While at work near each other, one of the men heard a bear approaching over the frosty snow, and having no weapon but a small knife, and the bear being between him and the shore, he threw himself upon his back on the ice and waited.  The bear came up and for a few moments smelled about the man from head to foot, and finally pressed his cold nose against the man’s lips and nose and sniffed several times; each time the terrified Eskimo held his breath until, as he afterwards said, his lungs nearly burst. The bear suddenly heard the other man at work, and listening for a moment he started towards him at a gallop, while the man he left sprang to his feet and ran for his life for the village and reached it safely.  At midday, when the sun had risen a little above the horizon, a large party went out to the spot and found the bear finishing his feast upon the other hunter and soon dispatched him.  Cases similar to this occur occasionally all along the coast where the bear is found in winter.”

This material was copied and pasted from the following website. Please give them all the credit in the world should you use it in a report or in other ways. http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/html/polar_bear.html

Maggie Prevenas, April 14, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 14, 2007

Species Profiles

Spotted Seal

Studying the spotted seals

Studying the spotted seals

 

Today was our first close encounter with a spotted seal. Spotted seals are the most common ice seals in this area. They are known for their spicy personality.

Where do spotted seals live?

Spotted seals live along the continental shelf of the Beaufort, Chukchi, Bering, and Okhotsk Seas, south to the northern Yellow Sea and west to the Sea of Japan.

How many spotted seals are there?

There is no accurate population count at this time, but it is estimated that there are under 300,000. They are the most common ice seal up in the Bering Sea.

How can I identify a spotted seal?

 

Pups are white and weigh 18 to 26 pounds. This one was a bit heavier.

Pups are white and weigh 18 to 26 pounds. This one was a bit heavier.

Spotted seals are wary and hard to get close to. Adult spotted seals are silvery-gray with dark grey on the back and covered with brown to black irregular spots. Pups are born with a white coat but molt to the adult colors after 3 or 4 months. It is believed they winter in the Bering sea. Following the ice front, they travel north in the spring and summer. They reverse the process and follow the developing ice south in the fall. Spotted seals may get to be 270 pounds, but males and females average 180 to 240 pounds. Length of grown seals is between 4.5 and 5.5 feet. Newborn pups weigh 18 to 26 pounds (8 to 12 kg) and average about 33 inches (84 cm) long.

What do spotted seals eat?

Spotted seals eat many things, depending on the season and their location, including Arctic cod, sand lance, sculpins, flatfishes, cephalopods, and a variety of shrimps.

During the first few weeks after weaning, pups seem to spend most of their time on the ice, but they do not enter the water.

During the first few weeks after weaning, pups seem to spend most of their time on the ice, but they do not enter the water.

How do spotted seals have their young?

Spotted sea pups are born anytime from early February to the first part of May, depending on their location. Pups are white and weigh 18 to 26 pounds. They are nursed for three to six weeks, during which time they more than double in weight. During the first few weeks after weaning, pups seem to spend most of their time on the ice, but they do not enter the water. Spotted seal pups take longer than other ice seals to learn to swim and dive! In the spring, spotted seals will form small groups of a male, female and her pup.

How long do spotted seals live? How do they die?

The life span of spotted seals is believed to be up to 35 years.

The predators of the spotted seal include the polar bear, sharks, Steller sea lions, brown bears, humans and walrus. Wolves, foxes and large birds have been known to feed on pups.

Did You Know? Spotted seal are the only seal that breeds in China!