Kimberly Gogan: The Creatures That Are Always There but We Never See! April 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance Survey Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area of Cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: April 15, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp:  14.1 degrees Celsius
Wind Speed:32  knots
Water Temp: 5.7 degrees Celsius
Water Depth:  24.5 meters

 

Science and Technology Log

Today’s blog is about a piece of equipment called a Video Plankton Recorder or VPR for short. The VPR is attached to  the bottom of a yellow V-fin that helps it stay under water when it is being towed.  Scientists would want to use a VPR instead of a Bongo Net because the Bongo Net is very rough on the creatures that are captured in it as it is towed through the water, especially the very, very soft and fragile ones. The VPR allows the scientists to capture pictures of the creatures in their natural habitat.  It also allows them to get close-ups of these creatures so they can really see what their body structures look like.  The VPR also allows the scientist to collect data on many creatures are found in a given area in the body of water they are looking at.  The VPR has two arms, one on each side about 2 feet apart. One arm has a camera and the other arm has a strobe or flash. The camera and strobe focus on taking pictures between the arms at a rate of 20 pictures a second. The VPR captures all the images as it goes through the water and stores them on a disk drive that the scientists can then upload to their computers. The VPR is generally towed at a speed of around 2-3 knots , or 3-4 miles per hour.

Science Spot Light

The scientist in charge of running the VPR here on the Gordon Gunter is Betsy Broughton.  Betsy is an Oceanographer who works on the night crew here on our ship. Betsy has been working on ships for 31 years and has been to sea for close to 1300 days on 18 ships including 3 international ships!  When she isn’t on a ship she works at  National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Betsy primarily studies baby Cod and Haddock. She is trying to understand  how they survive when they are really little, before they look like a fish, what they eat, where they live and what eats them.  If you want to learn more you can visit the Fish Facts on the NMFS webpage. Betsy also works on designing the sampling gear that will work faster and give scientists more accurate information.  In her spare time, Betsy is an International Challenge Master for Challenge A with Destination Imagination.

Personal Log

We have been on the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter now for 8 days. It’s really hard to believe how much I have learned in a little over a week. It’s been a crash course in a whole bunch of cool science, as well as life on ship.  It’s been a little crazy with the weather, it has not been very cooperative, especially the wind. Even though the weather has forced us to make changes in our original plans, the scientists have been very flexible and have done what they can to get their jobs done. Today we have come back from Georges Banks and we are going to be passing through the Cape Cod Canal and spending some time in Cape Cod Bay. Luckily there are a lot of Right Whales known to be there. It’s been really fun getting to know all the scientists, NOAA Corps folks and the crew.  Everyone is very nice and it’s amazing how quickly I feel like I have known these people for a long time in just over a week. It is nice to be around like-minded folks who also love science. Yesterday was one of the nicest days, it was warm enough that we didn’t have to wear the mustang suits.  I was also able to decorate and deploy a drifter buoy, but more on that later!

Me catching the beautiful sunset before the storm came in.

Me catching the beautiful sunset before the storm came in.

 

Christopher Faist: Beast or Famine, July 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Faist
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 20 — August 1, 2011

Mission: Cetacean and Seabird Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 30, 2011

Weather Data
Air Temp:  19 ºC
Water Temp: 18 ºC
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Water Depth: 64 meters

Science and Technology Log

When traveling in the ocean you never know what you will get.  Scientists can try to predict the weather or the amount of animals that will be seen in a particular area but nothing is as valuable as going to the area and recording what you see.  For the last couple of days we have been traveling in deep water off the continental shelf of the east coast of the United States.  Yesterday, we made a turn toward the edge of the shelf and we were very surprised by what we found.  (Check the Ship Tracker to view our path.)

The ocean can best be described as a patchy, dynamic environment.  Some days we have traveled for hours and not seen a single animal but on days like yesterday, we saw so many animals our single data recorder was busy all day.  Since the start of this cruise we have averaged about 30 sightings a days.  Yesterday, we had 30 sightings in the first 30 minutes of observation and ended with over 115 sightings.

Two Common Dolphins

Two Common Dolphins

Species ranged from abundant Common Dolphin, to rare and elusive beaked whales.  The sighting conditions were so outstanding the Marine Mammal Observers were identifying everything from a small warbler to the second largest whale, a Fin Whale.  Large whales, like Sei and Minke Whales, were concentrated in one area, while the dolphins were seen in other areas.  We passed over several undersea canyons and cetacean abundance over these canyons was like nothing one of the scientists had ever seen.

Two tools in the ship’s wide array of scientific tools, help scientists document the small animals that the whales and dolphins might be feeding on over the top of the canyons.  One is the XBT, or Expendable Bathythermograph, and the second is a VPR, or Video Plankton Recorder.  The XBT is launched from the moving ship to document the temperature  and water density along the ship’s track.  They are inexpensive and record data in real-time, giving accurate and up to date information about the area the animals are most abundant.  The VPR is a tool used at night, while the ship moves slowly, to take pictures of the plankton that occurs along our route.

Example of a VPR image

Example of a VPR image

The combination of temperature, depth and photographs of plankton gives scientists a clear picture of the environment that congregates large densities of cetaceans.  By understanding the factors that contribute to cetacean population changes, scientists are able to make recommendations to lawmakers about how to protect this natural resource from human impact like bycatch from the fishing industry or ship strikes in commonly trafficked shipping lanes.

Personal Log

I am disappointed that we only have two days left on our trip.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at sea.  Crazy weather this morning of 30 knot winds and 6-8 foot seas will not be a fun memory but thankfully, this evening the weather settled down and we watched a beautiful sunset while playing games on the top deck.  I am not sure that I could be a marine mammal observer but I look forward to taking this unique opportunity and turning it into a learning experience for my students.

Since this will be my last post from sea I thought I would leave you with some images of ocean life that was not a marine mammal or seabird.  Enjoy.

Flying Fish

Flying Fish

Blue Shark

Blue Shark

Dusky Shark

Dusky Shark