Ragupathy Kannan: Petrels to Pilot Whales, August 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 30, 2019


Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40.72218
Longitude: -69.45301
Water temperature: 19.8 degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 5.25 knots
Wind Direction: 87.06 degrees
Air temperature: 23.2 degrees Celsius
Atmospheric pressure: 1006.85 millibars
Sky: Cloudy


Science and Technology Log

We’ve had a flurry of whale sightings as we passed over the famous Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  It’s a small underwater plateau in Massachusetts Bay flanked by steep drop offs.  Nutrients from the depths rise up by upwelling along the sides, feeding phytoplankton in the shallow light-abundant waters, and this creates perfect feeding habitat for whales.

Much of my time aboard this ship has been on the flying bridge (the highest point of access for us on the ship) scanning the seas for marine vertebrates.  I have basically been an extra pair of eyes to assist my colleagues Chris Vogel and Allison Black, the seabird observers on board.  From nearly 50 feet high above the water, the flying bridge gives nearly unimpeded 360° views of the horizon all around.  I call out any vertebrate animal seen—fish, birds, reptiles, or mammals.  Chris and Allison enter all of our data in a specific format in a software program called SeaScribe. 

To calculate densities of each species, we need an estimate of how far the animal is from the ship for each sighting.  For that we use a rather low tech but effective piece of equipment.  The pencil! 

Pencil as observation tool
Pencil as observation tool

This is how it works. The observer holds the pencil (photo above) upright with arm outstretched, aligning the eyes and tip of the eraser to the horizon (see photo below), and simply reads the distance band (Beyond 300m, 300-200, 200-100, or 100-50m) in which the animal is seen.  Thanks to some fancy trigonometry, scientists found a way to estimate distance by using the height of the observer’s eyes from the water surface, the distance from the observer’s eyes to the eraser tip of the pencil when it’s held upright with arm outstretched, and the distance to the horizon from the height of observer’s eyes above water.  I’ll spare you the trigonometric details but those curious to learn more can find the paper that introduced the technique here.

Kannan and range finder
Here I am using the range finder

Seabirds are a challenge for a rain forest biologist like me.  They move fast and vanish by the time you focus the binoculars! And the fact that the deck heaves up and down unexpectedly adds to the challenge.  But slowly I got the hang of it, at least the very basics.  I’ve recorded hundreds of shearwaters, storm-petrels, boobies, gannets, jaegers, and skuas.  Whales (sea mammals) seen include Finbacks, Humpbacks, Minkes, and Pilots.  I am hoping to see a Right Whale but I know that the odds are against me.  Time is running out, both for our voyage, and for them.  Unfortunately, only a few 100 are left and the ocean is huge—the proverbial needle in the haystack.  Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh tells me that this year so far, 8 Right Whales have died due to accidental collisions or net entanglements.  Sadly, the future looks bleak for this magnificent animal.  (More on Right Whales at the end of this blog).

Great Shearwater ebird
Great Shearwater is one of the most common seabirds we have recorded. This bird nests only in a few islands in the South Atlantic Ocean and wanders widely. Photo by Derek Rogers, from ebird.org

I note that marine vertebrate biologists are good at extrapolating what little they can see.  Much of their subjects are underwater and out of sight.  So they have become good at identifying species based on bits and pieces they see above water.  All they need often is a mere fleeting glimpse.  Sharks are told by the size, shape, and distance between the fins that stick out, sea turtles by the shape and pattern on their carapace (top shell–see photos below); whales based on their silhouette and shape of back; and Molas based simply on the fact that they lazily wave one large fin in and out of the water as they drift by.  (I thought it was the pectoral fin they waved, but it’s actually the massive dorsal fin.  I’ve noted that the pectoral is rather small and kept folded close to the body). 

leatherback sea turtle A. Black
A fleeting glimpse is all that is needed to identify a Leatherback Sea Turtle, thanks to its diagnostic longitudinal ridges (Photo by Allison Black).
shark fins
We’ve had several shark sightings such as this. The size, shape, and the relative locations of the fins indicate that this could be a whale shark (Photo by Allison Black)

Scientists can identify individual humpbacks based solely on the indentations and color patterns on their tail flukes.  In effect, each individual animal’s tail fluke is its unique fingerprint. Since the tail fluke is often seen when the animal dives from the surface, scientists have a huge photographic database of humpback tail flukes (see photo below).  And they track individuals based on this.  My ecology students should know that scientists also estimate populations based on a modification of the capture-recapture method because each time an individual’s fluke is photographed, it is in effect, “tagged”.  We do a nice lab exercise of this method by using marked lima beans masquerading as whales in my ecology lab.

humpback tail flukes
Researchers use variation on humpback whale flukes to identify and track whales (from Wildwhales.org)
Finback whale
Finback Whales are easily identified by the fin on the back (From aboutanimals.com)


Career Corner

I spoke with Allison Black, one of our seabird observers on board.

Q. Tell us something about yourself

A. I really love seabirds.  I’m fortunate to have been able to do my Master’s work on them and observe them in their natural habitat.  I have an undergrad degree in zoo and wildlife biology from Malone University in Canton, Ohio. 

Q. You’re a graduate student now in which university?

A. Central Connecticut State University

Q. What’s your research project?

A. I conducted a diet study of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls on Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands, Massachusetts.

Q. You have done these NOAA seabirds surveys before?

A. Yes, this is my third.

Q. What happens next, now that you are close to finishing your Masters?

A. I’m looking for full time employment, and would like to work for a non-profit doing conservation work. But until the right opportunity arises you can find me on a ship, looking for seabirds and marine mammals!

Q. What’s your advice to anyone interested in marine science?

A. I had a major career change after I did my undergrad.  I thought I’d always be a zoo keeper, which I did for about two years until I decided that birds are really my passion, and I needed to explore the career possibilities with them.  To focus on that avenue I decided to return to graduate school.  So I would encourage undergrads to really find what drives them, what they’re really passionate about.  I know it’s hard at the undergraduate level since there are so many fields and avenues under the Biology umbrella.  And it’s OK if you haven’t figured that out for a while.  I had a real change in direction from captive wildlife to ornithology, and I’m here at sea in a very different environment.  I’m so glad I did though because following my passion has opened up some exciting avenues.  I’m lucky to be getting paid to do what I really love right now.  So grab any opportunity that comes by. It’s never too late to evaluate your career path.

Allison Black
Allison Black entering our observations in SeaScribe


Personal Log

My feelings are bitter-sweet as this wonderful 16-day voyage nears its end.  My big thanks to NOAA, the ship’s wonderful command officers and staff, our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh, and my colleagues and student volunteers aboard for making the past 2 weeks immensely absorbing.  Above all, kudos to the ship’s designers, who have clearly gone out of their way to make life aboard as easy as possible.  In addition to the unexpected luxuries covered in my previous blogs, there is even a movie lounge on board with an impressive DVD collection of over 700 movies! Yesterday I saw our student volunteers play bean bag toss on the winch deck. Yes, you can throw darts too.  The ship’s command even organized a fun sea animals-bingo game one evening, with winners getting goodies from the ship store (see below).

movie lounge
The movie lounge on board
The ship’s store
The ship’s store


The engine rooms tour

As part of our grand finale, we were given a tour of the engine rooms (which are usually off bounds for non-crew members) by our genial First Engineer, Kyle Fredricks.

engine room
A glimpse of the intricate innards of the ship. To the right is the massive shaft that ties the two rudders together.
sensors and monitors
Sensors and monitors keep tabs on engine function 24/7
1st E Kyle Fredricks
First Engineer Kyle Fredricks explains the desalination system on board. It works by reverse osmosis. All explanations are done by gestures or written notes because of noise in the background. Note ear plugs on all of us!


Did You Know?

NOAA has strict policies to avoid collision with whales, especially the highly endangered Right Whale.

right whale ship strick reduciton rule
This poster is prominently displayed on board. Vessels have to comply with rules to avoid accidental strikes with Right Whales

Interesting Animals Seen Lately

South Polar Skua

Great Skua

Pomarine Jaeger

Black Tern

Manx Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Leach’s Storm-petrel

Northern Gannet

Brown Booby

Great Black-backed Gull

Humpback Whale

Pilot Whale

Ocean Sunfish

Shelley Gordon: The Serengeti of the Sea, July 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-26, 2019

Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 26, 2019

My NOAA Teacher at Sea experience wrapped up yesterday with our 7th, and final, day of the cruise.  Our last day was another observation-only day where we travelled along two transects (lines 5 and 7) and recorded what could be seen from above the water.  I want to wrap up my experience by sharing some information about this observation technique and what I’ve learned about some of the living things we were able to observe on this trip. 

The Serengeti ecosystem in Eastern Africa is well known for its diversity of life and massive annual migrations.  On the wall of R/V Fulmar there is a large map of the three National Marine Sanctuaries (Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay) off the coast of central California with the words “the Serengeti of the Sea” written at the bottom.  Like the Serengeti, the marine ecosystem in this area of the world supports a high diversity of life and intricate food webs.  Many of the species that thrive in these waters migrate from great distances, far greater than the well documented wildebeest migrations in Africa. 

A map of the protected areas off the central California coast.
Image from farallones.noaa.gov

The three National Marine Sanctuaries and adjacent state and federal parks protect a total of 10,676 square miles of habitat, helping to create a thriving ecosystem.  One thing that became clear to me on this cruise is that this is a massive amount of space!  To collect observation data, scientists sit on the flying bridge (or upper deck) and systematically record what they can see as the boat moves at a constant speed of ~10 knots along the transect.  Depending on the weather (we had days that were pretty foggy and other days that were overcast, but pretty clear), you can see several kilometers in any direction.  To complete an offshore observation line, it takes about 2.5 hours.  So, it is a full day to complete 2 observation lines, especially when you include the travel time to and from each line.  During that time, there are times when you can see very little other than wind-blown whitecaps on the surface of the water.  There are other times when there is a frenzy of activity.

(From left to right) Dani Lipski, Dru Delvin, Rachel Pound, Jaime Jahncke, Kirsten Lindquist, and Jan Roletto recording observation data from the flying bridge.

There are four roles is the observation data collection.  Sitting on the starboard side of the boat, Kirsten Lindquist’s job is to identify and describe all of the birds she observes within 200 meters of the side of the boat.  Some examples of “calls” she made include: “Common Murre, 3, zone 2, water” or “Western Gull, 1, zone 1, flying, 270°.”  To explain, she calls out the name of the bird, the number that she sees in the group, the relative distance they are from the boat (zone 1 or zone 2), and what they are doing (sitting on the water, flying, feeding, etc…).  This data is all recorded in the computer by Jaime Jahncke.  Dru Devlin and Jan Roletto (one on each side of the boat) are responsible for observing other things on the surface, including animals, boats, fishing gear, trash, kelp, etc…  An example of a call they relay to Jaime to record is:  “First cue blow, by eye, bearing 270°, reticle 5, observer 9, side 1, traveling, humpback whale, 2, 3, 2.”  There is a lot going on in this data, but it basically explains the observer has seen a group of humpback whales in the distance off the front of the boat (bearing 0°).  The group is swimming along the surface and the size of the group is between 2-3 individuals.  The observers use reticle markings, fine lines in the eyepiece of binoculars, to estimate how far the object is from the boat (reticle 14 is at the boat, reticle 0 is on the horizon).  Using the bearing and reticle numbers, the computer then can use the GPS location of the boat to estimate where that animal was at the time of the recorded observation.  Using all of this data collected over the course of time, scientists are able to put together a picture of where animals, birds, and other objects are frequently seen within the sanctuaries.  This can also help them identify changes in animal numbers or behavior, and/or the need for a change in management strategies.

An example of a map showing humpback whale observation data on ACCESS in 2018.
Image: Point Blue/ONMS/ACCESS

One of the seabird species we saw relatively frequently were Sooty Shearwaters.  These birds are interesting to me because the migrate to the sanctuaries from their breeding grounds in New Zealand, an amazing 6500 miles away!  What’s even more impressive is that their migration is not just from New Zealand to California; they actually complete a circular migration route, first traveling up the western Pacific toward Japan and the Artic, and then they drop down to the pacific coast of North America before returning to their breeding grounds in New Zealand.  We also observed Pink-Footed Shearwaters, which nest off the coast of Chile. 

Sooty Shearwaters taking off from the surface of the water.  Photo:  Dru Devlin

When we were out on the offshore transects beyond the continental shelf break, we were frequently able to observe Black-Footed Albatrosses.  These large seabirds are well known for their long migrations as well.  The population we observed in the sanctuaries nest in the Hawaiian Islands and visit the California coast to feed.  From dissecting Albatross boluses (regurgitated food) with students at Roosevelt, I had previously learned that their diet consists of a lot of squid.  Since squid are actively feeding at night, albatross also do a lot of their hunting at night.  I was curious how they could find their prey and I learned that they have an incredible sense of smell that they can use to detect food.  They are known to follow ships and feed on refuse in the wake, and this seemed to be apparent because when we were collecting samples at stations beyond the shelf break we were often joined by multiple albatrosses.  At one station, I counted 19 Black-Footed Albatrosses floating in a group near the boat.

Two Black-Footed Albatrosses near the boat. Photo: Dru Devlin
A Black-Footed Albatross in flight.
Photo: Dru Devlin

I was also very interested to learn about the way that albatrosses and other large seabirds (including shearwaters) conserve energy during their long flights.  Dynamic soaring allows them to gain energy from the wind above the ocean waves without flapping their wings.  We often observed these birds flapping their wings a few times and then soaring very close to the surface of the water before flapping again.  Apparently, in favorable wind conditions, these birds can us this method to fly great distances without flapping their wings at all, thus conserving energy.

Three humpback whales surfacing. Photo: Dru Devlin

Another animal that I was on the constant lookout for were whales.  These gigantic mammals have always captured my imagination.  On this cruise we were lucky enough to see quite a few humpback whales.  These large baleen whales are known for their acrobatic displays, occasionally launching their body out of the water in an action called breaching.  I was able to observe a few whales breaching, and also several instances of whales rolling on the surface of the water slapping their long flippers or tail at the surface.  One of the highlights was seeing humpbacks lunge feeding at the surface.  Lunge feeding is when the whale opens its mouth widely, engulfing a large amount to water and prey.  The whale then pushes the water out of its throat pouch, leaving the prey behind to consume.  One of the favorite foods of humpback whales is krill.  Using the Tucker trawl net at very deep depths, we were able to collect some large krill samples that will be analyzed back at the lab. 

There are several other species of whales that can be present in the sanctuaries at different times throughout the year, including blue whales, gray whales, fin whales, and minke whales, but we did not positively identify any of those species on this trip.  The scientists on board were specifically surprised that we did not see any blue whales, as they usually observe a few on cruises at this time of year.

Gallery

Here are a few other images of animals that we saw and were able to capture in the camera lens.

Did You Know?

Scientists can use robots to explore the undersea environment?  From October 3rd-11th, scientists from the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries will be partnering with the Ocean Exploration Trust to learn more about life beneath the waves.  Working aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilius, the team will use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to explore deep-sea coral reef and sponge habitats.  And, we will be able to follow along live

Allison Irwin: Whales! July 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

07-25 July 2019


Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Northern Coast of California

Date: July 16, 2019

Weather at 1300 Pacific Standard Time on Monday 15 July 2019

We’re slowly coasting through a dense patch of fog. I can see about 20 meters off the deck before the horizon tapers to a misty, smoky haze. Then my eyes are affronted with a thick wall of white. It’s like we’re inside a room covered in white felt wallpaper – one of those rooms in a funhouse where the walls keep closing in on you as you walk through it.  For safety, the ship keeps sounding a loud horn at least once every 2 minutes to announce our position for other boats in the area. It’s been like this for an hour now. It’s a little spooky.


PERSONAL LOG


On a brighter note, we saw whales earlier this morning! We were one mile off the coast of southern Oregon, and ahead of us we saw the backs of a few whales peeking out of the surface. I was able to grab a pair of binoculars sitting next to me on the bridge, and with those I could clearly see their dark bodies in the water! Every once in a while one would gracefully lift its tail above the surface as it prepared to dive. They were so cute!

Eventually we got closer to them and we started to see more whales on either side of the ship. I spent probably 15 minutes moving from one side of the bridge to the other with my binoculars to get a better look. I’m lucky the NOAA Corps officers are so accommodating! Otherwise I think my constant fluttering from one area to another could’ve been construed as a pain.

The officers like to see whales too, so they were happy to share what they knew with me. It turns out we were most likely watching Humpback Whales. LT Dave Wang, Operations Officer on the ship and trained as an ichthyologist (fish biologist), said most whales have a distinctive blow pattern, tail shape, and dorsal fin size that makes it easier to identify which kind he’s looking at. I had no idea before today that there were so many different species of whales. I knew Orca – Free Willy, Humpback, and maybe something called a Blue Whale? But that would’ve been the extent of it. In the marine mammals identification guide housed on the ship, there are 45 types of whales in the table of contents! And that’s probably not a complete list of all whale species.

At one point today, eventually, once the fog lifted, we were 36 miles off shore and started seeing shoals of coastal pelagic species all around the ship. We could pick them out easily because each shoal looked like a dark, churning, rippled inkspot on the otherwise smooth-as-glass surface. While the low wind conditions are partly what left us in a thick layer of fog all afternoon, it is what also kept the water smooth enough to pick out the shoals. So I guess not all was lost. We saw even more whale activity around these shoals than we saw this morning, and they were a lot closer to the ship! 

One of the whales just off the starboard bow left a footprint. Larger whales like the Humpback produce larger footprints, and the calm sea state today allowed us to see them! It looked like a smooth patch of water in the center of concentric circles.

I’ve been trying to see whales and other marine mammals the whole trip. I saw a sea lion the other day, just one glimpse of it before it went under the water and we left the area, but now having seen the whales I feel pretty content.  The Commanding Officer of the ship also told me that seals or sea lions like to hang out on the pier that we’ll be docking at in San Francisco, so there’s still hope yet!


THE SCIENCE


If you’ve ever been whale watching on a boat, the type of whale you probably saw was a Humpback Whale. They can often be seen near the shore since they like to stay within the continental shelf, and they spend a lot of time near the surface compared to other whales. Not all whale species exhibit this same behavior.  If whales had a personality, I would call the Humpback Whales the Jersey Shore cast of the sea. They do things that come across as attention-seeking behaviors to the outside observer – slapping their unusually long flippers on the surface of the water, smacking their tails against the water in agitation, flipping their tails in the air before diving, and sometimes breaching the surface with their whole bodies. Of course, they’re not doing it to get our attention. But it makes for easy and exciting observation!

All Humpback Whales have unique patterns of coloration and texture on their flukes, so scientists can use photos to track specific animals as they migrate or go about their regular activities in a similar fashion to how we use fingerprints to uniquely identify people.

They also have the advantage of something called countershading. One of the whales I saw today had a silvery-shiny underside to its fluke that glistened in the sunlight and contrasted greatly with the dark, almost black color of its back. A lot of fish and marine mammals like whales and porpoises use countershading to help camouflage them by having naturally darker backs (dorsal side) and lighter stomachs (ventral side). This way when something is looking down at the creature, it blends in with the dark depths of the ocean, and when something is looking up at the creature, it blends in better with the lighter, sunlit layer of water near the surface.

Anything from krill to small fish are fair game for Humpback Whales when they’re hungry. Sometimes a group of Humpback Whales will work together as a team to catch fish. One way they do this is by bubble net feeding. It’s rare to witness, but a bubble net is a pretty sophisticated way to catch fish. It reminds me of the trawling we do each night from NOAA Ship Reuban Lasker except in this case the whales use a circular pattern of bubbles to corral a bunch of fish into one area… then they thrust forward aggressively, quickly, to scoop up the masses. We use a trawl net to corral the little critters into a codend instead of swallowing them whole.

bubble net
Photo of Humpback Whale Using Bubble Net to Catch Anchovies.
Photo by LT Dave Wang, taken earlier this year
krill in a jar
Quart Jar Filled with Krill Collected in a Bongo Tow

Baleen whales, like the Humpback, have a unique mouth that is hard to explain. If you can visualize a pelican’s beak, it looks a bit like that from the outside. These whales gulp a whole mouthful of water – including zooplankton, krill, and small fish – into their mouths, but they don’t swallow it down outright and they don’t exactly chew their food either. With all that saltwater and prey in their mouths, they use long rows of baleen attached to their upper jaw like a fine-toothed comb. And just like we would use a cheesecloth to strain the moisture off of runny yogurt, Humpback Whales filter the water out of their mouths through the baleen and keep the fishy goodness for themselves.


TEACHING CONNECTIONS


Watching the whales all day kept drumming up images in my mind from when I read Grayson by Lynne Cox. I wrote a review of Grayson in July 2014 on the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA) blog. This book, by far, is one of my favorite recommendations to read aloud to students.

If you’re not an English teacher, you probably didn’t spend a lot of late nights in college reading novels to cram for a test. It wasn’t part of your major. But you’re missing out! There are so many ways to use novels and literary nonfiction across the content areas.  Grayson, for example, is artfully written. In the book review I wrote it tells Lynne’s “account of meeting a baby whale in the ocean during one of her early morning training swims. This lonely whale, separated from its mother, stays close to Lynne in the water while fishermen search for the mother.  This true yet almost unbelievable story is hauntingly beautiful.”

Taking 15 minutes of class time to read an excerpt from this book aloud could enrich any classroom. There are many instances when she writes about wanting to give up and swim back to shore. The baby whale is ultimately not her responsibility. It was very cold. She’d been out there in the ocean for hours with nothing but her own strength and experience to keep her afloat. She hadn’t eaten all day. But she stayed with the baby whale. She resolved to see it through to the very end. Any teacher can use her stick-with-it attitude as an example to encourage students to work through academic challenges.

One of my friends, blogger Allyn Bacchus, is a middle school social studies teacher. He uses historical fiction in his class every year. He writes, “My 8th grade U.S. History class covers a unit on Industry and Urban Growth in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  I have supplemented our unit with the historical fiction novel Uprising written by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  It covers the story of 3 teenage girls and their involvement in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York in 1911.  The author brings to life the living, working, and social conditions of the time period and allows my students to experience this unit through the eyes of girls who are living in it.”

Through the eyes of girls who are living in it.  This is something a textbook cannot do.

No one knows your discipline, your students, and your intended classroom environment better than you. Take an hour to fall down the Amazon rabbit hole! Search for a topic you find interesting and relevant to your curriculum, read the book review, click on the comparable book recommendations… you get the point.  Most of the time you can find a book preview to check out the text before purchasing – is the font too small? Too complicated? Too boring? Choose a short excerpt from a text you like for your first attempt at using literature in the classroom and build from there.


TEACHING RESOURCES


Since we’re talking about literature today, I’ll narrate the resource list.

  • We can search online for other educators who have already blazed the trail for us. Here is a blog post written by Terry McGlynn titled Assigning Literature in a Science Class.  The post itself is well written, and if you take the time to read through 54 comments below it, you will find lots of other text recommendations for a science classroom.  This article written by Kara Newhouse titled How Reading Novels in Math Class Can Strengthen Student Engagement shows why two math teachers read books in their high school classrooms. One of those teachers, Joel Bezaire, wrote a blog post with suggestions for other novel studies in math class. The other teacher, Sam Shah, shares a student example to explain how powerful it can be to use literature in a math class. It gets students to understand abstract and often elusive mathematical concepts.
  • I’ve written four nonfiction book reviews to accompany this NOAA Teacher at Sea experience and PCTELA is posting one review each week in July to the new media platform on their website. If not Grayson, then maybe you’ll find useful one of the books I read and reviewed to prepare for this trip. They include Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World, and Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.
  • And finally, I would be remiss to end this post without steering you toward The Perfect Storm written by Sebastian Junger about a small fishing vessel and crew caught in an Atlantic storm and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick – a captivating true story about the whaling industry which is thought to be the inspiration for Moby Dick.

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.

 

Michelle Greene: Acoustics Team…Do You Hear What I Hear?

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 24-25, 2018

 

Latitude: 40° 2.629″ N

Longitude: 67° 58.954″ W

Sea Surface Temperature: 23.3° C (73.9° F)

Sailing Speed: 1.80 knots

 

Science and Technology Blog:

Today I had the opportunity to shadow the acoustics team in the dry lab.  The acoustics team uses a linear array or a prototype tetrahedral array of hydrophones to listen to the sounds that whales and dolphins make under the water.  So far in this journey, the team has only used the linear array.  The array has been towing behind the ship with the “line” of hydrophones parallel to the surface of the water about 10 meters below the surface.

Linear array of hydrophones
Linear array of hydrophones

The hydrophone is the black device in the cable
The hydrophone is the black device in the cable

When the array is deployed, the acoustics team uses a computer software called PAMGuard to record the sounds and track the clicks and whistles of whales and dolphins.  PAMGuard can be programmed to record sounds in any frequency range.  On this cruise, acoustics is looking at sounds up to about 100,000 hertz.  A human being can hear from about 20 Hz to about 20 kilohertz with normal human speech frequency between 1,000 Hz and 5,000 Hz.  The optimal hearing age for a person is approximately 20 years of age and declines after that.

Beaked whales click at a frequency too high for human hearing; however, PAMGuard can detect the clicks to help the acousticians possibly locate an animal.  PAMGuard produces a real-time, time series graph of the location of all sounds picked up on the array.  A series of dots is located on a continual graph with the x-axis being time and the y-axis being bearing from the ship. The array picks up all sounds, and PAMGuard gives a bearing of the sound with a bearing of 0° being in front of the ship and a bearing of 180° being behind the ship.  The ship creates noise that is picked up by all the hydrophones at the same time, so it looks like a lot of noise at 90°.  The acousticians must sift through the noise to try to find click trains.  Rain and heavy waves also create a lot noise for the hydrophone array.  The acoustician can click on an individual dot which represents a sound, and then she can see a Wigner plot of the sound which is a high resolution spectrogram image of the sound.

A screenshot of a spectrogram from PAMGuard
A screenshot of a spectrogram from PAMGuard

Scientists have determined what the Wigner plot image of a beaked whale sound should look like.

Wigner plot of a True's beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus) or a Gervais' beaked whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)
Wigner plot of a True’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus) or a Gervais’ beaked whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)

 

Wigner plot of a Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
Wigner plot of a Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

When a Wigner plot image looks to be a possible Mesoplodon, the acoustician starts tracking a click train on the time series graph in hopes of getting the sound again.  If the acoustic signal repeats, the acoustician then adds it to the click train.  Each time the acoustician adds to a click train, the bearing to the new click is plotted on a graph.  The array cannot calculate the actual location of an animal, so a beam of probability is plotted on a chart.  Then the acoustician uses the angle of each click in a click train to determine a possible location on the port or starboard side of the ship.  If the click train produces a sound that can be localized with the convergence of beams to a certain point, the acoustician can call the visual team to look on a particular side of the ship or ask the bridge to slow down or turn in a certain direction.  Mesoplodons have average dive times of between 15 and 20 minutes and foraging dive times of up to 45 minutes, so there is a time delay between getting the clicks and seeing an animal.

PAMGuard map of a sighting of a beaked whale
PAMGuard map of a sighting of a beaked whale

The objective of this cruise is to find the occurrence of beaked whales, but PAMGuard does not record just beaked whale clicks, so several other whales and dolphins are heard by the array.  Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) have clicks that can be heard by the human ear with an average frequency of 10 KHz.  Sperm whales have a synchronized click train.  It can be thought of as “click click click click…” with about 0.5 to 1.0 second between each click.  Scientists believe the clicks are used for echolocation.  Since it is very dark in the ocean and light does not travel far underwater, sperm whales use their clicks as sort of flashlight for locating food which usually consists of squid.  When a sperm whale senses the location of food, it produces a rapid series of clicks called a buzz.  After the buzz, the animal makes a dive.  If the dive is not successful, in other words the whale did not get food, then clicks return to their normal pattern until another attempt is made.  Clicks are also used for social interaction between sperm whales.  Sperm whales have been very vocal on the cruise so far.

Personal Log

I have been spending my days rotating between the visual sighting team and the acoustics team.  Even when I am not scheduled to be there, I am in acoustics.  I find listening to the sounds very interesting.  I had no idea whales made clicking sounds.  I knew dolphins whistled, but clicking is not a term I was familiar with until this cruise.  We have had several episodes where many dolphins will go by the ship.  When that happens, the whole plot in PAMGuard almost turns black from all of the dots on the screen.  It is amazing to hear all of the clicks and whistles from the dolphins.  My favorite whales right now are sperm whales.  I can now look at the screen and see the clicks and know it is a sperm whale.  I get so excited.

Getting a Mesoplodon click train is like watching a whale lover’s version of Storm Chasers.  When a possible Mesoplodon click train is detected, everybody gets excited in hopes of seeing a beaked whale.  I can really understand how the visual sighting team relies on the acoustics team to find a location.  We have two people on big eyes and two people on binoculars, and the ocean is all around us.  We have a high probability of missing a Mesoplodon, so having the acoustics team getting a click train with convergence in a certain direction helps to focus the visual sighting team in sighting an animal.  The reverse idea is also true.  When the visual sighting team sees a Mesoplodon, they call down to acoustics to see if a click train can be detected.

Life aboard the Gordon Gunter has been a real classroom for me.  I think I learn something new about every five seconds.  Since I have been out of college, I have not dealt with biological sciences much, so this math teacher is relearning some key information about marine animals.  I have really enjoyed seeing the passion in everyone’s eyes for the beaked whales.  When we get a sighting of a beaked whale on the flybridge, everyone rushes to that side of the ship in hopes of just getting a glance at the elusive creature.  When we get a Mesoplodon click train, the acousticians get really excited.  One evening, we got a sustained click train for a Sowerby’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens).  One of the acousticians was not in the dry lab, so I went to try and find her with no luck.  She was really upset when she returned, because she had not been there to see it.  I hope to develop that kind of passion in my students, so they can become great thinkers about life in their futures.

Did You Know?

  1. Even though Moby Dick was a fictional sperm whale, real life event inspired Herman Melville to write the novel.  Check out this page on those events:  https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/mobydick.html.
  2. Sperm whales use an organ in the front of their head, something called the spermaceti organ, to make their clicking sounds.  Check out this PBS article: http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/odyssey/20010809_log_transcript.html.

Animals Seen

  1. Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)
  2. Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus)
  3. Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
  4. Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus)
  5. Manta ray (Manta birostris)
  6. Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)

Vocabulary

  1. (Ocean) Acoustics – the study of how sound is used to locate whales and dolphins and how whales and dolphins communicate
  2. Bridge – the room from which the boat can be commanded
  3. Click train – a series of whale clicks
  4. Dry lab – a lab that primarily uses electronic equipment such as computers
  5. Echolocation – a process used by whales and dolphins to locate objects.  A whale will emit a pulse, and the pulse then bounces off an object going back to the whale.  The whale can then determine if the object is food or something else.
  6. Flybridge – an open platform above the bridge of a ship which provides views of the fore, aft, and sides of a ship
  7. Hertz – a measure of sound frequency.  For example, when you hear someone singing in a low (or bass) voice, the frequency of the sound is low.  When someone is singing in a high (or soprano) voice, the frequency of the sound is higher.
  8. Hydrophone – a microphone that detects sound waves under water
  9. Spectrogram – a visual representation of a sound
  10. Wigner plot – a high resolution spectrogram

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’

Location:

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.

IMG_0109

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.

IMG_0346
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.

IMG_0122

What is this?

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

IMG_0147

Michael Wing: What’s there to see out there? July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Date: July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 5 to 15 knots, wind waves 1’ to 3’, west swell 3’ at 14 seconds, patchy fog.

Science and Technology Log

I’ve been putting in long hours on the back deck, washing plankton in sieves and hosing down the hoop net. Often by the time the sample is safely in its bottle and all the equipment is rinsed off, it’s time to put the net down and do it all again.

On the back deck
Here’s where I wash plankton on the back deck

But, when I look up from the deck I see things and grab my camera. The surface of the ocean looks empty at first glance but it isn’t really. If you spend enough time on it, you see a lot.

Black Footed Albatross
Black Footed Albatross

Black footed albatrosses turn up whenever we stop to collect samples. They probably think we are a fishing boat – we’re about the same size and we have a cable astern. They leave once they find out we didn’t catch any fish. Kirsten tells me these birds nest on atolls east of Hawaii, and that most of the thirty or so species of albatross live in the southern hemisphere.

Mola
Mola

We also see lots of molas, or ocean sunfish. These bizarre looking fish lie on their side just under the water’s surface and eat jellyfish. They can be really large – four feet long, or more. I wonder why every predator in the ocean doesn’t eat them, because they are big, slow, very visible and apparently defenseless. The scientists I am with say that sea lions sometimes bite their fins. Molas are probably full of bones and gristle and aren’t very appetizing to sharks and seals. There are more molas than usual; one more indicator of the extra-warm water we’re seeing on this cruise.

Spouting whales
Humpback whales; one has just spouted

whale back
The back of a humpback whale

And of course there are WHALES! At times we a have been completely surrounded by them. Humpback whales, mostly, but also blue whales. The humpbacks are black with white patches on the undersides of their flippers and barnacles in places. They are playful. They breach, slap the water with their flippers, and do other tricks. The blue whales are not really blue. They are a kind of slate grey that may look blue in certain kinds of light. They are longer and straighter and bigger than the humpbacks, and they cruise along minding their own business. Their spouts are taller.

Humpback whale flukes
Humpback whale flukes

When we see one whale breaching in the distance, we call out. But, when a bunch of whales are all around us, we speak in hushed voices.

Personal Log

Orange balloon
Orange balloon

I have seen six balloons floating on the water, some dozens of miles offshore. Four of them were mylar, two like this one. The scientists I am with say they see the most balloons in June, presumably because June has more graduations and weddings. Maybe it’s time to say that balloons are not OK. When they get away from us, here’s where they end up.

Container ship
Container ship

We see container ships on the horizon. Sometimes they hit whales by accident. Every t-shirt, pair of sneakers, toy and electronic device you have ever owned probably arrived from Asia on one of these. Each of those boxes is forty feet long.

This is my last post from the R/V Fulmar. I go home tomorrow. I sure am grateful to everyone on board, and to NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary for giving me the opportunity to visit this special place.

Common murre
Common murre

Did You Know? When common murre chicks fledge, they jump out of their nests onto the surface of the sea. The drop can be forty or fifty feet. At this point they can swim, but they don’t know how to fly or find food. So, their fathers jump in after them and for the next month or two father and chick swim together on the ocean while the father feeds the chick. These are small birds and they can easily get separated in the rough seas. When this happens, they start calling to each other. It sounds sort of like a cat meowing. We have heard it often on this cruise.

Murre with chick
Adult murre with almost-grown chick

Michael Wing: How to Sample the Sea, July 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Marin County, California
Date: July 20, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ four seconds apart.

Science and Technology Log

On the even-numbered “lines” we don’t just survey birds and mammals. We do a lot of sampling of the water and plankton.

Wing on Fulmar
Wing at rail of the R/V Fulmar

We use a CTD (Conductivity – Temperature – Depth profiler) at every place we stop. We hook it to a cable, turn it on, and lower to down until it comes within 5-10 meters of the bottom. When we pull it back up, it has a continuous and digital record of water conductivity (a proxy for salinity, since salty water conducts electricity better), temperature, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence (a proxy for chlorophyll, basically phytoplankton), all as a function of depth.

CTD
Kate and Danielle deploy the CTD

We also have a Niskin bottle attached to the CTD cable. This is a sturdy plastic tube with stoppers at both ends. The tube is lowered into the water with both ends cocked open. When it is at the depth you want, you clip a “messenger” to the cable. The messenger is basically a heavy metal bead. You let go, it slides down the cable, and when it strikes a trigger on the Niskin bottle the stoppers on both ends snap shut. You can feel a slight twitch on the ship’s cable when this happens. You pull it back up and decant the seawater that was trapped at that depth into sample bottles to measure nitrate, phosphate, alkalinity, and other chemical parameters back in the lab.

Niskin bottle
Niskin bottle

When we want surface water, we just use a bucket on a rope of course.

We use a hoop net to collect krill and other zooplankton. We tow it behind the boat at a depth of about 50 meters, haul it back in, and wash the contents into a sieve, then put them in sample bottles with a little preservative for later study. We also have a couple of smaller plankton nets for special projects, like the University of California at Davis graduate student Kate Davis’s project on ocean acidification, and the plankton samples we send to the California Department of Health. They are checking for red tides.

Hoop net
Hoop net

We use a Tucker Trawl once a day on even numbered lines. This is a heavy and complicated rig that has three plankton nets, each towed at a different depth. It takes about an hour to deploy and retrieve this one; that’s why we don’t use it each time we stop. The Tucker trawl is to catch krill; which are like very small shrimp.  During the day they are down deep; they come up at night.

Tucker trawl
Part of the Tucker trawl

 

krill
A mass of krill we collected. The black dots are their eyes.

What happens to these samples? The plankton from the hoop net gets sent to a lab where a subsample is taken and each species in the subsample is counted very precisely. The CTD casts are shared by all the groups here – NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the University of California at Davis, San Francisco State University. The state health department gets its sample. San Francisco State student Ryan Hartnett has some water samples he will analyze for nitrate, phosphate and silicate. All the data, including the bird and mammal sightings, goes into a big database that’s been kept since 2004. That’s how we know what’s going on in the California Current. When things change, we’ll recognize the changes.

Personal Log

They told me “wear waterproof pants and rubber boots on the back deck, you’ll get wet.” I thought, how wet could it be? Now I understand. It’s not that some water drips on you when you lift a net up over the stern of the boat – although it does. It’s not that waves splash you, although that happens too. It’s that you use a salt water hose to help wash all of the plankton from the net into a sieve, and then into a container, and to fill wash bottles and to wash off the net, sieve, basins, funnel, etc. before you arrive at the next station and do it all again. It takes time, because you have to wash ALL of the plankton from the end of the net into the bottle, not just some of it. You spend a lot of time hosing things down. It’s like working at a car wash except with salty water and the deck is pitching like a continuous earthquake.

The weather has gone back to “normal”, which today means 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ only four seconds apart. Do the math, and you’ll see that occasionally a wind wave adds to a swell and you get slapped by something eight feet high. We were going to go to Bodega Bay today; we had to return to Sausalito instead because it’s downwind.

sea state
The sea state today. Some waves were pretty big.

We saw a lot of humpback whales breaching again and again, and slapping the water with their tails. No, we don’t know why they do it although it just looks like fun. No, I didn’t get pictures. They do it too fast.

Did You Know? No biologist or birder uses the word “seagull.” They are “gulls”, and there are a lot of different species such as Western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls and others. Yes, it is possible to tell them apart.

Michael Wing: Seabirds to starboard, whales and seals to port, July 18, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of the Golden Gate Bridge
Date: Saturday, July 18, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind Southeast, ten knots. Wind waves less than two feet. Swell 4-6 feet ten seconds. Patchy morning fog.

Michael Wing and Fulmar
Michael Wing and the R/V Fulmar

Science and Technology Log

We loaded the boat yesterday at 3:00 PM and I met a lot of people including the three co-principal investigators Jan Roletto of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Danielle Lipski of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Jaime Jahncke of Point Blue Conservation Science. There are others, including volunteers and visitors, and I will try to introduce some of them in future posts.

Today we didn’t collect water or plankton samples. We’ll do that tomorrow.  We sailed west from the Golden Gate Bridge on a track called “Line 5” at ten knots until we passed the edge of the continental shelf and then dropped south and cruised back to our dock in Sausalito on another line called “Line 7.” Plankton and water samples are for the even-numbered lines. Our purpose today was to count seabirds, whales and seals and sea lions. It’s not simple. By 7:30 AM we are assembled on the “flying bridge” (the highest part of the boat) with Jaime and the Greater Farallones Association’s Kirsten Lindquist on the starboard side and volunteers Jason Thompson and Rudy Wallen on the port. Kirsten notes birds, focusing just on the area from dead ahead to the starboard beam and calls out things like “Common murre, zone two, thirteen, flying, bearing 330 degrees.” This means she saw thirteen common murres flying northwest together not too far from the boat. This time is called being “on effort” and she is really focused on it. I don’t talk to her unless spoken to. Jamie enters all this into a database on his laptop.

On bird patol
On bird patrol

The guys on the port side are doing the same thing for marine mammals and saying “Animal, by eye, bearing 320, reticle seven, traveling, immature California sea lion, one-one-one.” These last numbers are estimates of the most probable number of animals in the group, and maximum and minimum estimates. Obviously, in this example just one animal was seen.

I am in awe of their ability to identify species, maturity and other things from just a glimpse. Kirsten can tell the difference between a Western gull and a California gull from hundreds of feet away, even if the gull is flying away from her. They also record floating trash, dead animals, and boats and ships.

So what are we seeing? Common murres, western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls, sooty shearwaters, pink footed shearwaters, storm petrels, black footed albatrosses, red necked phalaropes, tufted puffins, Pacific white sided dolphins, northern fur seals, a bottlenose dolphin, humpback whales, a dead seal, Mola molas (ocean sunfish), one flying fish, mylar balloons (4), a paper cup, a piece of Styrofoam. The flying fish was totally unexpected because they are mostly tropical and everyone talked about it all afternoon.

Port side
The port (left) side is for spotting marine mammals

Some of these birds have come here from Chile, New Zealand, or Hawaii in their “off” (non-breeding) season because there is a world-class food supply here for them. The sooty shearwaters start in New Zealand and fly to Japan, to Alaskan waters, and then down the west coast of North America before returning to New Zealand across the Pacific! However, a lot of these were far away. Visually, the ocean looks pretty empty from the flying bridge.

striped crab
This little crab was clinging to a piece of kelp we caught with a boat hook

Personal Log

The specter of seasickness haunts us on the first day of a cruise. Most of us are snacking on starchy treats like pretzels and Cheez-Its and drinking carbonated drinks. Paradoxically, these foods help prevent nausea. I have not taken any seasickness medicine and I am feeling a little queasy during the morning, but by noon I feel great. Nobody throws up. The Fulmar doesn’t roll from side to side very much but she does lurch when smacked head-on by a wave. It helps that the waves weren’t very big today. Soon we’ll all get our “sea legs.”

Also, you might appreciate these photos of me getting into a “Gumby suit” in under a minute, as part of my safety training. This is a survival suit meant to keep you from freezing to death if the boat sinks. You have to be able to get into it in less than a minute.

survival suit
Getting into the survival suit. I have 1 minute, and the suit is stiff. Photo credit: Ryan Hartnett

into survival suit
I am into the survival suit. Photo credit: Ryan Hartnett

Did You Know? Here’s what you need to untangle fishing nets from a frustrated humpback whale: Boathooks, sharp knives, and a GoPro digital camera on the end of a pole. The GoPro helps you study the tangles so you can decide where to make that one cut that causes the whole mess to fall apart and off the whale.

 

life ring
R/V Fulmar’s life ring

Tom Savage: Whales to the Left, Whales to the Right, June 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 19, 2015

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 12, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 18 C
Wind speed: 10 knots
Wind direction: coming from north west
Relative humidity: 90%
Barometer: 1015 millibars

Personal Log

Today is my second day at sea and I can finally walk to various places on the ship in less time. I have found sleeping on the ship to be very easy as the ship rocks back and forth. I really enjoy being at sea; it is very tranquil at times and I am not rushed to go anywhere except my assigned duty locations. While on deck observing, the sights and smell of the ocean invokes memories of my former home in Bar Harbor, Maine.

After a full day of observing whales in the sunshine I was very excited to conduct some star-gazing at night. At 2200, as I opened the first hatch outside, I walked into a wall of fog and was reminded quickly that I am miles offshore on Georges Bank in June!

Science and Technology Log

Sighting whales yesterday was very slow, but today made up for it. The weather was perfect, as the sky was mostly sunny with few high cirrus clouds early. Today I was assigned to the Flying Bridge for observations all day. There are three stations and we rotate every thirty minutes. The stations are Big Eyes on port and starboard sides and a computer in the center for data entry. We use different terms for orientation on the ship. For instance, the front of the ship is called the bow. While facing the bow, the left side is called the port and the right side starboard.

DiscussingSightings
Discussing sightings on the “Fly Bridge”

My rotation began on the port side of the ship using the “Big Eyes”. After a half hour, your eyes become tired, strained and shifting to the computer to enter whale sighting helps. At the computer we enter whale sighting data called out by observers.

LookingThroughBigEyes
Looking through the “Big Eyes”. Do you see anything?

In addition to recording the identification of animals; other important attributes are called out by the observers such as bearings and direction headings. Looking through the “big eyes”, a range finder is located from center with a scale from 0 – 24, and is called the reticle. To properly calculate distance, the observer needs to adjust the “Big Eyes” to align zero with the ocean horizon. This is very difficult since the ship is always in motion. The “Big Eyes” in the image above is not correctly aligned. There is a chart we used to translate the reticle values to distance.

An early morning break was followed by an amazing hour of multiple whale sightings. Fin, humpback whales and pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphin sightings were all around the ship. One humpback whale came within twenty feet of the boat. The afternoon was less active but we tracked pilot whales later which were not seen during morning rotations.

ViewFlyBridge
View from the “Fly Bridge” looking down on the “Rolling Bridge”

 

Until next time, happy sailing!

~ Tom

 

Virginia Warren: Adios, Ciao, Shalom, Arrivederci, Adieu, Auf Weidersehen, in other words Goodbye for Now, July 17, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Virginia Warren
Aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp
July 9th – 17th, 2013

Mission: Leg 3 of the Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Sailing Back to Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Date: July 17th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Mostly sunny with occasional fog and 1 to 2 foot seas (The weather was perfect for the last two days of the trip!)

Personal Log: 

I’ve had the most wonderful time on this trip and made some really great new friends! I enjoyed it so much that I almost hated to see it come to an end! I worked with an awesome group of people on my watch who were always full of information! Erin has a marine biology degree, as well as a technology graduate degree. She was great to talk to, learn from, and she always helped me make the right decisions. Adam was our watch chief on the day watch crew, which means that he was responsible for collecting data and directing the rest of the science crew as we sorted the contents of the dredge. He was always very helpful and knowledgeable about the different types of species that came up with the dredge. Jon was the chief scientist for the leg 3 sea scallop survey. Jon had a very busy job because he was in charge of both science crews, communicating with the home lab, collaborating with the ship crew, deciding on dredge spots and HabCam routes, and for showing me the ropes. I really do appreciate all the time he took out of his busy days to help me and teach me! Jared was the HabCam specialist on board for this leg of the sea scallop survey. He has an ocean engineering degree and works for WHOI, which is the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Jared helped design and test the HabCam vehicle so that it would protect the camera and other equipment while underwater. He also kept our crew entertained with ‘tunes’ and laughs. This group of people was great to work with and I would do it again with them in a heartbeat. I really hope that I will get another opportunity to do something like this again in the future!

Virginia's Day Watch Crew
The day watch science crew taking the last dredge picture of the Leg 3 Sea Scallop Survey.
Pictured left to right: Erin, Virginia, Adam, Jon, and Jared

I also really enjoyed the crew of the Hugh R. Sharp. They were always welcoming and forthcoming with answers to questions about the ship. They also keep their ship clean and comfortable. My favorite place on the ship was the bridge, which is where they steer the ship. The bridge is the best place to watch for whales and sharks. It has panoramic glass all the way around it, plus you can walk right outside the bridge and feel the breeze in your face, or have some very interesting conversations with the ship’s crew.

R/V Hugh R. Sharp in Woods Hole, MA
R/V Hugh R. Sharp in Woods Hole, MA

Science and Technology Log:

As my trip came near to an end, I started wondering what were some of the differences between the research dredge we were using and the dredge a commercial scallop fisherman would use. Our research dredge was an 8 foot New Bedford style dredge, as opposed to the commercial ships who use two 15 foot dredges on either side of the ship. Scallop dredges are made up of connecting rings that keep the scallops in the dredge. The research dredge we used was made up of 2 inch rings. Commercial dredges are required to have a minimum of 4 inch rings. NOAA uses the smaller rings on their research dredges to be able to get an accurate population count of all the sizes of scallops in a given area. The commercial scallop fishermen are required to use the larger rings to allow smaller scallops to escape. The research dredge we used was equiped with a 1.5 inch streched mesh liner to keep other species, like fish, in the dredge because NOAA likes to measure and count them as well. Commercial scallop fishermen keep their dredges in for hours at a time.  NOAA only keeps their research dredge in the water for 15 minutes at a time. There are several other dredge regulations that commercial fisherman have to follow. Click here if you would like to read more about the regulations.

I also learned a lot about the anatomy of a sea scallop.

The anatomy of a sea scallop. Thanks to http://www.seattlefishnm.com/ for the anatomy  of a sea scallop chart.
The anatomy of a sea scallop. Thanks to http://www.seattlefishnm.com/ for the anatomy of a sea scallop chart.

Sea scallops are either male or female depending on the color of their reproductive gland, called the gonad. If a scallop has a red gonad, then that means it is a female scallop. If the gonad is a cream/yellow color, then that means the scallop is a male.

Inside View of a Male Scallop
Inside View of a Male Scallop

Inside View of a Female Scallop
Inside View of a Female Scallop

The scallop is connected to both sides of its shell with the large white part called the adductor muscle. This is the part that gets eaten. The adductor muscle is also the part that allows the scallop to clasp its shell shut. Scallops are also able to swim by sucking water into its shell and then quickly clasping the shell shut, which makes the scallop ‘swim’.

Sea Scallop's Adductor Muscle
The white chunk of meat is called the adductor muscle, which is the part of the scallop that most people eat.

Scallops have eyes that line the edges of both top and bottom shells. See if you can spot eyes on the scallops below.

Most of the scallops that we pulled up were only measured for individual length and cumulative weight, however some of the scallops were chosen to have their gonad and adductor muscle weighed, as well as their shells analyzed for age.

Virginia Measuring the Scallop's Meat Weight
Virginia Measuring the Scallop’s Meat Weight

Scallops are aged in a way similar to aging a tree. After the first two years of a scallop’s life, they are believed to grow a shell ring every year. In the picture below you can see how the shells age through the years.

Aged Scallops
Aged Scallops
Photo courtesy of Dvora Hart from the NMFS Sea Scallop Survey Powerpoint

Animals and Sights Seen:

 Beautiful Sunsets

Beautiful Sunset Near Nantucket
Beautiful Sunset Near Nantucket

Moonlight on the Water

Tons of Hermit Crabs:

Starfish:

Octopus:

Octopus
We put it in water to keep it alive while we finished sorting the table.

Barndoor Skate:

Dolphins:

Dolphin
This dolphin swam right up beside the ship.

Humpback Whales: The last night of the cruise we got to see the most amazing whale show. The pictures aren’t that great because they were a good ways away from the ship and it was right around sunset. I ended up putting the camera down so that I could just enjoy the show.

Extra Pictures:

Donna Knutson, September 29, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 29, 2010

The last night on the Sette.

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sightings will also be documented.

Jay the second steward during a drill.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 19○ 53.8’ N
Longitude: 156○ 20.8’ W  
Clouds:  2/8 Cu, VOG (volcanic ash fog)
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  2 ft.
Water Temperature:  26.3○ C
Air Temperature:  26.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1015.5 mb
The first leg of the Sette’s HICEAS cruise is almost over.  By tomorrow noon we will come into port at Pearl Harbor.  The mission has been highly successful!  The scientists and birders have had an action filled thirty days.
The HICEAS cruise birders, Dawn Breese and Scott Mills have documented thirty-nine species of seabirds.
 In the “tubenosed” or Procellariformes order, there are the Petrels and Shearwaters.  The Petrels include the Kermadec, Herald, Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, White-necked, Back-winged, Bonin, Wilson’s Storm, Band-rumped Storm, Cook’s, and Bulwer’s.  The Shearwaters include the Christmas, Wedge-tailed, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, and Newell’s.

Clementine, the chief steward, in the galley. Her and Jay made a banquet for every meal! I surprised her!

From the order Pelicaniformes the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird have been recognized and also the Brown, Red-Footed Booby, Masked Booby, and Great Frigatebirds.

Harry, the chief engineer, during a drill.

The shore birds seen so far are the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Wandering Tattler. Terns include the Brown and Black Noddies, the White, Sooty, and Grey-backed Terns; Jaegers include Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed plus the South Polar Skua.
The HICEAS mammal observers, Andrea Bendlin, Abby Sloan, Adam U, Allan Ligon, Ernesto Vazquez and Juan Carlos Salinas, have had ninety-seven sightings!  The whales observed have been the sperm whale, Bryde’s whale, and Cuvier’s and Blainville’s beaked whales.

The CO,commanding officer, Anita Lopez.

The dolphins that were documented were the bottlenose dolphin, striped dolphin, Pantropical spotted dolphin, spinner dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, killer whale, false killer whale, pygmy killer whale, and pilot whale.
The scientists were able to obtain nearly 50 biopsy samples from live cetaceans, 1 necropsied Kogia, 3 tracking tags, and hundreds of pictures!
Personal Log:
If someone asked me what qualities and or skills are needed to work on a ship, I would use the Sette crew as my model.
You must have dedicated, respected and competent officers.  The engineers need to be resourceful and good problem solvers.  The deck hands must be hard working and possess a good sense of humor.  The doctor should be a model for good physical health and have a inspiring positive attitude.   The stewards need to make creative delicious dishes, and be friendly and caring. The computer technician must be a great troubleshooter in order to work on anything that requires electricity.

Dr. Tran and the XO, executive officer, Stephanie Koes went to Midway with me.

The science crew must be focused, persistent and knowledgeable.  I have observed that scientists, regardless of their role, whether they are mammal observers, accousticians, oceanographers or chief scientists, need to collect data, organize the information into the correct format, and then report it.  All variables need to be accounted for.
 I am very impressed with the kind and helpful crew!  They truly made me feel at home.  That is exactly how it feels like on the Sette – like a home.  They have welcomed me with open arms.

Kinji, the boatswain, cut up the yellow fin tuna into shashimi.

I have learned much, much more than anticipated on this cruise.  I was included in activities in all divisions. I was encouraged to help out the scientists by being an independent mammal observer, run security on the CTD, and help package and label biopsy samples.
In the kitchen I learned how to sanitize the dishes and where to put them away, plus I got some helpful cooking hints to take back home and a lot of good conversation.
I helped the deck crew when working with the CTD and learned how to tie a bowline knot.
I went up to the bridge and helped look –out during an emergency situation, was invited to the officer’s book review, and drove the ship.  Wow! Do I have respect for people who can do that accurately!
 I received a thorough and informative engineering tour, and I am still impressed by all the systems that need to work together to keep the ship (which is like a mini city) afloat.

The “girls” of the science crew displaying their cups before sending them down 3000 ft. with the CTD. They came back up less than half the original size.

I wanted to be involved where ever I went. Learning by observing is great, but I wanted to be an active member of the crew and learn through experience.  It is impossible to write down everything I learned from this experience, but I want to ensure everyone who was over-run with my many questions, that I appreciate all your time and patience with me.
It feels as though I have a whole different world to show my students!  Our Earth really is an amazing place of adventure!  You never know who you will have a chance to meet or what you can learn from them!
Thank you to everyone who shared their life with me.  It allowed me to have a wonderful “soul filling” experience!

Donna Knutson, September 24, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 24, 2010

I Hear Them!

I am in the stateroom writing.

I Hear Them!
September 24, 2010
Teacher at Sea:  Donna Knutson
Ship Name:  Oscar Elton Sette

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and  sea bird sightings will also be documented.

Erin, Sussanah, and Kim working on the array.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 25○ 13.6’ N
Longitude: 168○ 23.7’ W  
Clouds:  4/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 28.2○ C
Air Temperature:  25.6○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.6 mb
Of the five senses, hearing is the most important sense to cetaceans.  Sea animals depend on hearing to feed and communicate.  In water it is impossible for whales see long distance, their sense of smell is not as developed as in sharks, their sense of taste and touch will not help in traveling through the water seeking food, so therefore the sense of sound has become the most developed.

“Guts” of the array.

Cetaceans whether odontocetes, the “toothed whales” such as the sperm whales and dolphins, or Mysticetes, the baleen whales such as the Bryde’s or humpback whales, have different ways of producing sound.  Because their methods and mouths are different, different kinds of whales produce different kinds sounds with varying frequencies.
Frequency is the number of waves or vibrations that pass a certain point in one second.  People have a hearing range of approximately 150 – 20,000 Hz.  Hertz or Hz is the unit for frequency meaning how many waves are reaching a destination in one second.   People talk within this frequency range and can hear slightly above and below this range.
Cetaceans have a much broader frequency range.  The “toothed whales” produce rapid bursts of high frequency clicks and whistles.  Their hearing range is 250 – 150,000 Hz.  Single clicks are used for echolocation and a collection of clicks for are used for communication.

Erin, Sussanah, Yvonne, Nicky and Kim checking the connections.

The baleen whales have a lower frequency range of about 10 – 31,000 Hz.  They too use sound for echolocation and communication, but the “whale song” often associated with humpback whales is primarily for sexual selection.
When comparing whales to other land animals, they even have a higher frequency range than dogs or bats.  The bat has a hearing range of 10,000 – 100,000 Hz and the dog’s range in 15,000 – 50,000 Hz.  In whales and bats the higher frequencies are used for echolocation.
 Another difference between the land and aquatic animals, is where their sound is transmitted.  Land animals send and receive sound through the air and cetaceans do both through water.  Sound travels almost four times faster through the water. That is the reason whale noises can travel thousands of kilometers.

Listening in.

Whale noise is not the only noise in the ocean. People are making a lot of noise themselves.  With increased noise from ships, sonar, and seismic surveys the ocean is becoming a noisy place. Environmentalists and cetalogists are concerned with the added noise.
Noise may be one of the factors in animal strandings.  The strandings may due to stress from noise, but in some cases cetaceans have had damaged ears.  It is unknown if increased noise levels have caused the ear damage or it is only old age.  This is definitely an area which could use more study.
Personal Log:

A group of sperm whales sound like the patter of rain.

It has been through my observations aboard the Sette, the acousticians have a challenging job! They of course have a love of cetaceans like all marine biologists, and want to locate and study these animals, but they need to work with very sophisticated electronic equipment rather than be out on the flying bridge looking through the “big eyes”. If the equipment is not designed properly, whale and dolphin sounds cannot be detected.
Yvonne, Sussanah and Nicky are the acousticians on the ship.  These young women have had additional adventures over and above others on the cruise, and adventures that they would probably wish they didn’t have to experience.  I am very impressed with their trouble-shooting abilities, their patience and their tenacity!

Each dot is a click, every color is a different animal.

At the beginning of the cruise the acousticians were gifted with a brand new array!  An array is a long clear soft plastic tube containing all the electronic equipment needed to absorb and transmit sound to the sound equipment back in the ships lab.  The array had (notice I said had – past tense) hydrophones and transmitting boards throughout its 50 foot length.  In order for the sound to travel through the water and be received by the array, the entire electronic circuitry inside the array needed to be immersed in a liquid similar to salt water’s density.  If the electronics were exposed to sea water there would be too much corrosion for the system to work properly. So, they chose a colorless oil to fill the array. The array is laid out on the fantail (back deck) bridge and is connected to a spool of power and relay cords (ok, you realize by now I know virtually nothing about electronics) and then the cords are slipped into the lab and connected to the sound equipment.  I know that last part for certain, because I helped Nicky wire tie them together at the beginning of the cruise.

Dawn listening to the sperm whales.

When the array was (yes, still past tense) lowered into the water behind the ship, it was 300 m back and 6 m deep.  It needed to get a long way past the boat, so the boatnoise wasn’t the only thing heard.  Unfortunately the acousticians could not pick up the normal ocean sounds and animal clicks that they have become accostumed to on past cruises.They looked at the inside equipment, took out boards, tested solders, and electrical power strips.  They checked out the transmitters, connections and screws.  (They reminded me of the Grinch not overlooking one last detail!)  Still the blasted thing did not work.  I hate to admit that I shyed away from them for a time, because all the help I could provide would be in giving inspirational clichés, and I know they had enough of those already. Eventually, enough was enough and even though, and yes remarkably so, they were in good spirits, time had come to take the array apart.  Erin was there to assist, and Kim the Sette’s electronic technician was working side by side with Sussanah, Nicky and Yvonne.  They gutted the whole thing, oil and all.  Then they checked the mini-microphones and relay boards.  I was very impressed!

You could hear the sperm whales loud blows.

All was done that could be so it was decided to put it back together, and try it again.  It worked!  I wasn’t surprised but rather amazed!  Unfortunately two of the four hydrophones stopped working.  Each hydrophone picks up different frequencies so if they don’t all work.  The array doesn’t work. Drat! Not to be overcome with minor setbacks.  (Minor to them, I’m thinking definitely Major if I had to work on it!) The acousticians set to work making an entirely new array!  One day I decided to stop down in the lab to check things out and see what new adventures they were presented with.  As Sussanah sat and stripped wires, I asked Yvonne and Sussanah how much electronic background they had to have for this job because I was clearly impressed.  Neither of them has had any classes, only the experience of working on similar equipment in the past.

Sperm whales use echolocation to find food. This is what you see before they make their vertical dive.

None of them had an electronic background, but they decided to make a new array themselves with the left-over parts. They were determined to become an active part of the survey team!   And they did it!  They built their own array!  It was (yes drat, past tense again!) working great until one day it was getting progressively worse. When the girls pulled it in, they noticed it had been bitten!  Some fish came up behind it and bit the newly fabricated array!  What kind of luck was that!   Salt water was leaking in.  “How can you fix that?” I asked Sussanah at dinner.  She said, with her British accent, (which is so much fun to listen to, and one of the reasons I like to ask her questions) the kevalar material inside the device, which is giving the new array strength and structure, is acting like a wick and soaking up the salt water.  So they split the kevalar and it is being held together with a metal s-connector to try and stop the wicking.

Ernesto, Adam and Juan Carlos gave a valiant effort. Unfortunately no biopsy samples were collected.

It will hold for the next six days until we can get back to port.  Wow, for all the adventures/troubles they are picking up some good information!  The array will receive the sounds from the “toothed whales” but to pick-up the lower frequencies from the baleen whales, the acousticians send out a sonobuoy.  A sonobuoy  is an independent device that is dropped over board, and floats on the surface while sending the signals back to the ship. As I am writing this I am told the acousticians are hearing pilot whales!  They can not only hear them, but can also tell where the whales are at!  I need to go check it out!  They are truly an amazing group of young women.  Even though I have known them for only for a short time, I am truly proud.  Their hard work has definitely paid off.  Their determination is to be admired

Rebecca Kimport, JULY 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Rebecca Kimport
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 30, 2010 – July 19, 2010

Mission: Summer Pollock survey
Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 19,  2010

Days at Sea: 18
Nautical Miles traveled: 3802.9 nm
Location when we were farthest north and farthest west: 61 20.300N/176 05.250 W
XBTs: 113
CTDs: 21
AWTs: 28
Methots: 7

Average Swell Height: 2- 3 ft
Wind Speed Range: 3 – 22 knots
Average temperature: 6° C/42.8°F

Beautiful Day on the Bering Sea
Beautiful Day on the Bering Sea

Types of cetaceans seen: 5 (fin whale, killer whale, Dall’s porpoise, sea lion, sperm whale)
Types of birds seen: 7+ (including fulmar, murre, kittiwake, petrel, albatross, puffin, & bald eagle)
Logs seen: 3 (unfortunately there was not an arborist who could identify them)

Average number of meals eaten per day: 5 (first breakfast, second breakfast, snack, elevenses, dinner)
Times I worked out in the aft gym for the “European Challenge”: 7
Times we fell out of our chairs laughing: too many to count!

Fork Fight
Fork Fight

Top five things I am thankful for:

  1. The willingness of all the scientists, officers and crew to answer my questions and explain what it is they are doing
  2. The chance to try my hand at fish processing (I will get you otoliths), net operations (10 out!), bridge operations (this is a test), and survey tech skills (mark XBT 135!).
  3. The delicious food – to quote Michele, it was like eating at my favorite restaurant every day thanks to Ray and Floyd!
  4. Our amazing shift – Neal, Abby, Katie and Michele are fantastic and I am lucky to have gotten the chance to get to work with them (and laugh with them)
  5. The weather – although we had no control over it, it was great to have such pleasant weather the whole trip. Yes, there were foggy days and high winds but they made the clear days that much more exciting.

Top five things for a TAS to bring on the Oscar Dyson

  1. Flash drive (no need to rely on the Internet)
  2. Fleece/wool cap (its cold in the fish lab)
  3. Workout clothes (2 gyms, endless choices)
  4. Slip-on shoes you can put through the wash (they will smell like fish!)
  5. Digital Camera (keep it in your pocket at all times, you never know when you might spot a walrus)
  6. (BONUS) A Coffee Mug — you won’t want to be without your peppermint hot chocolate or latte

Rebecca Kimport, JULY 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Rebecca Kimport
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 30, 2010 – July 19, 2010

Mission: Summer Pollock survey
Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 12,  2010

More Fish in the Sea

Table of Fish

As we have moved farther west, we have encountered more fish and are therefore completing more trawls. Yesterday was our biggest day so far and we completed two trawls for pollock (referred to as AWTs for Aleutian Wing Trawl) and one Methot during our 12 hour shift (with more fishing done in the next shift). Our first trawl started at the beginning of our shift and we hustled to finish processing before breakfast. To help keep our spirits up, Abby, Michele, Katie, Robert and I rocked out to some 80s tunes as we sorted and processed fish. Imagine the five of us bopping around the lab, in our foul weather gear, with scalpels in hand, while Rick Springfield wishes he had Jessie’s Girl, all before sunrise.

Even though we completed three hauls, I still had time to work on my “Run Across Germany” (for Chuck Norris Snuggle Muffin) and to spend time with the mammal observers. As I mentioned before, marine mammal observers have to be extremely patient. I spent about an hour and a half with them yesterday evening and saw two groups of whales through the big eyes (which was more than average). One was clearly a group of 2-3 fin whales while another was an unidentified blow.

Checking out the big eyes

The marine mammal observers mark all sightings in a data program with a mapping function that then predicts where the cetaceans might be moving so the observers can identify whether future sightings are the same or new animals. They might see two or three sets of blows before they spot any part of the body which could help them identify it. Fin whales come up to the surface once every 8-10 minutes and it took until the third set of blows before marine mammal observer Paula Olson was able to identify them (I got to see them on the fourth surface visit).
While we were waiting for the fin whales to come up again, Paula explained that in our part of the Bering Sea, there are five cetacean species that we are most likely to see. We determined that with the fin whale sighting I have already seen three (killer whales, Dall’s porpoises, and fin whales) leaving me with two species to scope out before we leave (minke whales and humpback whales (you know, like Humphrey)). Hopefully the weather will stay clear and I’ll be able to spend some more time on the flying bridge.
Animals Seen • Squid • Fin Whales • Pteropods • Ctenophores • Amphipods • Euphausiids • Pollock

Word of the day descry: to catch sight of something in the distance

Michele Brustolon, June 30th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michele Brustolon
Onboard NOAA Oscar Dyson
June 28 – July, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey  
Geographical area of cruise: Eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)  
Date: June 30th, 2010  

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1600 hrs
Latitude: 57.16 N
Longitude: 169.09 W
Cloud Cover: Dense fog
Wind: 11.56 knots
Air Temperature: 5.30  C/ 420 F
Water Temperature: 5.090 C/ 410 F
Barometric Pressure: 1005.02 mb

Science and Technology Log

Time with Birds and Mammals
Once we finally left Dutch Harbor behind, I spent some time on the bow with birder, Nate Jones.

As I know very little about birds, I quizzed him on every flying specimen we encountered and used his binoculars to observe the birds up close. After a few sightings, I was able to identify the Fulmar by its unique wing movement (quick quick quick soar). We also saw tufted puffins and a black footed albatross. There are two birders on this leg who are responsible for scanning the horizon and counting and identifying the sea birds they observe from the bridge.  We were distracted from our bird watching by a call of orcas. I hustled up to the “flying bridge” to join the marine mammal observers. There are three “mammals” on this leg and they are constantly scanning the horizon with their “big eyes” to observe and identify cetaceans. I was able to observe two separate groups of orcas and heard that porpoises were also spotted.

Although I am technically on the fish shift, I hope to check in with the “birds” and “mammals” later in the cruise.

What’s in your water?
I began my shift this morning at 0400 and reported to the Acoustics Lab to meet with head scientist, Neal Williamson. In addition to Neal, my shift includes Abby McCarthy, a NOAA research fisheries biologist, Katie Wurtzell, awesome biologist and my fellow TAS Rebecca. We began the shift by observing our first CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth)  profiler which will be deployed approximately 10 times throughout our trip. The CTD measures conductivity, temperature, and depth (used to calculate salinity) and gathers samples to measure dissolved oxygen. In addition, fluorescence is measured to monitor chlorophyll up to a 100 m from the surface.

The CTD – measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth

After our first CTD, we completed our first Methot trawl. A Methot trawl is named after the scientist who designed the net used. A Methot grabs the creatures and collects them into a codend (to make it easier for us to process) at 30-40 m below the surface – our Methot collected jellies and euphausiids (also known as krill). My first duty was to sort through the “catch” to pick out jellies. Next, we measured the weight of the krill before counting a small sample. We also preserved a couple samples for use in larger studies.

Following our Methot, I observed the deployment of an XBT (eXpenable Bathymetric Thermograph). The XBT is used to measure quick temperature data from the surface to the sea floor. The data are graphed at depth vs. temperature to highlight the thermocline, which is where colder water meets water warmed by the sun. Here in the Bering Sea, the thermocline is not always noticeable as the water column is subject to mixing from heavy winds and shallow depths.

Methot – graphing temperature vs. depth – shift in graph shows thermocline.

Personal Log

As I approached Dutch Harbor, I began taking photos from the plane. It sounds crazy, but the landscape is like nothing I have ever seen. Once I was off the plane, my smile grew because of the crisp air and the smell of saltwater. After two days of travel I had finally made it to Dutch Harbor and my luggage made it with me! I was brought to the boat to drop off my bags and then into town to catch up with others on Leg 2. The Oscar Dyson was having work done on its large generator so we didn’t leave port until June 29 at 1430 hours. It actually gave me time to get to know a good portion of the people on this leg (the crew, scientists, “birders,” mammalian observers, and the stewards). I was also able to explore Dutch Harbor, Unalaska (we tried to find wild horses…no luck!), and take some walks from the Oscar Dyson. Some of the most common flowers and birds seen are the lupines, orchids, and bald eagles EVERYWHERE! They are incredibly loud too! They remind me of seagulls and squirrels back home because there are so many! Wednesday, June 30 was the first day of our 0400- 1600 work shift so we won’t see everyone until we are transiting back because of the different shifts. The Oscar Dyson has 40 bunks and we are occupying 39 of them-talk about a full ship! For information about what happens during our shift, take a look in the science and technology log. I am truly enjoying my time and there are plenty of people to make me laugh which is the best medicine when you are a tyro!

Dutch Harbor at low tide from the dock of
the Oscar Dyson

Dutch Harbor during a typical day

Animals Seen in Dutch Harbor

Bald eagles
Ground Squirrel
Sea Urchin
Sea Stars
Sea Cucumber
Pigeon Guillemont
Oyster Catchers
Mussels
Chiton
Limpets
Hermit Crabs
Snails
(but no horses…)

A Bald Eagle named “Charlie” sitting outside the Unisea Restaurant

Animals Seen in Transit

Orcas
Fulmars
Black Footed Albatross
Tufted Puffin

Animals Seen on First Shift

Euphausiids
Jellies
Pollock!!!
Pacific Cod

Word of the Day

Tyro: a novice or beginner

New Vocabulary:

CTD: (Conductivity Temperature Depth) A device used to measure conductivity, temperature and depth at specific locations within the Bering Sea

Methot: A net used for shallow trawls, named after the scientist

XBT: eXpendable Bathymetric Thermograph

Thermocline: the point when the temperature drops

Richard Chewning, June 10, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Chewning
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 4 – 24, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Date: June 10, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Bering Sea
Time: 2147 hours
Latitude: N 56 48.280
Longitude: W 161 48.549
Cloud Cover: Overcast with fog
Wind: 9.2 knots from NE
Temperature: 4.6 C
Barometric Pressure: 1010.8 mbar

Science and Technology Log

In addition to hosting fish biologists studying walleye pollock, the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson also has groups of researchers studying birds and marine mammals aboard. Both the birders and marine mammal observers are conducting supplementary projects taking advantage of the Dyson’s cruise track. As the Dyson sails back and forth across the Bearing Sea along equally spaced parallel transects, these researchers are able to survey a wide area of habitat, investigating not only what animals are present and absent in these waters, but also how many are present (called abundance). These surveys are considered passive since these researchers are not actively directing the ship’s movements but are surveying along the cruise track laid out by the fish biologists.

Our migratory bird observers are Liz Labunsky and Paula Olson from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). They are members of the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Observer Program and are providing data for the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Project. Pelagic seabirds are birds found away from the shore on the open ocean. Liz is from Anchorage, Alaska and has been involved with this project since 2006. Calling Gloucester, Massachusetts home, Paula is new to these waters but has spent years studying the birds of Prince William Sound as part of the ecosystem monitoring efforts resulting from Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Liz and Paula: an office with a view

Liz and Paula work for two-hour alternating shifts from the bridge. They continuously survey an area of water 300 meters by 300 meters in size. They are looking for birds both on the water’s surface and flying through the air. Liz and Paula must have quick eyes and be very familiar with a wide variety of birds. Identifying birds on the move can be very challenging. Often you only have only a few seconds to train your binoculars on your target before your query becomes a spot on the horizon. In addition, the same species of bird can vary greatly in appearance. Liz and Patti may only see a handful of birds over an entire morning but can also witness hundreds at any given moment!

Black-footed albatross

Northern fulmar

One constant challenge for observers aboard moving vessels is counting the same bird multiple times. For example, you will often spot northern fulmars flying laps around the Dyson when underway. To avoid introducing this bias (or error) in their survey, flying birds are only counted at certain time intervals called scan intervals. The frequency of these scan intervals are determined by the speed at which the Dyson is traveling. For example, when the Dyson is traveling 12 knots, birds flying are counted every 49 seconds. If the Dyson is traveling slower, the time is reduced.

Shearwaters

Shearwaters

While very familiar with the coastal birds of Georgia, I have been introduced to several new species of birds found in the Bering Sea. I have become a big fan of the tufted puffin. Easily identified by their reddish orange bills, tufted puffins resemble little black footballs when flying. These birds dive in the frigid waters to catch fish, their favorite prey. The black-footed albatross is another bird new to me identified by the white markings around the base of the beak and below the eye along with its large black feet. One of my favorite observations with Liz and Patti was identifying a group of northern fulmars so tightly packed on a piece of driftwood that it showed up on the ship’s radar!

Personal Log

Just before my shift ended around 1545 hours, a call came over the radio from Yin, one of the Dyson’s three marine mammal observers. She reported that a large number of humpback whale blows had been spotted on the horizon. A blow refers to the spray of water observed when a whale surfaces for a breath of air. Like all mammals, whales have lungs and must surface to breath. The humpback whale is a baleen whale that feeds on krill (small marine invertebrates that are similar to shrimp) and small fish in the summer. Krill is a major link in the marine food web, providing food for birds, marine mammals, and fish such as pollock. Baleen whales have plates made of baleen instead of teeth that are used to separate food from the water. Baleen resembles a comb with thick stringy teeth. Think of the movie Finding Neo when Marlin and Dory are caught in the whale’s mouth.

There be whales here!

Not sure how many whales constitute a large group, I eagerly headed to the bridge to see if I could catch a glimpse of this well-known marine mammal. I quickly climbed four companionways (a stair or ladder on a ship) up to the flying bridge from the main deck where the acoustics lab is located. Upon reaching the highest point on the vessel, I was told that I was in for a treat as we were approaching a massive aggregation (a group consisting of many distinct individuals or groups) of humpback whales. Whales often travel in small social groups called pods, but this gathering was much larger than usual. This gathering was more than a single pod of whales as there were so many blows you didn’t know which way to look!

The Dyson’s CO (Commanding Officer), Commander Michael Hoshlyk, carefully maneuvered through the whales affording the growing gathering of onlookers a great view. Observations from the Dyson’s fish biologists and birders supported the hypothesis from marine mammal observers that these whales were almost certainly gathered together to feed. Evidence to support this conclusion included acoustic data and the presence of large numbers of seabirds. The Dyson’s transducers showed large acoustic returns that were most likely from plankton (organisms that drift in the water) such as krill. There were also countless numbers of shearwaters (medium-sized long winged sea birds) gathered where the whales were swimming. Estimating the number of whales and shearwaters proved difficult because of their large numbers. The first group of whales numbered at least 50, and we later encountered a second group of humpbacks that numbered around 30. The shearwaters numbered in the thousands! I was able to capture some great pictures of the flukes (the horizontal tail of the whale used for propulsion) and blows of the humpbacks by holding my camera up to the powerful BIG EYES binoculars. Looking through the BIG EYES gave me the sensation being so close that I almost expected to feel the spray of water every time the whales surfaced for a breath. I counted myself fortunate to see this inspiring and unforgettable sight. Along with the beautiful weather, the opportunity to see these amazing creatures of the deep made for a very enjoyable cruise to the beginning of the pollock survey.

Viewing humpback whales equals a Kodak moment!

New Word of the Day – Bearing

You will often hear the word ‘bearing’ used on the bridge of the Dyson. A bearing is a term for direction that relates the position of one object to another. For example, the Dyson’s lookout might call out, “Fishing vessel, bearing three one five degrees (315°)”. This means the fishing vessel is in front of and to the left of the ship when facing toward the bow. A bearing does not relate distance, only direction. The area around the Dyson is divided into 360 equal parts called degrees. One degree is equal to 1/360th of a circle. When calling out a bearing, degrees allow for precise communication of an object’s relative position to that of the Dyson. The Dyson always has a member of the deck crew stationed on the bridge serving as lookout when underway. The lookout’s responsibility is to monitor the water around the Dyson for boat traffic, hazards in the water, or any other object important to the safe navigation of the ship.

Blue sky and blue water

Sunrise over the Aleutians

Karen Matsumoto, April 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 27, 2010

Science and Technology Log

In addition to the deployment of the acoustic sonobouys and monitoring of the towed hydrophone array, we also do “XBT” drops three times a day, at sunrise, noon, and sunset. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) has been used by oceanographers for many years to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean. The XBTs deployed by the Sette research team measures temperature to a depth of 1000 meters.

The XBT is a probe which is dropped from a moving ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water. Two thin copper wires transmit the temperature data to the ship where it is recorded for later analysis. The probe is designed to fall at a known rate, so that the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time since it was launched. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water. It is amazing to think that over 1000 meters of thin copper wire is packed into that small tube! When I first launched an XBT, I was expecting to shoot it off like a rifle, but it actually just falls out of the unit by gravity. I was relieved that I didn’t experience “kick-back” from the probe unit when I pulled the lynch pin!

Chief Scientist Marie Hill preparing to launch the XBT unit.

XBT deployed and falling to a depth of 1000 feet.

Marie cutting the copper wire ending the connection to the probe and computer.

Bellow: Temperature and depth information is sent to the computer from the probe attached to the XBT unit by thin copper wires. The wires are cut when the unit reaches a depth of 1,000 meters, and the unit falls to the ocean floor. The researchers on the Sette use XBTs to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean, as seen on the computer screen at bellow.

We are continuing to conduct visual observations on the “Flying Bridge.” I had a chance to take a shift on the “Big Eyes” which are 25 x 150 magnification binoculars. The person at each of the Big Eye stations does a slow 90 degree sweep toward the bow and then back again, searching the ocean from horizon to ship to spot whales. I have a renewed appreciation for the skill it takes to use binoculars, especially one that weighs over 40 pounds! I had to use stacked rubber mats to be able to reach the Big Eyes at its lowest height setting, and even then it was a struggle to keep them steady every time we hit a wave! I think the Big Eyes were designed by the same people that made the huge Norwegian survival suits!

Karen on the “Big Eyes.”

Personal Log

The more I learn about sperm whales, the more I want to see one! I heard sperm whale clicks this morning, which was super exciting. John Henderson, a member of our science team sent me a cool website that shows an MRI of a juvenile sperm whale. I’ve included it below. Sperm whales are still on my wish list for whale sightings on this trip!

QuickTime™ and a decompressorare needed to see this picture.

MRI Image of a juvenile sperm whale. © 1999 Ted W. Cranford.
See website at: http://www.spermwhale.org/SpermWhale/spermwhaleorgV1.html

Question of the Day: How do sperm whales make their vocalizations? Sperm whale clicks are produced when air is passed between chambers in the animals’ nasal passages, making a sound that is reflected off the front of the skull and focused through the oil-filled nose. It has been suggested that powerful echolocation clicks made by sperm whales may stun their prey. Recent studies have shown that these sounds are among the loudest sounds made under water by animals (they can travel up to six miles despite being fairly high frequency).

Sperm whale clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are diving and foraging. These sounds may be echolocation (“sonar”) sounds used to find their prey, calls to coordinate movement between individuals, or both. Clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are in groups, while individual sperm whales are generally silent when alone. Most of the sounds that sperm whales make are clicks ranging from less than 100 Hz to 30 kHz

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: Expendable Bathythermograph or the XBT was developed in the 1960s by former The Sippican Corporation, today Lockheed Martin Sippican. Over 5 million XBT’s have been manufactured since its invention. The XBT is used by the Navy and oceanographic scientists to provide an ocean temperature versus depth profile. Some XBTs can be launched from aircraft or submarines, and have been used for anti-submarine warfare. How many XBTs do you think are on the bottom of the ocean?

Something to Think About:

“Thar she blows!” was the cry of the whaler!

Whale researchers can identify many whales by their “blows,” when the whale comes to the surface to breathe. Observers look for the direction and shape of the blow. For example, sperm whale blows are almost always directed at a low angle to the left, as their single nostril is located on the left side.

Grey whales, on the other hand, have two blowholes on the top of their head, and have very low heart-shaped or V-shaped blows, with the spray falling inwards. What do you think are you seeing when you see whale blows?

Animals Seen Today:

• Flying fish

Did you know?

Cetaceans evolved from land mammals in the even-toed ungulates group. The hippopotamus is most likely their closest living relative!

Picture of the Day

Abandon ship drill on the Sette!

Karen Matsumoto, April 22, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: April 22, 2010

Science and Technology Log

Acoustic monitoring for cetaceans is a major part of this research effort. A hydrophone array is towed 24 hours each day, except when it needs to be pulled up on deck to allow for other operations, or required by weather or other maneuvers. The hydrophone array is hooked up to a ship-powered hydraulic winch system that brings up or lowers the hydrophone into the water. A team of two acoustic scientists listen to the hydrophone array during daylight hours and collect and record data by recording the sounds made by cetaceans, and locating their positions.

Sonobuoys, as described in the previous log entry are also used to collect acoustic data. Sonobuoys transmit data to a VHF radio receiver on the ship. Scientists monitor these buoys for an hour each recording session, and often communicate with the other group monitoring the hydrophone array about what they are hearing or seeing on the computer screen. They often don’t hear or see the same things!

Launching the hydrophone array

Monitoring the array.

A standard set of information is recorded each time a sonobuoy is launched. This includes the date, time (measured in Greenwich Mean Time!), Latitude and Longitude, approximate depth of the ocean where the buoy was launched, as well as specific information on the buoys. This is just like the information you would record in your field journals when conducting your own field investigations.

Setting the buoy instructions.

Launching the buoy into the water.

Success! When the buoy is deployed, the orange flag pops up.

One of my duties as Teacher at Sea is to conduct acoustic monitoring. This means checking the buoy and setting it to the correct settings so information can be received by VHF radio, and data collected by computer on any cetacean vocalizations we may observe. Many of the cetacean calls

can’t be heard, only seen on the computer screen! The computer must be visually monitored, and it takes a keen eye to be able to pick out the vocalizations from other “noise” such as the ship’s engine, sounds of the water hitting the buoy, and even the ship’s radar!

The person monitoring the buoy also wears headphones to hear some of the vocalizations. Clicks and “boings” made by some cetaceans can be heard by humans. Other sounds made by cetaceans, especially the large baleen whales are very low frequency, and can’t be heard by the human ear.

Karen listening in and visually monitoring the Sonobuoy. I can actually hear minke whales “BOINGING”!

Data is collected and recorded on the computer on a program called “Ishmael”.

All observations are also hand written in a “Sonobuoy Log Book” to help analyze the computer data and as back up information.

Personal Log

There is so much to learn, and I am anxious to get up to speed with the research team (which could take many years!). I have always been fascinated by cetaceans, and have had a keen interest in gray whales since whale-watching on the coast of California since I was a child. Grey whales have also been an integral part of the culture of First Peoples living on the Washington Coast, and so I have been interested in learning more about them.

I am an avid birder, and it is always an exciting challenge to go to a new place, learn about other ecosystems and see birds I am not familiar with. I have always loved pouring through and collecting field guides, which are like wish lists of animals I want to see someday. Out here in the western Pacific ocean, I have a whole new array of whales for me to learn about, and learn how to identify by sight and sound! I have been reading my new field guide to whales and dolphins, reviewing PowerPoint presentations about them, and trying to learn all I can, as fast as I can! I have been drawing whales in my journal and taking notes, which helps me to remember their shape, form, and field identification features. At the top of my wish list is to see a sperm whale! I’ll be happy just to hear one, knowing they are here!

Karen sketching whales in her journal to learn their profiles and field marks.

Question of the Day: Did you know that many baleen whale vocalizations are at such a low frequency, that they can’t easily be heard by the human ear? We need computers to help us “visually hear” calls of fin, sei, blue, and right whales.

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: mysticetes = baleen whales. Mysticeti comes from the Greek word for “moustache”.

Something to Think About:

“Call me Ishmael,” is one of the most recognizable opening lines in American literature and comes from the novel, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, published in 1851. The story was based on Herman Melville’s experiences as a whaler. Melville was inspired by stories of a white sperm whale called “Mocha Dick” who allegedly battled whalers by attacking ships off the coast of Chile in the early 1800s! Melville’s story was also an inspiration to the founders of Starbucks and also influenced the maker of the acoustic software we are using to track cetaceans on our research trip! (Can you tell me how?)

Animals Seen Today:

  • Sooty shearwater
  • Wedge-tailed shearwater

Did you know?
The earth has one big ocean with many features. The part of the ocean we are studying is called the
North Pacific Ocean and divided into three very general regions east to west: The western Pacific,
eastern Pacific, and the central Pacific. We are traveling along a transit from Guam, northeast to
Wake Island, then almost due east to O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. Can you trace our route on a map of the
Pacific?

John Schneider, July 18-20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 18-20, 2009

Position
Shumagin Islands, in transit to Dutch Harbor

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System:
(July 18th) Low system approaching from the South
(July 19th) Fog, gusty wind in the morning, clear afternoon, but getting windier; Wind: southwesterly at 4-6 kts; Sea State: 1-2 feet

Weather System:  Projected for the July 20-21 overnight
Barometer: falling rapidly (a warning sign of unsettled weather) Wind: sustained at 30-40 kts, gusting to 55 kts (This would qualify as a “gale”)
Sea State: Predicted wave height next 24-36 hrs – 18 feet!

Andy and lunch—a nice halibut!
Andy and lunch—a nice halibut!

Science and Technology Log 

On the 18th and 19th, the launches went out (including me on the 19th) to clean up some holidays and get more near-shore data.  When we got back on the 19th, we found out that a major low pressure system was building to the south and expected to be in our area within a day and a half.  A major low system can reach out a couple of hundred miles and the CO decided that we would leave the Shumagins about 18 hours earlier than originally planned.  I discussed this with him (he is remarkably approachable) and he reiterates to me what I had already believed: his responsibilities are in three priorities – 1. His crew.  2. His ship.  3. The mission. Our research in the Shumagins does not represent life-or-death, it represents the continuing quest for knowledge and the expansion of our understanding of the Earth.  I’m sure you’ve realized it already, but Captain Baird and his officers have earned my highest regard.

We are in the center of the radar screen and two other ships described below – with their courses projected from the boxes that represent them – are behind us. The green line is our track ahead.
We are in the center of the radar screen and two other ships described below – with their courses projected from the boxes that represent them – are behind us. The green line is our track ahead.

On board the Fairweather is a phenomenal array of electronics.  Our positioning equipment is able to determine our position with just a couple of meters and when we are on a course it can tell if the course error is as little as a decimeter! Operating in Alaska, where fog is a way of life, RADAR (Radio Direction And Ranging) is an absolute must, and we have redundant systems in the event one breaks down. Probably the coolest thing about the radar is the use of ARPA technology. ARPA (Automated Radar Plotting Aid) is a system that not only identifies other vessels on the water, but diagrams their projected course and speed vectors on the screen. It does this from as far as 64 miles away!

The filleted tail of the halibut and some crabs found in its stomach
The tail of the halibut and some crabs found in its stomach

By looking at the screen, you can see the lines of other ships relative to your own and navigate accordingly. Furthermore, the system includes ECDIS, which is an Electronic Chart Display and Information System that identifies other ships as to their name, size, destination, and cargo!  So when you see on the radar that you are in a situation where you will be passing near to another vessel, you can call them on the radio by name! This technology is essential, especially going through Unimak Pass.  Unimak Pass is about 15 miles wide and is a critical point in commercial shipping traffic between the Americas and Asia. As we were transiting Unimak Pass, We were passed by an 800 foot long container ship that was en route to Yokohama, Japan and going the other way was a 750 foot ship going to Panama.  This is a critical area due to what is called “Great Circle” navigation.  I’ll address this point when in Dutch Harbor next week.

Eat your hearts out!
Eat your hearts out!

Personal Log 

Last night, after the beach party, Andy Medina (who has been on board for almost 200 days this year) was fishing off the fantail and caught a nice halibut. The crew who hail from Alaska all have fishing permits and when the day is done, if we’re anchored they get to use their free time for fishing.  They even got a freezer to keep their filets in.  Earlier in the cruise, we actually had halibut tacos made with about the freshest Alaskan halibut you can find (less than 12 hours from catch to lunch!)  Of course, with me being a bio guy, I asked for two things: 1 – to keep and freeze the head (I For the last night of the leg before making port in Dutch Harbor  (home of the World’s Deadliest Catch boats) the stewards, Cathy Brandts, Joe Lefstein and Mike Smith really outdid themselves.  I sure hope you can read the menu board, but if you can’t, dinner was Grilled NY Strip Steak and Steamed Crab legs with Butter! 

We went through about 10 trays like this!!!
We went through about 10 trays like this!!!

After dinner, everybody secured as much equipment as possible in the labs, galley and cabins as possible in anticipation of the run ahead of the weather into Dutch Harbor.  We ran through the night and got to Unimak pass in the middle of the day on the 20th. About half way through the pass was an unusual announcement, “Attention on the Fairweather, there are a lot of whales feeding off to starboard!” It’s the only time whales were announced and it was worth the announcement.  For about 2 to 3 miles, we were surrounded by literally MILLIONS of seabirds and a score or more of whales.  Comments from everybody were that they had never seen anything like it. I kept thinking of the old Hitchcock film The Birds and the scenes in Moby Dick where Ahab says to “watch the birds.” We were all agog at the sight.

Fifteen minutes of this! Incredible!
Fifteen minutes of this! Incredible!

With the collective 200-300 years of at-sea experience, no one had ever seen anything like it. After 2.5 weeks that seems like 2.5 days, we approach Dutch Harbor and are secured to the pier by 1700 hours. Tonight we’ll head into town, but if not for the news in the next paragraph, this would be the worst time of the trip, however . . .

The Best news of the trip: I’ve requested and been approved to stay on board the Fairweather for the next leg! WOO-HOO!!!  It’s called FISHPAC and deals with integrating bottom characteristics to commercially viable fish populations!  I’m going to the Bering Sea!!!

Questions for You to Investigate 

  1. When did the Andrea Doria and Stockholm collide?  Where?  In what conditions?
  2. What was the D.E.W. Line in the Cold War?
  3. Why did the Japanese want bases in the Aleutians in WWII?
  4. Why did we pass a ship going from North America to Yokohama well over 1000 miles north of both ends of the trip?
  5. What are Great Circles?

Did You Know? 

That almost 10% of all commercial fishing catch in the United States comes through Unalaska and Dutch Harbor?

Approaching Dutch Harbor
Approaching Dutch Harbor

John Schneider, July 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 15, 2009

This is the Fairweather’s foredeck.
This is the Fairweather’s foredeck.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: early fog burned off by mid-day
Wind: light & variable
Temperature: 11.5º C
Sea State: light swells

Science and Technology Log 

There’s a whole bunch of ship-specific jargon that marine researchers need to be conversant in for clear communication with the officers and crew. A couple days ago I mentioned bow and stern lines and  frapping lines and boat falls.  Now for a primer in basic terminology. The bow is the front of the ship. To get there you go forward. (The bow is a place; forward is a direction.)  Similarly, you go aft (direction) to get to the stern (place).  By the way, the weather deck at the stern is the fantail which is where a lot of work gets done.  Descending into the ship you are going “belowdecks” and to get there you go up or down a ladder (not stairs.) Windows are portlights, which are covered with thick black covering at night so as to not shine light off the ship and cause visual problems for the bridge.

The right side is starboard, the left is port. (Easy to remember, left and port both have four letters, starboard and right are longer.)  The ship has running lights which on the Fairweather are on all the times.  Starboard is green, port is red (again, the longer words go to starboard.) Ropes aren’t ropes, they’re “lines.”

Personal Log 

This evening was a spectacle far beyond what I had hoped for, so most of today’s log will be pictures.  I think they’ll be self-explanatory!  Let me just preface these pictures with a quote from Chef Joe Lefstein. He and I were chatting on the fantail after dinner and there had been some reports of whales nearby. I told him I was getting my camera and he said, “That’s the kiss of death. There won’t be any whales now.”  Welllllll . . .

Birds and a spout!
Birds and a spout!

Birds and TWO spouts!!!
Birds and TWO spouts!!!

Two whales with their dorsal fins showing
Two whales with their dorsal fins showing

A fluke!
A fluke that can identify a whale!

This shot below is going to be sent to the people at the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute Juneau Humpback Whale Catalog (part of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau.  Survey tech Will Sautter told me about their site and I think this is a new sighting! I can’t wait to hear from them!  Their URL is at the end of today’s page.

Then I got these shots, which shows a whale breaching (jumping out of) the water.
Then I got these shots, which shows a whale breaching (jumping out of) the water.

So Joe and I are just blown away by all this (it went on for a good 15 minutes and I took about 75 pictures) and he says, “Can you imagine if we see a breach?  I’ve been sailing here for six years and have only seen one.” I turn around to look forward and he yells, “Oh my God, two of them just breached together.”  I turned and snapped the following, just catching their splash, and we were treated to another show for another 10 minutes!

Am I lucky or what?!  One even waved B’Bye!
Am I lucky or what?! One even waved B’Bye!

Questions for You to Investigate 

  • How do scientists identify individual humpback whales?
  • How long can humpbacks stay under water?
  • How many teeth do humpbacks have?
  • What is the preferred food of a humpback?

Check out this site below and see if you can recognize “my” flukes?

See what you can identify in the picture of the deck at the top: Red wheels (windlass controls), Fire Station, 2 cranes, 8 vents from lower compartments, the boarding ramp, and 3 pairs of bitts.

John Schneider, July 11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 11, 2009

Position 
Sheet L – Shumagin Islands

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: Overcast
Barometer: 1021.4
Wind: mild and veering*
Temperature: 12.1º C

Science and Technology Log 

One of the Fairweather's launches
One of the Fairweather’s launches

Today I got to go out on launch 1010.  The two primary launches on Fairweather are 29-foot diesel-powered (Caterpillar) single-screw aluminum boats.  I was real surprised to find that 1010 is 35 years old!  It’s in great shape.  Survey equipment on board includes the multi-beam echo sounder, computers, DGPS (Digital GPS gives positional accuracy to about 6 inches!) radar, radios and Iridium satellite telephones.  For “creature comforts” there’s a microwave and mini-fridge as well as a very efficient heater/defrost system.  Oh, by the way, there are no heads on the launches. (FYI – a “head” is marine-speak for a bathroom!)

Here I am on the launch monitoring all the data that’s being collected
Here I am on the launch monitoring all the data

Knowing this in advance, I didn’t have coffee or tea or a big breakfast. Turns out that when “nature calls” the rest of the crew goes in the cabin, closes the door, and you go over the side! Seems gross at first and then you realize that the 30 and 40 ton whales go in the ocean too (besides, it’s biodegradable!) The launches are carried on the boat deck (E-deck) in custom Welin-Lambie davits made for each launch. Welin-Lambie is a company over 100 years old and made the davits for a few ships you may have heard of – the British Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship and oh, yeah, the RMS Titanic!  The cradles are self-leveling so when the Fairweather is in heavy seas they remain upright and stable.  The picture on the left shows 1010 in its cradle. When it’s time to launch the boat, the securing devices are released, the boat is swung out over the side and two >3 ton winches lower the launch to the rail of D-deck.  There it is boarded by the crew and loaded with the needed gear for the day.  It is then lowered into the water and sent on its way.

Once we got to the area of our polygon (I’ll explain polygons later in the week) we began acquiring data by “mowing the lawn” – the process of sailing back and forth across a defined area collecting soundings1 (bottom depths.)  In every polygon we conduct a CTD cast (CTD = Conductivity Temperature Density.)  These three parameters determine the speed of sound in the water and are used to accurately calibrate the soundings. Once we had been working for a while with me observing – and asking what must have seemed like unending questions – PIC2 Adam Argento and AST3 Andrew Clos guided me to monitoring the data being acquired. As you can see on the left there are 4 monitors all running software simultaneously.  The picture on the right shows the keyboard and mice. The mouse in my right hand controls the windows on the three screens to the right which are data displays of received info. The left mouse controls which data are being acquired.

After a long day on the launch, it was great to see the Fairweather on this rainy day.
After a long day on the launch, it was great to see the Fairweather on this rainy day.

After lunch the coxswain4 (“coxin”) – AB Chrissie Mallory – turned the helm over to me to steer.  My first leg was headed North.  The positional displays on the Fairweather and its launches all have North being at the top of the displays.  (This is called – logically enough – “North Up”.)  I rocked! If I had to move off to the right a little, I turned right.  Need to move left, turn left. There’s a little delay between when you turn and the position as displayed on the screen.  Well, we got to the top of the section and turned around to head South.  I needed to adjust a bit to the right, so I turned right . . . BUT . . . the boat is now oriented 180º from the prior run.  So in turning right, I actually made the boat go left on the screen!  Oh NOOO!!! So I overcompensated the other way.  Then had to un-overcompensate . . . and so on.  I’m sure when they downloaded the data back on the Fairweather they were wondering what the h*** was going on. Eventually I got the hang of it and didn’t do too badly after a while, but I have a much greater appreciation of what appeared to be really simple at the outset.

After a successful 8+ hours out (by the way, our lunches contained enough food for 6 people!) we headed back to the Fairweather about 15 miles away.  To see her after a day out kind of felt like seeing home after a long day out. To the unaware, the ship looks like a mish-mash of all kinds of gear all over the place, but it’s remarkably organized.  The reason for the appearance is that the ship is capable of so many tasks that the equipment is stowed in every available space.  Fairweather is capable of deploying 7 small boats and operating independently of all of them in coordinated tasking!  I’d love the opportunity to take a class of students for an all-day field trip aboard and could do so without ever leaving the dock – there’s so much on board!

A launch returning to the Fairwweather
A launch returning to the Fairwweather

As you can see in the photo of the Fairweather above, there are two large white inflated “fenders” hanging over the starboard side.  This is where we’ll be tying alongside. (I took the next 3 shots from the Fairweather as 1010 approached on a different day.) As the launch approaches, the person on the bow will throw a line to the forward line handler.  Notice there’s not a whole lot of room up there as well as the extended arm ready to catch the line.  That bow line has a mark on it which lets the line handler on Fairweather know where to temporarily tie off the line.  Then the stern line is then thrown to another line handler. Once the launch is positioned properly (no easy task in rolling seas) the hoists are lowered to the launch where they are clamped onto lifting eyes.  Each of the clamps on the boat falls5 weighs close to 40 pounds – that’s why in deck ops everyone wears hardhats – and is controlled by both the winch operator and two more line handlers using “frapping lines6.” (in the picture to the left, as the launch approaches, you can see the boat falls, clamps and frapping lines.)  Once the clamps are secured, the launch is lifted to the deck rail and the crew gets off, and the launch is lifted back to its cradle.

Piece of cake!  Realize, however, that this simply and cleanly executed maneuver, requires: On the Fairweather: 4 line handlers The Chief Bosun 1 or 2 surveyors The bridge crew to maintain position (at least 2 people) 2 or 3 deck personnel to unload gear from the launch A Chief Scientist to task the launch The chefs to feed the launch crew On the launch: Person in charge Coxswain 1 winch operator From 14 to 16 people, all working together.  On January 1, 2008, the Fairweather was authorized to paint a black letter “S” on both sides of the ship indicating that she had gone 433 consecutive days without any injuries.  Considering the environment in which Fairweather works and the tasking which requires constant deployment and retrieval of heavy equipment, the “Safety S” is a reflection of her crew and officers.

Personal Log 

What a great day!

Vocabulary 

  1. Soundings – depths measured
  2. PIC – Person In Charge
  3. AST – Assistant Survey Technician
  4. Coxswain – (<O.Fr. coque “canoe” + swain “boy”) Individual who steers a small boat or launch
  5. Boat falls – the lines used to raise and lower boats from a davit
  6. Frapping lines – Lines used to control the boat falls

By the Way 

It’s time to do some laundry!!!  The laundry room is on D-Deck just forward of the fantail.

See you all tomorrow! 

It’s laundry day!
It’s laundry day!

Megan Woodward, July 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Megan Woodward 
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 1 – 18, 2009

Mission: Bering Sea Acoustic Trawl Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea/Dutch Harbor
Date: Tuesday, July 10, 2009

The pollock are carefully loaded onto the table.
The pollock are carefully loaded onto the table.

Weather/Location 
Position: N 56.30.202; W 172.34.37
Air Temp: 7.4 (deg C)
Water Temp: 7.4 (deg C)
Wind Speed: 19 knots
Weather: Overcast

Science and Technology 

Once the fish are onboard a rigorous data collection process begins.  All of the data collected are recorded via instruments linked to a computer network in the fish lab.  Below is a series of photos showing the process used in the fish lab to collect valuable data.

Once the fish are on the table, we carefully look through the fish for any species other than pollock caught in the trawl.  These non-pollock species are sorted into bins and accounted for. The fish are weighed one basket full at a time as they reach the end of the conveyor belt.  Initially, we take a count of how many fish fill one basket.  There is a scale connected to a computer program that records the basket’s weight.

The sorting begins. The pollock are sorted between male and female.
The sorting begins. The pollock are sorted between male and female.

After weighing the pollock, we move on to sorting a sample of approximately 300 fish by sex.  To find the sex of a fish we cut open its belly and look for either male or female reproductive organs. The sexed fish are then placed in the appropriate bin. Next, each pollock from the male/female sort is measured in centimeters.  We use a measuring board linked to a computer that records the size of each fish. There is a small tool in my hand that gets placed at the “v” of the fish tail.  Sensors on the board detect the placement of the measuring wand, and send a length measurement to the computer so it can be recorded.  This program also keeps track of how many fish we measure, so we get an accurate sample count.

The stomach of a pollock is prepared for preservation.
The stomach of a pollock is prepared for preservation.

Several scientists have asked us to collect pollock for various research projects. One project, designed to study the diet of pollock, requires us to sex, measure, weigh and take the stomach of 20 pollock from each haul. A label with all of the information is placed in a bag with the stomach.  They are placed in a freezer for preservation purposes.

Here I am using the measuring board. The stomach of a pollock is prepared for preservation.
Here I am using the measuring board.

We also use a similar process for scientists examining one-year-old pollock. This study asks for the entire fish to be preserved, not a specific organ. In one 12-hour shift there is a maximum of 3 trawls if fish sign is identified in the acoustics lab. Each trawl takes 2 to 3 hours to process. It’s possible another trawl could happen while finishing up the data collection from the previous haul. This makes for a very busy, fish filled shift.

Personal Log 

I was in charge of weighing the fish!
I was in charge of weighing the fish!

Working in the fish lab has provided for a tremendous amount of new learning to take place. I’ve learned to identify species of fish that mix in with pollock (capelin, flatfish, skate and cod), and have seen several crustaceans and jellyfish, too.  All of the measuring technology has been straight forward and user friendly. Sexing the fish has been the most difficult job, but has become easier with practice. Examining the innards to identify male or female reproductive organs seems nearly impossible in the young fish, and it’s not always clear in the older fish.

Today I was in charge of weighing the fish as they came down the conveyor belt. I was certainly mistaken when I thought it would be a simple task. First off, I had to count the fish as they dropped into the basket at a speed faster than I could count. At the same time I had to control the speed of the belt and open the gate so more fish would move down the line.  When the basket was full, I stopped the belt and placed the full (semi-accurately counted) basket on the scale and waited for the scale’s “steady” signal to come on.  Since the boat is constantly in motion the steady light rapidly blinks on and off. It took me three tries before I managed to get the basket weighed.  Meanwhile the rest of the team patiently waited.  Maybe I’ll give it another try tomorrow.

This average sized skate was flapping his wings making him difficult to hold. Look closely at the fish on the conveyor belt and you will see hermit crabs and seastars.
This average sized skate was flapping his wings making him difficult to hold. Look closely at the fish on the conveyor belt and you will see hermit crabs and seastars.

Basketstars were brought up in a bottom trawl. Hermit crabs and snails were also caught in the bottom trawl.
Basketstars were brought up in a bottom trawl.

Hermit crabs and snails were also caught in the bottom trawl.
Hermit crabs and snails were also caught in the trawl.

Animals Seen 

  • Minke Whale
  • Skate
  • Pacific Cod
  • Tanner Crab
  • Snow Crab
  • Basketstar
  • Sturgeon Poacher
  • Snails
  • Hermit Crabs
  • Arrow Tooth Flounder

John Schneider, July 9, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 9, 2009

Position 
Shumagin Islands

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Barometer: 1022.3
Wind: light & variable
Temperature: 12.1ºC
Sea State: <1 foot

This top of this picture shows the area that has been surveyed, and the bottom half has not been surveyed yet.
This top of this picture shows the area that has been surveyed, and the bottom half has not been surveyed yet.

Science and Technology Log 

While part of the survey crew was doing more bottom sampling, launches 1010 and 1018 were deployed to acquire other data from areas ranging between 5 and 15 miles away.  The launch deployments today were for 8 hours and the chefs prepare to-go lunches for the crews. The Fairweather is well-suited to its task here in the Shumagins.  The crew is experienced at this and it shows. While the launches are away gathering data close to shorelines, the ship sails backand-forth across wide swaths of open ocean using the multi-beam sonar to document depth.  Some members of the crew call this “mowing the lawn” which is a perfect analogy (I like to think of it more like a Zamboni cutting the ice in a hockey rink!)

The swath covered by the multi-beam sonar can extend to 75º up from vertical on each side of the ship. As you can see in the picture, the top half of the screen is green. This is an area that has been surveyed with Multi-Beam Echo Sounders (MBES).  The white at the bottom is bottom that has not been surveyed. Fairweather is sailing a course from East to West on the screen and the MBES is sweeping a path indicated on the screen in orange. The colors are significant – they represent different depths. (If you look closely you can see a color bar on the left of the screen. Red=shallow, blue=deep.) the number on the right is the depth in meters.  Fairweather does all its bathymetry (<Greek bottom/depth + measure) in meters as they are the units of scientific analysis. Hopefully in the next few days I’ll get to have a better understanding.  Right now it kind of glazes over  . . . too much input! 

Deck Maintenance

Look Carefully - Blue writing!
Look Carefully – Blue writing!

A ship the size of the Fairweather (230 feet, 7 decks) has an enormous amount of maintenance required just to keep it ship-shape. The permanent crew of AB’s (Able Bodied Seaman,) engineers, stewards and officers keep the Fairweather spotless and running flawlessly. This morning there was need for a modification to a pulley used to deploy the bottom sampler.  It was constructed in a short amount of time. The marine environment is merciless on steel and the ship is constantly being stripped of old paint, primed and repainted.  Doing this requires that the old finish be removed with a “needle gun” which is a compressed air powered tool consisting of a 1.5cm diameter head of about 25 “needles.” The “needles” are more like 1 mm flathead finishing nails that bounce on the surface like mini-jackhammers.

By impacting the surface thousands of times a minute, old paint is loosened from the underlying steel and chips off. The really cool aspect of this is that the underlying steel isn’t even dented!  When I started on this piece of steel it was painted with one layer of primer and two layers of white paint.  Now it’s down to bare metal and the markings from the original construction of the davit are clearly legible! After being stripped, a coat of anti-oxidation paint is applied, then primer, then one or more coats of paint. The crew never stops and the condition of the Fairweather is a testament to their diligence.

Personal Log 

The weather is absolutely perfect. It is sunny, warm, calm seas.  I’m sure it can be (and probably will be) worse at some time during the trip, but for now everyone is soaking it all in!  The Fairweather has a ship’s store with some snacks, necessities, T-shirts and other items.  It’s open periodically (announced on the PA) and I’ll be sure to hit it up before leaving Dutch Harbor (but I’ve got to get to an ATM – they don’t take American Express.)  😉

Animals (or other cool stuff!) Observed Today 

Whales about a mile off the bow – not close enough to see well – brittle stars, tube worms, more coral(!) and the daily dose of sea birds. This morning there was a bit of time when some fog was rolling over a mountain island about 10 miles away and it looked like the fog was just cascading over the top from the other side.  Gorgeous!

John Schneider, July 8, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 8, 2009

Position 
Small boat/launch operations vicinity; Herendeen Island (Shumagin Islands Group)

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: light & variable
Temperature: 12.7ºC
Sea State: 1 foot

National Ocean Service Benchmark
National Ocean Service Benchmark

Science and Technology Log 

Today I’ll be heading out on the Ambar (an aluminum hulled inflatable) to check on a tide gauge off Herendeen Island.  It might get chilly being off the Fairweather, but the weather has been fantastic since we left. Waves <1 foot, winds below 5 or 6 knots.  Weather actually got better as we went to the tide station.  (I’ll try to get a good shot of each of the launches.) The tide station is a remarkably simple in concept, yet a terribly complex operation to execute. A month ago, Fairweather personnel installed a tide station on Herendeen Island. This involved sending a launch to the island where personnel did the following setup work:

The tide gauge interface being downloaded to a weather/shockproof laptop computer
The tide gauge interface being downloaded to a weather/shockproof laptop computer

  1.  Drill a 1/2 inch hole 3” deep into a solid piece of granite and set a bronze bench mark into it.
  2. Drill 3 more holes into a huge granite boulder at the water’s edge. Construct, on that boulder, a vertical tide gauge with markings every centimeter, ensuring that the bottom of the gauge is both lower and higher than the tide should go.
  3. Precisely and accurately determine the height of the benchmark in relationship to the heights on the tide gauge.
  4. Send a diver down below the lowest tide levels and install a nitrogen-fed orifice connected to a hose and secure it to the sea floor.
  5. Connect the hose to a pressurized tank of nitrogen on shore.
  6. Install a solar power panel near the station with a southern exposure.
  7. Install the data acquisition interface. This piece of equipment forces a single nitrogen bubble out of the orifice every six minutes (one-tenth of an hour) and measures the pressure it takes to release the bubble which is then used to calculate the depth of the water (as a function of pressure.)

Collected data are automatically sent by satellite to NOAA. A month later, the survey team re-visits the site and performs a series of 10 visual observations coordinated with the automated sequences of the nitrogen bubble data recorder.  These visual observations are then compared to the automated data acquired.  If their statistical differences are within accepted parameters, the data are considered valid and will be used further.  If not, the data are discarded and collection is re-started. 

It's a little weird to see the Ambar leave after dropping us off on an island that has seen very few footprints!
It’s a little weird to see the Ambar leave after dropping us off on an island that has seen very few footprints!

Not only is the process painstaking, but the technology and Research & Development needed to design the equipment must have been extremely difficult. However, given the amount of our nation’s dependence on marine commerce and movement of goods, it is time and effort more than well spent. Once we returned to the ship, I was able to lend a hand on the fantail (that’s the aft area of the deck where a LOT of work gets done) where the survey team was collecting samples of the ocean bottom.  Bottom sapling is done at specific locations proscribed by NOAA guidelines for coastal waters.  It is important for mariners to know the type of bottom in an area in case they need to anchor or engage in commercial fishing. 

Bottom samples are collected using a Shipek Grab.  This 130-pound tool captures a 3-liter sample of the bottom. The scoop is spring loaded on the surface and when it strikes the bottom a very heavy weight triggers the scoop to close, picking up about 1/25 of a square meter of bottom. Bottom characteristics are then recorded with the position and will eventually be placed on nautical charts.  Sometimes even small animals get caught in the grab. Today we saw brittle stars, tube worms and a couple of little crabs.  However, the biggest surprise to me was finding numerous small pieces of CORAL in the samples!  I certainly did not expect to see coral in ALASKAN waters!

Personal Log 

A piece of coral on a pebble.  (It's on a 3x5 file card for scale.)
A piece of coral on a pebble. (It’s on a 3×5 file card for scale.)

Lest you think that it’s all work and no play, we anchored tonight after a 12 hour+ work day.  With sunset at around 2330 hrs (11:30) there was still time for some fishing (nothing was kept but we caught a couple small halibut) and movies in the conference room.  There are movies aboard almost every night as well as closed circuit images from 4 areas of the ship.  I’ve also started taking pictures of the menu board every night but won’t post all of them because of space limits on my file size – besides, you all simply wouldn’t believe how well we are fed on the Fairweather. Just as an example: how does blackened salmon wraps sound for lunch??? Oh yeah!!! (You have permission to be jealous!)

Coming back, the Fairweather, after being out of sight from the Ambar, is a welcome sight!
Coming back, the Fairweather, after being out of sight from the Ambar, is a welcome sight!

Animals (or other cool stuff!) Observed Today 

Saw a whale in the distance, quite far off, just before lunch. Two seals a couple hundred meters aft of the port quarter. While at the tide station we saw two whales’ spouts near the shoreline, one seal poked his big ol’ head up from the kelp bed and checked us out a couple of times, saw a bunch of loons, cormorants and puffins, and while at the tide station, Dave Francksen (a very helpful member of the survey team) caught sight of an octopus. 

This octopus was about 2 feet across from tentacle-tip to tentacle-tip and changed color when it got over the spotted light-colored rocks.
This octopus was about 2 feet across from tentacle-tip to tentacle-tip and changed color when it got over the spotted light-colored rocks.

Questions for Your Investigation 

What phylum and class are octopi?  Are Brittle Stars?

What “day shape” does the Fairweather display when anchored?  When conducting survey operations?

What do you call the kitchen on board a vessel?

Megan Woodward, July 5, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Megan Woodward 
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 1 – 18, 2009

Mission: Bering Sea Acoustic Trawl Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea/Dutch Harbor
Date: Tuesday, July 5, 2009

Weather/Location 
Position: N 58.37.239; W 171.05.968
Air Temp:  4.5-6.0 (deg C)
Water Temp:  4.94 (deg C)
Wind Speed: 16 knots
Weather: Overcast and rainy

This is the screen I use to get info about our ship’s location.  The little white speck inside the red oval is our ship.
This is the screen I use to get info about our ship’s location. The little white speck inside the red oval is our ship.

Science and Technology Log 

We have been at sea now for almost five days in search of pollock. The fish had not been spotted on the lines we traveled on until today. We had the opportunity for our first pollock trawl around 02:00, and used the Methot net to bring in two zooplankton samples earlier in my shift. This was by far the most action yet.  I was eager and ready to see what the fishing process was all about. This log will focus on the zooplankton samples.

The Methot net was put in the water and lowered to the desired depth determined by watching the location of the acoustic return. After twenty minutes the net was brought back up and the catch was unloaded.  I was expecting a net full of euphausiids, but the critters were actually collected in a small container on the back end of the net.  The catch was brought into the fish lab and dumped into a bucket so we could separate the other organisms caught in the net (9 jellyfish and 23 tiny pollock in this case). Once the other fish had been removed, we took a sample (a ••• cup scoop) to weigh and count the euphausiids in the sample (sample is shown above). The rest of the catch was also weighed. 

There were 543 euphausiids in the scoop. The weight and number help estimate the amount of euphausiids in the entire catch. We repeated this process again a few hours later. The second sample had almost twice as many euphausiids, 13 jellyfish and fewer than 5 pollock.

The survey tech and skilled fishermen lower the Methot net into the water.
The survey tech and skilled fishermen lower the Methot net into the water.

Personal Log 

Until today, the fishing portion of this trip remained a mystery.  However, I was feeling a little sea sick, okay very sea sick, so it was probably a good thing. We encountered some VERY rough seas with sustained winds ranging from 30-40 knots and swells averaging 17 ft. Some of the swells were much larger; one was rumored to be almost 35 ft. high.  Apparently the rough seas are expected to return tonight and tomorrow. My sea legs are securely fastened, so I am ready to take on whatever the sea has to offer.

When we brought in the first haul of pollock last night, my eyes must have looked like they were going to roll out of my head.  I couldn’t believe how many fish were coming across the conveyor belt. This was what I had been waiting for, so I got on my rain gear and started sorting the fish.  Each species was placed into separate crates so a count of all fish caught could be taken.  Of course, pollock made up the majority of the catch.  In the next few weeks, I will become an expert member of the pollock survey team. Everyone on board, both scientists and crew, have been more than willing to answer my

A sample of zooplankton brought up in the Methot net. These are euphausiids, which are also referred to as krill.
A sample of zooplankton brought up in the Methot net. These are euphausiids, which are also referred to as krill.

Getting used to the 16:00-04:00 (4pm4am) shift has been trying.  Today’s shift was the first that didn’t require a nap.  Due to the odd shift hours, I’ve been waking up at 14:00 (2 pm) and going to bed around 05:00 (5 am).  This makes mealtime tricky.  Dinner is served first, then I eat some breakfast in the middle of the night. My body is thoroughly confused. The ship’s cooks are wonderful, and continually provide a stocked mess hall with loads of choices.  I swear the dessert bar is continually whispering my name. I couldn’t ask for a more kind, welcoming group of people to work questions. One part of this adventure I’m looking forward to is getting to know the wide range of characters who make this important research possible.

It was certainly a thrill to see the first whale of the trip. The pod was spotted just off the bow of the ship andlater seen in the distance.
It was certainly a thrill to see the first whale of the trip. The pod was spotted just off the bow of the ship andlater seen in the distance.

Animals Seen 

  • Fin Whale
  • Jelly Fish
  • Flathead Sole
  • Northern Flathead Sole
  • Arrow tooth Flounder
  • Pollock
  • Yellow Irish Lord
  • Euphausiids

New Vocabulary 

Zooplankton– A very small or microscopic animal organisms possessing little or no power of locomotion (can’t move themselves), leaving them to merely drift or float in the water.

Euphausiids (eu·phau·si·id) – A type of zooplankton, also known as krill, are tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that form an important part in the diet of many animals including whales, seals, fishes and birds. These are the main food source for pollock.

Methot Net  – Methot is the name of the man who designed the style of plankton net we used to catch the euphausiids.

One of several jellyfish brought up in the nets. This guy is slimy and heavy, but not a stinger
One of several jellyfish brought up in the nets. This guy is slimy and heavy, but not a stinger 

Ruth Meadows, June 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ruth S. Meadows
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 
June 12 – July 18, 2009 

Mission: Census of Marine Life (MAR-Eco)
Geographical Area: Mid- Atlantic Ridge; Charlie- Gibbs Fracture Zone
Date: June 19, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 9oC
Humidity: 95%
Wind: 4.36 kts

Scientific and Technology Log 

We are currently working in the pelagic zone of the ocean.  Pelagic refers to the open ocean away from the bottom. The word pelagic comes from a Greek word that means “open ocean”.  The pelagic area is divided by depth into subzones.  .

  • The epipelagic , or sunlit zone, is the top layer where there is enough sunlight for photosynthesis to occur. From 0 – about 200 meters (656 feet)deep
  • The mesopelagic, or twilight zone, receives some light but not enough for plants to grow.  From 200 – 1000 meters (3281 feet)
  • The bathypelagic, or midnight zone, is the deep ocean where no sunlight penetrates. From 1000 – 4000 meters(13,124 feet)
  • The abyssal zone is pitch black, extremely cold and has very high pressure.  From 4000 – 6000 meters.(19,686feet)
  • Hadalpelagic zone is the deepest part of the ocean. These zones are located at trenches where one tectonic plate is being subducted under another plate. 6,000 meters to over 10,000 meters. (35, 797 feet)

Setting up the net that will collect organisms
Setting up the net that will collect organisms

Today we are using a special trawling net to capture organisms that live in the mid-water area around 3000 meters deep. The closed net is lowered slowly from the rear of the ship until it arrives at the correct depth. The length of the wire released is measured by the winches as they unwind. A timer is used to open the cod-ends (containers at the end of the net).  It is then pulled underwater very slowly. The five cod-ends are set to open and close at different times so there will be samples of organisms from different depths.  After a specific amount of time the net is slowly reeled in. It takes about 8 hours to fully deploy and retrieve the trawl.  Each cod-end should have samples from different depths. Once the net is back on board the ship, it is very important that the material collected from each cod-end be kept separate and labeled correctly.

All the blue buckets contain various organisms
All the blue buckets contain various organisms

The second trawl came in around 4:30 in the afternoon. We were really excited to see the organisms that were collected in each of the cod-ends. Each container was emptied into a large bucket and a picture was taken to record the catch. One set of material was left out to begin sorting and the other containers were put into the freezer to remain cold.  David Shale, the professional photographer for the cruise, selected the best samples to use for his photographs. Then the actual sorting began. Several of us would do a rough sort, all the crustaceans (different types of shrimp-like animals) in one container, fishes in another, and jellyfishes in another. After the rough sort then the final sort is started (dividing all the organisms into groups by specie or family). 

Certain types of organisms were abundant – hundreds of them, others were rarer – only one or two of each species. As soon as we are finished with one species, information about them is entered into the computer (number, length, mass) and then the organism is saved for later investigations by either freezing or placing in a preservative.  A printed label is included in all samples so they can be identified by name, depth and location of trawl.

Personal Log 

A viperfish
A viperfish

Everyone on board the ship is always interested in any sightings of marine mammals.  The officer on the bridge will often announce to the lounge area if he spots any type of animal, “Whales off the bow.”  As soon as the announcement comes on, we bolt out of the lounge to the outside as fast as we can.  Sometimes you are fast enough and sometimes you aren’t. The dolphins usually are the easiest to spot as they swim in groups and surface frequently as they are swimming.  The whales, however, are a little more difficult to see.  They are usually far off so the distance makes them difficult to spot.  When they surface, the spray from the blowhole is usually your first indication of where they are.  After that, most of them dive again and you may not get a second chance to see them.  So far the type of whales spotted have been pilot whales, sei whales and a sperm whale.  They knew it was a sperm whale because the spray from the blowhole was at an angle. It is much more difficult to see these animals than I thought it would be. It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack – a very big haystack…

 Mastigoteuthis agassizii Squid
Mastigoteuthis agassizii Squid

Did You Know? 

The Mola mola is the heaviest known bony fish in the world.  It eats primarily jellyfish which doesn’t have a lot of nutrition in is so they have to eat LOTS of them.  It looks like a fish with only a head and a tail, no middle part.

Dr. Mike Vecchione took this picture of a Mola mola, a very large ocean sunfish, at the beginning of the cruise off the coast of Rhode Island.
Dr. Mike Vecchione took this picture of a Mola mola, a very large ocean sunfish, at the beginning of the cruise off the coast of Rhode Island.

Mary Patterson, June 17-19, 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 17-19, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Overcast
Wind 15 kts
8 mi visibility
Pressure 999.5 mb
Dry Bulb Temp 6.7 C Wet bulb 5.6 C
Seas 0-1 ft.
Water temp 6.7C, 44 F

Here I am getting ready to cast the CTD.
Here I am getting ready to cast the CTD.

Science and Technology Log 

While the weather holds, we head out on the launches to survey areas that are not charted or were last charted probably back in the time of Captain Cook. After the boats are lowered using gravity davits, 4 boats head out to survey. Upon reaching the survey area, the first thing that gets done is a casting. This consists of lowering the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) unit into the water at the surface for 2 minutes for calibration. Then it’s lowered to the sea floor (taking measurements as it goes) and brought back up to the surface with a winch and a pulley system. The sensor unit is cabled to the computer and the data is downloaded. This is a vital step in interpreting the sonar data. Since saltwater conducts electricity differently based on the salt concentration, using the CTD gives the hydrographer information about sound velocity at different depths.

Velocity of sound is most affected by temperature, which is also measure by the CTD.  Next, the hydrographer decides whether to use the high or low frequency transmitter depending on the depth. The hydrographer uses a lower frequency for deeper water.  Casting is often done again after lunch since temperatures can change, especially at the surface. Alaska is known for the confluence of fresh and salt water at the surface due to melting glaciers and fresh water runoff. The MVP (moving vessel profile), is another device used for sound velocity. It looks like a torpedo and it’s towed behind the boat allowing for continuous casting.

The shape of a plane has more points than a boat so is a good way to use points to line up a survey transect.
The shape of a plane has more points than a boat so is a good way to use points to line up a survey transect.

The plane you see on the picture is used instead of a boat because of the position of the GPS sensor relative to the shape. The coxswain can make the plane pivot on a point as they line up on a line to survey. On the survey, the map is broken down into polygons. Each sheet manager gets a sheet with their polygons to survey. Surveying consists of the coxswain driving the boat as they watch the computer screen. As they drive, the screen shows in real-time a swath of color indicating the swath of the beams. After surveying, the boats return to the ship and are hoisted back up onto the davits. All survey techs meet in the wardroom to discuss what happened on their survey. The Captain and FOO (Field Operation Officer) ask questions about what was surveyed and any problems they had with any equipment. This is a true community of scientists who share data and knowledge.

Worksheet with polygons completed
Worksheet with polygons completed

Personal Log 

We load the launches at 8:00 am and complete surveys until noon.  We break for lunch and unpack the ice chest packed by the cooks for us. It’s always a surprise to see what we have! Then we continue surveying until about 4:00 pm when we return back to the ship. I have had the opportunity to cast the CTD unit into the water, drive the launch and collect the data on the computers. The coxswains make driving the boat following the lines on the computer look so easy! Especially in rough seas, the coxswains do an amazing job of helping the survey techs collect data. Again, good communication is a key! I’ve also seen how the techs have to problem- solve on a daily basis.

One day we got into the launch and the engine wouldn’t start and the coxswain had to troubleshoot the problem. Another day, several boats had problems with their CTD units and they had to repeat trials several times. When you are 12 miles away from the nearest help, it’s crucial to have good problem-solving skills. After dinner, there’s time to finish writing journals, do laundry, fish off the fantail, watch a movie, play guitar hero or exercise in the gym area. Then, it’s time for bed and the day will start over again. If you are not on a survey launch, you work in the night processing lab compiling the data collected by the survey techs during the day’s launch. This includes applying various filters to clean up the “noise” or fuzziness from the sonar. The coolest part is seeing the data in three dimensions. After the data is cleaned up, the sheet managers write up a descriptive report that gets sent to Pacific Hydrographic Branch. This ship is a great example of a system: there are many separate parts that when combined with other parts, complete a task. 

Pavolf and Pavlof’s Sister are active volcanoes.
Pavolf and Pavlof’s Sister are active volcanoes.

Each night at 10 pm, fellow Teacher at Sea –Jill Stephens and I go to the bridge and collect weather data that is transmitted directly to NOAA. Although the days have started off hazy and grey, by evening we often see sunshine that lasts until 11:00 pm. This part of Alaska is breathtaking! I love watching the volcanoes, Pavlov and Pavlov’s sister, in different types of light.

Animals Seen 

Whales, Puffins, and Sea gulls.

New Word of the Day 

Cavitation: The sudden formation and collapse of low-pressure bubbles in liquids by means of mechanical forces, such as those resulting from rotation of a marine propeller. 

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  
Overcast
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. 

Elise Olivieri, May 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elise Olivieri
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp 
May 9 – 20, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic
Date: May 17, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air Temperature: 13.61 Degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1012 mb
Humidity: 97 %

Here you can see the many different sizes of sea scallops.
Here you can see the many different sizes of sea scallops.

Science and Technology Log 

So Far the sea scallop survey has collected 76,170 sea scallops which can also be expressed as 9,251 kilograms.  This is a tremendous amount of scallops and the survey is not even a third of the way complete.  At stations where crabs and starfish were sampled we have collected 8,678 cancer crabs and 279,768 starfish (Asterias) so far. Without a reliable database like FSCS it would be impossible to keep up with such a large amount of information.

Today I got a chance to talk with Shad Mahlum.  He is a seagoing technician for NOAA and was born and raised in Montana. He has experience working with freshwater surveys.  In the past years he has studied how beaver dams influence native and non-native species of freshwater fish.  Shad also spent some time looking at various cattle grazing strategies and how they affect food chains. Shad loves working on the open ocean and the physical process of sea scallop surveys.  Shad hopes to work with freshwater and saltwater projects in the future.

Here I am holding a scallop and a Red Hake.
Here I am holding a scallop and a Red Hake.

As I was gazing out into the deep blue sea a very large animal caught my eye.  I was so excited to see another Finback Whale.  They are the second largest animal on earth after the Blue Whale.  They are known to grow to more than 85 feet. Finbacks are indifferent to boats. They neither approach them nor avoid them.  Finback Whales dive to depths of at least 755 feet. They can grow anywhere from 30-80 tons. Finbacks eat Krill, fish and squid and their population