Ellen O’Donnell: All Good Things Come to an End, May 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: North Atlantic Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean; Georges Basin heading back to Woods Hole
Date: May 23, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge: Light winds, fog, ocean swells between 3 to 5 feet.

Science and Technology Log:

Tropical Storm Alberto brought in a low pressure system so Tuesday evening we headed back to Provincetown to wait out the effects. It takes about 12 hours to get between Georges Basin and Provincetown. We spent the day in port and everyone caught up on work and reading. It was a welcome rest from the excitement of the past 4 days.

Beth Josephson consolidating ocean survey data from around the US

Tuesday evening we pulled up anchor and headed back out to our right whale spot. Unfortunately, the fog creeped in and it was decided to head back to Woods Hole and cut our survey short. I have to say I am disappointed, but Mother Nature isn’t always cooperative and you can’t beat our previous successful days. While my trip is just about over, the scientists still have a great deal to do. The photos need to be matched up with known right whale individuals, whale poop and biopsies need to be analyzed, and reports need to be written. Data collection is very important, but don’t forget you need to handle the data correctly in order to make correct conclusions.

Being a NOAA scientist is a very exciting career. For many of these folks, this research survey was one of many. Two of our group will be doing an aerial survey next week searching for previously tagged seals. Other future trips include going to New Zealand on a southern right whale survey trip, and a trip to Alaska on an arctic ocean mammal survey. These people not only get to travel around the world, but they are top in their field and really making a difference in conserving our ocean environment. I feel incredibly lucky to have been one of their team on this survey cruise. It has definitely been an opportunity of a lifetime.

The scientist crew aboard the Delaware II including me!

Personal Log:

It has been fascinating learning about NOAA. While I have always heard of this organization, and even used their materials for lesson plans, I never fully understood its place in our government until now.

 NOAA’s Mission:

Science, Service, and Stewardship
To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts,
To share that knowledge and information with others, and
To conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources

So I have mentioned three key groups that are important to this organization; the scientists, the NOAA Commissioned Corps, and the wage mariners. I already mentioned the scientists so now I’ll explain about the NOAA  Corps. The NOAA  Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. Officers operate ships, fly aircraft, facilitate research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. To be eligible for the NOAA corps you need to have a baccalaureate degree, preferably in a major course of study related to NOAA’s scientific or technical activities. You also need a certain number of science and math course work hours while at college. Once accepted, recruits attend a 4-5 month training camp, and then are placed on a 2 to 3 year permanent assignment aboard a NOAA research vessel. Here is a link to a great video which describes the NOAA Officer Corps program. If only I were younger! http://www.corpscpc.noaa.gov/flash/recruit_video.html

Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Sean Cimilluca

Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Rick Hester and Ensign Junie Cassone on the bridge

You can also be a part of NOAA by becoming a wage mariner. Wage mariners are civilians who perform various functions within NOAA. Civilian vessel jobs include deck mates, engineers, stewards, survey and electronic technicians. I talked about several of these groups in my previous blogs. The wage mariner program is a great way to see the world without joining the Corps. Some wage mariners stay with one vessel for many years, whereas others put themselves in a pool where they travel to whatever ship may need them. Here is a link to watch a video about the wage mariner program. http://www.moc.noaa.gov/shipjobs/WMvideos/WMv3_Complete_640x480_Caps.mov

So it’s hard to believe my trip is coming to an end. I can’t thank NOAA enough for this opportunity and I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned into the classroom. This has been a rich experience for me that I will never forget. Memories of trying to walk normally on a rocking ship, to getting within 15 feet of a right whale, and working with these dedicated people will be with me for the rest of my life!

Right Whale in front of the Delaware II

Ellen O’Donnell: The Right Place, May 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Georges Basin
Date: May 21 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Wind at 4 knots, fog with relative humidity around 97%

Science and Technology Log:

Yesterday we started out the day in Canadian Waters. We were about 50-60 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Remember to track me using the NOAA Ship Tracker. The day started off very quickly. I was on the first shift at 7 AM and we started seeing right whales within 30 minutes. I stayed on watch while the first group went out in the little gray boat. From the flybridge, we were seeing right whale blows from west to east across our bow. It was a calm day so you could really see the indicative v-shaped blow.  The first group collected data from 11 whales and biopsied one of them. At one point we radioed the group on the boat because we had around 8 right whales within sight. They radioed back that they were working one whale and had four more close by!  Around lunchtime we switched out the crews and I got to go out again on the little boat.

It is so hard to describe my experience on that boat, but I will give it my best shot. We had right whales all around us. One swam right toward our boat and then veered off at the last minute. At one point we were trying to collect data on around 8 whales who were close to us. The majority were echelon feeding on the surface so it was easy to take pictures. It was not easy, however, to keep individuals separate as they kept swapping places or moving off to join another group close by. Allison Henry, is the biologist in charge of identifying the right whales, and she is amazing. We would come up on a whale and she would say, “Nope, already got him, he was letter H!” (We identify the whales by the alphabet as you go along. In other words, the first is A, then B, etc). So not only could she keep track of the whales we identified, but she often knew which letter we had given it! So to give you an idea of the number of whales we saw that day, our last whale was UU. Some of these whales are most likely duplicates, but that’s still a pile of whales. Peter Duley, our chief scientist dubbed this spot, “the honey pot.” Another really interesting thing was that the ocean was just full of whales where we were, but they were almost all right whales. We just saw the occasional sei whale here and there.

As I mentioned before right whales are identified by large patches of rough tissue called callosities. Calves begin to show these patches shortly after birth, and are usually well established by 7-10 months. These patches are unique to individual whales, and therefore, are used to identify them. The patches themselves are dark, but they become infected by cyamids, otherwise known as “whale lice,” which make them look lighter. I hope all you school nurses are getting a good look at this. You think you have an epidemic!

Right whale showing callosities and cyamids up close

Look at these pairs of  right whales and tell me how you would describe each in a way that you would know them if you saw them again. There is a pair of two right heads and two pictures showing left heads. They are from 4 different individuals. I have a prize for the person from DCS that gives the best description! (I think we can probably come up with another prize for those of you at Hall Memorial school in CT. Right Mrs. Rodriguez?)

To help you with this challenge you might want to play this whale identification game by the New England Aquarium

http://www.neaq.org/education_and_activities/games_and_activities/online_games/right_whale_identification_games.php

Right whale in Georges Basin (right head)

Right whale in Georges Basin (right head)

Right whale in Georges Basin (left head)

Right whale in Georges Basin (left head)

Personal Log:

Chris O’Keefe, Chief Engineer, and Grady Abney, 1st Engineer, explain to me how the ship is powered

A ship isn’t going to go anywhere if you don’t power it. I spoke with Chief Engineer Chris O’Keefe and 1st Engineer Grady Abney about how the Delaware II operates. Chris has been with NOAA for 35 years and Grady has been with NOAA for 25 years. Grady took me into the bowels of the ship and gave me a tour of the systems. It’s like another world down there, full of equipment, and loud noise with a small walkway running through. The Delaware II is run by a 125 HP engine. It uses diesel fuel and the ship carries about 28,000 gallons which will last between one or two months. On a day when we are stopped most of the time, like yesterday when we were surveying whales from the little boat it will use about 500 gallons. When we are going at a steady pace we will burn around 1200 gallons. Grady tells me that this is great fuel efficiency compared to some of the newer ships that may burn as much as 5000 gallons a day.

Chris explained one of the really cool things that the Delaware II has: a desalination unit. This is a process where filtered saltwater is brought in and boiled in an evaporator. The water is under high pressure so that it boils at 160 degrees F. The steam is collected in a condenser where it is cooled and turns back into water, but without the salt. Remember how we separated salt from water in our labs? The ship needs to be moving in order to generate the fresh water and at a steady pace the Delaware makes about 1500 gallons a day. The generation of fresh water is something that the engineers log through-out the day.

Engine control room on the Delaware II

Another interesting thing that Grady explained to me is how the ship can be run from the engine room instead of the bridge. This is a back-up in case there are problems with the ship. I had a lot of fun talking to Chris and Grady. You can see they enjoy their jobs and are very capable in what they do. Good thing for all of us!

Ellen O’Donnell: There’s a Lot of Food in the Ocean and One More Whale to Feed! May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: North Atlantic Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean; Franklin Basin
Date: May 20, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge: Light winds, slightly overcast, ocean swells between 3 to 5 feet.

Science and Technology Log:

We spent the night out at sea and today and we worked the Franklin Basin. It is about 120 miles from Cape Cod. At first we didn’t see many whales, but things started picking up by lunchtime. We launched the little gray boat shortly after to get close to the right whales we were seeing. While I didn’t go on the gray boat today, many of the whales came right up to the ship. It was another amazing day and we were quite successful.

Copepod (photo: at-sea.org)

I have seen so many different ways that the whales catch their prey. I asked the question last time, “Why do sei and right whales often appear together?” This is because they like the same food. Both whales eat copepods. Copepods are tiny crustaceans that range from microscopic to a quarter of an inch. Crustaceans are invertebrates which are related to lobster, shrimp and crabs. They eat diatoms and plankton, which are even smaller! They are the most abundant species on earth and are important in many ocean food webs.

Cool Fact from the Monterey Bay Aquarium: A single copepod may eat from 11,000 to 373,000 diatoms in 24 hours!

So sei and right whales feed on these tiny abundant organisms, which is amazing given their size. Humpbacks and fin whales also filter feed, but they eat krill (another tiny crustacean), plankton and small fish. Humpbacks can consume up to 3,000 pounds of food a day.

Sei and right whale feeding in same area (photo: Genevive Davis)

All of these whales are called baleen whales because they filter their prey out of the water as they move through it. Right whales and sei whales surface feed a lot. They are close to the surface slowly moving through the water filtering out copepods. Often they are seen feeding side by side.

Sometimes right whales do what is called echelon feeding. One whale is up front and then whales along each side create a V-shape. The whales to the side of the one in front pick up prey that didn’t make it into the forward whale’s mouth. We saw a great example of echelon feeding right from the ship. There were six right whales slowly swimming in this V-shape. Every once in a while, if one got out of formation, they would swim back toward the V and turn and get back in formation.

Right Whales Echelon Feeding

Humpback whales also use a method for catching prey. When we got close to the humpback, Slumber, the other day, we noticed large bubbles rising to the surface. This is called bubble feeding. Humpbacks create large bubbles to trap and herd fish. Often they do this in groups.

Mother and new calf (photo: Jenn Gatzke)

So while watching the different whales, and how they feed was very interesting, this was not the most exciting thing. These surveys are important because they keep track of vital information needed to develop good conservation plans. Therefore, information such as where the individual whales are, which females breed, where they breed, and how many calves are born is important.

We identified around 17 whales yesterday and found one that one had not been biopsied. This whale was then biopsied so its information can go into the database. We also saw two mothers and their calves. Right whales typically give birth to their calves after a 12 month gestation period, off the coast of Georgia or North Florida.

This year only six calves were born and one died. This number is not good as biologists hope to have the number of calves born in the double digits. So you can imagine how happy everyone was when we identified a female who hadn’t been seen since 2010 with a new calf! We were able to get a biopsy from the calf as well, which will not only give genetic information from the skin, but also information on contaminants from the mother since it is still nursing. But I’m not finished yet! The icing on the cake was that the baby whale also released some fecal matter. Yes that’s right…whale poop! This may not seem important to you, but the whale biologists were ecstatic. The collected whale poop, yes it was collected in a bucket, gives a wealth of information, such as what it has been eating and the level of contaminants in the calves body.  Adult whale poop also gives hormonal information.  All in all it was a very successful day of collecting important data on right whales.

Relaxing after a hard day’s work

NOAA Scientists Peter Duley and Allison Henry scoop whale poop into a collection bag to be later analyzed

Personal Log 

NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Their reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as they work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them. Obviously the ocean is a big part of our environment. NOAA vessels have differing focuses on the data they collect from the ocean.  The Delaware II is a fisheries vessel. It goes out on various research cruises, which collect data on different organisms within our oceans. As you know they perform right whale cruises, like the one I am on now, but they also perform other studies as well. Midwater trawling is done for studies on herring. Large nets are pulled along the boat at mid-water level, and the data collected gives information on the distribution and abundance of herring. Deep water trawls with nets are done to collect scallops and clams, and determine their relative abundance and distribution. Shark cruises collect sharks by sending out a line with baited hooks. The sharks collected are tagged and released. Lastly, the Delaware II performs ichthyoplanktic studies, which collect eggs and larvae from various species of fish.

Jim Pontz (left) and Todd Wilson (right) getting the trawl net ready (photo: Delaware II)

Herring catch (photo: Delaware II)

Clam and Scallop Survey (photo: Delaware II)

Shark Tag and Release Survey (photo: Delaware II)

It is the deck crew that helps make this possible. Acting Chief Boatswain and Head Fisherman, Todd Wilson heads up a 5-man crew, who not only take care of all ship maintenance, with the exception of the engine, but serve as night-time lookouts, and operators of the fisheries equipment. We rely on them to get the little gray boat in and out of the water, which takes a lot of coordination, and they are always there to help you if you need it.

Launching the little gray boat

Ellen O’Donnell: Whales Up Close, May 18, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Georges Bank
Date: May 18, 2012

Weather observations: Light and variable winds not over 5 knots. Seas with mixed swells from 4 – 7 feet. High pressure system. Partly cloudy

Last night the ship crew worked as we slept. They take conductivity, temperature and pressure readings, through the use of a CTD monitor, which ultimately gives us information on the salinity and depth of the water. The ship ran set transects through the water deploying the CTD monitor at various locations along the transect, collecting this information.

The ship was really rocking and rolling all night long and I woke up at 5:30 AM not feeling very well, and knowing I had to get some fresh air. So I went up on the fly deck, this is where we make our whale observations, and sat up there and watched the sunrise. The ocean is so beautiful and I find myself very drawn to it. It can be a beautiful place and it can be one filled with raw power. Luckily for me today it was on the peaceful side. Looking out at the horizon I can understand why people thought the world was flat. It really does look as if you will reach the end and fall off. As I was waiting for my shift, I saw three whales in the distance, either fin or sei whales, and several Atlantic white striped dolphins. I thought nothing could get better than that. Boy was I wrong!

We started our watch at 7AM and started to see whales very quickly. Even though there were large swells there were no whitecaps. We saw minke, which are small whales, because they swam along the ship. We also saw sei, fin and humpback whales. Around 11:00AM we saw our first group of right whales and that’s when the real fun began.

Today I got to go in the little gray boat and we sped across the water to get close-up shots of whales.

Me getting ready to take pictures

Biologists Jamison Smith and Jen Gatzke help direct the small boat from the flybridge (photo: Genevive Davis)

There is a list of right whales that need biopsies. A biopsy is when you shoot a dart into the back of the whale and get a small piece of skin and blubber. Typically, there is little response from the whales when you do this. You could probably equate it to a mosquito bite for us. The skin biopsy is then analyzed for the genetic code, or DNA, in a lab. This gives scientists an idea of who is related to whom, in the whale world, so to speak. Through this data they have found that there are a small number of male right whales fathering the calves. Why? At this point they don’t know but you can sure whale biologists are trying to figure this out. The blubber is immediately preserved and then it too is analyzed. However, the blubber is analyzed to determine the possible level of contaminants in the whale.

Two right whales together close to our boat

We took close up shots of both the left and right heads of each whale and checked to make sure it wasn’t one we needed to biopsy. Remember, you identify right whales by their callosities. While we didn’t find any that needed biopsies, we got close to eleven right whales! We got close to one group of three right whales who were following each other like a train. One head would come up, then the body, then the fluke went up and it would go under. Just as the first whale went under the second came up right by the first’s fluke, did the same thing, and then the third. It was fascinating. It also gets a bit confusing trying to identify all three animals and making sure you have the correct pictures. The scientists are great at sorting through the information quickly and trying to keep track of the individuals.

At one point we were tracking a right whale and it was surrounded by sei whales feeding in the same location. We had about 10 whales all around us and at times it was hard to follow our right whale because we had to wait for the sei whales to get out of our way! It was amazing we could really see how they fed close up (more on their feeding methods in the next blog). Sei whales have a very different head and of course the dorsal fin I mentioned before. They are very sleek and streamlined looking whereas, I feel the right whales look more like the hippopotamuses of the ocean!

Sei Whale (photo Allison Henry 5/18/12)

Right whale looking like a hippo

Very little is know about sei whales, which are also endangered species, so effort is being made to start biopsying them. Therefore, while we were out there, Peter Duley, our chief scientist biopsied a sei whale. He uses a cross-bow with an arrow, that is designed to cut a small piece of blubber. Pete hit the whale on the first try. It was a great shot!

Peter Duley NOAA biologist targets sei whale (photo: Genevive Davis 5/18/12)

slumber

“Slumber” Humpback whales are identified by their fin patterns

We also got very close to a humpback whale. Humpbacks are identified by the patterns on their flukes. They also have a dorsal fin, but the shape can be quite variable and sometimes is just like a knob. Therefore, they are often mistook as a right whale until you see their fluke. We took pictures of this humpback so that the scientists studying them will get an accurate sighting on where this individual is located. In fact, upon communication with one of the humpback experts we were able to identify this whale which was first identified in 1999 and is called “Slumber”.

On our way back we went near a few basking sharks. These are sharks that are also filter feeders. They just swim slowly with their mouth open and collect any krill in the water. We were just about done, finishing up with our last right whale and he breached in front of us about 30 feet from the boat. It was amazing. We were out on the little gray boat for nearly five hours. It is five hours I will never forget for the rest of my life.

And to top off one of the best days of my life, mother nature decided to give us one spectacular sunset. Life is good.

Sunset off the Delaware II

Personal Log:

Another excellent part of this trip is one I bet a lot of you are thinking about. How is the food? I had heard that the food on board NOAA ships is good, but I wasn’t ready for the exceptional meals I have been served. The food is fantastic! Every night I have had some kind of fish or seafood , although there is always a choice of chicken or beef as well. My family will tell you that although I love seafood, fish is really not my thing. OK, I have officially changed my mind! I have had haddock, swordfish and halibut and every bite was a treat, especially the blackened swordfish with a mango chutney sauce. And meals aren’t everything. There is always some tasty treat hot out of the oven, or fresh fruit, available in between meals.

So why do we have such great meals? Well the credit has to go to John Rockwell, chief steward and Lydell Reed, second cook. John is in charge of purchasing, meal planning, cooking and cleaning. He comes by his culinary ability naturally, as he was raised in the restaurant business, and has an associates degree in culinary arts. He joined the wage mariner program (more on this later) and has been with the Delaware II for six years. Lydell also grew up in the food industry and worked as a sous chef before joining NOAA’s wage mariners.  Lydell has also been with NOAA for six years, but he is in a pool which means he moves around from ship to ship filling in for the second cook slot when needed. Whatever their background, they are amazing in the kitchen and it’s fun to walk down while they’re cooking. They always seem to be having a good time, you never know what music will be playing and there is always a great smell in the air.

John Rockwell and Lydel Reed creating gourmet food

Question of the Day: Why would sei whales and right whales be eating in the same places?

Ellen O’Donnell: Where Am I? May 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Provincetown. MA
Date: May 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Winds out of the Northwest, 5 to 10 knots. Mid-level clouds.Ocean swells 1 to 3 meters

Science and Technology Log:

We pulled up anchor and set sail out of Provincetown, Cape Cod at 6AM. We followed the Cape Coastline for several miles and then headed out to Georges Bank again. Unfortunately, today was windy so the ocean had a lot of whitecaps. In addition, the swells were between 1 to 3 meters throughout the day. This made it hard to spot whales. The wind also disperses their spout very quickly so they are hard to see. Around 3PM the wind lessened such that there were far fewer whitecaps. We started to see more whales but not a lot.

Atlantic White Sided Dolphin (Photo: Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation)

One right whale came close to the ship and we were able to slow the boat down and get several pictures. Other than that we saw fin and sei whales and one minke whale. A bit of excitement for me, though, is that several pods of common Atlantic white sided dolphins swam past the ship. One pod had about 15 dolphins!

Humpback entanglement (photo Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies)

The last time we were out at sea we took the little gray boat out to get closer to the right whales. One of the whales was entangled. Entanglement is when a gillnet, lobster trap or crab pot or any other marine debris gets caught on a whales fin, head or flippers. It is the second leading cause of human-related right whale deaths. In fact, nearly three out of four whales bear scars from these types of interactions.

NOAA created a central response network on the East Coast through its National Marine Fisheries Service, developed by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. When a whale that is entangled is spotted, they send out a crew to remove the fishing gear from the whale. Now this is no easy task. Remember  whales can weigh up to 70 tons and won’t just sit still for you to remove the nets. Responders will typically try and slow the whale down and keep it on the surface. In order to do this they attach buoys to a trailing line in order to cause drag on the animal. Fin, sei and humpbacks react well to this because they are lunge feeders so they actively chase after their prey, and because of this they experience this periodic drag. Once this happens and the whale has slowed down, the responders get close in a small inflatable boat and try to remove the nets with strategically placed cuts, working to remove the net as quickly as possible. They use tools that are on the end of long poles to do this.

However, this method does not work well with right whales. They are grazers and therefore oftentimes don’t react to additional drag. Jamison Smith, biologist for NOAA, said that they even attached a large boat to the drag line but the whale just kept swimming and eventually broke the line! So they have been trying something new with them. Recently they have administered tranquilizers to the whales to slow them down. They found that this changed the right whales behavior, and they were able to get closer. They have even administered antibiotics to those whales that had severe damage from the fishing gear. View this video to see a whale getting darted. NOAA Biologist Darts Right Whale (courtesy NOAA)

Researchers continue to work on more efficient and better ways to deal with this threat to our whale populations. One method that has worked well is to work with fisherman to design fishing gear, which have weak links so that they break easier when whales swim through them. It is a controversial issue between many parties, but hopefully we will see a decline in whale entanglements in the future.

Personal Log:

You might think it’s easy to navigate a ship. Just point and drive, right? No. Navigation of a ship is a complex endeavor which requires skill and the use of many different technologies. Think about it. You need to consider wind, tides, currents, depth of water and other ships in the area. Luckily the Delaware II has a great deal of equipment and skilled operators to get our ship from point A to B.

So let’s dive into the art of navigation. First off you need to know where you are.

Lieutenant Claire Surry-Marsden and Ensign Jason Wilson showing me how the instruments work

The Delaware II has a global positioning system, which is a satellite-based navigation system. It works something like this. The US government launched satellites up into orbit around our Earth. They constantly send out light wave signals with a time the message was sent, and the location of the signal at that time. A receiver on the ground needs to receive at least 4 of these signals, sometimes three will work, to get an accurate reading on where that receiver (you)  is located. But you just don’t want to rely on one system, so the Delaware II has 2 back-up systems. The crew also utilizes a magnetic compass, and a Gyrocompass. As you know the magnetic compass points toward magnetic north (considering the declination of your area). However the Gyrocompass is an instrument that is mounted in a device so that it spins freely. When the device is moved in a different direction, such as ocean swells or turns, the gyroscope will always point to true North. A gyroscope  spins about three axes of angular freedom due to its inherent properties  and its being acted upon by the earth’s rotation and gravity. Control devices are applied to balance the forces so that the gyro seeks and continually aligns itself with the meridian and points to true north.

You also need to know what is going on down in the water. If the ocean floor gets shallow or the currents change this is going to affect the ship’s safety and or progress. The Delaware II gets this information through two navigation depth sounders. They emit sound waves out of the bottom of the boat and time how long it takes for the waves to get back. Remember our formulas during our energy units? Speed equals distance divided by time. Well we know the speed of sound in water at various temperatures (remember the speed changes with different mediums and the temperature), so you multiply the time (divided by 2)  by the speed and you get the distance. Luckily the navigation depth sounder does all this math for you automatically and you get a picture on the screen showing the depth of the water below the ship.

Computer with chart of the area

The Delaware II has a large computer which uses software called Nobeltec. This displays the most recent charts, or as we call them maps, on the screen. These charts indicate all land and the depths of the water. Before leaving the navigators plot the course on the chart and this is what they use to steer the ship. Of course, safety is incredibly important so this course is also drawn out on paper charts in case the on-line computer goes down. I watched Ensign Junie Casson transferring this information and it isn’t easy. Knowing latitude and longitude are key as well as determining the degrees in which you want to travel. See that! Math and social studies really do come in handy! Junie is also responsible for keeping the ships charts up to date as information is constantly being acquired on the topography of the ocean floor.

Ensign Junie Casson shows me how to plot a course on the chart

You also need to know how the currents are moving in the water you are traveling through. Especially should the ship release equipment, such as nets or instruments. This is done with the Doppler speed log. It emits 3 sonic beams and the information is used to determine the speed and direction of the water in three different layers. Speed and direction of the water is affected by winds, rotation of the Earth (remember the Coriolis Effect – it affects the direction of the water as well as the air) and tides. Deeper layers tend to move more slowly because there is less energy transfer between layers as you go down.

Lastly we want to make sure that no other ships are getting too close, that we aren’t getting too close to certain objects or to fix ourselves upon a certain point. For this the ship has two different kinds of radar. One radar called x-band, has  a higher frequency and shorter wavelength. The second radar is called s-band, and has a lower frequency and longer wavelength. Both are used to get the best accuracy with identifying objects.To avoid collision, The Delaware II  uses an integrated ARPA (Automated Radar Plotting Aid) to quickly analyze trial maneuvers.  Different courses and/or speeds are assessed and the calculated outcome in terms of a CPA (closest point of approach) is determined. Whenever possible at sea, one nautical mile CPA from all other traffic should be kept.

Poll Update:

On my first blog I asked which of the following whales is the longest; sei, fin, humpback, right and minke. While most of you picked the humpback the fin whale is actually the longest.

Questions of the Day:

When you determine the time in our equation to determine the water’s depth you would need to divide it by two. Why?

In ancient times, ships didn’t have the equipment I just described to you. How did they navigate the ship?

Ellen O’Donnell: Whales, Whales and More Whales May 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole. MA
Date: May 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Winds out of the south about 10-15 knots. Partly cloudy with mid-level clouds.

Science and Technology Log

We left Woods Hole, MA, yesterday afternoon around 2:00PM. All night we traveled until we reached Georges Bank this morning. George’s Bank is a rich feeding area that many cetaceans utilize especially those that eat small crustaceans called copepods. On May 12th a previous right whale survey located a group of 15 right whales. We headed out to that point. We started our watch sessions at 7AM and rotated through three stations.

Me on the “Big Eye”

One person used a mounted binocular which has 25X125 magnification. It is called “Big Eye.” Big Eye is used to scan the horizon from the bow to the port side. It is also used to help identify a whale when it is seen by someone else. The second person has binoculars and looks on the starboard side and the third person records information when any whale is seen and watches for the whales closest to the ship.

I learned a lot today about identifying whales. First off, if helps if you know what species you might be dealing with. In this location, the main species one might see are right whales, fin whales, sei whales and humpback whales.

So, here is the scoop on whale identification. Typically the first thing you see that indicates a whale is present is the spout. Whales are mammals and have lungs. Therefore, they need to inhale and exhale air. Whales have evolved to have their nostrils on their back, called “blowholes.” Baleen whales have two blowholes. The spout that you see is exhaled moist air.

Right Whale Spout (photo Beth Josephson 5/15/2012)

Anyway, back to identifying whales. Whales have somewhat different spray patterns giving an indication of the type of whale. Right whales and humpbacks have v-shaped blows, if you see them head on, or they look like puffy clouds from the side. Sei whales and fin whales have tall columnar spouts.

The second indication is to look for a dorsal fin, a fin on the whale’s backside. Right whales don’t have dorsal fins, but the other three whales do. You can also tell the difference between a sei and a fin whale by how close the spout and the dorsal fin appear. If you see the fin about the same time as the spout, you have a sei whale and if you don’t see the dorsal fin for a while you have a fin whale. (slow to the finish – fin whale, seys I’m here – sei whale. Method of memorizing – compliments of me!)

A third thing to look for is the fluke. Some whales, such as the right and humpback whales, raise their flukes when they dive down into the water. The humpbacks fluke is very broad and more horizontal, whereas the right whales fluke is more upright. In addition, the right whale fluke is more smooth on the inner portion of the fluke and the humpbacks is jagged.  Humpbacks also have white patterns on the back of their fluke, which is used to identify them whereas, right whales are just dark. So when you are looking for right whales it is exciting when you see a more rigid, dark colored fluke go down.

Right whale fluke before diving (photo Jennifer Gatzke 5/15/2012)

Right whale fluke (Jennifer Gatzke 5/15/2012)

Now there is one more thing to look for in a right whale. Right whales often skim along the surface. They open their mouths and let the water run through hoping to catch small crustaceans with their baleen. This gives them a characteristic sloping shape where their head is up higher in the water.

Right Whale Head (photo Allison Henry)

They also have callosities which are used to identify individuals. Callosities are rough patches of skin and each right whale has a different pattern of this skin.

At the location of the previous 15 whales we found 5 right whales. A small boat was lowered into the water in order to get closer to the whales. While whales are identified up in the flying tower of the Delaware II, the mission of this research cruise, however, is not just to identify whales. It is important to individually identify each right whale. Therefore, when right whales are seen, the biologists need to determine if it is one that has already been identified. To this purpose they take pictures of the whales head, remember that’s where the callosities are located. If it turns out to be a whale that scientists haven’t identified, or a new calf, a biopsy is taken of the whale (more to come on this). The biologists took pictures of the right whales, but it was very difficult to get close, as they were feeding below the surface and staying down for long periods of time. Right whales may remain below the surface for up to twenty minutes.

The gray boat heading out to get closer to right whales

After the time it took chasing the 5 whales, we made our way to a previous sighting of nine right whales. We saw 6 whales on the way and tagged the locations, but did not lower the boat. Our time was cut short because the weather is supposed to turn for the worse this evening and we need to get back near land. Therefore, we are heading back to the cape tonight, near Provincetown, as the weather forecast calls for rain, high winds and rough seas. We may be staying closer to land the next day or so.

5/15/2012 species identification: right, fin, sei and humpback whales, basking shark

Personal Log

I arrived in Woods Hole, MA, Sunday evening and made my way to the Delaware II. When I came on board I was told that this may be the Delaware’s last NOAA research trip. It was first deployed in 1968 by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. The Bureau was reorganized when NOAA was formed in 1972.  The Delaware II is the smallest ship in the NOAA fleet. Doesn’t seem to small to me. In June, the Delaware II will be taken down to the Marine Operations Center – Atlantic in Norfolk for layup. Hopefully it will end up with some other organization, such as a university, and sail the seas again.

I know many of you are probably curious as to where I am staying on board the ship. Check this out!

Me with my emergency suit on!

Safety is very important aboard a ship. When the Delaware took off from port we had two important drills to go through. The first was in case of a fire and the second was in case we would need to abandon ship. We all bring survival suits to the back of the ship and need to try them on to make sure we can get them on ourselves. This could be the difference between life and death.

I also have had to learn a new language while aboard the Delaware. Some words I knew and some I didn’t. Lucky for me my Dad drilled me on many nautical words back in the time when we had a small family sailboat. I can remember sitting around the kitchen table being asked to give the definitions. So lets see how you do. How many do you know? Write me back and let me know how many of the words you knew. Be honest! Also let me know if you have any other questions.

Cheers!

Mrs. OD

Nautical words:

Fore

Head

Aft

 Galley

Starboard

Stateroom

Port

Chart

Muster

Bow

Stern

Can you think of others?

Ellen O’Donnell: An Adventure Begins May 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 13 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole. MA
Date: May 10, 2012

Personal Log

Greetings from Deerfield, New Hampshire. My name is Ellen O’Donnell and I am currently in my twelfth year working as a middle school science teacher at Deerfield Community School (DCS) in Deerfield, NH. DCS is an outstanding K-8 school in a small rural town located in between the larger cities of Manchester and Concord, NH. My high regard for DCS does not stem solely from my experience as a teacher here, but also from having all four of my sons attend DCS from kindergarten to eighth grade. The creative and dedicated teachers here did a great job preparing them for high school and beyond.

Deerfield Community School

Deerfield Community School

I applied for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program because I think it is a wonderful opportunity to bring real scientific research into the classroom. I want students to become familiar with the various scientific careers available, as well as the importance of using good scientific research as the foundation for policy decisions. I found out about the program mainly from my sister, Laura Rodriguez, who participated in the Teacher at Sea program two years ago. She is also a middle school science teacher but in Connecticut, Hall Memorial School in Willington. We both only taught seventh grade science, but then two years ago both our schools asked us to teach 8th grade science as well. We like to tease each other about who did what first! You can imagine what the conversation entails when we both get together. I’m looking forward to her students following my trip as well as my own. Our students will be working together,  while I am at sea, on a variety of ocean topics. They will communicate with each other through a community wiki and Skypeing. I can’t wait to see their final products!

sisters

Me and my sisters; Jen, Ellen and Laura (left to right)

North Atlantic Right Whale

North Atlantic Right Whale (photo credit: Georgia Dept of Natural Resources)

So here I am on the brink of an exciting adventure. I will be joining the crew of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the Delaware II out of Woods Hole, MA. We will be conducting a North Atlantic Right Whale Survey. North Atlantic Right Whales are one of the most endangered whales in our oceans. Some estimates say there are only about 300 individuals left. During our survey we will also be gathering information on other whales that we see, such as minke, humpbacks and sei. Right now I don’t know very much about how to tell them apart. In fact, I don’t know that much about ocean ecology specifically. I can’t wait to jump in and learn more about the Atlantic Ocean which is right in our backyard. Keep in touch and you can learn with me.

As part of the 8th grade math classes, taught by Rod Dudley,  our 8th grade students created scaled drawings of the actual sizes of the whales that I hope to see on my trip. They started from small drawings  to get the correct shape of each whale and them blew them up to their actual size. These were then drawn outside of our school for all to enjoy.  We wanted the whole school to appreciate the size of the various whales that live in the Northern Atlantic Ocean. You don’t realize how big they are until you do something like this.

Actual size of a North Atlantic Right Whale

Actual size of a North Atlantic Right Whale

Our whole 8th grade class fits inside!

So soon I will be heading out on the NOAA Delaware II into the Atlantic Ocean and I will be finding out more about the various jobs my shipmates have, information about ocean ecology, and life onboard a ship. Stay tuned

Delaware II

Delaware II (photo credit NOAA)