NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 20 — August 1, 2011
Mission: Cetacean and Seabird Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 27, 2011
Air Temp: 17 ºC
Water Temp: 17 ºC
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Water Depth: 4365 meters
Science and Technology Log
Well it happened. This morning I was taking care of a few things before heading to the observation post and while I was below deck they spotted Killer Whales. By the time I got to the deck the animals were gone. Initially, I was disappointed but the day continued with another sighting of Killer Whales, some Risso’s dolphins, a pod of Atlantic Spotted dolphins, a couple of Sperm Whales, a group of Sowerby’s Beaked Whales and a couple of Basking Sharks. This list of animals is long but keep in mind this was over the course of 11 hours of observation.
Marine Mammal Observers use a variety of strategies to keep themselves “fresh” and able to look for animals for long periods of time through every weather condition. The design of their survey procedure allows each observer to take a 30-minute break during each 2-hour session. This gives them time to rest their eyes, get out of the weather and get something to eat. Some of the other techniques to stay sharp may go unnoticed but are important and can only be learned from experienced observers.
Standing for hours and looking through binoculars on a rolling ship is not for everyone. After spending some time observing animals at sea I can pass along a few tricks. The days can be long but playing music can help keep the time moving. Talking to other observers keeps your mind engaged and helps to stay focused. When you start to feel like you need a jolt to stay awake try an Atomic Fireball. These small candies pack a spicy reminder that you need to stay alert. In this picture, one of the observers is holding her Fireball in her hand because she was not able to handle the intense heat.
To get a job as a Marine Mammal Observer you need to withstand these challenges while maintaining your ability to tell the difference between a splash and a white cap from three miles away. Once you do detect the animal you still need to identify the animal with only a quick glimpse of the animal. Below are a few pictures taken recently for you to test your skills. Can you use the links above to correctly ID the animals?
Now that I have overcome my run in with seasickness, life at sea is great. We are so far out, over 200 nautical miles, that we have lost our satellite TV connection and that is fine with me. I have seen a variety of species for the first time and I am enjoying being surrounded by people who share my passion for the ocean and marine mammals.