Kate Trimlett: What a Difference 3 Days at Sea Makes, July 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate Trimlett
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 23–29, 2013

Mission: ACCESS (Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies) to monitor ecosystem health in the national marine sanctuaries off the central and northern California

Geographical area of cruiseGulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary & Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Date: Friday, July 26, 2013

Weather Data:

  • Wind Speed: 7.8 kts
  • Surface Water Temperature: 58.3 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Air Temperature: 55.4 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Relative Humidity: 90%
  • Barometric Pressure: 30.05 in

Science and Technology Log:

ACCESS is a project that contributes to a regional characterization and monitoring of the physical and biological components of the pelagic ecosystem of Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and northern Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries.  During our cruise we are collecting data in these sanctuaries. Over the last three days I have observed and helped the ACCESS scientists collect physical, chemical, and biological properties of the water, plankton, marine mammals, and sea birds. Each of these are measured by a different ACCESS team of researchers in a different area of the research vessel, R/V Fulmar.

Plankton and water are collected and measured on the back deck of the ship.  The water is measured in a few ways.  First, a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) and Niskin are lowered into the water between 35- 200 meters depending on the location on the line and depth of the water. The CTD measures the conductivity to calculate salinity, temperature, and relative depth within the water column.  The Niskin collects a water sample at the same location as the CTD.  These water samples are to tested for pH to measure the acidity of the water.  Finally, Dru Devlin and I are collecting a surface water sample for nutrients and a phytoplankton samples for the California Department of Public Health, as part of an early warning program for harmful algal blooms that can impact the shellfish we eat.

This CTD measure conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth.

This CTD measures conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth.

There are four different plankton collections.  The first collection is with a small hoop net (0.5 meter diameter) used to sample very small plankton, from where foraminifera will be separated later in the lab.  Foraminifera shell morphology and the oxygen isotopes of the shell are examined to investigate past and present climates and impacts of acidity on shell formation.  Next, a larger hoop net (1 meter diameter) collects samples of plankton in the upper 50 m of the water, which will be used to investigate the abundance, species, reproductive patterns, and locations.  When the research vessel was close to the end of the line and the continental shelf, the Tucker Trawl was released to collect three samples of plankton near the bottom.  When we processed these samples the majority of the organisms were krill.  Finally, Dru Devlin and I collected plankton samples 30 feet below the surface to send to the California Department of Health Services because they are interested in the presence and abundance of species that produce toxins.

Tucker trawl collects krill at depth.

Tucker trawl collects krill at depth.

On the top deck, the ACCESS observers watch for marine mammals and sea birds and call them out to the data recorder  to log the sightings into a waterproof computer.  This data will be used to relate the spatial patterns of bird and mammal distribution with oceanographic patterns and to understand the seasonal changes in the pelagic ecosystem.

These are the ACCESS observers looking for marine mammals and sea birds.

These are the ACCESS observers looking for marine mammals and sea birds.

Personal Log:

My favorite sighting so far was the leatherback sea turtle.  Seven years ago and last summer I took a group of Berkeley High School students to Costa Rica to participate in a sea turtle conservation project with Ecology Project International.  On these trips we saw a female leatherback laying her eggs and a hatchling making its way to the ocean.  It was great to see the next stage of development when the leatherback popped its head out of the water several hundred miles from their breeding grounds.

Dru Devlin's amazing picture of the Leatherback Sea Turtle.

Dru Devlin’s amazing picture of the Leatherback Sea Turtle.

Did you know?

Humpback Whales have bad breath?  Yesterday we got to smell it first hand when two humpback whales decided to circle our boat and were close enough for us to smell their breath.  It’s like rotting fish and sour milk mixed together.

Angela Greene: “Surface Active Groups and Good Medicine” May 5, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Angela Greene
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: May 5, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Air temperature-8.4°C or 47°F, Sea temperature-8.4°C or 47°F, Wind Speed 14 knots, Winds are out of the northeast, Barometric Pressure- 1024.4 mb, wave height- 1-2 feet.

Science and Technology Log:  To say the environment aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter changes when a right whale is spotted during a watch duty, would be a major understatement.  The goal is to find a Northern Right Whale, and when we do, the frenzy begins.

Me with Whale

Believe it or not, that white splash is a Northern Right Whale. Photo credit Mark Baumgartner

A quick decision must be made as to whether the small boats will be launched.  The small boats enable the scientists to get extremely close to the whales.  This proximity allows them the chance to photograph whales from many angles for later identification.  This distance may also provide an opportunity for scientists to use a crossbow to acquire a biopsy sample.  The sample will provide genetic information needed to determine the gender, parents, and siblings of the whale.  The biopsy also can give a toxicity level of the animal.

Crossbow

Holding the crossbow used to collect whale biopsy sample. Photo credit Eric Matzen

Being in the small boats also gives the team of four the opportunity to scoop a fecal sample from the ocean that a right whale may present.  Poop samples can give diet information and hormone levels.  Checking hormone levels enable scientists to determine the stress levels of the whale and whether or not the whale is pregnant.

Whale Poop

Whale Poop in a baggie.

Our team spotted a right whale, and the boats were launched.  The small boat was able to get extremely close to what is called a SAG, or “surface active group”.  This particular group of four Northern Right Whales was so close to the small boat that it looked as if the whales were performing a show for the scientists!  It was one of the most incredible events I have ever witnessed!

small boat blow

Small boat and a right whale blow. Photo taken under NOAA fisheries permit number 775-1875

good fluke

Small boat and a right whale fluke. Photo taken under NOAA fisheries permit number 775-1875

During the SAG event, many photos were taken under a NOAA fisheries permit, which is necessary due to the endangered status of the species.  It’s interesting to note here, that the public is not allowed to be within five hundred yards of a Northern Right Whale without a permit, making the opportunity to be in the small boat a momentous occasion.

A fecal sample was acquired, which is considered a rare opportunity, however a biopsy was not in the cards for this small boat launch.

Biopsied Last year

Northern Right Whale photo taken from small boat- a biopsy was acquired from this whale on last year’s trip. Photo Credit Jennifer Gatzke. Photo taken under NOAA fisheries permit number 775-1875

Stateroom

My stateroom. You may notice the trash can right next to my bunk.

Personal Log:  This is difficult fieldwork, indeed!  Two days of rough seas made our flying bridge observations come to a grinding halt.  I woke up Friday morning knowing I had a 7:00 am watch duty, and was throwing up the nothingness in my stomach.

My roommate came back to our stateroom with the news that many others, including the crew, were also experiencing seasickness.  I took an odd sense of comfort hearing that other people were also ill.  We were in the middle of ten foot ocean swells that made the boat feel like the inside of Maytag washing machine.  My roommate’s water bottle fell out of her top bunk and landed squarely on my forehead, and our desk chair toppled over on its side. Motion sickness medications work wonders, but make me incredibly sleepy.  Seems like everyone was either sleeping or watching movies… basically just surviving until calmer waters.

This morning’s sunrise brought much happier seas, and the whale watch continues.  It’s cold enough for me to finally don the “Mustang Suit” as everyone tells me I will feel more comfortable than my lined jeans and Tecumseh Arrows jacket.  I am hoping for my chance to get to be in the small boat!

Animal Sightings Log: 

Aquatic-

Right Whale

Sei Whale

Fin Whale

Minke Whale

Humpback Whale

Atlantic Whitesided Dolphin

Harbor Porpoises

Birds-

Herring Gull

Wilson’s Storm Petrel

Northern Gannet

Sooty Shearwater

Northern Fulmar

Atlantic Puffin

Talia Romito: First Day at Sea, July 23 – 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Talia Romito
Onboard R/V Fulmar
July 24– July 29, 2012

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries
Date: July 23 & 24, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 37 48.87 W
Longitude: 123 23.04 N

Weather Data From Bridge:
Air Temperature 12.2 C (54 F)
Wind Speed 10 knots
Wind Direction: From the South
Surface Water Temperature: 13 C (55.4 F)

Personal Log

Day 1, July 23, 2012

Wow! I have been preparing for this day for months and now I’m here.  This is the adventure of a lifetime.  I’m so excited to tell everyone about everything that I’ve done so far and I’ve only been on board for two days.

Travel and Arrival

Me and Dad at Lunch

Me and Dad at Lunch, Picture by Karen Romito

I set off early Monday July 23, 2012 for the boat docked in Sausalito from my parents’ home near Sacramento, CA.  I’m fortunate to have my parents give me a ride so I don’t have to worry about leaving my car parked overnight.  We got into San Francisco at lunchtime and decided to stop at the Franciscan Restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf.  The food was incredible and both Mom and Dad filled their cravings for bread bowls with clam chowder. Yummy!  We had an amazing view across the bay to Sausalito.  Next we headed for downtown Sausalito for dessert.  (If you haven’t gotten the clue yet this trip is all about great food and making friends.) It was beautiful with lots of little places to lose yourself and enjoy the view and watch people walking or riding by.  Cafe Tutti was a great little place for three waffle cones, laughs, and picturesque memories.  Then it was time to head to the boat!

Boat Tour and Unpacking

Permission to come Aboard?

Permission to come Aboard?, Picture by Karen Romito

I met Kaitlin Graiff and Erik Larson on board when I arrived.  She is the (Acting) Research Coordinator for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and he is the Captain of the R/V Fulmar.  They were both so welcoming and gave us all the grand tour.  It only consisted of about fifty steps, but who’s counting.  We saw the wheelhouse (where you drive the boat), the bunk rooms (where you sleep on the boat), the galley (where you eat on the boat), the head (where you handle business on the boat), the fly bridge (where you observe animals), and the rear deck (where you use equipment to study the ocean).  I know that’s lots to remember, but it’s smaller than it sounds with cozy little places to have a snack or a cat nap.  Before I said my goodbyes Mom made me take a picture with all of my gear.  Thanks Mom!

Then it was time to unpack.  I chose the top bunk on the starboard side of the boat.  Now the important thing to remember is to duck when you get the top bunk.  There is almost no head room so duck early and often.  I’ve hit my head three times already.

Scientists Arrive

While Kaitlin, Erik, and I were getting to know each other, two more scientists arrived throughout the evening before dinner.  They were bringing the two most important parts of our cruise: the food and the equipment.  Jaime Jahncke, California Current Director for PRBO Conservation Science arrived first.  His name and title sound very official, but he is the most charismatic person you’ll meet.  He loves to joke around and have a good time while working to preserve and manage wildlife.  Last to arrive Monday night was Jan Roletto, Research Coordinator at Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.  Jan is the lead scientist on the cruise, mother hen to everyone.  She brought the most important thing for the trip: FOOD.  We have chips, nuts, crackers, chocolate covered everything, every soda drink imaginable, and more!  Did I mention that this trip is all about the food :).

Jan Roletto, Jaime Jahncke, and Kirsten Lindquist

The Scientists and Observer:
Jan Roletto, Jaime Jahncke, and Kirsten Lindquist

Day 2, July 24, 2012

Early Risers

Survival Suit

Me in Survival Suit during Safety Drill

I am usually a morning person, but this morning I could have stayed in bed a little longer.  The crew, scientists, and I woke up between 5 and 6 AM to welcome five more people onto the boat.  Daniel Hossfeld, Intern at Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary; Carol Keiper, Marine Mammal and Seabird Observer; Kirsten Lindquist, Ecosystem Monitoring Manager at Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association; Kerri Beeker, Major and Planned Gifts Officer at PRBO Conservation Science; and Caitlin Byrnes, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  Once everyone was on board and the gear was stowed and tied down we headed for the first transect line of the day.

Science and Technology Log

The Work

This section has a little more science and technical language, but just bear with me because I want you to understand what we’re doing out here.  Applied California Current Ecosystem Study (ACCESS) has been monitoring 30 different transect lines (hot spots for animal activity) in Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries.  Today we completed four transects: Nearshore 5, Offshore 5, Offshore 7, and Nearshore 7.  On these four lines the scientists observed the wildlife – documenting seabirds and marine mammals.  They use a laptop with Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking and software that shows a map of the area we are studying with the transect lines.  The software uses codes to name birds and marine mammals: a number to code for behavior, a number for zone (ie. distance from boat), and a true bearing direction from the bow (front) of the boat.  The birds are identified using the American Ornithology Union (AOU), which is a four letter code based on the bird’s common name (ie. Common Murre, COMU).  The birds are observed at a max distance of 200 meters from the boat.  Marine mammals are also given a four letter code based on the common name of the animal (ie. Blue Whale: BLWH).

Another important aspect of the observation is continually updating environmental conditions.  Observers describe visibility, swell height of the waves, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, and an overall rating for the conditions for that time.  Click on the Title below for an example of their codes.

Bird and Mammal Codes

What did I do Today?!

My bunk

Napping while recovering from nausea.
Good times!

Well, to sum it up in a word: relax!  I was able to get used to being at sea and rest a little from a stressful week of preparation for this trip.  I was nauseous this morning for about six hours, but I was able to overcome by sitting still and gazing at the horizon.  I must admit that being around a bunch of different food while feeling nauseous is not fun and makes you feel worse.  When I finally felt better I was able to have lots of great conversations with Kerri and Caitlin.  They are doing so much to support this ACCESS cruise and awareness about conservation of ecosystems.  It was nice to get a picture of the non-profit side of these issues.  I was also able to see some Pacific white sided dolphins bow riding and two humpback whales about 20 feet off the bow.  They popped up in front of the boat and we had to slow down so we didn’t interrupt them.

Humpback Whale Breaching

Humpback Whale Breaching, Picture by Sophie Webb

Pacific White Sided Dolphin Porpoising

Pacific White Sided Dolphin Porpoising

The first two days have been amazing and I can’t wait to see what we’re going to do next.  Tomorrow, we’ll be completing transect line 6.  You’ll  notice that there are black dots on the map.  Those indicate places where I will work with Kaitlin to get water column samples and samples of krill and zooplankton.

ACCESS Transect Lines

ACCESS Transect Lines

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?

Cathrine Fox: Issue Twelve: Better than any alarm clock

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 57deg 22.630N, Longitude: 152.02° W
Air Temperature: 13.6° C
Water temperature: 9.0° C
Wind Speed/Direction: 12kn/240°
Barometric Pressure: 1020.1
Partly cloudy (5%) and sun

Science Log:

Stern of the Oscar Dyson

Stern of the Oscar Dyson

Somewhere back in my family history there must have been a fishmonger, because I’ve been channeling something or someone. The entire process of watching the acoustic footprint of the ocean under the ship, deciding where to physically sample (trawl) populations, and then seeing and processing the fish that live 100 meters or more below us? Fascinating. Add to this camera drops to get snapshots of the ocean floor (more amazing footage this morning), and interesting ‘Methot’ plankton tows to sample what is available for the fish to eat and give a more accurate and complete picture? How many adjectives can I use?

Before we dive too far into the depths, let me explain/refresh what plankton are. Plankton are any drifting organisms that inhabit the water columns of bodies of water. In fact, their name derives from the Greek for “wanderer,” and it would be helpful if you thought of them as drifters in the current…from deep in the ocean to up on the surface. They are generally broken down into plant-like-photosynthesizing plankton (phytoplankton) and animal-like plankton (zooplankton).
Phytoplankton are “photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that inhabit the upper sunlit layer of almost alloceans and bodies of water” (wikipedia). If you have taken biology or forensics with me, I have described some of them ad nauseam: diatoms? Those organisms that are in every body of water on the planet? Ah, yes. I can see it all coming back to you.

Zooplankton encompass a diverse range of macro and microscopic animals. They generally eat the phytoplankton or one another. Examples include krill, copepods, jellyfish, and amphipods.

In the great food web of life, other organisms eat the zooplankton. Among them was a pod of 50+ Humpback whales in the Barnabas Trough off of Kodiak Island. They were exciting enough that I went from being sound asleep to dressed and on the bridge in less than five minutes. Issue 12, Humpback Whales: Better than any alarm clock I have ever known delves into these organisms (Cartoon citations 1, 2, 3 and 4).


Our chief survey technician, Kathy Hough, took a lot of photos the following day as we traveled from Barnabas Trough to Alitak Bay. The three photos that follow and descriptions are courtesy of Kathy.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 12

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 12

 

Whale tail: Individual humpback whales can be identified by the black/white pattern on the ventral side of the fluke (tail).  The pattern is like a human's fingerprint, unique to one animal.

Whale tail: Individual humpback whales can be identified by the black/white pattern on the ventral side of the fluke (tail). The pattern is like a human’s fingerprint, unique to one animal.

There is evidence of three whales in the photo above: the closest whale's rostrum (blow hole) is visible.  The second whale is diving and you can see the peduncle (the stocky part of the tail before the fluke).  The glassy area in the back of the photo is evidence of a recent dive and is called a "footprint."

There is evidence of three whales in the photo above: the closest whale’s rostrum (blow hole) is visible. The second whale is diving and you can see the peduncle (the stocky part of the tail before the fluke). The glassy area in the back of the photo is evidence of a recent dive and is called a “footprint.”

This Humpback was last seen in this area in 2004, and has not been seen since.  The white marks on its fluke are from a killer whale attack!  Kathy emailled photos of the whales to observers, and they were able to identify individuals!

This Humpback was last seen in this area in 2004, and has not been seen since. The white marks on its fluke are from a killer whale attack! Kathy emailled photos of the whales to observers, and they were able to identify individuals!

All hands on deck... 100+ Humpback Whales.  Darin and Staci.

All hands on deck… 100+ Humpback Whales. Darin and Staci.

Our team of scientists sample plankton using a Methot net, which is fine mesh and captures macroscopic organisms. We sample plankton for the same reason that we physically trawl for fish: we need to make certain what we are “hearing” is what is down there, with a focus on the types and sizes of the plankton. Additionally, knowledge about what and where plankton populations are will help with modeling the entire ecosystem. If you know where the food lives, its abundance and composition, by extension you have a much greater understanding of the predators, both pollock and whale.

(If you get a chance, check out this video about how whales hunt with bubble nets; fascinating!)

Personal Log

Bowditch

Bowditch

I try to spend time on the bridge every morning before breakfast. I bring up a cup of tea and watch the horizon lighten until the sun pushes its way up above the lingering clouds. This morning, I saw the green flash for the first time. The green flash is not a superhero. It is not a myth. It is not a sailor’s fish tail. It is real. Furthermore, if you still don’t believe me, the green flash is in the “bible” of maritime studies, The American Practical Navigator (Bowditch, if you are on a first name basis). I was told by Ensign David Rodziewiczthat “if it is in Bowditch, it must be true.” So there.

The green flash appears on the horizon just after the sun sets or just before it rises. For one moment on that spot the sky looks as if someone broke a green glow stick and smeared a distant florescent mark. As fast as it was there, it is gone. The name is appropriate: green flash. It occurs because light is bent slightly as it passes through the atmosphere (refraction); this bending is greatest on the horizon. Since light is made up of different colors with different wavelengths, the bending causes the colors to be seen separately. Bowditch says it is like offset color printing (nice metaphor, eh?). The red end of the spectrum is first to rise. The blue end of the spectrum is scattered the most by the atmosphere, leaving behind the momentary and memorable second of green.

Evidently, to see the green flash is considered very good luck. I already feel very lucky. I am in one of the most beautiful places in the world, on a ship with interesting and intelligent people, driving around the Gulf of Alaska learning about science and occasionally checking out whales. If I can get luckier than this… well… wow.

Tomorrow is the last day of our cruise, but I have a few more cartoons up my sleeves, so keep checking back. In the meantime, thank you to the incredible staff of the Oscar Dyson, the scientists of MACE, my rockin’ cohort Staci, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

Until our next adventure,
Cat

p.s. Whales have the worst morning breath I have ever smelled. I know it isn’t really their fault–imagine having 270-400 baleen sheets on either side of your mouth that you could get krill stuck in…

Take it to the Bridge...

Take it to the Bridge…

Oscar Dyson, me mateys.

Oscar Dyson, me mateys.

Elaine Bechler: Phenomenal Feeding Frenzy, July 25, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elaine Bechler
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 21 – 26, 2011 

Mission: Survey of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones NMS
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Off the California Coast
Date: July 25, 2011 

Science and Technology Log

Humpbacks performing vertical lunge feeding

Cool stuff today.  While transiting between one transect and another, the R/V Fulmar happened upon a major feeding event.  While approaching, hundreds of birds could be seen flying and diving along with evidence of many humpback whale spouts.  It turned out to be a furious feeding frenzy of myriads of birds, dolphins, pinipeds and whales.  Very dramatic was the vertical lunge feeding of the humpback whales.  We could see their huge mouths open and pointed upward as they gobbled silvery fish.  The whales would release huge loud exhales over and over.  A pod of 20 Pacific white-sided dolphins would lunge and dive down randomly seeking the swift swimmers.  Entering from the north side came a pod of Northern-right whale dolphins so sleek and moving in a group as if choreographed.  Thousands of seabirds including Sooty and Pink footed Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars, Black-footed Albatrosses, Western Gulls, Fork-tailed Storm Petrels and Common Murres were diving and competing for the fish.  We could hear the feet, wings, beaks and calls from their interactions on the surface.   It was remarkable to see the shearwaters swimming after the prey.  The feeding group would move and change as the school of fish darted about from below.  It was a tumultuous feast.

Bird feeding frenzy

shearwater feeding under water

Shearwater feeding under water

What we witnessed was the food web in action!  Each of these animals was supported by the fish they were eating.  Those fish were supported by a smaller food source such as smaller fish and zooplankton.  Those small organisms rely on the phytoplankton to capture the solar radiation from the sun and to use the deep water nutrients which were upwelled to the surface waters.   Create 5 food chains 5 organisms long that could have been in place in the ocean that day.

Dall's Porpoise

Dall's Porpoise

Earlier I noted a Western Gull spy a white object in the water and attempt to land on it for feeding only to find it was a piece of paper.  I had never observed the interaction of a marine animal with marine debris until now.  It was obvious that the debris caught the gull’s attention from a good distance away and had attracted it to the surface of the water.  How could this action affect the food web?

I feel fortunate to have been chosen to experience this cruise and all that went along with it.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat (with sufficient amounts of  seasickness medication!).  Thank you R/V Fulmar crew, ACCESS team, PRBO Conservation Science , TAS team and NOAA for this opportunity.  Thank you Sophie Webb for all of the photos of the frenzy on this page.

Pacific White-sided dolphins and Kaitlin

Pacific White-sided dolphins and Kaitlin

Anne Mortimer: Otoliths and more otoliths…, July 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 8, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: Sunny, 10°C
Sea temperature: 9.1°C
Wind direction: SW; 318 degrees
Wind Speed: 24.1 knots
Barometric pressure: 1012.12 mbar

Science and Technology Log

On my last 12 hour shift, a beautiful, sunny day, we started by pulling in, sorting, counting, and weighing fish caught in a mid-water trawl.  The scientists were also testing out a new “critter cam” that was attached to the net. The trawl net has a special device called a M.O.C.C. which stands for Multiple Opening and Closing Cod-ends. The net has three separate nets that can be opened and closed by the M.O.C.C. when the scientists reach the desired depth or location for catching, this keeps the catches from different targeted depths from mixing together. The three separate nets are called cod-ends. Each cod-end catch is processed separately. In this trawl, we saw multiple jellies, juvenile pollock, krill, juvenile squid, juvenile Pacific sandlance, capelin, juvenile flatfish, and juvenile cod.

capelin

Capelin from our trawl covered the deck of the boat.

MOCC entering the water

The Multiple Opening and Closing Cod-end, or MOCC, and net being released to the water for a mid-water tow.

Later, we trawled a 2nd time for about an hour. The trawl net used is called the AWT or Aleutian Wing Trawl because the sides of the net are like wings. After the net is in the water, two large steel doors are dropped in the water and help to pull the net open wide. You can see them in the picture above, they are the giant blue steel plates attached to the very stern (end) of the ship. During this trawl, only one cod-end was opened, and the catch was several hundred pounds of Pollock, with some eulachon, capelin, squid and jellies also.

Because pollock are the target fish of this survey, each was sexed and counted, and a smaller number were measured for length and weight, and the stomachs and otoliths were removed. The stomachs are being preserved for another research project back in Seattle, and as I mentioned previously about otoliths, they tell the age of the fish.

Personal Log

Today I was happy to have beautiful sunshine and 2 trawls to sort through. The skies and surrounding islands were absolutely stunning. I can understand why people are drawn to this place. It’s wild and rugged and looks like it probably did hundreds of years ago.

Scenery of the Shumigan Islands.

sunset

Dusk in the Shumigan Islands.

Species List

humpback whale (just one today!)

fulmar

tufted puffin

pollock

arrowtooth flounder

jellies

krill

squid

Pacific sandlance

capelin

juvenile flatfish

juvenile cod

sea gulls

eulachon

Thought for the day… if I was a blubbery whale, I would live in the Gulf of Alaska. If I was a pollock, I’d try not to get into a net, they can give you a splitting headache.

Anne Mortimer: Fishing, July 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 9.53 C, Foggy
Sea temperature: 8.19 C
Wind direction: 145
Wind Speed: 18.73 knots
Barometric pressure: 1013.22 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Last night, we attempted a bottom trawl for walleye pollock. The way scientists know that fish are present is by using acoustic sampling. The centerboard of the ship is set-up with sound emitting and recording devices. When a sound wave is emitted toward the bottom, it will eventually be returned when it hits a fish or the ocean bottom. This is called echo-sounding and has been used by sport & commercial fisherman and researchers for many decades. The sound waves are sent down in pulses every 1.35 seconds and each returned wave is recorded. Each data point shows up in one pixel of color that is dependent on the density of the object hit. So a tightly packed group of fish will show as a red or red & yellow blob on the screen. When scientists see this, they fish!

This echogram shows scientists where fish can be found.

The scientists use this acoustic technology to identify when to put the net in the water, so they can collect data from the fish that are caught. The researchers that I am working with are specifically looking at pollock, a mid-water fish. The entire catch will be weighed, and then each species will be weighed separately. The pollock will all be individually weighed, measured, sexed, and the otolith removed to determine the age of the fish. Similar to the rings on a tree, the otolith can show the age of a fish, as well as the species.

pollock otolith

A pollock otolith.

Pollock otolith in my hand

These scientists aren’t the only ones that rely on technology, the ships navigation systems is computerized and always monitored by the ship’s crew. For scientific survey’s like these, there are designated routes the ship must follow called transects.

globe chart

This chart shows the transects, or route, that the ship will follow.

This chart shows the route (white line) of the ship once fish were spotted. When scientists find a spot that they want to fish (green fish symbol), they call up to the bridge and the ship returns to that area. As the ship is returning, the deckhands are preparing the net and gear for a trawl.

Personal Log

I think that I must have good sea legs. So far, I haven’t felt sick at all, although it is very challenging to walk straight most times! I’ve enjoyed talking with lots of different folks working on the ship, of all ages and from all different places. Without all of the crew on board, the scientists couldn’t do their research. I’ve been working the night shift and although we’ve completed a bottom trawl and Methot trawl, we haven’t had a lot of fish to sort through. My biggest challenge is staying awake until 3 or 4 am!

Did you know?

That nautical charts show depths in fathoms.  A fathom is a unit of measurement that originated from the distance from tip to tip of a man’s outstretched arms. A fathom is 2 yards, or 6 feet.

Species list for today:

Humpback Whale

Northern Fulmar

Tufted Puffin

Stormy Petrel

petrel

Fish biologist Kresimir found this petrel in the fish lab; attracted to the lights it flew inside by accident. The petrel is in the group of birds called the tube-nosed sea birds. They have one or two "tubes" on their beak that helps them excrete the excess salt in their bodies that they accumulate from a life spent at sea.

In the Methot net:

Multiple crab species including tanner crabs

Multiple sea star species, including rose star

Sanddollars

Juvenile fish

Brittle stars

Sponge

Multiple shrimp species including candy striped shrimp

shrimp variety

These are some of the shrimp types that we found in our Methot net tow.

Jason Moeller: June 17-18, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 17-18, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 52.34 N
Longitude: -167.51 W
Wind Speed: 7.25 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 6.6 Degrees C
Air Temperature: 7.1 Degrees C
Relative Humidity: 101%
Depth:  63.53 meters

All of the above information was found on http://shiptracker.noaa.gov. Readers can use this site to track exactly where I am at all times!

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

It has been a very eventful 24 hours! We have started fishing, but have done so little that I will wait to talk about that in the next log. Tammy, the other Teacher at Sea, has not begun fishing yet, and as we will be writing the science and technology log together, I will save the fishing stories until she has had a chance to fish.

After turning in last night’s log, we managed to spot eight or nine humpback whales on our starboard side that appeared to be feeding at the surface. They were too far away to get any decent photos, but it was a lot of fun to watch the spouts from their blowholes tower up into the air.

Whale Spouts

Ten whale spouts rise in the distance.

This afternoon started off by dropping an expendable bathythermograph (from here on out this will be referred to as an XBT). The XBT measures the temperature and depth of the water column where it is dropped (there will be more on this in the Science and Technology section). I was told that I would be dropping the XBT this time, and was led off by Sarah and Abby (two of the scientists on board) to get ready.

Ready to launch!

The first thing I had to do was to get dressed. I was told the XBT would feel and sound like firing a shotgun, so I had to put on eye, ear and head protection. I was also put in a fireman suit to protect my body from the kickback, since I am so small. The XBT launcher is the tube in my hands.

Pranked!

This is me launching the XBT. Why no smoke? All we actually needed to do was drop the device over the side. The whole shotgun experience was a prank pulled off by the scientists on all of the new guys. Their acting was great! When I turned towards Sarah at one point with the launcher, she ducked out of the way as if afraid I would accidentally fire it. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

However, the prank backfired somewhat. As the scientists were all laughing, a huge wave came up over the side of the ship and drenched us. I got nailed, but since I was in all of the gear, I stayed dry with the hem of my jeans being the only casualty. Sarah didn’t get so lucky. Fun times!

Sarah

Sarah looking a bit wet.

Science and Technology Log
Today, we will be looking at the XBT (the expendable bathythermograph). Bathy refers to the depth, and thermo refers to the temperature. This probe measures the depth and temperature of the water column when it is dropped over the starboard side of the ship.
“Dropping” isn’t exactly the right phrase to use. We use a launcher that resembles a gun. See the photo below to get an idea of what the launcher looks like.
XBT Launcher

This is the XBT Launcher.

Pin

The silver loop is the pin for the launcher. To launch the probe, we pulled the pin and flung out our arm. The momentum pushed the probe out of the tube and into the water below.

The probe

The probe.

The probe is connected to a length of copper wire, which runs continuously as the probe sinks through the water column. It is important to launch the probe as far away from the ship as possible, as the copper wire should never touch the ship. If the wire were to touch the ship, the data feed back to the ship would be disrupted and we would have to launch another probe, which is a waste of money and equipment. The survey technician decides to cut the wire when he/she has determined that sufficient data has been acquired. This normally occurs when the probe hits the ocean floor.

This is a quick and convenient way to collect data on the depth and temperature of the water column. While the ship has other methods of collecting this data (such as a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) probe), the XBT is a simpler system that does not need to be recovered (as opposed to the CTD).

CTD

A CTD

Data collected from the most recent XBT.
Latitude: 53.20 degrees N
Longitude: 167.46 degrees W
Temperature at surface: 6.7 degrees C
Temperature at bottom: 5.1 degrees C
Thermocline: 0 meters to 25 meters.
The thermocline is the area where the most rapid temperature change occurs. Beneath the thermocline, the temperature remains relatively constant.
Thermocline

This is a graph showing a thermocline in a body of water. Source: http://www.windows2universe.org

Species Seen

Humpback Whales

Northern Fulmar

Albatross

Northern Smoothtongue

Walleye Pollock

Mackerel

Lumpsucker

Squid

Pacific Sleeper Shark

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Today’s reader questions come from James and David Segrest, who are two of my students in Knoxville Zoo’s homeschool Tuesday classes!

1. Did pirates ever travel the path you are on now? Are there any out there now?

A. As far as I know, there are no pirates currently operating in Alaska, and according to the scientists, there were not any on the specific route that we are now traveling. However, Alaska does have a history of piracy! In 1910, a man named James Robert Heckem invented a floating fish trap that was designed to catch salmon. The trap was able to divert migrating salmon away from their normal route and into a funnel, which dumped the fish off into a circular wire net. There, the fish would swim around until they were taken from the trap.

Salmon and trap

Workers remove salmon from a fish trap in 1938. Historic Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife - Fisheries Collection - Photographer: Archival photograph by Mr. Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS.

For people who liked eating fish, this was a great thing! The salmon could be caught quickly with less work, and it was fresh, as the salmon would still be alive when taken from the trap. For the traditional fisherman, however, this was terrible news. The fishermen could not compete with the traps and found that they could not make a living. The result was that the fishermen began raiding the floating traps, using any means possible.

Salmon barge

A barge of salmon going to a cannery. Fishermen could not compete with traps that could catch more fish. Historic Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife - Fisheries Collection -Photographer: Archival photograph by Mr. Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS

The most common method used was bribery. The canneries that operated the traps would hire individuals to watch the traps. Fishermen would bribe the watchers, steal the fish, and then leave the area. The practice became so common that the canneries began to hire people to watch the trap-watchers.

2. Have you seen any sharks? Are there any sharks that roam the waters where you are traveling?

shark

Hi James and David! Here is your shark! It's a Pacific Sleeper Shark.

shark in net

The shark in the net

Shark

Another image of the shark on the conveyor belt.

This is a Pacific Sleeper Shark. It is called a sleeper shark as it does not appear to move a great deal, choosing instead to glide with very little movement of its fins. As a result, it does not make any noise underwater, making it the owl of the shark world. It hunts much faster fish (pollock, flounders, rockfish) by being stealthy. They are also known to eat crabs, octopus, and even snails! It is one of two animals known to eat giant squid, with the other one being sperm whales, although it is believed that these sharks probably scavenge the bodies of the much larger squid.

The other shark commonly seen is the salmon shark. Hopefully, we will catch one of these and I will have photos later in the trip.

Deborah Moraga, June 23, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Log: Deborah Moraga
NOAA Ship: Fulmar
Date: July 20‐28, 2010

Mission: ACCESS
(Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies)
Geographical area of cruise: Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries
Date: June 23,2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Start time: 0705 (7:05am)
End Time: 1708 (5:08 pm)
Position:
Line 2 start on eastern end: Latitude = 38o 3.4080 N; Longitude = 123o 10.9800 W
Line 2 end on western end: Latitude = 38o 2.7660 N; Longitude = 123o 33.7800 W
Line 1 start on western end: Latitude = 38o 7.8240 N; Longitude = 123o 31.9200 W
Line 1 end on eastern end: Latitude = 38o 8.3940 N; Longitude = 123o 11.5200 W
Present Weather: Cloud cover 100%
Visibility: 3‐10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: light, variable winds 5 knots or less
Wave Height: 0.25 ‐ 1 meter
Sea Water Temp: 11.5 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 12.1 C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.5 mb

Science and Technology Log
From the flying bridge…It was noted that there are unusually high numbers of some animals from Alaska ‐ such as Northern Fulmars. There were also many sightings of humpback whales, one blue whale, numerous California sea lions and Dall’s porpoises. Today was the first sighting of a fin whale recorded on an ACCESS survey. the CTD

Krill

The seas were so calm… with a swell height of 0.25 meters, you could say the ocean looked as calm as a bathtub right before you get in.

With the seas being so calm it was great to work on the back deck (stern) of the boat. Today while working line 2 we deployed the CTD six times and took hoop net samples of zooplankton at 50 meters below the surface. The Tucker trawl was also deployed (put into the water and towed behind the boat) to 200 meters. In the jars of organisms that we sampled from line 2 we found adult and juvenile krill. We found some krill with chlorophyll still in their stomachs.

Sending out the CTD

Two small fish found their way into the hoop net. Myctophid ‐ these fish live deeper during the day and come up towards the surface at night. The scales on the myctophid looked like a colored mirror and are iridescent.

Myctophid

I had the chance to do the water samples today as the CTD was deployed. To do a water sample you throw a bucket over board (attached to the boat with a line). Pull the bucket out of the water and “clean it out” by swirling the water around. Drop the bucket back into the ocean and bring it up to the deck. You then take a small vial that is labeled with the sampling location and rinse it out several times before capping with a lid. It is then placed in the freezer to be analyzed for nutrients by another agency. I was just about to cap the sample and I heard this ‘poof’ sound. I looked over and two humpback whales surfaced just meters away from me. I knew they were humpbacks, a type of baleen whale, because their blow hole is actually two holes. They started to swim off and fluked (raised their tales above the water before diving) just as I was finishing the water sample, how lucky I am to be here!

Humpback Whale

Personal Log
Getting My Sea Legs
Okay, I will admit I was seasick the first day. I mean really sick. The sea was rough… 9 foot swell and even with a patch on to combat seas sickness…breakfast came up. I have not been sick again! But tomorrow is another day out at sea!

Deborah Moraga, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Log: Deborah Moraga
NOAA Ship: Fulmar
Cruise Dates: July 20‐28, 2010

Mission: ACCESS
(Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies)
Geographical area of cruise: Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries
Date: June 21, 2010

The R/V Fulmar

Overview
The R/V Fulmar sets out from the dock early each morning. This ACCESS cruise has 5 members of the scientific team and myself (the NOAA Teacher at Sea.) There are two crew members for a total 8 people onboard.

The three central California National Marine Sanctuaries and the ports where the R/V Fulmar docks

The three central California National Marine Sanctuaries and the ports where the R/V Fulmar docks

Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies

Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies

National Marine Sanctuaries

National Marine Sanctuaries

ACCESS is an acronym for Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies. This is a partnership between PRBO Conservation Science, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. These groups of conservation scientists are working together to better understand the impacts that different organisms have on the marine ecosystem off the coast of central California.

Immersion suit for safety

They do this so that policy makers (government groups) have the most accurate data to help them make informed decisions on how the productive waters off the coast can be a resource for us and still protect the wildlife. You can read a more in depth explanation at http://www.accessoceans.org

Flying Bridge

The R/V Fulmar is a 67 foot Marine Grade Aluminum catamaran (a multi hulled vessel.) This vessel can travel 400 miles before refueling and can reach 27 knots (30 miles per hour) with a cruising speed of 22 knots (25.3 miles per hour.) Although that may sound slow compared to the cars we drive… you have to take into account that there can be 10 foot waves to go over out on the ocean.

The Fulmar’s homeport (where the boat ties up to dock most of the time) is in Monterey Bay, CA. For this cruise we will come into port (dock) in Bodega Bay, Sausalito, and Half Moon Bay. Each morning the crew wakes up an hour before the time we start out for the day. They check the oil and look over the engines, start the engines, disconnect the shore power and get the boat ready to sail out for a ten hour day.

Today (July 23, 2010) we left at 0700 (7:00 a.m.) out of Bodega Bay. Bodega Bay is on the coast of Sonoma county, California. It is from Bodega Bay that we will travel offshore to the “lines” that we will be surveying. Today we will survey lines one and two.

Then after the day’s work is done, we will sail into port, tie up to the dock and have dinner. The scientists and crew members sleep on the boat in the berths (bunks) that are located in the hulls of the boat.

Surveys
“Okay, take a survey of the types of pets your classmates have at home. Then create a graph.” How many times have math teachers assigned that assignment and expected that students knew how to survey? Today I received firsthand knowledge of how a survey takes place.

Marine scientist scanning for wildlife

Up on the flying bridge (about 5.5 meters from the surface of the ocean) scientists are surveying birds and marine mammals. There is a protocol that each follows. Here, the protocol is basically a list of agreed upon rules on how to count the marine life seen on the ocean. One researcher inputs the data into a waterproof laptop…imagine chilling at the pool and being able to surf the web! There are other researchers sitting alongside and calling out the types of birds and marine mammals they see. The researchers surveying the birds and mammals use not only their eyes but also binoculars.

Krill collected by the Trucker Trawl

After the researcher spots and identifies the birds or mammals, they call out their findings to the recording scientist in a code like fashion, doing this allows for the data to be inputted faster. The team can travel miles without Krill collected by the Trucker Trawl Researcher recording observations on the flying bridge Pacific White Sided dolphins bow riding seeing any organisms or there may be so many that the scientist at the laptop has a tough time keeping up. In this case the surveying scientist may have to write down their findings and report them when there is a break in the action.

Imagine that you are driving down the highway with your family. You have been asked to count the number humans, cows, horses, goats, dogs, cats, cars or trash on your trip. How would you make sure that your family members didn’t double count and still record all that you see? This is where protocols (instruction/rules) come in. So, let us say that you are behind the driver, and your brother or sister is in the backseat next to the window. There is also a family member in the passenger seat up front (yeah they called ‘shot gun’ before you did.) This is much like the seating arrangement on the flying bridge of the R/V Fulmar.

Researcher recording observations on the flying bridge

So how could you split up the road and area around the road so that you do not count something twice? You could split the area that you see into two parts. Take your left arm and stick it straight out the window. Have your sister/brother stick their right arm out their side window. If we drew an arc from your arm to your sibling’s arm it would be 180 degrees. Of the 180 degree arc, you are responsible for counting everything from your arm to the middle of the windshield. So, you are responsible for 90 degrees and your sibling has the other 90 degrees from the middle of the windshield to their arm.

Pacific White Sided dolphins bow riding

Once you start counting you need to record the data you are collecting. Can you write and count at the same time? Not very well, so we need someone to record the data. There are actually a lot of points of data that you need to enter.

You need to tell the recorder…
• Cue: How did you see the item you are counting?
• Method: Were you searching by eye or using a pair of binoculars?
• Bearing: The angle that the item is from the car as related to the front of the car.
• Reticle: How far the item was from your car when you first observed it (you would use your binoculars for this measurement).
• Which side of the car are you on and who is dong the observing?
• Behavior: What was the organism doing when you spotted it? Was it traveling, feeding or milling (just hanging out)?

Deploying the CTD

You also have to determine the age and sex of the organism. You need to record the species of the organism and how many you observed.
Now that is all for the species above the ground… what would you do for the animals below the road surface? On the R/V Fulmar they collect species from below the surface of the ocean and data about the water. They do this several different ways…

Bringing in the Hoop Net

1. CTD: Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. This is a tool that records the physical properties of the ocean. It records…

a. Salinity (amount of salt in the water)
b. Temperature (how hot or cold the water is)
c. Depth (how far the instrument travels below the surface)
d. How much chlorophyll is in the water
e. Turbidity (how murky or clear the water is)
f. How much oxygen is in the water

Deploying the Tucker Trawl

2. Hoop Net: Looks like a very heavy hula hoop. Except this hoop has a cone shaped cylinder made of fine mesh attached to it. At the apex of the cone, a small PVC container, called a cod end, is attached. Zooplankton (tiny swimming animals) and some phytoplankton (tiny marine plants) are funneled into the cod end of the net as it is towed behind the boat. When the net comes back to the boat, the researchers take off the cod end and use this sample of organisms.

Collecting data from the CTD

3. Tucker Trawl: Is like three hoop nets attached together. The cool thing about this big net is that the scientists can close each net at different depths. As Map of the transect lines Retrieving the Hoop Net Phytoplankton Net the net is towed behind the boat they “close” each net to capture zooplankton at different depths. The tucker trawl is used primarily to collect krill

Map of the transect lines

Transects
Have you ever lost something in your room? Perhaps it was your homework? The bus is coming and you have to find your binder. So you start tearing your room apart. By the time the bus is five minutes away… you room looks like a disaster and you can’t remember where exactly you have looked and yet, still no binder.
Imagine a group of scientists 30 miles offshore, doing that same type of “looking” for organisms, with the captain piloting (driving) the boat any which way. Just like your binder that was missed when you were looking for it, number and location of organisms in parts of the ocean would be missing from the data set.

Retrieving the Hoop Net

So if you wanted a systematic way to look for your homework that is lost in your room, you would imagine a grid. You would have lines running from one wall to another. These lines would be parallel to each other. You would walk along the line looking for you binder. When you came to the end of the line (at your wall) you would then start on another line. By walking back and forth in your room in this systematic way, you will not miss any part of your room.

Phytoplankton Net

You have just traveled along a transect line. A transect is a path you travel and as you do you are counting and recording data. On the R/V Fulmar, scientists are counting birds, marine mammals, and collecting krill. By counting how many and what kinds of organisms are along the transect line, scientists will be able to calculate the density of organisms in a given area. There are several different types on lines that we survey. There are the near shore transects…which extend 12 kilometers from the shore (that is as long as running back a forth a football field 131 times). Offshore lines are 50 to 60 kilometers from the coast. Imagine how many football fields that would be!

Bow of R/V Fulmar

Density… Take your right hand and put it in your right front pocket of your pants and pull out all the coins you have in your pocket. Looking down at your hand you count 10 dimes. Now do the same for your left hand. You found you have two dimes. The “area” those coins were located is equal… meaning your pockets are the same size. The density of coins in your pockets is greater in your right pocket because there are more coins per square inch than in your left pocket.

Humpback Whale

The researchers on the ACCESS cruise use the data they have collected out in the field (in this case the field is the three central California National Marine Sanctuaries) to calculate the density of the organisms they are researching. They are counting and recording the number of organisms and their location so they can create graphs and maps that show the distribution of those organisms in the waters off the coast.

Taking a surface water sample

Why do they need this information? The data starts to paint a picture of the health of the ecosystem in this part of the world. With that information, they can make suggestions as to how resources are used and how to protect the waters off the California coast. By using data that has been collected over many years, suggestions can be made on how the ocean can still be utilized (used) today while insuring that future generations of humans, marine mammals, birds and krill have the same opportunities.

whale breach

whale breach

David Altizio, May 22 – 23, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Altizio
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
May 17 – May 27, 2010

NOAA ship Fairweather
Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE Alaska,
from Petersburg, AK to Seattle, WA
Dates: Saturday, May 22 and Sunday, May 23

Me standing on the rocks, making tidal observations.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Customhouse Cove                  Position: Customhouse Cove
Time: 0800 on 5/22                                   Time: 0800 on 5/23
Latitude: 550 56.01’ N                              Latitude: 55006.5’N
Longitude: 1310 13.75’ W                       Longitude: 131013.7’W
Clouds: Mostly Cloudy                               Clouds: Mostly Cloudy
Visibility: 10 miles                                      Visibility: 10 miles
Winds: 6 knots from the NW                     Winds: 6 knots from the SE
Waves: Less than one foot                         Waves: Less than one foot
Dry Bulb Temperature: 12.20C         Dry Bulb Temperature: 11.00C
Wet Bulb Temperature: 10.20C        Wet Bulb Temperature: 9.80C
Barometric Pressure: 1015.0 mb     Barometric Pressure: 1010.0 mb
Tides (in feet):                                             Tides (in feet):
Low @ 0224 of 2.8                                         Low @ 0335 of 1.5
High @ 0828 of 12.2                                      High @ 0943 of 12.4
Low @ 1436 of 1.6                                          Low @ 1537 of 2.0
High @ 2105 of 14.6                                      High @ 2159 of 15.4
Sunrise: 0424                                               Sunrise: 0423
Sunset: 2100                                                 Sunset: 2101

Science and Technology Log

On Saturday morning I went out and made observations at a tide gauge in Customhouse Cove. We took measurements over a three hour period every six minutes for a one minute interval. We used a pair of binoculars to read the tide staff, which was about 20 feet away, to the nearest millimeter. The purpose of taking this reading over a period of one minute is because the water is constantly moving both toward the shoreline and away from it. This interval ensures that you can get the most accurate reading as possible.

Tide staff, used for measuring rising and falling tides

On Sunday, I again went out on a small launch boat. This time we needed to complete a few more holidays using the multi‐beam sonar, then we went to two small islands, Smeaton and South Twin, to recover the GPS (global positioning systems) base stations.

Computer screen,showing live acquisition of multi-beam SONAR data from one of the holidays.

The GPS base station data is recorded daily, while the survey project is underway. The data is then uploaded during the processing phase and used to correct the precise position of the Fairweather and its launches to within a few centimeters of accuracy. This allows the survey technicians to know the exact horizontal position when all of the data was collected by the multi‐bean sonar. Sunday was the last day that data was collected on this project, and that is why we recovered both of the GPS bases stations.

Me,in the process of removing one of the GPS base

When the tide gauge was established for measurements, during April of 2010, a three hour period of observations was made, similar to what I did on Saturday morning. In the time since April, observations are to be made each week for at least 1‐2 hours. Due to the remote nature of some of the tide gauge locations this is not always possible. The purpose of the observations of the rising and falling tide is to establish the vertical location of the tide gauge sensor, which is submerged below the surface, in relation to the tide staff. These observations help in correlating the height observed on the tide staff, with benchmarks that were previously installed by the Fairweather crew along the beach.

Maritime activities throughout the world depend on accurate tidal and current information for safe operation. NOAA’s National Ocean Service collects studies and provides access to thousands of historical and real‐time observations as well as predictions of water levels, coastal currents and other data.
Ocean tides move in response to gravitational forces exerted by the moon and sun. Since the moon is much closer to the Earth it is the dominant force that affects Earth’s tides. Whichever side of the Earth is facing the moon experiences a greater gravitational attraction, and the oceans get pulled towards it causing a bulge.

Me, holding the rod for leveling measurements (with the Fair weather in the background).

When the highest part or crest of the wave reaches a particular location, high
tide occurs; low tide corresponds to the lowest part of the wave, or its trough. The difference in height between the high tide and the low tide is called the tidal range. Here, in SE Alaska there is almost a 15 feet difference between high and low tide.

Me,reading the level off of the leveling rod(again with the Fairweather in the background).

Most coastal areas, experience two high tides and two low tides every lunar day. Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of a 24‐hour solar day. A lunar day is the time it takes for a specific site on the Earth to rotate from an exact point under the moon to the same point under the moon the next day.

One of the benchmarks on the beach.

On Saturday afternoon, we went back to the tide gauge to take elevation levels of five benchmarks on the beach. The purpose of these measurements is to establish a vertical height of the tide gauge with five existing benchmarks. When the gauge was started in April 2010, the same measurements were made. We verified that the opening and closing measurements were within an acceptable range. After taking height measurements, I helped take out one of the prototype tide gauges since the data was not needed anymore. The regular gauge was later removed on Sunday.

Part of the tide gauge instruments, solarpanel, GPS transmitter.

I was able to help out with these height measurements by holding a rod on top of the benchmarks, while another member of the crew looked through a scope and read the levels off of the rod. We also documented the entire site by taking photographs.

A humpback whale tale.

Personal Log

The weather on Saturday was probably the best I have had in SE Alaska so far. It was sunny and in the low 60’s. I learned a few days ago, that when you are out at sea and it is sunny you need sunscreen and a baseball hat in order to not get sunburn. As I told you, on Saturday morning I was dropped off by a small boat to observe the level of the tide. Nothing too exciting, but the weather made it just fine. Since we were very close to the ship, I was able to come back on and have “hot” lunch rather than sandwiches and stuff. In the afternoon, we went back to the same tide gauge and I helped out with elevation studies is the easiest way to say it. This was better than the morning for me.

In the morning one other guy and I were literally dropped off on a barely exposed rock just offshore from the tide gauge. When we started there was water between the two of us, but we knew the tide was dropping so we were fine. However, we were sort of stranded there until the small boat picked us up for lunch. We had to take levels of the water every six minutes. Sounds boring but it went by rather quickly. As the tide dropped small tidal pools were exposed and I was able to explore. There was tons of sea life. It reminded me of Point Loma near San Diego, where I vacationed once. While we were there, of course there were bald eagles and even a few seals.

In the afternoon we actually went onto the beach and I got to explore a little. First time on land since Ketchikan; which we are still very close to. I was in my full on geologist mode, breaking and smacking rocks to see what they looked like on the inside. I saw some cool stuff, possibly some small flakes of gold, garnet crystals, and maybe some silver flakes. The captain (CO) also came along with us, which was pretty cool.

Dinner was good. Baked potato bar, some interesting tofu dish (most people ate prime rib, very rare, uncle Jerry style), salad, and coconut lemon cake for dessert. I am getting spoiled from all this good food. I watched another amazing sunset from Customhouse Cove on Saturday (that makes 3 from the same anchor spot).

Sunset on Saturday 5/22

Sunday, the weather was not as nice as Saturday; at least it did not rain. However I really did enjoy the day. The crew that I was with was great. We all got along very well. I was able to get onto land three times and explore and climb around on the rocks. Also we saw two humpback whales, a bunch of seals, more Dall’s porpoises, and yes more bald eagles.

Being able to go onshore was really special for me. I was not sure this was something I would be able to do. From here we will start making our course to Seattle. We were just told that we WILL be going through the “inside passage” which is supposed to be absolutely spectacular. I can’t wait.

For now the project is almost complete. There is only a small amount of data and bottom samples that need to be collected. I am enjoying my time onboard the Fairweather. Everyone has been very nice. I have developed a routine. I get up at 0640, breakfast begins at 0700, there is a safety meeting on the bow of the ship at 0800, then if you are on a launch you leave and come back in the late afternoon. Dinner is served at 1700, then after dinner we have a debriefing meeting to discuss the day’s work and any problems that may have been encountered.

As I said I have a little routine. Even the breakfast steward (cook) knows me by now. I come into the mess hall (dining area) and ask for my usual. Three scrambled eggs with scallions and cheese. I also have one piece of toast, three strips of bacon, some hash browns and fresh fruit, some coffee and orange juice. Not too bad. If you are doing survey work from the ship there is hot lunch at 1200, otherwise on the launches it is a bag/picnic style lunch. Yes I know I am getting spoiled with all of this good food.

Me enjoying my time on shore.

Sunset on Sunday 5/23

Justin Czarka, August 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 14, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 

Sunrise: 6:29 a.m.
Sunset: 2033 (8:33 p.m.)
Weather: patchy mist
Sky: partly to mostly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: Northwest 10-15 knots (kt)
Visibility: unrestricted, reduced to 1-3 nautical miles (nm) in mist
Waves: northwest 3-6 feet
Air Temperature: 17.50°C
Water Temperature: 17.63°C

Science and Technology Log 

Today I rotated to a new job assignment. I have been working with the CTD water samples, storing nutrient samples, and preparing chlorophyll samples.  Now I work with Jay Peterson, researcher from Oregon State University, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Newport, Oregon, deploying, retrieving, and preparing live samples from the vertical net and bongo net on a cable.

The vertical net gets rinsed off after the tow.

The vertical net gets rinsed off after the tow.

The nets collect all types of plankton, both plants and animals.  As with all the sample collections occurring aboard the McArthur II, communication is the backbone of the operations, or “ops.” For the vertical net and bongo net, two people manually place the nets over the ship’s starboard side, while a winch operator deploys and retrieves the nets from the ocean, and the bridge navigates the ship. For vertical nets, the goal is to take the net to 100 meters (m) depth and then hauled up vertically. The purpose is to catch organisms from the entire water column up to the surface.  It is the same depth for the bongo net, but the goal is to have the cable at a 45° angle with the ship moving at a steady 2 knots (kt). Both nets have flowmeters to determine the volume of water that goes through the net. Once back on the deck, the nets are rinsed from the top to the bottom so that everything in the net can be analyzed. The samples are placed in jars or buckets to observe under microscope.  We find euphausiids (krill), copepods, Tomopteris, Chaetognatha (arrow worms), fish larvae, Phronima, and even bird feathers!  You have to check out these animals online, as they all have fascinating features. More importantly, while small in size, they are an essential part of the food web. Without them, many species would struggle to find food.

Personal Log 

Today we a day of plenty in terms of sighting marine mammals and other species as well!  The day started out near shore at Newport, Oregon and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.  The McArthur II travels roughly in a zigzag approach near shore to off shore and back for this mission.  Getting ready for the day watch, I saw some whales off the port (left side facing forward on a ship). That was just the beginning. As we headed due west on the Newport transect line (44 39.1′ N latitude) we spotted brownish and reddish jelly fish, albatross following along the starboard side during bongo tows, sea lions skirting by the stern, and a shark fiddling with driftwood presumably looking for small fish that were utilizing the log as a habitat. Later in the day, we navigated near breaching humpback whales on the starboard side. Towards evening, a group of 5-6 pacific white-sided dolphins followed along for 10 minutes or so.

A Doliolid, which feeds on plankton, was caught in the vertical net before being released into the ocean.  Note the pinkish lines, the muscle bands, and blimp-like shape.

A Doliolid, which feeds on plankton, was caught in the vertical net before being released into the ocean. Note the pinkish lines, the muscle bands, and blimp-like shape.

Being out here witnessing the wildlife in their environment is fascinating.  You start to internalize the ocean planet as more than a vast emptiness.  There exists a tremendous amount of species diversity living above and below the surface. Yet sadly, since few of us spend regular time away from our land habitats, we tend to neglect the essential nature of the ocean.  The ocean truly sustains us, whether providing the majority of our freshwater (through evaporation and, consequently, rain), supporting our nutritional diets, and driving the weather we experience daily.  Teacher at Sea really reinforces this revelation since I get to spend an extended amount of time away from my terrestrial existence learning to appreciate the ocean’s influence on our lives.  May we gain enough understanding to ensure the sustainability of the ocean ecosystem.

Animals Seen 

Humpback whales
Shark
Jellyfish
Doliolid
Albatross
Albacore tuna
Sea lion
Pacific white-sided dolphin

Ruth Meadows, July 11, 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: July 11, 2009

Waiting to see what animals we can spot off the bow

Waiting to see what animals we can spot off the bow

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature 18o C
Humidity 61%
Wind speed 4.2 knots

Science and Technology Log 

Today is our last day at sea and the weather is certainly cooperating with us. We have beautiful blue skies, warm temperatures and calm waters.  It is a perfect day for observing marine life.  Several of us spent most of the day on the bow of the ship looking for any type of marine life.  Throughout the day, we spotted three Mola mola fish, which is a very large ocean sunfish that can be found in temperate oceans.

A humpback whale breaches the water off the bow of the Bigelow.

A humpback whale breaches off the bow.

One went right by the ship so we were able to see the entire body of this fish through the water.  Another one was just lying on its side but we were too far away to see it very well. Finally it was suppertime and we all went to the galley eat, somewhat disappointed that we had not seen more sea life. During supper, the call we had all been hoping to hear came, “Humpback whale off the bow.”  We all left the galley and quickly ran up to the deck afraid we would miss seeing this majestic creature.  We were in for a treat.  It was as if the whale knew we were watching and performed for us.  For over 40 minutes, the humpback whale slapped its pectoral fins, slapped its tail and even breached out of the water twice.  It was an amazing sight.

The fluke of the humpback

The fluke of the humpback

As the whale slowly swam around, the ship carefully followed at a safe distance giving us an amazing opportunity to observe this massive mammal in its natural habitat. At one point, the whale was floating on its back and slapping both of its pectoral fins in the water at the same time.  We were close enough to actually hear the sound of the fins hitting the water.  Many members of the ship’s crew came to the bow to watch also. While we were watching, the chief engineer standing next to me looked down at the water next to the ship in time to point out a Mako shark swimming just below the surface moving slowly toward the rear of the ship. The afternoon turned into an amazing good bye present to the entire crew of the Bigelow. After the humpback whale made its final dive deep into the ocean, many of us stayed outside to enjoy our last sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.

Personal Log 

The past four weeks on board the NOAA ship, Henry B. Bigelow, have been an amazing experience for me.  We traveled over 5,000 nautical miles to search for rare and unusual animals that live in the deep ocean along the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  I was truly fortunate to have been selected for this particular scientific cruise.  The scientific crew, NOAA corps and crew were second to none. Everyone worked around the clock to make sure the goals of the cruise were accomplished.  In addition to the professionalism of all the members of this cruise, everyone seemed to truly enjoy working together to complete all parts of the mission. Everyone, from the captain of the ship, the engineers, the deck hands, the cooks and the scientific crew, made me feel welcome and included in all the activities on board. I will take many things with me from this opportunity I was lucky enough to be selected for.

A beautiful sunset on the Atlantic

A beautiful sunset on the Atlantic

I knew I would learn a lot about the ocean and the organisms that live there.  What I didn’t know before I left was how much I would enjoy getting to know the people that were a part of the MAR-ECO cruise. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of this wonderful experience.

Susan Smith, June 7, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Smith
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 1-12, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Trocadero Bay, Alaska; 55°20.990’ N, 33°00.677’ W
Date: June 7, 2009

Sending the CTD to the bottom

Sending the CTD to the bottom

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: Dry Bulb 12.8° C (55°F)
Wet Bulb 11.7°C (53°F)
Cloudcover: Overcast 8/8
Visibility: 4 nautical miles
Wind: VRB, light speed
Sea Wave Height: 0-1
Sea water temperature: 9.4°C (49°F)

Science and Technology Log 

Today we left Craig to finish our grids in Trocadero Bay, Alaska. It was a time to clean up or capture data from isolated locations which had either been missed or not completely surveyed. For the first few hours we spent our time surveying areas very close to the shoreline and areas very difficult in which to maneuver.

Bringing the CTD back up

Bringing the CTD back up

We did our first cast with the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) equipment and I finally asked if I could run it. Ian, the survey technician, happily obliged. The CTD calculates speed of sound through water. I have finally gotten the gist of sonar settings. The following information will help you understand why it is all necessary for getting accurate data to the surveyor and coxswain. 

Range- How long it takes for the sonar beam to go to the bottom and return, or in layman’s terms, tells the sonar when to ping and listen.

Pulse length- Pulse length sets how long the sonar transmits, thus allowing more power to be put out bythe sonar, but it results in decreased resolution. The longer the length of the pulse the lower the resolution, so shorter is optimal. For instance, when going through kelp it should be set at low so the kelp isn’t all being picked up by the sonar beam.

I really enjoyed driving the launch today.

I really enjoyed driving the launch today.

Sonar Beams- There are 512 beams at high frequency (400khz). Low frequency (200 khz) equals 256 beams.  There are two yellow gates on the screen which  surveyors utilize. One is positioned above the shallow water, one is positioned beneath the deepest water measurement. When in shallow water most surveyors disable them. When in deep water, if the top gate is positioned too low, you lose valuable data on the outer limits. If the lower gate is positioned too low it records too much noise. However, if it is set too high the outer beams are missing and no data is recorded. Surveyors must constantly watch this screen when these gates are active to ensure all data they want is being captured.

The airplane indicates the launch position and the color is the area which has been logged.

The airplane indicates the launch position and the color is the area which has been logged.

The surveyor must ensure the data is placed in appropriate folders, enter data in spreadsheets, and basically keep things running smoothly for the entire time data is being logged. So, in essence the surveyor must watch the sonar screen, set the polygons on the screen for him/herself and the coxswain, continually check the settings, remember to log on for data retrieval  and log off when the swath is completed, set the CTD for casts every four hours, and monitor as many as ten folders at one time.

The rule of safety: Never shall safety for life or property be compromised for data acquisition.

The rule of safety: Never shall safety for life or property be compromised for data acquisition.

The coxswain’s job is to drive the launch into areas to be charted, based on the POD, the Plan of the Day, grids. When data is being recorded he/she drives approximately four to eight knots, depending on the wave action. High swells require slower forward progress. The coxswain has two computer screens-one showing the grid being logged or charted, and another displays depth of water in feet, meters, and fathoms and several other pertinent pieces of data. He or she is ultimately responsible for making decisions about when to enter dicey locations and determining when to stay out of a risky situation.

Seals swimming in kelp

Seals swimming in kelp

When traveling in either extremely shallow water or water full of kelp and known rocky locations, a bow watch will stand on the bow and give visuals for the coxswain to avoid. Obviously, this person must wear a safety jacket and hold a rope around an arm or wrist, due to the precarious position he or she is in. High swells could cause serious accidents in a second.

Did you know when backing up a launch, sonar cannot penetrate the bubbles formed when the water is getting stirred? The readings inside the launch show the color red, or dangerous zones, because the sonar thinks the boat is at the bottom. As the surveyors and coxswains say, “No worries! We know where we are.”

Question of the day: What is a patch test and why is it run?

Humpback whale photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

Humpback whale photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

Personal Log

Now that I felt much more comfortable with understanding the sonar I was able to relax more on the launch today. Perfect timing, as this was such a great day for biological observations. Five different humpback whales were sighted in the bay with us; in one location two were in position as forward observers on either side of our launch. The last whale we spotted surfaced fairly close to our launch so we had to stop, mainly because the regulations state you must stay 100 yards from humpback whales. This whale went under the launch and surfaced about 50 meters from us. Off and on during the day they would surface in the areas we were surveying so we had to just wait until they moved along.

I also observed at least eight bald eagles either sitting in trees, flying over the water, or harassing the whales. One eagle flew down close to the water and looked as though it was taunting the whale! Then it quickly flew back up to a tree top and perched on a branch. Several eagles would fly off together, separate, then come back together before landing on a tree. Early in the morning we ran into a group of seals swimming around in kelp. They poked their heads out and just stared at us as we drove by. Luckily we saw them in time to slow down, so as to not disturb them anymore than necessary. 

Taylor Parker, April 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Parker
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19-29, 2009 

Mission: Hawaii Bottom fish Survey
Geographical Area: South side of Oahu
Date: April 19, 2009

Weather Data 
Calm winds of about 5 knots.
30% -50% Cloud cover.
80F degrees.

Science and Technology Log 

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Welcome to my ship logs!  On our cruise we are studying bottom fish in the waters around the Hawaiian Islands. The purpose of studying bottom fish is because of their popularity by commercial interests. These animals are well fished by local boats and there is much to learn about them and their life histories for sustainable fisheries management. Better knowledge of life history traits, such as age, growth and size and age at maturity will help current efforts to assess the bottom fish fisheries in the main Hawaiian Islands.

This weekend was exciting. After our cruise being delayed about a week due to various generator problems, it was decided that we would begin some of the bottom fish research from the smaller SAFE boats. On Saturday, April 19th, two teams hauled two boats (a 15 ft and 20 ft SAFE boat) to a boat ramp near Diamondhead on Oahu. Both were deployed at approximately 8:00am with the smaller boat studying “slicks” for conductivity, salinity and temperature as well as phyto- and zooplankton. The other boat, the one I was on, studied the bottom fish we pulled up. The smaller boat concluded their operations around 2pm while our boat finished at 4:30pm. All together our boat spent about 8 ½ hours on the water; we ate several sandwiches, drank a lot of Gatorade and used about a bottle of sunscreen. The weather was incredible with very little wind and few clouds until 2pm. The winds around Oahu pick up in the early afternoon and create some challenging swells.

As for the work done on the boats, we studied “slicks” and bottom fish. Slicks are the visible trails created in the water due to converging water flow. This trail has less turbulence than surrounding current and many fish larvae are found within these mini-refuges. They are called slicks because of their resemblance to oil slicks and that is partially because of the accumulation of oils from the many marine species. The smaller boat worked with specially adapted collection devices and finished the day with a bucket worth of sample to analyze.

Our boat dropped lines in the water several times to depths ranging from 100 – 230 meters to hopefully catch different bottom fish species. The gear we used consisted of two motorized reels and several hundred meters worth of monofilament mainline on each reel. At the bottom of the mainline a “blood” line was connected. It is called so because of the red color of the stronger line. A “pigtail” connection is attached to the lower end of the blood line to easily connect the interchangeable hooks and weight.  Three or four hooks are then attached to an interchangeable line connected to the pigtail.

Finally, a two pound weight is attached to the end of the line of hooks to bring the whole rig to the bottom. The fish we are targeting remain at a depth of more than 100 meters on semi-hard to hard bottom (rock and crushed coral). Once an appropriate site was found, the coxswain maintained position while we fished. In total we caught 6 fish: 4 Ehu (Etelis corbunculus), a Gindai (Pristipomoides zonatus) and a kind of Large-headed Scorpion fish, Hogo (Pontinus macrocephalus). We released the scorpion fish because it is not part of the study and one of the Ehu because it was healthy enough to return after we took measurements.

Personal Log 

I’ve never caught fish before. The only challenge I had in applying for this position was in my ability to kill another animal but I believe in the importance of research and recognize the beneficial impacts this work has toward promoting better stewardship of our natural resources. Catching a few fish for this cause seems justifiable and studying these creatures and their physiology is fascinating. After pulling the Ehu and Gindai from the water and seeing their remarkable oranges, red and yellows contrast against the blue of the swirling Hawaii waters, it surprises me that we cannot see these fish at all swimming directly underneath us. If the waters were truly clear, visible to the bottom, I believe the amount of and variety of colors we would see would mystify us.

Speaking of mystifying: the behemoth Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) visited us on our day trip. Although it is late in the season for them –most are on their way to the plankton buffet outside Alaska – we saw several momma whales swimming with their calfs. One time, on the horizon, we saw two humpbacks slapping their pectoral fins on the surface and crashing around with each other playing.

Additional: New term/ phrase/ word 

I’m learning new Hawaiian words: Puka means a hole or divet of any size and Pau is a term that has traditionally meant dead but has come to mean finished.