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.