Suzanne Acord: Teamwork Is a Must While at Sea, March 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 25, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 14:00
Wind: 7 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Weather: Hazy
Depth in fathoms: 577
Depth in feet: 3,462
Temperature: 27.0˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Teamwork

Kona cruise map

2014 Kona IEA Cruise Map. Locate H1 and H2 to determine where our HARPs are retrieved and deployed.

Throughout the past week, it has become obvious that all operations aboard the Sette require team work. Scientific projects and deployments require the assistance of the Bridge, engineers, and heavy equipment operators. This was clear during our recent deployment of our HARP or High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (see my earlier posts to learn why we use the HARP). Marine Mammal Operations lead, Ali Bayless, leads our morning HARP retrieval and deployment operations. We first prepare to retrieve a HARP that has completed its duty on the floor of the ocean. At least a dozen scientists and crew members attempt to locate it using binoculars. It is spotted soon after it is triggered by our team. Crew members head to the port side of the ship once the HARP at station H2 surfaces. H2 is very close to the Kona Coast. A fresh HARP is deployed from the stern of the ship later in the morning. Both the retrieval and deployment of the HARPs take immaculate positioning skills at the Bridge. Hence, the Bridge and the HARP crew communicate non-stop through radios. The coordinates of the drop are recorded so the new HARP can be retrieved in a year.

A Conversation with Commanding Officer (CO) Koes

A selfie with CO Koes

A selfie with CO Koes

Morale is high and teamwork is strong aboard the Sette. These characteristics are often attributed to excellent leadership. CO Koes’ presence is positive and supportive. CO Koes has served with NOAA for the past thirteen years. She came aboard the Sette January 4, 2013. She is now back in her home state of Hawaii after serving with NOAA in California and Oregon. She is a graduate of Kalani High School in Hawaii and earned a BA in chemical engineering at Arizona State University.

As CO of the Sette, Koes believes it is important to create trust amongst crew members and to delegate rather than to dictate. She provides support and guidance to her crew twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. She is the CO of all ship operations such as navigation, science operations, deck activities, trawling, and engineering. She is highly visible on board and is genuinely interested in the well-being of her crew and ship. She does not hesitate to start a conversation or pep talk in the mess or on the deck. When asked what she enjoys most about her job, she states that she “likes to see the lights go on in the eyes of junior officers when they learn something new.” Koes goes on to state that her goal as CO is to have fun and make a difference in the lives of her officers and crew.

Personal Log

Ship Life

Bunkmate and scientist, Beth Lumsden, and I during an abandon ship drill on the Texas deck.

Bunkmate and scientist, Beth Lumsden, and I during an abandon ship drill on the Texas deck.

I have found that one can acclimate to life aboard a ship quite quickly if willing to laugh at oneself. The first couple of days on board the Sette were fun, but shaky. We had some rough weather on our way to the Kona Coast from Oahu. I truly felt like I was being rocked to sleep at night. Showering, walking, and standing during the rocking were a challenge and surely gave me stronger legs. Regardless of the weather, we must be sure to completely close all doors. We even lock the bathroom stall doors from the outside so they don’t fly open. The conditions quickly improved once we hit the Kona Coast, but conditions change frequently depending on our location. When up in the flying bridge for Marine Mammal Observation, we can easily observe the change in the wave and wind patterns. It is difficult to spot our dolphins and whales once the water is choppy. It is these changes in the weather and the sea that help me understand the complexity of our oceans.

Meal time on board is tasty and social. Everyone knows when lunchtime is approaching and you are sure to see smiles in the mess. All meals are served buffet style so we are able to choose exactly what we want to eat. We can go back to the buffet line numerous times, but most folks pile their plates pretty high during their first trip through the line. After our meals, we empty our scraps into the slop bucket and then rinse our dishes off in the sink. This gives us the chance to compliment our stewards on the great food. If we would like, we can eat our meals in the TV room, which is next door to the mess. It has a TV, couches, a few computers, a soda machine, and a freezer filled with ice-cream.

Chain of command is important when performing our science operations, when net fishing, when in the engineering room, and even when entering the Bridge. Essentially, if someone tells me to put on a hard hat, I do it with no questions asked. Everyone on board must wear closed toed shoes unless they are in their living quarters. Ear plugs are required on the engineering floor. Safety is key on the decks, in our rooms, in the halls, and especially during operations. I have never felt so safe and well fed!

Dr. Tran is always smiling.

Dr. Tran is always smiling.

“Doc” Tran

Did you know that we have a doctor on board who is on call 24/7? The Sette is fortunate to have “Doc” Tran on board. He is a commander with the United States Public Health Service. Doc Tran has served on the Sette for four years. He is our doctor, our cheerleader, our store manager, and our coach! When not on duty, he can be seen riding an exercise bike on the deck or making healthy smoothies for anyone willing to partake. He also operates the ship store, which sells shirts, treats, hats, and toiletries at very reasonable prices. He truly enjoys his service on the Sette. He loves to travel, enjoys working with diverse groups of people, and appreciates our oceans. He is a perfect match for the Sette and is well respected by the crew.

 

 

Suzanne Acord: Preparing to Embark! March 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
(Almost) On board NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 12, 2014

Personal Log

Aloha, from Honolulu, Hawaii! My name is Suzanne Acord. I teach high school social studies with Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu, Hawaii. More specifically, I teach Asian Studies, World History, and IB History. I also teach one Pacific Island History course with Chaminade University. In addition to teaching, I advise our Model United Nations delegation and coordinate our school’s History Day efforts.

Prior to teaching in Hawaii, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Yap, Micronesia. Two years of living a subsistence lifestyle in Yap helped me to understand our intimate and reciprocal relationship with our earth. Yap State Legislator, Henry Falan, sums up this relationship by stating, “In Micronesia, land is life.” Both man-made and naturally occurring disasters can be felt throughout the Pacific. World War II, El Nino, tsunamis, and nuclear testing are just a few world events that have left their mark on the Pacific Ocean. Their impacts on the reefs, the fish supplies, and the water quality are apparent daily.

Peace Corps hut

My first hut in Yap, Micronesia. I lived here while serving in the Peace Corps.

I applied for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program to gain a better understanding of the human relationship with our oceans. My history students frequently determine how our relationship with the ocean changes as a result of environmental change, political change, economic change, and cultural change. My experiences during this cruise will allow my educational community to consider real world solutions for the environmental challenges we face and will face in the future.

I couldn’t be happier to set sail on NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette on March 17, 2014. We will travel from Ford Island (a WWII place of interest) to the Big Island of Hawaii, which is also known as Hawaii Island. The Big Island is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands and is the home of Volcanoes National Park. Most of our time will be spent on the Kona coast of the island.  One of the many goals of the Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project is to gain “a complete understanding of the Kona ecosystem, from the land to the ocean…to provide scientific advice used in making informed decisions in the Kona area.”

Suzanne at desk

Anticipating the adventure in my classroom.
Photo credit: Scot Allen

The thorough NOAA Teacher at Sea training has given me peace of mind. I feel much better prepared for the TAS journey now that I have read the official requirements and the tips from past Teachers at Sea. The videos helped me to visualize the experience. Don Kobayashi, our Chief Scientist, has kept all members of the scientific expedition in the loop throughout the planning process. I was excited to see my name listed on the “science party” document and amused when I learned that my daily shift would span from 3 am to noon daily. I will surely experience amazing sunrises over the Pacific. This will definitely be an intellectually stimulating adventure!

My next blog will be written aboard the Sette. Aloha for now.

Adam Renick, Searching for Cetaceans and Wrapping Up, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12–26, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weather Data
Current Air Temperature: 77° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 3 knots

Finding the Cetaceans…
 
In the final days of our research cruise we set out to get an assessment of cetacean activity in the Kona area that we have been studying. In addition to the ongoing active acoustics, CTD and DIDSON sampling, we have added two new tasks to the science team to find as many cetaceans as possible. We have set up a hydrophone, which is a sound recorder that sits in the water and is pulled by the ship, to listen for the clicks, whistles and any other sounds dolphins and whales might make.

For examples of sounds cetaceans make please check out this website. When the sounds from the cetaceans are received the wave frequencies are recorded using some very interesting software that helps us determine the type of marine mammal it is and where it is located. Specifically locating and identifying the cetaceans requires the cooperation of many people and is not necessarily as simple as I am making it sound here.

Melons

The recording of a pod of approximately 150 Melon-Headed Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

The sounds of Pilot Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

While the acoustics team and the ship’s crew are listening and seeking out the animals we also assist in the effort by making visual observations from the highest deck of the boat called the “flying bridge”. Here one or two people who are in communication with the science team below use binoculars and “big eyes” to visually find and identify marine mammals.

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Looking through the “big eyes”

Some of my personal observing highlights of this operation include a sperm whale, a pod of approximately 150 melon-headed whales and smaller pods of spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, rough-toothed dolphin and pilot whales.

SE 13-04 Melon Heads

Visual observations of the Melon-Headed Whales.
Photo: Chad Yoshinaga

Rough-toothed_Dolphins

Rough Toothed Dolphins
Photo: Ali Bayless

Wrapping Up the Journey…
 
I cannot express enough gratitude to the members of the science team and the crew of the Sette for making my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience so rewarding. There are so many elements of this trip that are worth pause, reflection and appreciation. My emotions ranged from excitement just being at sea for 15 days and living a lifestyle that is unique and different than my own, the contemplative awe of the vast and complicated ocean ecosystem and the exhilaration when one of its own breaches the surface to give us a peek at it. In the end, I think my greatest appreciation gained along this journey was learning to slow myself down to the pace of nature in order to better observe and understand it.What’s next for me? NASA Teacher In Space… 2014 here I come!

Just kidding (is that even possible?) Until then I guess I should practice my moon-walking on Kilauea crater until I head back to my amazing wife and life in San Diego. Thanks for reading and, whatever you are doing out there in the world today, make a memory.

Adam Renick, The DIDSON Pilot, June 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Friday, June 21, 2013

Current Air Temperature: 75° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 16 knots

Happy Solstice Everybody! Welcome to astronomical summer!

Giacamo Giorli explains the DIDSON deployment process to the team.

Giacomo Giorli explains the DIDSON deployment process to the team.

What is a Didson?

The DIDSON sonar in a protective case.

The DIDSON sonar in a protective case.

We are well into the second week of our cruise and I want to tell you all about a new pilot project that NOAA is working with through the Marine Mammal Research program at the Univ. of Hawaii that is using a DIDSON sonar. A DIDSON (Dual frequency IDentification SONar) is an advanced type of sonar that has many advantages over a traditional sonar for finding fishes and other marine life.

The first advantage of a DIDSON is that it gives us a very highly detailed image of what types of marine life are present in the water. When our shipboard acoustics team “sees” that there is a layer of creatures in the water column it appears as very small dots on a computer screen.

Here you can see the DIDSON going down to record the scattering layer (the very thin line near the finger).

Here you can see the DIDSON going down to record the scattering layer (the very thin line near the finger).

This is great because it tells us the depth and location, but it does not tell us what it is. When we see something of interest, we can deploy the DIDSON to give us an actual “picture” of that creature or even a video of its behavior. The reason I am describing the “imaging” properties of this tool in quotes is that it is not a camera and it does not use light to see at all. Rather, it uses high frequency sound waves to produce an image much like a sonogram gives us a picture of a baby in a mother’s uterus.

Comparison of different types of sonar.

Comparison of different types of sonar.

This leads us to another major advantage of the DIDSON over traditional technologies such as beam sonar or videos. This thing can go very deep into the ocean to explore the life that is there. If you recall back to my previous post you will remember that mesopelagic fish hang out much deeper in the water column during the day than at night. Trawling that deep is challenging and requires more effort and resources than using the DIDSON. If we want to see what is down there we can deploy the DIDSON into the scattering layer and get a sense of the marine life in the deeper parts of the ocean. Also, because it uses sound it can give us data about behaviors that are occurring in the dark regions of the ocean.

Mr. Giorli wishing luck to the DIDSON equipment as it is deployed.

Mr. Giorli wishing luck to the DIDSON equipment as it is deployed.

Giacomo Giorli and others that are leading this project on the cruise are still going through the data they’ve collected with the DIDSON.  So far, they have seen a lot of success and have a identified a few squids – but they won’t tell us more than that until they go back to the lab to fully analyze their data.  “We don’t exactly know what is down there right now, but with emerging technology, one day we will,” says Mr. Giorli. See a video clip of the DIDSON data here.

The ever-useful duct tape makes its debut on this cruise.

The ever-useful duct tape makes its debut on this cruise.

Adam Renick, Getting To Know the Ocean – The Kona Ecosystem, June 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Sunday, June 16, 2013

Current Air Temperature: 78° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 79° F
Wind Speed: 20 knots

Personal Log
 

Sunrise in Hawaii

Sunrise in Hawaii

All is well on the Sette! Skies have been clear, waters have been relatively calm and the mood onboard has been positive. With the cooperative work of the scientists, the crew’s expert ship handling and Clem and Jay’s fine cooking it has been a very interesting week for me. For years I have taught about physical oceanography with a focus on what we know, not necessarily how we know it. I had a sense of how things were done in general; using sonar and taking samples, but I never understood the details of how we can target specific locations to study in such a vast ocean to get a picture of it as a whole system. In just a few days aboard this research vessel I have been given a look at how ocean science is conducted and how our knowledge about the expansive oceans is built one piece of thoughtful data at a time. In the last week I have learned how a well-organized research plan is executed and have also learned about some of the difficulties of conducting science at sea as well.

 
Science and Technology Log – Night Trawling
 

The zones of life in the ocean.

The zones of life in the ocean.

One of my nightly tasks is to help a team of scientists conduct trawls of the mesopelagic zone to identify the organisms that live there. The mesopelagic zone (pictured) is also known as the twilight zone because it is where there is a small amount of sunlight that penetrates the water, but not enough for photosynthesis to occur. If you recall from my last blog, the Sette has an active acoustics team that is using active sonar to identify layers of organisms at specific depths in the water column. During the daytime this layer is too deep for our nets to catch them. But at nighttime this layer migrates up towards the surface allowing us catch them with in a net in a process called a trawl. We do two trawls each night. Before each trawl the acoustics team tells the trawl team the depth of the target layer. The deck crew then deploys a fairly large net down to that depth and drags it through the water to scoop up the organisms that we have targeted. Blog4 (1)After about an hour of doing this the net is pulled back up to the ship where all the creatures are collected in a bag called a “cod end”. It may sound fairly simple, but this process requires the coordination of many different people as the scientists need to communicate with the deck operations crew, and the deck crew has to work with the captain to ensure that the very long net line hits the target and does not get tangled or damaged in the process. Keep in mind that this is happening at 1:00am with 20 knot winds and 10 foot waves. It is a wonder to see and be a part of this operation.

Krill...

Krill…

Once we have collected all of the organisms we move on to sorting the catch. We separate the contents of the net into five main categories and then measure the number, mass and volume of each of the types. Perhaps the most commonly abundant of the groups that we classify are mesopelagic fish, which are dark in color and contain photophores to provide them camouflage in the night. Cephalopods (squid) are also quite common along with gelatinous creatures such as jellyfish and crustaceans over 4cm in length, such as shrimp. The final category of interest to us is the shore-fish, which are juvenile fish that will eventually move more towards the land or reefs once they are bigger. The shore-fish are typically the most beautiful looking of the catch.

Shore-fish sorting

Shore-fish sorting

Everything that is left over is then lumped into a general category called miscellaneous, which is mainly composed of krill. Some cool stuff we’ve gotten in the bag that don’t really have their own category have been two cookie-cutter sharks, a seahorse and two remoras.

Blog4 (4)

Examining a Cookie-Cutter Shark

Shark

Close-Up of Shark

So what does this all have to do with cetaceans? I have yet to mention them in my blogs. By studying the composition of the mesopelagic layer we can better understand the food chain and ecosystem that the whales and dolphins depend on. Next week when we begin actively searching for cetaceans we will be able to better understand their behaviors because we have background data on where their food is, what it is composed of and how it behaves. Hope all is well back on land…

 
Best,
Adam Renick
NOAA Teacher at Sea

Rita Salisbury: Robots and Sound Waves, April 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 19 2013 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Partly cloudy, winds ENE 10-15 knots, sunrise 603, sunset 1846
77 degrees F (25 degrees C)
Humidity 85%
Barometer 30.09” (1019.5 mb)
Dewpoint 72 degrees F (22 degrees C)
Heat Indes 78 degrees F (26 degrees C)
Visibility 10 miles

Science and Technology Log

We have been calibrating the acoustic equipment for a few days in order to be ready for our survey of bottomfish. It was a long process, but necessary. Four of us worked on moving a small titanium sphere under the boat by maneuvering it to different positions. A scientist working in the e-lab (electronics lab) used different frequencies from the transducers to locate the sphere and record the results. Graduate students and NOAA scientists worked until 1:00 in the morning to get the job done.

The ROV on it's first deployment

The ROV on it’s first deployment

While we were working on the acoustics, other scientists were working on a test run of the ROV. The currents were very strong when they deployed the ROV but it performed well and was successfully retrieved. Operating it is a lot like the controls to a video game, only the stakes are much higher. 

The AUV was deployed on Wednesday. The first step was to do a rehearsal of the procedures for deploying and retrieving the AUV. Everyone had a job to do and it was made clear who would be doing what and when. While it was obvious that certain people were in charge, they asked that if anyone thought they had a better idea of how to do something, or had a question, to speak up.  At one point, the captain, CO Koes, asked everyone who was not actually part of the procedure to move to one of the side of the deck so she could see who was  actually supposed to be working.

After the walk-through rehearsal, the AUV was lifted off the deck by a large crane and placed into the water off the fantail of the ship. At first it was tethered to the ship, but after awhile it was released and became independent of the ship. The scientists want to be as sure as they can be that the AUV will operate properly before letting it go so they run through a checklist. If everything is working correctly, they release the AUV.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The AUV being deployed.

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The AUV going solo!

The AUV is pre-programmed for the mission so it is important to know about the underwater geography of an area. The AUV needs to be within 30 to 35 meters of the ocean floor in order to know where it is. Other than that, it follows the pattern that the scientists created. If the AUV doesn’t return to the ship, it’s a big deal. It’s very expensive and difficult to replace. The scientists designed it with that thought in mind.

In addition to the high-tech solutions programmed into the AUV, the scientists also included low-tech ideas into the equipment to retrieve the AUV in case something goes wrong and the AUV is submerged and unretrievable. There is a “drop weight” attached to a strand of zinc. Zinc corrodes quickly in salt water. Through testing the scientists have already determined how thick the zinc strand should be in order to corrode through in a given amount of time at a particular water temperature. The strand that they are using on this cruise is constructed to corrode through in 5 1/2 hours. Once it corrodes, the weight drops off and the AUV rises to the top of the water where it can be seen and picked up. The zinc strand is replaced and another weight is attached. All the weights are the same size and weight so they are interchangeable. Otherwise, the scientists would have to recalibrate the AUV every time they changed weights. I was really impressed to see that the scientists use a combination of high and low tech to make their AUV successful.

Heat-sealing the ground up squid and sardines for bait.

Heat-sealing the ground up squid and sardines for bait.

The scientists on the Oscar Elton Sette use some smaller boats to assist with their research. One thing that I do to help out is make bait for the small boats to use to attract fish. We take frozen squid and sardines out of the freezer a few hours before we need them and put them on a protected place on the deck. After they thaw, we put them in a commercial quality food processor and grind them up into marble-sized chunk. Then we put the chunky bait into plastic bags, seal them, and put them back in the freezer until they can be delivered to the boats that need them.

Personal Log

This ship is amazing! It’s big and packed with the scientific equipment. The “wet lab” has become the acoustics lab for this trip and the e-lab is above that. The mess is open 24 hours for snacks, (as long as you clean up after yourself), and serves three meals a day. The cooks are really talented and are always providing fresh new ways of serving something. Fortunately, there’s a gym a couple of decks beneath mine!

There’s a movie room, a laundry, a tv room with books and computers, and a ship’s store. There’s even a full-time medical officer on board. My stateroom is set up well. There are 6 spacious bunks, drawers under the bottom ones and lockers for everyone, built-in desks with ethernet access, and a large bathroom. Since everyone is on a slightly different schedule we do our best to be quiet and to keep the lights low.

Uli Uli Manu taking a break on my bunk.

Uli Uli Manu taking a break on my bunk.

 On Tuesday, we had emergency drills. Everyone has a specific place that have to go to when the alarms sound. If it’s a fire alarm or a man-overboard drill, I have to go to the Texas Deck. If it’s an abandon ship drill, I go to the boat deck and put on my orange gumby suit. That was a little tricky and very hot, but I’m glad they let us practice it.

One thing I’ve noticed on the ship is how everyone has a job to do, but they are always ready to pitch in and help someone else. Meals are really interesting. The mess is small and has several tables set up with 4 chairs at each table. People sit with different people all the time. It doesn’t seem to matter who is an officer, a crew member, or a scientist. Everyone sits with everyone else.

 The captain gave me a tour of the bridge on Tuesday. It was late and we ran out of time, so she has invited me to come back up and finish the tour

The Oscar Elton Sette as seen from a small boat off the coast of Maui.

The Oscar Elton Sette as seen from a small boat off the coast of Maui.

soon. I was impressed by the number of back-up plans in place. There didn’t seem to be one piece of equipment that didn’t have another piece doing the same job in a slightly different way. This allows the ship to continue working properly on the chance that something stops working. The bridge is the control center of the ship and has alarms and notifications for anything that might crop up–low fresh water levels, smoke, fire, and anything else you can think of.

Did You Know?

Sound is vibration transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas. The speed of the vibrations, or how quickly they cycle, determines the frequency. Frequency is measured in cycles per second, or hertz (Hz). Humans can hear certain frequencies, while bats and dogs can hear others. Whales and dolphins hear even more frequencies.

The sound waves we are using on the Oscar Elton Sette will bounce off the fish and reflect back to the ship, allowing the scientists to locate the fish and determine their shape, size, and movement.

 

Animals I Have Seen

Whale fluke off Maui

Whale fluke off Maui

Seen off the coasts of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai:

Needlefish
I thought they were barracuda at first, but someone explained the difference to me
Humpback Whales
Dolphins–too far away to identify the species

Rita Salisbury: First Day at Sea, April 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Salisbury
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013
 

Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 15 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
77°F/25°C
Humidity 74%
Wind Speed Calm
Barometer 30.00 in (1015.7 mb)
Dewpoint 68°F (20°C)
Visibility 10.00 mi
Heat Index 79°F (26°C)

Science and Technology Log

NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette, known as Sette,  is a large ship, by my standards. It’s 224 feet long, which is more than ⅔ of the length of a football field. It is one of the ships in NOAA’s fleet of oceanographic vessels and like their other vessels, it supports NOAA’s mission to protect and manage the use of ocean resources through ecosystem-based management.

On this cruise, we will be surveying fish populations by deploying a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) to gather information. The ROV is a small, unmanned submersible that is controlled from the Sette and attached by a cable. The AUV is also an unmanned submersible but its path is pre-programmed before it is deployed. Additionally, we will be using acoustics, or sound, to locate, identify, and estimate populations of fish. I met some of the scientists last night who are working with the submersibles and the acoustics. I think this might be one of those times that being good at video games could pay off!

The goal of the Hawaii Bottomfish Survey is to gain more information about the fish populations in the ocean around Hawaii. The survey will help scientists determine the effects of fishing and other factors on the overall health of different fish populations. By gathering information by non-lethal methods NOAA scientists are adding to their knowledge base without further reducing the fish population.

Personal Log

Yesterday, I met the Chief Scientist, Donald Kobayashi, PhD,  for the first time. Dr. Kobayashi is the man in charge of the scientific portion of our Hawaii Bottomfish Survey aboard the  Sette. Dr. Kobayashi took me to Ford Island so I could board the Sette prior to today’s workday getting ready for the survey.

I boarded the Sette and met the boatswain (pronounced bosun) and some of the science party. I also moved into my berth, or stateroom. It’s called the bunkhouse and has six bunks in it. I’ll be sharing it with four other scientists while we are out to sea. It’s important to be able to get along with other people and to be flexible when you are on a ship, just like it is in other situations. But on a ship, where you are in a confined space, it’s even more important to understand the hierarchy of the ship–the officers, the crew, and the science party–and the protocol (the proper way of doing things) so you don’t get in  someone’s way or make someone’s job more difficult. Knowing who is in charge, what the roles are, and the expectations for everyone will help make my adventure a success.

 

Did You Know?

The scientists can tell what type of fish they are tracking and how many of them there are by using sound waves? The scientist sends out a sound signal, or ping, from a transducer, an underwater device that emits sound waves. The Sette has several transducers to accomplish this. The density of the fish’s swim bladder is different than the rest of the fish so the sound, or echo, that bounces back from the fish to the ship can be recorded and interpreted by the scientists. They can tell what type of fish they are tracking, and how many of them there are. Dr. Kobayashi says the scientists can back up their interpretation by photography.

 

Teacher at Sea Rita Salisbury in front of the Oscar Elton Sette

Teacher at Sea Rita Salisbury in front of the Oscar Elton Sette

 

 

Maria Madrigal: Highlighting the NOAA Corps, April 18, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-18, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Science & Technology Log: April 18, 2012


One of the first individuals I met when I came on-board the Oscar Elton Sette was Operations Officer, Justin Keesee. Not only was he friendly but he also looked like he knew what he was doing. So, who is he and what does he do?

Lieutenant Justin Keesee

Lieutenant Justin Keesee

The NOAA research vessels are operated by commissioned officers that are part of the NOAA Corps. The NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States and is administered by the Department of Commerce. The other uniformed services are the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. “NOAA Officers can be found operating one of NOAA’s 19 ships or 12 aircraft to provide support to meet NOAA’s missions.”

Justin’s knowledge of the NOAA Corps didn’t come until after a few years of experience working in Alaska where he was a fisheries observer collecting data on Pollock and Pacific Cod. Periodically, he would travel back to NOAA’s Western Regional Center’s Sand Point Facility in Seattle, Washington for debriefing meetings with a FMA (Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis) staff member and thoroughly reviewing the data collected. He worked as an observer over the span of five years.

He learned about the NOAA Corps when he reconnected with a college friend that joined the NOAA Corps right after earning his undergraduate degree. Having a degree within the major fields of study “that align with NOAA’s scientific and technological activities” is one of the educational requirements to apply to the NOAA Corps. Justin studied marine biology and earned his degree from the Florida Institute of Technology. His interest in science and the appeal of working for a government agency drove his decision to apply.

Lt Justin Keesee on watch

Lt Justin Keesee on watch

He confided that he was more interested in the science aspect of the job and he didn’t really know what he was getting into until he began his basic training. He described it as an intensive course in piloting a ship; the training ranged from learning navigational rules to mastering his knot tying skills. After completing basic training, officers are assigned to a NOAA ship for three years and then are appointed to a shore assignment for two years, which varies from working in a laboratory to doing administrative work. Officers are then on a continual rotation between ship and shore assignments. NOAA Corps officers are eligible for all military benefits including the new GI bill which delivers military education benefits to not only veterans but also active duty personnel. Keesee is taking advantage of this opportunity and working towards earning a master’s degree in business administration from his undergraduate alma mater.

Officer Keesee was first assigned to the NOAA ship Oregon II  based out of Pascagoula, Mississipi.  Before arriving on the Oscar Elton Sette, he also completed his first shore assignment at the Panama City Lab which is one of the five laboratories that conducts research as part of the Southeast Fisheries Science Centers. He currently serves as the Operations Officer, which means he is responsible for communicating with the scientific staff and the ship’s crew to ensure all needs are met and procedures are carried out safely. He has two four-hour shifts on the bridge as the officer on watch. The bridge is basically the control room that has a clear view of the ship’s path and holds all the necessary equipment to safely navigate the ship including nautical charts and various radar screens. During this watch time, he is responsible for the overall safe navigation of the ship ensuring that the ship is maintaining a safe distance from other vessels, tracking any weather patterns, maintaining communication with any small boats that may be out on the water, and ensuring any scientific equipment isn’t damaged by other boats. One perk of his job, is that he has a great view from his office.

When asked “if you you only knew then, what you know now what advice would you give yourself” his response was “to relax a little and enjoy my time with NOAA.” He further explained that he sometimes takes things too seriously but it is only because he wants to do a great job. He communicates well with the scientific staff and holds the respect of the ship’s crew. I’m only a visitor on this ship but it is evident that Officer Keesee has a great work ethic and represents the caliber of the personnel that comprise the NOAA Corps.

NOAA Corps Officers

NOAA Corps Officers

There were a total of five NOAA Corps officers aboard the Oscar Elton Sette during the research cruise. The ship normally has four officers but due to the busy workload associated with the comparison study, LCDR Colin Little was added to the ship’s crew.

NOAA Corps Officers

NOAA Corps Officers, (Pictured from left to right): Lieutenant Commander Kurt Dreflak, Lieutenant Justin Keesee, Ensign Daniel Langis, Lieutenant Commander Colin Little & Chief Mate Richard Patana (front) Ensign Justin Ellis

Maria Madrigal: Understanding the Sampling Methods: April 4, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-18, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Science & Technology Log: April 4, 2012

The goal of the study is to get a better picture of the coral reef fish assemblage using three different sampling methods. Two NOAA research vessels based in Honolulu, Hawaii (Oscar Elton Sette and Hi’ialakai) are working concurrently to assess coral reef fish assemblages around the island of Tutuila in American Samoa.

Three observational methods will be used to assess these reef fish assemblages; stationary point count divers (SPC), baited remote underwater video stations (BRUVS) and an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).

In the shallower areas being sampled (0 – 30 meters), all three survey methods will be used. In the areas ranging from 30-100 meters, only the BRUVS and AUV systems will be used as the divers can not reach these depths. This study will allow for a comparison among all three methods in the shallow-water depth range. The use of the BRUVS and AUV in the 30-100 m depths will also allow comparisons to be made between the shallow and deeper portions of the reef ecosystem to see if the patterns apparent in the shallow areas are similar to or different than those found in deeper waters.

SE12-02 Tutuila Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods for Coral Reef Fish

SE12-02 Tutuila Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods for Coral Reef Fish

The Hi’ialakai will be the base for the SPC (Stationary Point Count) divers.  Teams of two divers will work side-by-side sampling across a 30-meter transect. One diver is centered at the 7.5 meter mark and the other diver is centered at the 22.5 meter mark. Each diver samples a cylinder with a radius of 7.5 meters. Each diver spends the first five minutes noting the fish species present within their cylinder. After noting what fish species are present, the diver keeps a tally of how many representatives of each species are within their cylinder. Divers must work systematically to record additional data including total fish length and habitat type.  For a more detailed description of the SPC method, you may read the procedure as provided by PIFSC.

The Oscar Elton Sette will be the base for the BRUVS (Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations) and the AUV(Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) operations.

BRUVS are deployed from small boats at predetermined locations previously sampled by the SPC divers. They are placed on the seafloor and are equipped with two cameras that allow for accurate measurement of the fish that come into view. The BRUVS are deployed at each site for 20-minutes without bait and again for 60-minutes either with or without bait. The video can be instantly reviewed to ensure successful recording at each site. Captured video is reviewed and analyzed at a later date. Final video processing and data analysis will take place once the scientists return to the lab.

The AUV, named Lucille, is designed to hover 2-4 meters above the seafloor. It is programmed to navigate a predetermined survey track before it is deployed. It is equipped with a pair of forward-looking stereo-video cameras, two still-image cameras, a CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) sensor and a SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) unit. It can dive down to 1,500 meters and can go on missions that last up to eight hours. It is programmed to come back to the ocean’s surface at the end of its mission.  The video and still photographs are later reviewed and analyzed. All the data collected by the AUV allows scientists to get a better picture of the ocean floor, what lives there and how many organisms are living within that community.

Comparison of Survey Methods

Comparison of Survey Methods

Maria Madrigal: My Teacher at Sea Adventure: March 31, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-16, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Personal Log: March 31, 2012

Maria Madrigal, Teacher at Sea on Oscar Elton Sette

Maria Madrigal, Teacher at Sea on Oscar Elton Sette

My name is Maria Madrigal and I am one of the lucky few to be selected as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am not a classroom teacher, and I have to admit that I stumbled upon my career. I actually graduated with a degree in Studio Arts. What was I going to do with an art degree? Good question.  I didn’t know myself.  So, I began a search for different AmeriCorps programs where I could gain some work experience.

Luckily, I found the SEA Lab. The SEA Lab is a small aquarium located in Redondo Beach managed by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. My days were spent sharing “cool” and “interesting” facts about the marine animals housed at our facility.  The animals were our ambassadors as we relayed the importance of taking care of our environment to students throughout the Los Angeles area.  However, my teaching was lacking in that I had never explored the marine environment beyond the shoreline.

How can you truly relay the beauty and importance of a kelp forest if you have never explored it? I wanted to experience for myself what it would be like to swim through a kelp forest. It was then that I decided I would face my fears and learn how to swim. That’s right, I didn’t know how to swim but I wasn’t going to let that be an obstacle.

I took some swim lessons and a few months later with my heart racing I dove into the cold waters off Santa Cruz Island. It was a life-changing experience. Naturally, my teaching became greater from my personal experience. The excitement I used to teach was genuine and informed.  Being accepted into NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program is providing me with a similar experience. A teacher’s experience can truly enrich the learning of his/her students whether it is in a classroom setting or outdoors.

It is with that same mentality that I embark on this new adventure.

I am traveling to American Samoa where I will join a team of scientists aboard NOAA’s research vessel, the Oscar Elton Sette. I will be working alongside scientists that are assessing the fish populations that inhabit the shallow and deepwater coral reef environments around the island of Tutuila. The project is being lead by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)  which is one of the six regional science centers of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  Also aboard are scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of Western Australia. Their work is basically to assess fish populations to ensure sustainable fisheries. The study will involve two of NOAA’s Hawaii-based research vessels , the Oscar Elton Sette and the Hi’ialakai.

It will undoubtedly be an enriching experience.  It will provide me with first-hand knowledge of current research that will help me develop new educational activities at the SEA Lab. I also look forward to gaining some insight on career paths to properly guide my current and future corpsmembers.

It has been twelve years since I started working at the SEA Lab. I am currently the Program Manager and my managerial responsibilities typically keep me behind a desk or sitting in traffic, so I’m thrilled to immerse myself again and explore what is beyond the shoreline. I hope you join me along the way. You can track the ship’s journey using NOAA’s ship tracker.

If you want to learn more about the overall mission plan, head over to the mission overview page. There’s one for the Oscar Elton Sette (http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cruise/se1202.php) and another for the Hi’ialakai (http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cruise/ha1201.php).

Jennifer Fry: March 12, 2012, Oscar Elton Sette

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship, Oscar Elton Sette
March 12 – March 26, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 12, 2012

Pago Pago Harbor

Personal Log

The governor's house is situated high on a hill, overlooking the pristine waters of Pago Pago Harbor.

The Oscar Elton Sette departs  in the morning.  The ship has been readied with the necessary supplies  for the next two weeks at sea.  The view of Pago Pago harbor from the ship is breathtaking, the  multi-layered  variety of green, lush tropical plants cover the steep hills that envelope the harbor. The sapphire-blue colored  seas are so striking and luckily are very calm. Only  a gentle rolling motion is felt as we  slowly amble to our destination offshore.

Soon the emergency drills begin calling us to “muster” to our emergency stations.  Out on the deck we met at our predetermined emergency station.  There are three very important emergency drills:

Fire /Emergency drill where we all meet on Texas deck after hearing the ship’s bell/general alarm for 10 seconds.

The second drill is a Man Overboard.  That is heard as 3 prolonged blasts of the ship’s general alarm. Each blast is 4-6 seconds in length.

In the event that you see the person who falls overboard, it is extremely important not to take your eyes off the victim.

The steps during a Man Overboard drill consists of:

1. Tell someone nearby to notify the bridge that someone has gone overboard.

2.  Throw something that floats overboard, such as a life ring,  to mark the location.

A cove in Pago Pago.

3. Keep pointing to the person overboard, this will help in the recovery process.

The third drill is the  Abandon Ship Drill.  This consists of 7 short blasts followed by 1 prolonged blast of the general alarm.  During this drill we are instructed to bring our survival suit, life jacket, a hat, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and wear closed-toed shoes to the drill.

After mustering on the Texas Deck,  we don our survival suit, a bright orange suit known as a  “gumby suit”  made of neoprene, which is easily seen during any emergency and acts as a floatation device.

Pictured during abandon ship are Jennifer Fry with crew member James McDade.

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The NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette is named for Dr. Oscar Elton Sette. Dr. Sette was a pioneer in the development of fisheries oceanography and according to many fisheries scientists, is the father of modern fisheries oceanography in the U.S. He is recognized both nationally and internationally for many significant contributions to marine fisheries research. Oscar Elton Sette replaces Townsend Cromwell.

Oscar Elton Sette supports the scientific missions of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Science Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. The ship normally operates throughout the central and western Pacific, and conducts fisheries assessment surveys, physical and chemical oceanography, marine mammal projects and coral reef research. It collects fish and crustacean specimens using bottom trawls, longlines, and fish traps. Plankton, fish larvae and eggs are also collected with plankton nets and surface and mid-water larval nets.

The ship routinely conducts scuba diving missions for the Honolulu Laboratory. Ample deck space enables Oscar Elton Sette to carry a recompression chamber as an added safety margin for dive-intensive missions in remote regions. The ship is actively involved in NMFS Honolulu Coral Reef Restoration cruises, which concentrate scientific efforts on the removal, classification and density of marine debris and discarded commercial fishing gear from fragile coral reefs.

For more information about NOAA aboard the Oscar Dyson Sette, go to: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/os/index.html

Science and Technology Log:

The ship is very spacious with a lot of  lab space.  They include:

  • Two E-Labs where the acoustics computers and weather computers are housed  Scientists collect and download  data in these spaces during experiments
  • Two wet Labs where fish are collected , analyzed, and processed
  • Hydro Lab where scientists prepare and process chemicals as part of  the C.T.D.  Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth experiments

Birds seen:

Frigate bird: A large tropical bird related to the pelican.  Its wing span exceeds two meters.

A frigate bird was seen from the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette as it left the Pago Pago harbor.

Donna Knutson, September 29, 2010

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

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

The last night on the Sette.

Mission and Geographical Area:  

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

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

Jay the second steward during a drill.

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

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

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

Harry, the chief engineer, during a drill.

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

The CO,commanding officer, Anita Lopez.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donna Knutson, September 27, 2010

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

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 27, 2010

The Elusive Pseudorca

Mission and Geographical Area:  

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

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

This is me “looking” like I am driving the ship.

Science and Technology:

Pseudorca “spy hopping”.

Latitude: 22○ 09.1’ N
Longitude: 160○ 12.3’ W  
Clouds:  1/8 Cu
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  9 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature:  26.6○ C
Air Temperature:  25.2○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1015.9 mb
Compared to its cousin the Killer Whale, little is known about the False Killer Whales.  They do not have many similar traits other than their coloring.  They both have black upper bodies with patches of white below.  On the pseudorca the lighter color is on the chin and tapers along the stomach backward to the tail.

False Killer Whales traveling side by side.

They are a much smaller animal, with a male maximum length of nineteen feet six inches and a weight of around three thousand pounds.  The female is smaller with similar coloring.  They have an erect dorsal fin that may be up to fifteen inches high.
The false killer whales may not sound so impressive but as cited in the Honolulu , September 2010 magazine, the pseudorca are not the typical marine mammals. They are actually a type of dolphin (as is the “true” killer whales), they swim extremely fast and have a unique community/friendship relationships.  Pseudorca may stay with a group for more than twenty years.

This is how biopsy samples are acquired.

To show a sense of community spirit, when a pseudorca catches a fish it may pass it around to all the other members before it comes back to the original thrower, (kind of like “throwing around the horn” in baseball).  They are typically found in groups of ten to twenty members but can be found in broad bands several miles wide.
One population of pseudorca in the Main Hawaiian Islands has been dwindling from several hundred in the late 1980s to about one hundred fifty members today.  These animals live primarily within seventy miles of the islands.
Fishing is one reason for the decline in numbers.  The whales may see a free meal in yellow fin tuna or mahi mahi on a fisher’s line and become hooked and drown.  This has caused an average of eight false killer whales to be drowned or seriously injured in each of the last five years.

Pseudorca between the small boat and Sette.

Pseudorcas have a low reproduction rate.  Their calving interval is very long, up to seven years, so not many whales are being born into the pod to replace those lost accidentally by humans. In July a team of scientists, fishermen and conservationalists turned in a plan on how to reduce the number of false killer whales injured on longlines.  One of the recommendations is to close off an area abut 50-75 miles from the Hawaiian longline fishery.  There is already a non-fishing mandate that protects the National Monument.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will decide if these regulations should be enacted and then determine if the pseudorcas should be protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
Personal Log:

Pseudorcas have a gregarious personality.

One of the prime objectives of the HICEAS cruise is to find, tag, take a biopsy samples of, and pictures  of pseudorcas. Because of the interest in protecting these animals, it is very important to get as much information on these animals as possible.
So now here we are into day 26 of our 29 day cruise, and guess who shows up!  The pseudorcas!  And when they come, get ready!  The animals seen yesterday were traveling by themselves or in groups up to ten, and they were spread out over twelve miles!
Erin had established a protocol for monitoring all the different subgroups which would allow the scientists to get a count on the number of individuals present. Once a scientist spotted a group, they had to follow that group until it passed the ship.  That was very challenging especially for the groups that were a long distance from the ship and took several minutes to pass.
Then you have the group that wants to merge with that group or one leaves this group and wants to go with that other group.  It is not like they have brightly colored clothing to tell them apart!  It was quite an exercise in patience and determination.

Pseudorcas feed mainly on fish and squid.

I did not have a group, but I did have white board markers, which I acquired from running down to the exercise room to snatch them from the maker board below deck.  Erin had mentioned someone should be a recorder of groups.  I definitely know my way around a marker board, so I started writing the names of the observers, their group’s location and assigned them a letter.  At one time we had five different groups being monitored.  By the end we had groups A through S!

The scientists could not look away from their group for the entire time it was being counted until it left the area.  Wow, they did a great job!  As soon as their group left they picked up on another.  Some scientists where watching two groups at the same time if they were close to each other.  It took a lot of concentration.
Erin copied the data from the board to make sure all was accounted for and then the board was erased to start all over again.  We did this for over two hours!  The animals were spread over twelve miles!  Now that may sound like a lot of pseudorcas, but there typically were not that many animals in a subgroup.  They just needed to be monitored for a long time until all data was recorded properly.
When the last pseudorca was past the ship, Erin sent out the small boat.  Allan was there to shoot the satellite tag into a fin for tracking the whale.  Ernesto was in charge of getting biopsy samples and Corey was in the boat to get pictures with the laser camera.  Of course the small boat driver, Mills was there along with Ray to help with lines and such.

A pod of four pseudorca.

They looked like they had a fun time!  The whales, who are very curious in nature, would pop up beside the small boat and often swim in small groups beside them.  I read that these animals have been seen to act like the bottlenose and spinner dolphins and ride the bow wakes.  They never did that on our ship, but were never far away.
The small boat was out for about two and a half hours.  They did an amazing job of getting three animals tagged with tracking devices, eight biopsy samples and many great pictures.   They were a lot of fun to watch!  Their community structure in amazing.   I can see why they are not “your typical dolphin”!

Donna Knutson, September 24, 2010

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

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

I Hear Them!

I am in the stateroom writing.

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

Mission and Geographical Area:  

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

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

Erin, Sussanah, and Kim working on the array.

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

“Guts” of the array.

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

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

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

Listening in.

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn listening to the sperm whales.

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

You could hear the sperm whales loud blows.

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

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

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

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

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

Donna Knutson, September 19, 2010

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

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

Visitors of the Monument

Back in the boat trying to get a biopsy from pilotwhales.

Mission and Geographical Area:  

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

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sittings will also be documented.
Science and Technology:
Latitude: 26○ 33.6’ N
Longitude: 177○ 05.5’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu,Ac, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  4-6 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.8○ C
Air Temperature:  26.8○ C
Level Pressure:  1024.0 mb

Female Great Frigatebird is a large bird with a wingspan up to 86 in.
They do not walk or swim and are the most aerial of the seabirds.

The Northwest Hawaiian Islands became a Marine National Monument called Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  Papahanaumoku is a mother figure represented by the earth.  Wakea is a father figure represented by the sky. They are the honored and  highly recognized ancestors of Native Hawaiian people.  Together they resulted in the creation of the entire Hawaiian archipelageo and naming the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after these names to strengthen Hawaii’s cultural foundation.

Layson ducks are only found on Laysan and Midway.
They were near extinction from hunting and invasive species, now they are protected and their numbers have increased to over 500.

Papahanaumokuakea is considered a sacred area. Native Hawaiians believe that life springs from this area and spirits come to rest there after death.  That means they also believe that they are descended from the same gods who birthed the Hawaiian Archipelago and it is therefore their responsibility to become stewards to care for the natural and cultural resources in Papahanaumokuakea.

Short-tailed Shearwaters often fly in flocks. These birds were on their migratory route.

The HICEAS cruise has track lines that cross into the National Monument, so while in the Monument, we must abide by the rules set forth to protect the natural and cultural resources within.

 This area is indeed rich in life as well as tradition.  Over ninety percent of the Monument’s area is deep sea.  Some depths are greater than three thousand feet. Hawaiian monk seals may travel more than one thousand feet down into the ocean to feed on gold and bamboo corals.  Some of the corals are over four thousand years old.  Scientists are just beginning to understand deep sea habitats such as that of sleeper sharks, hagfish and crabs.
Even though there is not much land within the monument, many animals make it their home.  Over fourteen million seabirds of twenty-two different species breed and nest in less than six square miles.  The reason these islands are so populated is because of the island’s isolation and conservation measures.

White tern on Midway. The oldest White terns on the island are 50years old!

The greatest threat of the Monument is climate change.  An increase in sea surface temperature is linked to disease and coral bleaching.   Rising sea levels cause less land for green sea turtles, monk seals and seabirds.
The HICEAS cruise has documented thirty-seven species of seabirds.  Not all of these birds live on the islands, many are migrating.  Within the “tubenosed” , Procellariformes  order, there are the Petrels and Shearwaters.  The Petrels include the Kermadec, Herald, Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, White-necked, Back-winged, Bonin, Wilson’s Storm, Band-rumped Storm, Cook’s, and Bulwer’s.  The Shearwaters include the Christmas, Wedge-tailed, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, and Newell’s.

Bonin petrels are coming back to their burrows on Midway.
The burrows may be 9ft. long and 3 ft. underground.

From the order Pelicaniformes the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird have been recognized and also the Brown, Red-Footed, and Masked Bobby.   Great Frigatebirds, the largest of all within this order, have also been seen soaring high above the ocean.

A third order is the Charadriiformes, the shorebirds, terns and jaegers. The HICEAS track line is bringing us close (within three miles) to the shores of atolls and islands so therefore shore birds are seen as well.  The shore birds seen so far are the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, the Brown and Black Noddies, the White, Sooty, and Grey-backed Terns, the Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed Jaegers, and the South Polar Skua.
The HICEAS cruise will agree with the National Monument in proclaiming this area has an abundance of seabirds!
Personal Log:

The bottom view of a Wedge-tailed Shearwater.
Like most seabirds, they mate for life.

My roommate or “statemate” (on ships there are no bedrooms rather staterooms) is Dawn Breese, she is an avid Birder.  Scott Mills, also a Birder mentioned in Log #2, have been noticing a trend in their daily bird population densities.

As we headed northwest, they noted on September 17, 2010 when the Sette was at 28 24.7’ N and 178○ 21.1’ W, they saw their last Short-tailed Shearwater.  They did not see any Short-tailed Shearwaters after those coordinates and felt that it was odd considering the large amounts they had seen previously.  Near the International Dateline past Kure we headed back southeast once again and the Short-tailed Shearwaters reappeared at 27○ 6.28’ N and 178○ 27.9’W.  They concluded that they had passed twice through the Shearwater’s migratory route and seemed to find its NW edge.  On a single day alone, they estimated that there were over fourty thousand birds in that area!

White-tailed tropicbird likes to plunge dive for fish and squid.

When they mentioned the huge numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters they saw, I decided to do some checking on them. I discovered the Short-tails are about forty centimeters long and have a wing span of 100 centimeters.  It is chocolate brown with a darker brown cap and collar.  It is often observed in large flocks and will dive fifty meters into the ocean for fish and squid.

Juan Carlos brought the Wedge-tail Shearwater down for Dawn to see.

The Short-tails breed on islands off southeastern Australia and migrate north to feed in the Bering Sea.  The Sette crossed their route flying back to the South Pacific!  It is a good thing they are “tubenosed” because they will not land until they have reached their destination.  The “tubenose”, (mentioned blog #2), will help the birds eliminate salt from their bodies.  Some short-tails on the breeding grounds will actually commute to the Antarctic to feed on fish along the ice.

The Wedge-tails tubenose is on the top of the beak.

On September 20, 2010 Juan Carlos knocks on our door after sunset to show Dawn a Wedge-tailed Shearwater, cousin of the Short-tailed Shearwater. The nocturnal animal got distracted by the ships’ light, and ended up on deck.  According to the Hawaii Audubon Society, Wedge-tail Shearwaters on O’ahu are often hit by cars because of the car’s lights at night.  O’ahu and Kaua’I both have rescue shelters for hurt birds from car accidents.

The Wedge-tail posing with Dawn and I.

Juan Carlos rescued the stunned bird, making sure it could not bite him with its sharp beak, and brought it down to show the bird observers.  I took close-ups of the bird because I wanted a picture of its tubenose.  Dawn showed me the unique features of the Wedge-tail.  It smelled fresh like a sea breeze.  We looked for the small ears behind the eyes but it’s feathers were so dense we couldn’t get a good look at it.

The bird had light brown feathers with a white belly, it was very soft and dainty looking.  It didn’t seem to mind people staring at it within a ship, but it probably just seemed content because Dawn knew the correct way to hold a bird.  After the Wedge-tail was checked out, Dawn took it up to the fantail (back) deck and released it.   The bird flew away unhurt into the night.

Donna Knutson, September 16, 2010

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

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 16, 2010

Midway

It is hard to smile wearing a mask!

September 16, 2010 
Teacher at Sea:  Donna Knutson
Ship Name:  Oscar Elton Sette

Mission and Geographical Area:  

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

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

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 28○  22.6’ N
Longitude: 177○ 28.5’ W  
Clouds:  6/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  3-4 ft.
Water Temperature:  28.0○ C
Air Temperature:  26.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1020.2 mb
History:

Memorial surrounded by Bonin petrel underground nests.

Midway is the second to the last island in the line of islands/atolls extending northwest of Hawaii.  Midway has a lot of history dating back to 1859 when it was first discovered by Captain N. C. Brooks.  The island, called Sand Island, at that time was nothing but sand and an occasional tuft of grass with birds everywhere.

In 1870 after the Civil War it was felt necessary to have access to Midway for political reasons and a company was hired to cut a path through the coral for steam engine ships to come and refuel.  It became too costly and never was finished.
On 1903 the Pacific Commercial Cable Company set to work to provide communication between Guam, Waikiki, Midway and San Francisco.  At this time President Theodore Roosevelt put Midway under the protection of the Navy because of Japanese poachers.  The workers for the cable company became the first planned settlement on Midway.
 In 1935 Pan American Airlines built a runway and refueling station for their Flying Clipper seaplane operation. They also helped the little community prosper as they transferred goods between Manila and Wake and Guam.

An inside corridor to the Naval facility.
The pictures were still on the wall.

Midway was made famous in 1942 during World War II.  The island had been named Midway as it is “midway” between the continental United States and Japan.  The United States had naval control over the island for approximately thirty years, but it wasn’t until 1938 that the Navy made it into a full naval base.
They hauled in over a hundred tons of soil in order to plant gardens and trees,  to make it appear more like home, and also to build roads and piers.   The navy base at one time housed ten thousand people, and was a very important strategic base.  Hawaii was at risk from an invasion from Japan and Midway was added defensive support.
The Japanese recognized Midway as a threat and attacked it on June 4-6, 1942.  It was a fierce battle with many fatalities.  It was reported that the Japanese lost 2,500 soldiers while the United States lost 320.  The victory of the Battle at Midway was a major turning point in WWII.

The airstrip has not been used since the ’60′s.

After the war ended there was less need for the Midway Naval Base.  Most of the people left Midway 1950, leaving behind buildings with the holdings intact.  In 1988 the military released the island to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Midway became a national park and refuge to protect the shorebirds, seabirds, and threatened and endangered species.
The upkeep of the naval base has fallen on the shoulders of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  They have torn down some of the buildings constructed before 1950 that are not repairable.  The fish and wildlife service is making room for more birds by clearing out some of the ironwood trees which have overgrown the island.  There are sixty-three places on Midway that are considered eligible for National Historic Landmarks.

Dr. Tran and Stephanie riding ahead of me on the old runway.
The trees were filled with common myna birds.

In addition to the historical significance of Midway, many animals find a sanctuary within the atoll.  Nineteen species of birds, approximately two million birds, nest on Midway.  In the water there are about two-hundred fifty spinner dolphins, the threatened green sea turtles, about sixty endangered Hawaiian monk seals, more than two-hundred sixty-five species of fishes, and forty plus species of stony corals that make Midway atoll home.
Resources:
Isles of Refuge, Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, by Mark J. Rauzon, copyright 2001.

A white tern chick.
White terns lay an egg without a nest.
The chick must have strong feet to hold on to it’s
precarious perch.

Personal Log:
Today I am lucky enough to go to Midway!  I have read up on it and expect not only to see a beautiful destination with an abundance of wildlife, I will be seeing first hand a historical site few people have had the pleasure to explore.
My swimming suit is under my clothes so I’m also ready to try out the beaches! Mills and Chris are escorting me, Dr. Tran and the XO, Stephanie, on the small boat to the island. Mills has to weave in and out because of all the coral.  Mills is one of the few who have had the opportunity to see Midway and he is giving us last minute advice.
We are met at a small dock by John, a warden for the U.S. Wildlife Service, he is going to be our tour guide. As I watch the small boat head back to the Sette, I can’t help thinking that it feels like the beginning of one of those “stranded” movies. This is not what I pictured.  There is trash everywhere.  To the right I see the rocky shore littered with garbage. Plastics everywhere, all shapes and sizes right next to the sparkling clean water.  Ugh!  Piles of twisted metal are heaped in piles twenty feet high.  Then there are the piles of uprooted trees and old lumber.  I guess it is organized waiting to be hauled out, but I didn’t see any of that in the literature I read.

I am standing on the deck at”Captain Brooks”.
It was named after the man who claimed the island for the United States.
This was my first view of North Beach!

Unfortunately the garbage people throw out to sea is being collected on the atolls and banks of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  Crates, buckets, balls, anything and everything imaginable that is made from plastic is showing up on these unpopulated, remote islands.  It is the currents that carry the debris to the islands and the corals and beaches trap and collect the material.  Very sad.  People are so uncaring and oblivious to what they do daily to the environment.
John is very friendly and laid back, ok, I don’t feel like the star in one of those silly sci-fi movies I love to watch, any longer.  We three hop on a Kawasaki “mule” and head away from the dock.  Most of the buildings we pass are left-overs from the war, rusty, broken windows and even bullet holes.  John drives up to the Visitor Center/Office.  He gives us a general briefing on how things work there and mentions some of the sites we should see, and off we go again.  Now our mode of transportation is a golf cart.  He shows us where we can go on our own and tells us where not to go – the air strip.  Now I’m thinking “bad movie plot” again.

John described how the cannons were bolted to the center.
At that time there were no trees and the guns were aimed at the Japanese ships in the ocean.

He gives us bikes and we start our own tour.  We need to stay on paths or roads because the land is covered with holes for Bonin petrels.  They are nocturnal birds and burrow underground to nest and lay their eggs.  At one time Midway had a rat problem and they ate the chicks and eggs, so now that they have been eliminated, this is a true bird paradise.  It is fun to ride around and look leisurely at the island.
Doc had been there before so he was in the lead.  As we look around at the wonderful wildlife the ground is also littered with small plastic objects.  I see a toothbrush, a lighter, and bottle tops all over!  Other plastic objects with strange shapes seem to catch my eye. What is going on?
Doc explains to me that the albatross that go to feed in the ocean will see something resembling a fish, swoop down to get it and bring it back to shore for its offspring.  Once regurgitated, the fledgling may also eat it and then die with a stomach full of plastic.  Great!  Where is this plastic coming from?  Why hasn’t it stopped?  I am told later that tons of trash washes up every year.  Ugh!  Back to our tour.

A monk seal basking in the sun at “Rusty Bucket”.

Little white terns are above us following us on our paths. There are so many trees! From once an island with only a few tufts of grass, and now seventy years later, Midway has a forest.  It smells musty, old and slightly sweet, if you didn’t look too close, you would think you had fallen back in time.
We head for the beach!  Nothing eerie about the beach!  Absolutely spectacular! Soft white sand bordered by lush, thick leaved tropical plants.  The water was so clear, not a rock, not a piece of garbage, if it hadn’t been for the four beach chairs you could have imagined discovering an untouched pristine utopia.  I could not help but stand and stare at the soft pale turquoise water.  It felt as good as it looked.  We all loved our limited time playing in the water as though we were kids in the biggest swimming pool imaginable.

One of the machine shops.
All the tools were left behind.

Unfortunately we had to get back to the Visitor Center so we trodded up the incline back to the bikes.  With John on the golf cart, we resumed out guided tour.  One of the first places we go is the “rusty bucket”.  It is a site along the shore where ships and other vehicles have been left.  We see a basking Monk seal.  Monk seals are nearly extinct, they only live on the shores of the Hawaiian Archipelago.
John shows us where the large cannons were bolted to shoot into the bay, a graveyard of the early inhabitants, and in town many old buildings.  Some of the shops have all the tools still in them.  It is as if it is being left just so, waiting for the people to return and continue their projects.
One of the buildings that is still in pretty good shape is the theater.  It has all the old felt covered seats, the wood floors and the dull yellow colored walls you see in old movies. The stage is still intact and you can almost picture the place full of people watching Bob Hope perform.  He stayed at Midway entertaining the troops off and on throughout the war.  John gives us a great tour, but has other jobs to do, so we are alone once again to fend for ourselves.  Where do we go…the beach!

It is called North Beach.  A Coast Guard ship has docked on the other side of the beach around a corner.  I just lay and float trying to appreciate every second I have been given!  A green sea turtle swims up to check out the strange humans and off he goes.  They are threatened and this is a refuge for him.  Mills has lent me his snorkel and fins so off to explore I go.  We are within the atoll and can see waves crash on the corals miles away.  No risk of anything catching you off guard with such great visibility.

The movie theatre still decorated with the original pictures.

It was truly spectacular! The Sette is coming back to the area and the small boat will be coming to get us soon.  We head back to the dock.  On the radio Stephanie hears we have one more hour to be tourists.  John suggests snorkeling by the cargo pier and that sounds wonderful to me!
Stephanie and I jump off the pier to the water fifteen feet below.  The water is thirty feet deep and looks and feels wonderful!  There are fish of all shapes and sizes!  I feel as though I am swimming in a giant aquarium.
 I even saw a sleeping green sea turtle on a broken pier support.  Incredible!  We were weaving in and out of the pier supports looking all the way down thirty feet and seeing everything crystal clear.
All good things come to an end and our little vacation at Midway was over.  Doc, Stephanie and I had a “fabulous” time!  The small boat was back.  It was time to go back home to the Sette.

Midway is definitely a place of contrasting sites and interests.
I leave with mixed emotions, which are the seeds for memories, of a place I will never forget.

Donna Knutson, September 10, 2010

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

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

Kogia!

September 10, 2010

Me and Kogia!


Mission and Geographical Area: 

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

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Kogia with sharks.

Latitude: 25○ 35.5’ N
Longitude: 166○ 20.4’ W
Clouds: 3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.5○ C
Air Temperature: 25.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1021.6 mb

There are two types of Kogia. Kogia is a genus name and the two types (species) are the breviceps and the sima. The common name of breviceps is pygmy and the common name for sima is dwarf. These animals are called sperm whales even though they are much smaller because they too have the spermaceti organ located in their heads just like their much larger relative.

One unique feature they do not share with the large sperm whale is a sac in their lower intestine that can hold approximately three gallons of syrupy, re-brown liquid. The dwarf and pygmy sperm whales will expel the liquid when they feel threatened as a defense mechanism. The liquid will cloud the water temporarily allowing time for the whale to escape.

Notice Kogis’s small mouth.

These are not very large whales. The pygmy sperm whale has a maximum length of eleven feet six inches and a maximum weight of nine hundred pounds. The smaller dwarf sperm whale has a maximum of eight feet ten inches and a weight of at least four hundred and sixty pounds.

It is very hard to tell these whales apart, especially in the water. Their dorsal fins are different in that the dwarf has a higher more pointed fin which is set farther back toward the tail than the pygmy which has a more curved dorsal fin in the middle of its body. Their heads have a slightly different shape also. The pygmy sperm whales head is blunt and is more square.

Mills eating in front of the scientists taking measurements.
“If there was ever a “Zissou”esque moment that is it!” from Team Zissou, Life Aquatic

They are both a bluish steel gray color and have a pinkish line where a gill slit would be on a fish. Because of this marking, the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales have often been falsely identified as sharks.
Both species of Kogia can be found at great depths in the tropical and temperate latitudes. They are relatively widespread but they are not abundant. Despite their large range relatively is known about these species. It is hard to find these whales in the wild because they do not “show off”. They do not jump or move in groups together. Even their blow is faint if not invisible.

Left side of Kogia.

Like the large sperm whales the dwarf and the pygmy sperm whales feed mostly on jellyfish, but also on shrimp, crab and fish.
A number of these whales have been stranded and the necropsy showed a gut blockage caused by plastic bags. People usually do not hunt pygmy and dwarf sperm whales for food, but because of their size they are occasionally trapped in fishing nets.
Personal Log:
After lunch on the flying deck Allan Ligon, mammal observer, was viewing through the “big eyes”. He said he saw something green in the water and said it was probably the shadow of an underwater net. As the ship got closer to the object he thought he was seeing a dead shark. A few minutes later he realized it was a dead whale with sharks feeding on it. The green color was caused by the whale’s blood dripping from bite marks.

A close up the head and pectoral fin.

All scientists were on deck to watching viscous sharks. Sure we had all seen similar scenes on television but to see it happen in real life right before your eyes was amazing! There were at least two sharks and they would circle the whale and then attack it. Sometimes a sharks head would come out of the water for a huge powerful bite. Occasionally a shark would push the whale under and swim over it. It definitely reminded me of an animal claiming its kill as the ship approached closer.
The whale was identified as a Kogia because the small mouth narrowed down the possibilities. It was either a breviceps, pygmy sperm whale, or a sima, dwarf sperm whale. Both species of whales are very elusive and are seldom seen on mammal survey cruises. Because there is a lot to learn about these whales, it was decided to bring the whale on board.

Kogia’s teeth in it’s small lower jaw.

Not only was the science crew excited at the extraordinary find, but every member of the ship was in attendance for the whale “capture”. All the officers, the stewards, the engineers, everyone was watching as the deck crew got prepared to lift the whale on the deck.
The boatswain, pronounced bosun (which is a story in itself), had his crew gaff the whale to the side on the ship. (a gaff is a pole with a hook on the end) Once the whale was close enough a rope was tied around its tail and attached to a crane. The Kogia was lifted easily out of the water. By this time the sharks had given up to the much larger ship and were lurking nearby. With all the blood in the water everyone was being extra careful not to fall in!
Once on deck the damage the sharks had inflicted became evident. Large chunks were missing from the whale’s back, head and tail. Everyone was speculating what kind of whale it was, either the dwarf or the pygmy. Nicky, from the acoustics team, approached Erin the chief scientist and asked her if she could perform a necropsy on the animal. Performing necropsies is part of Nicky’s job description at Southwest Fisheries in California and she has worked on dozens of stranded whales, so Erin was happy to have her handle the sampling.

The biginning of the necropsy.

Nicky got together a kit for dissection and also the containers for the samples and off she went. She had help from Aly Fleming, a grad student and visiting scientist, Corey Sheredy an oceanographer, Andrea Bendlin, mammal observer, and myself. We were all decked out in fishing boots and gloves. My chief job was to bag and label samples and to record data about the size and appearance of the whale “parts”, but I ended up using the scalpel and saw as well.
This was a long process and eventually the working scientists had to go back to their jobs, but Nicky, Aly and I kept working until finished. It took over five hours to look at all the major organs and tissues. We took two samples of every organ. One sample will be sent to Hawaii and the other sample to Southwest Fisheries where Nicky works. In the case of the lungs and testes, (yes we discovered it was a male) we had to take a sample from both the left and the right.

Aly and Nicky showing Kogia’s enormous liver.

Nicky did not think the small intestine felt right. It was extremely hard and compact and felt there might be some kind of blockage as the colon was empty. She made sure to get a feces sample for the lab also. Wow what a highlight! Yes, I am being sarcastic. It is a good thing hands are washable. I couldn’t keep gloves on while writing and sealing bags. It sure looks he was a very sick whale in the digestive system!
Nicky showed me some of the parasites she found in the tissue and also in the blubber. That was something I was surprised by but in hind-site all animals have some kind of parasite, even humans. There was foam in the left lung, much more than in the right. This could mean that the real death was drowning. Whether it was from a blockage or a drowning, it seems likely the sharks came across a dead carcass rather than attacked and killed the whale. The actual results will come when the samples are processed in the lab.

Aly holding the extraordinary liver.

The Kogia’s organs are all very similar to ours, comparing mammal to mammal, with a few exceptions. Their stomach has three distinctive sections and the kidney has many bulbous sections forming one large kidney. I did not do any research of kidneys but Aly believes the old shape in the kidney is due to the complex filtration system needed to remove salts from the whale’s body.
I asked the girls about the ears and they were almost impossible to find, but Andrea discovered one on the left side. It was a tiny pin hole behind the eye. Without specifically looking for it, we would not have seen it. We counted the teeth and there were twenty four (bottom only) which is normal.

Feeding the sharks the remains. Nicky, Aly and I eventually needed to use a pulley, it was too heavy.

Many people from all crew came to check on us, some even brought water. It was extremely hot and no breeze was felt the whole time. It sure was fun dissecting again and doing some comparative anatomy! The girls did a great job, at least from my point of view, they were very knowledgeable and taught me a great deal! Everyone seems proud to be on the Sette and be involved in the unusual tasks that this mission has undertaken.
The remainder of the Kogia was returned back to the sharks and the huge clean-up began. That did not even feel like a chore as we were chatting about the findings the whole time.

Cleaning up. Thanks Kogia for helping us learn more about you!

The type of Kogia (species) will not be known for certain until the test results are in, but most scientists feel 60/40 it is a breviceps or the pygmy sperm whale.

Donna Knutson, September 9, 2010

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

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 9, 2010

Green Sea Turtle Rescue

 

 
Mission and Geographical Area:
The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

The tangled mass including the turtle.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 24○ 45.4′ N
Longitude: 163○ 04.2′ W
Clouds: 6/8 Ci, Cu,
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-3 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.2○ C
Air Temperature: 25.8○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1022.0 mb
Green Sea Turtles are very ancient animals. These reptiles were around when the dinosaurs still walked the Earth. Their top and bottom shell is actually much harder than other turtles. Another difference between the Green Sea Turtle and its “cousins” is that the Green Sea Turtle cannot pull its head into its shell.
 
Even though the streamlined shell is extremely tough, it is very lightweight. They do not have feet, but rather flippers which allow them to be graceful swimmers without much effort. They usually swim one mile per hour but can reach thirty-five miles per hour when need be.
Sea animals all need a system to dispose of the increased salt content in their bodies, and the Green Sea Turtle is no exception. It has a salt gland behind each eye. The turtle will shed extra salty tears when it needs to remove the excess salt. So when the turtles seem to “cry” they are only keeping their bodies chemistry in check.
Four of the seven species of sea turtles live in the water surrounding Hawaii. The four types are the Green Sea Turtle, the Hawksbill, the Leatherback and the Olive Ridley. The most common is the Green Sea Turtle.
Adult Green Sea Turtles are herbivores and eat mainly sea grass. The young turtles are carnivorous and eat mainly jellyfish and other invertebrates. The adults can weigh up to five hundred pounds and are usually found around coral reefs. The young turtles wander the sea until they are old enough to mate.
In the wild Green Sea Turtles grow slowly and can take ten to fifty years to reach their sexual maturity. This is one reason the popuation, once depleted, can take many years to recover. Their life span is unknown.

Abbie and Ray after cutting the turtle loose.
The Sette is in the background.

Adult females and males look similar with one exception. The male’s tail is much longer and thicker than the female’s short stubby tail. All the juveniles look the same, so determining sex by outside appearance is not possible.

Females return to nest on the same beach they left as a small turtle out of their eggl. It is unknown how they find their way back much like other animals that seem to have similar senses.

Hawaii’s Green Sea Turtle migrates as far as eight hundred miles from their feeding sites along the coast. The males and females migrate together, mate and return. The females do not mate every year. Ninety percent of the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles lay their eggs on French Frigate Shoals which is area North of Kauai and in the southern part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is estimated that only one percent of hatchling turtles survive to mating age.

Scientists watching and waiting.

Green Sea Turtles have only two predators, man and sharks. People hunt the turtles for their meat, particularly for soup, their shells for souvenirs, and also for their eggs. Depending on their location, Green Sea Turtles are either threatened or endangered. They are threatened in Hawaii and endangered in Florida.

Thousands of Green Sea Turtles die every year by other sources as well. Thousands die in nets and other discarded gear. Plastics are harmful to turtles because once ingested they may clog their digestive systems. Green Sea Turtles have also been suffering from a disease discovered in 1980 that causes tumors. These tumors although harmless may block the throat and cause starvation or grow inside around internal organs.

Ray returning the Green Sea Turtle into the sea.

Little is known what causes the tumors. It is speculated that they might be associated with changes in the ocean environment by pollution, or change in water temperature or increased ultraviolet rays.
Personal Log:
While on the flying deck Eddie Balistreri, an observer, noticed something floating about 300 m from the ship. Abbie Sloan, mammal observer, and Scott Mills, bird observer, spotted a turtle in the floating debris. Juan Carlos Salinas, mammal observer, called to the bridge and asked the helmsman to turn the ship inorder to check out the turtle. While the ship was turning the scientists lost track of the tangled turtle.

I felt the ship turning and heard mention of a turtle on the ship’s radio and quickly got to the deck. Just as I looked down there it was, they had found it, a turtle struggling to keep its head up in the floating mass. You could tell it was alive because it was moving its neck back and forth and bubbles where seen when the turtle submerged.

By this time all sixteen people of the science crew were watching the trapped turtle. They were concerned with its fate because so many of these animals die in nets. It was decided that this was a worthwhile rescue mission and a small boat was launched. Abbie and Ernesto Vazquez, mammal observer, were assigned for this mission. Ray and Mills, both deck hands that have been on every small boat launch, were ready to help the turtle also. The scientists tell me it is very rare to do such a thing on these mammal cruises, and no one had done anything like it on previous cruises.  In other words, I was receiving a great bonus!  Everyone was eager to help out an animal in need.

The small boat did not have to go far before it came to the turtle. It was trying desperately to break free of the fishing net. There were crabs and barnacles also clinging to the net. It is possible the turtle thought it could get an easy meal and accidently got trapped. The turtle seemed healthy judging by the amount it was struggling when the small boat crew pulled the net into the boat.

Ray and Abbie cut the turtle lose and identified it as a Green Sea Turtle. Ray gently lowered the turtle back into the water. The size wasn’t measured but I was told it was the size of a large pizza.  I asked Juan Carlos to guess how old the turtle was, and he estimated it was less than five years old.

The science crew on the flying deck knew when the task was done and the turtle was free because we saw the “high fives” in the small boat. Then it was our turn to cheer! Saving this threatened animal was very rewarding!  Hopefully the little Green Sea Turtle will go on to help populate its species.

It was another great day at sea.

Donna Knutson, September 4-5, 2010

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

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 4-5, 2010

The Whale Chase

Me on the water in the small boat.

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

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

The dorsal fin of a sperm whale.

Science and Technology

Latitude: 13○ 22.3 N
Longitude: 167○ 17.8 W
Clouds: 6/8 Cu, Cb
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 Knots
Wave height: 2-4 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.1○ C
Air Temperature: 25.5○ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1021.2 mb
Spermaceti, which means “sperm of the whale”, is commonly called a sperm whale. These whales had great commercial value in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The head of a sperm whale is filled with a semi-liquid oil which was used for making candles and later for cosmetics. This whale was the “villain” in the Herman Melville’s classic tale, Moby Dick.
Sperm whales are easy to identify at sea by their distinctive blow. They are seen almost anywhere around the world, but they especially like the areas around continental shelves.
Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales. The males can reach sixty feet long while the females are smaller at a maximum of thirty-six feet long. The males may weigh up to one hundred twenty thousand pounds while the females may reach fifty-five thousand pounds. The females are usually a third of the male’s size, which is the greatest size difference between all the whale species.
Medium to large sizes squid is the main food source for the sperm whale. One individual had a forty foot squid in its stomach.
Sperm whales may live between sixty to seventy years. Their population is growing steadily and with continued protection they should continue to recover.

A sperm whale blowing.

References for the past three logs:
Seabirds of Hawaii, Natural History and Conservation by Craig Harrison, copyright 1990.
A Field Guide to Sea Birds of the World by Peter Harrison, copyright 1987.
Guide to Marine Mammals of the World, National Audubon Society, copyright 2002.
Personal Log:
I had completed my” job” at 6:00 in the morning and then volunteered to be an independent observer for animals on the flying deck when Erin called me to the main deck for a “small craft safety meeting”. I started getting excited because I might have a chance to go out on the small 19 ft. boat.
Erin Oleson the chief scientist and the other acoustic girls, Suzanne, Yvonne and Nicole wanted to test their array. The array is a device that picks up sounds preferably whale and dolphin sound in the ocean. The small boat’s mission would be to go out ahead of the main ship with a “pinging” device that would be lowered into the water and then the array should be able to pick up the sound if the array is working properly. There had been some problems receiving data from the array so this outing seemed like a likely trip.
Not long after the meeting I was told I could go with Adam U, a mammal observer, and Nicole Beaulieu an acoustician. Woo Woo! I was one of the lucky ones for the adventure! Just being on the boat in the ocean with the rolling waves was a thrill. We needed to get two miles ahead of the ship then stop and lower the pinging device. It was hard to get that far ahead of the ship that was cruising at 10 knots with waves between three and five feet high.
Ray and Mills, both seamen, were with us. Mills drove the boat. He had obviously done it before because he had us soaring over the crests, catching air, and then slamming into the troughs.

The whale chase. My back is to the camera.

It was crazy /exhilarating for me because I hadn’t experienced anything like it. It was hard to hold on and I gave my weak left wrist a good workout! Especially when we slowed down a bit and I tried to take pictures with the right hand while trying to hold on with the left. My pride would have been hurt if I’d fallen out and so would my body considering we trying to outrun the ship, but the water was eighty degrees Fahrenheit and a beautiful royal blue.
When we had finished “pinging” the ship spotted some sperm whales and set out to chase them. We sat for about half an hour bobbing up and down on the waves and watching the ship and the water for whale blows. Listening to the radio we realized the whales were between us and the ship. They were blowing right in front of us! Now it was our turn to follow the whales and off we went!
When we discovered that we could get up close Adam brought out the crossbow. It was quite the frenzy! I was taking pictures, holding on and looking for whales at the same time! Adam was trying to get the crossbow ready and hold on while trying to watch for whales. Nicole was in the middle getting bounced around watching for whales.
Adam got a shot. The arrow hit the back of the whale and skidded off. He did not feel the arrow contained a good biopsy sample so we stopped got the arrow while he reloaded and off we went again. The arrows are hollow tipped for tissue to get trapped and once they strike they fall off and float until retrieved.
We continued our mad chase with Mills at the wheel. Eventually after chasing for approximately twenty minutes we came across a sperm whale” rafting” evidently they do this after being submerged up to forty minutes. Adam shot again and this time he was pleased with the biopsy sample as we could see the tissue dangling off the end of the arrow. Once hit the whale quickly put her head up. The action made me imagine her thinking “What was that?” and she submerged.

A sperm whale coming up for air.

Our whale chasing adventure was over and we returned to the Sette. I took over three hundred photos and five videos. My new little camera held up well in the salt water spray. I saw at least five sperm whales in the pod and one was a small one, a calf. Wow! Definitely a time I will never forget!
I need to tank Erin for letting me go! I’m heading back to the flying bridge with hope of finding more whales and dolphins.
Question: How do N.M. nautical miles compare to miles? How do Knots compare to miles/hour?

Donna Knutson, September 2-3, 2010

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

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 2-3, 2010

Seabirds are Amazing

Me on the Sette in front of Kaui.

 

Mission and Geographical Area:

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

Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabird sightings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Thursday September 2, 2010 12:00 pm

Red footed Booby

Latitude: 21○ 47.4 N
Longitude: 160○ 35.7 W
Clouds: 6/8 Cumulus
Visibility: 10 N.M.
Wind: 12 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 ft
Water Temp: 27○ C or 80○ F
Air Temp: 26.5○ C or 80○ F
Sea Level Pressure: 1019.6 mb

Locating whales and dolphins is a science in itself! It takes great patience and experience to know and be able to recognize the signs of marine life. Birds play an integral part of this “game” of locating marine mammals.

Ed Bali, one of the observers with 31 years of experience tells me to look for the food. Where there is food, there are animals. Today they have not seen much of any life. So I remember what Ed said no food, no birds, no birds, no large animals.

Yesterday was a big bird day. Scott, a Bird Observer, showed me the difference between the types of seabirds we were seeing. Of the 9,000 different species of birds in the world, only 260 are seabirds. Those seabirds are categorized into four “groups” called orders. We saw birds from three of the four orders.

Scott Mills is an avid birder and lover of sea birds.
I have learned a lot from him.

Birds in the order Procellariiformes, commonly called the tubenosed, have a special desalinization system. They have a nasal gland with many blood vessels that filter out the salt from the blood. The reason the salt is in the blood is because they drink salt water while flying long distances over the ocean and also because the food they eat is salty. In most birds of this species the concentrated salt water from the nasal gland drips out of the tube which is located above the nose, and  drips down their beak. The birds that belong to this order are commonly called albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels, storm petrels and terns. We saw many tubenosed birds such as the shearwaters; Newell and Wedgetail, the petrels; Bulwers and storm.
Birds from the Pelecaniformes order are known for their four webbed toes. These birds include the boobies; red-footed the most common, brown and masked. The great frigatebird, also from this order was spotted, it is a very large bird related to the pelican.

Birds from the Charadriiformes order consist of the gulls and terns. They are special unto themselves for example the Sooty Tern can live above the water for up to five years from the time it leaves the nest until it finds a breeding territory. The terns that were spotted were the noddy, brown, black, white (which is also called faerie) and the sooty tern.

Overall seventeen different species of seabirds were identified on September 2, 2010.

Bulwers Petrel

The birds’ activity is a sign to look for larger animals especially where flocks are seen. The two marine mammals that were identified were the steno and the Bryde’s (pronounced brutus) whale.
Steno bredanesis is a species of dolphin.  They are commonly called stenos, meaning “rough toothed” dolphin, and are common in many tropical waters. Almost nothing is known about its reproduction because it is very hard to follow at sea. Stenos have a very smooth beak and head with no melon shape for the forehead. The maximum length is 8’8” (2.65 m) and weight 350 lb. (160 kg). Its life span is 32 years.
Brydes’s (pronounced Brutus) Whale is a baleen whale. It was named after John Bryde a Norwegian whaler in South Africa. Bryde’s Whale is large and sleek, dark grey above and grey white or pinkish below. They have modified teeth which form 250 – 370 baleen plates that are used to filter the water for small animals. The maximum length is 51 ft. (15.6 m) and weight 90,000 lb (40,000 kg). Its dorsal fin is tall and ragged on the trailing edge. No one knows what its life span is.
Personal Log:

My great “statemate” and avid birder, Dawn Breese.

I haven’t been seasick! So far. The waves right now are larger than before, and as I sit I need to keep my stomach tight for balance. If it weren’t for the wonderful food, I could get in better shape in this month at sea.

I did my job this morning at 5:00 am, it was beautiful out with bright stars and a calm sea. During the day I really enjoy sitting out on deck and just watching. I hope to spot an animal. It is very peaceful and the motion is comforting.
I have been practicing with my camera. If I zoom it in 12x and then put it up the “Big Eyes” I can get some great pictures. Hopefully I’ll get some good shots of whales and dolphins. Most of the day was spent doing research on the animals we have seen. It was another great day at sea!

Donna Knutson, September 1, 2010

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

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 1, 2010

Getting Underway
 
 

Mission and Geographical Area:

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey. This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters. The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands. To locate these animals the science crew will deploy acoustical equipment engineered to capture whale and dolphin sound and also locate animals visually with binoculars with magnification up to 25x. Another goal of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance. Along with aquatic mammals, aquatic bird sittings will also be documented.

This survey’s data is necessary to estimate the abundance and understand the distribution of whales and dolphins in the EEZ. The data will be compiled for the Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Report. The assessment is required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

The old control tower for midway.

Science and Technology:

The Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor

Before the Sette left Pearl Harbor on its mission, it had to stop for fuel, at least 90,000 gallons worth according to the boatswain. While at the fueling station the Lieutenant Collin Little talked to the science crew about protocol on the ship and then Chief Scientist, Erin Oleson, gave essential information about the mission. There are sixteen people on the science crew including the Chief Scientist and myself. We are split into five groups: the Chief Scientist, the Acousticians, the Marine Mammal Observers, the Birders, an oceanographer and the Teacher at Sea.

The day was wrapped-up with a fire drill. Everyone had to report to their muster stations to be counted. Safety is extremely important on this ship as I have ascertained by the frequent encouragement to do tasks/activities correctly with as little risk of an accident as possible.
We are still heading out to sea. Tomorrow, when on course, the data collecting will begin.
Personal Log:
I hadn’t realized the time change would be so drastic. We are now 5 hrs. behind North Dakota time. I don’t think it will take me long to adjust, but I am very tired now.  I am impressed with all the young professional scientists! I am also pleased to see many are women, because sometimes it is hard to get girls motivated to do labs in the science classroom.
I will have a “job” soon. It is not very complicated, but I am needed to make sure the extremely expensive CTD (conductivity, temperature at depth measuring device) is not being pulled in any direction by the waves during readings. I don’t have to hold it.  I informed Ray one of the able-bodied seaman, and he reports the angle the CTD is in to the bridge.
Everyone has been very friendly and kind. If I had to go home today I would be sincere in saying I had a truly great time!

A view from the ship while heading to the Northwest Hawiaan Islands.

Karen Matsumoto, April 27, 2010

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

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

Science and Technology Log

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

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

Chief Scientist Marie Hill preparing to launch the XBT unit.

XBT deployed and falling to a depth of 1000 feet.

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

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

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

Karen on the “Big Eyes.”

Personal Log

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

QuickTime™ and a decompressorare needed to see this picture.

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

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

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

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

Something to Think About:

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

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

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

Animals Seen Today:

• Flying fish

Did you know?

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

Picture of the Day

Abandon ship drill on the Sette!

Karen Matsumoto, April 22, 2010

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

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

Science and Technology Log

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

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

Launching the hydrophone array

Monitoring the array.

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

Setting the buoy instructions.

Launching the buoy into the water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Log

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

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

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

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

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

Something to Think About:

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

Animals Seen Today:

  • Sooty shearwater
  • Wedge-tailed shearwater

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

Karen Matsumoto, April 19, 2010

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

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 16, 2010

Science and Technology Log

The research mission for this cruise is to follow a transit from Guam to O‘ahu, Hawai‘i via Wake Island, and conduct an acoustic (hearing) and visual (seeing) survey of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) along the way. A transit is similar to a transect line you use to monitor our beaches in our nearshore studies! This transit study will be conducted from April 19 to May 4, 2010. This project represents important and groundbreaking research for whale biologists, since very little is known about the distribution and vocal behavior (the sounds made by whales) of baleen whales in this part of the Pacific.

Our research mission has several objectives:

  • Collect data on the presence of whales/dolphins and their abundance (how many)
  • Collect tissue samples from whales/dolphins for genetic studies
  • Collect photo identification on any whales/dolphins observed
  • Collect acoustic (sound) data on whales/dolphins to help in species identification and understanding their vocalizations
  • Collect acoustic data on fisheries to understand the distribution of prey species along the transit line
  • Recover and install underwater acoustic monitoring equipment, called a HARP (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package), near Wake Island that will remain there for a year.

The research team consists of 12 scientists who are trained in visual observations of cetaceans and acoustic monitoring. I am part of the research team, and will fill in for staff conducting the visual observations and routinely conduct the acoustic monitoring.

The visual observation team consists of eight biologists rotating between four stations: Two “big eye” (25 x 150) binocular stations, one on the port (left) side and one on the starboard (right) side; one station forward observing with the naked eye and 7X binoculars; and one station rear-facing looking behind the ship with naked eye and 7X binoculars. Scientists work on 2-hour shifts and rotate among the scientists.

Visual observation station on flying bridge.

Research team member Adam on a “Big Eye”.

The acoustic team monitors whale vocalizations using two different methods. One method uses a hydrophone array towed behind the ship 24 hours a day (mostly to monitor toothed cetaceans, including dolphins). This hydrophone array is similar to the ones installed at Seattle Aquarium, Neah Bay, and other locations to monitor orcas and other whales in Washington State.

The other acoustic monitoring method uses Navy surplus sonobuoys (which were originally developed to detect submarines) that are launched three times a day at 0900, 1300, and 1700. The sonobuoys have a wide range in frequency response. They are able to pick up sounds between 5 Hz (cycles per second) and 20,000 Hz. Although humans have a hearing range of about 20 Hz to 20 kHz (20,000 Hz), our hearing is most sensitive between the frequencies of 1 kHz (1000 Hz) and 10 kHz (10,000 Hz). So, we can hear some of the clicks, whistles, and ‘boings’ of some dolphins and whales (‘boings’ are made by minke whales), but we have to “visually hear” others that are too low for humans to hear. The vocalizations of some baleen whales are not audible to the human ear, but are detected by the sonobuoy and are visible on the computer with the use of special software. We visually monitor from a range of 10 Hz to 240 Hz, to detect the presence of baleen whales, while listening for higher frequency vocalizations. Signals picked up from the sonobuoys are transmitted to a radio receiver on the ship. All data, including measurements of a vocalization frequency range and duration are recorded on a computer program and also logged in a hand-written journal and rerecorded on an Excel spreadsheet. All data collected will be carefully analyzed in a lab at a later date.

So far on the research cruise, there has been very little cetacean activity observed by visual observers or the scientists conducting acoustic monitoring. These waters have not been widely surveyed for cetaceans, so any data will add to the collective knowledge base of this area. As a scientist, it is important to remember that “the absence of data is data” in understanding the presence/absence and abundance of cetacean species in these deep, low productivity ocean waters.

Personal Log

The Oscar Elton Sette received its sailing orders to leave at 1500 on Monday, April 19, 2010. The generator part we were waiting on finally arrived (by way of Japan!) and we set sail promptly at sailing time. I am finally getting used to using the 24-hour clock!

Sailing orders.

Leaving the dock at Guam.

Sette’s colors flying!

We left Guam with fairly calm seas, but the winds picked up and we were soon rockin’ and rollin’! We had our “Welcome Aboard” meeting, where we learned about ship protocols and safety, as well as getting to know some of the ship’s crew. Of course, a large part of sailing preparation is the “safety drill” and I had my first “close encounter” with a survival suit! The Safety officer, Mike promptly provided me with a survival suit that actually fits much better…the first one could have accommodated two of me!

Karen in survival suit made for 2 Karens.

…and out of the survival suit! Whew!

I was ill prepared for what was to come. With high seas, and no “sea legs” I was struck by seasickness, which sent me right to my bunk to sleep—in fact that was about all I could do! We are fortunate to have a wonderful Doc on board, who provided me with the right meds and advice to be able to recover and feel human again! The greatest comfort I’ve gotten in a long time was to know that “the survival rate for seasickness is 100%!”

Doc Tran who took care of all of the seasick scientists!

My bunk, where I spent most of two days recuperating!

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: sonobuoy

Question of the Day: Did you know that sonobuoys were first developed by the U.S. Navy, made to be dropped from aircraft, and designed to locate submarines during WWII?

Something to Think About:

Whales migrate to tropical waters to give birth in winter and spring, and travel to colder, food rich waters for feeding during the summer.

Animals Seen Today:

• Spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata)

Did you know?

…that scientists take tissue biopsy samples from cetaceans by using a crossbow to shoot a special dart with a metal tip that penetrates the skin and blubber then pops out. The dart has a float and string attached to one end so that it can be retrieved easily with the tissue sample (about the size of a pencil eraser) still inside the tip. Whale research scientists have to be good archers! Don’t worry, the animals rarely notice when they are darted!

Karen Matsumoto, April 16, 2010

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

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 16, 2010

Science and Technology Log

The Oscar Elton Sette is now at the dock at the U.S. Naval Facility in Guam, preparing for our sailing on April 19th, as well as awaiting repairs to one of its generators. I am able to settle into my room and meet my “bunkmates” who are research scientists on the cruise. The science team is readying the scientific equipment for the acoustic monitoring and the visual survey. This includes routine maintenance on the “Big Eyes” (25 x 150) binoculars, checking the computer software, and readying equipment/supplies necessary for cetacean biopsy sampling. We are also preparing sonobuoys for later deployment during our transit survey. I am learning a lot about the extensive preparation necessary for these research cruises, and will explain more about the objectives of the science mission in the next log.

The Oscar Elton Sette at dock, Guam Naval Station.

Karen checking sonobuoys for later deployment.

Personal Log

Each day after taking care of research-related duties, the science team spends time together getting to know each other and the island of Guam. Morning meals are served on the boat, with evening meals in town. There are some great snorkeling spots on the Naval base, and we have opportunities to rent snorkel gear and explore the reef. The coral reefs near the base were in amazingly good shape, and the variety of reef fish was amazing. The fish that stand out in memory include several kinds of butterfly fish, many varieties of trigger fish (including my favorite, the Picasso triggerfish), parrotfish, Sergeant majors, unicornfish, Moorish idols, and bird wrasses. The field identification skills that I depend on when birding proved not to be as useful when fish watching! Too much distraction! Just as I would try to remember field marks on one fish, I would get distracted by 20 others that were just as engaging!

Karen in snorkel gear

Picasso trigger fish

Coral reef off Gab Gab Pt.

We also had a chance to go to the museum at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park run by the National Park Service. Displays on the events of “conquest and liberation” of Guam from 1941 to 1944 were presented, as well as a wealth of resources on WWII history at their small bookstore. Available maps pointed out various caves and tunnels made by the Japanese Army using forced labor for defense fortifications which are located close by. There are still hidden live explosives in many of the caves and tunnels, so exploration is dangerous. I got a small glimpse of the cultural history of the Chamorros, the aboriginal peoples of Guam, and I would like to learn more.

War in the Pacific Museum.

Trail to War Caves built during WWII.

Caves.

Question of the Day: What are those wire cages hanging everywhere on the cyclone fences all around the Naval base? (See photos next page)

These wire traps are baited with live mice to catch the brown tree snake that was accidentally introduced to Guam after World War II. With no natural predators and abundant prey, the snake population grew and spread throughout the island. As the snake dispersed, forest bird and fruit bat populations plummeted. By the late 1980s, nine species of native forest birds and the Mariana fruit bat had disappeared from Guam. There are very few birds or mammals left on the island due to predation by the brown tree snake, and it has upset the balance of the ecosystem. An increase in insect pests, as well as a shift in vegetation is occurring on Guam due to the introduction of this invasive species.

Brown tree snake trap

Close-up of mouse bait in trap

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: Chamorro – the indigenous peoples of Guam.

Something to Think About:

The amount of advance preparation you need to outfit a scientific expedition when you are out at sea with no place to get supplies is mind boggling! It is also awesome to think about the kind of expertise you need on your crew, which includes the following: engineer, doctor, NOAA officers, cook, technology expert, safety specialists, mechanic, plumber, carpenter, recreation specialist, and science team! Who else do you think you would need on an expedition at sea?

Animals Seen Today:

  • Pacific golden plover (we have these in Washington!)
  • Cattle egret
  • Philippine turtle dove
  • Eurasian tree sparrow
  • Black drongo
  • Coconut crab
  • Marine toad (from Central/South America and also known as the cane toad in Australia!)
  • Many, many tropical fish species and marine invertebrates (including black sea cucumbers and blue sea stars!!!!)

Coconut crab held by local Chamorro vendor at Chamorro Village.

Did you know?

…that in Guam, many introduced species such as pigs, the marine toad, and the brown tree snake have resulted in the decline and extinction of many native plants and animals. Scientists call these plant and animal invaders “invasive species.” Can you think of an example in your community where an “invasive” species has caused an imbalance to your local ecosystem?

Question of the Day:

What could we learn from the traditional knowledge of the Chamorros about Guam’s coral
ecosystems and how to protect them?

My Challenge:
Learning my way around the ship and getting used to the different research vessel terms such as the
head = bathroom, the mess = dining area, and “Texas deck” = large upper deck on the ship for
gathering people.

Linda Tatreau, MARCH 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Linda Tatreau
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Equatorial Pacific
Date: March 12, 2010

Shark! and HARP

Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark

We are into the last day of work before returning to Guam. The first set of BRUVs is being recovered as I write. We will have time for one more set (8) and then we’ll secure the equipment and head for home (home for me anyway―everyone else will still be far from home). Steve is getting great data on the fish populations on the west side of Saipan. As much as we like watching the fish, we got more excited to see a turtle checking the bait, a moray eel chewing on the bait bag, and yesterday, a large tiger shark cruising back and forth nudging the bait bag. Unfortunately, the video ended while the shark was still at the BRUV. When we brought it up, the bait bag was gone.
E paraancora

E paraancora

John and Viv deploy the TOAD each night and make 3 or 4 passes over the reef to assess coral coverage and other bottom features. They were particularly happy to have found several areas of reef with the coral Euphyllia paraancora. This coral is found in the tropical Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, but it is not common. It is heavily harvested for the aquarium trade and more susceptible to bleaching than more robust coral species. It is listed as vulnerable and is further threatened by the predicted threats of climate change and ocean acidification. It was put on the IUCN Red List and is protected via CITES, both as of October, 2009.

Above: HARP Diagram

Above: HARP Diagram

One night we deployed a HARP, a High-Frequency Acoustic Recording Package used to study cetaceans (whales and dolphins). The scientist in charge of this equipment was not onboard but had arranged with the Chief Scientist to put out this equipment near Saipan. This HARP will sit on the seafloor for 2 years collecting sounds. HARPs record ambient ocean noise including low-frequency baleen whale calls, high-frequency dolphin clicks, sounds in between and man-made sounds from ships, sonar, and seismic exploration. When the HARP is retrieved, the sounds can be analyzed and we will learn more about the cetacean populations of the Mariana Islands.

Engine Room

Engine Room

A few days ago, Glen gave me a great tour of the engine room. It is beyond the scope of this blog to describe it here, but I can’t resist including a few pictures. I am always amazed by what it takes to keep a ship like this running. They call it an “unmanned engine room” because an alarm will ring if something needs attention like overheating or low oil pressure. It may be called “unmanned” but it takes a lot of man-hours to keep it that way. The engine room and machine shop are really clean and well organized―I didn’t see a drip of oil or a smudge of grease.

Right: One of 4 diesel engines that provided the electricity for the ship and run the electric motors that drive the propellers.

Engine Room

Engine Room

Engine Room

Engine Room

Right: Glen, first assistant engineer and my tour guide.

Glen, First Assistant Engineer

Glen, First Assistant Engineer

Linda Tatreau, MARCH 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Linda Tatreau
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Equatorial Pacific
Date: March 9, 2010

TOAD

Sunset

Sunset

It would be easy to start every post with a beautiful sunrise or sunset photo. In this one, you can see Anatahan Island in the background. Just before the sunset, 3 large wahoo were caught. Poke and fried fish are the favorite items on recent menus (breakfast, lunch and dinner).

Steve, Frances and Mills show off their catch.

This photo/diagram shows how sonar waves ping the seafloor and also shows the bathymetric map that is made from the data.

We used the multibeam sonar to map shallow banks north of Farallon de Mendinilla and east of Anatahan and Sarigan. The multibeam work continued day and night and produced huge amounts of data that needed to be processed. I can only sit at the computer for short periods, but the map team members work 10 hour shifts and most of that time is spent processing the data and making new maps. There are always 2 or 3 people processing the data.

The TOAD seen with cameras facing forward.

Monday night, we put out the TOAD (Towed Optical Assessment Device). This camera is towed behind the ship and sends video directly to the control room. We were able to see some of the seafloor we had been mapping. The first run of the camera went for 2.25 hours, covered a distance of 3 miles and went to a maximum depth of 400 feet. The second run went for 3.5 hours, over 4.5 miles to a maximum depth of 300 feet. Towing the camera sounds easy, but someone must be on the controls to keep the camera from crashing into the bottom. The camera needs to be close to the bottom for the best video, but without someone on the controls, it can crash. Driving requires constant attention. Most of the seafloor had a sand coverage with some algae. Occasionally, there would be oohs and aahs over something other than sand and sea weed: sea stars, large sea cucumbers, sponges, sea urchins or the infrequent fish. I really enjoy watching real time video of previously unseen seafloor, but I found myself falling asleep on my feet. I finally had to give up and head to the bunk.

Steve & Viv prepare the TOAD for launch.

Today, we are near Saipan planning to do BRUV work during the day and the TOAD tonight. A nap might be a good plan so I can watch the TOAD through the night, but I don’t want to miss the BRUV action either.

Linda Tatreau, MARCH 4, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Linda Tatreau
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Equatorial Pacific
Date: March 4, 2010

Pinging and Playing

We continue to “kill dots” as we work our way around the island of Farallon de Mendinilla. The mapping here will be finished tonight and then we will head north to map the seafloor of a few seamounts and banks. Most of the recent questions on this blog have been about “killing dots,” as we edit the data from the multibeam sonar. I will tell you more about the map making process in a future post. Today I want to show you some of the fun things we do aboard ship.Fishing is everyone’s favorite activity, either for the catching or the eating. The best method is trolling using lures when the ship is traveling at about 10 knots. This only happens when the ship is heading from one study area to another. When using the multibeam, the ship travels at about 4.5 knots and the fish are less apt to bite a slowly moving lure.

Kenji making poke from a wahoo he caught.

Frances with mahi mahi skins she is drying to make a fishing lure. Before drying she had to remove all the meat and later all the scales were removed. The resulting skin is very tough.

Jonathan on the exercise bike pedaling to Rota. There is an exercise room on the ship with a treadmill, rowing machine and weights. Many of the crew members like the bike best because it’s out on the deck with the great view.

A few of the movies available.

Movies are popular during breaks. The ship has about 800 tapes including older movies and recent releases. Many of the crew members have personal collections as well.
The desk in my stateroom.

The desk in my stateroom.

Each stateroom (bunkroom) has a monitor so the movies can be watched in the movie room, the lounge or the staterooms. The T.V. in the lounge also gets Fox News via satellite. The internet is a popular pastime. That also comes via satellite. The ship pays a set fee for the satellite service and there is no charge to us. There are three computers in the lounge available for everyone to use. There are internet connections on the bridge, in the science labs and in the bunk rooms for people with laptops. The library has a nice collection of books and board games so there is always something to do during non-working hours.
Bellow: That’s me looking for whales. These binoculars are called “big eyes.” They are used on trips when scientists are studying mammal populations. Using these binoculars from the highest point on the ship increases the likelihood of seasickness.
Big Eyes

Big Eyes

Here we are splicing lines to hold buoys. There have also been several knot-tying sessions.

Here we are splicing lines to hold buoys. There have also been several knot-tying sessions.

Linda Tatreau, FEBRUARY 28, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Linda Tatreau
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Equatorial Pacific
Date: February 28, 2010

 

Old Dog, New Trick

What is the most exciting, most awesome, most unusual event of the expedition? These are the most common questions I have received from students following the blog. The whole trip has been exciting and awesome. It’s also been unusual as I don’t normally spend a lot of time at sea.
Unexpectedly for me, on February 23rd came the most exciting,most awesome and most unusual event of this trip. By then, I was familiar with the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. I had read about it, talked about it, written about it and taken dozens of pictures. What I didn’t know was that Chris (see Meet the Science Team) was working to teach the AUV a new trick. AUVs run a preprogrammed route for about 4 hours and then return to the surface. It’s not until the AUV is back in its cradle on deck that the cameras can be retrieved. Only then can the photos be seen. Chris spent the trip devising a method whereby the AUV can send pictures to the ship while still underwater.

Seven miles of cabel used by the Remotely Operated Vehicle Jason II.

Keep in mind that the AUV is not attached to the ship. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are attached to the ship via cables and can send pictures and receive instructions from the control room on the ship. On the AUV’s last dive, Chris’s program worked―underwater pictures on his computer. He got 13 photos at about 20 minutes each. The information is sent to the computer in small bits that must be assembled. HE DID IT! I wanted to break out the champagne in celebration, but there is none onboard so we had to settle for enthusiastic applause. I still get chicken skin (goose bumps) just thinking about the magnitude of his success.

AUV, no cables.

In the following paragraph, Chris talks about AUVs and communication.”Wirelessly communicating with Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) is very difficult―the type of wireless communications that we rely on in our day-to-day lives does not work underwater. Most wireless systems, like WiFi or mobile phones, rely upon high frequency electromagnetic waves―millions or billions of cycles per second. Underwater, high frequency signals are attenuated, or blocked, over short distances. That is part of why when you are snorkeling or SCUBA diving everything looks blue―the higher frequency red light has been blocked out. To communicate with SeaBED AUVs, we rely upon sound waves, which use only around 12 thousand cycles per second. Echoes, other noise, and a number of other challenges presented by the ocean result in us having a very slow connection to the robot. Also, like using a walkie talkie, only one person can be talking at a time. If we are sending commands to the robot, it can’t be sending us information. Finally, sound travels slowly through the water, so it takes time for the message to even get to the boat (this is called latency). That all means we have to heavily compress images so that they are very small on disk before we transmit them, and we don’t get all the pieces in the right order. Putting together the image ends up being like putting together a puzzle―you have to make sure you have all the pieces, and then put them together in the right order. The compression means that the images look pretty rough, but they still give us an idea of what the robot is doing, and an early glimpse at the seafloor. For the rest, you have to wait until it comes back up! SeaBED AUVs can take over a thousand images every hour! “

OK, me again. Chris will continue working on this project. He wants to make it easier and faster. With this new trick, the scientists will know, while the AUV is still below, that all systems are working and the AUV is taking quality photos.

Linda Tatreau, FEBRUARY 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Linda Tatreau
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Equatorial Pacific
Date: February 22, 2010

Guppies

Sunset

Sunset

Yesterday was a picture perfect day at sea. The sunrise was accompanied by 6 dolphins frolicking in front of the bow. The day was sunny, the sea was calm and we could see the bottom in 100 feet of water. It doesn’t get better. Steve and Sparky are preparing video clips from the BRUVs. New footage shows a feeding frenzy of snappers and at one point, a stingray parks itself on top of the bait bag. I am anxious to post these clips, but I must be patient. The BRUV boys and the BotCam girl have 85 hours of video to watch. Analyzing it will take much longer.The preliminary bathymetric map of Galvez Bank is completed and shown below.

Bathymetric Map of Galvez Bank

Bathymetric Map of Galvez Bank

There is a new page on the blog. Click on the page titled, “Mutibeam Sonar.” Joyce Miller gives the basic information on how the multibeam works and how they generate these great bathymetric maps.

We have said good-bye to Galvez Banks and, after a bit of multibeam work west of Guam in the middle of the night, we are cruising towards Rota.

Steve swinging in the long-line pit. This is the area that is used for recovery of the BotCams, BRUVs and the AUV. On other expedtions the area is actually used for long-line fishing as a survey method.

Steve swinging in the long-line pit. This is the area that is used for recovery of the BotCams, BRUVs and the AUV. On other expedtions the area is actually used for long-line fishing as a survey method.

 

Pet guppies getting some sun and enjoying the view on the ship's deck.

Pet guppies getting some sun and enjoying the view on the ship’s deck.

Linda Tatreau, FEBRUARY 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Linda Tatreau
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Equatorial Pacific
Date: February 22, 2010

Daily Routine

Sparky cutting bait

The days are settling into a routine. As the sun rises, the multibean sonar is lifted and secured or Eric turns off the echo sounder he uses for locating schools of fish. By 7:30 A.M., the camera teams are ready with the 2 BotCams and 8 BRUVs. The deployment depths have been determined so each rig is set with the appropriate length of line. The camera batteries have been charged over night (10 rigs make for a total of 20 cameras). The bait has been cut and stuffed into the bait bags. Deployment of all 10 sets takes about 1.5 hours. Each set of cameras runs for just over an hour so as soon as the last cameras are deployed, the first are ready to be retrieved. Retrieval is more time consuming. Each camera set is marked by 2 orange buoys. The ship must approach with the buoys on the lee side (sheltered from the wind ). A crew member then throws a line with a big 4-pronged hook to snag the line between the buoys. If the ship is too close, it runs over the buoys―too far away and they have to come around for another try which can take up to 30 minutes. Generally, the morning cameras are back on board in time for lunch. Afternoons are a repeat of the morning and the cameras are back on board just in time for dinner.

Mills with a mahi mahi

We have a couple of fishing enthusiasts on board. They put out troll lines whenever they get the chance, usually at sunrise or sunset when the captain kicks up the speed to about 10 knots to reach the next study location. There has not been much time for fishing but we have eaten a few mahi mahi. This makes everyone happy―the fishermen of course, and the rest of us for the fillets.

Night time operations with the AUV

After dinner, the AUV team prepares the vehicle for deployment. The AUV is the most time consuming project. They spend hours with the electronics and hours more getting it ready to go underwater. When the communications work, the AUV follows a pre-programmed path about 4 hours in duration. When communications cannot be established, they have to bring it back on board and try again the next night. They have been so busy that we have not yet been able to see their pictures. Soon, I hope. It will be interesting to see the differences between daylight and night time activities on the sea floor.

Linda Tatreau, FEBRUARY 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Linda Tatreau
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Equatorial Pacific
Date: February 15, 2010

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

Deployment
Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

The past two days have been spent working with the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. On Sunday, the AUV was put in the water but never set free because it was having communications problems. On Wednesday, it was communicating perfectly, but just as it was to be released, the last line holding it to the ship became entangled and The AUV had to be brought back aboard. The afternoon deployment went perfectly. The AUV stayed on track for about two hours. It brought back pictures and video but I haven’t seen them yet.

The AUV without its protective housing.

There are many different kinds of AUVs. The AUV being used on this trip is called the SeaBed from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). It can be programmed to fly slowly or hover over the seafloor to depths of 6,000 feet. It is used to gather detailed sonar images and pictures of the seafloor.
http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=10078

Retrieval

WHOI’s newest vehicle is the Nereus. Nereus is actually a Hybrid Remotely Operated Vehicle (HROV). It can operate autonomously or by remote control. In May of 2009 it explored the depths of the Marina Trench at a depth of almost 7 miles. This was only the third time man has been able to see the deepest spot on Earth.
http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=10076

AUVs are an excellent tool to explore depths not easily accessible to divers. Although they are expensive and sensitive high tech machines, they are not as expensive as Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and manned submersibles.

Linda Tatreau, FEBRUARY 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Linda Tatreau
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Equatorial Pacific
Date: February 22, 2010

Sonar and CTD

Jeff & Jonathan prepare the CTD

Retrieving the CTD (check the feet)

All day Friday, all night, and into Saturday has been spent with the multibeam sonar collecting data and mapping the area of study. The “fish people” need an idea of the bottom contours to decide where to put the cameras. Yesterday afternoon, the scientists used a CTD tool to measure conductivity, temperature and density. The results of this test were used by the map makers to most effectively use the sonar data for accurate maps. Currently the camera crew is preparing to launch 5 sets of cameras. The BotCam (bottom camera bait station) has an anchor and floatation that will keep it a few feet above the bottom. The BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Video) will sit directly on the bottom. We should have fish data later tonight but, 10 cameras will make a lot of video to watch.

Linda Tatreau, FEBRUARY 11, 2010

We’re off!

With great anticipation (at least on my part) we departed Guam at 11:30 A.M. Thursday. The scientists have great expectations and most of them matched my excitement. The ship’s crew is mellow – they sail all the time. We went about a mile off shore and spent a few hours while scientists calibrated their equipment. We then went back into Apra Harbor so the multibeam sonar could be calibrated. During the night we actually set sail and are now at Galvez Banks, our first study site. The scientists are continuing their work with the sonar. This will probably take all day today and maybe part of tomorrow. We need the sonar to get good maps of the seafloor so the fish experts can place their gear in the best spots to find fish. We have at least four ways to survey the fish: acoustically, with an AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle), with a towed camera and several rigs that have 2 cameras each and use bait to attract fish. I will share more when the equipment is being used.