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Journals 2004/2005

Linda Hoffman
Palms Middle School, West Los Angeles, California

"Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance,
and Status of Humpback whales (SPLASH)"

NOAA Ship McArthur
July 28 - August 28, 2004
Journal Index:
July 28 - 29 - 30 - 31
August 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11

          12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19

          21 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25 - 26 - 27 - 28

August 18, 2004

Breakfast, 6:44am; Email, 7:30am. On fly bridge with Cornelia. Orcas, three groups are sighted and as I help keep track of the Orcas, Cornelia tells the captain where to steer the ship and at the same time the air one is launched. I am now almost able to predict where the Orcas will be after they dive and I am becoming very valuable to the scientists. I must admit I have mixed feelings about resighting them especially when there are small calves in the group. I am worried that they might be spending excessive amount of energy trying to avoid our ship. I am also still uncertain how safe it is to take a biopsy sample from the blubber and even sometimes from the fluke, especially after one of the darts stayed attached to the whale's fluke. Have we done studies to make sure that these small puncture wounds won't become infected? Are they more venerable to other predators detecting them due to the wound? When we constantly pursue them, do we confuse their original course or destination?

Michael explains to me that these Orcas have open saddles which means they're resident Orcas. My only solace at this time is that few researchers if any will be back in this area to harass them. Anyway, I spotted three groups of Orcas. One with an Orca that has a huge curled over fluke. The scientists decided to call this bull, "Curly." Another bull with a flatten fluke and then a group with a typical bull. The group without Curly had two very small calves. The group was given the identification number of 431 and 432. Michael was getting as many shots as he could of the left sidesaddles. Orcas are identified by their saddles rather than by their flukes.

11:05am. Fog was creeping back in as we continue to head west towards Russia. At our farthest point from Anchorage, Alaska we will be 400miles from Russian shores and at the very edge of Russian waters. We do have special permission to enter the waters if we need to. Once we enter Russian waters we will not be allowed to take any whale Biopsies.

11:10am. More Orcas approximately four miles away chasing dolphins but Dr. Barlow wants us back on course and looking for humpbacks which is our true research object.

Continued Humpbacks sighted and video. Humpback had a white patterned fluke. Air one is launched. Orcas are also sighted. There are also lots of black birds on the water.

5pm. Dinner. Roast beef, noodles, spicy roasted potatoes, eggplant and excellent cheesecake.

7:30pm(19:30). Movie watching

9:30pm. I am teary eyed from the movie. One of the crew members says to me, Guess I missed the teary-eyed part?" I smile and suddenly miss Bob. He always would tell me how much he loved my "sensitivity" when watching movies, etc. I then get up and walk down the ships hallway and Art greets me and says, "going to bed?" I suddenly realized how close I have become with some of the crew and how much I am going to miss them. Maybe I will never see them again? It is one of life's experiences I guess. There are some people that just make that special impact. When I first came aboard I noticed the scientists sitting on one side of the mess hall and the crew on another side. Perhaps that was just temporary but I felt how sad. So gradually I would sometimes sit with the scientists and other times with the crew. Eventually I noticed that some of the scientists would also mingle among both-great! I can't take credit for the change as I don't know what occurred during leg one but for leg 2 this was good. I also brought cookies up the to the fly bridge one day when the scientists were too busy to come down for the snack. After that, whenever the scientists were going to miss lunch or dinner we either brought it up to them or if they were on the small boat, packed it away in the refrigerator for later.

It doesn't matter who or how it starts, just that now we are looking out for each other. Tonight I surprised Allen and Kate Xco. I gave them each a lollipop from the ships store as I watched a movie with them. There is no rhyme or reason for giving out the lollipops, but the smile on their faces was worth it.

What a family you become in just eighteen days. Art and Jay the cooks are just fantastic. We talk about everything and they're always looking out for me to make sure I am doing okay. Art even slipped me a dozen cookies. It's not enough for everyone, so you take these Linda. I didn't want to at first, but then I saw he really wanted me to have them. "Okay, thanks", I said. Little did I know that later on during the cruise they would save me from feeling seasick? Jim the adventurous driver, Kevin the computer expert, Beth, the scientist from Homer, Alaska, I have become very close to all of them. Beth even knows the person whose home I stayed at in Homer last year. What a small world it really is. Beth was a champion swimmer in high school and she has two teenage daughters at home. She has such a great sense of humor that she keeps everyone laughing even during the worst weather. Then there is Shiere who will keep in touch with my class by email during her research project in Australia starting at the end of leg 2 . Cornelia, head observer from Germany and nicknamed Corndog and Eagle eyes is wonderful to work with. She can spot whales seven miles away. She is very sweet but also very professional. She puts the photo catalogs together. Mike, super photographer, is also fantastic at spotting whales. He is the Orca expert determining which Orcas are transient and which Orcas are resident Orcas. Transient Orcas eat ocean mammals such as Otters and seals, while resident Orcas eat fish. Resident Orcas for example that live off the Western Canadian coast eat salmon. Shannon is the acoustics expert and she is in charge of the hydrophone along with my roommate Kate. Allison is the ships navigator and Paul is the junior medical officer. Both are only twenty-six years old. In fact the average age on the ship is twenty-six years old for scientists as well as the crew.

Steve is a young crewmember away from home for the first time. He is in charge of the ships store, which sells items like t-shirts, hats, candy and water. Greg Huber, XCO captain for this trip. He is very caring, professional and friendly. He allows us to come on the bridge whenever we wish except when docking. He is liked very much by the crew. I will miss them all soooo much.

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