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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

July 31, 2004

Film shot: Bunk area and fluke shots.

I am 100% better today without bonine though my ears are still clogged. I went up to the skydeck from 8am-11am. We spotted plenty of humpback whales. Dr. Barlow gave me the big 400x zoom camera to use. I took my first two shots and recorded them in the notebook we each carried. I got a beautiful fluke shot on my first try, but my second shot was blurred.

Then Kate, one of the scientists, took the camera and kept it the whole time, so I didn't have a chance to take any more shots. I should have said something but I didn't. I became very good at spotting the whales with the naked eye. I spotted well over seventeen humpbacks that morning. Several of the whales were lunged feeding. I also saw various birds especially Puffins near-by.

When we are on deck working, we either have someone who is not on duty put away a meal for us or we miss that meal. When we go out on the small boat, we pack ourselves a quick peanut and butter sandwich or again have someone who is not on the small boat put a meal away with our name on it. Most of the time one is out on the small boat from 6-8 hours and the small boat covers a lot of the ocean. There is always a crewmember keeping track where the small boat is, as we often cannot see it with the naked eye. The small boat goes out it all kinds of weather except when the sea is extremely choppy usually due to gale force winds.

The launching of the small boat must be done very carefully as it can easily tip sideways if the ship is rocking too much. Thus the boat is usually launched from the leeside of the ship.

Today the ship really started rocking so I lay down to nap. Just as I was dozing off, Dr. Barlow called me to the deck to look through the big eyes and start my rotation.

Looking through those tremendously powerful binoculars made me very dizzy. How the scientists find the horizon and figure out the ratical of the whale spotted while keeping the binoculars steady on a rocking ship is beyond my comprehension. Anyway, after several unsuccessful tries, Dr. Barlow took me off the binoculars. It will be over a week before I am able to adjust my eyes and my senses to using these powerful binoculars.

Suddenly we spotted Orcas, lots of Orcas. They were seven miles out and the ship was given their ratical and direction and we were off. There are always three scientists on deck. One on the portside binoculars and one on the starboard binoculars. The third scientist sits in the center seat by the computer and records their sightings. The ratical, (meters from the ship), angle (degrees), type of animal sighted, and the recorders number are put into the computer. The condition of the environment is constantly recorded as well. I.e., the distance of visibility, this day the Beaufort was 1-2, with very calm seas and visibility was 7-8 miles.

The Orcas were absolutely beautiful to watch as they swam in the freedom of their home environment versus the one's that are found in acquariums. The small boat came by and what a shot that would have been if I had my video camera on deck. Instead I watched and enjoyed this family of around seven Orcas swim by. I had been up on deck for over six hours and since I will be on duty at 7:20am tomorrow, I decided I better go down and get some sleep.

I recorded some sightings on the recorded but then Dr. Barlow felt I was too slow in doing so, so he asked me to do photo identification instead. I am so disappointed. I feel like I am letting the team down but I am here to help out in whatever capacity Dr. Barlow feels would be beneficial. Anyway I am here to also learn all I can about whales so when I go back into the classroom I can share my experience with new science teachers as well as my students.

Barbara, Dr.Barlows wife, was so great today. She explained to me the difference between two kinds of Orcas. The resident Orcas( Salmon eaters) and the transient Orcas (mammal eaters) and the offshore Orcas that we just don't know that much about. The transient and resident Orcas are genetically very, very different. She believes Orcas are extremely intelligent whales that have very complicated social structures and adapt to the environment around them with different speech, eating patterns and perhaps behavior. As I write this I am reminded of my dear mentor Jane Goodall. No one believed she could observe her beloved animals in the wild; a woman without a science degree and scientist were equally appalled when she gave each of her animals' names. Now she is a world-renewed scientist who is very much respected. I am unable to follow in her footsteps at this late stage of my life but I will make my own waves and become published someday. I also hope before the cruise is over, I will get some very interesting video.

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