ARMADA logo ARMADA Project -- Research and Mentoring Experiences for Teachers National Science Foundation logo


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 2, 2004

I finally had a good nights sleep. I am up at 5:30am, grab some cereal and I go up to the fly bridge. I love working with Beth and Barbara as they're very supportive of my being on deck. I was finally able to use the binoculars and give a true bearing of a whale I spotted. I waited to the small boat was launched and then I went down to the dry lab. I spent well over an hour photo identifying whales in several catalogs. While in the dry lab I got very chilled. The lab is kept closed so that the biopsies we get that day can be immediately frozen until the ship gets back home and the frozen biopsies can be studied.

I got chilled so I went down to the galley. There is always coffee and hot tea available there. I had some tea to warm up and also some coffee rolls. While I was there one of the crewmembers started talking to me. It was so nice to have a crewmember acknowledge me since usually the crewmembers sit at one table and the scientists at another. Meanwhile this crewmember that I will call Mike told me that he came from Ketchikan and he was brought up in Monterey, California. He told me the population of Ketchikan is about 5400 and the town that he lived in near-by called Wales has a population of 3400. He now lives in a small town called Harden, which is not far from Wales. Population in Harden is 500 people year around. Harden is about 400 miles from Ketchikan. Residents pay Safeway market approx $400.00 for their food supply in the winter.

Mike told me he has always made a living working on ships. Crew members on this cruise work an eight hour shift but they prefer ships with 12 hour shifts as the money difference can be as much as $1200.00. He told me he prefers working on ships than hustling the freeways. Ray, the cook onboard, was listening to our conversation and he agreed. I felt really honored that a crewmember would take the time to talk to me and share a part of his life with me.

I went back up to the deck and just when Barbara and Allen were going to show me how to use the big binoculars whales were spotted again and the lesson was off. In the weeks to come, I learned what I had to learn mostly on my own, as the scientists were always busy.

The schedule was set up where three scientists were on deck at all times. They would each spend forty minutes on the left binoculars, forty minutes on the computer recording sightings and other data such as beau fort, visibility, weather, course position of ship, and type of object sighted. Also what was first sighted, the blow, a fluke, etc. This lead scientist would also call the bridge and direct the captain or navigator as to which direction the ship should go and at what speed. Then forty minutes on the right binoculars and then that person would be off-duty. Once a whale was spotted, the scientist went off-effort and when I was on deck I then had an opportunity to keep track of the whale spotted and find other whales in the vicinity. Since I had worked previously on a small thirty-foot fishing boat, I was able to instantly spot whales with my naked eye from the advantage point of the NOAA Observation deck, which was about four stories above the sea. It wasn't long before the scientists were calling me up on the deck to spot whales that they lost.

The most frustrating thing for me was when I saw a whale while the scientists were on effort. I could not tell them where it was and I could not call it out until it was 90degrees past the ship and by then I often lost sight of it myself.

At the end of the day, I went back down to the dry lab and talked to Shannon who is the acoustics specialist. She told me that Dr. Barlow invented the hydrophone they were using. Shannon is also in charge with Juan Carlos in keeping the biopsy darts clean. More on how the hydrophone works is under my interview with Shannon.

Photo: Protected Resources Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California.

Also in the dry lab is Holly who is on the computer almost all day. She is the expert on fluke photo identification. She determines which fluke pictures are clear enough to go into the catalog. Each fluke picture is given a number identification and it is put into a catalog according to its shading from lighter flukes to flukes with patterns, to the darkest flukes without hardly any pattern. The darkest flukes were the hardest ones for me to determine if there was a match or not. Humpback flukes have interesting ridges as well as patterns and they're the fingerprints of the humpback world.

Each catalog is based upon the location where the humpbacks picture was taken. Thus I was exploring pictures taken along Prince Williams's sound. Over 600 fluke pictures were taken during the first two legs of the cruise alone. I perhaps searched through 200 or so pictures, of which only one match was confirmed. The exciting thing about finding a match is that your name goes down in the catalog. The same thing happens if the fluke picture you took turns out to be the best of that whale.

Todd and Allen do many jobs but Todd mainly runs the small boat. He told me this was the first time a scientist has been able to run the small boat. This has been a great advantage as it is easier for a scientist to steer the boat at the correct angle needed to get a biopsy of the whale pursuing, then for the scientist to instruct a crewmember how to steer the boat. Whales are fast and unpredictable. Many zigzag when being chased and they can dive and hold their breath up to twenty minutes or more. When they dive, they can them come up miles from when we last sighted them. Todd being an expert on whale movement, has made him an expert on how to steer the boat.

Juan Carlos is the master bowsman. He is always on the small boat when it is launched. He has a small, hollow medal tube that he aims at the whales blubber. After the "dart" his the whale, it falls into the water. Todd then steers the boat near the dart, and Juan picks it up. Later Juan will have it frozen in the dry lab until scientists back at the Southwest fisheries department in La Jolla, California can examine it. Here is a picture of Allen, Juan, Cornelia, and myself on the small boat after a successful run with a humpback whale. There are always four scientists on the small boat. The driver, bows man, and two scientists with 400zoom digital cameras.

This was a very long day, so I will try to get a half hour shut-eye. It didn't happen. I went back up to the deck to see fog coming in. Once the foghorn is blown we don't stay on deck for two reasons. One: we can go deaf as the foghorn is right there where we sit and two, we can't see anything anyway.

Dinnertime; It certainly makes a difference onboard if one has a good cook. We have two great cooks, Ray and Arte. Our dinner tonight was a choice of garlic chicken, stuffed peppers or beef stew and rice. Of course one can have all three if they wish. I choose the chicken. We also had a homemade pie and everyone was raving about the coffee ice cream that Arte put in the refrigerator. I cannot begin to tell you how fast that ice cream was consumed.

I planned to go back up on deck but the fog was still very thick so operations outdoors was called off. Dr. Barlow approached me and told me how pleased he was with my re-sightings and asked me if it was okay if they paged me whenever they needed me. I was thrilled and I accepted the opportunity to participate more.

I then decided on this gloomy evening to interview some of the officers. Allison was the first officer to befriend me and to help me with the paint fume situation. She is a junior officer and the navigator on this ship. She turned twenty-six years old while on board. We all celebrated her birthday with a birthday cake baked by the cook. Paul is the Jr. Medical officer. He reminded me that the officers are not part of the navy but part of the department of commerce.

Well I need to cut short my interviews as we are truly getting knocked around right now. We are hitting some big waves, and when this happens I need to get to a higher deck. It is extremely windy outside and I was not dressed warm enough, so I decided to stay on the first deck to overcome this ill feeling. I saw one of the crewmembers Kevin and he advised me to take Medizine when I go to bed tonight. The first aide room is right outside my door and he showed me that on the first aide door they have just about anything one needs in containers. All one does is take what they need.

I forced myself to eat some more food and then I laid down to sleep and I tried to pretend I was being rocked to sleep like a baby. I had to really secure myself in so I wouldn't fall of the bed. I decided since it was bunk beds, to sleep with my head near the stairs leading up to the upper bunk. This gave me a safety rail if I needed it.

Return to Journals Index