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Journals 2005/2006

Maureen Barrett
Harrington Middle School, Mt. Laurel, NJ

"Collaborative Survey of Cetaceans and the Pelagic Ecosystem (CSCAPE)"
August 21 - September 9
Journal Index:
August 21 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25 - 26 - 27 - 28
           29 - 30 - 31/Sept 1

September 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8

Q & A: Period 1 - 2 - 3 - 6 - 8

Questions & Answers
Period 1

What are you looking for during the animal biopsy?
The biopsy obtained usually gets a tiny piece of skin and blubber. DNA from the skin identifies species and populations. The blubber is checked for hormone levels and contaminants like PCBs and heavy metals.

Have these ecosystems been threatened by man?
Unfortunately, man probably has a negative impact on every ecosystem. In this pelagic ecosystem, pollution (trash and chemical runoff) is probably the biggest problem. Also the increase in shipping traffic is problematic. Cetaceans may not be able to communicate with each other as effectively, their behavior may be altered (feeding, migration, etc.), and they may even get hit by the ships. Navy experiments with sonar may also be impacting cetaceans' hearing (some beaching of cetaceans have been related to this).

Is there a difference between nautical and regular miles?
This happens to be discussed in today's journal entry, along with knots! See my entry for September 7th. A nautical mile equals 1.15 miles.

What is the difference between acoustic and biopsy sampling?
Acoustic refers to sound. The oceanographers on board are recording the sounds the animals emit; their communication. My entry for August 25th talks about the equipment being used to get their recordings.
Biopsy sampling is when the scientists get a tiny sample of skin and blubber. After the biopsies are obtained, they are put a freezer to be analyzed back at the NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Lab in San Diego, California. Some of the samples are put in liquid nitrogen for the San Diego Zoo for live cell culturing.

What are some of the marine mammals that you are researching?
All of the marine mammals we see are counted and recorded, but there is a priority to photograph the fins and flukes (tails) of blue whales, killer whales, and humpback whales. The photographs allow for scientists to learn about their migration, populations, and morphological differences (differences in appearance).

What role do you play in the group?
My role is to learn how marine mammals are studied and to teach it to you! As you will read in my journal entries, I have been able to work with all the scientists on board. I have learned a great deal about cetaceans and about this ecosystem. I am so lucky to be working alongside scientists doing work in the field.

What is a pelagic ecosystem?
Ecosystem is actually a vocabulary word in your text. Look that term up in the science book. I don't believe 'pelagic' is in our textbook. Pelagic basically refers to the upper layers of the open ocean. So put the two words together for your working definition.

What is the most abundant mammal that you've observed?
If you are talking about actual numbers of individuals, it would have to be the short-beaked common dolphin. (They are also found in the Atlantic Ocean.). When we see dolphins, we usually see hundreds of them at a time. My journal entries for September 2nd and 3rd talk about our dolphin encounters. But if you're talking about the highest number of sightings, it would have to be the fin whale. The fin whale is the second largest animal on the Earth (the blue is the largest). We have seen dozens of fin whales throughout this expedition.

Have you seen any rare animals, or that you are seeing for the first time?
Most of the whales I am seeing is for the first time. I have seen humpback whales, killer whales blue whales, fin whales, sperm whales, Baird's beaked whale, and three or four species of dolphins. We have also seen a giant squid (about 7-8 feet in length), a Mola mola (sunfish), and trillions of Velella velella (a really cool looking jellyfish).

Have any new discoveries been made on the expedition?
The biopsies and acoustic recording may show something new, but the data we are collecting has not been analyzed yet. On the last leg, a Hornby's Petrel (type of seabird) was seen. They are usually found off the coast of South America!

How does the weather affect the trip?
The weather has a HUGE impact on marine mammal studies. In almost all of my journal entries, I mention the weather and whether or not we are able to work. When the winds are blowing hard, forget it!

How much will the cruise cost?
It cost about $400,000 to do this CSCAPE project (six months at sea). That only counts the scientific costs. In addition, it costs about $12,000 per day to run the ship.

What are you expected to discover through photo identification of the animals?
Photo id helps to identify individuals, and it then tells who's who and where they are throughout the year. This gives scientists information about their abundance.

What type of data will be collected?
The scientists have to properly identify the species and count how many are present. Hopefully, the mammals will be photographed and biopsies will be obtained. My journal dated 9/3/05 talks about counting the animals. We are also collecting a great deal of oceanographic data (water temp., salinity, plankton abundance, etc.). See journal entry dated 8/25/05.

What is the difference between "national marine fishers service" and "national marine sanctuary"?
They are both divisions of NOAA. The first refers to the people that manage the fisheries to insure that we don't overexploit out fish stocks. The second refers to the areas that restrict certain or all types of fishing in order to protect certain fish species.

Why did you choose this expedition over some of the other research options?
I was selected by ARMADA to do a research project, but I did not have any say as to which expedition I would do. I feel extremely fortunate to be participating in this study!