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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 3

Which coast has a wider abundance of sea mammals, east or west?
Good question. I had to ask the scientists on board because I wasn't sure. And I don't think this question really can be answered! Many of the same marine mammals we have been seeing here are also found in the Atlantic Ocean, so in terms of species, there may not be too much of a difference. Both habitats are quite diverse. Here in the Pacific, I have seen mostly fin whales, blue whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, and killer whales, and common and striped dolphins. All of these species are also found on the east coast.

What is the biggest problem with the abundance of mammals in the Pacific Ocean?
Probably the biggest problem is with the fisheries' bycatch. The bycatch refers to the animals caught by fisheries that weren't the intended species. Sometimes when fishing boats cast their nets or drag their lines, other species get caught; species they were not trying to catch. The bycatch (dolphins, whales, sea turtles, sharks, etc.) die by being tangled in the nets or caught on the lines.

Do they work through the night?
How many hours in a day do they work on the ship?

If you are referring to the crew, definitely. The crew members work in shifts. The engines are always running, so there must be people on duty to make sure nothing happens. Twenty-four hours each day, there is always an officer on the bridge navigating the ship (see my August 26, 2005 journal entry), a watch stander on duty, and an engineer in the engine room (August 30, 2005 entry). The scientists doing the mammal and bird data collection work from sunrise to sunset. Then there is some paperwork to do. The oceanographers have to be up before sunrise to conduct their studies, and then after sunset to do the bongo tows (August 25th entry). There is always something happening every hour throughout the day and night.

How many people does it take to finish one objective of the research?
There are eleven scientists collecting data on board the ship. The data they collect goes to the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Lab in San Diego, California. At the lab, there are about twelve people that will immediately look at the data and start their analyses pertaining to their field of study. However, the data collected may also be used years down the line. Susan Chivers, the Chief Scientist on board, is working on a project right now that requires her to use DNA samples that have been collected over the past decade. (See journal entry dated 9/4/05)

What do you do in your spare time on the ship?
When we are 'on effort,' there did not seem to be any spare time! However, we have had a handful of bad weather days when it was just impossible to see cetaceans in the water. My August 31st and September 1st journal entry discusses how I occupied my time on days we couldn't work.

Who funds the expedition?
The CSCAPE project is funded through the federal government. It is a NOAA expedition, and NOAA is a governmental organization. Fisheries is one division on NOAA, and this division needs to know the stock assessments of marine mammals within Unites States waters (meaning what species are present and how many of each are in our waters).

How did you get chosen for the expedition?
I had to apply to the University of Rhode Island's ARMADA Project. This program matches teachers with scientists, so teachers learn how scientists work in the field. The application process required me to answer questions and write several essays. I also had to send in my resume. It may have helped that I have done other scientific expeditions, but I don't know for sure why I got selected. I am just very thankful that I was chosen!

What is the most interesting thing you've experienced so far?
I have seen cetaceans every day since August 21st, and I still want to see more! The most interesting thing I did so far was go out in a small boat to get next to a group of Baird's beaked whales. The scientists decided to launch the small boat from the ship to try to get a biopsy of these whales. The zodiac was placed in the water with a crane that is mounted on the deck. The zodiac is much faster and more maneuverable than the ship, so it allows the scientists to get extremely close to the whales. I was right next to one when they surfaced for air! It was an incredible experience!

What types of animals have you seen?
Dolphins: short-beaked common dolphins, Risso's dolphins, striped dolphins
Whales: killer whales, blue whales, humpback whales, fin whales, sperm whales, beaked whales
Porpoises: Dall's porpoises, harbor porpoises
Pinnipeds: Sea lions
I think I named them all! Go to the CSCAPE website and read the weekly report for this leg.

What time does the sun set in Alaska, or is it dark during the daytime?
It depends on where you are in Alaska. During the year, there are parts of Alaska where they have 24 hours of sunlight or sunset (depending on the time of year). This study only goes as far as Washington state.

What type of information is hoped to be gained?
This study is conducted about every five years. The scientists will be able to compare the data collected in 2005 to the data from previous years. I believe this study was done in 1996 and 2001. There are three objectives for the study, but basically it is to determine what cetaceans are in this ecosystem and how many. Read my journal entry for September 4th or the CSCAPE website for more about the objectives.

Is it difficult to find the mammals, or are they just all around?
The scientists are using powerful binoculars to watch for signs of cetaceans (blows, porpoising, breaching, etc.). Sometimes the cetaceans are over 6 miles away when they are initially spotted. When necessary, we change the direction and speed of the ship to get closer to the animal. The entire time, everyone is watching and waiting for it to resurface. Remember, marine mammals need to come to the surface to breathe, so they have to show themselves. Sometimes when the mammal if first sighted, it is right next to the boat! The mammals are out here, we just have to hope we see them. Read my journal entry for August 22, 2005. It talks about how the mammal data is collected.

Is it really cold there?
It is colder than I thought it would be. I am usually wearing a long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt, but a few times I had to wear a winter coat, wool hat, and gloves! Sometimes it is just windy, and not too cold. A few days I was able to wear a t-shirt.

Why did they choose this location?
When you looked at the transect grid on the CSCAPE website, you probably noticed the study area covers the waters off the west coast states. So the north and south boundaries include the waters off Washington, Oregon, and California. The approximate size of the study area is 1500 miles by 300 miles. NOAA is required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act to conduct mammal studies in all US waters. I am sure similar studies are conducted on the east coast, and I will definitely be researching that when I get back to New Jersey!

Are whales of any importance to us?
Whales are part of the ocean food web. They are major players in this ecosystem, and knowing the players and their status allows us to determine the ecosystem's health. Some people still hunt whales for food. In fact in Alaska, native Eskimos take bowhead whales and belugas for food and have been doing so for over two thousand years. The number of whales taken does not negatively impact the population, and the Inuit Eskimos have great respect for the animals they take.

What type of technology are you using?
Computers, binoculars, digital cameras, crossbows, CTD, sonobuoys, and bongo nets come to mind in terms of technology used on this trip. The technology used in the bridge by the officers is very sophisticated! (See journal entry for 8/26/05)

How big are killer whales?
Male killer whales are about 9 meters in length (30 feet), and females about 7.9 meters (26 feet). I happen to see a pod of six killer whales on August 22nd. There were two males, two females, and two young in the group. They are awesome animals! It was such a treat to see them outside of Sea World!

What is a seabird?
A seabird is a bird that spends most of its life at sea. Examples: albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters.

Are you gathering all the information that you need?
The scientists are pleased with the number of sightings and the data they have collected. The bad weather days are disappointing, however, they are to be expected when working at sea.

Are there icebergs where you are?
Definitely not here in the study area, and I think the only icebergs to be found in the Pacific Ocean are up in Alaska near areas where glaciers flow into the sea.

What is the pelagic ecosystem?
Ecosystem is actually a vocabulary word in your text. Look that term up in the science book. 'Pelagic' basically refers to the upper layers of the open ocean. So put the two words together for your working definition. This ecosystem includes all of the organisms in this area (plankton, whales, fish).