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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 8

What was the climate like?
I believe climate usually refers to the weather conditions over a long period of time. I am not sure what it is usually like out here, but I have experienced chilly weather most of the time. I have had to wear long sleeves or a sweatshirt most of the time, but there were a couple of days when we were wearing winter coats, hats, and gloves!

Did you see any sharks?
I have only seen a couple of sharks. One was a thresher shark, about 5-6 feet long. I heard there was a ten foot shark off the stern yesterday morning, but I missed it!

Were there any birds flying around in the middle of the ocean?
Yes there are! There are birds that live most of their lives at sea, only going on land during the breeding season. I talked a great deal about seabirds in my August 24, 2005 journal entry.

What is the NMS boundary?
The National Marine Sanctuary near San Francisco includes a buffer zone around the Farallone Islands. I am not exactly sure exactly how the boundaries are set. The sanctuary areas restrict certain or all types of fishing in order to protect certain fish species.

What is the ecosystem like?
Since this ecosystem consists of the open ocean, it includes organisms like plankton, fish, invertebrates, cetaceans, birds, and more. The concentrations can be patchy due to the oceanographic conditions such as upwellings, current systems, and topography of the ocean floor.

What kinds of things to you do on a daily basis?
I spend most of the day on the flying bridge. This is where the scientists do their mammal and bird observations, from sunrise to sunset. The flying bridge is the top deck of the ship. It allows us to see all around the ship. I use my binoculars or the 'big eyes' (see journal entry August 22, 2005) to scan the ocean for cetaceans. I talk with the scientists about this study and other studies they have done (you will read about the scientists and their studies in the journal entries). When I get tired, I'll walk around the ship and talk to the crew members. Each day I also spend time on the computer typing my journal entry and checking email.

Did you get seasick?
I have to admit that I did get sick one time! It was about one week into the expedition when the seas got really rough one night. I was working in the dry lab when I felt it coming on. I just ran out to the aft deck and threw up over the side of the ship! Immediately after that, I was fine. Tomorrow (Thursday) we are in for some really rough weather. I hope I hang in there!

Are there chemicals in the water?
There are more chemicals in the water near the coast due to run-off water pollutants. This expedition does not involve testing for chemicals in the water, however the biopsies obtained from the animals will be tested for heavy metals.

Would you go on another expedition if you got the chance?
Definitely! This has been an amazing voyage! As a science teacher, I enjoy learning about the animals and learning how scientific studies are conducted. I have been on a few other scientific expeditions. I have studied caterpillars in Costa Rica, forest birds in Ecuador, South America, and moose and wolves on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Someday, I hope to study wildlife in Africa, Antarctica, and Alaska. I love learning about nature and visiting new places.

Are you learning new things that you were never taught in school?
I don't think I could have learned most of what I am learning out here from a textbook. Yes, I can read about the animals and the ecosystem in a book, but to be right next to the animal in the wild and to work with scientists in the field is the best way to learn. Now when I read about cetaceans and marine mammal studies, I will better understand them. Experiential learning is the best way to learn.

What inspired you to go on this expedition?
I have been on a few scientific expeditions, and I have always learned a great deal. I have studied caterpillars in Costa Rica, forest birds in Ecuador, South America, and moose and wolves on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. It really is priceless to be working alongside scientists in the field. I enjoy learning about science and then teaching it to you!

What will you do with the information that you find?
The scientists will publish their findings in magazines and journals for the world to see. I will teach you what I have learned.

What is acoustic sampling?
This happens to be a topic in my journal entry for August 25, 2005. Acoustic sampling is one of the jobs of the oceanographers on board. They record the sounds the cetaceans emit while communicating with each other. Two different recording devices are used on the Jordan: sonobuoys and a bow hydrophone.

What is the difference between marine life on the east coast and the west coast?
Many of the same marine mammals we have been seeing here in the Pacific 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 our east coast.

Are the scientists and researchers using biochemical engineering in their studies?
Not in this study. However, the biopsies obtained are used for studies in the fields of genetics, molecular biology, and biochemistry.

Have you taken any biopsies? Of what?
I personally have not because you have to have a scientific permit to take a biopsy, but the scientists have gotten quite a few on this expedition. They have obtained biopsies from short-beaked common dolphins, striped dolphins, and Baird's beaked whales. On previous trips, they were able to get biopsies of blue whales.

What is CSCAPE?
CSCAPE is an acronym for Collaborative Survey of Cetacean Abundance and the Pelagic Ecosystem. Basically, it is a study of what cetaceans are in the area and how many are there. There are three objectives for CSCAPE. Check out the CSCAPE website or my journal entry dated 9/4/05.

What was the most interesting thing you found?
I am still in awe every time I see a cetacean. I am amazed at the size of the whales and the speed and agility of the dolphins. I have seen cetaceans every day since starting this expedition on August 21st. I still have not had my fill of cetaceans! I wish everyone had an opportunity to see these animals in the wild. It is breathtaking!

How do the animals get their food?
If you are talking about cetaceans, there are two groups: toothed whales and baleen whales. Baleen whales strain plankton and small fish from the ocean. Smaller toothed whales (the dolphins) eat fish while the larger tooth whales, like the killer whales, eat other whales and pinnipeds. Sperm whales eat squid, octopus, and sharks.

If one creature gets sick, does it spread?
Sure, disease can be spread from animal to animal in the ocean, just like it can happen on land.

What kind of food did you eat on board?
There are two cooks on board. The meals have been great. We eat three meals a day. Breakfast can be ordered from a menu, or we can eat cereal, bagels, toast, etc. Lunch and dinner are set up buffet style. There are usually two entrees to choose from each meal. There is also plenty to eat in between meals (salads, snacks, ice cream, etc.). One day we had lobster tail for dinner! One night we had a BBQ on the aft deck. We definitely don't go hungry!

What is the importance of this trip?
The main purpose of the trip is to determine cetacean abundance off the west coast of the United States. NOAA Fisheries 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!