September 14, 2008
I am very pleased that today I got my sea legs and I had the opportunity help with the research. I spent most of the morning with Brad Benter, the bird observer from Fish and Wildlife. His station is on the very top deck above the bridge. Climbing up the ladder to get there can be a little scary. He has been doing this kind of work for about ten years and has a very keen eye. Some of the birds he spotted seemed like mere specks, but he was able to identify them. He has a specific method for sampling. Every time his computer beeps, he is to write down every bird he sees on the port (left) side of the ship. The frequency of the beeps corresponds with the speed of the ship. At 8-10 knots, the beeps are every 65 seconds.
We saw several pelagic bird species. (The kind that only lives on the open ocean.) These included Kittiwakes (a type of gull), Jaegers (who steal food from other birds), Petrels, Fulmars and Murres. But the best was a Black-footed Albatross, a huge elegant bird that glides very close to the surface of the water in search for food.
Brad said that we should be seeing many more birds tomorrow when we reach the edge of the continental shelf because that is an area of upwelling. Upwelling occurs when nutrient rich bottom water gets pushed up to the surface providing a great source of minerals for the phytoplankton. As phytoplankton grow and reproduce, they usually run out of nutrients especially nitrogen. However, in areas of upwelling, there is a constant new supply of nitrogen, so the phytoplankton bloom more abundantly. This abundance moves up the food chain. Where there is more phytoplankton, there's more zooplankton, more fish and more birds.
After lunch, Russ invited me to view Psuedocalamus, a common copepod, under the microscope. He was looking for females with eggs. The size of the clutch indicates how quickly and easily the females are able to convert food to eggs. The percent of females laying eggs, the size of the clutch and how frequently they produce clutches all help indicate the health of the population.
Most of the afternoon and evening I spent helping Katherine with her water samples. We did stations GAK2i through GAK7 today, ten all together. Katherine and Andy needed to collect water from each of the twelve Niskin bottles at every station. That's almost 100 samples. Andy was able to keep up with her water samples, but Katherine was still quite seasick and fell behind. So, I took several of the samples for her. I even helped to filter some of the water. I enjoyed doing some real science and the day just flew by.