Archive for the ‘Science Blogbook’ Category

Searching the San Juans for J pod

Mitchell Bay to Mitchell Bay

We headed out towards the south side of the island in hopes of finding J pod. Not much wildlife sightings today, other than some seagulls. No updates on the phone or email on sightings of J pod either, which was sad for us to hear. We had a general prediction that since they finally came back into the area, they are still looking for the fish to eat. It is like moving back home after college life in the dormitories: the whales have to resettle into the area. We anchored at Mackeye Harbor on Lopez Island to have a quick lunch consisting of grilled cheese sandwiches. At Mackeye, we finished our calibration exercise using the data that we got from the hydrophone calibration yesterday. Afterwards, we headed back up to Mitchell Bay, spotting about 3 seals (unidentified) poking their heads out of the waters. At Mitchell (Snug Harbor), we then enjoyed at nice dinner cooked up by Jason and Nora: chile. Then moved on towards journal club to finish off the night.

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Dall’s porpoises and hydrophone calibration

Prevost Harbor to Mitchell Bay

Since J Pod is back in town, our main goal today was to find the whales. We started drifting down the west side of San Juan Island hoping we’d find them in Haro Strait. Around 10 am, several Dall’s porpoises surfaced off of Gato Verde’s stern. Recently, Dall’s sightings have been few and far between, so it was very exciting to see them! Once we had passed Lime Kiln Point State Park without any whale sightings, we decided to calibrate our hydrophones (the array, the “blue box,” and the flat-frequency hydrophone). We rigged them up side by side and lowered them 5 meters below the surface. We made several successful recordings. Later in the afternoon, we decided to try to search for the south hydrophone array with the Splashcam. Unfortunately we had technical difficulties and had to abort our mission, but Jason solved the problem and we will likely try to deploy the Splashcam again soon. After a morning and afternoon of no whales, we made the executive decision to start working our way back up the west side to find someplace to anchor for the night. The Southern residents seem to be swimming clockwise around the San Juan Islands, and we are hoping they’ll loop back around to Haro Strait tomorrow.

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Circumnavigation and J pod synchrony

Jones Island to Prevost Harbor, Stuart Island

We started today with the intention of finding the orcas. Once we made it out into Haro Strait we realized that the winds were very strong and that even if we found the orcas it would be very challenging to deploy the hydrophones. We made amazing time riding the tides and sailing at about 10 knots over ground, so we decided to circumnavigate San Juan Island. We got a lot of sailing in and made it up to Stuart Island around 4:30 and had a sailing lecture before finding out that J pod had been spotted heading north at Lime Kiln 1.5 hours prior. We decided to go out to the point to see if we could spot them as they passed by. We went out and at the tip of Turn Point there was a line of white water. It was the convergence zone of the upwellings caused by the tides moving over the rocks near the point. There was a mass of gulls all feeding in the upwellings. We went a bit further and saw some orcas. It was very exciting! We didn’t ID them because they were too far away and they weren’t on the surface in any predictable pattern. We thought that they were foraging so the direction they were moving was hard to tell, but we thought they were moving north.

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Bruising and cruising

Friday Harbor to Jones Island

We received a call today requesting assistance in the necropsy of another Steller sea lion. We met Joe at Orcas Island and made the short trip to the sea lion location. This was a lot like the last time, blunt trauma with severe bleeding in the abdominal region, heart, and lungs. The bruising of the tissues is something I have not experienced before, which was pretty neat. Jason and I met up with the rest of the crew in Friday Harbor, finalized packing the boat, and set our sights on Jones Island and the lovely Gato Verde. It feels good to be home on the boat. We had burrittos for the our first night of the first week at sea, and had to uphold the tradition again this first night. Hopefully the whales will join us tomorrow.

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Racing as sailors and scientists

Snug Harbor to Jones Island (North side)

We practiced deploying our hydrophones again today, this time during a mock/surprise whale encounter timed by Jason’s watch. Hopefully we will get quicker as the probability of seeing the Southern Residents increases. We were also able to deploy the CT (Conductivity/Temperature) probe down to 100 meters, meaning that Scott Veirs graced us with some sea shanties while hauling the cable. The most exciting part of the day was not very science related, but a chance to test and strengthen our sailing skills in a friendly competition with a local sailing group. What a lovely day! Tonight we are docked at Jones Island and will have a chance to wander around and enjoy the scenery.

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Cameras and hydrophones off Lime Kiln

Snug Harbor to Snug Harbor

We woke to a very quiet boat this morning since two of our crew, Jason and Scott, were on land. We picked them up and decided to head down to Line Kiln to try and find the missing hydrophones with the SplashCam. On the way we hit perfect sailing weather and got some sailing practice in preparation for the race tomorrow. When we got to Lime Kiln we deployed the camera and all was going great for about 20 minuets until the cord got caught on the starboard propeller and got damaged. Since it was caught pretty good, Scott had to dive down and unwrap it manually! He managed to successfully unwrap the cable. Then we decided to get some practice deploying the hydrophones. First we deployed the blue 4-hydrophone array, which I call Blueberry. That went smoothly and we got to record around the lighthouse to test if the lighthouse array is getting interference from the lighthouse or from something in the water. After we brought Blueberry back on to the ship we deployed the flat-frequency-response hydrophone, “Hiphone”, which Libby will be using for her project. We tested it at a few different speeds to see what towing speed has the least interference. We had some animal sightings, including an otter and a harbor seal.

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Searching the sea on Earth Day

Port Townsend to Snug Harbor
After giving our regards to the mating river otters of Port Townsend, we motor sailed northwards practicing at the helm and sighting two puffins as we passed False Bay. Before entering Snug Harbor we tried out the YSI probe and the plankton net, devising a protocol for monitoring basic physical and biological oceanographic conditions where the southern residents focus their summertime attention. Finally, we tested out the Splashcam video camera while beginning our Earth Day project: searching for our mooring ball which was sunk by growth last winter. The camera wasn’t very useful unless it was resting on the bottom, but we’re hopeful that we can locate the old ball and replace it with our new (more buoyant) one so that we can minimize our impact on the Harbor, a place that we know is swept nearly bare of eel grass by anchor chains.

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Tank tapping from the octopus perspective

Port Townsend to Port Townsend
(Boat Haven to Marine Science Center)

We raised anchor early today and were out of Boat Haven by 0715. Capt. Todd had anticipated strong winds, but when we got out in open water, we realized the 35 knot gusts weren’t worth the risk.  We turned back toward Port Townsend around 0800 and tied up at the dock by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

At 1400 we went to the science center to test the Flip videocamera in its underwater housing. We took footage of a juvenile octopus as we knocked on the glass, trying to get an idea of how sound from the outside affects the octopus’s acoustic environment.

We also used a hydrophone to listen to sounds inside several of the center’s tanks to see whether or not the organisms were making any sounds.  We deployed the same hydrophone into the ocean but realized we couldn’t hear anything when we used the Marantz (which,we later realized, was due to a faulty XLR to quarter inch cable).

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Sounding the depths of Admiralty Inlet

Port Townsend to Port Townsend
(Marine Science Center to Boat Haven)

Departed Port Townsend after breakfast at about 8:00.  Arriving out at Admiralty Inlet, both Jason and Scott performed their SnowPud experiment with lightbulbs and a hydrophone array.  Scott, along with Nora and Libby, set out on the small dinghy, the Gatito.  Taping lightbulbs at 10 meters apart from each other on a marked rope, it was lowered into to the water with the help of a weight.  A hydrophone array was lowered on the starboard side of the Gato Verde, where Jason was stationed to prepare to record.  A shackle with a weight would be sent down the lightbulbed rope, hoping to break all the lightbulbs.  The sounds would be recorded by the hydrophone array at 100m, 200m, and 400m distance.  Being in Admiralty Inlet made it difficult to perform exact distances, plus some lightbulbs did not break.  Recordings were still taken.  Docking at Boat Haven, Port Townsend Marina, we pumped out and charged the boat.

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Transient orcas on first day at sea

Transients traversing the San Juans

Griffin Bay to Port Townsend:
We departed San Juan Island with the intention of sailing all the way to Neah Bay, but shortly after finishing our chores, Kathryn said the word everyone was hoping to hear “whale off Starboard!”

We were able to identify Transient male #87, and think we know some of the females as well. First the male was swimming with four others, then two groups converged for a bit of exciting times, and departed once again.  Overall, the transient group seemed bound to the east/southeast.  They led us past Smith Island and all the way into Admiralty Inlet.

Once we were joined by two whale-watching boats the whales seemed to lighten up and give us a show. We saw plenty of tail slaps and harmonious movements, and even a spy hop and peck slap were seen. Great first day of being on the boat! The sun was out for most of the day, and the wind was gentle so we did not put up the sails.

We set up and tested the new hydrophone array.  All 4 elements work and we were able to hear nearby boats, but the transients made no audible sounds during the hour or so that the array was in the water.

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