The Voyage of the Delaware II 1999
Trip Summary and Research Log
Week 3
Picture of Delaware II

Gian Criscitiello teaches third grade at the Smith School in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
He and the crew of Delaware II will send research information and marine mammal sightings.
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Log of the Delaware II

Summary of trip:

The primary goals of the cruise are to photographically identify individual right, humpback, and blue whales to assess population size and structure; to take biopsy samples [for analyses involving genetics, to study population structure, stable isotopes (diet), and toxicology (level of contaminants], and to conduct extensive oceanographic sampling to characterize the habitats used by the whales. Personnel on board include 12 scientists from a variety of institutions but chiefly The National Marine Fisheries Service office in Woods Hole, MA. The chief scientist is Phil Clapham. The operation of the Delaware is up to the able crew of engineers, deck workers, stewards and executive officers under the command of Jack McAdam, Master.

Observational watches rotate from 7am to 7pm. Species, number, position etc., are recorded.

Biopsy are taken from a station on the bow of the boat and from an 18' zodiac. Oceanographic data is collected by stopping and lowering CTDs (Continuity, Temp & Density) sensor, and an OPC (Optical Plankton Counter) to different depth (so far up to 200 meters). Additional plankton data is gathered from towing 'Bongos', fine mesh nets, through the water at different depths. Area to be covered in survey.

We started out on Georges Bank but will focus on different areas of the Scotian Shelf, the continental shelf southeast of Nova Scotia. We will be running survey blocks near Le Have Bank, Emerald Bank, Western Bank, Western Gully and Browns Bank.


NOAA Ship Delaware II
Position at 5:50 pm EST
August 8, 1999
44 23.70' N
67 09.34' W
In the Bay of Fundy

Daily Report
Weather: overcast, 10-15 knot WSW winds, patchy fog, winds increasing to 25 in afternoon, 35 knots predicted for tonight & tomorrow.
Whale Sightings: 20
Species ID'd Today: harbor porpoise, humpback, right whales
Biopsy: 0
Oceanographic Info: 5CTDs, 4 plankton tows

Phil Clapham WORKING. Comments:
We arrived in the Bay of Fundy this morning and immediately spotted right whales. When we came across several animals that were doing repeated deep dives, we dropped the CTD and towed plankton nets to get an idea of what they were eating. The nets came back up with a large amounts of copepods, a zooplankton that makes up the bulk of the right whale's diet. We stayed with the whales throughout the morning. The flying bridge was busy keeping track of the animals within 2-3 miles of the ship. At one point there were up to six individuals within this circle. We would mark the time an animal surfaced, count the breaths and mark the time it dove. We also noted the direction it was swimming in and if it had any identifiable markings. This information was relayed to the team in the Zodiac so they could find the whales and photograph them. Unfortunately, the Zodiac was only able to follow two whales closely as the fog came in and the wind started picking up. The strong currents in the Bay of Fundy together with the rising wind, whipped up the waves pretty quickly. The forecast for tomorrow is not good. We are currently headed for Bar Harbor to wait out the weather and also to get medical attention for a crew member who accidentally cut his leg with a knife. We will see what the weather brings tomorrow before we head back out to George's Bank and a return to Woods Hole on Friday.
Gian Criscitiello, Teacher At Sea

BEAKED WHALES of the Western North Atlantic ocean John Nicolas, Marine Mammal Specialist, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Science Center ,Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543 There are at least eighteen known species of beaked whales (Mesoplodon) in the oceans world wide. Beaked whales are the least known of all cetaceans. In fact of all cetaceans it is more likely to discover a new species within this family (Ziphiidae) than any other. The most recent discovery of a beaked whale species was from a stranded specimen on the coast of Peru in 1986 (Lesser beaked whale).

Beaked whales are known to occur in very deep oceanic waters in all oceans of the world. Due to it's preferred habitat, the species do not lend themselves to "convenient" research as do many free ranging animals in their natural habitat. However, over the past 8-10 years scientists have made significant progress in understanding some of the life history and distribution parameters of the species in the Western North Atlantic ocean.

In the following narrative I will limit the context to the six known beaked whale species which have been sighted in their natural habitat in the Western North Atlantic. They are: Sowerby's beaked whale, Gervais' beaked whale, Blainviles' beaked whale, True's beaked whale, Cuvier's beaked whale, and the Northern bottlenose whale.

For nearly a decade scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts have been studying the distribution and abundance of all cetaceans (Right Whales) in the Western North Atlantic by means of both shipboard and aerial surveys. One of the more interesting results of this work has been the numerous sightings of beaked whales in the deep (pelagic) waters of the study area. These frequent sightings suggests that these animals are not as rare as some had thought.

Beaked whales are toothed whales (Odontocetes). Male beaked whales can be distinguished from females by the presence of two teeth, one on each side of the lower jaw. It is by the location of the two teeth in the jaw that one may use to determine the species. Females have no exposed teeth; their teeth remain hidden below the gum line and never erupt. Sometimes at sea if conditions are just right a keen observer can distinguish which species of beaked whale he is looking at by the location of the teeth in the jaw, as they will often be exposed when the whale is swimming at the surface. Following several years of beaked whale observations at sea we have found other key field marks helpful in the identification of this most difficult species. For example; observers are instructed to notice surfacing and swimming habits, length of the beak, shape of the head, shape of dorsal fin and coloration.

Recent studies indicate that the spring and summer diet of one species (Sowerby's beaked whale) in the Western North Atlantic ocean consists of a small (2-4in) deep water fish known as a lanternfish, and to a lesser degree, squid. We have also found that this species of beaked whale can live for up to 90+ years. There are still many unanswered life history questions for all beaked whales which we continue to strive to answer.

During this research cruise on board the R/V Delaware II we have observed beakedwhales on three occasions. The following data are sighting records of these observations. Sighting#1; 7/28/99, Oceanographer Canyon, 5 Sowerby"s beaked whales, 1250fm. Sighting #2; 8/2/99 Nygren Canyon, 2 Gervais' beaked whales (mother and calf), 850fm. Sighting #3; 8/4/99 Corsair Canyon, 2 adult male Gervais" whales.

Beaked whale research, without doubt, offers the researcher many challenges. These challenges make the study of these truly unique species interesting and exciting for those that seek the answers to the many questions surrounding them.

NOAA Ship Delaware II
Position at 9:00 pm EST
August 10, 1999
At anchor in Bar Harbor, Maine

Daily Report
Cruise Track Map Comments: We had a day away from whales today as the weather offshore was pretty rough. It was a welcome change to go ashore and walk around the town here. A group of us went off on a hike up Champlain Mountain and the Beehive. Beautiful views of the surrounding islands and blue, white-capped seas. It was great to stretch out the limbs on good, solid, Maine granite. For dinner, we met up with other marine mammal scientists from the New England Aquarium's Lubec, Maine observation station and from another research vessel, the Able J. This impromptu conference included lively exchanges of stories, ideas and general catching up conversations. Like many fields of science, people who are involved in an area of study have many things in common and gather on frequent informal and formal occasions. It was fun to observe the camaraderie that exists. We will head back out to sea near George's Bank tomorrow morning as the northwest winds are supposed to diminish.
Gian Criscitiello, Teacher at Sea

NOAA Ship Delaware II
Position at 6:00 pm EST
August 10, 1999
43 48.47' N
66 59.78' W
In the Gulf of Maine

Daily Report
Weather: clear, 10-15 knot southwest wind, small seas, excellent visibility
Whale Sightings: 25, including bubble feeding humpbacks!
Species ID'd Today: harbor porpoise, humpback, fin whales
Biopsy: 0
Oceanographic Info: 0
We are currently running out to the Northeast Peak of George's Bank and will be there early tomorrow morning. On the way out of Bar Harbor we swung by Mount Desert Rock, a small 3-acre rock situated about 24 miles south of Mt. Desert Island. There is a lighthouse and lightkeeper's house on "The Rock" that has recently been acquired from the Coast Guard by The College of The Atlantic in Bar Harbor. The college ran a whale observation station on The Rock for many years (1972-1993) and is gearing up to return a small team of researchers there soon. It is an excellent place to observe whales as spotters use the vantage point of the light tower to find whales and direct a Zodiac launched from a ramp to where they are. Today as we steamed by, the maritime role of the lighthouse as a protector of ships was made even more apparent as a Maine Windjammer schooner, the American Eagle, ran by under a full press of sail. Gian Criscitiello, Teacher at Sea

Roxy Corbett, Consulting Marine Mammal Specialist
On Board NOAA Ship Delaware II

First, obviously, you need a boat. Luckily we have one; the NOAA research vessel Delaware II, 155 feet and 750 tons. The Delaware has a flying bridge above the main bridge, eqipped with a pair of 75 X 150 binoculars which we call Big Eyes, and a pair of smaller, 20 X 60 binoculars. They are mounted on adjustable poles so that a person of any size can use them. Our watches are comprised of four people, and each watch looks for whales for an hour and a half, rotating the positions every half hour. One person will use the Big Eyes, one uses the smaller binoculars and one scans the sea with the naked eye and records sightings. The fourth person is a "floater" who fills in wherever necessary.

The flying bridge is 20.5 feet above the water which, on a clear day, gives us a horizon of about 8 miles. Like the old whalers in their crow's nests, we are looking for the telltale spout of a whale, which can be seen for more than eight miles if conditions are perfect. When an observer sees that blow, they call out to the data recorder, who with their electronic note pad takes down the following information: How far it is, what the compass bearing is to the whale, the swim direction of the whale, its behavior if known, and what kind of whale it is. Recognizing different species requires experience as each species has certain characteristics. Sometimes, if the whale is 4 or 5 miles away, or farther, you may never see the distinguishing characteristics and will have to note it down as an unidentified large whale. But if you see the body of the whale at all (and not just the spout), an experienced observer can usually identify it. Does it have a very tall columnar spout? If so, chances are it's either a blue whale or a fin whale, the largest and second largest of creatures on earth. If it's a fin whale, when the animal goes down on it's last dive before sounding, it will arch up and you will be able to see a tall noticable dorsal fin. If it's close enough you will see that it's color is chocolate brown. If it's a blue whale, when it makes its terminal dive there will be a lot of long back seen as the animal rolls and finally a tiny, hardly-worth-mentioning dorsal fin. And if the blue whale is close enough, you can see it's slate blue color which, under the surface of the water, is a ghostly pale grey.

Humpbacks, right whales and sperm whales all have shorter, bushier blows. These three whales also generally lift their flukes into the air before sounding. If you catch just the last moments of a dive and see flukes in the air in the distance, it could be any one of the above three whales. But, just to confuse the issue, it could be a blue whale; approximately thirty percent of blue whales fluke up on a terminal dive. Is the blow very short, and seeming to shoot off to one side? This would be a sperm whale, one of the deepest divers in the animal kingdom. A sperm whale will lie on on the surface with its back and little dorsal hump visible for most of the time. In this way you can identify it from all other bushy-blowed, fluking whales: the others make shallow dives between each breath and their bodies are not visible on the surface for that time.

Does the whale have no dorsal fin at all? Then it's the highly endangered right whale, our priority species. We drop everything for a right whale. If seen from in front or behind, a right whale has a distinctive V shaped blow, but humpback blows can also look V shaped, which is where experience will help distinguish one species from another. A right whale's head is more apparent than a humpback's when the whale breaks the surface. A right whale is black, and humpbacks are dark grey.

Does the whale have a bushy blow and a fat fleshy hump on its back with an oddly shaped dorsal fin on top of it? Then it's a humpback whale, the favorite of whalewatchers: the "most gamesome and lighthearted of all the whales " says Herman Melville in Moby Dick. This species really is an acrobat, and where it is accustomed to boats, has proved to be curious about them as well. There is one other large whale that we see in this area; the sei whale. If the whale has a tall spout, and the same color as a fin whale, but it's blowholes and dorsal fin are visible at the surface simultaneously, chances are it's one of these little known creatures.

NOAA Ship Delaware II
Position at 9:00 pm EST
August 11, 1999
41 36.85' N
66 00.89' W
On George's Bank

Daily Report
Weather: clear, 10 knot southwest wind, flat seas, excellent visibility
Whale Sightings: 51
Species IDed Today: sperm, humpback, fin whales, common dolphin, grampus (Risso's Dolphin), pilot whales
Biopsy: 2 bottlenose dolphin from bow
Oceanographic Info: 0

Comments: The ship has skirted the northern edge of George's Bank at the 500 fathom contour line. There were many whales along the route including a group of pilot whales playing with or pestering a lone humpback. As the humpback surfaced the pilot whales would surround it. The humpback would then throw its tail in a breach or waves its long white flippers in the air. We awoke early this morning to view a partial eclipse of the sun. At 5:30 am, the sun appeared above the horizon. It was 67% hidden by the moon. It looked like a blazing yellow fin of some mythical whale as it slowly rose into the sky. We are headed back to Woods Hole tonight and should be there early on August 12. Gian Criscitiello, Teacher at Sea

Our 16th and last day at sea brings a favorite poem to mind:
Long Trip
The sea is a wilderness of waves,
A desert of water.
We dip and dive,
Rise and roll,
Hide and are hidden
On the sea.
Day, night,
Night, day,
The sea is a desert of waves,
A wilderness of water.
-by Langston Hughes
Small Boat Operations
Roxy Corbett, Consulting Marine Mammal Specialist
On Board NOAA Ship Delaware II

If we have good weather conditions and a concentration of whales, we launch the Zodiac, to get photos and biopsies of the animals. Obviously a small Zodiac with 60 horsepower engine is more maneuverable than a 155 foot ship. And although we have biopsied whales from the Delaware, retrieval of the dart with the skin sample can be problematic.

In the Zodiac we have a driver, photographer, biopsy darter and data recorder. First we try to get good photos of the whale for individual identification purposes. We don't need to be as close to the whale for photos as we do for biopsies, and often whales don't seem to mind a small pesky outboard around them. When we photograph blue or fin whales, we need to be alongside them, to get pictures of their sides and dorsal fins. For right whales, we need to be up near the head of the animal, to get pictures of the callosity patterns. With humpbacks, we follow along behind them to get photos of their tail flukes. Once we've obtained photographs, we have to make a close approach for the biopsy darter to get a good shot. Every individual whale seems to have an invisible line, that, once crossed will spook the animal, sometimes for good. Though our Zodiac is fast, if a whale doesn't want us near, we won't be able to get close enough to get a sample. In most cases, success depends on the individual whale, the proper approach, and the skill of the darter. Sometimes, when we've been unsuccessful in getting a sample from an evasive whale, we will stop in the slick left where the whale dove, and look for bits of floating skin. It's surprising how often we are able to scoop up skin in a net and thereby obtain a sample. (This method only works if there's one whale; if two are traveling together, we won't know which one shed the skin). An especially good place to find skin is where a whale has just breached- forty or so tons of whale slamming the surface of the water dislodges a lot of skin.

Once we obtain a skin sample, the data recorder works up the sample if there's time, or just marks the sighting number of the whale and works up the sample back on the ship. While the Zodiac crew is working whales, the observers on the Delaware try to keep track of other whales in the area to send the Zodiac to. On a good day, with a lot of whales in the area, we've managed to get 10 or 20 samples. It's a great feeling at the end of the day to have performed as a team, with each person doing their bit, from darting, to driving, to directing the big ship, to just simply keeping track of all the whales in a given area.

NOAA Ship Delaware II
Position at 8:00 pm EST
August 12, 1999
Berthed in Woods Hole

Daily Report
Weather: hazy, hot and humid
Whale Sightings: 0
Species ID'd Today: 0
Biopsy: 0
Oceanographic Info: 0

Comments: We arrived early this morning at the dock in Woods Hole. Already people are parting company. I have learned much about the sea, whales, ships and research. Many thanks to all my new friends that made my trip so pleasurable.

Zooplankton Research: Methods and Results Jason Conner - National Marine Fisheries Service Baleen whales, the largest animals in the world, feed primarily on zooplankton. The word "zooplankton" is derived from Latin: zoo = animal, plankton = to drift.

So, zooplankton are marine animals that drift along in oceanic currents, and are unable to travel against the current. Zooplankton include everything from tiny crustaceans to large jellyfish. Animals might be classified as zooplankton because they are either too small or not strong enough to overcome the force of the currents.

As part of the oceanographic study on board the Delaware II, we conduct bongo tows at particular stations along each transect as well as when we encounter right whales. In this way, we can observe the whales' food and the ratio of different kinds of zooplankton in the water column. Bongo nets are a set of two, fine-mesh (.333 mm) nets with circular mouths that get narrower toward the ends. The very end of the net, called the "cod-end" is tied off to collect the zooplankton as the nets are lowered into the water to the target depth and towed by the ship at about 1 = knots. Flow meters are strung across the mouths of the nets. These small, torpedo-shaped devices have free-spinning propellers which are able to record the precise distance through the water the nets are towed. Using this information and knowing the exact area of the mouth of each net, we can easily calculate the volume of water we have filtered and then make generalizations about the feeding conditions of the whales. Here is a brief description of what we've found so far. . .

After sighting two blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) that appeared to be feeding at depth, we conducted a bongo tow and found that krill (euphausids) were the most abundant zooplankton in the sample. This information agrees with what we already know about blue whales - that their favorite prey is krill. In areas without whales, we have found a mixed assortment of zooplankton with no particular species overwhelming the zooplankton.

And in the Bay of Fundy, the only location we have sampled with right whales present, we found that the zooplankton consisted primarily of Calanus sp., a type of copepod which we know to be a favorite of right whales. While zooplankton cannot move horizontally across the current, they are able to move quite efficiently up and down in the water column. Some of the zooplankton, especially copepods - a type of crustacean, exhibit an interesting behavior called diurnal vertical migration. Although there are many interesting variations of this behavior, generally this means that during the day the zooplankton remain in deeper water, probably to avoid the hungry eyes of their predators, and come to the surface at night to feed on phytoplankton (phyto = plant). Some zooplankton feed on the herbivorous zooplankton. Most gelatinous zooplankton (jellyfish, salps, and ctenophores) do this by siphoning seawater into their bodies and filtering out the smaller crustaceans. Another predator of copepods, which is also a member of the zooplankton, is the chaetognath or "arrow worm." The chaetognath is a voracious, dart-like worm which quickly lunges at its prey and captures it in its menacing, spiny jaws. It is important to remember these characteristics as we look at what comes up in the nets, because what we see depends both on the time of day and the target depth.

From this study, we hope to learn more about the habitats where whales are foundand what their life-histories are like. With this knowledge, perhaps we can aid and protect the depleted stocks of these gentle giants.

Week 1 , 2

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