Animal Bioacoustics

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Animal Bioacoustics

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AFFOGATO – Day 1

Let the glider/float field work begin!

Late lastnight, Holger, Dave Mellinger, Danielle Harris, and I arrived in San Diego to start our two week field stint where we deploy EVERY TYPE OF RECORDER EVER (not really…but close).

We are here to conduct field work for a project called a framework for cetacean density estimation using slow-moving underwater vehicles, or AFFOGATO for short. Don’t ask how that acronym came from that title…it had to be coffee themed, and it works.

This field work is just part of a larger project, looking to try and apply density estimation techniques to my favorite – gliders. We will be deploying a glider, a QUEphone, two HARPs and 8 DASBR buoys, all in the same location off of Catalina Island. We will be able to localize animals using the DASBRs, and compare recording capabilities of the glider, QUEphone, and HARPs. Similar to what we did this winter, but not on a Navy Range (not everyone has access to such a fancy set up). More detail on exactly what we are doing later.

I will be trying to update the blog regularly with going’s on of our team, but also follow along on twitter @orcaalab and #affogato. I’ll be more easily able to do quick updates there!

Off to Southwest Fisheries Science Center to unpack and test all our gear following shipment!!

Find your park

The marine forecast is calling for 25-knot winds and 5-foot seas in Glacier Bay National Park today. Yesterday, when we were tightening the last nylocks on our hydrophone landers, and working out the last details of our array deployment, folks were pretty keen to remind us that the weather was going to kick up. I decided not to be nervous, what’s the point.

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Clockwise from upper right: Snacks, Kenya, Bumblebee, and Bruiser.  The hydrophones that listen where we cannot.

Today in the rain and the fog we put four instruments, that our team has literally pour blood sweat and tears into, into the ocean for a second year. Aside from one overactive buoy on the final drop (I turned to Chris and said, “My only concern is about that buoy.” I should have listened to my gut sooner), our day went smoothly and quickly – despite the persistent drizzle and fog dancing on deck. Our efficient little team completed the deployment by 10:45am. Plenty of time for a quick visit to Strawberry Island, and a boat ride home, all before the weather hit. Unlike last year, where we hooted and hollered our victory, this year the boat ride back was subdued. I didn’t dance a victory dance, I sighed a blissful sigh of relief.

Want to know something though? The best part of today wasn’t getting the hydrophones in the water (though long term, I’m certain that’s what I’ll be most grateful for), the best part was seeing the harbor porpoise sipping air off the port side of our deployment vessel, watching the bull sea lion growl with his huge mouth agape, and spotting the seals and birds diving after the same schools of small fish. I love our hydrophones – don’t get me wrong. I’ve slept with them next to my bed at night, kissed their housings, and whispered sweet nothings to them. I love them most, however, because they give me the motivation, the inspiration, and the permission to be outside here in Glacier Bay.

The National Park Service is having its centennial anniversary this year. It has been one hundred years since the intrinsic value of our wild places was recognized, and protected for no other reason than to ensure its persistence. Being a part of this legacy is something that I can’t quite put words too. Joining the ranks of my mentors, past and present, and contributing to what we know about and how we interact with the natural world with forever be one of my greatest achievements. I’m fortunate enough to stand in the footsteps of giants; for me, however, those footsteps were carved out by the journey of glaciers moving through this landscape well before I was born. Footsteps that have become the ocean home to the animals that I love, and the backdrop to the science that I create.

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Staged and almost ready to go on the dock in Bartlett Cove. Our equipment prep was completed in the company of otters, eagle, and Bonaparte gulls happily cackling

Technology enables me to listen to a world I otherwise cannot hear, but it is the sound of the ocean butting up against the islands that brought me to acoustics in the first place. We human tool users are ingenious in finding ways to solve problems and answer questions. Places like Glacier Bay, however, are essential for inspiring the questions in the first place.

One hundred years. That’s not a trivial tenure. How many times over the past 100 years have you visited a National Park? If you’ve never been, let this be the year that you find your park. I’ve certainly found mine.

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The view from Strawberry Island, overlooking our hydrophone array: Glacier Bay National Park

 

 

 

 

Sea Trials

          As with many things in life, fieldwork often doesn’t go as planned. But this is easy to forget when plans are made on tight timelines – we need everyone (including mother nature) to accommodate our schedule. As a marine scientist, nearly all of my fieldwork requires coordinating with vessels to reach different parts of the ocean. Sometimes these vessels are small, such as a fishing boat not meant to head very far from shore, but more often my work takes me out to sea overnight for which larger ships must be contracted.

          There are many, many moving pieces (literally and figuratively) that must be considered when organizing a voyage on a ship. Everyone on board has a job, and for the most part, I always assume that if they do their job and I do mine everything will go according to plan.

 But of course that is a ridiculous thing to assume.

           In late March I flew to Mississippi to join a NOAA ship on a transit to Woods Hole, MA. During the trip north, the plan was to swap out both NRS06 (in the Gulf) and NRS07 (on the East Coast of Florida). Unfortunately, from the get-go we ran into problems.

Part 1: The sewage tank delay
          For the first two weeks of the trip we sat at the dock in Pascagoula because sewage holding tank needed to be patched, painted, and tested. Not only was this problematic because it meant that there was a issue with the ship and we were losing valuable days at sea, but it also meant that I was on my own in small-town Mississippi until we got underway.
          At first I stayed hopeful that our departure was imminent; I was able to hitch a ride into town with the crew for most meals, and I took some time to organize my mooring gear and explore the abandoned Navy Base where the ship was docked. Turns out abandoned Navy Bases are only good for a few hours of exploring…so by day five I was desperate to get a rental car so I didn’t have to rely on everyone else’s schedule. Thankfully, after calling three offices I finally found a car and was on my own (morale improved considerably).
          The next week and change consisted of me hunting down high-speed wifi and southern food. I quickly learned coffee shops are hard to come by on the Gulf Coast, but I tried to make an adventure out of it. I saw two wild alligators, ate more gulf shrimp than I can count, learned about the history of the Gulf Coast, Mardi Gras, and the damage (and subsequent rebuilding) that followed Hurricane Katrina. I avoided a flash flood, tried “cajun sushi”, and consumed more BBQ chicken than someone who considers themselves a vegetarian should admit…
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Study break at the beach in Biloxi, MS

          So it wasn’t all misery, but still I was ready to get going. On day 14, just when I was about to give-up and fly back to Oregon, we finally got the OK to cast off from the pier and head out to sea. The next morning we arrived on the site of NRS06, and even though it took all day to complete the hydrophone swap I was thrilled. Things were finally looking up – one hydrophone in the water, one to go, and we were on our way out of the gulf!
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Preparing NRS06 for deployment

Alas, it was too good to be true.

Part 2: The weather delay
          Even when everyone on board does their job and the ship is fully functional, weather remains out of our control. A storm system was hovering right in our path north, and by the time we reached the location of NRS07 the seas were too big and choppy to complete the swap. For the safety of the ship and everyone on board, we had to get away from the storm. So we continued on our journey north, battling our way out of high wind and waves. If you’ve ever spent time on a ship before, you know that being tossed around by the sea is not very much fun. Even at top speed we could not travel quickly, and a full week into the journey we hadn’t even crossed the Mason-Dixon line.
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Sunset at sea after the storm passed

Part 3: The ship damage

On day 22 (a full week after I was supposed to be back in Oregon already) the weather finally improved. I had come to terms with the delays and was ready to get to Woods Hole say hello to my friends and colleagues there, and then head home. But we couldn’t catch a break. In the middle of the night, there was a problem with the engine and we lost control of one of the screws (there are usually two propelling the boat). With only half power and still hundreds of miles to go, a decision was made to head to the nearest port for repairs. Then, about 4 hours later, a small smoky fire was discovered in the engine room and the ship sprung into action to control the damage. Thankfully no one was hurt, and we spent the next 24 hours slowly making our way towards Charleston, SC.

Since we already passed both NRS mooring sites, my job onboard was essentially finished. So, already over a week behind schedule to return to Oregon, I decided to cut my losses and leave the ship in Charleston. I booked the latest flight I could find for the next day.

Part 4: The pilot boat
          The dock we were scheduled to tie up at in Charleston, SC was up the Cooper River, so a pilot and tug boat would have to escort the ship to the pier. Keeping with the trend of the voyage, our trip up the river was delayed by a few hours (for reasons unbeknownst to me…I didn’t even ask). These hours were the difference between me being able to fly back to Oregon that day or needing to wait for the next morning. I couldn’t take no for an answer and knowing that our pilot for the day would have to be shuttled to the ship from shore, I asked if I could hitch a ride back to land in his place. Luckily my wish was granted and a few hours later I was sitting in the Charleston airport waiting for my flight home. Ironically, my flight into Portland met tailwinds at 34,000 ft and landed almost an hour early.
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My view from the pilot boat after leaving the Gunter

Part 5: Feeling thankful

          As a scientist it’s easy to take for granted all of the pieces that go into a trip to sea. It is not news to me that often problems arise and plans must be change. I used to sail with a captain that would tell us, “this is the plan we will deviate from”. Although, collectively, I’ve spent over a year of my life at sea, before this trip I had not found myself in the midst of so many subsequent set-backs. I could say “well that really sucked” and close the books and be done with it. Or I could embrace the tragic comedy of Murphy’s Law and appreciate that I accomplished half of my scientific mission, made it home safely, and now only have 7 states to visit before I’ve been to all 50.

All is NOT calm

Well, this post is LOOONNGGG overdue. But that happens right? It’s still a story worth telling 🙂

I haven’t posted in a while, so lets touch base on the last three months of my grad school life. Michelle mentioned that many in our lab attended the Biennial Meeting for the Society for Marine Mammalogy. It was crazy, but awesome. I gave a talk on my master’s work and was the most nervous I have ever been to give a talk…biggest audience, TWO screens, up on a podium. EEK. I think it went ok though. And the best part of all was that my dad snuck in to watch. And more importantly he refrained from asking a question and embarrassing me.

Getting grilled cheese sandwiches and a PBR with my dad after my talk.

Getting grilled cheese sandwiches and a PBR with my dad after my talk.

But that wasn’t even the point of this blog. I just had to brag about my dad coming to my talk because how many grad students get to say that??

Winter Fieldwork

You all know I work on gliders (and here, and here, and here) by now, right? (note to self – write a blog post on HOW exactly gliders work).

Well, I do. And two parts of my PhD are to compare gliders to QUEphone floats, and to work out density estimation from a glider. To do this, we need to fly gliders and floats at the same time, and we need to fly them in a place where we have known locations of animals (which we get from other hydrophones using localization…I’m sure Michelle will talk about this some day soon). Then we can figure out how far away each instrument can hear the animal, and then we do a bunch of stats, and voila! All the world’s problems are solved.

So to get the known locations of animals, we are doing two sets of field work – one using a permanent hydrophone array of bottom-mounted hydrophones called SCORE, owned and operated by the U.S. Navy, and one this summer…more later. These hydrophones were originally setup up, and are still used, for Naval training purposes, but guess what, they also hear whales. Now the M3R program of the Navy Marine Species Monitoring program can use these recordings for studying marine mammals on the training ranges. Anyway, for us to get to use it, we had to do it in the very brief window between Christmas and New Years.

The cool logo on our ship

The cool logo on our ship

Deployment – Dec 20

Right after the marine mammal conference, I went home to my parents house for a day, then flew down to San Diego, Haru, Alex, and I went out on the deployment, and things went mostly as expected. We were only able to deploy one glider because one had an antenna issue, but we also got two floats out. Yay!

Alex readying the gear on deployment day. San Diego sunshine abounds.

Alex readying the gear on deployment day. San Diego sunshine abounds.

Flight time – All good UNTIL Dec 30 – when we started to have communication issues with the glider…that we COULD NOT RESOLVE. The glider was trying to call the base station, we could see the lights on the modem lighting up, but it could not connect. Come to find out, as phone lines are being updated, sometimes this happens, and there was NOTHING WE COULD DO ABOUT IT. But the glider is still flying we know that, that’s good.

Recovery – Scheduled for Jan 4

Alex and I were slated to fly down from Portland to San Diego, head out early in the morning on the 4th (it takes us about 7 hours by boat to get to where the stuff was), and try to find the glider, that will surface for about 15 mins, every 5 hours, in 12 foot seas, within 2 km of a particular point.

So already, I’m NOT feeling super optimistic about it. Oh and then the offshore weather forecast is bad. Real bad. Like we might get down there, head out of the bay, and have to turn around. I was thinking if we pushed it back we might have a better chance of fixing the communication problem and find a better weather window, but remember, we are working on a typically ACTIVE Navy Range, we have to get our gear out of there before they start training again. So lets go forward as planned.

Wake up Sunday morning, Alex is going to drive from Newport to Corvallis in our rental car, so we can drive to the airport for our midday flight. Guess what. It snowed. Our rental car wouldn’t make it over the coast range. SO. We reschedule our flight for later. Alex gets a ride over the hill from Haru, who has a truck. We take my Subaru to the airport. WORST DRIVE EVER. Corvallis snow melted, Portland was in a full on ice storm. Cars sliding off the road everywhere, somehow we make it (Thank you Remy Lebeau…my car).

Oh but wait, halfway there, I get a text message that our flight has been cancelled. Alaska automatically re-routes me: Portland to LA, LA to Seattle, Seattle to San Diego..midday on the 4th. REMEMBER we need to get our stuff on the 4th. The weather forecast has gotten worse for later in the week…Monday is our only chance. Oh and bonus, Alex got rerouted as well…for Tuesday the 5th, at 7pm, direct flight Portland to San Diego. SUPER GREAT!

And it begins...

And it begins…

But don’t worry, I’ve got a plan. We fly to LA, just to LA, we rent a car there, we drive the two hours to San Diego, its all good. Granted, the LA flight is from 8-10, so we would get down to San Diego by about 1 am, but we would make it to the boat for our scheduled departure at 4. So ok…lets do it.

So we call Alaska, and we wait on hold, while driving through ice, for like 45 minutes. Finally we get through to this very nice woman, who fixes everything (oh and we have to run all our travel through our accounting people too, on a Sunday night, so there are lots of calls being made). Alex and I, both on the flight to LA. Great.

We get to Portland, we park, we check in for our flights, we go to Enterprise to switch our car reservation to LA. We wait. Guess what…LA flight is delayed. Yup. Ok, we board, only an hour late. Then we sit. On the tarmac, while the de-ice the plane. Yup. I’m a west coast girl, born and raised….this is all so weird to me!!!!!!

So we make it to LA. Midnight. We sit. On the runway. For an hour. Because our gate had an oil leak. YUP. ok…we get off. its 1:00. Remember, we are supposed to be at the base at 3:30, to meet our escort to the boat at 4. It takes 2 hours to drive from LA to San Diego. So we’ve got 2.5 hours. WE MIGHT MAKE IT!!!

The enterprise shuttle is late. Its supposed to come every 10 mins, its too far to walk (45 mins, we mapped it). It comes…1:30. We get to Enterprise. WE SPRINT OFF THE BUS to beat everyone else on it (it was very crowded because we weren’t the only travelers with issues).

The rental car shuttle arrived! This is what you look like after traveling for 12 hours and you've still got 3 to go. The guy in the back is my favorite...

The rental car shuttle arrived! This is what you look like after traveling for 12 hours and you’ve still got 3 to go. The guy in the back is my favorite…

We get our car. its 1:45. We start driving. Thankfully I used to live in Southern California so at least I know where we are going. Plus Alex helps me navigate. We text the boat crew…we will be a little late. Forget checking in to our hotel, we are going straight to the base. YAY WE MAKE IT TO THE BASE AT 3:45!! Did I mention its raining now, and again the glider isn’t really communicating so we will be finding a needle in a hay-stack of waves. But we actually made it to San Diego.

Then we sleep. The AMAZING crew had our beds all made 🙂

—took a break from writing this blog post to get free cake—

Ok, so we sleep, for a while, till like 7 or 8, then my phone starts beeping. The crew says we are getting close. We discuss where exactly we are heading. We are super far offshore BUT we have this super cool satellite phone wi-fi hub thing that can forward sat phone texts and calls to my regular phone wherever I am on the boat (WHAAAATTT). Haru is giving me up dated info on the floats. AND. WHAT. MIRACLE. THE GLIDER CALLED IN. Oh side note, it is super rough and I’m looking at computer screens at this point and repeating over and over in my head “dont throw up dont throw up dont throw up”.

So now we’ve got a glider location, but we are a couple miles away and we don’t know how long it will stay at the surface. I go to lay down for a few minutes while we move towards it. The captain comes into the server room where are temporary bunks are. “Uh….I think I see it…”

I jump up. Run outside. There it is, sitting in a kelp patty. Just sitting there. I suddenly do not feel sick. I hug the boat captain (I can’t help it).

Then the fun begins, because its so rough and we are on a pretty big ship we deploy a little RHIB (all black, Navy style) off the back of the boat and go out to pick it up.

I'm literally cradling the glider in my lap so the antenna doesn't get broken in our bouncy ride back to the ship.

I’m literally cradling the glider in my lap so the antenna doesn’t get broken in our bouncy ride back to the ship. If anyone has anything to say about how it doesn’t look that rough…you can go next time. This was the only photo where we weren’t lost behind a swell.

All is calm (NOT), all is bright. This photo does not do justice to the "washing-machine" of seas.

All is calm (NOT), all is bright. This photo does not do justice to the “washing-machine” of seas.

The rest is somewhat less memorable. The floats were easy to find, the sun came out and I lay on the back deck soaking it up, the crew made dinner, we drove in, got to the hotel at 8 am the next morning, had a mimosa, slept, packed everything the next day, and flew home.

 

The end.

This turned out a lot longer than I anticipated, and perhaps the stress and anxiety and then happiness did not come through this…but writing about it brought back some heart racing…so trust me…it was stressful. But it all worked out. Yippee!! Now I can’t wait to look at these data and actually do something with it.

Plus..serious shout out to Alex, hes glider tech/pilot/friend I could have out there.

 

Adrift in a sea of noise

I’ll be talking about my research on the radio this Sunday (2/28/16) at 1900 PST  – stream the show online at http://kbvr.com/listen

Repost from: Inspiration Dissemination Inspiring Stories From Oregon State Graduate Students on KBVR FM

“Imagine walking around your neighborhood in a dense fog as night settles in; you may be familiar with the layout, but everything seems different. Innocuous obstacles like low-hanging tree branches and broken sidewalks become invisible right until you stumble upon them. You must be extra vigilant in order to avoid blindly injuring yourself as visibility drops.

For many humans, sight is our most valuable sense, but for marine mammals like dolphins, whales, and seals, their hearing is most precious. As sound travels better through water than air, the ocean is already a noisy place with atmospheric activity and other animals passing around, but their senses have had millions of years to evolve in such an environment. Unfortunately, because of an increased human presence in the ocean, like a fog bank rolling in, the ocean is getting noisier and putting these already threatened animals in danger.

Samara ready to deploy a hydrophone

Samara Haver, a Masters student of Holger Klinck in Wildlife Science is interested in knowing about how the noise is affecting marine life. To do this, she must first characterize the ocean soundscape with hydrophones (pictured right) situated in various parts of the globe. With these data, she hopes to understand how loud the ocean is, how much noisier it’s getting, and where the noise is coming from. Tune in on Sunday, February 28th at 7PM PST on 88.7 FM in Corvallis or stream us online at http://kbvr.com/listen to hear Samara’s journey into the sounds of science.

Call me Jonesy

Wow! Summer winded down quickly. It felt like a lot of time spent writing, some exciting and stressful glider piloting, and I wrapped it up with 2 weeks on the water in Southern California working on the SOCAL BRS project. (You can read a public summary of the project here).

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Pretty morning at Santa Catalina Island

I’ve talked about this project before, and this was my 4th summer on the R/V Truth. This leg ended up a bit frustrating in the fact that the animals were more difficult to find and work with than past years. We didn’t observe the distribution of whales we typically do, and we suspect this has something to do with the abnormally warm waters off Southern California this summer.

For example we barely saw any Risso’s dolphins, where typically there are tons around Santa Catalina Island. And the blue and fin whales typically found feeding right in the LA shipping channel weren’t where we expected them. Instead we found them quite a bit further offshore near Santa Barbara Island. AND we saw schools on schools on schools of yellowfin!! (I think……I may edit this in a day or two…anyway I’d never seen so many leaping fish!) EDIT: Yellowfin tun and maybe some small bonitos and maybe some bluefin.

Always Learning

For me the trip was still a great learning experience. I got to use some new tools and learn some new skills, including running the sound propagation software we use in setting up a CEE (Controlled Exposure Experiment), running the sound source that projects the sound playback, and deploying and recording from sonobuoys, little one-time use floating recorders designed to listen for subs, but also work for whales.

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Mapping how sound likely propagates through the Southern California Bight in August.

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My acoustic set up. Sonobuoy detector, sonobuoy recorder, and directions of course.

 

 

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People started to refer to me as Jonesy. I embraced it whole-heartedly.

 

 

Fieldwork success!

I spent this past week on Cape Cod coordinating the retrieval and redeployment of the Noise Reference Station mooring in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Last October we deployed the hydrophone (NRS09) for the first time at our long-term site, and this year we were faced with the challenge of retrieving a 700 lb mooring without any surface expression. Luckily, we had a great weather day and the process went off without a hitch!

NRS09 coming up.

NRS09 coming up. (Photo: Onye Ahanotu)

As soon as we brought the lander back on board we got to work cleaning on the (small amount of) biofouling that accumulated over the past year. I also needed the prepare the acoustic release for re-deployment. In order to retrieve a mooring without any surface expression, we needed a system that would allow us to pull up the lander from the ocean floor; an acoustic release is the perfect solution. To make the re-deployment process easier, NRS09 was designed to use a release that can be easily re-assembled and re-used for successive deployments. Below I am taking release mechanism out of the housing to replace the battery.

Replacing the acoustic release batteries.

Replacing the acoustic release batteries. (Photo: Onye Ahanotu)

Once we had the lander on board we swapped out the hydrophone and prepared the lander for re-deployment. We had to be very careful to secure any pieces that could create noise (and interfere with the ocean noise we are trying to record).

Attaching the replacement hydrophone.

Attaching the replacement hydrophone.

Preparing the lander for re-deployment.

Preparing the lander for re-deployment. (Photo: Onye Ahanotu)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready to re-deploy NRS09.

The whole crew ready to re-deploy NRS09.

Once the lander was cleaned, acoustic release re-assembled, and new hydrophone secured we were ready to re-deploy NRS09 in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary for another year.

Sending NRS09 back into the ocean.

Sending NRS09 back into the ocean. (Photo: Onye Ahanotu)

An Office with a View

The pleasure from working during the summer is certainly underestimated.

You can ask any student from our ORCAA Lab to confirm. Michelle currently sleeps next to breathing/breaching humpbacks in Alaska; Samara was surveying on a grandiose NOAA vessel doing the infamous turtle rodeos; Selene is preparing for a Californian whale tagging survey-cutting edge marine mammal work; Danielle is enjoying the process of fulfilling and submitting a publication after having spent months with cute little singing frogs.

However, I do admit that not everyone’s summer work can be as XXX (exotic, exciting, exquisite) as a marine scientist’s / bioacoustician’s can. Fortunately, the seas and the oceans of the world remain largely unexplored waiting for us to discover during our summer expeditions.

Adventure is clearly, what a scientist is after. In my case, the adventure starts on a boat while on a dolphin/whale quest, looking for marine life, reading the weather and the surface of the sea, translating the animals’ behavior or the sounds they make, getting the right shot of the dorsal fin or the fluke. However, excitement can also be derived while in the lab, from a simple statistical analysis. There is a certain type of agony during the testing of a model and while anticipating different relationships between variables measured and observed, or estimating population sizes.

Part 1
My summer 2015 adventure takes place in the island of Zakynthos, in Greece.

Close to the (Greek) West Coast

Close to the (Greek) West Coast

Unlike last year, the Ionian Sea has been the setting for my 2015 fieldwork. The Ionian embraces the western part of Greece, is a sea that is shared with Italy, and is home to the group of islands called Eptanisa (=SevenIslands). Corfu, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Paksoi, Kythira, Ithaki, are the biggest jewels laid on the clear turquoise waters of  the Ionian. Green themselves, the islands are covered with luscious pine forests and are a spectacular destination for every yachtsman (or sea-camper) that respects himself.

Zakynthos, where my story sets, is the favorite hatchery for the Mediterranean loggerhead sea turtle. More than 1200 sea turtle nests are found and monitored every summer around the beaches of Laganas Bay. The mother turtles, just like the hordes of tourists, love the long and wide, white fine-sand beaches and lay there their eggs. Since this area is of high ecological importance for this endangered species, the last 16 years, at this corner of the world it was established the National Marine Park of Zakynthos for the conservation of this living “dinosaur” species (sea turtles first appeared 180 million years ago while dinosaurs were still alive).

First fossil of a sea turtle (Archelon ischyros) 4.5 m long, found in N. Dakota, exhibited in the Yale Peabody Museum, Yale University

First fossil of a sea turtle (Archelon ischyros) 4.5 m long, found in N. Dakota, exhibited in the Yale Peabody Museum, Yale University

 

Oh sea turtles! They have been my very first marine-species-love (first loves never die) and I spent several years working on the conservation of these animals. It has been heart-warming to meet them again.

Besides the sea turtle population status, the Marine Park, the governmental body that manages the protected area, is interested in assessing the status of all marine life within this habitat. Thus, they funded a big study that encompasses the benthic communities, fisheries, megafauna, water quality, shore erosion and the monitoring of all the factors that determine the conservation status of a marine area.

Together with a splendid team from the University of the Aegean and the Department of Marine Science, we designed and implemented a field study to assess the conservation status of the cetacean species encountered within and around the Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Meet the team
The project manager, with whom we designed the fieldwork, is Vasilis Trygonis. Vasilis has a mighty mind and organizing skills that made the project happen against all odds. Vasilis is an engineer that can get into anything and fix everything that requires fixing. Such a pleasure to work with this inspiring mind.

Vasilis

Vasilis

Our skillful captain, Olympos Andreadis, comes from the island of Chios, a place that produces the finest Captains in the world. Olympos flew us on the waves and elegantly drove us close to the dolphins. He would also provid a surprising amount of snacks while at sea!

Captain Olympos

Captain Olympos

Sevi Kapota, our MSc student, field assistant, and dolphin enthusiast contributed with her bright character and her excellent data entry qualities. On top of her photography abilities.

Sevi and her pretty smile

Sevi and her pretty smile

The captain came with his vessel. We had a small zodiac that typically hosted four people and equipment. By equipment, I mean loads of water and snacks, sunscreens, hats, sunglasses, four different cameras, binos, GPSs, data loggers, and 2 sets of hydrophones.

We spent a week at Zakynthos. The warmest week of history. At least my history.

Our days would start while it was still night. The alarm was going off at 5 am and we were on the boat by 6 am. While the sun was not yet up the sky, burning our skin and dazzling our minds. Besides being cooler, during the early morning hours, the sea tended to be calmer and welcoming to our objectives. We had a natural and obligatory 2 pm threshold at sea. A local northwesterly wind would force us out of the water as soon as the sun was unbearable. Thank you God Poseidon!

For our visual surveys, we split the horizon in two and the visual observers shared a view of 180 degrees. During every dolphin encounter we would record in detail: the group consistency, the number of individuals and species, behavior, group direction and speed, and demographic info.

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With Eva, our visual observer guest star. Last day smiles

At the same time we also practiced our auditory ability with the marvelous (and my personal very favorite) technology of dipping hydrophones. We would systematically stop the boat, turn the engines off, throw the hydrophone into the water and listen to the deep blue. Sometimes dolphin voices would reach my ears in forms of whistles and clicks. We often used this method as a trustworthy alarm that what we are seeking is not too far away.

On duty

Me on duty

In the meanwhile we were also recording the weather conditions (cloud cover, sea state, wave and swell height, wind speed, glare, etc) once per hour, or every time the weather would change, since it’s a factor that affects our ability to visually detect the animals in certain distances. On top of that, we implemented a fine scale recording of all anthropogenic pressures to the environment such as litter, fisheries and shipping activity, oil or other kind of pollution, and anything that could be a threat to marine life.

In contrast to what people had previously told us we had several sightings and acoustic recordings of big groups of dolphins. Striped dolphins seem to surround the deeper offshore MPA. Also they surrounded our boat dozens of times to show off their acrobatic skills and their radiant elegance. Every sighting was a joy for the eye and the soul and enriched our knowledge for the cetacean presence in that area.

One of our aquatic new friends

One of our aquatic new friends

Besides the boat surveys we deployed two bottom moored hydrophones in distinct habitats within the MPA. These hydrophones will be continuously recording for a few months and we hope that the acoustic data will give us a better idea of the variability of the dolphins’ presence around the specific locations. Fingers crossed for the equipment to wait for us where we deployed it!

During one of the deployments, while exploring the underwater topography, a loggerhead sea turtle swam with us checking out our interference with her home. She approved of the hydrophone and swam away on her jellyfish-quest!

Part 2
Now the fieldwork is paused, until probably September, and I am stranded at the island of Serifos visiting my family and rethinking heat waves. I am finding the best office I could ever have without walls suffocating me. Sand on my feet, sea in my eyes, and deafening cicadas filling my ears. The ultimate inspiration for my research, my work and my professional motivations.

Summer office

Summer office

One does not come to the sea for niceness. One comes for life.

Happy sea days (summer)!

-Niki

 

The Turtle Rodeo Part II

If you read my last post, I left off on the dock in Newport, RI waiting for a storm to clear. As expected, the thunderstorms (and lightning) passed us by and we cast off our lines the next day.

Blue skies heading under the Newport bridge.

Blue skies heading under the Newport bridge.

But to our disappointment (but not lack of trying), we didn’t find many turtles during our first couple of days on the water.

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Here is the scene from the lower observation deck.

On the big eyes! I helped out the visual team during the day when we could not tow the hydrophone array.

On the big eyes! I helped out the visual team during the day when we could not tow the hydrophone array. (Photo credit: Annamaria Izzi)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But after heading north to Canadian waters our luck changed and the turtle rodeo began!

As soon as we spotted a turtle, we deployed the small boat and sent a team to bring it back to the Bigelow to be outfitted with a satellite tag.

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We had to travel pretty far off-shore to find the turtles!

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The fast rescue boat heading back to the Bigelow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We transferred the turtles onboard very delicately in a special turtle “hammock” so that the sampling crew could get to work taking vitals and adhering the satellite tag.

Transferring a turtle to the Bigelow.

Transferring a turtle to the Bigelow. (Permit: NOAA-NEFSC-Fisheries & Oceans Canada – DFO Research Notice: M-15-07)

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Once the adhesive was dry we used the turtle hammock to release the animal back into the ocean. (Permit: NOAA-NEFSC-Fisheries & Oceans Canada – DFO Research Notice: M-15-07)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Then we were back to our lookout posts to spot the next turtle. (Photo credit: Loren Kellog)

Despite a few setbacks (there are always a few), our turtle mission was a success! At night and on bad weather days we were even able to sneak in some acoustics. In the photo below we are getting ready to deploy a HARP.

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(Photo credit: Elizabeth Broughton)

I am back in Oregon now and my summer fieldwork days are over. I am trying to motivate myself to find as much fun in writing and analysis as I did in gluing my face to binoculars in hopes of spotting the next elusive loggerhead, hearing pilot whale harmonics on the array, and enjoying the glorious show that is a sunset at sea.

Busy times call for….

links to other blogs!!  Like this one: LADC-GEMM

Lately I’ve been doing some “field work” although that is not nearly as glamorous as my labmates Michelle and Samara are doing right now. I am piloting a glider in the Gulf of Mexico for a monitoring project around the area of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This is an awesome project because it is using three types of passive acoustic monitoring systems: gliders, autonomous surface vehicles (that look AWESOME) and bottom moored hydrophones. However, me piloting means staying in Oregon with a strong internet connection and doing all of that from my laptop, so I don’t have any cool pictures, or fun field stories. This deployment has been going very smoothly, compared to the test flight, knock on wood.

Anyway, Sara Heimlich, of the OSU/CIMRS Bioacoustics Lab, has been maintaining a great project website and I encourage you all to check that out for more detailed info…and cool field photos.

Enjoy!!

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