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Drones, Plankton, and Orcas: Day Four on the Oceanus

Posted by: | September 27, 2018 | No Comment |

By Sara Pursel
Science Teacher at Taft High School in Lincoln City, OR

This post is part of a series about the 2018 STEM research cruise taking place this week on board the R/V Oceanus. Other posts in this series include a report from PI Tracy Crews on Day One and Day Three, and a post from high school student Alishia Keller from Day Two.

Drone footage captures data about whales

Wednesday was our fourth and final day conducting the research portion of the Oceanus STEM cruise. We began in the morning off the coast of Washington, surveying for marine mammals as both the wind and weather were cooperating for visibility. The goal of the day was to get additional drone footage of the Humpback whales as they surfaced. Fairly early in the day we encountered a group of at least five individual whales and were able to successfully complete two drone flights to obtain footage of the animals. Our drone operator recently graduated from the Drone Academy at Career Tech High School with his pilot’s license and has been collaborating with the chief scientist onboard, Dr. Leigh Torres, to capture overflight video of whale for photogrammetry analysis, which helps assess body condition or overall health.

During one early whale sighting, we also had a solitary sea lion and a sea turtle right in front of the bow of the ship. The sea bird activity picked up as well, demonstrating how cold Pacific Northwest waters provide a favorable habitat for many types of marine animals.

Before lunch we conducted another plankton tow in order to obtain some samples to help with the education outreach effort that will be happening once we dock in Portland. While we didn’t catch as much in volume compared with the night tows, one of the students on board did attach a camera to view the organisms entering the tow net. The tow brought up a jelly with a bell size of approximately 18 cm (7 inches) in diameter as well as more krill, copepods (tiny crustaceans), a ctenophore (comb jelly), amphipods (more tiny crustaceans), a siphonophore (also related to jellies), and several other species. The video footage of the tow captured the jelly, ctenophore, and many other interesting images, including the flow meter stopping and starting as the ship moved over the ocean swells.

Sampling planktonAs we made our way south towards Oregon waters, three Orcas (killer whales) crossed our path and we diverted our trip to observe the animals for a while. I was working on this blog post when the boat stopped suddenly and several of us raced outside after putting on our PFDs (personal flotation devices – safety first) to get a glimpse of the animals. The head marine mammal researcher identified one adult male and hypothesized the other two were possibly juvenile males given their size. Most of the rest of the day was spent cleaning up, sharing files of data, pictures, and videos, and preparing for the next two days in Portland.

Marine education has been a passion of mine since I was a kid, and this experience has given me a new perspective and appreciation of what researchers do to gather data. While on the ship I have been sharing brief stories and a few pictures and videos with my students back home and have had a chance to answer some of their questions regarding equipment and marine life. I’ve learned so much on this research cruise that I can share with my students for years to come, and I will be able to connect them with researchers and opportunities in the future thanks to my time here.

Orcas

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Sara Pursel teaches science at Lincoln County School District’s Taft High School in Lincoln City, Oregon. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology with Chemistry minor, and a Masters of Education degree. In addition to joining this STEM research cruise, Sara has participated Oregon Coast STEM Hub professional development trainings and has checked out materials from the STEM Hub resource trailer.

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