A few weeks ago it was time to recover and re-deploy an Ocean Noise Reference Station (NRS 03) hydrophone mooring located in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the Washington coast. The mooring had been out for a year and needed an instrument refresh for another multi-year long deployment. Fortunately, the NOAA research vessel Bell Shimada, home ported next door at the Marine Operations Center – Pacific, here in Newport would be transiting down the Pacific Northwest coast from some work in southeast Alaska and could accommodate our request for the mooring turnaround work at NRS 03. This was really nice

NOAA ship Bell Shimada at port in Newport, OR.
NOAA ship Bell Shimada at port in Newport, OR.

since I was able to load the ship in Newport before they departed for Alaska and wouldn’t have to travel or ship a bunch of luggage, tools, etc., including a 3400 lb. trawl resistant concrete anchor!

On an early Sunday morning I flew up to Ketchikan to spend the next day or two waiting to board the ship as they finished their mission. Let me just say Ketchikan is wet. Having lived on the Oregon coast for over a decade I thought I knew about rain. From the time I landed in the airport until we crossed back in to U.S. waters heading south 4 days later, it rained. No breaks. Just rain. A few locals told me they see around 200 inches of rain a year. That is a lot of water, and why SE Alaska is a phenomenally green and beautiful landscape. At the same time, it gave me a new appreciation for dryer climates back home in Newport, OR.


The lush green shores of Ketchikan, AK where I walked the same small 15 acre island 5 times a day.
The lush green shores of Ketchikan, AK where I walked the same small 15 acre island 5 times a day.

After the science crew from the previous mission disembarked, I boarded the Shimada from a small transfer vessel in the dark hours of the morning and the ship began heading south. That evening, as the skies began to clear, we came across a large group of humpback whales in Hecate Strait just to the east of Graham Island. By a large group, I mean more whales than I could imagine in one spot. They were everywhere, all sizes, with numbers in the hundreds. I went up to the ship’s bridge and they had slowed the Shimada down to ~ 1.5 kts and were trying to skirt the eastern edge of the whales. We opened the doors and could hear them whooping and whistling just below the surface as they fluked and lazily dove and milled around. It was awesome.

A humpback whale skull in the boatyard behind our lab after being dug up off the beach south of Newport (courtesy of Jim Rice, MMI).
A humpback whale skull in the boatyard behind our lab that was removed off the beach south of Newport a week after I returned from this trip (skull courtesy of Jim Rice, MMI).

A few days later we reached the NRS 03 mooring site around sunrise. After establishing communication with the acoustic release, I “popped” the mooring and we waited for the floats to rise to the surface. This was a little different than our standard deep water moorings with extra glass floats fixed along the line down near the acoustic release due to the heavier anchor. Slightly after the big yellow syntactic foam 40 inch float reached the surface, the series of glass balls in yellow “hard hats” popped up nearby. Here’s where it gets interesting. The instrumentation and line are in a big belly loop strung between the 40″ float and the glass balls.

The 40" top float and lower glass floats before recovery.
The 40″ top float and lower glass floats before recovery.

Careful not to get between those two and severe the line or catch it up in the props. Normally on a buoy recovery, we throw grapple hooks or try to clip in to the large floating loop at the top of the mooring on the 40″ float in order to attach it to the ship’s working line and lift it on board. But on this trip we were going to do something a little different. The ship’s Chief Bosun (Bruce) has a special approach called the “Bruce Noose” where he uses the ship’s crane to create a loop that can be dropped over the buoy and then cinched up and attached to the lifting line. This technique has several advantages: 1) not throwing metal hooks at your gear; 2) don’t have to be right up on the buoy where the weather can push the buoy against the ship’s hull and damage things; 3) once cinched, you have a nice grip on the mooring and can tow it or move it around slightly before recovery.

The "Bruce Noose" in action.
The “Bruce Noose” in action.

After using the “Bruce Noose” successfully, we recovered the NRS 03 hydrophone and mooring, swapped out all of the hardware (shackles, chain, etc.), replaced the hydrophone, new zincs and link for the acoustic release and redeployed the mooring at the same site. It will stay out, monitoring ocean noise levels and recording all types of cool sounds for the next 2 years before it is recovered in 2017. Needless to say, the “Bruce Noose” was a great new technique to learn for buoy recoveries and something I’ll put to use onĀ  future missions. Thanks Bruce and the Captain and crew of the Bell Shimada!

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