By Tracy Crews
This weekend, a science party of 13 researchers, students, and teachers gathered aboard Oregon State University’s research vessel, the Oceanus, to begin a four-day research cruise aimed at providing mentoring and career connections at sea. The team mission is to conduct marine mammal and sea bird surveys and correlate sightings with oceanographic data and prey distribution. Participants in this cruise include high school teachers and students from Bandon High School, Taft High School in Lincoln City, and Warrenton High School, as well as college students from Southwestern Oregon Community College, Oregon Coast Community College and Oregon State University.
While adapting to life at sea, these teachers and students are learning to handle lines and deploy oceanographic equipment, how to identify marine mammals, seabirds, and plankton. They aren’t just observers but active participants in the science party, operating critical equipment, including hydraulics and data collection systems.
The first day we experienced sunshine and many successes. Participants mastered their seasickness, and went on to deploy and retrieve plankton nets and CTDs. The abundance and types of plankton (small floating plants and animals) captured in the fine-mesh nets, and the physical parameters of conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth measured by the CTDs will help researchers characterize the water column.
In addition, we surveyed over a dozen humpback whales and numerous porpoises, and used a drone to capture video footage of a humpback whale from above. The video data will help researchers from OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute assess the whale’s body condition, an indicator of overall health.
Life on the water is often exhausting, and after a 14 hour day, we are all ready for some much needed sleep. Laying in our bunks as we are rocked to sleep, we dream of what tomorrow will bring.
Tracy Crews is the Marine Education Program Manager for Oregon Sea Grant, the Student STEM Experiences Coordinator for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, and the Principal Investigator for the STEM research cruise taking place this week on the R/V Oceanus.
This cruise is funded by Oregon Legislative funds with additional support from Oregon Sea Grant and Oregon State University. Track the R/V Oceanus at marinetraffic.com, and see more photos of this expedition on the Oregon Coast STEM Hub Facebook page.