A Jam-Packed First Day

This post is part of a series chronicling the September 12-15, 2019 research cruise on board the R/V Oceanus, Oregon State University’s largest research vessel. This cruise was funded by Oregon Legislative funds through the Oceangoing Research Vessel Program. Coordination and additional support was provided by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

Follow the adventures of the students, educators, and researchers who are on board engaging in #STEMatSea.

By Ashley Brust

My name is Ashley and I am an undergrad who is a part of the science party here on the Oceanus. I am a sophomore at Oregon Coast Community College and currently enrolled in the Aquarium Science Program. My passion for marine science first began when I was little and attended Hatfield Marine Science Center Day Camps. I attended every year until I “aged out.” Now I am doing everything I can to pursue my passion, which includes this research cruise. Fortunately, I was chosen to be a member of the science party on this vessel and am learning all types of new things, such as surveying whales, sea birds, taking box core samples, and collecting/identifying plankton.

We get to work with experts and do a lot of hands on work, which is totally awesome. Today we began with a really yummy breakfast, went over some safety rules, and ran some drills. This ultimately resulted in us trying on large red survival suits and using a fire hose. Next we found ourselves at the stern of the boat collecting box core samples (grabbing sand off the ocean floor) and digging out organisms that reside in the sediment.

three people bring the box core sample on board the ship
Ashley (L) helps bring up the box core sample.
people sorting through a sediment sample
examining the sediment sample

Before we knew it, we were up on the “flying bridge” with binoculars in our hands surveying the vast ocean for any signs of whales. There were so many humpback whales breaching, coming up and breathing, and showing off their flukes for us. This was great because the scientists’ goal was to capture pictures of the unique underside of the whales’ flukes.

We left that station for a moment to fuel up our bodies with some delicious lunch and made our way back up to the whales when we finished. Another task we helped with was surveying/identifying sea birds which was really fascinating to learn the methodology. I originally thought you would identify the birds based off their plumage, but it turns out their flight pattern helps most, along with some other physical features such as bill length.

The most exciting adventure today was the students got to pursue whales in a smaller inflatable boat. The whales were so close to us it was truly magnificent and something I will never forget. The purpose behind this was to, again, try and snap photos of their flukes to identify individual whales.

six people and a bongo net
Leigh Torres (R) and Dawn Barlow (L) from the OSU GEMM Lab orient students to the bongo net.
students deploy bongo nets of the side of a ship

After dinner we made way to the side of the vessel and deployed bongo nets which would allow us to gather plankton. We brought our samples back into the vessel and began to study them under the microscopes to attempt to identify them.

There were so many neat little creatures swimming around in our petri dishes, like comb jellies, copepods, shrimp larvae, amphipods, and many more. The most interesting thing I got to observe was all the microplastics we also found.

I wasn’t surprised because I knew that our oceans are contaminated with plastics, but it was just very eye opening to see how bad it truly is.

We finally ended our day by coloring Styrofoam cups with permanent markers to send down to the bottom of the ocean and shrink under the enormous pressure. Overall the first day was jam-packed with fun activities and now we are all ready to rest and do it all over again tomorrow.

shrunken Styrofoam cups

Ashley Brust is a second-year student in the Aquarium Science Program at Oregon Coast Community College, and a veteran of Hatfield Marine Science Center summer day camps.

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