Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Pacific Orcinus Distribution Survey 2016

Researchers follow endangered Southern Resident killer whales off the coasts of OR and WA.

Blog Entries for February 2016

Cruise underway

By Peggy Foreman
Posted on February 29, 2016

February 21, 2016

Our window of opportunity to get underway relies on the tides and weather conditions. The high tide was at 11:03am at 8.88’ and we left during slack tide at 10:30am. The objective of this cruise is to locate and stay with our Southern Resident killer whales to better understand their winter distribution. We would like to have a better understanding of what these whales are eating, what habitats they are utilizing to find their prey. Earlier this year, our scientists tagged K33, also known as Tika, a young 15 year old male in K pod. We were able to track this whale for a total of 48 days, but as you know this tag fell off four days before our cruise. So after leaving Newport we decided to head North to the area the tag was last transmitting. We deployed our hydrophone array by early afternoon and started visual observations, but as of 9pm the Southern Residents have not been detected. Also within the first hour and a half we started our Oceanography sampling as well. We will be recording surface salinity and temperature as well as collecting surface water samples to determine chlorophyll a and nutrients. Temperature profiles from the surface to the bottom will be recorded by XBTs, or a CTD, if possible. If CTDs are possible, salinity profiles will also be recorded and water samples will be collected at a variety of depths to determine chlorophyll a and nutrients. Working in the field is unpredictable on so many levels. Weather conditions such as fog and rain can severely impede our ability to find and track the whales. So the acoustic scientists help detect and track the whales 24 hours a day. We also have scientists up on the fly bridge locating and tracking the whales during daylight hours and weather permitting. Today we got lucky, we started off with a cloudy dark sky but ended up with sunny skies, but pretty big swells as big as 8 ft. in height. Here are some of the photos from today:

Orientation for how to use the "big eyes".
Setting up the acoustics lab.
The Acoustic Team.
Deploying the X-aray.

Tagged: Southern Resident killer whales, winter survey

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Ready to go, but seas are rough!

By Peggy Foreman
Posted on February 25, 2016

February 20th, 2016

Greetings from Newport, Oregon! NOAA scientists and the crew of the Bell M. Shimada are prepping for our 2016 Pacific Orcinus Distribution Survey, AKA PODS 2016. For months the scientists have been finalizing the cruise plan, prepping their gear/supplies, calibrating devices, double checking equipment and securing backup systems for all possible scenarios. The scientists use a variety of equipment to locate and track the whales such as hydrophone arrays, sonobuoys, spotting scopes, and high powered binoculars. Cables for power, batteries to receive data, and computers to visualize the data are just a few examples of what we were trying to put to set up and test. Handheld radios and ship wired phones allow communication between the scientists and the crew at all time. Oceanographers set up the wet and dry lab in preparation for collecting surface water samples and the CTD for a range of depths, and XBTs that will be deployed if necessary. Essentially everything we need to conduct research at sea for 20 days was loaded, strapped down, set up and tested all before we leave the harbor. By mid day we heard from the Commanding Officer that weather and ocean conditions were not conducive to leaving in the afternoon, so we continued to preload some of our data sheets, reinforce our schedules, protocols and get ready.

What does this look like though, you might be asking. First of all everyone was in their foul weather gear, stocking caps, hard hats and PFDs when any cranes or equipment were running on the outer decks. The heavier gear was lifted on board either on pallets or in a metal cages, or directly placed items such as the small inflatable boat directly onto the decks of the ship. Here are a few photos of the day:

The Bell M. Shimada embarks from Newport, Oregon.
Most of the scientists and crew.
Our small boat.
Safety training.
Testing the array.
Off we go!

Tagged: Southern Resident killer whales, winter survey

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March 2016