Hurry up and wait (aka fieldwork)

Between traveling to Alaska with Michelle and wrapping up spring term, this summer snuck up on me. A week after turning in my statistics final (yay!) I was on a plane headed to Boston. After a happy and relaxing weekend spent reuniting with friends on Cape Cod, I headed to Newport, RI (so many Newports!) to board the NOAA ship Henry Bigelow for an exciting stint chasing turtles by day and recording whales by night. Of course, the best-laid plans do not always work out and while all of the other typical delays seem to be under control (the boat works and the crew is healthy), the weird weather saga of southern New England continues and multi-state tornado warnings are keeping us alongside a little bit longer.

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The NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow!

The first reason we are headed out on the Bigelow is to tag sea turtles. Chief scientist, Dr. Heather Haas, and her colleagues are interested in finding out how accurate visual surveys are in tracking numbers of sea turtles. To find out, we the science crew will work together to find as many sea turtles as we can and bring them aboard to get outfitted with satellite tags. Hopefully, the tags will give us information about how much time sea turtles spend at the surface (versus at below it) and that information can be used to better approximate population sizes. But that isn’t really why I am onboard. I am here as a passive acoustics monitor, operating the Northeast Fisheries Science Center acoustic group’s towed array. Our towed array is a series of 6 mid-frequency and 2 high-frequency hydrophones wired together and suspended in an oil filled watertight tube that we drag behind the boat to listen to marine mammals in real-time. Becuase there are multiple components in the array we can use it to record and localize animals as we travel along a track line. If you want to know more about hydrophone arrays, Michelle Weirathmueller has an excellent write-up on her blog, The Waveform Diary. Check it out here: Hydrophone arrays, FTW!

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Our array set-up ready for deployment. The array is coiled on the wooden spool and tow cable is on the net reel.

On this cruise, my friend Annamaria and I will be working with the array at night when it is too dark to search for turtles. We are hoping to record beaked and sperm whales. Since we did not leave the dock today, we were lucky to have a stable platform to get set-up. Becuase a lot of electronics are required for us to an acoustic signal from an animal onto our computer screen, we usually spend the first day at sea troubleshooting…

One of my first projects of the day was to figure out why one of the two hydrophones I was trying to listen to wasn’t working correctly. As usual, the solution is to re-think our wiring set-up. Here I am looking for the connector I need.

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I was having trouble finding the right part so I decided to take a break and eat some candy dinosaurs. On the left monitor, you can see that the top half of the screen is blank…not what I wanted to see. Luckily I was eventually able to find the part I needed to fix the problem.

Thankfully we worked out a lot of technological kinks today and hopefully the weather will clear up and we will be on our way to find the turtles and whales tomorrow morning!

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Modeling my survival suit during safety drills this afternoon. (Photo credit: Suzanne Yin)

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