Posts Tagged ‘boats’

Drop-In to MLML Open House: Prepare to Walk the Plank Ye Scurvy Sea Turtle

April 17, 2011

A leatherback sea turtle aboard the Sheila B. (photo: D. Spear-Hooton)

This leatherback sea turtle wont actually be going anywhere.  It’s part of the MLML Marine Ops Open House display!  You’re looking into the bow of the Sheila B., one of MLML’s research vessels.  The bow of the Sheila B. is a door that can drop down, a great feature for capturing leatherback sea turtles and bringing them aboard for research purposes.

Be sure to come on by Open House this year to see what Marine Ops has in store for you.

MLML Open House is Saturday, April 30 & Sunday, May 1.

Sampling the Seafloor with a Lunar Lander?

March 19, 2011

Collecting samples from the deep aboard the Research Vessel Point Sur. (photo: E. Loury)

Just like a space rover, this instrument is designed to help us study places that are inhospitable to people.  But rather than the furthest reaches of space,  this corer travels to the depths of the sea to where it collects cores of the mud and sand on the ocean floor.  Geological oceanographers like MLML professor Ivan Aiello (left) can use the samples to learn how different geologic features  in an area formed throughout history – in this case, the study site is Monterey Bay.

You Must be This Tall to Ride This Ride

February 27, 2011

(photo: H. Hawk)

Recent MLML graduate and Drop-In contributor Amanda Kahn poses next to an instrument called a CTD on the deck of the Research Vessel Point Sur.  “CTD”  stands for Conductivity (or salinity), Temperature and Depth – all properties that the nifty gizmo can record as it’s lowered and raised through the water.  The black cylinders are called niskin bottles, and they can be opened and closed to collect a sample of seawater at specific depths.  Niskin bottles and other oceanographic equipment snag the spotlight in the mother of all marine science music parodies, “Cruise Cruise Baby” – check it out!

Heave Ho! Haul That Trawl!

February 25, 2011

(photo: H. Hawk)

MLML graduate Heather Hawk uses her muscles and puts some oomph into bringing in the catch.  Just another day in class at Moss Landing Marine Labs.

How to Find a Dead Whale

February 2, 2011

by Nate Jones, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

STUNNING, isn’t it?


Humpback and Shearwaters, Unimak Pass. Photo: NMML


The magnificent power, the grace,  the vigor of truly giant life.  BUT, where do whales go when they die??

And, what about all those seals, sea lions, dolphins … heck, walruses, even?!


A Walrus carcass makes it into the 300m strip transect! Turns out even veteran at-sea researchers like USFWS Marty Reedy can still be surprised by new experiences. Photo: M. Reedy

What happens to them if they die at sea, as you might expect most of them would do?  To explore this question, we might think to ask a marine scientist (naturally!).  And, of course, there are scientists that are studying dead marine mammals (you aren’t surprised, are you?).  In fact, Moss Landing’s very own Gillian Rhett is focusing her MSc research on dead whales!  Turns out, studying the afterlife of marine mammals is every bit as intriguing as chasing them in the living flesh.  Scientists are  still learning about what happens to these animals after they die, and it’s a remarkable story.


Scientists and crew (Nate Jones, among them) encounter a dead Sperm Whale, seen from flying bridge of USFWS R/V Tiglax. Photo: N. Jones

Nate Jones first saw this whale at about 2 km distance; a mysterious, looming chunk of something, floating low in the water, unmistakably immobile in the snotty tumult that is a typical Bering Sea day.  Whatever this thing was, it was large.  And probably of animal origin; there were about half a dozen gulls swarming the area, looking for a free meal.  Sure enough, a Sperm Whale carcass.

You can see how tall tales are born on the high seas!  Some of them are true…

Safe Travels for the Holidays

December 23, 2010

(photo: E. Loury)

It doesn’t look like these folks from MLML will be running into any rush hour traffic.  They are out on the bay in an inflatable as part of a class field trip.  Trips into the field are just one of many ways MLML students get actively involved in research for classes.

Whale Feeding and Breeding and Migrating – Oh My!

December 3, 2010


A humpback whale in Kodiak, Alaska (photo by Casey Clark)

Casey Clark

By Casey Clark, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

Each year, humpback whales migrate between their feeding areas in high-latitude places such as Alaska, California and Antarctica to their breeding areas in more tropical regions such as Mexico, Hawaii, Central America, and the South Pacific.  This means that during the winter, all of the animals should be in the breeding area and none should be in the feeding area.  It turns out that this isn’t true.  All around the world, people have seen humpback whales in feeding areas during the winter when they are expected to be in the breeding area.  This leads to the following questions:  Who are these animals that spend their winters in the feeding area?  Are they mostly males? Females?  Juvenile animals?  Why would they give up their chance to reproduce for the year?

It was these questions that led me to choose my project.  For my master’s thesis at Moss Landing Marine Labs, I will attempt to answer at least some of them.  To do this, I will look at the animals off the coast of central California, an important feeding area for humpback whales that breed off the coast of Central America.  I will be looking at the sex-ratio (the number of males present compared to the number of females present) and the proportion of juvenile animals (the number of young animals compared to the number of adult animals) in this area throughout the year.  By seeing how the sex-ratio and the proportion of juvenile animals change from summer to winter, I will be able to determine who is using the area in the winter.  For example, if the sex-ratio is 1:1 in the summer (1 male present for every 1 female present) and 1:2 in the winter (1 male present for every 2 females present), I will know that there are more females than males using this area in the winter.


Humpback whale in Kodiak, Alaska (photo by Casey Clark)

The different sexes and age groups of humpback whales are known to migrate to the breeding area at different times.  Adult males are the first to begin the migration to the breeding area, followed by non-pregnant females, juvenile animals and finally pregnant females.  This pattern would suggest that female animals in the late-stages of pregnancy remain in the feeding area longer than most other whales.  This theory is supported by observations from the feeding area and during migration, but it has never been confirmed that pregnant females remain in the feeding area longer than most other members of the population.  I will test this theory by determining the pregnancy rates of females found in the feeding area in the late fall and early winter.  If a greater proportion of these females are pregnant than would be expected, this theory would be confirmed.  The identification of this area as critical habitat for these pregnant whales would have profound implications for their conservation and management.


Casey and his sampling crossbow

Stay tuned to find out how I find the whales, and then collect samples with a crossbow!

Icy Spring Time

June 27, 2010

Author: Nate Jones

It’s early June, and there’s still ice in the Bering Sea!  This year the seasonal ice cover has persisted late into the “spring” time.  Much later than in recent years.  In fact, it hasn’t felt much like springtime here on the water; it’s snowed (or, is it frozen fog?) on many days, and the mercury in the thermometer outside pools listlessly at about the 32F mark, even at high noon.  To be sure, the ice is melting, breaking up into pancakes, jumbled, layered, and amalgamated by spring storm waves and wind… but, sloowwly, slowly…  the water is still cold; as cold as the ice itself.  A reluctant catalyst, at best.

(ice) pancakes, anyone? It's June 2nd...

We are surveying on the R/V Thomas Thompson, a University of Washington UNOLS ship.  This is an ice-reinforced vessel, so we can push (carefully!) through this kind of cold slurry in search of oceanographic data.  The scientists on this cruise are primarily interested in measuring the physics and chemistry of the spring ice retreat, and the rich plankton communities that tend to bloom and grow during this transition time.  Like the first spring buds and shoots of green in a garden, the explosion of microscopic marine algae, diatoms, and copepods forms the base of a food web that will sustain all the fish we eat, and the seabirds, seals, and sea lions that also depend on them.  So, this is a very important time of year in the Bering Sea!

Sea Ice

Photo of the Week: Here’s Looking at – Who?

December 3, 2009

(photo by L. Whitman, submitted by and B. Hoover and N. Jones)

Counting birds is harder than its sounds when your place of observation is the ocean, not a bird feeder.  This week’s photo features Brian Hoover of the Vertebrate Ecology Lab up in Alaska looking for a clue – to what drives seabird distribution, that is.  Brian and Nate Jones, a Drop-In regular, spent several weeks on the Bering Sea this summer recording where and when they spotted seabirds, as well as gathering data on bird prey and oceanography patterns.

If you have a good caption for this illustrious researcher hard at work, submit it as a comment. We’ll post our favorite!

Just what kinds of birds might Brian be counting? Check out Nate’s previous posts on the Bering Sea to find out!

Safety at Sea

December 1, 2009

Author: Nate Jones

by Nate Jones, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

(still in the Bering Sea)   … Of course the bad weather I’ve been writing about was nothing compared to what happens on the Bering during the months of February or March, and the Gold Rush fishes regularly during that time of year, so I had complete faith in the seaworthiness of the ship and the judgment and skill of the crew.  I took comfort in that thought, and stumbled down to my bunk for what became a grueling 72 hours of bumps, rolls, and queasy stomachs.  During this stormy time the crew exchanged watches at the helm, keeping the ship pointed into the fury.

Bumpy Bering Sea

We all hoped for the best, but by the time the seas had calmed to (a more manageable?) 8-10’, the hungry ocean had damaged and ripped off much of our scientific equipment, snapping several ¼” steel bolts and ripping welds clean apart!

The Gold Rush itself weathered this storm in fine shape (wish we could say the same of our scientific equipment!), and there were no major injuries to anyone on board.  It really was quite a minor event in the context of the Bering Sea; just another blowy, bumpy day or two out on the water.

Another day at "the office" for a marine scientist

But, it impressed me and I couldn’t help contemplating darker scenarios – what happens when there is a true emergency?  What if someone had been swept overboard, or, worse yet, what if the ship itself had been damaged or taken on water and started to go down?  Such things do happen, although not as frequently now as they have in the past (coast guard regulations and improvements in technology and crew training have contributed to much increased safety).

In my next post I’ll put up some images from training exercises that are routinely undertaken to help prepare crew and passengers (scientists) for emergencies at sea…

Neal takes a dip in the Bering Sea


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