Field Diaries

UK Vessel – Over and Out…

UK survey run-down

By Claire Lacey (Cruise Leader)

Team Skoven

Team Skoven

The more avid readers amongst you will have noticed that updates from the UK vessel have been coming in fits and starts- our apologies for this – our internet connection has been having problems so we’ve had to save them all up to post at the end. That means, you’ve guessed it as you are reading this one online, that we have now reached the end of our 6 week survey cruise.

It has been an interesting  trip; we started in the cold northern waters to the north and west of the Hebrides, and worked our way south, conducting our final few weeks in the (comparatively) warm climate of the Bay of Biscay.  This geographic range has yielded a good range of species seen over the course of the survey too – from the harbour porpoise, which rarely exceeds 1.8m in length- to what was probably the trip highlight for many people on board – the blue whale – which can exceed 25m in length in the northern hemisphere.

Harbour porpoise (C) Marijke de Boer

Harbour porpoise (C) Marijke de Boer

Blue whale (c) Marijke de Boer

Blue whale (c) Marijke de Boer

Prior to the appearance of the blue whale on our very last survey day, the accolade of “trip highlight” had been awarded to a fin whale. We’ve seen many of these whales in both the northern and southern parts of the survey- but nothing really prepares you for the sight of a 20m long animal leaping from the water.  As well as being  a spectacular sight on its own- this also provided a view of the amazing colouration of these animals, which is often not visible from the surface.

Fin whale breach (C) Marijke de Boer

Fin whale breach (C) Marijke de Boer

In case you were wondering – they make quite a splash

Fin whale splash (C) Marijke de Boer

Fin whale splash (C) Marijke de Boer

The more usual view of a fin whale…

Fin whale (C) Marijke de Boer

Fin whale (C) Marijke de Boer

A trip “special mention” should probably also go to the humpback whales we saw. They weren’t really expected to make much of an appearance during our survey, but they were a welcome sight nonetheless.

Lobtailing humpback whale (C) Paul French

Lobtailing humpback whale (C) Paul French

It has been interesting to note the change in dolphin species observed as we worked our way south. To begin with, we were seeing mainly white-sided dolphins, occasionally mixed in with a few oceanic bottlenose dolphins as well. The white-sided dolphins are quite shy of the boat, and despite having a large number of keen photographers on board, we have no photos of these to share with you!

As we worked our way south, we start to see common dolphins. This species is notorious for bowriding and come charging in to the vessel. They didn’t seem to like the Skoven very much though – perhaps our hull was the wrong shape to create the pressure wave required for bowriding to work properly?

Common dolphins (c) Darren Craig

Common dolphins (c) Darren Craig

As we headed further south still, we started seeing striped dolphins as well as the common dolphins. Less keen on the ship, these dolphins are either very easy to spot, or very difficult, depending on their activity. When travelling they stay very low in the water and you don’t get much of a view at all- until that is they start to leap. When they have a mind to be, they are incredibly acrobatic, and produce a display you just can’t miss.

Striped dolphin (C) Marijke De Boer

Striped dolphin (C) Marijke De Boer

Our final sighting of the trip came as we were cruising along the south coast of England, heading back in to harbour. The survey had finished, but the people standing on deck to enjoy the evening view (and make use of the phone signal) were treated to a good view of white-beaked dolphins which came in to check out the boat. They seemed to be of a similar opinion to the common dolphins however, as they didn’t stick around long.

White-beaked dolphins (C) Marijke de Boer

White-beaked dolphins (C) Marijke de Boer

Enormous thanks to the fantastic team aboard the good ship Skoven – it was hard work, but worth it. Now we just need to get on with the data analysis…

UK Vessel – deep divers edition…

The deep divers

by Becci Jewell

The northern transect lines of SCANS-III zig-zag between the edge of the continental shelf and the deep waters beyond and many of our sightings have been of the deep diving cetacean species that inhabit these waters. Deep diving species are often difficult to detect because of the long periods of time they spend foraging at depth. Beaked whales in particular can be elusive, with their long dives and cryptic surfacing behaviour. Despite this, beaked whales and sperm whales were seen multiple times during the survey, as were numerous groups of long-finned pilot whales.

Long-finned pilot whales (C) Darren Craig

Long-finned pilot whales (C) Darren Craig

Beaked whales are incredibly difficult to detect both visually and acoustically and very little is known of many of the 22 species of beaked whale. One of the better known species, Cuvier’s beaked whales, have been recorded diving to a depth of 2,992m during a dive that lasted for 137.5 minutes – the longest and deepest mammalian dive ever recorded. Sowerby’s beaked whales, a species found exclusively in the North Atlantic, were seen in the northern block of the survey and Cuvier’s beaked whales were seen in both the northern and southern blocks.

Cuvier's beaked whale (c) Paul French

Cuvier’s beaked whale (c) Paul French

Sowerby's beaked whale (C) Paul French

Sowerby’s beaked whale (C) Paul French

Sperm whales, the second deepest diving species of cetacean, often associate with the bathymetric features such as the continental shelf, sea mounts and submarine canyons where upwelling water brings nutrients from the depths, driving primary productivity. This productivity attracts the squid and fish that sperm whales feed on, at times diving for over an hour to forage at depths of more than 1,000m. Using a hydrophone array towed behind the M/V Skoven in the northern block, we detected the broadband echolocation clicks of sperm whales foraging in the depths as well as seeing them logging at the surface between dives. Our busiest sperm whale encounter was of at least 10 individuals at the surface in little over an hour.

Sperm whales (C) Paul French

Sperm whales (C) Paul French

Long-finned pilot whales were one of the most frequently sighted species in the northern block and were also seen in French waters in the southern survey block. Despite undertaking dives to depths of over 900m, this species is much easier to detect than the more stealthy beaked whales. With their broad black dorsal fins and conspicuous surfacing behaviour we often spotted groups of pilot whales well ahead of the vessel and could track them as we passed.

Long-finned pilot whale breaching (C) Marijke De Boer

Long-finned pilot whale breaching (C) Marijke De Boer

The data recorded during sightings of these deep diving species will allow new estimates of abundance to be calculated and will shed light on the current distribution and status of their populations in the northeast Atlantic.

UK vessel – Shearwater Bingo

Bingo! full house on shearwaters

By Mark Tasker

For the first half of this cruise (north and west of Britain and Ireland), we were lucky enough to have Mark Lewis and Paul French as our on-board bird observers.  Since they stepped ashore, we have only been able watch birds informally.  The Bay of Biscay has lower densities of all species except perhaps European storm-petrel than the north-west approaches, but its bird fauna is different.  This is perhaps best demonstrated by the differing set of shearwater species. We have seen all six species that are reasonably feasible in NW European waters – a full house!

North of Ireland and west of Scotland, wee saw many Manx shearwaters – their main breeding colony here is on Rum in the Inner Hebrides, but there are smaller colonies also, such as St Kilda. We know that most of the birds from these colonies remain to forage reasonably close to home, but some may be seen out in the Atlantic.

(C) Mark Tasker

Manx shearwaters (C) Mark Tasker

Many shearwaters migrate between the hemispheres during the year; so it is for the second species seen predominantly in the northern sector. Sooty shearwaters breed in the South Atlantic on, for example, the Falkland Islands. It seems that their migration route take them northwards in the west Atlantic, before crossing to the east and making their way southwards.  We found most of these birds on the Rockall Bank, perhaps freshly arrived from their transatlantic crossing.

(C) Paul French

Sooty shearwater (left) with Northern fulmar. (C) Paul French

Our southern survey section was far offshore in the Bay of Biscay, venturing inwards towards France and the UK.  The second long distance migrant shearwater visiting the northern hemisphere in its non-breeding season was seen soon after we left Cork. Great Shearwaters breed in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago but tend not to venture as far north as sooty shearwaters, perhaps reflecting the warmer waters of their breeding sites compared to the sub-Antarctic home of the sooties.

(C) Mark Tasker

Great shearwater (C) Mark Tasker

The final three shearwaters all breed in less remote locations. Cory’s shearwater breeds in Madeira, the Azores and the Canary Islands and is the commonest seabird in the offshore Bay of Biscay at this time of year, its long languid flying posture with wings held slightly bowed downwards was always a welcome sight – groups of them can signal the presence of (apparently) feeding common dolphins.

Cory's shearwater (C) Marijke De Boer

Cory’s shearwater (C) Marijke De Boer

Balearic shearwaters breed (surprise!) on the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean but venture out into the Atlantic in the non-breeding period. There they occur in highest numbers on the inshore parts of the Bay of Biscay off France, with relatively few venturing northwards to waters off SW England. The species is classified as Critically Endangered (due mostly to pressures on or near their breeding colonies) so it was a pleasure to see three of these birds – they look like a browner and smudgy version of Manx shearwater on the southernmost legs of the survey.

The final shearwater seen was a Baroli shearwater – this smaller bird breeds also on the Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands but visits western Iberia particularly. The Bay of Biscay is at the northern edge of its range. The one bird seen took off from the water on small rounded wings rather like some of the auks at a position almost as far west as the survey went in international waters. We saw another in the northern part of France’s offshore waters.

28 July 2016 – Danish survey successfully completed

By Jonas Teilmann & Signe Sveegaard (Cruise Leaders)

On 24 July, the Danish ship survey on RV Aurora was successfully completed. The weather had not been kind in the early part of the survey so the northern areas had limited coverage but the last week was mostly very good conditions and the southern areas were covered much more comprehensively.

RV Aurora (photo Signe Sveegaard)

RV Aurora (photo: Signe Sveegaard)

For example, on the penultimate day, 23 July, surveying took place in the Great Belt from 05:00 to 22:00 and all effort was in Beaufort 0-1. There were more than 250 sightings of harbour porpoise, so a VERY busy day.

Searching from the Tracker observation platform (photo Signe Sveegaard)

Searching from the Tracker observation platform (photo: Signe Sveegaard)

Primary observers searching (photo Signe Sveegaard)

Primary observers searching (photo: Signe Sveegaard)

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the whole 3 weeks, we travelled a total distance of 2,605 nm during the SCANS-III survey and an additional 187 nm during method comparision surveying in the Great Belt, totalling 2,792 nm – the distance from Nordkapp in Norway to Gibraltar. The total distance spent searching was 1273.3 nm; 50% of this was in sea conditions of Beaufort 0 or 1, 20% was in Beaufort 2 and most of the rest in Beaufort “2.5”. The total number of sightings is still being finalised during data validation – but it is many hundreds.

The success of any cruise relies on many things but especially an enthusiastic and dedicated crew. Our team of observers did a fantastic job.

Scientific team posing in front of their home for the last 3 weeks (photo: Ernst Schriever)

Scientific team posing in front of their home for the last 3 weeks (photo: Ernst Schriever)

Everyone happy to be part of the team (photo: Ernst Schriever)

Everyone happy to be part of the team (photo: Ernst Schriever)

 

 

 

 

 

 

But they are glad to be back after a successful cruise!

Glad to be back! (photo: Ernst Schriever)

Photo: Ernst Schriever

 

28 July 2016 – Spanish cruise finishing tomorrow

By Julio Valeiras and Begoña Santos, Cruise co-ordinators

The Spanish cruise that has covered the southernmost offshore waters of the SCANS-III survey area is finishing tomorrow.  Today we are surveying the last two transects in the Cantabrian Sea and then tomorrow we aim to finish off parts of two transects in the NW block that we weren’t able to survey because of the intense fog ten days ago. Then back to our home port of Vigo.

It’s been a highly successful cruise, not least because of our great crew of 26 people aboard the RV Angeles Alvariño of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO). The team comprised 13 scientists and 13 ship’s crew. The science team line-up was as follows:

Primary observation platform

M.Begoña Santos is the coordinator for the SCANS-III project at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO). She was the cruise coordinator during the first half of the survey. She is the Head of Fisheries at IEO

M.Begoña Santos is the coordinator for the SCANS-III project at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO). She was the cruise coordinator during the first half of the survey. She is the Head of Fisheries at IEO

Julio Valeiras was the cruise coordinator during the second half of the survey. He works as Fisheries Researcher at the Institute of Oceanography (IEO) at Vigo. He has previously participated in many marine research surveys

Julio Valeiras was the cruise coordinator during the second half of the survey. He works as Fisheries Researcher at the Institute of Oceanography (IEO) at Vigo. He has previously participated in many marine research surveys

Xesús Morales is a marine biologist who has participated in research surveys in several ocean basins and has plenty of experience as a marine mammals observer. He knows the cetacean species in the area and has worked with the Galician NGO, CEMMA

Xesús Morales is a marine biologist who has participated in research surveys in several ocean basins and has plenty of experience as a marine mammals observer. He knows the cetacean species in the area and has worked with the Galician NGO, CEMMA

Ruth Esteban is an experienced marine mammal scientist working in the Gibraltar Strait area for the CIRCE organization

Ruth Esteban is an experienced marine mammal scientist working in the Gibraltar Strait area for the CIRCE organization

Antonella Servidio is an experienced marine mammal scientist working in the Canary Islands for the CEAMAR  organization

Antonella Servidio is an experienced marine mammal scientist working in the Canary Islands for the CEAMAR organization

Tracker observation platform

Camilo Saavedra is a marine mammal scientist working at IEO at Vigo. He was in charge of logistics, organization of material, and played a large part in the success of the survey, being the official troubleshooter

Camilo Saavedra is a marine mammal scientist working at IEO at Vigo. He was in charge of logistics, organization of material, and played a large part in the success of the survey, being the official troubleshooter

Antonio Vazquez is an experienced marine mammal scientist working in the Mediterranean and Atlantic waters in Spain for the ALNILAM organization. He was the coordinator of observers and the acoustic expert onboard

Antonio Vazquez is an experienced marine mammal scientist working in the Mediterranean and Atlantic waters in Spain for the ALNILAM organization. He was the coordinator of observers and the acoustic expert onboard

Ana Cañadas is a marine mammal scientist with plenty of experience in the collection and analysis of data using distance sampling methodology in the Mediterranean and other areas and belongs to the ALNILAM organization

Ana Cañadas is a marine mammal scientist with plenty of experience in the collection and analysis of data using distance sampling methodology in the Mediterranean and other areas and belongs to the ALNILAM organization

José Cedeira is a marine mammal scientist with many years of experience as cetologist working in the Galician NGO CEMMA and has participated as a marine mammal observer in many surveys

José Cedeira is a marine mammal scientist with many years of experience as cetologist working in the Galician NGO CEMMA and has participated as a marine mammal observer in many surveys

Ornithologists

Salvador García is a fisheries scientist working at IEO at Málaga. He is a seabird expert and has participated in many research surveys

Salvador García is a fisheries scientist working at IEO at Málaga. He is a seabird expert and has participated in many research surveys

Eduardo López is a fisheries scientist working at IEO in Vigo. He has participated in many research surveys in the NE Atlantic, Mediterranean and NW Altantic

Eduardo López is a fisheries scientist working at IEO in Vigo. He has participated in many research surveys in the NE Atlantic, Mediterranean and NW Altantic

MSc students

Paula Gutiérrez is a MSc student working at IEO in Vigo. She was involved in helping with the observer work and the sampling of water for DNA analyses

Paula Gutiérrez is a MSc student working at IEO in Vigo. She was involved in helping with the observer work and the sampling of water for DNA analyses

Alberto Hernández is a MSc student working at IEO in Vigo. He was involved in the seabird observations and sampling of water for DNA analyses

Alberto Hernández is a MSc student working at IEO in Vigo. He was involved in the seabird observations and sampling of water for DNA analyses

23 July 2016 – Spanish ship survey enters final phase

By Begoña Santos and Julio Valeiras, Cruise co-ordinators

Since the last update on 15 July, the IEO research vessel Ángeles Alvariño has had its mid-cruise stop, finished the remaining transect lines in the NW block 12, and is progressing well in the southern Bay of Biscay block 11.

IEO research vessel Ángeles Alvariño (Julio Valeiras)

IEO research vessel Ángeles Alvariño (Photo: Julio Valeiras)

To date, a total of 1747.8 nm of transect line has been searched on effort, more than 95% of it with both Tracker and Primary observation teams operating.

Searching from the Tracker observation platform (Julio Valeiras)

Searching from the Tracker observation platform (Photo: Julio Valeiras)

Data collection in progress (Julio Valeiras)

Data collection in progress (Photo: Julio Valeiras)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second part of the survey departed Vigo on 16 July.  On 17 July  the first transects in block 11 were surveyed because there were still strong winds in block 12. We then managed to finish the last four transect lines in block 12 over the next two days, despite several miles of fog along two of the transects.

Now in block 11, the survey is progressing well with mostly good weather in the Cantabrian Sea. On Sunday 24 July we will finish the first set of transects in this block and then attempt to complete the second set before the end of the cruise.

Towing the hydrophone off the stern of the ship (Photo: Julio Valeiras)

Towing the hydrophone off the stern of the ship (Photo: Julio Valeiras)

So far we have made a total of 721 sightings of cetaceans!  These include 8 Cuvier’s beaked whales, 499 fin whales, 21 long-finned pilot whales, 11 sperm whales; and 52 striped dolphins, 26 common dolphins, 64 common/striped dolphins, 8 bottlenose dolphins, and 27 unidentified to species.

The long back of a fin whale (Photo: Julio Valeiras)

The long back of a fin whale (Photo: Julio Valeiras)

Survey of Portuguese and Spanish coastal waters completed

by Hélder Araújo (Team leader)

After nearly 4,000 nautical miles flown, 6 days of surveying on effort and rewarded with almost 4,000 animals sighted, Team VII concluded the Iberian Peninsula aerial campaign!!  Ten species of cetaceans were recorded (common dolphin, striped dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, harbour porpoise, pilot whale, Cuvier’s beaked whale, unidentified Mesoplodon, minke whale and fin whale), together with one species of marine turtle (the common turtle Caretta caretta). The final numbers were that we made 376 cetacean sightings with an estimated 3,870 individuals, and six separate sightings of common turtles.

Team VII: (from left to right) Hélder Araújo, Jorge Santos, Marisa Ferreira and pilot Mario Amat

Team VII: (from left to right) Hélder Araújo, Jorge Santos, Marisa Ferreira and pilot Mario Amat

Summer time betrayed us and the windy/foggy conditions made us the last team to fly into action. Nonetheless, team enthusiasm and expectation levels were high and on 5 July we managed our first test flight.  We checked all the equipment and managed successfully to fly some “circle-backs” and the onboard data collection protocols that were new to us worked perfectly. Our flying ace, Mario Amat, caught the circle-back manoeuver at the first attempt … text book style!

Mario and Marisa during a survey

Mario and Marisa during a survey

After a first good day surveying the entire southern part of block A, from Cape São Vicente (the most western point of the continental Europe) to the strait of Gibraltar, we headed north.

Leaving Portimão (Algarve) for an afternoon flight

Leaving Portimão (Algarve) for an afternoon flight

However, with strong wind and severe fog, the only solution was to go as far north as we could.  In the following two days, we covered the whole Spanish Cantabrian region from Cape Finisterrre to the border with France. We found dolphins all over the Cantabrian Sea, and also sharks … hundreds of sharks.

View of the Cantabrian coast line

View of the Cantabrian coast line

And then … Sunday 10 July – this wonderful day when finally we were European football “campeões”!!  But then came the hangover – wind and fog again resulting in three days grounded and waiting for good weather.

By the end of last week, weather conditions were favourable once more and it was time to fly again. We managed to cover the entire west coast of Portugal in two days (14 and 15 July). This last part of our journey featured great diversity and was full of sightings of common dolphins, harbour porpoises near the shore, bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins and pilot whales.

Imagine a world without internet …

By Connor Ryan (observer on Skoven)

One of the enjoyable things about life on a ship for me is the comforting routine: early start, strict times for meals and obligatory coffee time. Our current routine is structured around the marine mammal watch rota which cycles as the days go by to ensure a fair share of “lie-ins” (i.e. a luxurious 07:00 start) and post-meal breaks. This structure might sound mundane but, in fact, it helps us get into a familiar routine and so the idea of 42 days at sea is no longer daunting. Indeed, the days are flying by. Our watch rota comprises 3 hours on station (either on the roof of the ship or on the bow), followed by 1 hour of free-time to rest our eyes, warm-up, load up on caffeine, do some laundry or just have a nap.

Contrary to romantic notions about marine mammal surveys being whale-watching trips, they are actually searching-for-whales expeditions requiring a very high threshold for tolerating boredom. Most of the time we don’t see the animals we are looking for because they are widely dispersed, few and far between and often quite inconspicuous. Scanning a bumpy sea for little bumps or a splashy sea for little splashes (the subtle tell-tale signs of marine mammal presence) is quite demanding. The prospect of seeing something special or rare or new keeps us going, as do thoughts of our next meal which is the most popular topic of conversation.

Because the trackers (folks surveying from the roof) can hear the primaries (those on the bow) via microphone and speakers, someone is always listening out ready to enter data into the computer. Primary observers have been known to list over 40 different food items in a single one-hour watch, which along with the fresh sea air helps build a good hearty appetite. We are very fortunate that the food on board is fantastic and our steward Marianne is doing a Trojan job of feeding all 10 observers and 4 crew, sometimes in rough seas which make for challenging conditions in the galley. For example, I recently learned that over the Rockall Trough, a bowl of potato salad is capable of flying up to 3 metres.

After wind, the bane of our lives is rain. Our sighting buttons, binocular-mounted cameras, microphones and angle-board cameras are all wired in to a computer on the roof. The intricate network of equipment and cables are not rain-proof, so with each shower we must cover and secure everything, including our data recording box (essentially a tree-house without the tree). The box is covered with a blue tarpaulin transforming our data recording area into a cosy Smurf-cave making for rather entertaining blue faces and hands.

Conor in the “smurf cave”, discussing lunch options with the primary observers

Conor in the “smurf cave”, discussing lunch options with the primary observers

My favourite moments each day are those gems prior to (05:45 am) and after (20:30 pm) deploying or retrieving the hyrdrophone. These are the first and last moments of observing the sea for the day, but from a more intimate vantage point: close to sea level from the aft deck. The big inky blue swells roll past and views of the fiery sunrises and sunsets are uninterrupted by masts and radar domes. Fulmars, gannets and shearwaters sometime race in for a closer look. I feel privileged to be surveying such a remote place and observing mammals and seabirds that most people might never see. I noticed that during three days in area about 200 miles northwest of the Hebrides, we did not see a single trace of other humans: no jet trails, no other vessels, no litter.

My day starts and ends with 350m of red cable which links our hydrophone to another blue box, which we call the Sound Lounge. This is a small shipping container on the aft deck which is home to our acoustics computer, buffer box and sound card (collectively referred to as PAM or Pamela for short). Hauling and coiling the hydrophone by hand provides some amount of physical exertion which is welcome when living in a confined space. Tending to monopods while keeping a steady horizon on a camera while the ship pitches and rolls requires some nifty ship-yoga. Despite these decent workouts, most of us try to do some additional routine exercise.

We do have some gym equipment in the bowels of the ship; however the ocean motion has been too much for the treadmill and cycling machine. Instead, many of us opt for cabin exercise or the occasional pull-ups on convenient parts of the ship’s superstructure. When approached diagonally, most cabins have sufficient space for push-ups and sit-ups. Depending on pitching and rolling, these can be quite demanding as you fight some extra gravity. The bunks are very comfy but, being from the Baltic Sea, the ship lacks lee-cloths (to prevent one from falling out of one’s bunk), so I usually adopt the recovery position. It never fails and I always get a good night’s sleep.

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of life at sea is living within our means given our finite resources: the provisions that we took on board in Aberdeen. It forces us to be creative. Becci Jewel recently celebrated her birthday on-board, some 240 miles northwest of Erris Head. Balloons adorned the mess-room, strung together with dental floss and secured using electrical tape (multi-coloured for extra festiveness). We gave her gifts of chocolate, which is very valuable currency out here, lovingly wrapped in data sheets and more festive electrical tape.

After a very good start, we have had a few weather-induced spells of ‘down time’ lately. These are used to catch up on data-validation, reading and philosophising about cheese, toast, biscuits and marmite. These rough weather periods also provide opportunities to tackle some frustrating sources of noise. There is nothing more irritating than the sound of a battery or a deodorant can at large in an otherwise empty drawer; a bolt loose in a bulkhead; a light fixture that resonates with the engine vibration; a loose door latch. The kind of sounds that won’t fade into the background… they are irregular and you find yourself trying to predict the next roll-clunk-roll when really you should be sleeping. The other morning, some weather down-time allowed Susie to identify one such annoying source of noise: a loose socket in a socket-set box in a drawer in a workshop … a victory!

The most routine tasks can be challenging on a rolly-Baltic-ice-breaker. Showering requires a fairly solid foot-bracing stance while having a cup of tea is a serious commitment requiring your full attention. But seriously, what is it like being a SCANS-III observer counting cetaceans on a dry ship over the abyssal plain with a bunch of mad scientists with no internet access, big seas, rain showers, hours and hours with no sightings, long days, occasionally soldering wires while being buffeted by waves? Well, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Every once in a while an incredible encounter with a sperm whale or a beaked whale makes it all worthwhile, as does the knowledge that we are collecting data that will be extremely valuable to inform cetacean conservation measures over the coming decades.

Skoven update: we’re all ears

By Susannah Calderan

The SCANS-III shipboard teams have all eyes on the sea, searching for whales and dolphins. But we’re all ears too, thanks to our passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) equipment. Whilst we’re carrying out visual survey, we are also towing a hydrophone array 350m astern of our vessel, making continuous recordings at a rate of 500,000 samples per second. The array has two pairs of hydrophones covering mid and high frequencies, enabling us to detect the vocalisations of most of the whale and dolphin species we encounter.

Acoustic monitoring is especially useful in poor light or sea conditions, when visual observations are difficult. It is an excellent way of detecting the deep-diving species, which make long dives most of the time and are not often at the surface and available to be seen. They do vocalise, however, and so can be detected on the hydrophone.

A great example of this is the sperm whale, which produces loud, clear “clicks” throughout its dives. These can be detected and localised to investigate the animals’ distribution and density.

Sperm whale - poster child for acoustic research. © Paul French

Sperm whale – poster child for acoustic research. © Paul French

We have also been hearing pilot whales, which produce a range of distinctive clicks and whistles, often very close to the hydrophone. We’re also detecting the whistles and clicks of the smaller dolphin species.

The observer team has been fortunate enough to observe several beaked whales. Their high-frequency, highly directional clicks can be difficult to detect but we hope that in analysis of the acoustic data we will find some in our recordings.

Skoven progress – week 1

By Claire Lacey (Cruise Leader)

Team Skoven had a great start to our survey campaign. We left Aberdeen on 27 June and had a 36 hour passage to the start of our survey transects. One of our tasks on the way was to practice estimating distances to cetaceans seen from the vessel. To do this, we have “Percy” the wooden porpoise which we can cast off from the vessel and compare our distance estimates to a measured position.

Darren and Percy, the wooden porpoise

Darren and Percy, the wooden porpoise

We reached the start of our survey transects early in the morning of the 29 June and were treated to some incredible weather during the first week.  We made excellent progress, finishing the small triangular block 7 quickly and the moving on to block 8 and heading generally southwards.  We recorded eight species of cetacean so far in the first week, as well as a single grey seal!

Many of our fin whale sightings have occurred within the first few hours of us starting in the morning; the combination of calm seas and early morning light have made the blows very visible, and they hang in the air for a long time afterwards.

Fin whale blow (Marijke de Boer)

Fin whale blow (Marijke de Boer)