A researcher holds up a krill from the sampling station on the NOAA research vessel Fulmar. (Photo by Jason Jaacks)
by Jason Jaacks BAY NATURE on September 29, 2014
An orca glides beneath the research vessel. (Photo by Jason Jaacks)
Twelve feet above the Pacific Ocean on the flying bridge of the research vessel Fulmar, Jason Thompson, a volunteer observer with Point Blue Conservation Science, sits at the alert, eyes glued to his binoculars. It’s eerily calm – no wind, hardly any swell and no fog – a perfect day for conducting research. Out here, halfway between the Golden Gate and the Farallon Islands, the water and the sky seem to mirror each other. It’s so quiet that I can perfectly hear the words as Thompson mutters them. “There’s an orca,” he says. …. A black fin rises from the water and the excited conversations suddenly go quiet. The killer whale, a big male, is coming right at us. The fin dips back under the water and the orca glides like a ghost underneath the boat, its white markings tinted aquamarine by the glassy ocean. It surfaces again near the stern, as if wondering what we’re doing out here, before it dips back underwater and disappears. For a moment, nobody says a word. Then the engine roars to life, the boat swings in the water, and we motor again toward the Farallon Islands, which rise like a row of cracked teeth in the distance. For the past decade, NOAA and Point Blue Conservation, along with a few other organizations, have partnered on the Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies, or ACCESS, to study the ocean waters just west of the Bay Area. The project has focused on everything from ocean acidification and its affect on zooplankton to the distribution of marine wildlife…..
The challenge of counting whales is no easy endeavor. But for those who do, the science is more like an art, set against the vast backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.
By Joe Rosato Jr. NBC Thursday, Sep 25, 2014 • Updated at 7:00 PM PDT
The research boat glided through the relatively smooth waters of the Golden Gate Strait, past the churning waters known to fishermen as the “potato patch,” and off toward the Farallon Islands. A slew of researchers fashioned long, lanky nets to a pulley and tested long cylindrical sensors to dip into the Pacific, measuring temperature and elements. The nets would haul in samples of krill, the tiny, preferred prey of whales and sea birds. “We use acoustic methods to estimate krill abundance,” said Jaime Jahncke, a scientist from Point Blue Conservation [Science]. A dozen researchers from NOAA, Point Blue and the Cordell-Bank National Marine Sanctuary scurried around the boat, taking up posts on the upper deck armed with binoculars. The trip marked the group’s 40th similar expedition in 10 years, taking samples and attempting to count birds and mammals along strips of ocean in the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary…..”The number of whales we have seen the last three years,” Jahncke said, “is several times greater than the number of whales we saw when we started.” The group’s research has helped sanctuary managers develop policies and regulations aimed at protecting the sanctuary’s aquatic life. In June, the Coast Guard used the research to reroute shipping lanes off the Bay Area coast to avoid migrating whale routes. Jahncke has also helped develop the Whale Alert app which allows the public to record whale sightings. “We’re building a network of citizen scientists,” Jahncke said, “that can help us collect information of where the whales are.”