22 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 24, Marine Birds

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August 20- Day 24

Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

Brian has the best job on the entire boat. From sunrise to sunset he gets to sit up in the bridge (the top of the ship where the Captain is) looking for marine birds and mammals. Brian has a computer that is connected to a GPS unit, so whenever he sees an animal, he can mark the exact location. So far on this trip he has seen many types of birds including the  Black-footed albatross,  four different types of Shearwaters, storm-petrels, Cook’s petrel, Common and Arctic Terns, and the rare Xantus’ Murrelet.

Birdwatcher Bryan

Birdwatcher Brian


Black Footed Albatross

The Black-footed albatross are known to roam widely over the Pacific Ocean, and never touch land except to raise chicks. They nest on small islands like some of the remote Hawaiian Islands and Midway Island. All types of albatross are considered threatened because of  long-line fishing. The albatross will see a fish on the line, eat it, and get stuck on the bait, which results in them drowning. Seeing them here in the Pacific Ocean is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem.


Leech's Storm Petrel

Leech’s Storm Petrel

Xentus Murrielet

Xentus Murrielet

Leech’s Storm Petrel and Xantus Murrelets are two birds that seem to be attracted to the lights on this boat. They land on the boat, but then have a really difficult time taking off from the hard, flat surface. Normally these two types of birds spend their entire lives on the water, only going to land to breed on cliffs, so they can fall of the cliff to get the momentum they need for take off. They just aren’t built for taking off from a boat so get stuck.  In the mornings, Brian is kind enough to go around the ship to ensure that none have landed on the ship, and help those that have fly off the side of the ship by essentially throwing them off the boat!


There have also been a many types of mammals seen on this trip including Fin whales, Common dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Northern fur seals, Sei whales, and half a dozen other whales that were too far away to identify.

Fin Whale

Fin Whale

Normally when one goes whale watching, one is lucky if you see a whale spout in the far distance. The spout is the moist warm air the whale breathes out when it surfaces. A couple days ago we had two Fin whales that not only came up for air, but circled the boat checking us out. We were able to identify them as Fin whales because of their unique coloration and the position of the dorsal fin in relation to the blowhole. Fin whales are very interesting because they haven’t been hunted commercially since they are found so far off-shore. They are a baleen whales, which means that they filter their food through brush-like bristles called baleen. They take a big mouthful of water and filter out all of the zooplankton to feed on. They prefer large zooplankton, such as krill.

Flying Dolphins

Flying Common Dolphins

We have been very lucky to see lots of common dolphins on this trip. They play in water and we have been seen in pods (groups of dolphins) as large as 150 dolphins with all different sizes. They were on the front (which we are studying) where we are finding the highest concentration of plankton and fish.

Part of this study is to look at where large animals, including whales, dolphins and birds are located. If there is an area with a  lot of zooplankton, there should be a lot of fish feeding on that zooplankton, and there should be a lot of larger animals such as whales and birds feeding on those fish. Brian will be able to help us make connections with the plankton data that we have collected to show how the formation of fronts affects the entire food web from something as small as a phytoplankton to something as large as a blue whale.


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