Gordon Gunter: Wildlife Magnet

October 25, 2015

On this heavily overcast Sunday morning, the Gordon Gunter is in the Great Round Shoal Channel heading for the Newport Naval Station where we will be tying up at Pier 2 this afternoon, marking the end of the 2015 Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey, GU 1506.

We have completed 117 stations for this cruise, with complete coverage of Georges Bank and Southern New England waters, and Mid-Atlantic Bight Coverage as far south as the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.  With the start of the cruise delayed for several days due to Hurricane Joaquin, the southernmost stations near Cape Hatteras, and the northern and central portions of the Gulf of Maine were missed.  Still we were able to sample at 73% of our initial 160 stations, which is remarkable considering the time lost to weather.

We’ve had a very high incidence of land birds coming to the ship for refuge, perhaps because we are in the midst of a migration period for many species.  Our bird observer from the Canadian Wildlife Service, Jeannine Winkel, has been as busy recording and photographing them as she has for the seabirds on this cruise!  The ship’s crew even set up a feeding and watering station for them on deck, in hopes of giving them a chance to recuperate and continue their journey.  Jeannine has documented several species of warblers, several species of sparrows, northern flickers, mourning doves, and a ruby crowned kinglet, to name just a few.

Jeannine Winkle using binoculars to sight birds from the bridge of the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

Jeannine Winkel, our seabird and marine mammal observer from the Canadian Wildlife Service. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA / NMFS

Small birds feeding on ship's deck

Birds feeding on food placed on deck by the ship’s crew during our cruise. Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

Small bird on ship's rail

Blackpoll Warbler, one of many birds hitchiking aboard the vessel during our trip. Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

Interestingly, we are not the only ones on board with an interest in these land birds.  A peregrine falcon also took up residence on the ship for a time, chasing some of the smaller birds for its own meals.

Falcon perched atop ship's upper deck

A Peregrine Falcon made our vessel its home for several days.
Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

Other species besides birds have been documented by our observer.  Humpback whales, a sperm whale, minke whale, and spinner and common dolphins were recorded, as well as both loggerhead and green sea turtles, and even one little brown bat!  These observations were recorded using a headset and microphone hooked up to a laptop using voice recognition software. (Jeannine is wearing this gear in the first photo in our post.)  This way, observers record their sightings directly into a database without taking their eyes off the subjects under observation.  This is standard Canadian Wildlife Service issue hardware to all observers.

Slender, leaping dolphins

Common dolphins approaching the Gordon Gunter to ride the bow wave.
Photo by Jeannine Winkel, Canadian Wildlife Service

On an education front, the decorated Styrofoam manikin head from The Prout School in Wakefield, RI was removed yesterday from its niche under the Niskin bottle rosette.  After undergoing 25 immersions, some down to 500 m, it emerged compressed to a fraction of its former size to produce a graphic illustration of the effect of water pressure at depth for students in the oceanography class.

two manikin heads, one compressed by ocean water pressure

Styrofoam manikin heads before and after submersions down to 500 meters. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA / NMFS

Since the cruise will be ending in a few hours, this will be my final update.  I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the entire crew and command for all the help and support they’ve given us while we were out here.  I can’t say enough about the effort that our Chief Steward Margaret Coyle and Second Cook, Paul Acob put into the fantastic meals we have had every day.

Ship's galley with kitchen staff

Margaret Coyle, Chief Steward, and Paul Acob, 2nd Cook, in the Gordon Gunter galley. Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NOAA / NMFS

And finally to my five colleagues who collected all the data and samples we’ve gathered over these past two weeks, thank you very much!  You’ve all worked very hard and have traveled from Texas, Canada, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to be part of this expedition.  I hope it’s been a good experience for everyone!

Jerry Prezioso, Chief Scientist for the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey, GU 1506.

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