Transmission Location: At sea, 30 miles SW of Southwest Cape, (sample station SEC1.5), St Lawrence Island. Lat/Long: 62deg 49 min N/170 deg 38 min W (grid 62.82). Time: 0915. Temperature: ?0.5 dgF, Wind: 17.8 mph from NW. Wind Chill: ?22 dgF. Scattered clouds @ 1000ft. Sunrise: 9:15 AM, Sunset: 9:41 PM. Ice: New ice- Nilas/Young-/2-6”. Ship’s log by Tom Litwin, scientist profiles by Tom Walker.
Laysan albatross forgage in Bering sea “hot spots”. Photo Credit: Tamara Zeller, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The desk I’m writing at is actually a chart table in the back corner of the Bridge. Besides being a “corner office” with sweeping views of the Bering Sea, it’s also a window on the life of the ship. I have the privilege of being a fly on the wall, seeing and hearing the rhythms of shipboard life, the exchanges and conversations, the ups and downs. The contrasting personalities are my favorite, watching two different sets of people going through their days.
Kathy Kuletz is a soft-spoken wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Daily she stands patiently by the portside windows, binoculars in hand, laptop by her side, recording the seabirds observed while we re-position to a new station. She is seeing mostly murres and kittiwakes. The three laysan albatrosses she saw quickly appeared then disappeared into the clouds. Visitors come and go, chatting, as she spends up to three vigilant hours on watch. Kathy is part of a bigger team that is finding that not all areas of the Being Sea are equal for seabirds. The waters around the Pribilof and Bogoslof Islands, and the break between the continental shelf and Aleutian Basin, are “hot spots.” Belying her quiet patience is a person who commercially fished for 6 years with her husband, worked on the Exxon Valdez oil spill clean-up as a biologist, and chose to get her PhD at age 52. Don’t confuse quiet with meek. Since I can’t see her corner from my desk I get up and look. Kathy is still there, but you wouldn’t know it without seeing her.
The Healy’s Chief Boatswain Mate, Wayne Kidd Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
Then there is Chief Boatswain Mate Wayne Kidd. There is no guessing where BMC Kidd is on the Bridge. Just listen for the singing. From the sea shanty, “we’re bound for the ice boys, look ahead for the ice boys” to “I’m a Barbie girl….” CBM Kidd is not hard to find. He is a “waterspout of knowledge” on ship operations and maritime history. For instance, early boats had a steering board that served as a rudder, typically attached to the right side of the ship. With time, the right side of a boat became known as the starboard. If you tied the boat with the right side to the dock, the steering board would be crushed. So the left side was tied to the dock, the side toward the port. The left side of a boat became known as the port side. It’s fun that he shares his knowledge, sometimes in booming voice, with enthusiasm. “There is no school for how to break ice, so us old timers need to pass on that knowledge.”
Kidd, 43, has been in the Coast Guard for 17 years, four of which have been breaking ice on the Healy. He is standing this watch in his capacity as Officer of the Deck, which gives him the authority to operate the ship and break ice. An interesting journey for someone born and raised in landlocked Louisville, Kentucky. But his most complicated job is as Chief Boatswain Mate which oversees all deck operations including small boat and bridge operations, and the Aviation Detachment. You can’t find or study spectacled eider or walrus with a 420 ft. ship, so the Bell Long Ranger Helicopter that Kidd’s division supports becomes a critical research tool. Our conversation abruptly ends when the Bridge is notified that a “helo” eider reconnaissance flight is preparing to launch and CBM Kidd has to focus all his attention on that operation.
An important reseach tool, the “helo” is prepared for an early morning launch. Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
Coming Next: Finding walrus, tagging walrus. And, heading out to Gambell, St. Lawrence Island.
Scientist of the Day: Jim Lovvorn, Ecologist
Jim lovvorn retuning from the ice and thousands of eiders. Photo Credit: Tom Litwin
Ecologist Jim Lovvorn, 55, was born and raised near Atlanta, Georgia. In high school he participated in theater, tennis, basketball, and sang in choir. He still loves to sing and is a fan of jazz guitarist, Ralph Towner of the group Oregon. The National Geographic and the books and projects of Jacques Cousteau, “especially his development of ‘inhabited ocean stations’ that were like space stations on the sea bottom,” sparked Jim’s interest in marine science. After a brief stint as a music major at the University of Georgia, Lovvorn switched to zoology. He paid his way through college with work in a furniture factory, in retail, and in construction, sometimes working two jobs at once. Beginning with graduate school, Jim found himself with less and less time for recreation, but found the book, Song for the Blue Ocean, influential because of its lyrical style.
Jim was awarded his PhD at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and continued his studies at the University of British Columbia where he worked with captive diving birds. Lovvorn recently left the University of Wyoming, at Laramie, and this autumn is moving to a new position at Southern Illinois University. Jim enjoys teaching, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. “Teaching informs research, and research informs teaching,” he says. For students he offers these comments: “Knowledge doesn’t come from a book, anymore than food comes from a grocery store. Without research, 20 years from now we’d be working on a body of knowledge that would likely be wrong. The demands and sacrifices required of a research scientist are great. You must work hard academically from the very beginning. You must develop math and chemistry skills, and learn to write. Success will depend on this ability to write.”
Focus on spectacled eider, a threatened species
Spectacled eider. Photo Credit: Laura Whitehouse, USFWS
Spectacled eiders are diving ducks that spend much of the year at sea where they feed on bottom dwelling clams, worms and crustaceans. Adult males in both winter and spring plumage sport a black chest, white back, and pale green head with a long, sloping forehead. Around the eyes are distinctive patches which resemble eyeglasses, or spectacles. After the summer molt, males are garbed in plain brown plumage. Females and juveniles are a mottled brown year round with tawny eye patches. Rather than quacking, the drake's call is a weak crooning, with the female's a harsh croak.
These birds traditionally nested along coastal Alaska, from the Alaska Peninsula in the southwest, north to Barrow, and east to near the Yukon border. In Alaska there are two primary nesting grounds—the central coast of the Yukon Kuskokwim River Delta and the arctic coastal plain of Alaska. A few pairs also nest on St. Lawrence Island. Russia’s arctic coastal plain supports an estimated 40,000 nesting pairs, but that number may be inaccurate. Between the 1970’s and the 1990’s, the breeding population on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta declined by over 96%, with only about 4,000 pairs currently nesting there. This decline prompted the U.S. Government to list spectacled eiders as a threatened species.
The entire world’s population of spectacled eider winters in the bering sea. Photo Credit: Erika Engelhaupt, Environmental Science & Technology
The whereabouts of spectacled eiders in fall and winter was virtually unknown until 1995 when scientists using satellite tracking devices made a major discovery. Large flocks of spectacled eiders—the entire world’s population—were located over-wintering in openings of nearly continuous sea ice, called polynyas, in the Bering Sea between St. Lawrence and St. Matthew islands. The sea floor there is about 180 feet deep and supports large populations of bivalves that the ducks dive to feed on. Winter surveys in the Bering Sea, which includes non breeding birds, indicate a worldwide population of about 350,000.
Complex changes in the Bering Sea ecosystem may be affecting food availability for spectacled eiders during their months at sea. Recent research reveals that eiders are feeding primarily on three types of clams. Changes in sea ice may result in a significant reduction in clam populations due to the decline in production of algae that they feed on. Already a change in water chemistry has resulted in increased acidification that softens and dissolves clam shells. Jim Lovvorn is studying the ecology of spectacled eiders. His work on the Healy, in part, focuses on the invertebrate diet of spectacled eiders. He takes a systems approach, trying to gather enough information to determine how much food eiders need to survive, the health of the prey base, and how it affects the birds. “I’m working to model the system so that we can understand it. We need to define and identify the critical habitat for this species and predict how it will change over time.”
Eiders require both open water and ice for overwintering. Photo Credit: Erika Engelhaupt, Environmental Science & Technology
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Monday, 23 March 2009 22:38
Contrasts, helicopter operations, and eidersWritten by Tom Litwin: On Thin Ice
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