Dec 18 2014

Unusual Species Highlight West Coast Cetacean and Ecosystem Survey

dolphins

The research ship Ocean Starr returned to San Diego Wednesday, completing NOAA Fisheries’ first comprehensive survey of whales, dolphins and porpoises and the marine ecosystem off the West Coast in six years. Highlights of the four-month survey included unusual marine mammals and birds drawn by warm ocean conditions, and the first offshore tests of an innovative new system for remotely counting marine mammals through sound.

“You don’t know what you will find until you are out on the ship, which is what makes it so important,” said Jay Barlow, chief scientist of the California Current Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey that stretched from California north to Washington. “This has been a very interesting and surprising survey because we’ve seen species we wouldn’t expect, which gives us information about their distribution as well as about current ocean conditions.”

The Survey led by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center identifies and counts cetaceans, seabirds and marine turtles using high-powered binoculars and towed listening arrays. The team also uses a series of specialized nets and oceanographic sampling gear to survey microorganisms that provide important clues about ocean conditions as well to monitor the physical environment through which the ship is traveling. In some cases researchers take tiny biopsies from whales and dolphins for genetic studies of population structure, foraging habits and health.

Scientists use the survey results to assess numbers of whales and dolphins and trends in their abundance, which helps determine the degree of protection the species may need.

Unusual species sighted included pygmy killer whales seen for the first time off California and warm-water seabirds such as band-rumped storm petrels seen for the first time in the Northeast Pacific. The survey also sighted sei, blue, fin, humpback, killer and short-finned pilot whales. In one instance the crew could hear a particularly loud chorus of singing humpback whales in the open air on deck.

The abundance of sei whales was a surprise, with more sightings of this species than the last five surveys combined from 1991 to 2008.

The Survey included the first offshore tests of the Drifting Acoustic Spar Buoy Recorder (DASBR), a pioneering system developed at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center to record the calls and other sounds of marine mammals while drifting the open ocean. Crews recover the DASBRs by following a GPS beacon and later acoustic analysis can distinguish the number and density of different species of marine mammals in surrounding waters.

The successful launch and recovery of several DASBRs over the course of the survey helps pave the way for longer-term deployment of the devices that cost less than $5,000 each. DASBRs drift in the open ocean and avoid the engine noise of similar arrays towed behind ships. That allows them to collect more data at a lower cost, supplementing traditional surveys that require expensive ship operations.

More information can be found on the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and  California Current Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey web sites.

View San Diego ABC Channel 10 News The previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries Disclaimer and CBS Channel 8 News The previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries Disclaimer  reports on the California Current Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.

A selection of photographs The previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries Disclaimer from the four-month West Coast cetacean and ecosystem survey can be viewed on flickr.com.

 


Read original post here.

Leave a Reply