HICEAS 2010 Oscar Elton Sette: Week 1 report

The HICEAS (Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey) project is a collaborative study between the SWFSC and PIFSC branches of NOAA.  The general idea is to survey the entire Hawaiian EEZ and estimate abundance for all cetacean species present.  We’re also looking at seabirds and oceanographic features.  There are two ships involved; the McArthur II and the Oscar Elton Sette share ~160 sea days between them.  The “MacII” left San Diego in early August and is currently about halfway through their 2nd leg while the “Sette” left Honolulu about a week ago.  I’m on the Sette, and this is my report from our first week of effort. 

So far the weather has been more or less as expected, with scattered showers and trade winds blowing constantly out of the ENE between 15-20 knots.  This makes for challenging viewing conditions which, when coupled with the relatively thin soup of tropical oceans, gives us a pretty slow sighting rate averaging just over two per day.  Some highlights include Bryde’s whales  every day for the first four days out, including a couple pairs that were chasing each other (and us) around.  In addition to the handful of “unid dolphins” that were too far to approach with the ship, we’ve had two rough-toothed dolphin groups, at least two pantropical spotted dolphin  groups, one pod of pilot whales, and four sperm whale sightings.  I was lucky to be out in the small boat helping test the towed acoustic array when one of the sperm whale groups showed up, so after the on-effort observers got their count we were able to approach and get a couple biopsies. 

The birding is pretty good out here too, especially if you like tropical pelagic species.  Bulwer’s petrels, wedge-tailed shearwaters, red-footed boobies, sooty and short-tailed shearwaters, Newell’s shearwaters, Cook’s petrels, Hawaii petrels, tropicbirds, frigatebirds, jaegers, and even a south polar skua have all been seen (and I’m sure I’m forgetting more than a few species). 

During the evening CTD cast some of the scientists have been shining lights into the ocean to attract little fish so we can catch them.  This has been fairly challenging since the Sette isn’t really set up for easy dipnetting (not to mention the weather) but we’ve managed to catch some of the biggest myctophids I’ve ever seen as well as the grand prize of dipnetters – a probable Cheilopogon spilonotopterus or what we call a purple-winged flyingfish.

Here’s a little gallery from the first week including our ship, our ship avoiding a squall, a curious Bryde’s whale (the Klingons of the cetacean world), some sperm whale chasing, and some dipnetting action.  All photos were taken under permit #14097



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