HICEAS 2010 Oscar Elton Sette: Week 3 report

Another week has come to a close, and what a week it’s been!  This has been our busiest so far, with island stops, circumnavigations, small boat work, big boat work, array work… the whole deal. 

When I left off last time we were on our way to Midway Island, which for history buffs like me is kind of a big deal.  In June of 1942, Midway’s the place where the United States went from losing battles against the Japanese to winning them.  It’s also a big deal for marine bio dorks, since it’s home to all sorts of bird and marine life.  Up to this point in the cruise we knew we were heading to Midway but we also knew we weren’t going to have a chance to get off the boat and check it out, but halfway through our circumnavigation our Chief Scientist informed us that we would indeed get two hours of shore leave in the afternoon.  It’s not like morale was low before that, but morale went through the roof with that news.  Morale spiked even further when we found out that Midway is one of the only places in the Monument to allow fishing, and we managed to catch two large ono and two even bigger ahi almost immediately after putting the lines in.  Sashimi anyone?  Anyways, before our shore leave we had to finish our work, and that meant more B.U.R.P. deployments near the beaked whales (Cuvier’s and mystery mesoplodons again) that seemed to pop up everywhere.  Eventually it was time to pull in the array and start shuttling people ashore in the small boat.  The big question was: what do we do on Midway for two hours? 

Some of us wanted to swim and snorkel, others wanted to wander around and look at the local birds, others were interested in hitting the bar.  All three sounded like good ideas so we had to work fast!  On our way in we noticed the M/V Kahana in the harbor.  LOST fans will recognise this ship as the “freighter” that blew up in season 4, but it was more of a homecoming for J.C. and I, as we spent many weeks on the Kahana during a Marianas Island marine mammal survey in early 2007. 

After a quick introduction to Midway by the FWS people it was a quick walk through the old seaplane base and “town” (birds outnumber humans here about a zillion to one; white terns and Bonin petrels nest everywhere) to North Beach for some tropical paradise action.  To our dismay the bar was closed but the Kahana crew was happy to donate a few to the cause.  All too quickly our two hours were up and we returned to the Sette quite happy after our shore leave. 

The day after Midway was our circumnavigation of Kure Atoll, which was equally exciting for history and marine dorks like myself.  I spent the morning in the small boat and our mission was to try and biopsy one of the fat, chunky, and short beaked spinners that had been reported hanging out with the local group.  Maybe they were hybrids with bottlenose?  It’s still a mystery because we never saw them, but that didn’t stop us from getting some photos and biopsies of the rest of the group.  While we were in the lagoon we also came across some monk seals doing their beachmaggot thing.  These guys are endemic to the Hawaiian archipelago and their numbers are in the low thousands (or high hundreds?) and dropping, so NOAA has field crews on these remote islands that are trying to understand more about the species, their needs, and their threats.  But back to the cetaceans: the big ship circumnavigation didn’t yield many beakers, but we did end the day with a large group of sperm whales. 

After Kure we had a couple of days of normal trackline business-as-usual before we did our final circumnavigation of Lisianski Atoll and Pioneer Bank.  The transits and our circle gave up sperm whales, pilot whales, and another Bryde’s whale that was working a hapless school of baitfish that was also under assault by nearly 700 wedge-tailed shearwaters and a large school of tuna. We also drove by a wayward Fish Aggregating Device buoy (giving new meaning to “passing fad”) and got to poke our noses into uncharted waters in the area.  Yarrr!

The bird life out here is as impressive as always, with all of the usual suspects present and accounted for, often in great numbers.  Bonin petrels are everywhere when we’re close to the islands, and It’s amazing to see the short-tailed shearwaters migrating from the Bering Sea to Australia; on some days they would be flying by in flocks of thousands every few minutes!  Back in April when I was on the Sette in between Hawaii and Guam we saw these very same birds on their way north for the summer.  The ciiiiircle of liiiiiiife!  

Finally, I must acknowledge the suffering of the poor acousticians on board.  The first array that they were using was nothing but headaches so sometime in the 2nd week they gave up on it and started using the backup array.  Unfortunately for them, something toothy decided to take a bite out of it and now it’s also in critical condition, leaking water, threatening to corrode away.  They’ve used up almost all of their epoxy for splicing so with any luck this last splice and patch will hold for the last week.  On second thought, if we’re not towing the array we can turn the boat and chase things effectively without worrying about their precious array.  Hmm. 

We have one more week to go before we hit the beach.  It sounds like our path will take us close to Nihoa, then north of Kauai before we head to Kona to retrieve a HARP, then it’s back to land for some well earned R&R.

In other news, I’m in the finals of the dart tournament!  All that Scottish pub time finally paid off.



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