Marianas Summer Cetacean Survey

For the past six weeks or so I took part in a small boat-based cetacean survey of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.  Here are some photos of the trip.  All photos of marine mammals were taken under permit #14097.

Flying out of San Juan Island and seeing Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan looming over Seattle.  

My K2 teammate Holly picked me up in Honolulu in the Team Lambo.  
Made it to Guam.  After getting rained out for the first couple of days we hit the water in search of dolphins, whales, sea turtles, fish, birds, and pirate treasure.
We found some short-finned pilot whales Globicephala macrorhyncus
I was hoping to find more of these guys but they were few and far between.  Matsudara’s storm petrel Oceanodroma matsudairae
Our boat captains were all fishing charter guys and could not believe we didn’t want drag a full spread behind us.  We compromised with two lines and caught and released this blue marlin.  
Erik and John leader and release the beast!
Other species, like this wahoo, ended up on the dinner table.
The Hagatna boat basin is guarded by a fickle reef break.  It was firing for the first week of our stay but the surfers among us had to settle for mind-surfing.
Anderson AFB is on the northern end of Guam.  It’s one of the only B-52 bases left.
It’s also a good place to do a land-based survey.
A typhoon got the best of “Old 100” and she rests in pieces in the jungle.
Speaking of jungle, a few of us decided to go on a boonie stomp one afternoon.  Erik’s hoping there are no sketchy parasites or crocodiles or hippos or man-eating trout on Guam.
There were no dangerous creatures to be found so we had to thrill ourselves with an equally sketchy ropeswing.
After about 10 days on Guam, we went up to Saipan.  We spent one morning looking around at a few land-based lookouts like Banzai Cliffs, the site were Japanese soldiers and family jumped to their deaths instead of surrendering to the invading American troops back in 1944
Japanese cars also suffered at the hands of the American invaders.  We drove through this puddle on the way to a cave, and on the way out I noticed a piece of vehicle floating in the puddle that wasn’t there before.  “Yep, it’s from a Nissan…”
Safely back on salt water, we continued the search for elusive cetaceans but were distracted by birds like this white-tailed tropicbird Phaethon lepturus
and a red-tailed tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda
Juvenile brown booby Sula leucogaster
Oh look, what’s that hiding in the distance?  A small group of pygmy killer whales Feresa attenuata.  These guys never let us get closer than this.  How annoying. 
Luckily the spinner dolphins Stenella longirostris were much friendlier.  
There were a lot of these pink-wingers flying about.  Flyingfishus rosaptera?
We had one really awesome flat day.  We were all hoping for beakers, but had to settle for this dwarf sperm whale Kogia sima
We also had two sightings of the same group of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus.
Uncle Ben and Uncle Manny were our Captains on Saipan.  Here, Uncle Manny helps us crack open a coconut.  
And then Uncle Manny and Uncle Ben cleaned up our dinner.
We spent about a week on Saipan then headed down to Rota, the smallest and least populated of the main CNMI.  Song Song is the main town.  Our hotel is the blocky bluish building in the far left. 
The shopping selection on Rota was pretty slim but there was enough all-around sarsa to cover everything.
There is a large bird colony on the east side of Rota.  Boobies, noddies, tropicbirds, and all sorts of other flappy things call this place home.
Red footed booby Sula sula flyby
Birds are fun but we were there for these guys.  More short-finned pilot whales
There were some distinctive animals in the group and all were named immediately so we could remember who we sampled and who we still had to get.  “Chop Top” was an obvious starting point.  
More wahoo for dinner.
Part of our catch after one day of trolling, I mean… survey effort.  Inas and I are excited thinking about the sashimi, kelaguen, and tempura options that await these wahoo.  Yes, our boat was the “Mister Shit”.  Don’t ask.  
Rota was a very picturesque tropical paradise, much more so than Guam or Saipan.
The town of Song Song is in between the “wedding cake” on the left and the main part of Rota on the right.
Just like Guam and Saipan, spinners were our bread and butter.  The main difference between the Guam/CNMI spinners and the spinners that I’m used to off Hawaii is the Hawaiian ones like to rest in calm bays and these guys thought it’d be fun to hang out in choppiest tidal mess they could find, which made our driving/photographing/sampling quite difficult.
Ooh look, something shiny!
The Rota harbor is tiny and the Super Shuttle takes up most of it.  It only comes in a few times a month and brings virtually everything to re-supply the island.
Ok now we’re back on Saipan.  Allan downloads the GPS while I guard a plate of wahoo sashimi that Mark prepared.  
There were many collared kingfishers Todirhamphus chloris near our house on Saipan.  Here’s one on the telephone wire outside our house.
And another in a breadfruit tree across the street.
back to the spinner dolphins again
Our last week or so on Saipan was dominated by this kind of weather, but if whales and dolphins can swim about in the rain, we can too.  Mark doesn’t seem to mind.
Looks like we’ll just get numbers and not worry about photographs today.  
The fish bit rain or shine.  To our knowledge, no test kittens suffered any ill effects from the barracuda.  
Sam, the boat owner, had a big birthday party while we were there and we somehow got an invite.  Here’s part of the spread.
The rest was waiting outside.
These guys were not on the menu.
Pilot whales off Tinian on our last survey day!  That made one pilot whale sighting for each of the main islands of the CNMI and Guam.  
The last encounter with the pilot whales had some somber undertones.  The video below should show why:

After our last day on the water we visited Uncle Manny’s farm before we flew out.  He’s growing pigs, chickens, and pretty much every tropical fruit and vegetable you can imagine.
Uncle Ben catches a papaya
He also had a nest of the Bridled White-eye Zosterops conspicillatus which is endemic to the Marianas.  The little chicks had just fledged and were fluttering about the bushes while the parents made a racket.  
More bananas!  
And sugarcane.  
And then, after a forage-feast at the farm, it was time to head back to the island I (kind of) call home.  Four flights and 28-ish hours of travel later and I’m on approach to San Juan Island.

Thanks to Allan, Mark, Erik, Marie, and Erin for being excellent co-workers, Capts. John, Manny, Ben, Inas, and Ray for keeping us afloat, and SWFSC, PIFSC, HDR, and the US Navy for providing permits, funding, and logistical support for this effort.  With any luck we’ll do it again next year!












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