Speed 2.5 knots (kts)
Location 72.48° N, 139.78° W
Depth 2974 meters
SPECIAL FEATURE DISCUSSION:
(see previous journal for the questions.)
Salt water has a lower freezing point than fresh water. Typical sea water freezes around -1.5° C (about 29° C).
The Mackenzie River brings fresh water into the southern Beaufort Sea. So in addition to warming the water, the river also lowers the salinity (salt content.)
There are a lot of acronyms floating around on this trip and one very important one is MMO. That stands for Marine Mammal Observer and we have a team of 3 MMOs on the expedition. They rotate shifts around the clock up on the bridge keeping an eye out for whales, seals, and polar bears. Each MMO stands a 4 hour watch followed by 8 hours off, and will work two such cycles in a day. Our MMOs are contractors from Marine Resource Assessment Group Americas which provides trained wildlife observers who serve on fishing and research boats. Justin, Sarah, and Kwasi form our team of MMOs (though Sarah & Kwasi will switch over to the Louis S. St. Laurent when we meet up.) I discovered that Justin has spent over 1000 days at sea as a fisheries and mammal observer, and that Sarah has spent nearly 300 days at sea on this job.
Justin & Sarah, two of our Marine Mammal Observers, on watch up in the bridge on USCG Cutter Healy.
On fishing boats an observer job entails monitoring and documenting protected species interactions such as encounters with sea turtles or seabirds. They keep track of what is being caught and the bycatch (fish unintentionally caught and discarded), where they are being caught, and with what gear. Part of the job is also to document compliance with fishing rules and limits but the observers don't enforce the regulations.
On our cruise we aren't fishing but we do want to keep track of any marine mammals encountered. There are guidelines for operating seismic equipment near marine mammals for their protection, and we will shut down and/or divert far around marine mammals while doing seismic surveys. It is also important to survey wildlife this far north as routine monitoring coverage here is quite sparse. Whenever a marine mammal is sighted, the MMO on watch records the identity, location and behavior of the animal. They also record weather and location information every hour or whenever a significant change occurs.
Another member of the lookout crew is Ralph, an Iñupiaq community observer from Barrow, AK who is on board to compliment the MMOs. The Iñupiaq rely on marine mammal resources such as whales and seals as they have for thousands of years so they have a vested interest in monitoring efforts. Ralph reports back times and positions of whale and seal sightings along with ice conditions and movement as we cruise north of Alaska and Canada. After Sarah and Kwasi go on board the Canadian Icebreaker Ralph & Justin will split the observing watches.
Yesterday, there were two polar bear sightings by MMOs. I was asleep for the first one, but just after noon the phone back in the computer lab rang to report a polar bear being seen from the bridge. I got permission to head up from the stern of the ship (which required a brisk walk about 300 feet forward and 5 decks up) and fortunately, the bear was still in sight when I got there. It was a fair distance from the ship, maybe 500 meters out, but there was no doubt about what it was. Seeing a polar bear was right at the top of my wish list for the trip and I was thrilled to see such a magnificent animal out in the drifting ice of the Beaufort Sea. As it moved away from the boat it would jump into the open leads, swim across, and climb back onto another ice floe with total grace.
A white bear on an icy sea can be hard to spot, but Kwasi, one of our MMOs, was up to the task. Can you spot the polar bear in this picture?
A zoomed-in picture of the polar bear that was seen yesterday in the Beaufort Sea northwest of the Mackenzie River.
Why can polar bears be considered marine mammals if they aren't a type of seal or whale?
Do you think polar bears should be considered marine mammals?
That's all for now! Best- Bill