My first day aboard the RV Pelican!

LADC-GEMM 2017 Survey

Written by: Alexandria Hahn

Edited by: Amy Whitt

June 8, 2017

It is Day 1, and I cannot believe I am actually aboard the RV Pelican in Louisiana and waiting for the vessel to leave the dock. I am nervous because this is my first time away from home but also my first time at sea! I graduated from high school last week, and I was reluctant to agree to go on this cruise, but this is what I want to do with my life, so why not start now?

As we leave the dock, I feel my nerves begin to calm, and I think I am ready to begin this journey. The crew is super nice and helpful, and the scientists are all eager to get to know each other and begin work. Our bunks are small but large enough for us to sleep and get around. The galley, or mess, is nice, and there are plenty of snacks and goodies to keep everyone happy. I am particularly excited about the freezer full of ice cream! The cook, Jerome, is great so meal times have been a real treat.

So far, I have not experienced any sea sickness; the seas have been very nice to us. My first night sleeping was odd because I continued to wake up at weird hours, but that was probably just because I had to get used to the new sounds and movement of the ship. I like to wake up early for a cup of coffee and a little breakfast, so I am usually in the galley by 6:15 am, and then work starts at 7:00 am for us visual observers. We occasionally have science team meetings where we (the marine mammal observation team) meet with all of the other teams on board to relay information. I enjoy these meetings because I am trying to figure out where I fit in in the marine science world. I have found that I love watching for marine mammals, but I also love watching the readings for salinity and temperature change as the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth recorder) is deployed into the water. Understanding how all of the teams work together with their information is something that I am loving, especially because everyone is getting along so well.

The men on board are so funny because when they see fish, they can’t help but throw their lines in the water. They have caught four mahi mahi, also called dolphinfish, so far, and we had them for dinner last night. It’s the small, fun things like this that make this cruise even more interesting and enjoyable!

I have been staying up late which is cool because I’ve gotten to see the change from the daily crew to the night crew which means that I have also gotten to know other scientists and crew members and their schedules on the ship. I find it particularly funny how there are some people that you instantly click with and get along with throughout the cruise, while others stay quiet and do their own thing. Luckily, there has been no tension as everyone has gotten along with one another. I am excited to continue this expedition. You can follow along on my journey via the Azura blog and here.



My First Field Day

LADC-GEMM 2017 Survey

Written by: Alexandria Hahn

Edited by: Amy Whitt

June 9, 2017

My first field day was on June 9, 2017, and it was incredibly eventful. We had nine sightings in total, three of which were unidentified dolphin species. The others were *sperm whale sightings, and they were AWESOME! Seeing these beautiful animals in the wild was so amazing to me, and it really validated why I wanted to be on this cruise in the first place.

I got perspective on how difficult it can be to spot these animals if they happen to be far away. We mostly kept track of the blows from the sperm whales, which were quite big and slanted. The most exciting part was being able to see them fluke (raise their tail fins all the way out of the water) right before they dove down deep into the water.

Adult sperm whales are typically anywhere from 40 to 60 feet long which is HUGE…bigger than a school bus! It’s funny to see how small they look through the big eye binoculars when they are far away, but everyone keeps telling me that I will get a better perspective on the different sizes of marine mammals when I finally get to see dolphins through the big eyes. It is exceptionally difficult to identify an animal through the big eyes when they are far away, and I am beginning to see how much work it is to serve as an observer on a survey. However, it is super exciting when you do finally have some sightings and are able to confirm them with the acoustics team.

My first field day was full of these awesome sightings and made me eager to get on the big eyes again! On the ship, it is difficult to keep up with my blog because we are so busy, but I’ll soon post more updates and pictures soon here and also on my blog.

*Sperm whale—largest marine mammal in the Gulf – largest toothed cetacean (general term for all whales, dolphins, and porpoises)—they can dive up to 3,200 m (10,500 ft) for over two hours!

Week 32 Update 5/15-5/19

We did it!!! Final Presentation Night was last night and it was a huge success! I had almost 30 of my closest friends and family show up to support me during my presentation of the knowledge I have acquired over this school year. I was super nervous at first until I realized that everyone there loved me and did not care whether I messed up or not. The beginning of the night started with all of the ISM student’s displays in the cafeteria. This gave all of our guests the chance to walk around and look at the different professions and to ask us questions if we caught their interest. After about an hour of this, I took Amy (my mentor) to the stage to sit down and wait for mentor introductions to begin. I was very nervous about talking in front of everyone there, but when it came my time, I nailed it! I talked truly from my heart and thanked Amy for an amazing year and experience. My mentorship with her was more than about gaining knowledge in the field. She has opened up her life and family to me and she has taught me about everything from how to handle family relationships and dating to how to be more a more confident woman breaking into the science field.

The whole night was successful and I feel complete now that it’s all said and done! I cannot believe how amazing this whole program has been. I feel so ready to conquer the world and do what I’m meant to do for our ocean!

Week 31 Update 5/1-5/7

This week I actually got the chance to sit down and watch Souls of the Vermilion Sea– A brand-new Vaquita Documentary. Because we do not know much about the Vaquita porpoise, I was not expecting to learn much more than what I already knew about the marine mammal. However, I was surprised by how much this short documentary covered and how much insight it gave me to the social environment surrounding the Vaquita porpoise.

The main focus of the film was to showcase the life of the fishermen and to separate the two main categories of fishermen in the Gulf of California. It was obvious that there were fishermen that did not acknowledge the gill net ban and that would continue to fish for the totoaba, thus maintaining the threat of gill nets to the Vaquita. A refreshing side that was followed through the film, however, was the fishermen that decided to follow the guidelines of the gill net ban and to actually work side-by-side with marine scientists to save the Vaquita porpoise.

What was hard to see, however, was how hardworking these fishermen were and how they were only able to survive on their income because they were not receiving huge payoffs from the totoaba. What this documentary taught me was that there are people in Mexico that want to help in every way that they can and that we should work together to make sure that we can save the Vaquita, but also take care of them.

Week 30 Update 4/24-4/30

ATTENTION! News on the Right Whale has recently surfaced and what has been found does not look good. I have been spending a lot of my time focusing on the Vaquita that I have pushed the Right Whale to the back of my mind. If you remember, the Right Whale, along with the Vaquita, was a part of my Original Work. Collisions with boats have been known to be associated with Right Whale fatalities, however, new information brought abandoned fishing gear to the forefront. With my Original Work, I used the critically endangered Vaquita and Right Whale to convince people that biodegradable fishing nets were the answer.

As recently as January, I was under the impression that the Right Whale was in need of help as they were endangered, however, I did not understand just how dire the situation was. Several estimates have the numbers of the North Atlantic Right Whale somewhere under 400 mammals. Although these numbers are not nearly as low as those of the Vaquita, 400 IS NOT A LOT! More importantly, they are at a number that can still be saved! We should not wait to start saving this species.

If you would like to read more, you can visit the Right Whale Listening Network or read this issue of Right Whale News.

Week 29 Update 4/17-4/23

This week I got in contact with Sean Bogle, the project director for a new and exciting Vaquita documentary, and asked him how I could get a showing available for my guests at Final Presentation Night. He responded to me fairly quickly and let me know the available options for viewing. I will attach the PDF with that information here. I desperately want to see this film and I would love to be able to show it to a large group of people. Of course, as a high school student, I do not have the money to pay for the showing all by myself. My idea is that I could hold a fundraising event and then hand out tickets to the viewing for participants. In order to do this, I am going to have to speak to several groups of people and open up the possibility of holding the fundraiser at school. Making the film available to everyone at my Final Presentation Night is something I am very interested in. I will need to check into how, and how long, the film will be made available to me. While browsing around, I did find the full film on YouTube, and you may view it here. Although it does seem to be free of charge for individual viewing, it is imperative that a donation be made for large viewings so that Vaquita research and documentation can continue.

Week 28 Update 4/10-4/16

I finally got the opportunity to speak with a couple of marine scientists this week to ask questions about the Vaquita porpoise and it was awesome! I got lots of valuable information and some fun insight about working with the Vaquita that I will be able to share in my final presentation of this course.

The first scientist I spoke with was Thomas Jefferson, and he was very friendly! He told me about some of the struggles that scientists are having working with the Mexican government officials and fishermen in the Gulf of California. He also told me that there are several fishermen there who wish to learn more about the Vaquita and work with them to bring their numbers back up. He noted that efforts are aiming to help protect the Vaquita and fishermen that cooperate.  We spoke a little bit about the 2 year gill net ban set by the Mexican president and how that ban was set to have already ended. There is a shrimp boycott currently happening to place pressure on Mexico’s economy and to bring attention back to the Vaquita.

After that phone call, I had the opportunity to speak with Tim Gerrodette, a NOAA employee. He is super smart, working mainly with the statistics of surveys. I had just a couple weeks ago read a report that he was a part of about the Vaquita and I got the chance to ask him a few questions about how that survey was conducted and how he was a part of it. Fun fact: he told me that only 3 full Vaquita surveys have ever been done! Everything else has simply been from data collected through acoustic and visual recorders. I explained to him that I was having trouble understanding some of the numbers and he assured me that I did not need to be comfortable with all of the statistics because even he wasn’t!

I had a great time speaking with both of these scientists and I could never thank them enough for taking the time out of their day to speak with an aspiring marine scientist! If you would like to hear a little more about what I was able to learn from them and throughout my research journey, you can stay tuned until Final Presentation Night (5/17) and I will be uploading my speech and all of the research.

Week 27 Update 4/3-4/9

I met with Amy on Tuesday, 4/4, and we talked about several things regarding my final product. First, we discussed how to cite my work within the piece and noted that I could cite the conversations I have with the Vaquita scientists as a personal communication. I mentioned that in school we have been taught MLA format across the board, even in our science classrooms and that I did not know any other way to cite. She said that it is most common for scientists to use APA format when citing, or another modified form that is similar. I decided that for my final product, I was going to learn APA because I want this report to be as professional and real-world as possible.

Amy and I also discussed the parts of a report that I might want to include. We talked about abstracts and what they usually include. After visiting the website of Marine Mammal Science, I discovered that they only publish your piece if the abstract is 200 words or less, which is a lot less than I had anticipated. Amy noted that because I am not carrying an experiment, my beginning paragraph would be less of an abstract and more of an executive summary. When throwing ideas around for the outline of my report, Amy made sure that I knew that even though the executive summary will go at the beginning of the piece, I should write it last so that I can pull the most important aspects of what I wrote out so that it is easier for a reader to know what it is about at first glance.

I am aiming to have my full report done by the end of next week so that Amy and I can begin the editing process.

Week 26 Update 3/27-4/2

This week I did not get a chance to meet with Amy, so instead I decided to contact all of the scientists that I wanted to interview about the Vaquita. All of them were super friendly and seemed very open to talking to me and telling me about their work. The only difficulty I have ran into is the fact that here in Texas, I am 2 hours ahead of a couple of them that are from California.

I have also created an outline of how my report should look, and it is clean and simple so that she average person can follow along and understand what it is I want them to know about the current status of the Vaquita. Other than that, I completed a Product Progress Assessment to gauge where I was at in this whole process of writing. I have about a month left to complete my Final Product and, while that may seem like forever, it is only a short amount of time! Scientists can spend a year working on reports and surveys and my time is limited, so I concluded that a single species report would be a much more efficient use of my time. Trying to draw up a rundown of the whole ecosystem that included the Vaquita would not be doable because I would also like to get the paper edited by Amy and make sure that it sounds clean and sophisticated, but also not too complicated!

Week 25 Update 3/20-3/26

I met with Amy on Friday to discuss what our next steps are in preparing me for Final Presentation Night. We decided that it would be smart to begin practicing my final speech in front of her and some of my family members to get a feel for how it will be to speak in front of people. She also suggested that she bring in her sister so that I feel comfortable talking in front of people I don’t know. I have been taking on several speaking “practices” in order to up my confidence for presentations. I recently read at mass on a church retreat I went on, and I will be speaking at my confirmation April 1st in front of hundreds of people, so Final Presentation Night should be a breeze!

The contacts Amy gave me for my phone interviews all responded and sounded very enthusiastic about helping me through this process! One of the scientists even gave me 3 more possible contacts to connect with and I am getting very excited about building my network! I will be scheduling those for this upcoming week and hope to get some information that I can cite in my Vaquita report.

I have already designed and ordered my invitations for Final Presentation Night and I am anxious to get those out to people. Coming up I have a conference with Coach Goff (my ISM teacher) to discuss my progress and to show her my research portfolio. I also will be writing an assessment on my progress for her to read so that she has a general idea of where I will be going with my final product. I will be meeting with Amy again hopefully this week if we can squeeze it in! If not, I will be emailing her parts of my report for her to give me feedback on. Other than that, I have my final speech to give in front of my class at the beginning of May. That will be recorded and I will post the link so that you can view it when the time comes!