Expectedly, Monomoy Island is a popular haulout and always seems brimming with abundant seals on the beach. Another exciting finding in the tag data from Bronx was two long-extended forays see tracks highlighted on the map , including one across the Exclusive Economic Zone EEZ international boundary that divides Canadian waters from the U.
During this international journey, Bronx appears to navigate to Georges Bank and spend 12 days at the storied and historic fishing grounds. Spending nearly 2 weeks at sea, Bronx travelled km in total before returning to the southern end of Cape Cod.
Dolphin Communication Project
On each following trip, Bronx appears to travel farther across the channel and farther from the Cape. In addition an exciting journey to Canadian waters and week-long visit at Georges Bank, Bronx has shown off its diving prowess in the past 5 months. Just before arriving at Georges Bank, Bronx dove to an impressive meters deep on a dive that lasted 8 minutes you try holding your breath for 8 minutes!
The research team is now trying to evaluate this extraordinarily deep dive and confirm it as one of the deepest if not the deepest dive observed yet in a wild gray seal. Still, dives beyond meters deep are not infrequent for Bronx, who has recorded 33 dives to these deeper habitats and even more between and meters.
Seals dive for many reasons, including to travel, eat, or explore. The research team is now building models to analyze each of these dives in association with the movement and habitat to understand if the dive is an effort to find and feed on prey. A robust gray seal population has not persisted here in the Gulf of Maine for decades and these animals are challenged to adapt their life history to the new marine environment.
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The research team eagerly awaits each new transmission from the tag to analyze it and compare it to what the research world already knows of gray seals. Instead, we are taking the problem apart, solving it piece by piece, and getting it done the hard way. Science communication is a key component to this, and Heather did a great job in getting the issue out to the huge group of people that read Natural History.
Zach Swaim and I have just returned from a 6-week excursion to the deep south, to further incorporate and expand marine mammals studies into the epic Palmer Long-term Ecological Research LTER Program during its annual cruise along the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Through a combination of visual surveys, biopsy sampling and opportunistic acoustic recordings, my overarching goals for this cruise were to 1.
Develop protocols for efficiently incorporating visual, photographic, biopsy and acoustic sampling into the LTER cruise. Below you will find a brief overview of the cruise with some details on how well things went with our whale work. Firstly, I have to say that we worked with some of the most amazing people I have ever had the chance to sail with. Their support of our efforts was integral in getting our work done. I also wanted to thank the rest of the scientists on the cruise, who helped us collect our data both on the big boat and in the zodiacs.
Gould a familiar ship from our first MISHAP cruise in and scooted across the Drake Passage in fine form — hardly broke 20 knots of wind on that crossing! We surveyed for whales down through the Gerlache Strait, up the Bismark Strait to Palmer Station, where we unloaded some people and gear, loaded some other people and gear, and then headed out on the LTER cruise itself. The majority of the work occurs over the continental shelf of the WAP and the grid of sample stations extends from the line at Palmer Station about 65 degrees south to the line near 70 degrees south around Charcot Island.
A great description of the LTER grid is available here. We were aiming to expand that to cover the guild of marine mammal krill predators in the region — cetaceans and pinnipeds. During the cruise, Zack and I were a continual presence on the bridge of the Gould, conducting standardized line transect sampling for marine mammals or collecting less structured opportunistic sightings whenever possible.
We used digital SLR cameras with some big glass to capture photos of humpback whale flukes from the Gould bridge wings whenever we could, but mostly we waited for opportunities to splash the zodiacs and get up-close-and-personal with humpbacks for photos and biopsy sampling. We collected sightings on the grid lines as we moved south from Palmer Deep, and launched the zodiac frequently at each of the process study regions for our photo and biopsy work.
A nice blog that describes our biopsy work can be found here. The raw fruits of our labor were impressive: 45 biopsy samples of humpback whales, sightings of groups of marine mammals, including sighting over crabeater seals in a 20 sq km region in the vicinity of Charcot Island. Some initial figures are included here to illustrate what we got done. We worked hard, but had a lot of fun too. Some highlights for me: encouraging our zodiac driver to back us out of a humpback bubblenet before we got the Jonah treatment and — top of the heap — playing soccer at Rothera Station against the Brits.
She is studying Higher Education Administration at Virginia Tech and one of the editors of the book, Heather Moorefield-Lang, a librarian at Tech, had emailed her program with the call for proposals. Kaitlin forwarded the email to me and suggested I submit something.
I contacted Heather Moorefield-Lang explaining my interest in the book. This was right up my alley seeing as the Johnston Lab is no stranger to using iPads and certainly no stranger to using mobile technology in classrooms.
National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of the Ocean
In fact I have been the teaching assistant for three courses thus far two with Dave Johnston and for all three, students were given iPads, used Cachalot the free digital textbook for the iPad and we have incorporated iPads in everything from reading papers and lab instructions to recording sounds with homemade hydrophones on field trips.
The book is for a K audience and all lesson plans should be tailored to students somewhere in that range. Although a lot of my experience using iPads in a classroom setting is with undergraduates, I was part of the FEMMES program at Duke, a program for 4th through 6th grade girls, and I relied heavily on the iPad for my lesson on spinner dolphins and sound.
I was hooked, now I needed help! And I knew just where to turn. We had been talking about different education and outreach opportunities and I brought this call for proposals to the table and pitched what I knew about it.
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They loved the idea and agreed to collaborate on the project. So we quickly got together a proposal for a lesson on marine mammals and sound using the iPad for a 4th to 6th grade audience. We called it Marine Mammals, Spinners and Spectrograms. We outlined the topics we would cover, some example activities and the iPad apps we would use for each relying heavily on our very own Cachalot. We submitted the lesson plan proposal and found out that we would know by November whether we were chosen for it.
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You know how this story ends from the title of this blog post but, Julia, Demi, Liza and I were chosen to write the lesson plan for the book! I got a congratulatory email two days ago saying that our proposal was accepted and that the editors were really excited about our proposal! We all feel honored to have been chosen and are quite excited about the opportunity to be part of this book. We will be getting guidelines and template information soon and then we will get to work. Stay tuned for updates as we move through the process of creating the lesson plan and getting it published!
This in turn, helps us understand a bit about his preferred habitats. Bronx is splitting time between foraging trips at two haulout locations red circles on image below — one near the southeast tip of the outer Cape not far from Chatham, and the other off North Truro near a location called High Hill. Both are known grey seal haulouts and the northernmost is proximate to a location just offshore that Bronx seems to be spending a large amount of time foraging within blue circle. The image below illustrates these two locations, and the nexus of tracks that criss-cross just offshore of North Truro.
I wonder what seal-goodies are found out there? This must be a popular hangout for grey seals — check out the video below that gives a great perspective of the seals hauled out there. Bronx is now amongst them!
Aquarium of the Pacific
This last video is actually footage of the release of the animals — pretty cool to see him trundle off into the great blue. I think he is doing well, which is nice to see after being rehabbed! Both Videos curtesy of mkalbis on YouTube. Our water program led the presentations on what Duke does, and I actually got to lead the water story by introducing Pat and his ocean mapping work, writ large. And the icing on top — my wife was there to see it all! After all the talking was done a laser show lit the way for donors to embark on a strolling supper across the carpeted floor of Cameron Stadium.
Great food and drink and some amazing discussions with people about taking Duke forward. It was a humbling experience for me — taking the stage with some seriously impressive Dukies and hearing about all the great things that Duke is doing.
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Pretty cool stuff. The animal had recovered from a fisheries interaction thanks to the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of folks at the International Fund for Animal Welfare IFAW and the Mystic Aquarium. However, instead of relying on expensive satellite systems to relay these data back to us, the tag stores the data until the seal returns to the beach.