Our watches are spent processing data as it comes in alongside other folks (“observers”) who stand watch over all of the equipment to make sure the data keeps coming in and that it is of good quality. Their vigilance is key to ensuring, for example, that our seismic sampling is properly timed and equally spaced and that our equipment is at the appropriate water depth for the prevailing roughness of the sea so we aren’t collecting too much noise.
Earlier today they noticed some funny readings on one of our instruments, the magnetometer! After troubleshooting and restarting it from the lab, they reeled it back on board only to find out that it caught hold of a large fishing net!
While we are down in the lab focused on our screens, there is another group up on deck keeping their eyes on the water. Our Protected Species Observers (PSOs) have perhaps the best office on board (when the weather is nice!) and a very important job. They watch for marine mammals and make sure there are none swimming in the area where we are working. There are different safety radii for different animals, but if whales or dolphins or turtles or the rare mermaid come too close to our vessel, they alert us. We then power down and wait to resume our experiments until they notify us that the waters are clear.
In addition to keeping their eyes peeled, they also keep their “ears” open. Around the clock, they are “listening” to the sounds captured by a microphone that we tow behind us in the water (Passive Acoustic Monitoring = PAM). Animals produce very distinct noises, for example Dolphins tend to make a lot of clicks, so this is simply another way to ensure that the area we are working in is clear of critters. I’ve used quotations because many animals produce sounds at frequencies that our human ears can’t actually hear. So in addition to listening through headphones, the sounds PAM captures are turned into visualization that they monitor with a computer program.
We haven’t seen anything while surveying so far, but while on transit, everyone did run up on deck when we got word over the radio that there were dolphin and Orca whale sightings! –Stacey!