Tag Archives: First Official Offshore Project

Thanks for the Memories; My Recollections of the Boston, Massachusetts Project

Whitney, Kyle, Taylor, and me on Helideck with Boston in Background; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007
My 8 Greatest Memories – Boston, Massachusetts Project:
Texas Horizon; Massachusetts Bay, Massachusetts 09.2007

1. Awaiting my first time on a ship:

Instead of asking the question, “Where do I go from here?”“The Chosen Path Revealed; Epic Spring Break Adventure;” the question now remains, “What expectations do I have for my first official project?”

My Uncertainties:
What should I bring? I was coming to Boston during the warmer months, but the colder days seemed to be creeping in a lot earlier than anticipated. Do I bring my warm gear or my cold gear? Should I carry both or leave a set of clothes behind?

A. How long will I be on the project for? I realized as I was packing the night before my plane departure the next morning that I was never given a time frame of how long I would be on this project for. I was unsure about set rotations – if I worked a month on and had a month off? Bottom line: I had no exact date when I was getting off the project. Which brings us back to the question, “What should I bring?” Now factor in the undetermined time when I will get off the boat – now you have what I like to call, “A large shamble!” Many undetermined factors does not equal any glimpse of certainty!

B. Limitations on what I can carry with me on the ship? During the Protected Species Observer (PSO) and Safe Gulf training I was briefed on arrivals to the ship in helicopters – “Welcome to a New Chapter; Shaping My Future as a Marine Biologist.” I was informed not to bring over 20 pounds of equipment and personal belongings when I would crew transfer via helicopter; however, I was never given proper instructions on arrivals to the ship at dock or in chase boats. Since this was my first project, I had purchased binoculars, steel toes, and a hard hat before my departure to the Texas Horizon. These items were all needed to work offshore and maintain a safe environment – the steel toes and hard hat mainly only had to be worn during safety drills onboard. As far as a camera is concerned, fortunately, the Ecoes office had supplied me with a small compact digital camera to take on the project with me. Would you believe that I never owned a camera until almost a year after this project? If you are one of my close friends and/or family member, this may shock you! Currently, I am notorious for taking pictures and have a deep appreciation for photography! Anyways, with all the business equipment that I had to transfer, this did not leave me a lot of space for my personal possessions. Regardless, I definitely over the 20 pounds, but lucky for me it did not make much of a difference because there was never a set amount of weight that could be taken onboard at dock or when you were transported by chase boat. Thank goodness, I do not know what I would have done if I was told to decrease my bag weight! 

Crew Member Shoveling Snow; Atlantic Ocean: Atlantic Horizon 12.2007


C. How are the weather conditions offshore? Any person that works in the offshore environment will tell you that there is a huge fluctuation of temperature changes offshore vs. onshore. I may have not needed a winter jacket onshore, but in the Boston harbor I could have easily used one. There really was no definite answer to whether or not heavier clothes were required – I had to make the decision based on what I felt was comfortable or not. To this day, I still pack both cold and warm weather gear – it is best to be prepared for all sorts of crazy weather conditions! You never know what to expect!

D. Did I bring enough toiletries with me? I will never forget when I started packing that I actually decided to place an entire bottle of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash – do you know how much weight this is? Good thing my first project was not a basket transfer (more on this later in this post) and it was done by chase boat or alongside the dock – the amount of toiletries that I had was a bit overkill! Reflecting back on what I threw in my Nike duffel bag, I feel embarrassed to say that I worked offshore. It is amazing how much weight is added solely by your personal toiletries. I never thought of the idea of using smaller 3oz bottles (the kind that are airport security approved) that potentially could last for a month or two. If only I was given a check list on what to bring! Lesson well learned!

E. I will be working with an assortment of crew members, will we get along well? There is nothing more intimidating than walking into a situation where you not only do not know anyone, but you also have no clue what to expect. I was unaware of if there were any other females working the project – maybe this is a little more intimidating than the previous statement. I have heard of miscellaneous stereotypes, but I have never heard of one about someone who worked offshore. Even the commercial fishing industry, I did not know what type of men worked on these boats. One thing was clear, I was about to be left on a ship for x amount of weeks (you probably had a better time frame for me than I did!) and placed into friendships that have previously been formed because they have already been working together.  This young girl fresh out of college was about to find out what type of people work offshore, especially within this specific project – it was a shame I did not have a head’s up or any warning what to expect. I guess in the end, this is how I began the career filled with spontaneity, mystery, and adventure!

F. Will I be able to maintain communication with my good friends and family? I never regretted moving to Cape Canaveral, Florida and never once looked back; however, this does not mean that I wanted to lose my connection with my dear family and good friends – “Last Destination Florida; the Road Trip down The Chosen Path.” One of the biggest concerns I had was managing to maintain these great relationships that I have formed throughout the years – the only way to cleverly do this was to be able to have a daily or weekly conversation. During my PSU years, I had begun really communicating with all of my hundreds of friends through facebook and email. At least if there was no phone connection available, I would have the chance to log onto facebook and chat with some friends through this social network. Honestly, thoughts of having a good internet connection and using facebook made me feel a lot better before leaving.

Sailboat Passing; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007

My Certainties:

A. This is a step into the right direction on my chosen path“The Trek to the Unknown; First Footprint on a Ship.” Reflecting back to the previous years, no matter what happened or what obstacles managed to strategically place themselves in front of me, I still was able to push through and arrive where I am today. I have come a long way of educating myself on saltwater organisms all throughout high school, and taking the initiative to involve myself in water based courses at PSU – “Trip into the Past; Icthology Lab: Favorite College Course.” Most importantly, I moved out of Pennsylvania in pursuit of accomplishing my goals. I, Jessica Renee Benford, traveled to a location that I have only been to once before and made the plunge to dive into my new career. I have always tried to set a good example for my younger brothers, be a positive influence on my friends, and demonstrate my independence to my family members with respect. This was the moment where I wanted to show everyone how one person can not only pursue their goals, but how they can successfully accomplish each one. I was taking this chosen path where I was driven by my own dreams and now I have the chance to prove to myself that I can be recognized as a successful and respectable Marine Biologist.
My odds were not very good, but the self-assurance that I kept seemed to push those uncertainties away. Sometimes a walk into the unknown or a ride on a mysterious path will present a journey for a new adventure and provide an award far greater that you can ever imagine. Risk-taking enables you to develop confidence, self-acceptance in the face of setbacks, learning from mistakes and the chance of achieving important goals.  Decision-making also involves being creative, which invites you to suspend temporarily your critical faculties while you let your imagination soar. Goals are the desired outcomes or results that you want for yourself. With risk-taking, decision-making, and goals these all led me on my chosen path. My chosen path directed me to this particular ship – this was all I needed; my uncertainties vanished!
2. Observing the North Atlantic right whale:

There are some moments in your past life that you tend to forget, while others remain close to your heart. This particular moment when I first observed the “v” shaped blow and the lack of dorsal fin was one of the best moments that I have had in the Marine Biology field – “My Favorite Bostonian Cetaceans; Dive into a World Different from Our Own.” I observed hundreds of cetaceans, but that one moment that I viewed the North Atlantic right whale for the first time was indescribable. Have you ever had that moment in time when you realize at this particular second everything leading up to this moment was worth it? Many bad things could have happened, but for that instant none of that mattered; what mattered was that at this moment the world was on your side and you were untouchable. In all honesty, that moment when I first looked at the North Atlantic right whale – that was the moment when I realized the entire 4 months that I spent on this project was well worth it! The purpose I was on the Texas Horizon was to carefully observe the North Atlantic right whale when it was sighted. With only 2 sightings of the NARW during the full length of the project, I was extremely lucky to have seen it when I did! 
3. Identifying my first Humpback whale:

Every Marine Mammal Scientist will tell you about their very first sighting. A few of us ever remember all of our sightings or have logged them in our own personal journal at sometime or other – I would fall into this category. I can still remember the time of my day that my sighting happened, what side of the ship I was on, and who was with me at the time that it happened. I had no idea what to look for at first, I was strategically placed on a side of the ship and told to look for “white splashes.” I must have carefully examined every little ounce of activity that I had witnessed, but still no sign of marine mammals. It was not until a few days later that around sunset I recognized some white splashes on the horizon – “The Humpback Whales in the Sunset; a Mission for Marine Mammal Preservation.” I will always cherish my first sighting, along with future sightings to come!
Common Nighthawk Sitting; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007

Pine Warbler Sitting on Steel; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitting on Rope; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007

Bat Resting on Step; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Herring Gull Soaring Over Water; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007

Red-breasted Nuthatch Resting on Rope; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Pine Warbler Sitting on Rusted Fence; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitting on Pole; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007

Bat Hanging on Step; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Butterfly Sitting on Pole; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Butterfly “No Hats”; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Butterfly Sitting on Steel Rope; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Barn Swallows Sitting on Rusted Fence; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007

Northern Saw-Whet Owl Sitting on Steel; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007

Spooked Northern Saw-Whet Owl Sitting on Steel; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007
4. Surrounding ourselves within avian species and insectivores:

When there were no marine mammals in sight, the avian species and insectivores were plentiful. We had an assortment of avian species ranging from warblers, sparrows, cormorants, gulls, owls, and nuthatches. When it came to the insectivores we had an ongoing supply of horse flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, and grasshoppers. One of the most amusing stories had to be right before Meghan departed the vessel in early September. I was going about my daily business outside on the port side of the ship when I noticed a Red-breasted nuthatch landed on a rope below me. It was chilly day and I had my trusty American Eagle beanie on. Meghan came outside to head over to the starboard side of the ship; I stopped and asked her if she could observe a particular patch of water because I kept viewing white splashes. I wanted to go get my camera inside so I made my way to the door. As I opened the door I heard this small thud, not thinking anything of it I went inside. Meghan came in excitedly and told me that a Red-breasted nuthatch just darted into the window where my face would have been. Slightly confused about the situation, I came back outside to find a stunned Red-breasted nuthatch sprawled out on the concrete deck. I felt horrible for the poor guy so we grabbed him some crackers and water for when he woke up. Would you believe that he did not come out of his “coma” until 45 minutes later? Good thing he was not able to aim for me, he could have done some severe damage! Maybe he was attracted to my colorful beanie or maybe he was having a bad? Whatever the case was, that Red-breasted nuthatch had quite the surprise! 

Harbor Seal Swimming Towards Ship; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007

Harbor Seal Up Close and Personal; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007

Harbor Seal Saying Hello; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007

Harbor Seal Resting; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Harbor Seal Sleeping; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007
Harbor Seal Swimming Near Propeller; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007
5. Watching a Harbor seal playing:

One of the coolest mammals, that were not a whale or dolphin were the Harbor seals. When the project would get into much shallower waters, the Harbor seals had swum around us in pursuit for catching their food for the day. The hodgepodge of food consisted of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. The Harbor seals were really entertaining to watch; especially when they would sleep with their eyes closed and head out of the water. Harbor seals were super adorable – at one time I contemplated in bringing a seal home with me! Not that I would ever do this, but for a second I imagined what it would be like to have one as a pet. Humans have monkeys for pets, why not a Harbor seal? Throughout the sunny days when I had watched them play, I had begun a greater appreciation for the Marine Mammals in the Massachusetts Bay. 
Renae and I during Snowstorm on Helideck; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 12.2007
6. Being part of the crew: 

When I had given my passport and work certifications to the captain when I first stepped on the Texas Horizon, he stated, “Welcome onboard, you are officially part of the crew here.” I did not know what “part of the crew” actually meant until that following evening. I was approached by some of the guys onboard before dinner and asked to watch a movie in the mess room with them later. To be quite frank, I had no clue where the mess room was yet! As I got lost on the ship searching for the infamous mess room that night, I thought to myself that this was really sweet of the guys to invite me to chill with them for the evening.  At that time I was positive that this was going to be a good rotation – I could not been more right! Though there were only 2-4 females onboard at any given time, the ratio of 200 men really was not that bad. There was your usual “flirting” that they guys did with us girls, but they were neither aggressive nor obnoxious about it. Most of these guys were very respectful and created a positive environment for me to work in. Various ages were onboard, ranging from 18 to 65 – the majority of nationalities were American and Filipino. I will never forget the moment when I was transferred to the Megan Miller and how upset the guys were to see my departure from the ship – they were uncertain when and if I was ever coming back. I ended up coming back a month later and our reunion was onshore – my night onshore was free of charge! Free beer for me! I guess you could say I was accepted as part of the crew! Along with the crew, I also had the privilege to work with some fantastic colleagues, friends, and Biologists offshore. When I first begun working with Whitney, we never actually felt like we were at “work” – “New Friendships Created; Reuniting Old Ones.” I felt like I was hanging out with one of my good friends from back home – we had amazing cetacean sightings, fabulous girl talks at night, and incredible sunsets. I never had felt more comfortable than I did working on that project. Whitney defined the value of a true friendship – whether or not we were bonded by our sisterhood in Phi Mu, I believed that our paths would have crossed eventually in life. We were/are too good of friends and individuals to never have met. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed working with her! Not to mention that Kyle, Renae, and Annya were a good mix to the group as well! 
7. Viewing a world of brilliance and color:

The sunsets over Boston, Massachusetts were absolutely stunning. I had begun waking up early to view the sunrises every morning. Your first ocean sunset is magical – the vivid colors mixed with the countless clouds were quite a spectacle. Here is a review of some of the most fabulous vibrant scenery that was shown – “A Compilation of Cool Oceanscapes on the Water; a Glimpse into a Effervescent World.”
Personnel Basket Transfers; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007

Personnel Basket Transfers Close Up; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007

8. Surviving personnel basket transfers:

What is a personnel basket transfer you may ask? A personnel basket transfer or basket transfer are used to transport a worker to or from a crew boat or supply boat to a jackup oil rig, offshore platform, semi-submersible or other structures. I was being transferred via personnel basket transfer from the Texas Horizon to the chase boat. These specific basket transfers occur on every oil rig or vessel around the world, whether is intended for routine transfers or reserved for emergencies. The main issue with these special transfers is that they need to be completed in a safe manner without unnecessary risk of injury or death to the worker. With this being said, most of my transfers were done in calm seas with low swell. Occasionally we had medium swell, but we were still transported with high safety precautions – this made one heck of a bumpy and scary ride! There is nothing like a good flowing of adrenaline pumping out of your system in the early morning as you are moving above the water and over the ship! The reason why I said “surviving personnel basket transfers” were for the following reasons: Crew members are often injured in falls, drops and impacts during transfers in personnel baskets. Various injuries include serious back, neck, spinal cord injuries and even deaths from falls and from heavy or hard impacts onto the dock or deck of the boat or vessel. Some workers are injured as a result of an impact occurring when the basket actually swings or rapidly falls into another stationary object and structure. Other workers have been trapped, crushed, and struck by the falling or swinging personnel basket itself. In conclusion, this personnel basket transfer has made grown men terrified – I was there to witness it!
**
I have probably hundreds of memories about this specific project; writing all this down would be difficult. The top 8 greatest memories are only a taste of what I experienced.  I have had the pleasure to not only build a professional reputation in the Marine Biology world, but also establish many great friendships along the way. It has been a little over 3 years since I was last on that project and I still remain good friends with many of the crew members, colleagues, and locals. This project exceeded my own expectations and had given me the confidence in the identification and research of cetaceans.
Kyle, me, Taylor, and Whitney with Superintendent Mike; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007
One of the best lessons that I learned on the project is entitled “Foundation of Friendships.”  When you place a group of mixed nationalities living on a ship, confined to small quarters, and the same situations are, well, experienced – this is a great foundation for a friendship to start. I noticed that while working on this project, I had become close with colleagues in only 2-3 weeks time. When you are onshore, you tend to not really get to know someone until a few months into knowing the person. There is something magical about working on a ship in tight quarters and making new friends that you have to experience for yourself. It really is life-changing!

A Compilation of Cool Oceanscapes on the Water; a Glimpse into an Effervescent World

Halloween Sunset; Massachusetts Bay, Massachusetts 10.2007
What are oceanscapes you may ask? This is scenery that is on the ocean and blended in with a beautiful element – these elements range from the sun, rainbow, fog, clouds, and vivid colors. The sunrises and sunsets were not only spectacular, but absolutely breath-taking. Each and every day there was always scenery to photograph – the sunsets over Boston, Massachusetts were the end to a great night. One of the best sunsets that I saw on this project happened on Halloween night – the orange in the sky mixed in with the darkness that crept around the sun was a great combination. The sun was highlighted with red and orange – both colors created the brightness of the sun to fade. As the sun sunk lower into the land, the red, orange, and yellow shades drifted into the dark sky and disappeared in the mist of the dark clouds. This was your typical scenery that you would see in a movie on Halloween night – this was a lot better! 
All of these photographs were taken in the Massachusetts Bay and are categorized within the month that I took them.
A compilation of my favorite oceanscapes over the months:
AUGUST

 

SEPTEMBER


OCTOBER


NOVEMBER


DECEMBER

New Friendships Created; Reuniting Old Ones

Meghan on Helideck; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007
Shortly after only a few days onboard, I adjusted to working offshore, living on a ship, and displayed the ability to effectively detect marine mammals within the vicinity. In addition, I demonstrated the capability to follow proper protocol and when to take action if needed. Mary Jo or MJ witnessed this and in result, Meghan my lead was reassigned to a new boat working on the prospect. I was appointed lead on the project and anxiously awaited Meghan’s replacement. I have to admit that I was sad to see Meghan transfer to another boat; I felt that I could have learned a little bit more before she disembarked. Regardless, I was curious who was working this project with me now and who I was going to supervise?
Meghan with Fog Horizon; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007
I remember saying goodbye to Meghan as she finished packing her bags. Meghan told me that her relief and the others were already onboard. As I made my way to the bridge to see the “surprise” guests, I walked around the corner and saw Whitney smiling ear from ear when she first recognized me! She ran over and gave me a huge hug; at that moment we must have talked a million miles a minute! We had so much to catch up on – I was really happy that she was onboard. The other two girls were Kyle and Taylor – now instead of 200 males and 2 females, we totaled 200 males and 4 females; better ratio! I was excited to have more girls onboard  – this meant more girl talks, more girls for the guys to flirt with (besides me!), and most importantly it is awesome to have female companionship.  The girls were a great addition to the crew. We split up 2 people on each shift – Kyle with Taylor and Whitney with me. Whit and I worked the noon to midnight shift, while the girls worked the midnight to noon shift.
Whitney and I During Sunset; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007
Me, Whitney, and Kyle our First Picture Together; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Whitney and I Before Sunset; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007

Whitney and I “Gangster” Face; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007

Whitney and I on Helideck; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007

Reflection of my times with Whit – our greatest moments:

  • 1)        “Camping” on the helideck as winter approached. It was wicked cold outside, especially being on the water! I recall us bringing hot chocolate, snacks, blankets, and my iPod to the helideck during our afternoon shifts. Honestly, those were the times that brought us together.
Whitney’s Enthusiastic Expression for Redskins Playing; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007
  • 2)        Crazy photo sessions – I swear every week we would find a new pose to photograph. My personal best were Whit’s jumping photos when her beloved NFL team the Redskins was playing on the weekends. My second favorite was our “gangster” face. Good times!
Posin’ Fools on Helideck; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007
  • 3)        The “breaks” that we never took – while on our noon to midnight shift, we worked 4 hours on and 2 hours off (someone was always on duty). Most of the time we spent our breaks observing marine mammals together. Who needed a break anyways?
Whitney Sporting her Phi Mu Windbreaker and Binoculars; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007
  • 4)        One of my treasured moments with Whit was when I was sick for a few hours after dinner. We were taking turns every hour with the IR scanner. This particular night I was very nauseous and could not go outside in the cold weather to complete my scan. Not only did Whit volunteer to take my turn, but she made me hot tea, tucked me in with a blanket while I was sitting on the chair, and played Sex and the City on her laptop. There were no words for her kindness; this was such a sweet gesture! Wow, talk about an amazing friend – now these are hard to find!  After I started feeling better that night, I offered to make up for the hour that I missed by doing three IR scans back to back. Bless her heart, Whit would not allow me to do this. This is one of the many reasons why I adore Ms. Whitney Marie Williams!

Renae and I; Boston, Massachusetts 11.2007

I thoroughly enjoyed working with all my colleagues on the Boston, Massachusetts project, but there were two that really made an effort to get to know me on a personal level. Renae and Annya were the definition of sweet and awesome girls – both were really into getting their master’s soon and showed off their intelligence relatively often. Since I worked the majority of the project, I worked on the Texas Horizon, the tugboat Megan Miller, and was placed mainly wherever needed at any given time. 

Renae and Annya both worked on the Texas Horizon with me – which was how I had become really good friends with them. I remember not only fun moments with each of them, but also several in-depth conversations about cetaceans and their environment. It was very refreshing to have a few biologists to discuss this with – I discovered were all very enthusiastic when we spoke about our natural surroundings.  Renae had worked on the opposite shift of me, but we still managed to find time to chat. She had this witty sense of humor, good head on her shoulders, and a very kind-hearted personality – it was no wonder we got along so well. Annya and I worked on the tug boat Megan Miller and had the opportunity to get to each other better during this rotation. She was really easy to talk to and quite adventurous like myself.

Amanda, Jim, and Annya at Karaoke Night; Gloucester, Massachusetts 11.2007

Taylor and Meghan; Gloucester, Massachusetts 11.2007

Several times during the month we were able to come ashore – here we partook in our “traditional” karaoke get-togethers and hung out with some of the same locals in the pubs. On special nights we were able to meet up with other boat crew working on the same project. I remember quite a few karaoke nights – this was our regular routine where we would involve the locals in our somewhat decent singing sessions! My preferred karaoke song was “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia. All the locals seemed to know this song and the colleague that I was with at the time normally would join in a duet with me. I reminisce one night when I was able to recruit 3 other female colleagues to join me!

Meghan, me, Billy, Amanda, and crew member; Gloucester, Massachusetts Massachusetts11.2007

Meghan and Annya; Gloucester, Massachusetts 11.2007

The Pub Crew; Gloucester, Massachusetts 11.2007

Meghan and I; Gloucester, Massachusetts 11.2007

Jim, Taylor, and Meghan; Gloucester, Massachusetts 11.2007

The Karaoke Singing Girls; Gloucester, Massachusetts 11.2007

Me, Annya, and Meghan; Gloucester, Massachusetts 11.2007

Meghan and I; Gloucester, Massachusetts 11.2007

My Favorite Bostonian Cetaceans; Dive into a World Different from Our Own


Educational Background on Whales:
Whales are one of the most amazing creatures that live in the planet. They inhabit all oceans of the world. Whales belong to the order cetacea, which means that they are mammals fully adapted to aquatic life. Like all cetaceans, including dolphins and porpoises, whales are descendants of land-living animals which returned to water after living millions of years in land. Most whales can grow to be extremely large. In fact, the Blue whale is considered to be the largest animal in the world. Whales are closely related to dolphins and porpoises. There are two types of whales that are identified by scientists, baleen whales and toothed whales, having each of these categories many sub species. You can easily identify which category a whale belongs based on its feeding and physical characteristics.
One startling fact: The most dangerous predators for whales are humans. They aren’t bothered by any other creatures in the water. However, the changes to their food source, hunting by humans, and even pollution to the waters that they live in can affect their abilities to survive which is why they continue to try to adapt to the environment that they are in.
Background Information on My Favorite Bostonian Cetaceans
NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE (Eubalaena glacialis):
The North Atlantic right whale is currently one of the rarest large whales in the world, having been drastically reduced to critically low numbers by years of exploitation. Its robust, somewhat rotund, body is mostly black, with a large head that measures up to one third of the total body length. Some individuals may also bear white patches on the underside, while others have a more mottled appearance. More often, the only conspicuous feature of this great whale are the irregular patches of thickened tissue, called callosities, on the head. These callosities are inhabited by many small amphipods, known as cyamids or whale lice, and form a pattern unique to each individual whale, thus providing a means of identification. 
The North Atlantic right whale lacks a dorsal fin, but has large, paddle-like pectoral fins used for steering, and an enormous tail that provides propulsion with powerful vertical strokes. The downward-curved mouth of the North Atlantic right whale contains between 200 and 270 baleen plates on each side of the upper jaw. These plates, each measuring around two meters long and fringed with fine hairs, replace teeth in Balaenidae whales, and are central to their method of feeding. The North Atlantic right whale has two blowholes situated on top of its head through which it breathes, producing a distinctive, bushy, v-shaped cloud of spray when it exhales at the surface.



10 Fun Facts about North Atlantic right whales:

Did you know?

1. The right whale’s scientific name, Eubalaena glacialis, means “good, or true, whale of the ice.”
2. Distribution pattern – mostly found along the Atlantic Coast of North America. Now believed to only survive on the east coast of the North America and Canada.
 
3. Scientists recognize individual whales based on their pattern of callosities – the white patches of rough skin that give right whales their characteristic appearance.
4. The NARW usually do not fear boats and can be easily approached by boats in the water. In result, this is one of the main reasons the NARW is endangered because they become involved in ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. 
5. It is estimated that North Atlantic right whales live up to 67 years. 
  
6. They were named ‘right’ whale by fisherman, because they thought it was the right whale to hunt, as they swim close to the shore, float when killed and 40 % of their body is blubber. In other words, their slower pace, the fact that they come close to land, their tendency to float after being killed and their “productivity” in terms of oil made them lucrative animals to target.

7. Baleen whales feed with their baleen; they ‘skim’ the water with their mouth open. Water and prey come into the mouth of the whale, but only the water can pass through, leaving prey like zooplankton, krill, and little shrimps behind.  

8. A young / baby of a northern right whale is called a ‘calf’. The females are called ‘cow’ and males ‘bull’. A northern right whale group is called a ‘gam, pod or herd’.
9. Average weight of adult – 50,600 lbs.
10. There are about 300 Atlantic Northern right whales living today, almost all in the western North Atlantic, and are endangered species. The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered of all large whales, with a long history of human exploitation and no signs of recovery despite protection from whaling since the 1930s. Between 300 and 350 individuals still exist, but despite seven decades of protection efforts, no population growth has been observed.  
I had been eagerly awaiting the presence of the North Atlantic right whale for 4 months during my time in the Massachusetts Bay – “The Humpback Whales in the Sunset; a Mission for Marine Mammal Preservation.” My last month for the project was in December and I still had yet to see this magnificent creature. I heard of one other boat working on the prospect that had briefly seen the North Atlantic right whale. Our rotation was soon coming to an end, but I was determined to not give hope of seeing the critically endangered species. I will never forget the afternoon when I finally laid eyes on the whale that I was searching for the entire last half of the year. It was your typical hot afternoon with a splash of strong sun glare rested on the water. I was talking to Kyle and Whitney (more about them in next post) right after lunch outside on the port bridge wing. All of a sudden the three glance at the water immediately because something had caught each of our eye’s. To our surprise we observe a large splash! The girls and I quickly skimmed the water and discovered a peculiar shape in the water. Distinctive characteristic that we perceived were the lack of dorsal fin on this whale and the “V” shaped blow. We had begun scratching our heads. What was this whale and why is it so unique?  Almost immediately it hit us, we were staring at the North Atlantic right whale! Unfortunately, it was a quick sighting and there were no photographs taken. Definitely a remarkable day in the beginning of my long-term career!
Cool fact: In 2007 and 2009, the US government changed shipping routes out of Boston in an attempt to reduce collision. NOAA estimates that implementing an “Area to Be Avoided” and narrowing the “Traffic Separation Scheme” by one nautical mile will reduce the relative risk of right whale ship strikes by 74% from April to July! While NOAA was changing their shipping routes, I was studying the North Atlantic right whale’s migration route. Some of our data was used to determine the effectiveness of the newer implementation of the shipping route. As a result of the population dynamics of the North Atlantic Right Whale, I would say that it was a success!
 
HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae):


Humpback whales are known for their magical songs, which travel for great distances through the world’s oceans. These sequences of moans, howls, cries, and other noises are quite complex and often continue for hours on end. Scientists are studying these sounds to decipher their meaning. It is most likely that humpbacks sing to communicate with others and to attract potential mates. These whales are found near coastlines, feeding on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and small fish. Humpbacks migrate annually from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator. Mothers and their young swim close together, often touching one another with their flippers with what appear to be gestures of affection. Females nurse their calves for almost a year, though it takes far longer than that for a humpback whale to reach full adulthood. Calves do not stop growing until they are ten years old.
Humpbacks are powerful swimmers, and they use their massive tail fin, called a fluke, to propel themselves through the water and sometimes completely out of it. These whales, like others, regularly leap from the water, landing with a tremendous splash. Scientists aren’t sure if this breaching behavior serves some purpose, such as cleaning pests from the whale’s skin, or whether whales simply do it for fun.


What is a humpback whale? The Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is the fifth largest of the great whales. Their scientific name comes from the Greek word ‘mega’ meaning ‘great’ and ‘pteron’ meaning ‘a wing’, because of their large front flippers that can reach a length of 5 meters, about one-third of their entire body length! They are named humpbacks because of the distinct ‘hump’ that shows as the whale arches its back when it dives.
What do they look like? Humpbacks are ‘rorquals’, whales which have distinctive throat grooves. They also have knobs on their heads known as ‘tubercles’, each of which has a long coarse hair growing from its centre which is believed to act as a sensor. They have very long flippers (more correctly known as ‘pectoral fins’) with knobs on the front edge, and a humped dorsal fin. They are blackish, with white undersides and sides. The underside of the tail fluke is usually white with black patterning, which is unique to each humpback, like a fingerprint, so can be used to identify individual whales! Males average 14.6 meters and females 15.2 meters long. The maximum length is 18 meters and a mature adult may weigh up to 45 tons. Humpback whales have a life expectancy of 45 to 50 years.
Where do they live? Humpback whales are found in all of the world’s oceans, although they generally prefer near-shore and near-island habitats for both feeding and breeding. From June to July the Australian humpback whales migrate northwards to their tropical calving grounds in the Kimberley and between September and November they begin travelling south to their feeding grounds in Antarctic.  During their southerly migration you can sometimes see these beautiful animals from the shore, as they pass along the WA coast including through the proposed Dampier Archipelago Marine Park, the Montebello Islands Marine Park, Ningaloo Marine Park, Shark Bay Marine Park, Jurien Bay Marine Park, Marmion Marine Park and the proposed Ngari Capes Marine Park (which will protect the waters between Busselton and Augusta). As they are often accompanied by their calves on the southern migration, they tend to stay much closer to shore than they do when heading north.

How are they identified? Humpbacks are solely identified by the markings on the flukes – Researchers have discovered that individual Humpbacks can be identified by the black and white patterns on the underside of their flukes, similar to fingerprints for humans. Researchers take pictures called fluke ID’s and compare them to ones taken before; this helps them determine the Humpback’s distribution pattern.  Humpbacks have five basic types of whale flukes: Mostly white, 25% white, half white and half black, 25% black, and last mostly black. Often one can eliminate three types, and look through only two types. Sometimes one has to look through three types, especially if not 100% of the fluke can be seen. Sounds like a difficult process!
What do they eat and how? Humpbacks are ‘baleen’ whales, so instead of teeth they have 270-400 baleen plates which hang from the top jaw. They feed by taking big gulps of water and filtering shrimp-like krill and small fish between these plates. An average-sized Humpback Whale will eat 4,400-5,500 pounds (2000-2500 kg) of plankton, krill and small, schooling fish each day during the feeding season in cold waters (about 120 days). They eat twice a day. Humpbacks cooperate in hunting and have developed a method of rounding up highly concentrated masses of prey that is called “bubble netting.” The hunting members of a pod form a circle 10-100 feet (3.1-31 m) across and about 50 feet (15 m) under the water. Then the humpbacks blow a wall of bubbles as they swim to the surface in a spiral path. The cylindrical wall of bubbles makes the trapped krill, plankton, and/or small fish move to the surface of the water in a giant, concentrated mass. 
Do they sleep? All whales sleep and they stay at the top of the water, with their blowhole above the surface. In order to make sure that whales perform the basic functions to breathe, only one half of their brain will sleep at a time. This is the only way that they are able to get the amount of rest that they need and still take care of this function that is necessary for their bodies to survive.
Besides humans, what are their other threats? Humpbacks can live up to 45-50 years.  In the past, Humpback Whales were heavily exploited by commercial whalers all around the world, hunted for their oil, meat and whalebone. Hunting was banned in 1963 after the species became nearly extinct. In 2007, the Japanese proposed to resume killing the humpback for so-called ‘scientific purposes’, but gave them a last-minute reprieve. Other threats to humpback whales include them ingesting plastic, which accumulates in their gut and leads to a slow death, and becoming entangled in crayfish lines and pots. Supported by the Department of Environment and Conservation, the Western Rock Lobster Council has introduced a Code of Practice to help reduce whale entanglements. Natural predators include killer whales which prey on the young humpback calves.
What is their behavior? Humpbacks travel in groups known as “pods”. When in a playful mood, they may put on spectacular displays of breaching, rolling, spyhopping, slapping their pectoral fins and generally having a ‘whale’ of a time. During the breeding season, the humpback males are known for singing the longest and most complex songs in the animal kingdom. An adult humpback’s two lungs, each the size of a small car, are emptied and refilled in less than two seconds. As it surfaces, the humpback exhales through two blowholes on the top of its head. The air is expelled and cooled so rapidly that it forms a distinctive cloud, which is often mistaken for water! Why do Humpbacks breach? For humpback the purpose for this exciting display of power is not completely understood, but has been suggested to be a way to lose parasites, communicate long distances, or simply play.  Orcas tend to use This behavior has been suggested to be a form of long range communication with other whales, a display of dominance, a way to observe above the water, and just for fun – herding and concentrating feed.
What is their conservation status? Humpback whales are threatened and they are specially protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act. It is estimated there are over 10,000-15,000 Humpbacks world-wide; however, they are indicated as an endangered species.
How you can protect the Humpback Whale? Follow the whale watchers code. Boats should not approach closer than 100 meters to a whale, a vessel should not separate a group or mother and calf and, if you are in the water and a whale approaches, you must stay at least 30 meters from the whale. If you should spot a whale entangled in rope or fishing gear call the Department of Environment and Conservation so the department’s special whale and dolphin disentanglement team can help the animal.
The Ultimate Experience with a Humpback Whale and her Calf:
Once the end of the Boston project approached, I successfully identified and witnessed 375 Humpback whales. I had a lot of great moments with Humpbacks, but my ultimate favorite happened on an early evening in December 2007. I had just finished eating dinner and was walking directly outside to watch the sunset over Boston. I had begun skimming the water for any signs of whales and/or dolphins in the immediate area. I must have been looking about 1 kilometer from the boat off the port side, when all of a sudden I felt a cold gush of water splash me in the face! Immediately shocked and startled, I glanced down to see a whale and its eyes looking right at me! Not just any whale, this was a Humpback whale with her calf! I must have stared at her right in the eye for a solid 5 minutes; she was only a few feet from the bottom of the boat! The massive size of her flippers, her white patched fluke, and the size of her dorsal fin all caught my eye! I remember thinking how gorgeous this mammal was and how amazing it was to see her and her calf so up-close and within my personal view!  I could never put this moment into words (I tried dozens of times), but the adrenaline that overcame my body and the sheer excitement that I felt when first saw the Humpback’s eye looking at me was absolutely INCREDIBLE! Not to mention the goose-bumps that rose all over my body, my heart pounding violently out of my chest, and my eyes in awe of such a majestic creature will forever live on in my memory of that fantastic night!
*All North Atlantic right whale photographs are taken by various National Geographic Biologists. In addition, all Humpback photographs are provided by a respectable colleague, friend, and biologist Juliet Shrimpton.

Cal Dive Commercial Scuba Divers; a Mental and Physical Occupation


Main Protocol Established on Project:
The main objective for this project was for Marine Mammal Scientists seldom called Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) to monitor the “exclusion zone” and make sure that the area was clear of marine mammals once the project was in operation – “The Humpback Whales at Sunset; a Mission for Marine Mammal Preservation.” In order to have a safe and operational project, there was a main protocol that had to be followed both by the Marine Mammal Scientists and the Cal Dive commercial scuba diving team. What is white, thick, and rolls on the horizon? The answer is fog – visibility is very important when you are monitoring the area for marine mammals and also assisting the safety of the commercial divers in the bell. A few steps had to be taken to assure the proper shutdown of this event:
    • For Dynamic Positioning or DP vessels, during daytime and nighttime conditions if fog inhibits our visibility of the 0.5 mile exclusion zone or inhibited us from doing normal night time IR scans, we needed to contact the Spectra client representative onboard and immediately notify him that our visibility was reduced.  
    • At that time the client rep will meet with operations and provide us a time line as that details what resolution they will come up with and approximately how long it will take to bring the bell in and go into a shutdown. 
    •  Once we had that time line, I was assigned to give MJ a call, give me an assessment of the weather and the visibility.
    • In result, MJ discussed the situation with the client and then she and the client rep reached an agreement on which action they took. The key factors that were discussed during that time was how bad the fog was, how long  the vessel will be fogged in, how long it would take to pull the bell and equipment in, and how long they would have to finish a scheduled bell run. 
    • In rare cases, if dive operations were in progress, then they were halted and brought onboard until visibility was adequate to see a half mile. At the time of shutdown, the use of thrusters was minimized. If there were potential safety problems due to the shutdown, the captain decided what operations could safely be shut down.
I had two shutdown operations when it came to the reduced visibility that was caused by fog. The fog rolled in unexpectedly after dinner and Whitney and I were getting ready to head back outside. As soon we looked out the bridge window, we could not see anything! I did not have a visible view of the bow or any of the bridge wings – I automatically called MJ and explained to her the situation. After the correct procedures were followed, the end result was a shutdown. The superintendent on the Cal Dive team was relieved that his divers were back on the deck after we shutdown. I remember him telling me that he just came out of his cabin and could not walk to the dive shack without running into the railing a few times. It sounded like we shutdown just in the nick of time!
Familiarize yourself on the Cal Dive Commercial Scuba Diving Team’s Responsibilities:

Since the construction of a pipeline was being built hundreds of meters under the ocean surface, a special crew known as commercial scuba divers had to be called upon to complete the task. What is a commercial scuba diver? Let us start with an example, what do pipelines, cables, and bridges have in common? They can all be found within our waterways and like other structures they need to be built, maintained and repaired. Commercial divers perform underwater activities related to construction, inspection, search, salvage, repair and photography. They work inland in rivers, lakes and canals or offshore in harbors and oceans. They may use specialized equipment such as diving helmets, underwater cutting torches, underwater welding equipment, wet-suits, dry-suits, hot water heated suits, diving bells, decompression chambers, full face masks and air compressors.

Danny from the Cal Dive Team; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007
Commercial diving is a mentally and physically demanding occupation. It is necessary that divers have a good understanding of the physiological and psychological effects of pressure, such as burst lung syndrome and decompression sickness. They must be strong and able to think well under pressure and in adverse weather conditions. Divers must also know how to interpret blueprint information and plan and execute a successful dive.

 
Adam and Danny from the Cal Dive Team; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007
There are diving rules to be followed: they must dive in teams, with someone monitoring from land or from a boat or submarine. Often, paramedics stand by in case of any emergencies. When working in dangerous or difficult areas, or when conducting a search for lost property or bodies, they plan the dive before they jump, use scuba-diving equipment, and restrict their searches to small areas — only searching about 150 to 300 feet at a time. Using maps, they sweep the areas, while attached to a tether. They must be meticulous about their work, ensuring that all points on the map have been covered before calling an end to the search.

Rocket aka Zac from the Cal Dive Team; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007
On any given day commercial divers can be found installing or repairing pipelines in a local canal or taking pictures of structures using special photographic equipment. It may sound like fun, but sometimes divers are called upon to perform less than desirable tasks such as working in sewage treatment facilities, taking bottom samples, and inspecting and repairing plumbing systems. Divers are also called on for search and rescue missions and are responsible for locating bodies under the water or ice. 
Pat and Jimmy from the Cal Dive Team; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007
Fatal Injuries due to Commercial Scuba Diving:
The dive bell that was a part of the project was raised and lowered out of the water several times a day – the dive bell had 2 commercial divers inside at all times. If there was a sighting in the exclusion zone, it was mandatory for the Marine Mammal Scientists or as crew recognized us as Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) to tell the dive superintendent immediately for the safety of his commercial divers. I have heard situations where commercial divers come in close contact with marine mammals under the surface – the result is sometimes fatal; usually it ends this way due to a broken leg from the contact with the whale’s fluke. If a commercial diver breaks his leg under the surface hundreds of feet below, then he must be treated right away or he will in consequence lose too much blood and die a fatal death. In an extreme rare case, the diver’s blood could attract shark frenzy and thus, become a vital statistic to a shark attack. As any commercial diver and scuba diver will tell you, once you are on the ocean’s surface for several minutes, it is required that you have a decompression stage – allows you to avoid decompression sickness.
Since I was onboard for Halloween, the Cal Dive team wanted to tell us girls a “scary story,” but their definition of a scary story was, in reality, a true event that took place in the commercial scuba diving world. The story was told of a 23 year old Australian who was a professional scallop diver and dove in shark infested waters. The diver was wearing a “shark pod” – acted as an electric shark repellent and activated by a on and off switch. The problem was that the diver dove prematurely without the “shark pod” stimulated. The death was determined as a violent shark attack, when ironically the “shark pod” surfaced, but the body was never found. The coroner highly suggested that due to this catastrophic event that all commercial and recreational divers working in waters where the presence of sharks was a high risk and it is encouraged to wear a shark repellent device.
 
Collection of the Best Commercial Diving Photographs:




 
Underwater Scenery to Observe while Diving:




*All Commercial Scuba Diving photographs are supplied by my good friends and colleagues on the Cal Dive Boston, Massachusetts project.