23 August, 2002
As I write today's journal, we are anchored off Nome! Although we will remain on board until Monday morning, nearly all our work is done, and everyone is packing up and preparing final reports. We have the luxury of a bit of time to accomplish all this because we ran into so few problems (ice, bad weather) during the cruise and people worked so well once we were on station. It's strange to see the lab now with boxes packed instead of equipment, samples and instruments everywhere. It's also hard to believe that we started this venture 40 days ago when we first boarded the ship on July 15. Now that our main work is complete and I don't need to think just about work, journals and sleep, I've begun to think of getting home and back to school. I have learned so much and I can't wait to share it with my students! I'm so glad that I have been keeping these journals, because it gave me the opportunity to talk with each of the scientists on board to learn about their work and how it fits into the overall project goals. Being an active part of science as it happens is incredibly exciting, and I hope I can translate that excitement to my students.
I mentioned yesterday that we traveled through a pod of gray whales that were feeding all around us. They were in approximately the same area where we spotted them on our way up the coast at the beginning of the trip. According to Jackie, a fellow researcher has found gray whales feeding further north which corresponds to her observations of declines of gray whale food prey in the sediments in their traditional feeding grounds. If that's true, the reasons for the lack of food are unclear. It could be related to global climate change or it could be other factors as well. Remember that a major goal of the SBI Project is to better understand the western Arctic Ocean in order to predict what might occur as a result of a change in climate. Gray whales are benthic feeders (remember that Jackie's work is on the benthic organisms, those that live on the bottom). They have a very strong lower jaw that they can even use to dig animals out of the bottom sediments. As they do, they also scoop up pebbles and sand that remain for a time in their stomachs. As we were sampling this area on our way up the coast, we found lots of amphipods (small pink crustaceans that remind me a little of shrimp). Amphipods are the primary food of the gray whales, and when we found those, we knew we would see the whales.
Tomorrow a boat will take some equipment and samples into Nome for shipping. Many of the researchers are sending home frozen samples that must be treated carefully to maintain them until they get back for analysis. The logistics of sorting, cleaning and packing are incredible. Everyone has done this so often that they seem to know just what to do, but I am amazed by how efficiently it has all been accomplished. Delicate instruments, large pieces of equipment, samples, and even an entire portable laboratory must be off the ship by Monday. Some of it will remain until the ship reaches Seattle, but everything must eventually be taken off. The full SBI cruises will resume in 2004, and this will all start again!!
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