This year's three and a half week-long cruise had four separate legs during which distinct research projects took place. Weather studies took place continually throughout the voyage. The following paragraphs summarize the projects on this year's cruise.
The purpose of this study is to learn to use the Navy's listening array at Point Sur to help determine numbers and locations of whale populations offshore. The arrays have been in place for years and were previously used to detect submarines; the Navy is anxious to find alternative uses for them.
Researchers used NOAA's sea plane, piloted by Matt Pickett, to locate blue and humpback whales. Then, both the McArthur and Point Sur arrays recorded sounds coming from the whales. Scientists will compare the readings from the two locations and learn to identify the sounds coming in to Point Sur. Eventually, the technology that was originally used solely for military purposes will help to study whale abundance and distribution.
This (second) leg of the cruise was part of an ongoing critical habitat study in the Sanctuary in which researchers are trying to determine why certain parts of the Sanctuary are such good feeding areas for marine mammals and birds. A similar study is also ongoing in the Channel Islands Sanctuary.
Researchers were studying the fish and plankton prey populations that whales and birds feed on. They used sonar equipment and nets that can open and close at specified depths to describe where the prey is (what level) and how it moves up and down in the water column.
In addition to contributing to the ongoing critical habitat study, scientists believe the information gathered in this project will help the Sanctuary analyze the effects of El Niño on birds, marine mammals, and their prey.
The purpose of this study is to understand better where the Sanctuary's sediment is coming from and where it is going. Understanding the area's "sediment budget" helps show how habitats are maintained an important element in managing habitats. Equipment placed underwater in several locations around the Sanctuary has been recording currents and sediment transportation for the past year. Researchers picked up equipment that had been working for the past year and put new equipment in its place.
The fourth leg was used to further an ambitious, ongoing project to map the Sanctuary's sea floor habitats. The Sanctuary has been working with the USGS on this project for several years, and it is anticipated that a map of the entire Sanctuary floor will be completed by the year 2000.
"Then, instead of managing general political boundaries, we can manage resources associated with the specific habitats," explains Andrew DeVogelaere. Over the years, the project has used various methods to map the sea floor. Side-scan sonar can show whether the floor is hard or soft and where faults are located. Box core samples from the Sanctuary floor show sediment size and chemistry.
Throughout the four legs of the cruise, weather balloons were launched every six hours to assess temperature, pressure, and humidity. Weather studies are done regularly from Oakland Airport and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, but the area between those two points is not well documented. The data gathered on this year's cruise will contribute to a better understanding of overall Sanctuary weather patterns.
This year's "Teacher at Sea" participant, Mellie Lewis, was in charge of the weather research. A teacher from Atholton Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland, Lewis is going to develop curriculum on marine weather and other oceanography subjects based on her work on the McArthur. NOAA's Teacher at Sea program strives to develop closer connections between the education and research communities by including educators onboard research vessels like the McArthur.
In recognition of the importance of the world's oceans and their resources, the United Nations has declared 1998 as the International Year of the Ocean (IYO). Governments, organizations, and individuals around the world including those here on California's Central Coast will be taking advantage of this designation to promote ocean awareness and education with a series of special events and publications to commemorate the occasion.
"Many efforts are underway to develop educational materials for the public, teachers, schools, and others," says Dr. James Baker, NOAA's Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere. A public outreach campaign, partnerships with other groups (such as the JASON Foundation), and special events throughout the year are some of NOAA's plans for the IYO.
In California we are fortunate to have four National Marine Sanctuaries (Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Cordell Bank, and Gulf of the Farallones), and a population that is probably much more aware of the importance of our oceans than the average global citizen. The network of California Sanctuaries along with eight others around the country already provides extensive marine-oriented public education, research, and conservation programs. The IYO offers U.S. Sanctuaries the opportunity to enhance and inject a global twist to their ongoing work.
Local IYO activities will be focused around existing Monterey Bay Sanctuary events, such as the Sanctuary Currents Symposium in March and the September birthday celebrations in Monterey and Santa Cruz. Additionally, local institutions are coming up with their own ways to acknowledge the year, according to David McIntyre, President of the United Nations Association, Monterey Bay Chapter. For example, the Monterey Bay Aquarium will print a special IYO message on the back of approximately 250,000 tickets in 1998.
McIntyre's group is encouraging schools and organizations to include IYO in their regular activities. "We are urging them to highlight that this is the United Nations International Year of the Ocean so as to increase awareness both in the general public but also in policy makers of the importance of the oceans as a finite, yet sustainable resource," he says.
"The overall objective is to focus and reinforce the attention of the public, governments, and decision makers at large on the importance of the oceans and the marine environment as resources for sustainable development."
UNESCO International Year of the Ocean web site