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6 July, 2003

We're at sea at last! Shortly after we got underway yesterday evening, all of scientists attended an orientation on the ship's emergency procedures. Even though it would only be used as a last resort, we practiced getting into our survival suits, and then, while wearing our suits, we awkwardly boarded a life boat.

After the meeting, a few of us proceeded to the bow of the ship to enjoy the smooth sailing and the abundant marine life in this part of the Bering Sea. Over the course of a couple of hours, we viewed at least 25 Humpback Whales and a Dall's Porpoise. Add to that the thousands and thousands of seabirds that continuously pass by the ship, it's easy to see why we are having a "whale" of a good time.

The reason why all of this wildlife is out here, of course, can be described in one word -food. The Humpback whales feed on krill and small fish. One hunting technique employed by the whales is to circle their food source while releasing a wall of bubbles as they slowly come to the surface. Once the Humpbacks have successfully encircled their prey in this net of bubbles, they charge through with their mouths wide open. We believed we observed this hunting behavior on two occasions as evidenced by the feeding frenzy of seabirds on the surface that must have been taking advantage of the whales herding efforts. It was entertaining to watch the seabirds suddenly scatter when the Humpbacks breeched the surface.

The seabirds are fun to observe too. The most common bird by far that we have seen are Northern Fulmars. Fulmars belong to a group of birds known as tubenoses. Their nostrils merge into a single tube perched on top of their bill which allows the fulmars to expel the salt from the sea water that they drink. We have also observed numerous puffins, shearwaters, murres, auklets, storm petrels, phalaropes, jaegers, guillemots, kittiwakes, murrelets, and albatrosses.

Meanwhile, everyone continues set up their lab areas. We plan to do some test casts (i.e. lower some oceanographic equipment into the water) tomorrow.

A surfacing Minke Whale.

A flock of fulmars.

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