Frequently Asked Questions
September 24, 2008
There have been some frequently asked questions that I would like to address in today’s journal entry. These responses are from USGS scientist Jonathan Childs, chief scientist for Healy.
Disposal of waste and expendable equipment from Healy
Healy has a comprehensive recycling program onboard to avoid disposing into the ocean anything that might be environmentally harmful. Cans, bottles, batteries, cardboard, waste paper, printer paper, and especially all forms of plastic are collected and stored in deck containers for recycling or disposal on shore. Extensive precautionary measures are in place aboard Healy (and all U.S. Coast Guard vessels for that matter) to ensure that no petroleum products (oil, gas, diesel, etc.) whatsoever are ever discharged or spill into the ocean. Only biodegradable organic matter is disposed of while we are at sea.
We do use a small number of expendable scientific instruments that are designed to either sink immediately to the bottom of the ocean, or to sink after a set amount of time (usually a few hours). Unlike a great amount of material that is lost each year from commercial vessels (fishing boats or container ships for example), which may float in the ocean for years or wash ashore and contaminate beaches, these instruments are insignificant in quantity and size, and after sinking to the ocean floor are environmentally benign.
Effects of sound systems on marine wildlife
Extensive precautions are in place to prevent not only any physical harm to marine mammals, but to minimize even the possible affects our sound sources might have on the behavior of marine mammals. There is a team of three lookouts on the Louis whose sole duty is to watch for marine mammals. There are also two lookouts (or “observers”) on the Healy. Most of these observers are from the Canadian and Alaskan native communities, and they are experts at spotting and identifying marine life on the ice.
The ships have carefully designed procedures for starting up the acoustic sound sources. For example, the airguns are not started if a marine mammal has been observed anywhere in the vicinity of the ship for 30 minutes. The airgun array is not started all at once, but gradually “ramped up” to avoid the possibility that an animal we can’t see underwater will suddenly be affected by the sound at full strength. And, if any marine mammals are observed within 1 nautical mile (about 6,080 feet) of the ships, the system is turned off until the animal has left the area, or the ship has traveled out of the animal’s range. Similarly, the ships make every attempt to minimize disturbance to polar bears. We avoid approaching closer than 1 mile to any bears that we see. In numerous scientific studies, the various sound sources we use have never been shown to have any detrimental effect on fish.
I hope this clarifies some of your questions. Check back soon for updates on data collection and the final leg of our journey!
Until next time,