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The Hunt for the Alligator

Hunt for the Alligator Expedition Log for Saturday, Sept. 10, 2005

By Michael Overfield
Chief Scientist/Archaeologist
NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries

driving the ROV
Deanna Connor (left), a junior at Friends' Central School in Wynnewood, Pa., tries her hand at piloting a remotely operated vehicle - a robot sub on a tether - while Friends' Central School science teacher Dyann Connor looks on. Photo: John Williams/ONR

It’s September off of Cape Hatteras, the height of the hurricane season. Listening to offshore weather reports throughout the night and early morning, the offshore forecast called for 7-9 foot seas for both Saturday and Sunday. Hurricane Ophelia has begun to move and was looking to threaten the border between South and North Carolina. 

Although the on-water survey portion of our project has been called off, the opportunity for the students and teachers from Philadelphia, PA, and Norfolk, VA, to participate in the Hunt went on. A briefing was held on the fantail of the YP-679 at 1000 hours. The briefing, held by the chief scientist (yours truly), described the plan of the day and gave an overview of the project, along with a description of the work performed the previous day. 

After the briefing, each equipment representative gave a detailed account of their particular piece of survey equipment and the reason it was ideally suited for this type of survey. In addition, the data collected on Friday was being post-processed on board for the teachers and student to see.

reviewing sidescan
NAVSEA technicians Aamir Qaiyumi (left) and Mark Connolly give Deanna Connor (center), Dyann Connor and the Independence Seaport Museum's Karen Cronin a lesson in interpreting side scan sonar data collected by the REMUS unmanned underwater vehicle. Photo: John Williams/ONR

Lunch was served to the guests aboard the YP (submarine sandwiches and Gatorade). After lunch, Eben Franks from Benthos went the extra mile and set-up the Stngray ROV off the back deck of the YP-679. Not only did Eben give everyone a demonstration of the Stingrays abilities, but he gave everyone on board an opportunity to drive the ROV! 

At 1530 hours, a mandatory evacuation notice went out for Ocracoke Island and all of Hyde County, North Carolina. Although the Hurricane was approaching, it appeared that the group would be able to sleep on the Island on Saturday and leave first thing Sunday morning. After a group dinner on Ocracoke and the sun setting on another attempt to find the elusive Alligator, the science team prepared for an early morning departure.

Although only one day of survey was completed, a lot of valuable data had been collected and will be reviewed over the next several weeks. All the participants are anxious to return and continue with the Hunt and we look forward to our next chance to hunt for the USS ALLIGATOR!


There are a number of individuals and organizations NOAA and the Office of Naval Research would like to thank for their continued logistical help on the 2005 Hunt for the Alligator: Alton Ballance from the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT), Joe Schwartzer from the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and Julie Howard from the Ocracoke Preservation Society for providing local knowledge of the Outer Banks to our team and engaging teachers, students and the community in our project; Chief Chris Sinclair and his team at the U.S. Coast Guard Station and the staff of the National Park Service in Ocracoke for accommodating the YP-679 in their harbor and opening their doors to us for critical mission support; the staff at the Harborside Motel and Island Inn, who make us feel like part of their family and always go the extra mile to make us feel at home in Ocracoke; and Captain James Winch of the RESTLESS and Captain Ernie Dosier of the GECKO for their operational assistance, expert seamanship and invaluable knowledge of  the offshore sea conditions. We would also like to thank the survey team of Richard Dentzman and Barry Brake with IXSEA, C. Eben Franks with Benthos, and John McCormick and his staff from NAVSEA for not only providing the survey instrumentation, but also their tireless work in acquiring data in the survey areas along with their spirit for adventure.  Finally, we would like to thank the people of Ocracoke for making us feel welcome in their beautiful island community.