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2008 NWHI Mission
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My, What Big Eyes You Have

By Stephanie Lachance, NOAA

Today is the first day at sea. The morning air was filled with excitement as people boarded the ship and unpacked their belongings to give their state room a personal feel as it will be home for the next 17 days.  Two NOAA Corp officers gave an orientation to familiarize folks with the ship, her rules and where to go in an emergency with drills to follow.

spinner dolphins
Spinner dolphins come along for a ride with the researchers.
The Big Eyes team, which is one of my duties, then headed up to the flying bridge to execute our first round of looking through the big eyes in search of marine life and marine debris. The big eyes are enormous binoculars bolted to the deck. It’s a 12-hour shift with 2 hour rotations. Just outside of Honolulu, off the Waianae coast a pod of dolphins swam with us. They were having so much fun jumping out of the water welcoming us to their world.

I was on the first round of observing through the big eyes. About 15 minutes in, I was seeing double and my stomach was queasy with a watery mouth. When you are looking through binoculars, constantly moving them up and down to keep a certain marker on the horizon and scanning a 90 degree arc, and the ship is going up and down, it gets dizzying. Afterwards, I had to immediately retire to my bunk to regain my composure but it did not help. Once the sea sickness has you in its grasp there is no turning back! Others didn’t make it to their bunk and had to make a pit stop along the way to feed the fish.

spinner dolphins
Using the 'Big Eyes.'
We later found out that we're doing this in a Beaufort 5-6 rating which means a small craft advisory. Being that the team is new to using the big eyes they decided to revise the schedule and use naked eye observations with binoculars until conditions improve and we are better trained.

Once we reach the convergence zone and the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) starts searching for marine debris, the big eyes are going to be a major support element, assisting in the search for large floating nets.

Tomorrow we have a meeting to discuss expectations once we reach the convergence zone. I’m hoping a good night sleep will give me the bearings, and iron stomach, for a productive day. 

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