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Field Notes: NOAA Ship Sets out to Collect Field Biologists in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

August 13, 2019

The 2019 field season was to retrieve monk seal and sea turtle biologists after three months of research activities in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

High-Frequency Acoustic Package Recovery

This morning, the team recovered a high-frequency acoustic recording package (HARP) for the Cetacean Research Program and deployed a new one in its place. The Sette's maneuvering and crane operations where impressive. The HARP will sit on the seafloor at a depth of around 1,000 m for the next year, listening for cetacean calls and collecting terabytes of acoustic data. This data will help to document the occurrence of everything from dolphins and humpback whales to the elusive beaked whales.


The ship's crew retrieve the high-frequency acoustic recording package (HARP).


After turtle biologist couple Marylou and Jan Willem Staman working two field seasons side-by-side at French Frigate Shoals, this was the first field season time apart. When Jan Willem joined the Sette science team to survey turtles, he neglected to share his plans with his wife, the leader of the French Frigate Shoals turtle camp, that the Sette team will be doing a stopover. Everyone played along to surprise Marylou. It was a touching scene when the small boat pulled up to the Tern Island dock and the mysterious crew member removed his sunglasses and sun mask.

Two turtle biologists reunited at French Frigate Shoals.

Turtle biologist couple Jan Willem and Marylou Staman reunited after 3 months.

Laysan Team

Today, the NOAA Ship made its first stop at Laysan Island. The field team was in great spirits and worked like a well-oiled machine after a banner year with 40 monk seal pups. We joined the team for a survey, during which they delivered their last vaccine for the season. We used our large team to herd one of the pups to a nice spot for tagging (#39 tagged out of 40). They definitely earned their first ice-cold popsicles in 3 months!

Three scientists of the Laysan Team on Laysan Island.

The Laysan Team enjoying some well-deserved popsicles.

Lisianski Shore Pen

The team had a great day on Lisianski Island. They were able to help build a secure shore pen for malnourished monk seal pups that need rehabilitation. Rehab candidates can be penned on the beach a few days before pick-up to ensure that they make it onto the ship.

Lisianski Shore pen for monk seals.

The team makes a shore pen for monk seal rehab candidates.

First Stop: Nihoa!

The crew's first stop at Nihoa Island was a success. The seas were favorable and the seals were plentiful. The monk seal researchers were able to get a good survey of both the west ledge and the primary beach, counting a total of 22 seals that included a nursing pup. The team is now transiting to Mokumanamana, hoping for another great survey tomorrow.

Two monk seals on the beach on Nihoa Islan.d,

Monk seals on the beach at Nihoa Island with the NOAA Ship Sette in the background.

Return to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands


The NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette set sail Tuesday, August 13th, to pick up our field biologists. They have spent the summer researching Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.