Alex Eilers, August 31, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 31, 2008

Alex putting glow sticks on branch line.
Alex putting glow sticks on branch line.

August 29 – Longline fishing for swordfish

Today’s major objective was to catch swordfish for tagging using a fishing method called longlining. Longline fishing uses one main line held just below the water’s surface with several buoys.  Attached to the main line are several smaller branch lines with hooks and bait.  The branch lines extent 42 feet or 7 fathoms into the ocean.

Preparing to launch the longline is quite a sight and it requires a number of individuals, each working in unison. There is a person who baits the hooks on the branch line then hooks it to the main line, another person attaches a glow stick (used to attract the swordfish), and a third person attaches the buoy to the main line.  There are also a number of people working behind the scenes sorting lines and working the winch. After all the branch lines are hooked to the main line, the line soaks in the water for several hours – in hopes that a swordfish will take the bait.

Crew setting gear
Crew setting gear

Reeling in the line took about two hours because the line was 4 miles long and held over 200 hooks.  I thought this was an extremely long line but was told that commercial fishing vessels use between 40 to 60 miles of line with thousands of branch lines. Wow!

Unfortunately, we were unable to tag any swordfish but hope to try again on Labor Day. What an incredible experience today has been.

August 30 and 31 – Rock’n and Roll’n

Whoa, Whoa… is about all you heard me say over the past two days.  We’re going through a rough patch today – high winds and swells up to 5 or 7 meters – between 15 and 20 feet.  We sure were glad the scientific equipment was secured during the first few days – because everything that wasn’t tied down went flying – including chairs, drinks and the crew.  The closest thing I could come to describing this experience would be like riding a non-stop Disney ride.  The inclinometer reading (an instrument that is use to detect the degrees a boat rolls) recorded a maximum tilt of about 36 degrees.   To put thing into perspective, I am now typing with one hand and holding the table with the other.  Unfortunately, many of the science projects were cancelled due to high seas.  We hope to be in the calmer waters of Monterey Bay area tomorrow.


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