NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle von der Heyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010
Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Thursday, June 17
Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 26.52.6 N, longitude = 096.46.7 W
Present Weather: 3/8 cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2 degrees Celsius, wet bulb = 27.5 degrees Celsius
Science and Technology Log
We reached our first research station 40 miles off the coast of Southern Texas sometime in the early morning. To maximize the use of daylight, the scientists begin collecting data one hour after sunrise (around 0730 hours) and work until one hour before sunset (around 1930 hours). At each station, a camera array is lifted and lowered by a crane into the water column, down to the ocean floor. The depth of the ocean varies at each station but today the depth was somewhere around 68 meters (about 224 feet). The camera array has 4 sets of cameras pointing in each direction. Each set of cameras contains one video recorder and two still-shot cameras that take turns snapping pictures, sort of like closing your right eye, then your left eye, then your right eye, and so on. The purpose of the still-shots is to help the scientists, along with the use of lasers, to estimate the length of the fish in the images. The cameras stay submerged for 45 minutes and then they are hauled back up to the surface.
The next thing that happens at each station is the lowering of a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) into the water column. The CTD measures the changes in salinity (salt level), temperature, and dissolved oxygen as it passes through the water column. This data is transmitted directly to a computer graph where a technician watches and monitors to make sure the CTD is working properly and stays within 2 meters of the ocean floor.
The camera array and CTD are lowered at every station, but two stations are chosen randomly to drop a Chevron trap and two stations are chosen randomly to lower a Bandit Reel. The Chevron trap is baited with squid and physically picked up and thrown over the deck. The trap is fitted with weights on the bottom to make sure it lands in the right position on the ocean floor and soaks for one hour before being hauled back to the surface. During the first drop of the trap, we hauled in a giant Warsaw Grouper weighing over 16 kilograms (35.2 pounds)!
The Bandit Reel is like a long line sent straight down to the bottom of the ocean. It has 10 hooks that are baited with fresh mackerel and lowered to soak for 10 minutes. Luck was on our side again as the first drop of the bandit reel hooked 9 Red Snapper! This was our first look at the fish that is the main subject of our Reef Fish Survey.
Before venturing on this journey out to sea, I wasn’t sure if I would experience the dreaded sea-sickness caused by the constant motion of the ship rolling back and forth in the waves. Even the most seasoned of seafarers can suffer from this ailment caused by imbalances sensed by the inner ear bones. Ensign Schill, who has suffered from sea-sickness on past cruises, recommended that I be safe rather than sorry. I took medicine to prevent sea-sickness the first two days and decided to skip it on the third day. The rolling of the ship increased on the third day but as of now, I haven’t experienced anything unpleasant from the motion. In fact, I find it soothing and have slept well since being at sea. I hope this lasts for the rest of the trip!
Thursday morning I woke up early to make sure I wouldn’t miss anything on the first day of the survey. Immediately upon stepping out on the deck, one of the deckhands handed me a hard hat and a life vest. This is necessary anytime the crane is in operatioRaising and lowering the equipment can be dangerous with ropes and cables that quickly unravel and follow the cameras as they sink into the water. I tried to stay out of the way as the deckhands, scientists, and officers on the bridge coordinated to place the instruments in just the right location. Things moved a little slowly at first but after a few drops everyone seemed to get into a rhythm and the pace picked up.
Certainly the most exciting time of the day is setting out the trap or lowering the Bandit Reel. Everyone waits in anticipation to see what rises from the depths of the ocean. When the first trap came up I couldn’t believe my eyes at the size of what was inside! I thought it was a shark at first. The opening to the trap is not very big and I could not believe a fish that large was able to swim inside. It was quite a struggle to get the giant Grouper out of the trap and into the wet lab to weigh and measure. It was even more of a sight to see the fish flip flop itself completely on its side while on the lab table. This was one of the biggest fish I have ever seen – outside of the water that is. It was also exciting to see our first Bandit Reel haul in 9 Red Snappers. Some of them had their air bladders popping out of their mouths because of the drastic pressure change from the ocean floor – a sight I had to quickly get used to as we worked to take weight and length measurements of all the fish we caught.
Animals Seen Today:
Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)
Warsaw Grouper (Epinephelus nigritis)
Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates): Caught on Bandit Reel before it sank into the depths. It was released – after Melinda had a chance to kiss it goodbye. The picture on the right is of the top of its head.