NOAA Teacher At Sea: Elizabeth Warren Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Surveys Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: July, 9 2010
Getting into it!
Weather Data from the Bridge: Temperature: Water: 30.5℃ Air: 29.6 ℃ Wind: 2 knots Swell: .3 meters Location: 27. 51° N, 91.48° W Weather: Sunny, Humidity 70%, light clouds
Today we began the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey.
A little background information: The surveying began in 1992 through now with a few years with no data in the middle where there wasn’t enough funding or boat time. The survey is conducted to show what types of species of fish live around the different types of topographical locations on the seafloor, specifically around the continental shelf (think about the sea floor as if it is a continent, there are mountain ranges, plains, banks, ledges, etc). The survey runs from Brownsville, TX to the Dry Tortuga’s, FL. Currently, I am on the second leg of the survey. The first leg was two and half weeks.
The areas that are surveyed are called blocks they are 10 by 10 nautical miles, these sites are selected randomly from previous bathymetric data, this is the mapping that we did yesterday. At each site an aluminum four stereo camera array and a Seabird 911 CTD is dropped, more information about this tomorrow. The camera pod, which NOAA actually makes in their lab, is composed of specially designed housing units that include two black and white still cameras that take pictures like you would blink your eyes, as well as a color mpeg camera that runs continuously.
Attached to the aluminum casing is a Temperature Depth Recorder (TDR), more about this later. At each site the pod is dropped over the side of the ship using a hydraulic side A-frame. The camera is left in the water for 45 minutes, once the camera is at the seafloor it begins to record. Throughout the day the cameras save their data to the 180 GB hard drive, all of the day’s drops are then downloaded onto an 2 TB external hard drive and burned to a blue ray disc during the night. This disc is briefly observed by the chief scientist and then later taken back to the onshore lab to identify and count all species of fish.
Also throughout the day, 4 sites are randomly chosen to drop either a bandit reel or a chevron fish trap. This random selection is done very scientifically. One scientist asks another to pull up a randomly created number table on the computer, the person at the computer wiggles the mouse and closes his eyes and then calls out one of the numbers that corresponds with the site numbers. A chevron fish trap which is a large wire cage is baited with squid, (Yes!) then left at the site to soak for an hour.
A bandit reel is a vertical line with ten evenly spaced hooks baited with mackerel. The line is lowered to the sea floor and soaked in for ten minutes. When these fish are brought on board they are weighed, measured, cataloged, and some are frozen to preserve for further research. On this survey groupers, trigger fish, and snapper are frozen and taken back for baseline testing by National Seafood Inspection Laboratory.
Today we were sampling at Sweet Bank. All together we dropped the camera at 7 different sites throughout this block. Science out at sea is 10 minutes of a lot of excitement followed by an hour of waiting. For the first site I observed from inside the lab, watching as they dropped the camera and brought it back up. The first site was early in the day so when they pulled the camera’s up they found that they couldn’t see anything because the light had not yet penetrated to the ocean floor. At the second site I had my first job, I was to go out after they pulled the camera, turn it off, then turn the other knob to configure then turn the camera back on. I was so nervous that I turned the second knob to configure then back to record! Oops!
We also dropped the first chevron trap of the day. While the trap was soaking we moved to the third site and dropped the camera. We went back to the fish trap to pick it up. When you go out and there are hydraulic A-frames working you have to wear a hard hat and aPDF (Personal Floatation Device).
Bob Carter, the electronics technician lent me his helmet. When Captain Jerry was on deck he took issue with the design on the helmet. Anne-Marie and I got all ready and watched as they pulled up an empty fish trap, something had eaten the bait but they escaped capture. We were all dressed up with no fish to go! When we went back in the labs Kevin explained to us that one of the hardest things to learn as a scientist is that zero is a number. Even though it was disappointing that the trap came up empty it did mean something to the data.
We moved on to pick up the camera at the fourth site. At the fourth site we also did a bandit reel. I have no problem getting a little dirty so I helped bait the bandit reel. You have to put the hook through the bait then turn it and pull the hook through again. I got pretty fishy! We waited with baited breath to see if what we could pull up. The crew pulled up the bandit reel and there were two enormous fish caught on the reel. One was red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) and the other was a red porgy (Pagruspagrus).
We took the fish into the wet lab and measured them. There are three different ways to measure the fish. First you measure the total length which is to the end of the tail. Then you measure the forked length which is to the fork of the tail. Then you measure the standard length which is to the end of the hyplural plate at the end of the vertebrae. Then, the fish is weighed on a scale. All of this is done using the metric system. ( Ahh hah! There is a reason I teach the metric system of measurement! ) Lastly, Joey Salisbury, the watch leader for the scientist crew, checked to see what the sex of the two fish were. With the porgy he could cut him open and check the sex because he wasn’t being kept for Seafood Inspection, another way to tell the sex on some species that are dimorphic ordichromatic, is to look at the color of their lips . For the red snapper, since it had to be kept for inspection we were not able to tell what the sex was.
After some cajoling Joey also agreed to pull the otoliths (ear bones) of the porgy for me so I could bring them back to my class. You can tell the age of the fish from their ear bones, you stain them and count the rings just like you would for a tree.
While all of this was happening on deck, in the lab the bathymetric mapping was noticing an odd mass, that was eating up everything and leaving behind blank space. Kevin decided to run an oil soaking rag down on the bandit reel to test if the mass was oil. Thankfully, when he pulled the rag back up it was oil free! We decided that the mass on the screen must have been a school of fish.
At each site we were able to do a little bit more of the science. I was able to weigh and measure the second set of fish from the last bandit reel. The fish were so heavy, and they move. I did squeal a little but I’m proud to say I did not scream! The spines on the snapper’s dorsal fin could poke holes in you, so I had to be careful when I picked her up. We could tell she was a female because when we pulled her up the change in pressure blew her air bladder and pushed her ovaries came out. (I know , I know, but remember this is in the realm of science so you all should be saying “how interesting” no ewws out there. )
Where to start! Yesterday really felt like three days in one. All of the science is so interesting. I keep asking a billion questions and everyone is a hundred percent willing to answer every one. Their patience is greatly appreciated since for every answer they give me I come up with 50 more questions to clarify their answers. They were also extraordinary patient when I made a mistake. I was so embarrassed and worried that I had somehow messed up the video feed! They assured me that I hadn’t messed it up, but for the rest of the day Joey, the watch leader, gave me a hard time about knobs, hatches, and doors. The hatches and doors are incredibly heavy so I have to stop and really pull whenever I go into any hallway, and closing the hatches requires me to have nothing in my hands. At one point during the day I got confused as to which way to turn the hatch, and the crew kept telling me to pull the wrong way.
Everyone jokes constantly and you have to go with the flow and be a quick. Attempting to come up with comebacks is keeping me on my toes. As most of you know I’m willing to get dirty so any job that dealt with touching things I’m all over it. Baiting the bandit reel and the chevron fish trap were gooey and squishy and I was covered in fish guts and squid parts by the end of the day. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be smelly and gross! It was pretty funny that they put me in the Cowboys helmet, you know cause you know I watch so much football. Captain Jerry threatened to throw it overboard because he is a Saints fan. The first two days we were conserving water while we were in possible oil impacted waters; today we were given the go ahead to take what the captain called “rock star showers”. Boy, was I in need of one today, at the end of the day I even had a streak of grease up my leg!
The crew is hilarious! They are constantly working everywhere you go. I go down one passageway and they are mopping, another they are vacuuming, down the ladder well and I run into someone sweeping. Think about how important it is to keep the ship clean. As we were standing waiting for the bandit reel to come up one of the crew started to fish with a line and a hook right off the side of the boat.
When they threw the fish heads in from the cut up mackerel they caught a bunch of blue runners (Caranx crysos). I even managed to catch one! I was okay trying to kiss the fish..until he tried to kiss back!
At the end of the day, Anne Marie and I went out to the back deck to try and work on our logs but the crew was out their fishing. One of the crew, Ryan, caught a 55 lb greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili) and then turned around and caught another one that was just a little bit smaller! The big one was almost as long as I am tall! The Junior Officer Kurt caught a yellow-edge grouper, which Kevin pulled the otoliths out of for me and Anne-Marie. Every other minute another of the crew would catch another fish. I didn’t get much of my log done I was so distracted by the different fish they kept catching.
I’m leaving so much out, but I’ll include more in my next log.