NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard R/V Savannah
August 16 — 26, 2011
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean (Off the Georgia and Florida Coasts)
Date: Monday, August 22, 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge (the wheelhouse, where the controls of the ship are)
S-SW Wind at 15 knots
(This means wind is travelling 15 nautical miles per hour, 1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile)
Sea depth today ranged from 45 meters to 74 meters
Seas 3-4 feet in the morning, 2-3 feet in the evening (measure of the height of the back of the waves, lower the number = calmer seas and steadier boat)
Science and Technology Log
In my last blog, I explained what I am doing on the first half of my shift (noon to around 6:00pm/dinnertime) and how we conduct our research on the aft deck of the boat: we drop chevron traps to the ocean floor with cameras attached and then pick up the traps with fish sample collections. The fish we trap and the cameras recording the activity around the traps help us estimate the fish populations. We finish up this segment of our work on the deck of the boat by recording this data in a systematic data collection sheet called “Length Frequency”. If we didn’t record the data the same way every time, it would be impossible to compare the thousands of samples in the past and into the future and understand what is happening to the populations of fish over time.
Here is a picture of us recording the weight and length of the fish and the frequency (how many we caught) in a systematic way, always keeping track of where the fish were caught as well. Because we catch large numbers of certain fish species (such as Vermillion Snapper, Red Porgy, Gray triggerfish, and Black Sea Bass), we do not keep all of them for further research. When recording/reporting “toss” or keep” got monotonous, I found ways to communicate creatively—how many words can you think of that rhyme with “toss” and “keep”? I got 11 for toss and 16 for keep. David, Katie, and Stephen were such sports for going along with my silly games!
After this point in the day, the fish are in bags and put on ice, and we wash up for dinner.
After dinner, our work moves into the wet lab, where we prepare biological samples for further research. For the rest of this log section I describe more about how and why we
use the biological samples.
We use the biological samples to obtain and report important biological measures such as age, length, weight, feeding habits, and genetics. In order to know specific ages of the fish, we take out a small bone in the fish called the OTOLITH, which is located in the inner ear. An otolith is a reliable source to obtain the age of a fish. They show age in rings similar to how trees show their age in their growth rings. We also take the GONADS from the fish to give important information about reproductive development. Here is a picture of me dissecting a vermillion snapper and taking out the otolith (right hand) and gonads (left hand) to send to the lab back in Beaufort, North Carolina, where scientists work.
Sometimes after dinner we had time to fish with hook and line in the stunning sunset. This method of catching fish provided us with fish samples to study that did not have stomachs full of bait like the rest of our fish samples caught in traps. We did this so we could study their stomach contents and learn about what they are eating and get information about the ecosystem they are dependent upon. We were targeting vermillion snapper and gray triggerfish, fish that are known to really gorge on bait in the traps. Sarah was dissecting the stomach of scamp grouper and found an octopus beak!
When Sarah was dissecting the stomach of a scamp grouper, she found an octopus beak, the last part of the octopus to be digested. Exciting find!!
Here is one of my favorite pictures of all, captured during one of our hook and line battles, and a testament to the incredible teamwork of the scientists and crewmen. How many people does it take to catch a fish? Here, 5 of us were working on the same task. Lines from 4 reels were tied up from a strong fish swimming in circles, and it took an intense team effort to unravel them in a critical moment. Success was sweetly earned.
Click here for more info on the fish we are studying for stock assessments.
I’m on a boat! This phrase has been repeated many times and it captures my enthusiastic awe (with a touch of humor) that I have had many privileges, and the fortune to be around some remarkable people, day in and day out. I took the opportunity to interview a few of them so I could share it here. (Next blog: Interview with Captain Raymond Sweatte)
Interview with Richard Huguley, engineer
Interview with Katie Rowe, scientist and scuba diver/instructor
Marian: What do you like about working in a lab?
Katie: Lab work is about exploration, you don’t know entirely what you’ll find. We’re looking for otoliths, etc, but there is a possibility to find anything!
M: What makes the best partnerships in the lab?
Katie: I like working with people who are organized and efficient, people who can interpret and know what needs to be done next. It takes an organized system for people to work like this, like we work here. The system works well here so everyone knows what they are doing, and what happens next so we can all step in and do what needs to be done.
M: What’s your favorite animal?
Katie: Bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, because they are adaptable. They can survive in fresh water. In Nicaragua, one was found in fresh water going after fish to eat, and they thought it was a new species, but then realized it was the bull shark. They have the highest testosterone of any animal in the world, so they are bad-tempered, but I still love them. I named my cat Leucas after the bull shark’s Latin name.
Thanks Katie! It was great to work with you day in and day out! You are a tough gal and make an excellent partner, very organized and efficient!
Fun extra: How do we retrieve the buoys and pull up the fish traps? I got to try my hand at this new sport, the grapple hook toss. I am so grateful to have had the chance to try my hand at so many different roles. Thanks for the opportunity!