Kevin Sullivan: Zooplankton, September 1-5, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area:  Bering Sea
Date:  September 1-5, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 

Leg 1 has concluded.  Oscar Dyson is currently at port in Dutch Harbor.  Please use link (NOAA Ship locator) to follow ship in future research cruises and current location/conditions.

Science and Technology Log

I am back home and my expedition aboard the Oscar Dyson has come to a conclusion.  My travels home had me leaving Dutch Harbor at 7:30 PM and arriving into Newark, NJ the following day at 2:30 pm EST, an incredibly long, red-eye flight back home.  Although my involvement aboard the ship has come and gone, the ship is currently in port at Dutch Harbor taking on more fuel and supplies and readying to do a “turnaround trip”.  For Leg II they will be heading back out into the Bering Sea to obtain further data.  The following is a map that depicts the stations for Leg 1 and 2.  For Leg 1, all of the green stations (40#) represents the areas where we conducted our research.  For Leg II, they will be focusing on the black circle stations.  When all of this field work is complete, and the numbers are “crunched” they can be extrapolated out to get a better idea of the overall health of the Bering Sea ecosystem as detailed in prior blogs.

BASIS 2011 Station Grids
BASIS 2011 Station Grid

So, before I left Alaska, I was discussing a bloom and readying the blog platform for a discussion of zooplankton and other higher-ordered interactions of the Bering.  Ok, so moving on…the next feeding level in the marine world would be the primary consumers….the zooplankton.  Zooplankton, although a very simplified explanation, are essentially animals that drift (planktonic) while consuming phytoplankton (for the most part).  These zooplankton in turn, are a resource for consumers on higher trophic levels such as the Pacific Cod, salmon,  and Walleye Pollock (which are a primary focus on this survey).  Zooplankton are typically small and in order to obtain samples from the sea, we have been utilizing specialized nets (information and pictures to follow) to extract, analyze and collect them for further investigations back at the lab.

The following picture is a good visual to represent this flow of energy that we have been discussing since the first Blog Entry.  An important observation is that the sun is the “engine” that initiates all of these interactions.  The exchange of carbon dioxide compliments of Photosynthesis and respiration, the abundance of phytoplankton in the photic zone (see last blog entry), which are food for the zooplankton, which in turn, become food for higher-order carnivores.

Marine Food Chain
Marine Food Chain

One of the more important zooplankton species out in the Bering are the euphasiids.  These are small invertebrates found in all of worlds oceans.  The common name is Krill.  These species are considered a huge part of the trophic level connection, feeding on the phytoplankton and converting this energy into a form suitable for the larger animals.  In the last blog, I put in some pictures of euphasiids that we caught.  These euphasiids have a very high lipid content (fat) and in turn, are what is responsible for getting salmon their richness in oily flesh, the Omega Fatty acids, and there natural, pink-fleshed color.  I have read before about the differences between farm-raised vs. wild salmon from a nutritional standpoint.  Farm-raised salmon often lack the abundant Omega oils that are found in the wild species.  Also, it is true that in order for the farm-raised salmon to get their pinkish color to the flesh, they are fed a nutritional supplement to give the color….essentially, like adding a food dye.  So, in class this year, we will have to be very careful when analyzing the pros and cons of aquaculture/fish-farming.

Personal Log

Although my official involvement with the Oscar Dyson has come to an end, I will take with me the experiences and knowledge for a lifetime.  It was everything I was hoping it would be and then so much more.  These blogs, the pictures, the video…… all do the expedition no justice.  However, I have pledged to make every effort possible to spread the word about NOAA and its mission and this is exactly what I will do.  I have several more decades of career in front of me and I know that between now and that date, I will use this recent expedition countless times and will hopefully convince the general public about the overall importance of government agencies like NOAA and how common resources must be valued and protected to ensure the health of all of Earth’s inhabitants.

There are so many people who I would like to thank for providing and delivering such an extraordinary experience.  All of the crew aboard the Oscar Dyson, from the engineers, to the chef,  and captain……Thank You.  Your professionalism and ability were truly inspiring.

To the Scientists, You were really the “teachers at sea”.  May you always continue your motivated path to revealing the beautiful secrets this planet has to offer.  Also, my hope that it continues to be done in a fashion that I saw while during my time on the water…..In a professional, unbiased, non-political fashion.  You have reassured my passion for the sciences and have given me fuel to disprove any “non-believers” who claim that the sciences have become corrupted.  In the end, you have shown me the most universal and balanced approach at reaching the truth.

Thanks for reading.

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