NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship, Oscar Elton Sette
March 12 – March 26, 2012
Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 19, 2012
Small Boat Operations
Today I switched from the night shift to days. Joining the crew on the small boat operations was a real treat. The two 10-meter small boats are used for a variety of scientific study such as fishing, plankton tows, researching protected species, cetacean acoustic studies, and A.U.V. autonomous underwater vehicle maneuvers. Today we will be fishing the ledge of 2% Bank for snapper fish. When deployed the boats are raised and lowered off the side of the 200-foot Oscar Elton Sette for each fishing excursion. This is no easy feat, taking synchronized orchestration of all hands.
First, everyone involved has a safety briefing to discuss rules, procedure and safety tips, including the ship’s captain, scientists, crew members, and the 2 coxswains , Mills Dunlap and Jamie Barlow, drivers of each boat.
Once all the gear is loaded onto the boat such as fishing gear, the day’s water supply, ice chests filled with ice to keep fish cold, lunches, and personal belongings(sunscreen, hat, and windbreaker), we carefully step into the boat which hangs beside the ship approx 8 feet above the surface of the ocean. The small orange boat hangs by one strong metal hook connected through a large metal eye which secure four fabric straps at each corner of the boat. The boat dangles from the side much like a clock’s pendulum ticking each minute of time.
Crew member Doug Roberts, the ship’s boatswain or bosun, is operating the crane today. The boat is then lowered taking its passengers to the ocean’s surging surface. Keeping our eyes on the large yellow metal hook, our life line to the Sette, the small orange boat descends.
Once the boat hits the water, it becomes a bobbing cork, undulating with each approaching swell, frequently banging into the hull of the NOAA Ship Sette.
“Boom, Bang, Bash” as the small boat hits the hull of the great hulk.
Quickly pulling the hook out of the eye, the coxswain Mills Dunlap speeds away to find the daily fishing position using the boat’s G.P.S., Global Positioning System. The scientists hope to catch a nice variety of snapper species and further their study on growth patterns of fish in American Samoa waters.
The seas were milder in the morning with swells of 6-8 feet which gradually made way for windier afternoon conditions producing choppy seas and blustery winds.
I was on the boat with NOAA oceanographic scientist Ryan Nichols and Mills Dunlap, skilled fisherman. They both patiently taught me how to fish. Wave conditions ranged from 4-6 feet which made for being a bit unstable on my feet. Ryan has perfected his fishing technique, tying 4 fish hooks on each line, looking like a Christmas tree with each hook being a colorful ornament. This allowed us to catch multiple fish on each line. Today’s operation was to fish as close to the Bot Cam, a remote underwater camera as possible. Scientists hope to use the video tape fish behavior in the benthicpelagic range which is 100-200 fathoms deep/600-1200 feet.
The Bot Cam uses a tethered camera that is later released to float to the surface, and using acoustics a.k.a. sonar readings, scientists Ryan Nichols, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center , Meagan Sundberg, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research of the University of Hawaii, and Jamie Barlow , Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, will collect samples of fish at selected sites during the cruise.
Scientists are researching fish behavior, competition, species interactions, throughout the water column. Specifically they are looking at the bottom fish society, scientists refer the it as the “complex” and how they relate to each other socially, behavioral, clues into their social structure, eating behaviors, predator/prey avoidance, response to fishing gear presence. Looking at dominate and non-dominate fish behavior. Bottom fish snapper species and predator fish, Jack, a very dominate fish. The Bot Cam reminds me of the behavior when you set up a bird feeder.
The fish were certainly biting. The two small boats caught approx. 40 fish that day.
So far, it has been a very productive trip, and they have caught many snapper fish:
Four species of snapper have been collected which include:
genus Pristipomoides, Aphareus rutilans (long jaw job fish/lehi)
Furca (rusty jobfish)
Etelis (ruby snapper/onaga(Japanese)
two species of tuna in the Scombridae family
yellow fin tuna, and dog-tooth tuna
four species of grouper:
Total number of catch: 224
Once on the Sette I joined the scientists as they processed today’s catch. Forming a production line we worked to measure each fish including:
- weight in kilograms
- length using centimeters
- determine if the fish is male or female by extracting the fishes’ gonad organ
- harvest the odilith, ear bone, that helps determine the fish’s age. Extracting the ear bone helps scientists determine the fish’s age by reading the rings much like a trunk of a tree.
All in all there was “Lots of sun and tons of fun and many fish.”
cox·swain (k k s n, -sw n ). n. 1. A person who usually steers a ship’s boat and has charge of its crew
small boats – A NOAA vessel used for a variety of scientific study such at fishing, plankton tows, researching protected species, cetacean acoustic studies, and A.U.V., autonomous underwater vehicle maneuvers
Tropical Birds Seen:
Red footed booby