Susan Kaiser: Ready, Set, SCIENCE!! July 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 29, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 36 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 20 min W
Wind Speed: 5.8 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.5 C
Air Temperature: 29.5 C
Relative Humidity: 67.0%

Science and Technology Log

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Science is messy! Extracting DNA, observing animals in their native habitat or dissecting are just a few examples. On board NOAA Ship Nancy Foster it may even be stinky but only for a little while. That is because the divers are retrieving the Vemco Receivers also called VR2s for short. These devices have been sitting on the ocean floor quietly collecting data on several kinds of grouper and snapper fish. Now it is time to download the VR2s recorded information and give them new batteries before placing them at a new site. So, why are they stinky? Even though the VR2s are enclosed inside another pipe, sea organisms have begun to grow on the top of the VR2. They form a crust that is stinky but can be scraped away with a knife. Any object left in the ocean will soon be colonized by sea creatures such as oysters, algae, and sponges to name a few. These organisms will grow and completely cover the area if they are undisturbed. This crust smells like old seaweed drying on an ocean beach.

VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Clean VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Really, it isn’t too bad and after a while you don’t notice it so much. Besides this is the only way scientists can get the numbers out of the VR2. These numbers tell scientists which fish have been swimming by and how often. Some of the VR2s have collected over 21,000 data points but most have fewer. This information alone helps scientists understand which areas of the ocean floor each species of grouper and snapper prefer as their home or habitat. These data points can even paint a picture of how these fish use the habitat space over the period of an entire year.

Have you been wondering what the VR2s are listening for? You may be surprised to learn it is a signal called a ping from a tracking device that was surgically implanted while the fish is still underwater! The ping is unique for each individual fish. The surgeries were completed when the study began in 2008. First, the fish are caught in live traps. If the trap is in deep water (>80ft) divers descend to perform the surgery on the ocean floor. The fish’s eyes are covered and it is turned upside down. Then a small incision is made in their abdomen and the tag is inserted below the skin. Stitches that dissolve over time are used to close the incision. Once the fish has recovered a bit it is released. An external tag is also clipped into the dorsal fin so other people will know the fish is part of a scientific study. Fish caught in the upper part of the water column may be brought up to the surface slowly and kept in a holding tank while the surgery performed on the boat. Scientists have noted the fish are less stressed by being caught, handled and tagged using this method.  This is a factor for collecting enough data to gain a real understanding of these fishes behavior.

Scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are able to conduct this study with support from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant. They have also worked with other agencies on this research including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)  the area where the VR2s are positioned. Since 2008 they have learned a great deal to better understand how grouper and snapper use habitat. Both fish are good for eating and are found on the menu in many restaurants around the world. They are commercially harvested and fished by recreational fishermen like you and me. Fishing is a big industry in all coastal locations and especially in Florida. In fact, commercial fishing alone accounts for  between 5-8% of total income or jobs in the local economy of the Florida Keys.  Knowledge gained from this study will help FWC and FKNMS guide decisions about fishing and recreation in the FKNMS and be aware of negative impacts to these fish populations in the future. Stinky air is small sacrifice to help preserve populations of groupers and snappers.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

You can see that exploring marine habitats takes time, trained people and resources. Luckily a device has been developed to help scientists explore the ocean floor in an efficient and safe way. This little gem is called a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. It is a cool science tool operated with a joy-stick controller.  The ROV can dive and maneuver at the same time it sends images back to the operator who is using a computer or wearing virtual reality glasses. Yes, I said virtual reality glasses! The operator can see what the ROV can “see” in the depths of the ocean. I had the opportunity see the ROV in the lab and then ride with the ROV team as they tested the equipment and built their skills manipulating this tool in dive situations. The beauty of the ROV is that it can dive deeper than is allowed for a human diver (>130 feet) and it can stay down for a longer period of time without stopping to adjust to depth changes like a human. If a dive site has a potential risk due to its location or other factors, the ROV can be sent down instead. Scientists can make decisions based on the ROV images to make a plan for a safe live dive and save time and resources. Science is messy, sometimes, but it is cool too!

Personal Log

The weather has been simply amazing with calm crystal clear seas and very smooth sailing. Still, spending the day in the sun saps your energy. However, that feeling doesn’t last too long after a nice shower and a trip to the mess to enjoy a delicious meal prepared in the galley. There Chief Steward Lito Llena and 2nd Cook Randy Covington work their magic to cook some terrific meals including a BBQ dinner one evening on the upper deck. They have thought of everything, especially dessert! I will be paying for it later by running extra laps when I get back home but it will be worth it.

Mrs. Kaiser's stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

Mrs. Kaiser’s stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

My stateroom is a cozy spot with everything one would need and nothing more. A sink is in the room but showers and toilets are down the hall a few doors. One item that is missing is a window. It is so very dark when the lights are off you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It is easy to over sleep! Surprisingly noise has been minimal since the rooms are very well insulated. I share this space with three female scientists but we each have a curtain to turn our bunks into a tiny private space. I enjoy climbing up in my top bunk, closing my little curtain and reading my book Seabiscuit, An American Legend before being rocked to sleep by the ship.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew have been wonderful hosts on this cruise. All have patiently answered my questions and helped me find my way around to do what I need to do. I am curious about their life at sea and the opportunities it affords them to see new places, meet new people and engage in new experiences too. I hope to learn more about their careers as mariners before this voyage ends. The ship truly is a welcome place to call home for these two weeks.

Talia Romito: Second Day at Sea, July 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Talia Romito
Onboard R/V Fulmar
July 24– July 29, 2012

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries
Date: July 25, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 37 53.55 W
Longitude: 123 5.7 N

Weather Data From Bridge:
Air Temperature 12.2 C (54 F)
Wind Speed 15 knots/ 17 mph
Wind Direction: From the South West
Surface Water Temperature: 13 C (55.4 F)

Science and Technology Log

Wednesday July 25, 2012

Up Early!

I woke up at 6 AM to the sounds of the people scurrying around to get ready for departure.  The Captain, Erik, and Mate, Dave were preparing the boat while the rest of us were getting breakfast and loading gear.  We welcomed four people onto the boat to complete the team for the day.

Me on the left in my Rubber Fashion Statement

Me on the left in my Rubber Fashion Statement

Today we are completing both the Offshore and Nearshore Line 6 transects.  It is going to be a long day for me with eight stations along the transect for deploying different instruments for gathering data.  I’ll tell you more about that a little later.  The scientists and crew decided to start at the West end of Offshore Line 6.  It took about two hours to get out there so while the crew was in the Wheelhouse the rest of us were able to settle in for little cat naps.  It felt so good to be able to get a little more sleep before the work began.

Gear Up and Get to Work!

With ten minutes until “go” time, the team started to get ready for the long day ahead.  Everyone had on many layers of clothes with a protective waterproof outer layer.  I put on my black rubber boots, yellow rubber overalls, and bright orange float coat (jacket with built-in floatation).  I looked like a bumble bee who ran into an orange flower.  It was definitely one of my better fashion statements.  I think everyone should wear rubber clothes in bright colors, just kidding :P.

Conductivity - Temperature - Depth CTD

Conductivity – Temperature – Depth – CTD

The boat stopped and then Kaitlin and I got to work on the back deck.  At each station we deployed at least two pieces of equipment.  The first is the CTD which means Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  This machine is so cool. It gathers information about a bunch of different things.  It has four different types of sensors.  They include percentage of dissolved oxygen, turbidity (amount of particulates in the water), fluorometer for chlorophyll A (the intensity and wavelength of a certain spectrum of light), and a conductivity/ temperature meter in order to calculate salinity.

The second piece of equipment is the Hoop Net.  The name is pretty intuitive, but I’ll describe it to you anyway.  There is a large steel hoop that is 1 meter in diameter on one end.  The net connects to it and gradually gets smaller to the cod end at the collection bucket which is 4.5 centimeters in diameter.

Hoop Net on the winch

Hoop Net

The net is 3.5 meters long from hoop to where it connects to the collection bucket and the mesh is 333 microns.  The bucket has screens that allows water and phytoplankton to escape.  The purpose of the hoop is to collect zooplankton.  The samples we collect to go the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Canada to be processed after the cruise is over.

The third piece of equipment is the Tucker Trawl.  We deploy it once each day near the Shelf Break in order to collect krill.  This net is huge and heavy.  This net allows the scientists to get samples at different depths within the water column.  The Tucker Trawl has three separate nets; top, middle, and bottom.  They deploy it with the bottom net open and then close the bottom and open the middle and top nets in order as the net raises.  They let out  400 meters of cable in order to be at a depth of 200 meters below the surface to start and raise the net from there stopping twice to open the next two nets.  The scientists watch the eco-sounder (sophisticated fish finder) and determine at what depth they would like to open the next two nets.  Please watch the video to get a clear picture of what is going on and how awesome it is.

The Funny Part!

Blow out Pants

Blow out Pants

Ok so working on the back deck has a  lot of ups and downs literally.  When Kaitlin and I are deploying or recovering the CTD and Hoop Net we are bending, stretching, working on our knees and more.  The first time I bent over to rinse down the hoop net I accidentally dropped the spray nozzle and it locked in the open position; I was sprayed with a steady stream of seawater right in the face until Kaitlin was able to turn in off.  It was definitely a cold welcome to work on the boat.  Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you we use seawater on the back deck for rinsing nets, etc.  There is a freshwater hose, but that is mainly used to clean the boat after each cruise.  The second time I got on my knees to collect a specimen from the Hoop Net I had a blow out!  My rubber pants split right down the middle.  So much for being prepared.  The Mate Dave was nice enough to let me borrow his rubber pants for the remainder of the trip.  Thanks Dave – you’re a life saver.

Camaraderie and Practical Jokers!

In between the stations and observing we all like to have a good time.  We always snack in between.  If someone gets something out then we all help ourselves to some of theirs or our own concoction.  We’re eating pretzels, chips and salsa, carrots and humus, pea pods, dried apple chips and more.

Fishing Lure

Fishing Lure

Erik had been planning to punk the scientists during this trip.  He bought a blue glittery fishing lure that looks like a centipede and waited for the most opportune moment to pull his prank.  While the scientists were getting the Tucker Trawl ready he tossed the lure into one of the nets so that it would come up with the sample.  When we pulled up the net Kaitlin and I saw it in the collection bucket and were very curious about what it was.  We called Jamie over and after a few moments realized it was a lure and looked up to see Erik and Dave laughing hysterically at us.  It was a good time all around.  At the same time the observers where coming down from the Flybridge and Jamie was able to continue the prank for at least fifteen minutes.  We all had a good laugh when the second group realized it was a lure too.

View from the Boat!

Black Footed Albatross

Black Footed Albatross

This is one of the best parts of the day!  I saw so many different animals from the boat during the day.  Here are just a few of the highlights.  A mother whale and calf pair were breaching multiple times.  Another Humpback Whale was tail slapping at least 12 times that I counted.  We saw Blue Whales too.  The seabirds were around as well.  The most common were Sooty Shearwaters, Common Murres, Pomarine Jaegers, and Black Footed Albatrosses.  All of these birds are amazing.  If you see a Common Murre adult and chick; the adult is the dad he’s the one that raises the chick.  The Jaeger has a special kind of scavenging style called Cleptoparasitism (stealing food from other birds).  I saw one chasing another bird till it dropped its food in mid-air and the Jaeger caught the fish before it hit the water.  Pretty cool right?!

On the way back to Sausalito we went right under the Golden Gate Bridge.  The weather was perfect.  The sun was setting with puffy clouds in a baby blue sky.  As my eyes drifted down towards San Francisco I was mesmerized by the view.  I could see the entire Bay.  The buildings reflected the golden glow of the sunset perfectly.  There wasn’t a whisper of fog on the water; I could see Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, and The Bay Bridge.

Steven Frantz: Training at Sea, July 30, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Tagging Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the east coast of  Florida
Date: July 29, 2012



In my last blog I mentioned we would be at sea three days to get to where we will begin the longline survey. I thought I would take a little time to share some of the training before we ever start a longline survey. Everybody pitches in to make sure we have a safe, successful journey.

First we learned the different parts to the longline. The line starts with a high-flier buoy and a weight. Gangions (also known as a branch line or leader) are snapped to the line. Another weight is placed midway, with more gangions, then finally another high-flier buoy at the end. There are 100 gangions used for the NFMS Bottom Longline Survey. While there are several variations when using longline gear, the NFMS Bottom Longline Survey has used this standardized set-up in order to minimize variables.  By using the same gear year after year they are able to compare fish catch data, minimizing any bias attributed to changing gear that may fish differently.

This just isn’t your average fishing trip! The longline itself is one nautical mile long! How long is this on land? In addition, each end is also calculated into the total length. This will vary depending on how deep the ocean floor is where we are fishing. The longline is left for one hour then retrieved.

Longline Diagram

Longline Diagram, courtesy Dr. Trey Driggers

Before we begin, everything needs to be ready and in place. Each gangion has to be placed in a barrel so they do not get tangled taking them out. A tangled bunch of gangions is a big problem. First, the AK snap of the gangion goes into the bucket. Next, let the line go into the bucket. Finally, place the hook in the notch in the bucket, making sure it points in toward the bucket. We certainly do not want anyone passing by caught by a hook.


From top to bottom: clips, hooks, AK snaps 

Hooks on Bucket

How to place gangions in the bucket

Numbered Tags

Numbered Tags

There are many data scientists use in their research. We need to make sure we collect accurate data; consistent with the 18 years this study has been going on. First we learned how to measure the length (in millimeters) of a shark. We used an Atlantic Mackerel as a measurement example. There are three length measurements to be taken: Total Length (from tip or nose to tip of tail), Fork Length (from tip of nose to notch in tail), and Standard Length (from tip of nose to where body ends and tail begins). The shark is placed on a two meter long measuring board. If the shark is longer than two meters, a measuring tape is used to measure length. The three lengths are recorded.

measuring board

Measuring Board

In addition to the three length measurements, we must also identify the species of shark, measure weight, condition when caught, sex, maturity (for males), hook number, and any tag information if the shark had been tagged before. For some species, if the shark isn’t tagged, we will tag it. We also need to record which vessel we are on, which survey, which station, and the date. Data is also being collected on many aspects of the water. Other samples may be taken that will determine the age of the shark (vertebrae).

Data Sheet

Data Sheet

The last thing we learned was how to bait a hook. These hooks are big! Atlantic Mackerel are used for bait. We must be careful to double hook the bait or it will fall off.

Cutting Bait

Cutting Bait

Baited Hooks

Baited Hooks

There you have it. Tomorrow I will begin working the longline actually fishing for sharks!

After three days in the Gulf of Mexico we see land! We passed near enough to be able to see the coastline of Miami. It all seems so peaceful here aboard the Oregon II when looking out into what I know is the hustle and bustle of Miami, Florida.



Allan Phipps: Let the Fishing Begin! July 28, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

Mission: Alaskan Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: July 28, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 61°24’39″N
Longitude: 177°07’68″W
Ship speed: 3.8 knots (4.4 mph) currently fishing

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed: 6.9 knots (7.9 mph)
Wind Direction: 30°T
Wave Height: 2ft with 2-4ft swells
Surface Water Temperature: 8.7°C ( 47.7°F)
Air Temperature: 7.9°C ( 46.2°F)
Barometric pressure: 1005.8 millibar (0.99 atm)

The NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Science and Technology Log:

Since the main goal of this voyage is the acoustic-trawl survey of the mid-water portion of the Alaskan pollock population, I thought I would start by telling you how we go fishing to catch pollock!  This isn’t the type of fishing I’m used to… Alaskan pollock is a semi-demersal species, which means it inhabits from the middle of the water column (mid-water) downward to the seafloor.  This mid-water survey is typically carried out once every two years.  Another NOAA Fisheries survey, the bottom trawl survey, surveys the bottom-dwelling or demersal portion of the pollock population every year.  I will begin by describing how we are fishing for pollock on this acoustic-trawl survey.

The Oscar Dyson carries two different types of trawling nets for capturing fish as part of the mid-water survey, the AWT (Aleutian Wing Trawl which is a mid-water trawl net) and the 83-112 (a bottom-trawl net that is named for the length of its 83 foot long head rope that is at the top of the mouth of the net and the 112 foot long weighted foot rope at the bottom of the mouth of the net).  One of the research projects on board the Oscar Dyson is a feasibility study that involves a comparison of the AWT and using the 83-112 bottom-trawl net as if it were a mid-water net.  The 83-112 is much smaller than the AWT, so there is concern with the fish avoiding this net and thus causing a reduction in catch.  While the bottom trawl survey acquires good information on the bottom-dwelling pollock using the 83-112 bottom trawl, if they also used this net to sample in mid-water they could help “fill in” estimates of mid-water dwelling pollock in years when the acoustic mid-water trawl survey does not occur.

Scale model of the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) net courtesy of NOAA Scientist Kresimir Williams

When the net is deployed from the ship, the first part of the net in the water is called the cod end.  This is where the caught fish end up.  The mesh size of the net gets smaller and smaller until the mesh size at the cod end is only ½ inch (The mesh size at the mouth of the net is over 3 meters!).

The AWT is also outfitted with a Cam-Trawl, which is the next major part that hits the water.  This is a pair of cameras that help scientists identify and measure the fish that are caught in the net.  Eventually, this technology might be used to allow scientists to gather data on fish biomass without having to actually collect any fish (more on this technology later).  This piece of equipment has to be “sewn” into the side of the net each time the crew is instructed to deploy the AWT.  The crew uses a special type of knot called a “zipper” knot, which allows them to untie the entire length of knots with one pull on the end much like yarn from a sweater comes unraveled.

Cam-Trawl on deck, ready to be “sewn in” to the AWT.

The Cam-Trawl is now “sewn in” to the AWT and is ready to be deployed.

 Along the head rope, there is a piece of net called the “kite” where a series of sensors are attached to help the scientists gather data about the depth of the net, the shape of the net underwater, how large the net opening is, determine if the net is tangled, how far the net is off the bottom, and see an acoustic signal if fish are actually going into the net (more on these sensors later, although the major acoustic sensor is affectionately called the “turtle”).

Close-up view of the AWT scale model to highlight the kite and the turtle that ride at the top of the net. The third wire holds the electrical wires that send data from the turtle to the bridge (courtesy of Kresimir Williams).

Once the kite is deployed, a pair of tom weights (each weighing 250 lbs), are attached to the bridal cables to help separate the head rope from the foot rope and ensure the mouth of the net will open.  Then, after a good length of cable is let out, the crew transfers the net from the net reel to the two tuna towers and attach the doors.  The doors act as hydrofoils and create drag to ensure the net mouth opens wide.  Our AWT net usually has a 25 meter opening from head rope to foot rope and a 35 meter opening from side to side.

This picture shows the A-frame with the two tuna towers on either side. The AWT is being deployed down the trawl ramp on the stern of the ship.

The scientists use acoustic data to determine at what depth they should fish, then the OOD (Officer on Deck) uses a scope table to determine how much cable to let out in order to reach our target depth.  Adjustments to the depth of the head rope can be made by adjusting speed and/or adjusting the length of cable released.

The scientists use more acoustic data sent from the “turtle” to determine when enough fish are caught to have a scientifically viable sample size, then the entire net is hauled in.  Once on board, the crew uses a crane to lift the cod end over to the lift-table.  The lift-table then dumps the catch into the fish lab where the fish get sorted on a conveyor belt.  More on acoustics and what happens in the fish lab in my next blog!

The port side crane is lifting the cod end over to the starboard side where the lift-table will receive this morning’s catch.

Personal Log:

WOW!  What an adventure!!!  So I must get you caught up on some of the happenings thus far.  After a mix-up where my reservation was cancelled on the Saturday afternoon flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor and the threat of being stranded in Anchorage for another day, I finally made it to Dutch.  The weather cooperated (which is not the case more often than not), and we landed on Dutch Harbor after a quick refueling stop in King Salmon.  Since we landed after 8pm, we went straight to one of the few restaurants in Dutch Harbor and had a late dinner before heading to the Oscar Dyson for the night.

My flight after landing in Dutch Harbor, Alaska!

Sunday morning, we went with several of the scientists out to Alaska Ship Supply to get some gear.  I picked up my obligatory “Deadliest Catch” shirt and hat as all tourists do here in Dutch Harbor. We made three trips to the airport throughout the day to see if some of the science gear and luggage came, but came back disappointed.  On one of our trips to the airport, we had lunch at the airport restaurant.  I had Vietnamese Pho, which is a beef noodle soup, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the Pho my wife makes. 🙂 We also drove up the “Tsunami Evacuation Route” to an overlook where we could see all of Dutch Harbor and the town of Unalaska.  Later, we drove around Unalaska and stopped to check out some tidal pools on our way back to the Oscar Dyson.  In the afternoon, we checked out the World War II museum that was absolutely fascinating!  I did not know Dutch Harbor was bombed by the Japanese and that so many American soldiers were stationed in the bunkers surrounding the harbor.  For dinner, I had black cod (sablefish) at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.  Yummy!

Overlooking Dutch Harbor after driving up the Tsunami Evacuation Route.

Monday we embarked on our adventure shortly after noon.  We had to leave the dock because another ship was scheduled to offload there in the afternoon.  The scientists’ equipment arrived on a late Monday morning cargo flight, but they didn’t make it to the ship on time!!! We couldn’t go to sea without them, so we deployed the “Peggy D” to go pick them up and bring them aboard!

The Peggy D brings our scientists Rick and Kresimir with their long-awaited research equipment to the Oscar Dyson so we may head out to the Bering Sea!

Once we had our missing scientists, we left the safety of Dutch Harbor and ventured into open water.  On our way, we saw dozens of humpback whales!  None of the whales breached (jumped out of the water), but several of them fluked (dove and put their tail out of the water).

A couple of humpback whales spotted as we were leaving Dutch Harbor.

We started our day and a half journey to get to the starting point of our survey transects (the end point of last month’s survey).  On our trip out, we experienced 6 to 10 ft seas and a 25 knot wind.  It was a “gentle” welcome to the Bering Sea, but I struggled to get my sea legs underneath me.  Meclizine is great motion sickness medication, but it sure knocked me out.  I feel better now that I am not taking anything and am used to the rocking deck.  While we made our way to our first transect, we had a couple of emergency drills.  Here I am with fellow Teacher at Sea, Johanna, in our immersion suits as we completed our abandon ship drill.

Relaxing in the lounge after putting on our “gumby” suits.

On Wednesday morning, we began our first transect and did our first trawl along the transect (more on that later).  I learned how to work in the fish lab collecting biological data on the catch we brought on board.  I have been struggling to adjust to both my shift, which is 4am to 4pm, and the fact that the sun sets around 1am and rises at about 7am.

In the fish lab processing Pollock! Did someone order fish-sticks?

Thursday morning I woke on time and observed the survey scientists and crew deploying the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) rosette from the hero deck (on the starboard side).

Skilled Fisherman Jim is assisting with deploying the CTD.

We also had beautiful clear skies and I was able to see Venus and Jupiter.  At sunrise, I saw the GREEN FLASH!!!  It was a beautiful start to the day.

A Bering Sea sunrise!

We processed one mid-water AWT (Aleutian Wing Trawl) trawl that was all pollock, then switched to the 83-112 bottom trawl net (83 foot long head-rope and 112 foot long foot-rope) and pulled up a lot of jellyfish with our pollock.

Last night, I finally got a really good night sleep!  This morning (Friday), I watched the CTD deployment again and learned more about the data being collected (more on this later).  No spectacular sunrise this morning as it was the typical gray, foggy weather.  I went up and spent some time on the bridge and Chelsea, our navigator/medic, taught me a lot about the instrumentation used for navigating the ship.  There sure is a lot of technology on board!!!

A picture of the helm with some of the displays the OOD (Officer on Deck) uses to navigate the ship.

From the bridge, we saw a pod of Dall’s Porpoise feeding, splashing around, and moving fast!  We processed another AWT trawl of pollock that had quite a few herring mixed in.  We traveled further into Russian waters than originally anticipated as we tried to identify the northern boundaries of the pollock population to get the best picture of the entire pollock range.  We spotted a huge Russian trawler from the bridge!

A Russian trawler! I took this picture through the lens of the CO’s (Commanding Officer) binoculars.

We then headed south again towards American waters, but needed to do a quick water column profile test.  Since we did not want to stop to drop the CTD again, I got to deploy a XBT (Expendable Bathythermograph)!  After all the talk about safety briefings, the use of ballistics, and outfitting me with every piece of safety gear we could muster, I got ready to fire the XBT!!!  Turns out, when you pull the firing pin, the XBT just slides out of the tube… no fireworks, no big bang… just a small kurplunk as the XBT enters the water.  We all had a good laugh at my expense.  See, scientists know how to have fun!

Safety first!!! All decked out for the “fireworks” of shooting the XBT. My “was that it?” face says it all…

WOW!  So I have just scratched the surface of our voyage thus far!  Next time, I will give you a snapshot of what life was like aboard the ship.

Susan Kaiser: Safety and Teamwork Needed for Success, July 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 27, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 41 min N
Longitude:  82 deg 59 min W
Wind Speed: 5.61 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 30.33 C
Air Temperature: 29.33 C
Relative Humidity: 79.0%

Science and Technology Log

Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Safety is first in the science classroom AND on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster too. Our expected departure was delayed by one day because the Public Announcement (PA) system was not working. Without the PA system, communication about emergency situations would not be possible. The ship’s crew worked to solve the problem themselves and also contacted outside help, but in the end a part had to be replaced so we stayed in port at Key West an extra day. Ships don’t sail without meeting safety requirements. By morning on Friday the system was working fine and the crew prepared to set sail.

Lt Josh Slater leads the science team safety briefing in the dry lab.

After boarding the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster one of our first tasks was to review the safety protocols of the ship with one of the ship’s officers.  We learned the whistle signals for man overboard (3 prolonged blasts of the alarm), fire (1 continuous blast of the alarm) and abandon ship (7 or more short blasts followed by 1 long blast) and the designated places to report in these situations. We will be practicing abandon ship in a drill very soon so I will report on that later. Since the ship works on a 24 hour schedule someone is always awake on board which means someone is always asleep too.  Lt. Slater stressed the importance of not being too loud and showing respect for others’ space.  After all this ship is home to the crew and the science team are guests in that home.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.

Teamwork is critical on board the ship. The science team and the ship’s crew work closely to help each other achieve the best results and stay safe. Most of the data collected on this cruise uses divers. Twice each day, the science team meets to review the Plan of the Day or POD. This meeting allows team members to learn the expectations of them to meet the research objectives of the day. They also have the chance to provide input or to ask questions. What do you think is a main focus of this meeting?  You got it…Safety! While we waited for the PA system repair, the scientists checked their SCUBA gear again under the supervision of the ship’s crew members. This double-check insures all the equipment is safe to use.

After we steamed away from the keys, the scientists did a practice dive to simulate an unconscious diver at the surface. This drill included 5 science team divers as well as the ship’s crew and allowed them to practice their response in an emergency situation as well as deploying a small boat. A debriefing meeting afterward helped to identify the important tasks that need to be completed in the event of an emergency.   Practicing through drills allows a quick response to an unusual situation and helps everyone stay safe.

Unconscious diver drill. Pictured Ben Binder, Lt. Slater, and Chris Rawley. Sarah Fangman, who acts as the unconscious diver, is in the boat.

With the safety issues well-covered, the science team is ready to begin retrieving the “listening stations” called VR2s from their positions on the ocean floor tomorrow.  VR2 stands for Vemco Receiver 2 and is the model of the equipment used by the scientists use to collect fish movement information.  What do you think the “listening stations” are listening for? Read about the “listening stations” in a future posting of my blog. For now you can make an educated guess by reading for hints in this blog and answering this poll.

Personal Log

Mrs. Kaiser at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport ready to start her NOAA Teacher at Sea adventure!

Flying out of Reno, NV the plane took off heading south climbing quickly into the sky.  From my window seat I could see Pine Middle School below. Then after a quick glimpse of Lake Tahoe to the west, the plane turned gracefully eastward. As I looked down I could see the desert valleys that once lay beneath the ancient Pleistocene lakes, covering a good part of the Great Basin with water. Although it doesn’t seem possible, one can still find shells and marine fossils in these now desert locations. I thought how different the landscape is today compared to the distant past. Our environment is undergoing constant changes even though the processes may seem slow and may not be noticed from day to day.

This is why it is important to observe, record and think about all aspects of our environment and to be aware of small changes so we can predict if they may become big impacts. Soon I would be landing in Florida, a state very different from Nevada, and joining the science team aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. This team is one of many that makes observations of their marine ecosystem, recording data and interpreting any changes or patterns they notice. I am very pleased to join them for the next 2 weeks and expect to learn a great deal.

Greeting me at the airport were artistic decorations made of models of tropical fish found along the Florida coast.  High on the walls, they are creatively arranged in geometric patterns reminding me of synchronized swimmers competing in the Summer Olympics. These fish are more than art. They represent an important economic factor to Florida. They lure tourists for diving and snorkeling activities. Some of them are harvested for food or fished for sport. They are also important to the ecosystems of the coastal reefs and shore communities of Florida. I wonder what changes these scientists are seeing in this marine ecosystem. What are the solutions they will propose to the public? How can a balanced management meet the needs of people who live and work there? These are difficult questions to answer.

Great Basin at 30,000 ft. This area would have been covered with small lakes during the Pleistocene period.

It is dark when I arrive finally in Key West but a scientist meets me at the airport and drives me to the ship where I find my bunk and spend the night! Everyone has been very kind and helpful which makes participating in NOAA Teacher at Sea even more amazing – if that is even possible!

Johanna Mendillo: Greetings from Alaska and the Bering Sea! July 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 10, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Friday, July 27, 2012

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 63 12’ N
Longitude: 177 47’ W
Ship speed: 11.7 knots (13.5 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 7.2C (44.9ºF)
Surface water temperature: 7.2C (44.9ºF)
Wind speed: 13.3 knots (15.3 mph)
Wind direction: 299T
Barometric pressure: 1001 millibar (0.99 atm)


Science and Technology Log:

Greeting from the Bering Sea!  It was a long journey to get here, complete with bad weather, aborted landings on the Aleutians, a return and overnight in Anchorage, and lost luggage, but it was a good introduction to the whims of nature and a good reminder that the best laid intentions can often go awry.  As O’Bryant students know, our motto is PRIDE and the “P” stands for perseverance, so I simply stayed the course and made it to Dutch Harbor and NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson… only 29hrs late!

In upcoming posts, you will learn a lot about the acoustic technology, statistics, and the engineering know-how behind the trawling process and how it is used to find, collect, and study Pollock populations.  But first, let’s start with splitting open some fish heads!

Now that I have your attention, let me explain.  There are many steps involved in “processing” a net full of Pollock, and I will show you each soon, step-by-step.  I think it would be more fun, though, to jump ahead and show you one little project I helped with that literally had me slicing open fish heads…

Hard at work...

Hard at work…

Here I am preparing and cutting away!  The objective: remove the two largest otoliths, structures in the inner ear that are used by fish for balance, orientation and sound detection.  These are called the sagittae and are located just behind the fish’s eyes.  These otoliths can be measured– like tree rings — to determine the age of the fish because they accrete layers of calcium carbonate and a gelatinous matrix throughout their lives. The accretion rate varies with growth of the fish– often less growth in winter and more in summer– which results in the appearance of rings that resemble tree rings!

Time to cut...

Time to cut…

From a small sampling of otoliths, along with length data, projections can be made about the growth rates and ages of the entire Pollock population.  Such knowledge is, in turn, important for designing appropriate fisheries management policies.  Fisheries biologists like to think of otoliths as information storage units; a sort of CD-ROM in which the life and times of the fish are recorded.  If we learn the code, we can learn about that fish!

Can you spot the otolith?

Can you spot the otolith?

For each net of Pollock, we will collect 35 otoliths, which translates to approx. 1,500 otoliths from this cruise alone!  They will be sent back to Seattle and measured under the microscope this fall and winter.



Personal Log:

Wondering where I am at this very moment?  Check out NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson on NOAA Ship Tracker!

Small things become important when your daily life gets confined to a small space, right, students?  Perhaps some of you have been to sleepover camp and know firsthand?  In a few years, you will also experience communal living in close quarters— in college!  It only seems appropriate that I start by explaining to you (and showing you) my personal space aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson!

First, my stateroom.  This picture shows you that I am in room 01-19-2.  I am on the 01-deck, and there are four other rooms on my hall that house most of the NOAA science team- Taina, Darin, Kresimir, Rick, and Allan.  Allan is my partner in crime- he is the other “Teacher at Sea” (TAS) onboard this cruise; he teaches high school science in Florida!  In addition to the NOAA team, Anatoli is a Russian scientist on board.  These NOAA scientists are based in Seattle in the Midwater Assessment & Conservation Engineering (MACE) group at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center and, depending on their schedules, come out to sea 1-4 times per year to collect data.  They are just one group of many NOAA teams conducting research in the Bering Sea; you will learn much more about the science team in later posts.

My door

My door

Originally, I was going to be bunking with the Chief Scientist, Taina!  However, one of the scientists was unable to join the trip, so Taina has her own quarters and I have mine!  This is quite the luxury, and it is very nice to know that I do not have to worry about waking up a roommate as I get ready for my shift.  Most roommates have opposite shifts, so each person gets at least a little bit of “alone time” in his/her room.  For example, Allan’s shift is 4am-4pm (0400-1600) and Kresimir’s shift is from 7pm-7am (1900-0700).

Here is my bunk!  I chose the bottom one, so if I fall out in rough seas, it is a shorter fall!  One trick- if the seas are rough, take the rubber survival suits and stuff them against the metal frames, so if I do smack against them, there will be some padding!  There is a reading light inside, and I also brought my trusty headlamp and pocket flashlight, so I should be pretty well set on any hasty exit I may have to make- such as for a safety drill!

My bunk!

My bunk!

I also have a desk and a locker, which is a closet for my clothes and other gear.  One thing ships excel at is maximizing small spaces with hooks- I have a row of hooks for my jackets, sweatshirts, hats, etc.  In the head (bathroom), there are many hooks as well.  The other neat trick—the use of bungee cords!  Here is one holding the head door open so it does not swing back and forth as the boat rolls.  They are also used throughout the ship to secure desk chairs, boxes, and any other object that could take flight during rough seas!

See the bungee cord?

See the bungee cord?

Since it is summer here in the high northern latitudes, the days are very long—sunset does not occur until about 12am each night and sunrise occurs around 7am.  The ships provides shades on both the bunks and the port holes (windows) to help people sleep, but as you can see, the earlier tenant in my room even added a layer of cardboard!

My window...

My window…

There are a few other features that help define life at sea.  The shower curtain has magnets to help secure it to the walls.  As you can see, it is a pretty tiny shower, and that handle could become essential if I chose to take a shower and then the seas turn rough!   The medicine cabinet locks shut, and if you leave it open, the door can swing during a big wave and smack you in the face!  Lastly, the head includes special digesting bacteria, so you can only use a special cleaner that does not kill them by accident!  There is a very powerful FLUSH noise that takes a little bit of getting used to as well– it scared me the first time I heard it!

Spot the shower handle...

Spot the shower handle…

That about does it for our first tour.  Please post a comment below, students, with any questions at all.  In my next post, I will give you a tour of the second most important area in daily life— the mess, where I eat!

Talia Romito: First Day at Sea, July 23 – 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Talia Romito
Onboard R/V Fulmar
July 24– July 29, 2012

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries
Date: July 23 & 24, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 37 48.87 W
Longitude: 123 23.04 N

Weather Data From Bridge:
Air Temperature 12.2 C (54 F)
Wind Speed 10 knots
Wind Direction: From the South
Surface Water Temperature: 13 C (55.4 F)

Personal Log

Day 1, July 23, 2012

Wow! I have been preparing for this day for months and now I’m here.  This is the adventure of a lifetime.  I’m so excited to tell everyone about everything that I’ve done so far and I’ve only been on board for two days.

Travel and Arrival

Me and Dad at Lunch

Me and Dad at Lunch, Picture by Karen Romito

I set off early Monday July 23, 2012 for the boat docked in Sausalito from my parents’ home near Sacramento, CA.  I’m fortunate to have my parents give me a ride so I don’t have to worry about leaving my car parked overnight.  We got into San Francisco at lunchtime and decided to stop at the Franciscan Restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf.  The food was incredible and both Mom and Dad filled their cravings for bread bowls with clam chowder. Yummy!  We had an amazing view across the bay to Sausalito.  Next we headed for downtown Sausalito for dessert.  (If you haven’t gotten the clue yet this trip is all about great food and making friends.) It was beautiful with lots of little places to lose yourself and enjoy the view and watch people walking or riding by.  Cafe Tutti was a great little place for three waffle cones, laughs, and picturesque memories.  Then it was time to head to the boat!

Boat Tour and Unpacking

Permission to come Aboard?

Permission to come Aboard?, Picture by Karen Romito

I met Kaitlin Graiff and Erik Larson on board when I arrived.  She is the (Acting) Research Coordinator for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and he is the Captain of the R/V Fulmar.  They were both so welcoming and gave us all the grand tour.  It only consisted of about fifty steps, but who’s counting.  We saw the wheelhouse (where you drive the boat), the bunk rooms (where you sleep on the boat), the galley (where you eat on the boat), the head (where you handle business on the boat), the fly bridge (where you observe animals), and the rear deck (where you use equipment to study the ocean).  I know that’s lots to remember, but it’s smaller than it sounds with cozy little places to have a snack or a cat nap.  Before I said my goodbyes Mom made me take a picture with all of my gear.  Thanks Mom!

Then it was time to unpack.  I chose the top bunk on the starboard side of the boat.  Now the important thing to remember is to duck when you get the top bunk.  There is almost no head room so duck early and often.  I’ve hit my head three times already.

Scientists Arrive

While Kaitlin, Erik, and I were getting to know each other, two more scientists arrived throughout the evening before dinner.  They were bringing the two most important parts of our cruise: the food and the equipment.  Jaime Jahncke, California Current Director for PRBO Conservation Science arrived first.  His name and title sound very official, but he is the most charismatic person you’ll meet.  He loves to joke around and have a good time while working to preserve and manage wildlife.  Last to arrive Monday night was Jan Roletto, Research Coordinator at Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.  Jan is the lead scientist on the cruise, mother hen to everyone.  She brought the most important thing for the trip: FOOD.  We have chips, nuts, crackers, chocolate covered everything, every soda drink imaginable, and more!  Did I mention that this trip is all about the food :).

Jan Roletto, Jaime Jahncke, and Kirsten Lindquist

The Scientists and Observer:
Jan Roletto, Jaime Jahncke, and Kirsten Lindquist

Day 2, July 24, 2012

Early Risers

Survival Suit

Me in Survival Suit during Safety Drill

I am usually a morning person, but this morning I could have stayed in bed a little longer.  The crew, scientists, and I woke up between 5 and 6 AM to welcome five more people onto the boat.  Daniel Hossfeld, Intern at Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary; Carol Keiper, Marine Mammal and Seabird Observer; Kirsten Lindquist, Ecosystem Monitoring Manager at Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association; Kerri Beeker, Major and Planned Gifts Officer at PRBO Conservation Science; and Caitlin Byrnes, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  Once everyone was on board and the gear was stowed and tied down we headed for the first transect line of the day.

Science and Technology Log

The Work

This section has a little more science and technical language, but just bear with me because I want you to understand what we’re doing out here.  Applied California Current Ecosystem Study (ACCESS) has been monitoring 30 different transect lines (hot spots for animal activity) in Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries.  Today we completed four transects: Nearshore 5, Offshore 5, Offshore 7, and Nearshore 7.  On these four lines the scientists observed the wildlife – documenting seabirds and marine mammals.  They use a laptop with Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking and software that shows a map of the area we are studying with the transect lines.  The software uses codes to name birds and marine mammals: a number to code for behavior, a number for zone (ie. distance from boat), and a true bearing direction from the bow (front) of the boat.  The birds are identified using the American Ornithology Union (AOU), which is a four letter code based on the bird’s common name (ie. Common Murre, COMU).  The birds are observed at a max distance of 200 meters from the boat.  Marine mammals are also given a four letter code based on the common name of the animal (ie. Blue Whale: BLWH).

Another important aspect of the observation is continually updating environmental conditions.  Observers describe visibility, swell height of the waves, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, and an overall rating for the conditions for that time.  Click on the Title below for an example of their codes.

Bird and Mammal Codes

What did I do Today?!

My bunk

Napping while recovering from nausea.
Good times!

Well, to sum it up in a word: relax!  I was able to get used to being at sea and rest a little from a stressful week of preparation for this trip.  I was nauseous this morning for about six hours, but I was able to overcome by sitting still and gazing at the horizon.  I must admit that being around a bunch of different food while feeling nauseous is not fun and makes you feel worse.  When I finally felt better I was able to have lots of great conversations with Kerri and Caitlin.  They are doing so much to support this ACCESS cruise and awareness about conservation of ecosystems.  It was nice to get a picture of the non-profit side of these issues.  I was also able to see some Pacific white sided dolphins bow riding and two humpback whales about 20 feet off the bow.  They popped up in front of the boat and we had to slow down so we didn’t interrupt them.

Humpback Whale Breaching

Humpback Whale Breaching, Picture by Sophie Webb

Pacific White Sided Dolphin Porpoising

Pacific White Sided Dolphin Porpoising

The first two days have been amazing and I can’t wait to see what we’re going to do next.  Tomorrow, we’ll be completing transect line 6.  You’ll  notice that there are black dots on the map.  Those indicate places where I will work with Kaitlin to get water column samples and samples of krill and zooplankton.

ACCESS Transect Lines

ACCESS Transect Lines