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!

4 Replies to “Johanna Mendillo: Greetings from Alaska and the Bering Sea! July 27, 2012”

  1. Please tell me the fish were dead before you sliced right behind their eyes. And also, I can’t seem to track you through that “tracker” link you posted. I’d love to see where you are…

  2. Dear Ms. Mendillo,

    I have a mental image of you being on a rocking boat in the Bearing Sea similar to the ones seen on the television show “The Deadliest Catch.” You are braver than I am. I’ll stick to dry land.

    Hope your summer is going well.


    Dave MacLeod

  3. This sounds like a wonderful adventure. I love hearing about fish heads, bungee cords, night shifts, and long, sun-filled days. I hope that you plan to bring some Pollock back to the Northeast!

  4. Johanna!
    Loved the open fish head picture! But enjoyed the tour of the bathroom even more:) I forwarded the link to my parents – they love your stories!! See you soon!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: