Elizabeth Nyman: First Day at Sea, May 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: May 28, 2013

Weather Data:
Surface Water Temperature: 23.84 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 23.90 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1017.8 mb

Science and Technology Log

So I’ve known for about two months or so that I was going to be taking part in one leg of an ongoing reef fishery survey. I even had an idea that it involved surveying fish that lived on reefs. But after our first full day at sea, and many hours of helping take part in the scientific work, I now begin to understand how exactly one surveys reef fish.

There’s a couple of different things that the scientific crew is doing to observe and understand the reef fish population. First, there is an ongoing video recording process throughout the day, from just after sunrise to just before sunset. For this, the ship and scientific crew lower a large, 600 pound camera array off of the starboard side of the ship. The cameras will go and sit on the sea floor and record all the fish that pass in front of it, for a total recording time of 25 minutes. After this time has passed, plus a little extra time, the cameras are pulled back up, the recordings are downloaded, we move to a different spot and the process begins again.

Underwater Camera Array

Hauling the camera array back on deck. I said it was big, didn’t I?

The video is reviewed the next day. Since this is our first day at sea, I didn’t get much of a chance to see any reef fishery footage, though I’m told that’s on the agenda for tomorrow. What I spent most of my time doing was helping out with another part of the survey process, something called the bandit reels. They’re used for good old-fashioned hook and line fishing.

Bandit Reel

It looks like a nice day to go fishing, huh?

There are three bandit reels on the Pisces, and each one can hold 10 fishing hooks. Each reel has different sized hooks, and the hook sizes are changed every drop. The line has a weight at the bottom to bring the hooks down to the sea floor, which have been baited with mackerel bits. After five minutes, the line is reeled back in, and you have fish…or you don’t.

My first drop, which had the biggest hooks, had a whole bunch of nothing. As did everyone else’s, though, so it wasn’t a testament to my poor fishing skills.

The second drop, however, was luckier.

Eel on hook.

I caught a moray eel!

A spotted moray eel! I was excited, anyway. But morays aren’t one of the fish that we’re looking for out here, so it wasn’t a particularly useful catch.

Our third drop was the most successful. Our bandit reel hauled in seven fish, one of whom got away (the biggest one, of course, one the size of a killer whale…yeah, just kidding!). The other six were brought into the wet lab, where they joined the other fish caught on that drop and would be measured and dissected.

Fish on a measuring board.

We caught a big one!

The fish are measured three different ways. The first, by total length, examines exactly that, the total length of the fish from the nose all the way to the tip of the tail. The second measure goes from the nose to the fork in the tail, so it’s a shorter distance. The third, standard length, goes from the nose to just before the tail fin, where the fish’s vertebrae end, and is the shortest of all. They’re also weighed at this time as well.

After that, we start cutting into the fish. Two things are of interest here: the ear bone and the sex organs. The ear bones are removed from each fish, because they can be tested to determine the age of the fish. The sex organs will reveal gender, obviously, but also are examined to see how fertile each specimen is. We don’t do this kind of analysis on the ship, however. The ear bones and sex organs are sent back to the NOAA lab in Panama City, Florida, where they will conduct all those tests.

Personal Log

The best part of my first day at sea was definitely the ship safety drills.

Wait, what?

No, seriously.  The absolute highlight of this one was my chance to try on what’s known as the Gumby suit. The Gumby suit is a nickname for a immersion survival suit – if we have to abandon ship and float around in the water, the suit will protect us from the elements. Now, we’re down here in the Gulf of Mexico, so that seems a little crazy, but think about how you’d feel if you were stuck in the water for hours on end. In really cold waters, that suit may be the difference between life and death.

The drills are important, and they’re mandated for a reason. In an emergency, all of this stuff can save lives.

Why do I like the drills so much? We’re required to have safety drills by law, and so as someone who studies and teaches international law, I always enjoy taking part in these things. It’s a chance to see the stuff in action that I talk about in class. And that’s kind of what this program is all about – the chance to experience things firsthand as opposed to just having to read about them.

Gumby suit

I guess you kind of have to take my word for it, but that’s me in there.

Did You Know?

You’re supposed to be able to put on a Gumby suit in under a minute. They wouldn’t do much good if they took too long to put on.

Sherie Gee: Preparing for Life at Sea, May 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sherie Gee
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 26 – July 7, 2013

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:  May 30, 2013

Personal Log:

Hello, my name is Sherie Gee and I live in the big Lone Star State of Texas. I teach AP Environmental Science and Aquatic Science at John Paul Stevens High School in San Antonio, home of the Alamo and the Spurs. I have been teaching for 31 years and I am still thirsty for new knowledge and experiences to share with the students which is one of the reasons I am so excited to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I will get to be a “scientist” for two weeks collecting specimens, data, and using scientific equipment and technology that I plan to incorporate into the classroom.

I am also excited to be on this spectacular voyage because I feel very passionate about the ocean and all of its inhabitants. The ocean is a free-access resource which means it belongs to everyone on Earth so it needs to be taken care of. Overfishing, overharvesting and ocean pollution are global issues that I feel strongly about and feel that there has to be new ocean ethics. Teachers are in the best position to bring about ocean awareness to the students and the public. I feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity by NOAA to be part of an ocean conservation program. One of my favorite quotes is from Rachel Carson: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” I truly believe this because in order for people to care for our Earth and environment and not destroy it, they have to understand it and appreciate it first.

For two weeks I will be collecting the Atlantic sea scallop to determine the distribution and abundance of these animals. This survey is conducted in order to assess these scallop populations in certain areas of the Atlantic Ocean and determine if they have been overharvested and need to be closed to commercial fishermen for a period of time. I am very relieved to know that there are such programs around the world that focus on ocean fisheries and sustainability. I will be describing this survey of the Atlantic sea scallop in greater detail in my blogs.

This will definitely be an exciting ocean experience for me. I live three hours away from the nearest ocean (The Gulf of Mexico) and have always managed to venture to an ocean each year. Every year I take my students to the Gulf of Mexico on the University of Texas research vessel (The Katy) to conduct plankton tows, water chemistry, mud grabs and bottom trawls.  I love to see the students get so excited every time they bring up the otter trawl and watch the various fish and invertebrates spill out of the nets.

UT Marine Science Research Vessel, The Katy

UT Marine Science Research Vessel, The Katy

Student sorting through the otter trawl on the Katy

Student sorting through the otter trawl on the Katy

I know I will be just like the kids when they bring up the trawls from dredging. People who know me say I am a “fish freak”. Fish are my favorite animals because of their high biodiversity and unique adaptations that they possess. I am a scuba diver and so I get to see all kinds of fish and other marine life in their natural habitat. I am always looking for new fish that I haven’t seen before. The top two items on my “Bucket List” are to cage dive with the great white shark (my favorite fish) and to swim with the whale shark. I recently swam with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez and would like to do that again in the Caribbean with adult whale sharks.

Juvenile 15 foot whale shark in the Sea of Cortez Photo by Britt Coleman

Juvenile 15 foot whale shark in the Sea of Cortez

Needless to say, I can’t wait to start sorting through all of the various ocean dwellers and discover all the many species of fish and invertebrates that I have never seen before. I hope you will share my enthusiasm and follow me through this magnificent journey through the North Atlantic Ocean and witness the menagerie of marine life while aboard the Research Vessel Hugh /R. Sharp.

R/V Hugh R. Sharp

R/V Hugh R. Sharp


Sherie Gee holding an Olive Ridley hatchling at the Tortugueros Las Playitas A.C. in Todos Santos, Mexico Photo by Britt Coleman

Sherie Gee holding an Olive Ridley hatchling at the Tortugueros Las Playitas A.C. in Todos Santos, Mexico
Photo by Britt Coleman

Melanie Lyte: May 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic 
Date: May 29, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 12.8 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature: 11.8 degrees Celsius (53 degrees Fahrenheit)
Wind speed: 21 knots (25 miles per hour)
Relative humidity: 100%
Barometric pressure: 1023.5

Science and Technology Log

Right whale I saw on 5/28

Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Peter Duley under Permit #775-1875

We finally had a right whale sighting today! It was a juvenile and was quite close to the ship. It was exciting to see it frolicking.  

Allison Henry, chief scientist, recently told me that over 70% of the right whales they see have entanglement scars. The scars are due to entanglement in fishing lines.

Right whale with entanglement scars.

Photo Credit:; Mavynne under Permit # EGNO 1151
Right whale with entanglement scars.

Sometimes teams of scientists with special training attempt to disentangle a whale. It can be dangerous work. The video below shows a team working to remove fishing lines from a whale in 2011. The scientists first need to attach the small boat to the whale with lines so they can stay with it while it swims until it exhausts itself.  Only when the whale is tired, can the team work to cut away the entanglement.

Watch  this video of a whale disentanglement.

The other hazard is that whales tend to rest and feed near the surface of the water in the shipping lanes, and can be hit by ships.

During the day, from 7am-7pm, the scientists take turns on watch. This means we watch for whales using “big eyes” which are giant binoculars. We spend 30 minutes on left watch, 30 minutes in the center, and 30 minutes on the right watch.  At the center station we record sightings and update the environment using a computer program designed for this purpose.

The big eyes

photo credit: Barbara Beblowski

Recording data

phot credit: Peter Duley

I visited the Wheel House on the ship today. This is also called the bridge, and is the control center of the ship (similar to the cockpit of an airplane). The wheel house has many controls that the crew needs to know how to use, and it takes years of training to be able to command a ship. I spoke with Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey Taylor and Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Michael Levine about the workings of the Gunter.

Wheel or helm of the ship

Wheel or helm of the ship

Auto Pilot

Auto Pilot

This is the wheel or helm of the ship. The Gunter is one of the last NOAA ships with this type of helm. The newer ships have a helm that looks more similar to that which you find in a race car. Although the helm is still used to steer the ship at times, especially when docking, the steering is left to the auto pilot  the majority of the time.

ARPA radar

ARPA radar

I know some of you were concerned about how the officers could see to steer the boat in the fog. The ship has an ARPA radar system that shows where other boats in the area are in relation to our ship. The radar also shows the course our ship is taking and alerts the crew to anything that may be in the path of the ship.



The throttles control the speed of the ship. The maximum speed of ship is 10 knots which is about 12 miles per hour. The ship uses diesel fuel and it takes about 1,200 gallons of fuel to run the ship for a 24 hour period. At night they will sometimes shut down one engine which makes the ship go slower, but which saves about 400 gallons or $1,600 a day. This is one reason why we anchored for 3 days during the bad weather. The weather made surveying whales impossible so it didn’t make sense to run the ship during that time. The cost of running the Gunter is $11,000/day on average. This includes everything to do with sailing including salaries, food, etc.

Personal Log

I know that some of my first graders have been asking about where I sleep and eat on the ship. Below are pictures of my stateroom and the galley of the ship. Two very important places!

Stateroom (sleeping quarters)

Stateroom (sleeping quarters)

Galley on the Gordon Gunter

Galley on the Gordon Gunter

Patty McGinnis: Anchovies, Shrimp, and Krill, May 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pescadero, California
Date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 37 16.941 ° N
Longitude: 123 07.440° W
Air Temperature: 14 Celsius
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Wind Direction: NE
Surface Water Temperature: 12.8 Celsius
Weather conditions: foggy

Science and Technology Log

I’ve come to realize that each trawl is a whole new adventure; although Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma has the historical data to predict what might be found at each station, he is occasionally surprised at the treasures that are yielded by the ocean’s pelagic zone. The majority of our trawls are conducted at 30 meters below the surface. The area that falls between the surface and 200 meters below the surface is known as the epipelagic zone. The next zone, the mesopelagic, is the area that lies 200 meters to 1,000 meters below the surface. Last night our first trawl of the night was a deep water trawl. Although described in the Project Instructions, this was our first opportunity to conduct a deep water trawl. Keith was taking advantage of the fact that the captain wanted to unwind one of the trawl winch cables so that it could be carefully rewound onto the spool.

putting out the net

The crew of the Ocean Starr cheerfully assisted with the trawls each night

During the deep water trawl, the net was dragged for 15 minutes at a depth of 300 meters, rather than the traditional 15 minutes at 30 meters. In addition to a large number of adult hake, we pulled up a long-finned dragonfish. Like many fish that live in the deep ocean, the dragonfish has an organ on its head that produces a bioluminescent light. This light is used by some species to attract prey and can also serve to help the fish see its surroundings. Tonight we found another type of deep dwelling fish; the stoplight loosejaw fish, so named for its large jaw. Its red spot is capable of producing red light to help it navigate. We also pulled in several King of the salmon specimens. The King of the salmon is not a real salmon, but is a type of ribbon fish. It has a very flat, ribbon-shaped body and a long dorsal fin that runs down the entire body. Deep water fish like the stoplight loosejaw and King of the salmon tend to get pretty banged up in the trawl.

deep water trawl haul

I stand next to the results of our deep water trawl haul

stoplight loosejaw

This stoplight loosejaw is a type of dragonfish that lives in deep ocean waters

king of the salmon

King of the salmon fish

Lindsey good-naturedly dissected out a handful of otoliths (ear bones) from the adult hakes so that I could have a memento of my NOAA Teacher at Sea voyage. I anticipate using the otoliths to create a lab activity for the middle school science classroom. The hake lengths were then measured on a special board and a small piece of tissue was cut from five of them to be frozen and analyzed later.

adult hake

Adult hake

These otoliths, or ear bones, came from adult hakes

These otoliths, or ear bones, came from adult hakes

We conducted five additional trawls at 30 meters. Prior to and during each haul one of us does a mammal watch. This consists of listening and watching for mammals that may appear alongside the ship during the trawl. Should we encounter any marine mammals, the protocol is to stop the trawl immediately to avoid injuring any mammals. As of today, we have yet to be accompanied by any marine mammals during our trawls.

One of the surprises of the night was a catch of northern anchovies. I was surprised at their size; rather than the small fish I had envisioned, these fish were solid, robust, and at least 6 inches in length. Keith was pleased with the number of anchovies we hauled in given that very few or none were obtained the last two years. As he explained, the anchovy population tends to go through boom and bust cycles and have been down for the last several years. We also pulled up a North Pacific spiny dogfish, a shark named for its sharp dorsal spines.


Watch out for the dorsal spines on the North Pacific spiny dogfish

Other hauls yielded large amounts of juvenile rockfish and market squid. I have a great fondness for the squid, which I dissect annually with my students each spring. The small market squid we pull up, some barely an inch in length, pale in comparison to the adult squid which I use in my classroom. There is, however, no mistaking the miniature squid for anything else, so strong is their resemblance to their full-grown relatives that make their way from California’s pelagic waters to my classroom in Eagleville, Pennsylvania.


We pulled up this beautiful squid in one of our trawls

Measuring Squid

I measure market squid as part of my work on the Ocean Starr

juvenile rockfish

juvenile rockfish

Krill, of course, are well-represented in the hauls as well. The abundance of the tiny crustacean makes it easy to envision the humpback whale straining out mouthfuls of krill as they make their annual trek to Alaska each spring.





Since identifying and counting the majority of all the organisms for each trawl would be too labor intensive, we concentrate on a subsample. Keith then extrapolates the data from the subsample to obtain an estimation of what the total haul contained. Depending on what is present in the haul, we generally identify a subsample of 1,000 or 5,000 millilitres. Difficult sorts such as one that consists primarily of krill and small shrimp, may be restricted to 1,000 millilitres, whereas easier sorts may be up to 5,000 millimeters. Regardless, the total volume of the trawl is always recorded, as is the total volume of krill. Keith bags some of the catch for later use, carefully labeling each bag with the haul number, cruise number, and species identification code. Up to 30 specimens of each important species are also measured and recorded. In the morning, it will fall to Don Pearson to transfer the data from the data sheets to the computer. These numbers are then cross-checked the following evening to ensure that the data is accurate. The result: the groundfish stock assessments NOAA produces are as accurate as possible, an important factor for fisheries management.


Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma obtains a subsample

samples in bags

Samples are carefully labeled and stored for later analysis

catch data sheet

The haul from all trawls are recorded on data sheets

As busy as the night shift is, the day shift keeps busy with important work, too. Don conducts CTDs throughout the day, while Jamie filters phytoplankton from water samples that the CTD captures.

ame filters phytoplankton

Graduate student Jamie Lee filters phytoplankton obtained from CTD sampling

Doug watches the computer as part of conducting a CTD

Fisheries biologist Don Pearson watches the computer as part of conducting a CTD

deploying CTD

Deploying the CTD

As I am sleeping the ship periodically conducts transects over the ocean floor. These transects are conducted in areas where upwelling tends to occur. Upwelling is caused when a predominantly northwest wind pushes water offshore. Water rises up from below the surface to replace the water that was pushed away. In doing so, nutrients from the ocean bottom are transported from the sea floor to the water column. These nutrients serve to promote the growth and reproduction of phytoplankton, which is the basis of all ocean food chains. Upwelling areas therefore attract fish, birds, and marine mammals. While the ship is running transects, a computer in the lab is continually monitoring evidence of sea life at different frequencies. The picture below shows four graphs that monitor for krill, invertebrates, and fish. Fisheries biologist Don Pearson explained that it takes a practiced eye to spot patterns in the data. These patterns should correspond with the birds and mammals that Sophie spots on deck as seeing lots of organisms on the computer means lots of food for the birds and mammals. As much as I’ve enjoyed the night shift, part of me wishes that I had been able to have spent more time on the lookout deck with Sophie.


These graphs indicate the presence of marine organisms

transects on computer

The computer tracks the transects conducted by the Ocean Starr by day

All of this takes an enormous amount of preparation. Keith, Don, Amber, and oceanographer Ken Baltz spent the better part of a day setting up the equipment which will be used over a six-week span. This includes the trawling net which has been built to a specific length, opening and mesh size. The use of a standardized net is important because it enables the scientists to compare catches throughout the years. Other equipment includes an array of computers, the CTD, and miscellaneous equipment needed to sort through catches.

trawl net

Trawl net Photo credit: Kaia

Personal Log

It is interesting getting used to life on ship; this small community consists of 17 crew and 8 scientists (including myself). This vessel, in addition to being equipped with the necessary science equipment, houses its inhabitants in “staterooms.” I have been partnered with Kaia, a reflective wildlife biologist whose company I thoroughly enjoy.


This is where I slept while on the Ocean Starr


Kaia was a wonderful roommate!

I have taken note that you can set your clock by the four meals served each day. Our ship’s steward, Crystal, and her assistant Liz, never fail to amaze me with the diverse menus that they faithfully create for us each day. The mess, or the room where we eat, has snacks and sodas available at all times of the day and night. Crystal also keeps a refrigerator stocked with leftovers that are available for anyone to access at any time. If that wasn’t enough, there is an entire freezer which houses nothing but a variety of ice cream bars (which the night shift enjoys on a regular basis). The mess is a popular place to hang out between meals. Two large televisions are constantly on; I’ve noticed that sci-fi movies (especially B-rated ones) and old war movies seem to be the favored among the crew.

Monday dinner

The ship steward consistently prepares wholesome and delicious meals


What’s for dinner?

ice cream

Ice cream was a favorite treat for the night shift

Yesterday I had an opportunity to do my laundry using one of the ship’s two washing machines. When I first came on board I asked Keith about fresh water on the ship. He explained to me that as long as the ship is moving that it is able to make fresh water through a desalination process. Since the Ocean Starr is in constant movement other than when the CTD is being employed, having fresh water has not been an issue. Regardless, taking the type of long showers favored by many of my students is something I did not indulge in.


The Ocean Starr has all the comforts of home

As I write this the ship rocks gently from side to side. I think of how quickly I have adapted to my new surroundings and to the companionship of my new friends. As Keith had promised, after three days of working the night shift my body has adjusted and has acclimated to the routine. My time here is drawing short, however…three days from now I’ll be back in my classroom sharing stories and photos with my students.

Did You Know?

Commercial fisherman use a big spotlight to attract market squid?

Here is a list of some of the fish I have seen this week:  barracudina, northern lampfish, blue lanternfish, Pacific hake, pallid eelpout, yellowtail rockfish, shortbelly rockfish, cowcod, blue rockfish, boccacio, lingcod, cabezon, Irish lord, wolf-eel, medusafish, Pacific sanddab, speckled sanddab, rex sole, Dover sole, and many more


Melanie Lyte: May 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: May 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Air temperature: 15.5 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature: 12.01 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit);
Wind speed: 10 knots (12 miles per hour);
Relative humidity: 85%;
Barometric pressure: 1005.5

Science and Technology Log

Here we are on Sunday afternoon and we’ve been anchored off Provincetown since Thursday evening to wait out bad weather and unworkable conditions. When the fog cleared, the view of Provincetown was quite pretty from the ship, but I have seen enough of it, and am ready for some adventure . Luckily, we set sail this evening and will begin our watch for right whales again tomorrow morning. While Monday looks to be quite windy, Tuesday shows promise as a good day for whale sightings. All the scientists aboard are anxious to get back to work!

During our down time I was able to interview two people aboard with very different jobs – Peter Duley, one of the NOAA scientists, and Margaret Coyle, the ship steward.

Peter Duley NOAA scientist

Peter Duley NOAA scientist

Peter has worked for NOAA for 10 years, and has also worked for The National Science Foundation. He has literally been to the ends of the earth doing research. He did his under graduate work at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor Maine . Upon graduation  Peter did field work in Belize banding birds. While his first love was birds, he became interested in marine mammals and has done research work studying harbor porpoises in the Gulf of Maine, pilot whales in the mid Atlantic to the Gulf of Maine, bowhead whales in Alaska, right whales along the East Coast, and even spent time in Antarctica studying leopard seals. He now spends his summers on right whale survey cruises, and his winters doing aerial surveys of right whales.

While interviewing Peter I was struck by the passion and excitement he has for his work. It is obvious that he loves what he does and is very dedicated to saving the “giants of the sea”. All of the whales Peter studies are endangered and it is imperative  that scientists have a handle on the populations of these endangered whales so they can determine if the number of whales is rising or falling over a period of time, and what factors are influencing their survival. These scientists are so familiar with some of the right whales that they can identify the whales that have already been cataloged when they see them. They are cataloging all the whales using a number system that includes the year the whale was first seen, and another number that matches their mother if she is a whale that has previously been cataloged.

Peter’s favorite marine mammal is  the leopard seal.  He told me a story about the most dangerous situation he has been in while doing field work. He was in Antarctica in a small inflatable boat called a Zodiac and a leopard seal swam right up to the boat. He and his colleagues were excited and started taking pictures when the seal jumped out of the water and came down with its mouth on the side of the boat. The seal put a large hole in the boat. Fortunately, the boat had several different air compartments so the entire boat didn’t deflate in the frigid Antarctic waters, but Peter and his colleagues got back to shore as quickly as possible. My next question was, “What was your best research experience?” Peter said smiling, “The time the leopard seal put a hole in the boat!”

The other person I interviewed is Margaret Coyne, the ship steward. She  probably is one of the most important people on the ship because she keeps us all fed! Not only does she make three meals a day for everyone on board, we actually eat like we are at a 4 star resort. There is always an amazing variety of delicious food at every meal.

Margaret Coyle Ship's Chief Steward

Margaret Coyle
Ship’s Chief Steward

Margaret and her 2nd cook Tyrone  Baker, work 12 hour days from 5:30-6:30 with an hour break during the day. The galley is always buzzing with crew and scientists enjoying meals, snacks, leftovers, or anxiously awaiting for the homemade soup of the day to be brought out. There are always plenty of choices for all types of eaters – Margaret makes vegetarian options for each meal. She also makes her own yogurt, soy milk,  fresh salad, ice cream,  and a delicious dessert daily.

Lunch menu

Lunch menu

Spinach lasagna roll, squash and onions, black eye peas, and roasted potatoes

Spinach lasagna roll, squash and onions, black eye peas, and roasted potatoes

Spaghetti with meat sauce, pesto grilled chicken breast , squash and onions, and  a garlic bread stick

Spaghetti with meat sauce, pesto grilled chicken breast, squash and onions, and a garlic bread stick

Blueberry cobbler with whip cream

Blueberry cobbler with whip cream

Personal Log

I will be happy when we start moving again and get back to the mission of surveying right whales. It has been difficult to be stationary for such a long time, but luckily, the scientists and crew are all so friendly that there is always someone to talk to. It is really interesting to learn about other people’s lives, and what brought them to where they are today. Hopefully I will remember this experience because of all the amazing whales I will get to see, but if not, I know I will carry fond memories of all the people I met.

Patty McGinnis: Women Scientists on the Ocean Starr, May 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Point Reyes, CA
Date: Monday, May 27, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 38 09.465 ° N
Longitude: 123 01.204 ° W
Air Temperature: 10.2 Celsius
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wind Direction: North
Surface Water Temperature:  9.8 Celsius
Weather conditions: clear

Science and Technology Log

If you had asked me ahead of time to predict the percentage of males and females aboard the Ocean Starr, I would have surmised that males would make up the majority. While it is true that most of the crew is male, my scientist co-workers are primarily female.


Lyndsey is dressed to go out on deck

Lyndsey Lefebvre is a fisheries biologist who works for the Groundfish Analysis Team. Her primary job is to study the age and growth of rockfish and flatfish species such as sanddabs to support fishery assessments. Lyndsey ages fish by removing their ear bones, or otoliths. Otoliths contain annual rings, much like a tree. The ear bones are prepared by breaking them in half and holding them over an open flame to darken them; the rings are tiny so a microscope is required to count the rings. Lyndsey explains that this work is important because studying the age structure of a population over time can yield insights into the population’s health. Fish populations that are heavily fished tend to be smaller and younger. Lyndsey is also concerned with reproductive biology such as when and how frequently fish spawn. She studies the blackgill rockfish, a long-lived fish that has internal fertilization. Females give birth to live young once a year, but Lyndsey is trying to determine if a female’s health or environmental conditions impact the numbers of young produced. In contrast, the Pacific sanddab releases eggs on a daily basis for up to six months of the year. Lyndsey says that although she enjoys field work, that about 90% of her work is microscope work done in the laboratory. She likes to listen to audio books or music to help pass the time. Lyndsey says that being a fisheries biologist is a great career. If you think you are interested in such a career, try volunteering doing any type of naturalist work and make as many contacts as you can.


Amber shows a squid jig

One of NOAA’s better kept secrets is the NOAA Corps. The Corps, which is run by the Department of Commerce, consists of approximately 340 commissioned officers who are involved in operating one of NOAA’s ships or piloting a NOAA plane. Amber Payne has been in the NOAA Corps since she graduated four years ago with a degree in marine biology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Amber first became interested in working on marine vessels through her involvement with a Search and Rescue extracurricular club while in college. She considered entering the Coast Guard, but was drawn to the NOAA Corps because it requires a science background. Amber enjoys the many opportunities the Corps has provided, including training and traveling. She recently obtained a 1600 ton Mate’s License which will enable her to work for a private company if she ever decides to leave the Corps. Amber is currently on shore duty as operations officer at the Fisheries Ecology Division which is part of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. In addition to running the Small Boats Program, Amber helps out Lyndsey in the fisheries lab. Recently Amber took a freshly-caught Humboldt squid to an elementary school where she dissected it for the students. She’s pictured above holding a contraption known as a “squid jig” that is used to catch Humboldt squid. Amber’s words of wisdom: always carry a knife and a flashlight with you when on a boat!

Jamie Lee works the day shift so I don’t see much her except at meals. She smiles delightfully as she tells me that her interest in oceanography sprang from watching “Finding Nemo” as a child.


Jamie at work in her floating lab

Jamie is currently a graduate student at San Francisco State University; she attended Stonybrook University in New York as an undergraduate. This is Jamie’s first time on a boat and she is unfazed by its ceaseless motion. Her role on this mission is to assess chlorophyll levels. Chlorophyll is used as an indicator of primary productivity, which dictates how much food is available for ocean organisms. Jamie takes the water samples collected by the CTD and pours the water through a filter to extract chlorophyll from all the phytoplankton in the sample. Jamie tells me that this work must be conducted in subdued light to prevent the chlorophyll from degrading and giving an incorrect reading. The filter paper, which contains the extracted chlorophyll, is then stored in a glass tube or folded in half and put in aluminum foil until it is ready to be read by a fluorometer back at the university lab. I asked Jamie why she is interested in studying phytoplankton, rather than fish or marine mammals. She explains that phytoplankton, although tiny, are the crucial element upon which all the ocean relies.


Kaia sorts krill

Kaia Colestock is a volunteer who free-lances as a wildlife biologist. Kaia has been assisting Lyndsey in the fisheries lab with counting fish eggs present in adult sanddabs. This reproductive ecology study will help to determine if the sanddab fishery is doing well. Kaia earned her undergraduate degree in fisheries wildlife from Michigan State University and her masters in ecology from Utah State. Kaia has participated in a number of wildlife studies over the years, but her favorite is when she had an opportunity to fly aerial surveys for wading birds in the Everglades with supplementary surveys via airboats.  Kaia recommends her career to anyone who likes spending their time outdoors and says that perseverance, motivation, dedication, and being a good critical thinker are important qualities for someone who works as a wildlife biologist. She recommends acquiring special skills related to math, engineering, or physics. Places that hire wildlife biologists such as Kaia include federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies, and non-profit agencies. This is Kaia’s first time on a ship and she is enjoying seeing seabirds during the day and watching how the CTD is deployed.


Brianna preserves krill for future studies

Krill biologist Brianna Michaeud earned her undergraduate degree in marine biology from the University of California Santa Cruz. Brianna plans to pursue a master’s degree beginning this fall at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Brianna enjoys working with krill because of krill’s vital function to the ocean’s food web. Brianna enjoys being on the ocean and seeing what is caught during the trawls. She works for the Long Marine Laboratories, which is affiliated with UCSC. All the data she is collecting will be shared with NOAA scientists. Brianna’s role on this trip is to collect and preserve samples of krill that are collected in both the bongo net and the trawl net. The bongo net is actually two nets that lie parallel to each other; they are designed to remove the effects of the bridles found on regular ring nets. For organisms as small as plankton, the pressure waves produced by the bridles, or connecting cables, can push them away from the net.  The bongo net is made up of a much smaller mesh than the trawl net, so it is capable of capturing the juvenile krill that tend to escape the trawl net. The entire haul from the bongo net is kept in a jar of preservative. Once back at the lab, Brianna will go through the jar to identify the various krill species and obtain a sex ratio for each species. Brianna also preserves 200 milliliters of krill from each of the trawls for later use. Once at the lab, she will count out 100 individuals of the dominant krill species and 50 individuals from the second most dominant.  She’ll then measure each individual, identify how many are gravid (contain eggs), and obtain a sex ratio. Brianna says that marine biology is a “great career” and recommends that students interested in this career take classes in statistics, biology, and chemistry. She also recommends volunteering in laboratories, assisting with beach clean-ups, and reading about oceanography.


Sophie scans the water and air for the presence of birds

The research conducted this week extends beyond the waters; biologist Sophie Webb is onboard to document sightings of seabirds and marine mammals. Sophie is one of only three scientists who work the day shift. One glance at Sophie informs you that her site is one where she is exposed to the elements. You’ll find Sophie on the uppermost level of the ship where she sits with her binoculars and a computer recording data all day. Her job is not for the timid; the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean is cold and she has little company other than the wildlife she is documenting.  Sophie is no stranger to this type of work; she has conducted this research project seven or eight times previously and has also participated in several five month cruises in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (Hawaii,  Mexico and Central America). Currently Sophie is recording all birds seen in a 300-meter strip seen off one side of the ship. She records the species and basic behavior, such as whether the bird is flying, sitting, or feeding. The black-footed albatross is notorious for following the boat, necessitating Sophie to carefully observe so that the bird is not counted more than once. All the information Sophie collects is recorded into a computer program that is hooked into a GPS unit that updates several times a minute. Sophie shares with me that she is also an illustrator and has authored several children’s books such as Far from Shore, Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage and Looking for Seabirds. If you are interested in a career like Sophie’s, she recommends that students obtain advanced degrees in biology and volunteer as much as they can to obtain experience.

Personal Log

It has been amazing to see how quickly the night shift has formed into a team. Everyone works together when the trawl is pulled up to sort, identify, and record the information as efficiently as possible.  I find it interesting to see the variety of organisms we are obtaining in the trawls; tonight some of our catches mainly consisted mainly of shrimp and smelt.


Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma displays the results of a haul

shrimp and smelt

Shrimp and smelt

I also continue to be enthralled with the odd looking creatures that the trawls yield. Last night I saw an eel larva. Its body, almost impossibly thin, was gelatinous to the touch. A tiny eye and mouth were the only things that made it recognizable as an animal. When I held it up to the light its many bones became obvious. Even odder was the Phronima, a creature reported to have been the impetus behind the creature in the Alien movies. I also got to hold an octopus in my hand—I could feel the animal’s tiny suckers pulling on my skin. The octopus was returned to its home after the photo op.

eel larva

The bones are visible in this transparent eel larva


This cool creature, Phronima, was the inspiration for the creature in the movie “Alien”


Check out this octopus

Did You Know?

That adult krill have the unique ability to actually shrink in size after a molt if food resources are scarce?

Marla Crouch: The Adventure Is About to Begin, May 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marla Crouch
Sailing Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 8 — 26, 2013


Marla Crouch.

Mission: Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: May 21, 2013 – Upcoming cruise dates June 6 – 26, 2013 Weather Data from the Bridge: as of 0500 Wind Speed 20.97 kts Air Temperature 5.40°C Relative Humidity 91.00% Barometric Pressure 1,031.50 mb Latitude: 55.72 Longitude:-157.36 Hi, I’m Marla Crouch I live in Issaquah, WA, about 17 miles east of Seattle.  I teach Earth Sciences and I am the Robotics Club Adviser at Maywood Middle School, in the Issaquah School District. On June 6, 2013 I will head north to Alaska to begin my adventure as a NOAA Teacher At Sea.  I’ll be updating this blog about three times a week, so check back often.  Let me know if you have answers to the questions I’ve posted. Science and Technology Log While I am aboard the Oscar Dyson I will be working with the Scientist Team doing a Pollock Survey. The Alaskan Pollock or Walleye is member of the cod family and is the most valuable fish crop in the world. Products made from Pollock were valued at $1 billion in 2010.


Pollock, Courtesy of Google Images

During the survey we will be checking population size and characteristics including age and gender. The Science team will calibrate and monitor equipment used to find the schools of pollock that swim in the mid-water depths of the ocean (330 – 985 feet). Samples of the population will be caught using cone-shaped nets.

Personal Log The last time I cruised Alaska’s water, I was on a cruise ship gliding through the Inland Passage along Alaska’s southeast shores. This time I’m headed about 900 miles west to the island of Unalaska, in the Aleutian Islands and the open waters of the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. My Teacher At Sea experience embarks from Dutch Harbor, AK. Here I will meet the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson; I’ll introduce myself to the ship’s crew and science team and settle in for the 19 day fishery cruise.

Oscar Dyson, courtesy of NOAA

Oscar Dyson, courtesy of NOAA

Have you ever wondered why ships/boats are referred to as “she?” Answer, no one knows for sure as the origins have been lost in oral history. I’ll be interested in finding out how the Oscar Dyson crew refers to her. The NOAA ship Oscar Dyson is 63.8m long, 15m wide and displaces 2479 metric tons when fully loaded. The Dyson can be at sea up to 40 days and travel 12,000 nmi before replenishing supplies. Okay, Ladies and Gentlemen, your turn to do the math. Tell me what are the dimensions of the Dyson in feet? I’ll help; here is the conversion ratio, 1m: 3.28ft. Next question: convert nautical miles to statue miles 1mi: 1.15nmi.

Drawing of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

Drawing of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

The Oscar Dyson was launched in Pascagoula, MS in October 2003 and commissioned in 2005 in Kodiak, AK. The mission of the Dyson is to protect, restore and manage the use of living marine, coastal, and ocean resources through ecosystem-based management. The ship observes weather, sea state and environmental conditions, studies and monitors fisheries, and both marine birds and mammals. Check out the video below of the launching of the Dyson. Video courtesy of http://www.moc.noaa.gov/od/ (animation 6) In preparation for my trip I did a little research on Dutch Harbor and the island of Unalaska.  Unalaska is one of approximately 100 stratovolcanic islands spanning 1250 miles in Aleutian Islands chain. The Port of Dutch Harbor is the only deep draft, ice-fee port from Unimak Pass west to Adak and north to the headwaters of the Bering Straits. Annually, more than 1.7 billion pounds of seafood are shipped from Dutch Harbor. Island history includes settlements by the Unangan (Aleut) people roughly 9,000 years ago, architectural and cultural influences from Russia, the invasion by Japanese forces and the internment of American civilians in WWII. The WWII Aleutian Campaign is one of the deadliest battles in the Pacific theater. A note for our students studying WWII: check out the National Park Service web site for the Aleutian World War II.

Did You Know? I’ve learned a new word, Williwaw. I think I’ll add this word to our study of Catastrophic Events.   What is a Williwaw?  You tell me.  Here is a hint, if the ship encounters a Williwaw I may be searching for the Dramamine.