NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013
Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 25, 2013
Air temperature: 29.4 C (84.9 F)
Barometer: 1015 mb
Wind direction: 55°
Wind speed: 7 knots
Water temp: 29.6 C
Science and Technology Log
Greetings from the Oregon II in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. I am very impressed by all the questions my students have asked in comments on the first blog post. Now I guess I need to start answering some of them.
The Oregon II left the port of Galveston, Texas on Sunday afternoon. As we worked our way out to open water I enjoyed watching the pelicans, terns and frigate birds soaring and diving for fish. Occasionally a few dolphins would surface briefly, only to disappear again under the water. The shipping channels were packed with large ships, mostly oil tankers servicing the rigs that dot the Gulf of Mexico in this region. The farther we got from land, the less busy our surroundings became. With only a few boats and rigs on the horizon, the full moon rose in front of us as we cruised to the southeast. You can follow the path the ship takes on NOAA’s Ship Tracker.
We didn’t reach the first sampling site until nearly midnight. The ship functions on a 24 hour working cycle with the science crew broken into two shifts: the night shift works from midnight to noon and the day shift works from noon to midnight. I am on the day shift, along with 2 scientists from the lab at Pascagoula, Mississippi and 2 student interns.
There are many different aspects to the fisheries research taking place on board. On my first shift yesterday I concentrated on the sorting and measuring of fish, so that is where I will start in this blog.
The net is dragged across the ocean floor behind the ship for a half hour, and then pulled up on board, bulging with fish. The net is emptied into buckets and the total catch is weighed. If it is a small catch we keep the whole thing to work up, but if the catch is large we keep some and throw the rest back in the water. The ones we will work with are emptied into the trough in the wet lab – a multicolored heap of writhing, slimy fish just waiting to be sorted. While the rolling of the ship didn’t bother my stomach, when faced with all those smelly fish I suddenly felt rather nauseous. I had a moment of doubt that I could really handle this work 12 hours a day for two weeks. But once I dipped my hands in and concentrated on sorting out the species my stomach settled.
While this seems a simple task, many species are similar in appearance. Looking carefully at shapes of jaws or the placement of spots, we sort them out with one species per container. Last night we had 40 – 60 different species in each trawl, with fish, crabs, shrimp, jellies and more. Once everything is sorted we count the number of individuals in each species and measure their total weight. All this information goes into the computer. The next step is to measure the individuals. There are two work stations for this step, each with a measuring board, a scale and a computer. We work in partners, with one person handling the fish and the other manning the computer. The measuring board is a fancy piece of technology that is attached to the computer. You line the specimen up and simply touch a magnetic stick to the board at the end of the fish. The computer then records the length in millimeters. Next you put the fish on the scale to record its weight. Like the measuring board, the scale is attached to the computer and it records in kilograms out to the thousandths place value. Then you determine if the fish is a male or female or “unknown”. We will bag, label, and freeze a few specimens if a scientist back at the lab has requested it, and then the rest of the catch is tossed back into the sea. By the time we finish all this, the ship has probably reached the next trawl site and the process begins again.
Nick asked about the largest fish we have found. Yesterday’s weight winner was this 5 kg red snapper.
The weirdest fish we found was a spotted batfish. It uses those odd fins to walk on the bottom of the sea. Its brown bumpy skin camouflages with the bottom. Suspended off its head is a fishing lure to attract prey.
Kevin wanted to know if we would see any sharks. We have caught a few small ones, and have seen a few larger ones off the stern (back) of the boat.
Jaelene asked if it would be cold, and the simple answer to that is no, not on the Gulf in summer. When I stepped out of the airport in Texas I was immediately hit by the hot, humid air. We have had a mild spring in Massachusetts – which is a blessing since most schools do not have air conditioning – and so the intensity of the sun, the heat and humidity combined to make me rather uncomfortable as I explored the port city of Galveston. Now that we are out on the water a constant breeze helps make things more comfortable…as does the air conditioning in the living quarters of the ship. The wet lab is not air conditioned, so all the fish work is rather hot and sticky.
Guillermo, Michelle and Doranny all asked about my room on board. It is a rather small space I share with Junior Officer Rachel Pryor. We each have a bunk and storage space. The room also has a sink and a chair. Rachel works a 4 hour shift early each morning and another 4 hour shift in the evening. This means when I finish work she is already asleep, but will be getting up for work in just a few hours. So being quiet and considerate of the other person is important. The curtain you can pull across your bunk is helpful to keep out light and provide privacy. Our room does not have a window, so it is dark all the time. This is helpful when people need to sleep at odd hours. It is also surprisingly quiet – or maybe a better way to describe it is that the constant background noise of the engines drowns out other noises. I have been sleeping great, even with the rocking and rolling of the ship. Kiara asked about falling out of bed, and that has not happened to me yet. I suppose it could if seas got really rough. I hope not to experience that.
CDCPS science students – Remember you should be reading and responding to two different blog posts (two responses to the same post is not enough). Also please re-read your writing to make sure it makes sense and has correct spelling, punctuation and capitalization.
Why do you think sharks hang out around our boat?
Can you read this clock? What time is it?