Liz Harrington: Introductory Blog, July 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
Soon to be aboard  NOAA ship Oregon II (NOAA Ship Tracker)
At Sea August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical Area of Cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 25, 2013

Weather: current conditions from Morrisville-Stowe State Airport
Lat. 44.53°  Lon.- 72.61°
Temp.  64°F (18° C)
Humidity 54%
Wind speed   3 mph
Barometer  30.16 in (1021.3mb)
Visibility  10.00 mi

Personal Log:

Mt. Mansfield

Mt. Mansfield

Greetings from Vermont, the Green Mountain State.  My name is Liz Harrington and I live in Cambridge, VT.  Cambridge is a small town at the foot of Mount Mansfield, our state’s tallest mountain with a peak of 4395 feet (1340 meters).  Ok, the Green Mountains aren’t as big as the Rockies, but they provide us with recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat and scenic beauty. We love them.   I am a science teacher at Essex High School in Essex Junction, VT.   Currently I am teaching Earth Science and Forensics.  I also help teach a Belize Field Study class.

Essex High School

Essex High School

My teaching career has worked out perfectly for me.  After graduating from UConn with an Animal Science degree, I married and raised four wonderful children.  As they grew, I returned to school to earn my teacher certification in secondary science education.  When my youngest went to kindergarten, I began teaching part time at Essex High School. I had the best of both worlds.  It was during these first few years of teaching that I heard about NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) program.  I immediately knew I wanted to be involved in the program, but it required being a full time teacher.  A few years ago my teaching became full time.  I applied to TAS, was accepted and will be aboard the NOAA ship Oregon II this summer.  I’m thrilled!

I have always had a close connection with the ocean as I grew up on the shore of southeastern Connecticut.  I spent many hours swimming off the docks or climbing out onto the rocks to crab.  I also did lots of fishing and boating, but I took the ocean for granted.  I didn’t realize how much I would miss it when I moved away.  I am fortunate that my parents still live at the shore and my children have had the opportunity to create their own ocean experiences.  And it is always an amazing sight to see their Vermont friends encounter the sounds, smells, textures and activities of the ocean for the first time!

CT shore

Recent visit to the Connecticut shore.


Belize class trip

The Belize Field Study class has a culminating ten day trip to Belize.  The first four days are spent exploring the coral reefs and learning more about issues concerning the reef.  Some of the students snorkel and some of them scuba dive, but either way they are able to explore the underwater world.  Here, again, I am able to bring students to the ocean and I love to see their excitement, interest and concern.  The ocean’s fate will soon be in their generation’s hands and these personal connections make a difference.

Belize sunset

Belize sunset

Science and Technology Log:

The Oregon II is a NOAA ship which supports the programs of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  The ship conducts studies at various times of the year on organisms such as ground fish, sharks, plankton, reef fish and marine mammals.  I will be joining a Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey.  We will be sailing from Mayport, Florida and spending two weeks in the Gulf of Mexico.  The trip will end in the home port of Pascagoula, Mississippi. I am honored at having been chosen as a Teacher at Sea.  I can’t wait to be working with the scientists and crew aboard the Oregon II and participating in real scientific research.  I’m also looking forward to sharing my experiences with my students and bringing new topics into the classroom.  Through this trip I’m hoping they can make connections to the ocean as well.  I’ll be sharing my adventures a few times a week with this blog.  I hope you will follow along.

Oregon II

NOAA ship Oregon II


Julia Harvey: Listening to Fish/How I Spent My Shift, July 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia Harvey
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 22 – August 10, 2013  

Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Alaska
Date:  7/28/13

Weather Data from the Bridge (as of 18:00 Alaska Time):
Wind Speed: 15.61 knots
Temperature:  13.71 C
Humidity:  91%
Barometric Pressure:  1023 mb

Science and Technology Log:

How do scientists use acoustics to locate pollock and other organisms?

Scientists aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Dyson use acoustics, to locate schools of fish before trawling.  The Oscar Dyson has powerful, extremely sensitive, carefully calibrated, scientific acoustic instruments or “fish finders” including the five SIMRAD EK60 transducers located on the bottom of the centerboard.


Scientists are using the EK60 to listen to the fish.

This “fish-finder” technology works when transducers emit a sound wave at a particular frequency and detect the sound wave bouncing back (the echo) at the same frequency.  When the sound waves return from a school of fish, the strength of the returning echo helps determine how many fish are at that particular site.

The transducer sends out a signal and waits for the return echo...

The transducer sends out a signal and waits for the return echo…

Sound waves bounce or reflect off of fish and other creatures in the sea differently.  Most fish reflect sound energy sent from the transducers because of their swim bladder<s, organs that fish use to stay buoyant in the water column.

swim bladder

The above picture shows the location of the swim bladder. (Photo courtesy of

Click on this picture to see how sound travels from various ocean creatures through water. (Photo from

Click on this picture to see how sound travels from various ocean creatures through water. (Photo from

These reflections of sound (echoes) are sent to computers which display the information in echograms.  The reflections showing up on the computer screen are called backscatter.  The backscatter is how we determine how dense the fish are in a particular school.  Scientists take the backscatter that we measure from the transducers and divide that by the target strength for an individual and that gives the number of individuals that must be there to produce that amount of backscatter.  For example, a hundred fish produce 100x more echo than a single fish.  This information can be used to estimate the pollock population in the Gulf of Alaska.


These are the echograms that are produced by the EK60.  Five frequencies are used to help identify the type of fish.

The trawl data provide a sample from each school and allow the NOAA scientists to take a closer look by age, gender and species distribution.  Basically, the trawl data verifies and validates the acoustics data.  The acoustics data, combined with the validating biological data from the numerous individual trawls give scientists a very good estimate for the entire walleye pollock population in this location.

echogram for krill

These echograms are similar to the ones produced when we trawled for krill. Krill have a significant backscatter with the higher frequencies (bottom right screens)

Personal Log:

How I spent my shift on Saturday, July 27th?

When I arrived at work at 4 pm, a decision was made to trawl for krill.  A methot trawl is used to collect krill.

Methot Trawl

Survey tech, Vince and Fishermen Brian and Kelly ready the methot trawl.

Then we set to work processing the catch.  First we have to suit up in slime gear because the lab will get messy.  My previous blog mentioned not wanting to count all of the krill in the Gulf of Alaska.  But in this case we needed to count the krill and other species that were collected by the methot trawl.

Counting krill

I needed my reading glasses to count these small krill.

How many krill do you think we collected?

Krill Sample

This is the total krill from the first methot trawl of the night.
How many are here?

Patrick, the lead scientist, put a few specimens under the microscope so we could see the different types of krill.


Closeup look at krill.
Photo courtesy of NOAA

The collection of krill was preserved in formaldehyde and sea water.  It will be sent to Poland for further species diagnosis.

preserving krill

Scientist Darin Jones preserves the krill for shipment to Poland.

As the ship continued back on transect, I wandered in to see what Jodi and Darin were doing with the data collected last night.   Jodi was processing data from the multibeam sonar and Darin was surveying the images from the drop camera.  Jodi was very patient explaining what the data means.  I will write more about that later.  But I did feel quite accomplished as I realized my understanding was increasing.

multibeam data

These images are what Jodi was processing.

A decision was made to do another methot trawl.  This time we had a huge sample.

In an approximately 50 gram sample we counted 602 individual krill.  Compare this to the 1728 individuals in a 50 gram sample from the first trawl.  They were much bigger this time.  The total weight of the entire sample of krill was 3.584 kilograms.


This was the haul from the second methot trawl.

How many individuals were collected in the second trawl?  (Check your answer at the end of the blog)

Around midnight, Paul decided to verify an echogram by trawling.

trawl net haul

Emptying out the trawl net right next to the fish lab.

We collected data from the trawl net and the pocket net.


This trawl had a variety of specimen including Pacific Ocean perch, salmon, squid, eulachon, shrimp and pollock.

The pocket net catches the smaller organisms that escape through the trawl net.

pocket trawl

These were caught in the pocket net.

It was after 2 am by the time we had processed catch and washed down the lab.  The internet was not available for the rest of my shift due to the ship’s position so I organized my growing collection of videos and pictures.

I wasn’t sure how I would handle my night shift (4 pm to 4 am) after I dozed off during the first night.  Now that I have adjusted, I really enjoy the night shift.  The night science team of Paul, Darin and Jodi are awesome.

Did You Know?

People who are on the Oscar Dyson live throughout the United States.  They fly to meet the boat when they are assigned a cruise.  Jodi is from Juneau, Alaska.  Paul is from Seattle, Washington.  And Darin is from Seattle/North Carolina.  There are a number who are based out of Newport, Oregon.

Something to Think About:

When we are fishing, a number of birds gather behind the boat.  What different sea birds are observable this time of the year in our survey area?


Many sea birds follow the ship hoping for some of our catch.

Julia Harvey: Determining Population Size/A Day in My Life Cruising, July 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia Harvey
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 22 – August 10, 2013 

Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Alaska
Date:  7/27/13

Weather Data from the Bridge (at 1:00 am Alaskan time):

Wind Speed = 3.52 knots
Air Temperature = 13.6 C
Humidity = 94%
Barometric  Pressure = 1025.5 mb

Science and Technology Log:

How can you determine the population size of species?

You could count every member of the population.  This would be the most accurate but what if the population moves around a lot? What if the population is enormous and requires too much time to count each and every one?  Would you want to count all of the krill in the Gulf of Alaska?


The greyish fish are capelin. The pink organisms are krill.

You could mark and recapture.  In this method you catch individuals from the population and tag them.  Data are compiled from the recaptures and the population is mathematically calculated.  Halibut and many other populations are monitored this way and require fishermen to report any recaptures.

Tagged Halibut

Tagged Halibut
photo courtesy of Greenland Institute of Natural Resources

Another method is sampling.  The organisms in a small area are counted and then the overall population in the entire area is calculated.


To determine the population of the organisms of the whole area, find the population density of the dark green area. In this case there are 8 per square meter. Multiply this density by the total area and that will be the population estimate.


Using a transect to sample a population.
Photo courtesy of

This picture above illustrates the use of a transect line.  On various increments along the transect line, samples of populations are taken.  Imagine the Oscar Dyson’s path as the measuring tape and the trawl net as the sampling square.

The overall survey area of the pollock study this summer is the northern Gulf of Alaska between the shore and the continental break.  Within this area transect lines were established.  These are pathways that the Oscar Dyson will travel along and periodically take samples of the fish.

Transect Plan

The pollock summer survey is broken into three legs. I am part of leg 3.
Photo courtesy of NOAA

The current set of transects are 25 nautical miles (1 nautical mile is equal to 1 minute of latitude) apart and are parallel but transects in other areas may be 2 or 5 miles apart.  Transects that we are following now are located on the shelf and are perpendicular to the coastline.  Transects in inlets and bays may run differently and may even zigzag.

OD Current Cruise

Leg 3 left from Kodiak and is moving eastward for the survey.
Photo courtesy of NOAA

If fish are located through acoustics, the ship will break transect (a mark is made on the map) and the ship will circle around and a sample of the population is taken by trawling.  The population of pollock can then be mathematical calculated.  After trawling, the ship will return to the break and continue along the transect line.


This afternoon, we were working smaller transect lines near Amatuli Trench that were 6 miles apart.  It is an area that has had good pollock catches.  Just when we were going to fish, a pod of fin whales was spotted in the area.  So we moved to another area and hauled in quite the catch of Pacific Ocean perch.

POP Haul

After fish are caught they are processed in the fish lab. Here we are processing the Pacific Ocean perch.

It is hopeful that the Oscar Dyson will finish a transect line by nightfall and then the ship can be at the next transect by sunrise.  This maximizes the time looking for fish and trawling.

Personal Log:

I am settling into life on the Oscar Dyson and have established a routine that will support my night shift (4 pm to 4 am).  So how do I spend 24 hours on the ship?

I wake up around 11:45 in the morning to be able to eat lunch that is served only between 11:00 and 12:00.  Because of the shift schedules, some people are bound to miss one or more of the meals.  I miss breakfast because I am sleeping.  We are able to request a plate of food be saved for later.

Between the end of lunch and the start of my shift, there are several things that I can do.  The weather has been very nice and so I often go on deck to soak up the sun and whale watch.

Whale watching

Can you spot the fin whales?

I may need to do laundry as my clothes start to smell fishy.

Laundry Room

We are lucky to have a laundry room on board. It meant I did not have to bring many clothes.

I will also workout in one of the two gyms.  The gym at the back of the boat can’t be used when trawling because of the high noise level.  There is a rower, two exercise bikes, two treadmills, a cross trainer, mats and weights.  I got lucky and someone installed a makeshift pull up bar.

Front exercise room

This is the exercise room towards the bow of the ship.

Back Exercise Room

This is the exercise room toward the stern of the ship.

There is also a lounge where I can read or watch DVDs.  Some of the movies are still in theaters.


The lounge for reading and watching movies.

An hour before my shift starts, I read and take a short nap.  Then, I grab a cup of coffee at 4 pm as my shift starts.  I listen as the day shift fills in the evening shift about the happenings of the last 12 hours.

During my shift, there are several things that I may do.  If we have fished, there will be pollock and other organisms to process.

Processing pollock

Here Jodi, Kirsten and I are processing the pollock by determining their sex. Then, they will be measuresd weighed and their otoliths removed.

After processing, we need to clean up the fish lab which involves spraying down everything include ourselves with water to remove scales and slime.

I also keep an eye on the acoustic monitors, to see what I can recognize.  Paul and Darin are always willing to answer my questions (even the ones I already asked).

Acoustics Screens

The four screens of acoustic data. From these screens, Paul will determine whether to fish.

I may look at trawl camera footage or observe camera drops.  Drop Camera

I also have time to work on my blog.

Work Space

I have set myself up an area in the “Cave” to write my blog.

Dinner is served at 5 pm but the mess is always open and is filled with snacks such as sandwich fixings, ice cream, yoghurt, a salad bar and pop tarts.


Go to the mess for meals and snacks.

Whenever I get hungry at night, I just head for the mess.  It is a time that I am able to chat with the crew and NOAA Corps as they come in for snacks too.

At 4 am, I make it a point to head directly to my stateroom and go to sleep.  The room has a window but I can close the curtains on the portlight (window) and around my bed.


Since I work until 4 am, I close the curtains on the window and bed to help me sleep. The bottom bunk is mine.

There are no weekends out here.  Everyone works 7 days a week for the duration of the cruise.

Did You Know?

Usually fin whales show only their back as they surface for air.  Check out my video clip and see if you can spot the whale.  It wasn’t too close.

fin whale

Here is that fin whale closer up.

Julie Karre: A Day of No Fishing is Not a Day of Rest, July 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic
Date: July 27

Weather Data from the Bridge

We departed Pascagoula yesterday with calm winds and steamy temperatures. Our team decided that with storms developing in and around the Gulf, it was best for us to head out to the Atlantic. So we’re all loaded in to hang out for a few days before the fishing begins.

Science and Technology Log

It would be easy to think of these traveling days as days of rest. But they are far from it. The ship’s crew and fishermen are hard at work each day keeping the ship running as it should. One of the tasks the fishing crew is responsible for is dealing with the rust that builds up on the ship. (Ok, seventh and eighth graders – why is rust such a problem for a ship?)

Because of the constant moisture, rust is a persistent problem on the ship, exacerbated by the salt. Whenever docked, the crew works tirelessly to get the ship into prime condition. Any of the deck equipment that can be removed gets taken to a workshop where it is sanded down to raw metal again and then galvanized. This increases the life of the equipment because galvanized steel doesn’t rust. That leaves all the parts that cannot be removed to be touched up piecemeal, as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols said. On a day like today – calm sea, light wind, and no fishing – the guys set to work on designated areas of the ship. Once an area of rust is identified, the rust must be removed. After removing the rust and vacuuming up all the dust and particles, the area gets primer painted twice and then its topcoat. The end result is a nice clean look to the boat.

Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.

Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.

Removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.

Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.

In addition to keeping the ship in tip-top shape, it is essential to make sure all of the equipment used during the survey works appropriately. Around 9:40am, the Oregon II stopped moving and deployed a CTD unit (conductivity, temperature, depth). These cylinder shaped units carry tanks that bring water samples back to the ship from designated depths while the sensors read the water for its temperature, depth, and salinity.

Alongside the crew hard at work, the science team is busy doing work on sharks that came with us from Pascagoula. According to scientist Lisa Jones, some of these sharks are from surveys done to collect sharks following the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf in 2010. Others are sharks that needed further identification and information from surveys like the one I am on. Each shark is weighed and measured, sexed, and then internal organs are removed for further analysis, tissue samples are taken, and the remains of the shark are thrown overboard to reenter the food chain.

Mike recording data as Lead Scientist Kristen Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.

Scientist Mike Hendon recording data as Lead Scientist Kristin Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.

During this down time I was treated to a visit to the bridge, where officers steer the ship, among other things. NOAA Corps Officer LTjg Brian Adornato was on duty and offered me a glimpse of the technology that keeps us headed in the right direction. The Oregon II has one propeller controlled by two engines, which are both running while we steam across the Gulf. The boat was on its version of autopilot while I was visiting, which means the navigational heading is programmed and the boat is steered on that heading automatically. Whether steered by hand or computers, the ship is rarely perfectly on its heading. (Come on seventh and eighth graders – what factors are also influencing the ship’s movement?)

All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.

All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.

The wind and water are factors in how close the ship’s course over ground is to its heading. The waves, currents, and wind are all pushing the ship.

Personal Log

While the ship is buzzing with work, there is also lots of time to sit and share stories. I feel very lucky to be aboard the Oregon II at all, but to be aboard with such welcoming and friendly people feels like I hit the jackpot.

I share a room with NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor. She is on duty from 8 am – noon and from 8 pm to midnight. During those hours it is her job to drive the ship. I am on duty from noon to midnight, but during these days prior to fishing, I have a lot of free time. I have been reading, taking pictures, and hanging out with the others. The sleeping on the ship is easy and comfortable. And the food is delicious. Chief Steward Walter Coghlan is an excellent cook.

Some of the things that have caught me off guard should make perfect sense to my lovely seventh and eighth graders, like why I had a blurry camera. (Ok, kiddos – the ship is an air-conditioned vessel kept at cool temperatures to relieve the crew and scientists from the heat of the Gulf. What happens if you keep your camera in your room and bring it out onto the hot deck to take pictures?)

CONDENSATION! The cool glass of the lens becomes immediately foggy with condensation from the high temperatures outside.

It only took me one time of making that mistake and missing some great pictures because of it to learn my lesson. I now keep my camera in a room closer to the outside temperature so it’s always ready to take pictures – like this one of me in my survival suit! I’m also thrilled I didn’t miss the sunset.

The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It's not easy.

The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It’s not easy. – Photo Credit: Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin.

A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.

A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.

The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.

The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.

Did You Know?

Fathoms are a unit of measurement commonly used to measure the depth of a body of water. One fathom is exactly six feet.

Animals Seen

Flying Fish

Pilot Whales

Kate Trimlett: What a Difference 3 Days at Sea Makes, July 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate Trimlett
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 23–29, 2013

Mission: ACCESS (Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies) to monitor ecosystem health in the national marine sanctuaries off the central and northern California

Geographical area of cruiseGulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary & Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Date: Friday, July 26, 2013

Weather Data:

  • Wind Speed: 7.8 kts
  • Surface Water Temperature: 58.3 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Air Temperature: 55.4 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Relative Humidity: 90%
  • Barometric Pressure: 30.05 in

Science and Technology Log:

ACCESS is a project that contributes to a regional characterization and monitoring of the physical and biological components of the pelagic ecosystem of Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and northern Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries.  During our cruise we are collecting data in these sanctuaries. Over the last three days I have observed and helped the ACCESS scientists collect physical, chemical, and biological properties of the water, plankton, marine mammals, and sea birds. Each of these are measured by a different ACCESS team of researchers in a different area of the research vessel, R/V Fulmar.

Plankton and water are collected and measured on the back deck of the ship.  The water is measured in a few ways.  First, a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) and Niskin are lowered into the water between 35- 200 meters depending on the location on the line and depth of the water. The CTD measures the conductivity to calculate salinity, temperature, and relative depth within the water column.  The Niskin collects a water sample at the same location as the CTD.  These water samples are to tested for pH to measure the acidity of the water.  Finally, Dru Devlin and I are collecting a surface water sample for nutrients and a phytoplankton samples for the California Department of Public Health, as part of an early warning program for harmful algal blooms that can impact the shellfish we eat.

This CTD measure conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth.

This CTD measures conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth.

There are four different plankton collections.  The first collection is with a small hoop net (0.5 meter diameter) used to sample very small plankton, from where foraminifera will be separated later in the lab.  Foraminifera shell morphology and the oxygen isotopes of the shell are examined to investigate past and present climates and impacts of acidity on shell formation.  Next, a larger hoop net (1 meter diameter) collects samples of plankton in the upper 50 m of the water, which will be used to investigate the abundance, species, reproductive patterns, and locations.  When the research vessel was close to the end of the line and the continental shelf, the Tucker Trawl was released to collect three samples of plankton near the bottom.  When we processed these samples the majority of the organisms were krill.  Finally, Dru Devlin and I collected plankton samples 30 feet below the surface to send to the California Department of Health Services because they are interested in the presence and abundance of species that produce toxins.

Tucker trawl collects krill at depth.

Tucker trawl collects krill at depth.

On the top deck, the ACCESS observers watch for marine mammals and sea birds and call them out to the data recorder  to log the sightings into a waterproof computer.  This data will be used to relate the spatial patterns of bird and mammal distribution with oceanographic patterns and to understand the seasonal changes in the pelagic ecosystem.

These are the ACCESS observers looking for marine mammals and sea birds.

These are the ACCESS observers looking for marine mammals and sea birds.

Personal Log:

My favorite sighting so far was the leatherback sea turtle.  Seven years ago and last summer I took a group of Berkeley High School students to Costa Rica to participate in a sea turtle conservation project with Ecology Project International.  On these trips we saw a female leatherback laying her eggs and a hatchling making its way to the ocean.  It was great to see the next stage of development when the leatherback popped its head out of the water several hundred miles from their breeding grounds.

Dru Devlin's amazing picture of the Leatherback Sea Turtle.

Dru Devlin’s amazing picture of the Leatherback Sea Turtle.

Did you know?

Humpback Whales have bad breath?  Yesterday we got to smell it first hand when two humpback whales decided to circle our boat and were close enough for us to smell their breath.  It’s like rotting fish and sour milk mixed together.

Virginia Warren: Adios, Ciao, Shalom, Arrivederci, Adieu, Auf Weidersehen, in other words Goodbye for Now, July 17, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Virginia Warren
Aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp
July 9th – 17th, 2013

Mission: Leg 3 of the Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Sailing Back to Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Date: July 17th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Mostly sunny with occasional fog and 1 to 2 foot seas (The weather was perfect for the last two days of the trip!)

Personal Log: 

I’ve had the most wonderful time on this trip and made some really great new friends! I enjoyed it so much that I almost hated to see it come to an end! I worked with an awesome group of people on my watch who were always full of information! Erin has a marine biology degree, as well as a technology graduate degree. She was great to talk to, learn from, and she always helped me make the right decisions. Adam was our watch chief on the day watch crew, which means that he was responsible for collecting data and directing the rest of the science crew as we sorted the contents of the dredge. He was always very helpful and knowledgeable about the different types of species that came up with the dredge. Jon was the chief scientist for the leg 3 sea scallop survey. Jon had a very busy job because he was in charge of both science crews, communicating with the home lab, collaborating with the ship crew, deciding on dredge spots and HabCam routes, and for showing me the ropes. I really do appreciate all the time he took out of his busy days to help me and teach me! Jared was the HabCam specialist on board for this leg of the sea scallop survey. He has an ocean engineering degree and works for WHOI, which is the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Jared helped design and test the HabCam vehicle so that it would protect the camera and other equipment while underwater. He also kept our crew entertained with ‘tunes’ and laughs. This group of people was great to work with and I would do it again with them in a heartbeat. I really hope that I will get another opportunity to do something like this again in the future!

Virginia's Day Watch Crew

The day watch science crew taking the last dredge picture of the Leg 3 Sea Scallop Survey.
Pictured left to right: Erin, Virginia, Adam, Jon, and Jared

I also really enjoyed the crew of the Hugh R. Sharp. They were always welcoming and forthcoming with answers to questions about the ship. They also keep their ship clean and comfortable. My favorite place on the ship was the bridge, which is where they steer the ship. The bridge is the best place to watch for whales and sharks. It has panoramic glass all the way around it, plus you can walk right outside the bridge and feel the breeze in your face, or have some very interesting conversations with the ship’s crew.

R/V Hugh R. Sharp in Woods Hole, MA

R/V Hugh R. Sharp in Woods Hole, MA

Science and Technology Log:

As my trip came near to an end, I started wondering what were some of the differences between the research dredge we were using and the dredge a commercial scallop fisherman would use. Our research dredge was an 8 foot New Bedford style dredge, as opposed to the commercial ships who use two 15 foot dredges on either side of the ship. Scallop dredges are made up of connecting rings that keep the scallops in the dredge. The research dredge we used was made up of 2 inch rings. Commercial dredges are required to have a minimum of 4 inch rings. NOAA uses the smaller rings on their research dredges to be able to get an accurate population count of all the sizes of scallops in a given area. The commercial scallop fishermen are required to use the larger rings to allow smaller scallops to escape. The research dredge we used was equiped with a 1.5 inch streched mesh liner to keep other species, like fish, in the dredge because NOAA likes to measure and count them as well. Commercial scallop fishermen keep their dredges in for hours at a time.  NOAA only keeps their research dredge in the water for 15 minutes at a time. There are several other dredge regulations that commercial fisherman have to follow. Click here if you would like to read more about the regulations.

I also learned a lot about the anatomy of a sea scallop.

The anatomy of a sea scallop. Thanks to for the anatomy  of a sea scallop chart.

The anatomy of a sea scallop. Thanks to for the anatomy of a sea scallop chart.

Sea scallops are either male or female depending on the color of their reproductive gland, called the gonad. If a scallop has a red gonad, then that means it is a female scallop. If the gonad is a cream/yellow color, then that means the scallop is a male.

Inside View of a Male Scallop

Inside View of a Male Scallop

Inside View of a Female Scallop

Inside View of a Female Scallop

The scallop is connected to both sides of its shell with the large white part called the adductor muscle. This is the part that gets eaten. The adductor muscle is also the part that allows the scallop to clasp its shell shut. Scallops are also able to swim by sucking water into its shell and then quickly clasping the shell shut, which makes the scallop ‘swim’.

Sea Scallop's Adductor Muscle

The white chunk of meat is called the adductor muscle, which is the part of the scallop that most people eat.

Scallops have eyes that line the edges of both top and bottom shells. See if you can spot eyes on the scallops below.

Most of the scallops that we pulled up were only measured for individual length and cumulative weight, however some of the scallops were chosen to have their gonad and adductor muscle weighed, as well as their shells analyzed for age.

Virginia Measuring the Scallop's Meat Weight

Virginia Measuring the Scallop’s Meat Weight

Scallops are aged in a way similar to aging a tree. After the first two years of a scallop’s life, they are believed to grow a shell ring every year. In the picture below you can see how the shells age through the years.

Aged Scallops

Aged Scallops
Photo courtesy of Dvora Hart from the NMFS Sea Scallop Survey Powerpoint

Animals and Sights Seen:

 Beautiful Sunsets

Beautiful Sunset Near Nantucket

Beautiful Sunset Near Nantucket

Moonlight on the Water

Tons of Hermit Crabs:




We put it in water to keep it alive while we finished sorting the table.

Barndoor Skate:



This dolphin swam right up beside the ship.

Humpback Whales: The last night of the cruise we got to see the most amazing whale show. The pictures aren’t that great because they were a good ways away from the ship and it was right around sunset. I ended up putting the camera down so that I could just enjoy the show.

Extra Pictures:

Paul Ritter: Start Your Day the Right Way with the Pisces McMuffin, July 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 24, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-24-13 ship data

Science and Technology Log
Date: Wednesday 7-24-2013

Zeb and Doug in the lab making the call.

Zeb and Doug in the lab making the call.

Woke up this morning around 6:15.  Worried that I overslept, I rushed as fast as I could to get to the aft deck for our daily trap baiting routine.  As I walked on deck, I quickly realized that no one else was on time either.  I knew something was amiss.  Immediately, I headed to the dry lab to find where the rest of the crew was located.  The day before we had to cut our expedition short due to high seas and heavy currents and today while the waves have calmed down the currents have not.  Zeb made the decision to wait until 8:15 to make our first drop of the day.  Quickly, traps one through six went into the water, and then came the waiting game. Ninety minutes went by and with fingers crossed we reeled in our chevron traps.  First trap in….. nothing.  Second trap….Nothing.  The third trap came to the surface and at first it appeared that we were skunked once again, but upon further inspection we had caught an Almaco Jack.  Almaco Jack (Seriola rivoliana) is a game fish that is in the same family as Yellowtail and Amberjack.  While I have not eaten this particular species of Jack, the crew tells me it is quite tasty.  An interesting fact about the Almaco Jack is that they remove their surface parasites by rubbing against the skin of passing sharks.  Nothing like asking for a shark to eat you.  Fourth trap was a big zero just like the first two, but the fifth trap had netted a Coney Grouper (Cephalopholis fulva) and Spider Crab (Libinia dubia).  Not many in our party had previously seen a Coney Grouper and it was exciting in the dry lab as the scientists all inspected our little five pound red beauty.  As for the Spider Crab, aka. Decorator Crab, I was shocked that it decided to ride the trap all the way to the surface, when it was small enough to escape at any point in time.  The Decorator Crab is so named for being a master of disguise.  This cunning little crustacean affixes to bits and pieces of seaweed, rock and other debris to disguise itself perfectly for the habitat that it lives in.  To me the Decorator Crab is one very cool little dude.  Even though our team found a couple of cool specimens it was not enough for us to spend the rest of the day there.  So Zeb made the call to head south.  Our next stop the waters of Florida.  It is estimated that it will take us around six hours to make the journey.

Me and My Coney

Me and My Coney

Say Hello to My Little Friend - Spider Crab

Say Hello to My Little Friend – Spider Crab

Personal Log


Cornhole anyone?

Having the lab clean and all of our chores completed we had to find a way to keep busy.  So what else could be better than playing Cornhole on the aft deck while traveling the waters south at 9.6 knots or about 11 miles per hour.  Zach, Julie, Patrick and I played about 10 rounds before we got tired and headed below deck.  I am sure you probably have wondered about life on the NOAA Ship Pisces.  There are several work schedules which people follow.  The crewmember’s position on the ship determines what shift they work.  It is possible to work two 4 hour shifts, an 8 hour shift or, 12 hours on, 12 hours off.  It just depends on your particular job on the shift.

Most all staterooms house two members of the crew.  Crewmembers are generally placed in staterooms where the other person in the room has an opposite schedule.  In other words, one person works when the other person sleeps.  This schedule seems to work well as long as the person who is awake does not disturb the person sleeping.  Each stateroom has its own private bathroom with a shower.  One thing that I have learned quickly is that it can be tricky to use the restroom while underway.  I do not want to go too in depth about using the privy but let’s just say this, it can be very tricky to use the restroom or shower for that matter, when you are bouncing off the walls from the waves outside.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner on the Pisces are served promptly at the hours of 7:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.  The crew all make their way to the mess deck, where Moises, the Chief Steward, has an entire smorgasbord prepared and ready to eat.  Breakfast usually consists of a combination of eggs, pancakes, sausage, biscuits, English muffins, fried potatoes (hash browns), and BACON.  No breakfast would be complete without BACON.  The other day one of the NOAA scientists, Patrick Raley, suggested that I needed to try the Pisces McMuffin, which consists of bacon, egg, cheese and salmon on an English muffin. Well, when in Rome….  So I decided to have one for breakfast that day.  It was amazing.  I am here to tell you folks, if McDonalds finds out about this, you will find one on their menu.  Lunch and dinner consist of some meat (steak, crab, chicken, meatloaf, pork, scallops, and fish), vegetable (steamed, sautéed, or raw), some sort of potato, and a salad.

One thing I can tell you about being a field research scientist is that it is usually a messy job.  My clothes generally get destroyed every day.  Once on board, some species of the caught fish are simply measured for length and weight.  The real mess comes when we catch some of the more sought after species, which are more the focus of our study.  Each of these fish get a complete work up, including the collection of their otolith.  What is an otolith?  An otolith is basically a bone in the head of a fish that can tell us its age.  This bone would be similar to a person’s ear bone.   Why do we want to know how old fish are?  Knowing the age of any population allows biologists to better understand how populations react to various environmental and human pressures.  It allows us to be able to manage our natural resources in a sustainable way.

The Pisces McMuffin

The Pisces McMuffin

Anyway, it is not a good idea when you come to do your own expedition to bring new clothes or shoes.  It all will get very dirty.  Under the mess hall is the laundry facility.  I have already done one load of laundry since I have been on board and I am sure I will do many more before I head home.  To do laundry is no different from doing it at home with one exception.  Due to having only a few clothing items on this trip, I have to wash them all at the same time.  When my wife, Jodee, reads this, she will cringe, but I am not separating the whites, colors, lights or darks.

Did you know?

Did you know that otoliths are used to age fish?  How do we use otoliths to age a fish?  I would say it is like using tree rings to age a tree.  Do you want to give it a try?