Sarah Boehm: Home Again, July 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 10, 2013

Personal Log

The Oregon II pulled into port Sunday morning after a successful 2 week leg of the summer groundfish survey. The first thing I wanted to do when we got to land was to go for a walk. It did feel great to stretch my legs and move more than 170 feet at a time. Being on land again felt funny, as if the ground was moving under me. I thought this “dock rock” would pass quickly, but even two days later I had moments of feeling unsteady. On Monday I made my way back home to Massachusetts, arriving after 12 hours of planes and cars to a delightfully cool evening (although I hear it had been very hot while I was gone.)

I still have some photos and videos I wanted to share, so I thought I’d put together one more blog post with some amazing and fun creatures we saw.

We saw sharks swimming near the boat a few times, but this video shows the most dramatic time. This group of at least 8 sharks attacked the net as it brought up a bunch of fish, ripping holes in the net and spilling the fish. They then feasted on all that easy food floating in the water.

Adult puffer fish on the left from a groundfish trawl and a baby puffer from a plankton tow on the right
jelly nets
Icicles? Nope. Those are jellies that got caught in the net.
small flying fish
A very small flying fish with its “wings” extended.

One of my favorite fish is the flying fish. These fish have very long pectoral fins on the side of their bodies that act like wings. They can’t really fly, but they can soar an impressive distance through the air. We sometimes caught them in the Neuston net as it skimmed the top of the water. They are great fun to watch as groups of them will take to the air to get out of the way of the boat. Even more fun was watching dolphins hunting the flying fish! I was unsuccessful at getting a video, but you can watch them in this BBC clip.

flying fish
It must be the end of watch. Me with a flying fish.

Another cool animal we found were hermit crabs. The ones we caught were bigger than any I had found at a beach. The shell they live in was made by a gastropod (snail). As the hermit crab grows it has to find a bigger shell to move into.

hermit crab
A large hermit crab in its shell.
hermit crab without its shell
We had to take the hermit crab out of its shell to weigh it. The head and claws have a hard shell, but the back part is soft and squishy.
hermit and anemones
This hermit crab has sea anemones living on its shell.

Look closely at the spots of color on this video of a squid. You can see how the color and patterns are changing.

A few more cool critters we found:

This stargazer looks like a dragon, but fits in the palm of your hand. It buries itself in the mud and then springs out to grab prey.
mantis shrimp
We found many mantis shrimp. It gets its name because those front legs are similar to those of the praying mantis. Those legs are incredibly fast and strong to kill its prey.

I knew there were many oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, but I was surprised by just how many we passed. There are almost 4,000 active rigs in the waters from Texas to Alabama. While we went through this area there were always a few visible. They reminded me of walkers, the long legged vehicles from the Star Wars movies, with their boxy shapes perched above the water. By comparison, the waters near Florida were deserted because offshore oil drilling is not allowed and there were few other ships.

oil rig
Oil rigs
evening rig
Work on an oil rig also goes on 24 hours a day.

It was fabulous spending this time out on the groundfish survey with the scientists and crew of the Oregon II. Now I have a greater understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and science in action.  I truly appreciate the time people on board spent to teach me new things and answer all my questions. I also have enjoyed all my students’ comments and questions. Keep them coming!

storm approaching
A storm approaches as we pull in to Pascagoula.


28 Replies to “Sarah Boehm: Home Again, July 10, 2013”

    1. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of flying fish even before I saw them. But watching groups of them take to the air was fascinating. Up close they are also kind of cute with a deep blue/ purple color and huge eyes.

    1. Not particularly, but I do think the speed and strength of the front legs is pretty cool. Can you believe a big one can crack the glass in an aquarium with one powerful punch?

    1. It is a fish. It has scales and breathes through gills like other fish. They are called stargazers because they are always looking up with eyes on top of their head. But I don’t think they ever see the stars, as they live on the bottom of the sea and are often buried in the sand with only those eyes and big mouth sticking out.

    1. We did see dolphins! They sometimes came to play in the waves made by the ship. We also saw them hunting flying fish around the boat. They are amazingly fast swimmers and great fun to watch.

    1. Nyomi, we saw too many flying fish to count! They often jumped out of the water in groups of about 10 fish. We saw most of them at night.

    1. The pectoral fins on flying fish are almost half their body length. We caught a lot that were about 8 inches long with pectoral fins that were almost 4 inches.

    1. Big things: sharks, dolphins, red snapper
      Bad things: some trash in the water, depleated oxygen near the Mississippi River

    1. I really enjoyed watching the larger animals, like dolphins and sharks, swim around the ship. I also really like the tiny planktonic fish. Some were transparent – you could only really see their eye.

    1. Aren’t you lucky that school starts today – and we are going to talk more about all this in class this week!

    1. We did catch a sting ray in the nets (the photo is on the post named “Plankton”). It was not very big for a sting ray, but was still very cool. We did all the measuring of data quickly so we could let it go back in the water. We did not catch any turtles, or see any swimming by. Snapping turtles are fresh water critters, so they don’t live in the Gulf. But there are 5 species of sea turtles in the Gulf, including the leatherback which can reach an impressive 2,000 pounds!

    1. So many of the fish were silver or brown, that any color on a fish really stood out. I liked the striped tails of the goatfish and the blue polka dots on the fins of sea robins. Then there were some fish that had cute, round bodies like puffers, toad fish and stargazers. I also really liked red snapper – on my dinner plate! Yumm

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