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?


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