John Clark, Hi Ho, Hi Ho It’s Off to Work We Go, September 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Clark
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 4, 2013

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: September 24, 2013

Survival suits!
Survival suits!

Science and Technology  Log 

Today is my first full 12 hour shift day. I’m on the night crew working midnight to noon. Since we left port yesterday I’ve been  trying to  adjust my internal clock for pulling daily “all night”ers.  On Monday, after we  left port, safety briefs for all hands occurred once we made it out to sea and I got to complete my initiation into the Teacher at Sea alumni program  – the donning of  the Gumby suit as I call it. It is actually a bright red wet suit that covers your entire body and makes you look like a TV Claymation figure from the old TV show. In actuality it is designed to help you survive if  you need to abandon ship. Pictures are  of course taken to preserve this rite of passage.

The Henry B. Bigelow is a specially-built NOAA vessel designed to conduct fisheries research at sea.  Its purpose is to collect data that will help scientists assess the health of the Northern Coastal Atlantic Ocean and the fish populations that inhabit it. The work is invaluable to the commercial fishing industry.

The Bigelow in port
The Bigelow in port

Yesterday, I learned how we will go about collecting fisheries data. Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Peter Chase, has selected  locations for sampling the local fish population and the ship officers have developed a sailing plan that will enable the ship to visit all those locations, weather permitting, during the course of the voyage. To me its sounds like a well-‐planned  game of connecting the dots. At each target location, a trawling net  will be deployed and dragged near the bottom of the sea for a 20 minute period at a speed of 3 knots. Hence the reason  this voyage is identified as a bottom trawl survey mission. To drag the bottom without damaging the nets is not easy and there are five spare nets on board in case something goes wrong. To minimize the chance of damaging the net during a tow, the survey technicians use the wide beam sonar equipment to survey the bottom prior to deployment. Their goal is to identify a smooth path for the net to follow. The fish collected in the net are sorted and studied, based on selected criteria, once on board. A  specially designed transport system moves the fish from the net to the sorting and data collection stations inside the wet lab. I’m very excited to see how it actually works during my upcoming shift.

The big net.
The big net.

Work is already underway when our night crew checks in. The ship runs 24/7  and the nets have been down  and trawling since 7pm. Fish sorting and data collection  are  already underway.  I don my foul  weather gear which  looks  like a set of waders used for British fly fishing.  There is also a top jacket  but the weather is pleasant  tonight and the layer is not needed. I just need to sport some gloves and get to work. I’m involved with processing  two trawls of fish right away. I’m assigned to work with an experienced member of the science team, Jakub. We will be collecting information on the species of fish caught on each trawl.  Jakub carries out the role as cutter, collecting the physical  information or fish parts needed by the scientists. My role is recorder and  I enter data about the particular fish  being evaluated  as well package up  and  store the parts of the fish  being retained  for future study.

Ship equipment
Ship equipment

Data collection on each fish harvest is a very detailed. Fish are sorted by species as they come down the moving sorting line where they arrive after coming up the conveyer belt system from the “dump”  tank, so  named  because that is where the full nets deposit their  bounty. Everybody on the line sorts fish. Big fish get  pulled off  first  by the experienced scientists at  the start  of  belt  and then volunteers such as I pull off the smaller fish. Each  fish  is placed  into  a bucket by type of fish. There are three types of buckets and each bucket has a  bar code  tag. The  big laundry  looking  baskets  hold  the  big  fish,  five  gallon  paint buckets hold  the smaller fish, and  one gallon  buckets (placed  above the sorting line) hold  the unexpected  or small species. On  each  run  there is generally one fish  that is not sorted  and  goes all the way to the end untouched and unceremoniously ends up in the catch-‐all container at the  end of the  line. The watch leader weighs the buckets and then links the bar code on the bucket to the type of fish in it. From there  the  buckets are  ready for data  collection.

Clark Log 1d
The sorting line

After sorting the fish, individual data collection begins “by the bucket” where simultaneously at three different stations the sizing, weighing, and computer requested activities  occur. By  random sample certain work  is  performed on that fish. It  gets weighed and usually opened up to retrieve something from inside the fish. Today, I’ve observed several types of  data collection. Frequently requested are removal of  the otolith, two small bones in the head that  are used to help determine the age of  the fish. For bigger fish with vertebra,  such  as  the  goose  fish,  there  are periodic  requests  to  remove a  part  of  the backbone and  ship  it off for testing. Determining sex is recorded  for many computer tagged  fish  and  several are checked stomach contents.

Of the tools used to record data from the fish, the magic magnetized measuring system is the neatest. It’s  rapid  fire  data  collecting  at  its  finest.  The  fish  goes  flat  on  the measuring  board;  head  at  the  zero point, and  then a quick touch  with  a magnetized block at the end  of the fish  records the length  and  weight. Sadly, it marks the end of tall tales about the big  one that got  away and keeps getting bigger as the story is retold. The length of  the specimen is accurately recorded for  posterity in an instant.


clark 1e

Personal Log

Flying into Providence  over the  end of Long Island and the  New England coast line  is breath taking. A jagged,  sandy  coast  line  dotted  with  summer  homes  just  beyond  the  sand dunes. To line  up  for  final  approach we  fly right over Newport where  the  Henry B. Bigelow is berthed at the  Navy base  there. However, I  am  not  able  to  spot  the  NOAA  fisheries  vessel that  will be my home for the next two weeks from the air.Clark Log 4b

I arrive a day prior  to sailing so I have half a day to see the sites of Newport, Rhode Island  and  I know exactly where  I’m headed – the Tennis Hall of  Fame. My father was a first class tennis player who invested  many  hours  attempting  to  teach  his  son  the  game.  Despite  the  passion in  our  home  for  the great sport we  never made  it to the  Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. Today I fulfilled that bucket  list  goal. I still remember being  court side  as a  young boy at The  Philadelphia  Indoor Championship watching the likes of  Charlie Pasarell, Arthur  Ashe, and Pancho Gonzales playing  on the canvas tennis court that was stretched out over the basketball arena. Also  in  the museum, to  my surprise, was a picture of the grass court lawn of the  Germantown Cricket Club from its days as a USTA championship venue. I  grew up playing on  those  grass tennis courts as my father  belonged to that  club. After seeing that picture, I left the museum knowing my father  got  as much out  of  the visit  as I did.