John Clark, September 25, 2013


NOAA Teacher at Sea John Clark

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

September 23 – October 4, 2013

The galley

The galley

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: September 25, 2013

Science and Technology  Log 

I was  told  that  the  first  12  hour night watch shift was the hardest for staving off sleep and those who spoke were right. Tonight’s  overnight shift seems to be flying by and I’m certainly awake. Lots of trawling and sorting this  evening with four sorts complete by 6am. One was just full of dogfish, the shark looking fish,  and  they  process  quickly  because  other  than  weight  and  length there is little request for other data. The dogfish were sorted at the bucket end of the job so determining sex had already been completed by the time the fish get to my workstation. Again I’m under the mentorship of Jakub who can process fish faster than I can print and place labels on the storage envelopes. The placement of the labels is my weakness as I have no fingernails and removing the paper backing from the sticky label is awkward and time consuming. Still tonight I’m showing speed improvement over last night. Well at least I’m getting the labels on straight most of the time.

Sorting fish

Sorting fish

In  addition  to  the  dogfish,  we  have  processed  large  quantities  of  skate  (the  one  that  looks  like a  sting  ray to me), left  eyed flounders, croakers (no relation to the frog), and sea robins of which there are two types, northern and stripe. The sea robins are  very colorful with the  array of spines just behind the  mouth. And yes it hurts when one of the spines goes through your glove. Sadly for me sorting has been less exciting tonight.  With  the big fish being grabbed off at the front of the line there has been little left for me to sort. I feel like the goal keeper in soccer  – just  don’t let them get past me. To my great surprise, so far I’ve experienced no real fear of touching the fish. The gloves are very nice to work with.

Species in specific buckets

Species in specific buckets

And let us not overlook the squid. There have been pulled in by the hundreds in the runs today. There are two types of squids, long fin (the lolligo) and short fin (the illex). What they both have in common is the ability to make an incredible mess. They are slimy on the outside and  inky on the inside. They remind me of a fishy candy bar with really big eyes. And  for all the fish  that enjoy their squid  treat the species  is,  of  course,  (wait  for  it) just  eye  candy.  The  stories  about  the  inking  are  really  true. When  upset, they give  off ink; lots of ink. And  they are very upset by the time they reach the data collection stations. If you could bottle their ink you would  never need  to  refill your pen  again. They are also  very, very  plentiful which  might explain  why there are no requests to collect additional data beyond  how long they are. I guess they are not eye candy to marine scientists. However, there vastness is also their virtue. As a food source for many larger species of marine life, an absence of large quantities of squid in our trawling nets would be a bad sign for the marine ecosystem below us.

Safety equipment

Safety equipment

When the squid are missing, our friend the Skate (which of  the four  types does not  matter)  is glad to pick up  the slack on  the “messy to work with” front. As this species makes it down the sorting and data collecting line the internal panic button goes  off and they exude this thick, slimy substance  that covers their bodies and makes them very slippery customers at  the weigh stations.  It turns out the small spines on the tails were placed there so that fisheries researchers could have a fighting chance to handle them without dropping. Still, a skate sliding onto the floor is a frequent event and provides comic relief for all working at the data collection stations.

Clark Log 2There was new species in the  nets tonight, the  Coronet fish which looks like  along  drink straw with stripes  and a string attached to the back end. It is  pencil thick and about a foot long without the string. We only caught it twice during the trip. The rest of the hauls replicate past  sorting as dogfish, robins, skates, squid, croakers, and flounder are the bulk of the catch. I’ve been told that the diversity and size of the trawl should  be more abundant as we steam along the coastline heading north  from the lower coast of  New Jersey. Our last trawl of the shift, the nets deployed collect two species new for our voyage, but ones I actually recognized despite my limited knowledge of fish – the Horseshoe Crab and a lobster! I grew up seeing those on the Jersey shore.  We only got one lobster and after measuring  it we let  go  back  to  grow  some  more.  It  only  weighed in at less than two pounds.

Personal Log 

The foul weather suit we wear to work the line does not leave the staging room where they are stored as wearing them around the ship is not  allowed. After  watching others, I have mastered the art  of  pushing the wader pants over the rubber boots and  thus leaving them set-‐up  for quick donning and  removal of  gear  throughout  the shift.

While the work is very interesting on board, the highlight of each  day is meal time. Even though I work the night  shift (which ends at  noon) I take a nap right after my shift so I can  be  up  and  alert in  time  for dinner. My favorite has been  the T-‐bone steaks with Monterey seasoning and  any of the fish cooked up from our trawling like scallops or flounder. The chef, Dennis, and his assistant, Jeremy serve up some really fine cuisine. Not fancy but very tasty. There is a new soup every day at  lunch and so far my favorite has been the cream of tomato. I went back for seconds! Of course, breakfast is the meal all of us on the night watch  look forward  to  as there is no  meal service between midnight and  7am. After 7 hours of just snacking and  coffee, we are ready for  some solid food by the time breakfast  is served.

Seas continue to be  very calm and the  weather sunny and pleasant. That’s quite a surprise for the North Atlantic in the fall. And  the sunrise today was amazing. The Executive Officer, Chad Cary, shared that the weather we are experiencing should continue for at least four more days. I am  grateful  for  the  calm weather – less  chance  to  experience  sea  sickness.  That is something I’m determined to avoid if possible.