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 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.
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.
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.
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.
There 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.
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.