NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 6 – May 16, 2014
Geographical area of cruise: Georges Bank
Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl & Acoustic Survey
Date: May 11, 2014
Air Temp: 11.2°C (52.16°F)
Relative Humidity: 100%
Wind Speed: 21.9mph
Science and Technology Log
Here’s what a typical watch aboard the Henry B. Bigelow looks like. Upon assuming the watch, which in my case means beginning work at midnight, the science team gets a rundown of what happened during the previous watch. When the ship nears its next station (where it will drop the net and begin trawling), the area is surveyed to ensure that it is clear of lobster traps and large rocks before readying the nets for trawling. Think of the trawl nets in terms of really large butterfly nets, except these nets also contain a set of sensors that tell the science team and the Officer of the Deck (the officer in charge of driving the ship) information about how deep the net is, how fast it’s traveling, etc.. The ship’s deckhands lower the nets from the aft (rear) deck of the ship into the water and then closely monitor them until reaching a specified depth. With the trawl nets in place, the ship steams at 3 knots for about twenty minutes, pulling the nets along and catching fish and other marine life. Once the trawl is complete, the net is hauled aboard and it’s time for the scientists to get involved.
Using a crane, the net is swung over a large stainless steel hopper called the checker. A scientist working the checker, then pushes the captured organisms onto a conveyor belt, which moves them inside the ship to the wet lab. In the wet lab, scientists and volunteers (like me) stand along a long conveyor, sorting the catch by species and, sometimes, by sex or size, into a set of buckets. After the catch is sorted, the buckets are consolidated and placed on another conveyor belt, which moves the buckets to the Watch Chief’s station. The Watch Chief scans a barcode on the side of each bucket, and uses a computer to assign a species to that barcode. The barcoded buckets are each filled with a different organism then moved to any one of three cutter stations for processing. The Cutter scans the barcode of an available bucket, which tells the computer at his or her station some basic information about the organism, such as its scientific and common names, and how much the bucket weighs. The computer also tells the Cutter what sorts of protocols need to occur on that organisms (weighing, measuring, checking stomach contents, determining sex). As the Cutter processes the organism, the Recorder, standing at a computer screen next to the Cutter, assists the Cutter by inputting measurement and other data into the computer system. Often, extra instructions pop up on the screen, instructing the Cutter that a scientist has requested that we collect specimens from an organism. Otoliths (ear bones from fish) are collected frequently, but sometimes a request is made to freeze or preserve an organism. Some organisms even go in a live holding tank so the scientist can have a living specimen when the ship returns to port. This entire process can take anywhere from one hour to several, depending on the amount fish and the types of processing required.
Well, yesterday (Saturday) was a rough one for yours truly. We ran into some higher seas, and the ship’s rocking and rolling made me sick as a dog. So much for that Navy experience helping me in this regard… Oh, well, that’s part of life at sea. Everyone was very kind about it. one of my watchmates even fetched some crackers for me, which helped. Feeling much better today. Here are a few pictures representing life aboard the Henry B. Bigelow (at least as I live it):