Dana Clark: Alaskan Launches, Tides and Bears, Oh My! June 28, 2014

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dana Clark

Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 23 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Coast of Kodiak Island

Date: June 28, 2014

Weather Data: Latitude – 51° 12.83′ N, Longitude – 152° 29.54′ W, Sky Condition – 1/8 clouds, Present Weather – clear, Visibility – 10 nautical miles, Wind – 8 knots, Temperature – 21° C

Science and Technology Log

Dana Clark with Primary Antenna

Dana Clark with Ens. Joe Brinkley repairing horizontal control station, Cape Kaguyak, Alaska

Each day when I participate in hydrographic surveys I always tell the boat that today we need to see a bear. Recently, one launch survey crew saw a bear swimming in the water and it stopped and looked at them before swimming off to the land. This was my ideal situation. So yesterday I participated in a hydrographic survey and the driver got real excited for me when in the middle of a transit, he yelled that he thinks he sees two bears on the shore. As we use binoculars to see them we confirm that we have now seen…two horses! This sighting was by all accounts very interesting to the crew since no one knew that there would be wild horses on an island in Alaska. However, the day’s sightings of wild cows and horses did nothing for this Texan.

Bear chewed solar panels

Bear chewed solar panels, Cape Kaguyak, Alaska

Today, I did something different. I went with a survey group out in an orange work boat called an Ambar. This boat is different than the launches because it is a jet boat, which means it has an impeller versus an exposed propeller. This way, it can bring us right up to shore.

We had a two-fold purpose, first to repair a horizontal control station, HorCon for short, and then to make tide observations. The HorCon station logs GPS (Global Positioning System) data. The station has a GPS atenna and recording unit, radio modem antenna for remote communications, car batteries to power everything, and solar panels to charge the batteries.The antennas are on a fixed tripod. For this piece of equipment, the higher the better! It allows us to achieve better horizontal and vertical positioning for our multi-beam data. It tracks the satellites overhead, the same as our survey launches do, but since it is in a known position we can use these data to remove any atmospheric interference.

We hike a large cliff and at the top is the HorCon station. As we crest the hill, it is Joe in the lead, then Joy, then me. Joe says stop, there’s a bear on the ridge, and it’s only about 200 feet away! We quickly gather together to look bigger to the bear and it decides to amble away over the ridge. Then, two baby cubs that we hadn’t seen go following behind her! My day is made perfect. When we get to the horizontal control station we find out it wasn’t working because the bear had chewed the solar panels and pulled a cord out of the primary antenna. Check out the huge bite mark in the picture above! Joe repaired the cord, made sure the other solar panels were still connected, and we had the station up and communicating.

Dana Clark Tide Observations

Dana Clark reading water level off the tide staff, Japanese Bay, Alaska

First mission accomplished then off to do tide observations. Mostly, this consist of sitting on the beach and recording the current water level every six minutes. It was a beautiful sunny day and Japanese Bay, Alaska was the ideal place to be. On shore there is a gauge, tripod and antenna with a wire that attaches to an orifice underwater. There also is a staff in the water with measurements on it. A constant flow rate of air is maintained in the orifice underwater so we can measure the pressure of the water column. More pressure = higher tide. Just think, at higher tide there is more water pushing down on it, hence more pressure. The gauge correlates pressure values with how much tide we are actually seeing. So we take staff observations over two hours and every six minutes we take a minute of readings of how high the water is on the staff. We then download the data from the gauges and compare it to our visual data. It’s important to go out every week to get readings and make sure no bear or storm has bothered it.

Why do tide observations every week? The scientists here often see tide ranges in Alaska from -5 feet to +25 feet. They need to know the correct tidal effects so when they take depth readings with the multi-beam sonar they can adjust those depths to remove tide and chart the soundings at MLLW (Mean Lower Low Water), which is the chart datum. This is because the water level is changing every day with tides and they need to be accurate. This is real important in shallow areas.

Scientist of the Day

Tami Beduhn

Tami Beduhn in Barrow, Alaska, 2012. Photo courtesy of NOAA Fairweather

Today I would like you to meet Tami Beduhn, a Chief Survey Technician for NOAA who is currently aboard the Fairweather. She is the head of the whole hydrographic  survey department here on the Fairweather! She is not in NOAA Corps but is a wage mariner, which means she is getting sea time assigned to the Fairweather in order to get her Able Seaman credentials and she is not part of the uniformed services.

She’s here because she wants to be on this ship doing the work she does and her CO, CDR Zezula, sure is glad she’s here. He says, “Tami is technically outstanding, incredibly dedicated, and has a strong work ethic. She is the bedrock of the science, especially with a lot of new people this year, and I rely on her leadership to guide and mentor as well as maintain the high quality Fairweather is known for.”

As the chief survey technician, she manages the survey department and is responsible for quality assurance and control of hydrographic data aboard the ship. The highlight of her job is training the new recruits. Tami believes the key to a good hydrographer is having a good attitude, good computer and math skills, and a willingness to learn. And they must enjoy teamwork since living on a ship is like having a family that works together. Tami graduated from North Carolina State University with a BS in Marine Science and a Concentration in Geology and came straight to NOAA. Here’s a woman who’s at the forefront of her field, all at the age of 27 years old!

Personal Log

What a great day I had today! I saw a bear with her two cubs, two orcas, and three bald eagles! Here is a poor quality shot of the bear with her cubs below her and a little to the left. Below that is a bald eagle. The third picture  is me on top of the hill after fixing the HorCon station. You can click on any picture in my blogs to see it full size. And after checking out the pictures, make sure to vote in the poll below. The weather is perfect and I even got a little sunburned today. Life is good being a hydrographer in Alaska in the summertime!

Brown bear and her cubs

Brown bear and her cubs, Cape Kaguyak, Alaska


Cape Kaguyak

Bald Eagle, Cape Kaguyak, Alaska

Dana Clark Cape Kaguyak, Alaska

Dana Clark on top of Cape Kaguyak, Alaska


Question: What is this? Plant or animal? Answer in the poll below.

Japanese Bay, Alaska

Kainoa Higgins: Mantas and Megalopae, June 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kainoa Higgins
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northern California Current
Date: Saturday, June 28, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge: Current Latitude: 45° 59.5’ N Current Longitude: 125° 02.1’ W Air Temperature:  12.7° Celsius Wind Speed: 15 knots Wind Direction: WSW Surface Water Temperature: 15.5 Celsius Weather conditions: Partly cloudy

Find our location in real time HERE!

Science and Technology Log:

Neuston Net and Manta Tow Today, the weather is pleasant but the sea seems more than restless. The show must go on! I step onto the open deck behind the wet lab just as Dr. Curtis Roegner, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, is placing a GoPro onto the end of an extensive net system.

Dungeness Crab – A Pacific Northwest Delight Photo Credit: http://www.smokeybay.com

While Curtis specializes in the biological aspects of oceanography, he is especially interested in the synthesis of the ocean system and how bio aspects relate to other physical and chemical parameters. He joins this cruise on the Ocean Starr as he continues a long-term study of distribution patterns of larval crabs. The species of focus: Cancer magister, the Dungeness crab; a table favorite throughout the Pacific Northwest.

While I have been known to eat my weight in “Dungies”, I realize that I know very little about their complex life cycle. We begin with “baby crabs”, or crab larvae. Once they hatch from their eggs, they quickly join the planktonic community and spend much of their 3-4 month developmental process adrift – at the mercy of the environmental forces that dictate the movement of the water and therefore, govern the journey of these young crustaceans. It has been generally assumed that all planktonic participants float wherever the waters take them. In that context, it makes sense that we have been finding large numbers of larvae miles offshore during our nighttime trawl sorting. Still, not all are swept out to sea. Every year millions make their way back into the shallows as they take their more familiar, benthic form which eventually grows large enough to find its way to a supermarket near you. The question is: How? How do these tiny critters avoid being carried beyond the point of no return? Is it luck? Or is there something in the evolutionary history of the Dungeness crab that has allowed it to adapt to such trying conditions?

Dungeness Crab Megalopae

“Dungie” babies

Curtis tells me about recent research that suggests that seeming “passive” plankton may actually have a lot more control of their fate than previously supposed.  By maneuvering vertically throughout the column they can quite dynamically affect their dispersal.  Behavioral adaptation may trigger vertical migration events that keep them within a particular region, playing the varied movement of the water to their advantage.  Curtis believes the answer to what determines Dungie abundance lies with with the Megalops, the final stage of the larva just prior to true “crab-hood”. By the end of this stage they will have made their way out of the planktonic community and into estuaries of the near shore zone.

Kainoa and Curtis

Dr. Curtis Roegner explains the importance of his study

This continued study is important in predictably marking the success or failure of a year’s class of crab recruitment. That is to say, the more Megalopae that return to a region, the better the promise of a strong catches for the crabbing industry – and a better chance for you and me to harvest a crab or two for our own table!

As Curtis and I discuss his research, he continues preparing his sampling equipment. The instrument looks similar to the plankton nets we use in marine science at SAMI only it’s about ten times longer and its “mouth” is entirely rectangular, unlike the circular nets I am used to using. I’ve heard the terms “manta”, “bongo” and “neuston” being tossed around lab and yet I am unable to discern one from the other. It’s time I got some answers!

Curtis explains that the Megalopae he wants to catch are members of the neuston, the collective term given to the community of organisms that inhabit the most surface layer of the water column. The Neuston net is named simply for its target. It occurs to me that a “plankton net” is a very general term and that they can come in all shapes and sizes. In addition, the mesh of the net can vary drastically in size; the mesh on our nets at school is roughly 80µm, while the mesh of this net is upwards of 300μm (1 µm or micrometre is equivalent to one millionth of a metre).

Manta tow & Neuston net

The manta body design for neuston sampling. A specialized plankton tow.

I’m still confused because I am fairly certain I have heard others refer to the tool by another name. Curtis explains that while any net intended to sample the surface layer of the water column may be referred to as a neuston net, this particular net had a modified body design which deserved a name of its own. The “manta” is a twin winged continuous flow surface tow used to sample the neuston while minimizing the wake disturbance associated with other models. The net does seem to eerily resemble the gaping mouth of a manta ray. These enormous rays glide effortlessly through the water filtering massive volumes of water and ingesting anything substantial found within. On calm days, our metallic imposter mimics such gracefulness. Today however, it rides awkwardly in the chop, jaggedly slicing and funneling the surface layer into its gut. It’s all starting to make sense. Not only is this a plankton net designed to sample plankton, it is also a plankton net designed to sample only the neuston layer of the planktonic community.   The modified body sitting on buoyed wings designed to cover a wider yet shallower layer at the top of the water column further specified the instrument; a neuston net towed via manta body design for optimized sampling. Got it.

Collected Plankton Sample

A filtered sample of various crustaceans collected from the neuston

After the tow is complete, Curtis dumps the cod end of the net into a sieve, showing me an array of critters including more than a dozen Megalopae! Two samples are frozen to ensure analysis back at the Hammond Lab in Astoria. There, Curtis will examine the developmental progress of the Megalopae in relation to the suite of data provided by the CTD at each testing site. This information, along with various other chemical and physical data will be cross-examined in hopes of finding correlation – and perhaps even causation – that make sense of the Dungeness crabs’ biological and developmental process.

Analysing CTD Data

Dr. Curtis Roegner looks for patterns relating crab Megalopae and CTD data

The CTD 


The CTD measures conductivity, temperature and depth among other auxiliary measurements

Fundamentally, a CTD is an oceanographic instrument intended to provide data on the conductivity, temperature and depth of a given body of water. The CTD is one of the most common and essential tools on board a research ship. Whether it’s Jason exploring benthic communities, Sam hunting jellies, or Curtis collecting crab larvae, all can benefit from the information the CTD kit and its ensemble of auxiliary components can provide about the quality of the water at a given test site. In general, the more information we collect with the CTD the better our ability to map various chemical and physical parameters throughout the ocean. Check out the TAScast below as I give a basic overview of and take a dive with the CTD and its accessories.  



Personal Log:

Just when I thought I was beginning to get the hang of it…. Hold on, I have to lie down. As I mentioned above, the seas have been a bit rougher and I’ve been going through a phase of not-feeling-so-hot for the first time this trip. It’s odd because we hit some rougher ocean right out of Eureka and it didn’t seem to faze me much. I stopped taking my motion sickness medicine a few days in, and though I’ve picked it back up just in case, I’m not entirely convinced it’s the only contributing factor. I think it has more to do with my transition onto the night shift and all the plankton sorting which requires lots of focus on tiny animals. The night before last was particularly challenging. In the lab, all of the papers, books and anything else not anchored down slid back and forth and my body felt as if it were on a giant swing set and seesaw all at once. In addition, each time I looked out the back door all I could see was water sloshing onto the deck through the very drainage holes through which it was intended to escape. I remember wondering why there were so many rolls of duct tape strapped to the table and why chairs were left on their side when not in use. Well, now I know. Earlier today we made a quick pit stop in Newport, Oregon – home of the Hatfield Marine Science Center as well as NOAA’s Marine Operations Center of the Pacific. In short, this is where NOAA’s Pacific fleet of vessels is housed and the home base to several members of my science team, including Chief Scientist, Ric Brodeur.

The NOAA Pacific Fleet

The NOAA Pacific fleet at rest in Newport, OR.

I remember the anticipation of seeing the R/V Ocean Starr, a former NOAA vessel, for the first time. Growing up in Hawai’i, I remember these enormous ships making cameo appearances offshore, complete with a satellite dome over the bridge, only imagining the importance of the work done aboard. Now here I was, walking amongst the giants I idolized as a kid – the difference being that my view was up close and personal from behind the guard gate, a member of their team. I’m totally psyched even though I attempt to pretend like I’ve been there before. As much as I could have spent all afternoon admiring, I needed to make the most of our two hour layover in the library uploading blog material. Unfortunately the satellite-based internet is incredibly finicky out at sea. It’s a first world problem and understandably a part of life at sea, I realize, but all the same, I apologize to all those anticipating regular updates. I continue to do the best I can. I can say, however, that the Hatfield Marine Science Center boasts a fantastic library. I look forward to exploring the rest of the facility upon my final return in a little over a week. ‘Till then, BACK TO SEA!

Dana Clark: Alaska’s Rocky Seafloor, June 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dana Clark

Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 23 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Coast of Kodiak Island

Date: June 26, 2014

Weather Data: Latitude – 56° 45.40′ N, Longitude – 154° 9.99 W, Sky Condition – 7/8 clouds, Present Weather – clear, Visibility – 10 nautical miles, Wind – 3 knots, Temperature – 14° C

Science and Technology Log

Dana Clark on the fantail

Dana Clark on the fantail of the Fairweather

Each morning there is a meeting of the launch crew on the fantail, which is aft, which means the back deck of the boat. You need to wear your hard hat and your PFD which stands for Personal Flotation Device. It is really great that the life-jacket is embedded into the jacket. Wednesday I went out on a launch, a 28 foot boat, and attempted to collect hydrographic data. However, the weather did not cooperate. We were tossed around by winds of 30 knots, which is approximately 34.5 mph, and 5 foot swells and waves. I found out that swells are large scale rollers of water and waves are choppy. Swells have more amplitude, a lot of energy, are larger, and are driven by far off (can be thousands of nautical miles away) weather storms or very high or low pressure systems. Waves are surface wind driven, choppy, smaller, and have more pitch. You can have either one by itself or you can have both together, either going the same direction or cross-ways. Well, we had both swells and waves from different directions at the same time! The waves had whitecaps and the swells were just big! I couldn’t even get out my camera to take a picture because I was holding on to the rail in the cabin with both hands, trying not to fall or get in the way of the scientists as we pitched about. And, can you believe, no seasickness! We were called back to the ship after the current we measured registered at 5 to 5.5 knots, much too fast for us to put our CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) into the water. The professionals aboard the Fairweather put a premium on safety and knew it was time to call an inclement weather day and have the launches return. By the way, the picture at the left was taken on another day. How quickly the weather can change!

Mark Bradley NOAA Fairweather

Mark Bradley using multi-beam sonar 3D imaging to confirm uncharted rock in navigational waters

Today, it was wisely decided that I would be exposed to the science on the ship while the launches went out and the weather system finished passing through. I was able to learn from Mark Bradley who is a hydrographic survey technician. Some days he goes on the launches and uses the multi-beam echo sounder to map sections of the seafloor. Other times he works on the ship processing the data that has been collected and preparing the descriptive report. Today he was comparing old charts to the new survey soundings that a launch had previously recorded while they were picking up holidays during a low tide. Remember, holidays are where there are gaps in the data. While resurveying this holiday they saw a rock sticking out of the water so they came back later in the day during high tide and used the multi-beam sonar to get a depth measurement for the top of it. Mark then took this data and compared it to the old charts. The old charts didn’t even have this rock recorded! He used his 3D imaging and measured the rock at 83 meters wide and 30 meters tall. It was huge! At low tide, it stuck a meter out of the water. This rock was in navigational water and easily could have damaged or sunk a boat. Mark confirmed another nearby rock was 3 feet under the surface so if you were in a boat you wouldn’t see it. This second rock was a known rock; however, on the old chart it was at 42 feet below the surface, not 3 feet! So there is a great need to update our navigational charts since the old ones can be over 100 years old. Eventually, this chart he’s updating will be revised and published by NOAA Charting Division.

Kristin Golmon NOAA Fairweather

Kristin Golmon on the bridge of the Fairweather

Scientist of the Day

Today I would like you to meet Kristin Golmon, a Junior Officer for NOAA who is currently aboard the Fairweather. This Texan is a woman who is in charge! She is an ODD which stands for Officer of the Deck. Because the CO, the Commanding Officer cannot be on the bridge (the space that you command the ship from) all the time, an OOD directs the bridge when he is below, and is the direct representative of the CO. She drives the ship, does survey work, does administrative duties and currently she’s also working towards her coxswain qualification. Today she is in charge of the bridge, working on charts, communicating with the hydrographic survey launches, and recording the weather. Kristin has always been curious about how stuff works. In elementary school she invented a t-shirt folding machine out of cardboard. You would put a t-shirt on it and it would fold the shirt and you would pull the cardboard out! She always did well in math and science and had her parents, a geologist mom and a mathematician dad, as her role models. She attended Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas and earned a BS in Engineering Science, a minor in Mathematics and another minor in Environmental Studies. She was a senior in college when she heard about NOAA Corps and liked their science mission. She also liked the idea of serving her country in a uniformed service.

Casey Marwine polar bear

Polar bear mom and her two cubs, Artic Ocean, 2012.
Photo courtesy of Casey Marwine.

Being a woman in charge has its challenges when working in a male dominated field but she has the respect of her peers and the CO. Currently, the head of NOAA is Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, a geologist and an astronaut who was the first American woman to walk in space. When asked what she liked best about her job, Kristin said that it’s a pretty cool experience being in charge of a ship, especially when going through narrow passages that take a lot of planning like the Inside Passage in Alaska. She also loved seeing polar bears, a mom and two cubs, while doing the Arctic Reconnaissance Survey!

Personal Log

Dana Clark Fairweather room

Dana Clark working in her stateroom on the Fairweather

Check out where I live on the ship.  This is my room, or as we call it aboard ship, my stateroom. Notice the hard hat and survival suit above the bed and the life jacket above the television! I also have a desk that folds up when I don’t need it.  It was a treat to have my own room. The shower and the head (what they call the bathroom) is across from my room. Also on the ceiling of the hallway outside my bedroom is an escape hatch! Then in the floor above is another hatch. This way I can safely get up to the upper decks if my hallway gets blocked or flooded.

Dana Clark Escape Hatch

Escape hatch in the hallway ceiling on the Fairweather


Question (or Answers): Today’s question will actually be answers! And speaking of polar bears, remember my question from my first blog when I asked you the question of what were the odds that I would see a polar bear? Well, the answer is none. The polar bears are much farther north and are found in the Artic region of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia. Unfortunately, I will not be seeing any polar bears. My poll last blog asked you to identify a picture as plant or animal. Many of you voted and it was a pretty split vote between the two! The picture is of bull kelp, a plant, and its scientific name is nereocystis. It can grow huge and I have seen some big ones here in Alaskan waters.

I will leave you with this shot of beautiful Kodiak, Alaska that I took from the ship. This is where we are anchored this week.

Kodiak, Alaska

Kodiak, Alaska, June 2014

John Bilotta, More Colors than a box of Crayola Crayons: Coral, Fish, Sunsets, and the Color of my TAS Experience.  My final blog. Days 10 &11, June 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014


Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 27, 2014


Weather: Hazy sun.  27 degree Celsius.  8.0 knot wind from the southwest.

Locations:  North Florida MPA.        LAT 30°45’N, LON 80.4.9’W

These have been my finals days aboard the Nancy Foster.  We have explored so much, seen so much, yet we didn’t even scratch the surface (or should I say the bottom) of the vastness of the MPAs, the Atlantic, or any of the oceans.  It has been said that the entire science community has explored less than 5% of the world’s oceans.  I can relate much better to this fact after my TAS experience.  In all, we completed 29 separate dives with the ROV.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.

John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

After our last dive, we were gathered in lab and someone said “I call it a success if the number of launches matches the number of recoveries.”  While that certainly is a good measure, my measure of success is the amount of new knowledge I have acquired, the re-kindling of science knowledge I once used more readily, and the many ideas I have acquired to incorporate and advance the earth and water science classes and workshops I design and teach.

Science and Technology Log

Science Part I.  Let there be color

Hint:  See the pictures LARGER.  If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better

I won’t begin to identify everything in these pictures in part because I can’t without the expertise of the researchers and marine biologists I had the honor to be with.  So they are here for their sheer beauty and awesomeness.  Here are two good websites to checkout for more information:  The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has a good EcoSpecies database to explore and www.marinespecies.org


Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part II.  The ocean floor changes and the habitat moves

Our last three dives with the ROV were in the North Florida MPA – about 100 miles east of Jacksonville.  Stacey and the team had explored these reefs and habitats a year ago.  We returned to the same areas using the MB maps where they expected to find good to excellent grouper habitat with high rugosity they observed the year before.  During the first portions of the ROV dive we just could not find that habitat; it was in fact buried in sand in many places.  The Gulf Stream and currents are strong here and they move the sand on the ocean floor.  In addition, hurricanes and tropical storm activity probably also lead to shifts in sand and sediment on the ocean floor, exposing and covering areas all the time. This seemingly paled in comparison to erosion and sedimentation I am more familiar with in Minnesota and in places in the Midwest.  Another example of how the Earth is always changing the way it appears.  In 5-8th grade Earth Adventure programs we often discuss processes that form and shape the planet; plate tectonics, erosion, and weathering are the highlights.  Now with my new knowledge, we will add the ideas of the oceans and currents that shape the planet.

Science Part III.  What will the scientists do with all the research and information we have collected?  

Over the next year, Stacey Harter, Andy David, Heather Moe, John Reed, and Stephanie Farrington will examine the hundreds of digital pictures, hours of HD video, and study the fish, invertebrate, and habitat logs we wrote during each ROV dive.  A summary report about the fisheries and health of the MPAs will be written that will help the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council with management decisions for both commercial and recreational fishing in the areas.

The Nancy Foster – a NOAA ship on the seas – what makes her go?

Most of my blog has been devoted to the science of the mission, but to make that happen, the Nancy Foster has to make its way through the ocean.  Here is a little about the people and the technology that make that happen.

The crew of the NF and a career with NOAA:  The NF has a compliment of 22 crew members including the Commanding Officer (CO), the Executive Officer (XO), and three Junior Officers (JO’s).  How does one get the privilege and honor to pilot a 187 foot ship?  One career entry point is the NOAA Corps. Here is a great video link about the NOAA Corps.  I had a chance to visit with all the officers and spent time with them on the bridge and can’t say enough good things about them. Wish I could include a picture of me with all of them.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

Ship Technology and Engineering:  There is a team of ~15 engineers, technicians, and crew that make this virtual self-sustaining ship the ability to sail the ocean for up to 14 days at a time without going into port.  While at sea, each has their unique and important role.  During my last full day onboard, I spent ½ of it up on the bridge and ½ down in the engine room.  Here are a few technology tidbits:

  • Electronics and computers have a significant role to make the Nancy Foster plow through the ocean’s waters, in addition to its skilled captains and large propellers.  I cannot begin to list and describe all the computers and the high technology aboard the NF and all it does.  I would consider myself to have a high level of computer literacy, but this was daunting.
  • D.P. – Dynamic Positioning.  A computer system calculates and performs many of the navigational moves the NF makes.  The DP also uses wind and motion sensors to predict how the propulsion systems should respond in order to hold position or make precise movements. The DP can literally put the ship within meters of where the science team requests her to go (of course under the direction of the crew).  Simply amazing!
  • The D.P. drives the main engine, two Z-drives off the stern that turn 360 degrees and a bow thruster.
  • Multiple engines and generators churn away in the depths of her not only providing propulsion, but electricity, compressed air, air conditioning, etc.
  • The NF can make 1700 of fresh water daily either through an evaporative process connected to the main engine or through a reverse osmosis system.

 NEW – two short videos of the launch and recovery of the ROV 


A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

What is next for me –what am I am hoping to do with my experience?

The NOAA TAS experience is a privilege that also comes with some requirements that I am excited to fulfill.  Over the course of the next few months I will be developing a classroom lesson plan (K12, grade to be determined) based on my experience.  I have at least seven new ideas to work into existing Earth Adventure programs.  I will also be preparing a presentation to my peers about the TAS, the MPAs, the research, and my involvement.  I will also be highlighting careers in NOAA for young adults.  Some of these materials will be posted to this blog – so don’t delete the link just because I am done sailing!

Personal Log:

Yes, we were able to watch the USA vs Germans play in the FIFA World Cup.  The Nancy Foster does have Direct TV and it so happens we timed our ROV dives to allow us to watch either of the two large screen TV’s aboard the ship.

I finished the The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.  The last quote I will end my blog with

“Water is unpredictable.  Water is fickle.   But that is water’s nature. The fickleness, the variability, is itself predictable.”  (p775)

I watched a number of sunsets (when not playing Mexican Train – a game with Dominos) and I forced myself up a couple of mornings for sunrise, including this one on our last morning sailing back to Mayport.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  In the meantime, some might have links to further information. 

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at


  • D.P.  dynamic positioning
  • CPA – closest point of approach
  • BCR – Bow crossing range

Kainoa Higgins: Jelly Fishing and C.U.F.E.S-ing! June 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kainoa Higgins
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northern California Current
Date: Thursday, June 26, 2014, 2000 hours

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Current Latitude: 42 ° 34.7’ N
Current Longitude: 124 ° 37.6’ W
Air Temperature:  13° Celsius
Wind Speed: 25-30 knots
Wind Direction: North
Surface Water Temperature: 14.6 Celsius
Weather conditions: Partly cloudy

Find our location in real time HERE!

Science and Technology Log:

Jelly Fishing

Jelly fishing

Patiently waiting for an opportunity to sneak up on an unsuspecting jelly

I feel a bit silly standing on the stern deck of the RV Ocean Starr with a long-handled dip net designed to skim the surface of your average suburban swimming pool. It is now my fisher net and I’m hunting jellies (which are not, in fact, fish). In my head I chant, ‘Here jelly jelly jelly’ as my squinting eyes strain to peer through the fertile layers of seawater for any sign of gelatinous zooplankton.

Sea Nettle

The Pacific Sea Nettle

I am assisting Sam Zeman, a graduate student at the University of Oregon, as she attempts to “reel in” the big one. We are keeping our eyes peeled for Chrysaora fuscescens, the Pacific Sea nettle supposedly common to these waters. Supposedly. Sam abides by the motto, “plankton are patchy” and so jelly hunting can be verrrrry frustrating.

Aggregation of Sting

Aggregating Sea nettles

Jelly aggregations are frequently seen at and around convergent zones, where one body of water meets another, each unique in physical and/or chemical characteristic (salinity, temperature, turbidity, etc). There are many such zones throughout the California Current, a classic example occurring near the plume of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific Ocean. While these aggregating patterns have been observed there is still much to understand concerning the behavioral mechanisms creating and sustaining these patches.

In the fishing community, jellies are generally perceived as nuisances, ripping apart gear thanks to sheer numbers and collective weight. There is evidence suggesting jellyfish compete with commercially important fish species and have the potential for making a dent in zooplankton stocks when they are abundant. That being said, more evidence needs to be gathered to support or refute these claims.

Sam is diving net first into this investigation. She wants to answer questions such as: What are the jellies eating? What time of day do they eat? If they feast continuously does the preferred prey change throughout the daily cycle? What significance do seasons have? Statistically, how much of a nuisance are they? These are all fundamental yet essential questions to better understand the niche that jellies occupy in their ecosystem and what impact that might have on humans.

Sam will take her collected samples of Chrysaora back to lab for further analysis. She hopes that by examining the gut content of these jellies, she will better understand the feeding dynamics of large scyphozoans along the Oregon coast. Surrounded by various instruments designed to assess jellyfish response to flow, Sam will continue to seek the answers to the most fundamental questions: Why do jellyfish aggregate around convergent zones and are they as big of a threat as we make them out to be?


Sam Zeman hauls in her first Sea nettle!


Catching Eggs – The C.U.F.E.S

I stumble into the wet lab after a restless day of sleep expecting to find the usual hustle and bustle over box corers, CTDs and neuston nets. Instead I find Ric and Curtis consumed with a piece of scientific kit I had yet to see in action. After a brief morning greeting I am introduced to the Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler, C.U.F.E.S (pronounced Que-Fess) for short. Underway Fish Egg Sampler. In short, it is designed to collect eggs from the top two meters of the water column near the bow of the ship as we travel throughout the day. The water is piped back to the wet lab and collected in a wire mesh. The consolidated sample of eggs is then added to a vial which will be saved for further examination in the lab. The CUFES is essential to making predictions about future stock of commercially and ecologically important species of fish and it is not long before my sleeves are rolled up and I am honing in on the rhythmic and repetitious process.

Check out the video below to get a play by play of the C.U.F.E.S in action.

Personal Log:

I can feel myself evolving, adapting to life afloat the big blue. I’ve mentioned a variety of fundamental struggles associated with life at sea, struggles that I now feel I’m getting a handle on. I’m finding that small adjustments go a long way. For example, I’ve recently discovered a rope handle hanging above my bunk intended to assist both mount and dismount from bed. I’m not sure how I failed to notice it before but it sure beats having to power push-up in and out of bed each night. I still feel like I’m cliff hanging, one hand on the rope, toes outstretched as they struggle to find floor in the darkness. I’ve learned to shift my weight as the ship pitches and rolls. It’s funny to watch everyone’s body take a 45 degree angle in relation to the deck when we encounter a steep swell broadside. When seas get rough as I try to snooze, I wedge myself between my mattress and the wall to keep from rolling out. Believe it or not, I’ve even gotten a couple loads of laundry done. As a result of these changes and more, I’m beginning to feel more at home even though I’m not anywhere close to it.

Worlds Collide

Day and Night crews come together to greet the first trawl haul

My schedule has also altered slightly. What used to be a 12:00pm-12:00am run has now shifted toward the latter. While it was great to be a part of the day’s activities: box corer, CTD, neuston net and what-not, I was only catching one or two night trawls. I was so excited to see what mysterious creatures would come from the depths in the next haul I rarely called it quits before 3 am anyway. I am now a member of the grave shift, the “nights watch” we’ve come to call ourselves, on official duty between 6:00pm and 6:00am.   I sleep until roughly 2:00pm at the latest so that I can catch the last few day tests before heading to our first trawling station of the night. I spend transit time doing a bit of this and that and then the whole night sorting trawl hauls with a fun and invigorating team. Breakfast is ready as soon as the shift ends and I grab a bite before conking out for as long a sleep as weather permits.

I am also enjoying getting to know everyone on board, both science team members and the ship’s crew. I discovered that I share Hawaiian ties with a handful on board; small world. There are more than a few here who have spent much of their professional careers on the water and so are full of captivating stories.   Recently, I sat with Jerry, an Ocean Starr engineer, who told of his career as a professional treasure hunter in Florida. Though he kept from sharing the exact location of his findings he assured me there was still a plethora for the taking! As he reinvigorated my childhood fantasies of chests filled precious gems and pirate gold, he advised, “If you want to make a small fortune, put a large fortune into hunting treasure.” Hmmm, on second thought, maybe I’ll just start with a metal detector and a side-hobby.

Teaching in the field

SAMI students and I in the ideal classroom

There is a great dynamic amongst our team and I am learning a so much from these passionate scientists. Not only is everyone incredibly versed in their field of study but I’m finding their company to be enjoyable in general. I’ve been warmly accepted onto the team and they have asked just as many questions about SAMI and this program as I have about their research, and believe me, I’m asking a lot of questions.

As a science educator I sometimes forget that I’m a part of the “the team”. Occasionally I catch myself feeling like the kid on the outside of the fence looking in and wishing he could play ball with everyone else. This experience is helping me to realize that just because I’m not in the field doesn’t make me any less of a valuable asset to the scientific community. We are the recruiters, striving to engage, develop and inspire the scientists of tomorrow.  We are responsible for convincing the general populous and particularly the generation of next that they should care about what’s happening in our ocean, to learn something about it and then grow into leaders that will do something about it. I have never felt more value in what I do.

Notable Critters Spotted: Humpback Whales, Blue Whales (that I continue to miss), Mola Mola (Sunfish), Porpoises, SEABIRDS!!!

A Mola mola, or Ocean sunfish

Poll Answer:  W.R. & W.C. stands for Wash Room and Water Closet as seen below

W.R. & W.C.

It’s the Bathroom!



Crystal Davis, Bottom Trawl for Shrimp, June 27, 2014

Bringing in a trawl

Bringing in a trawl

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Crystal Davis

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 23 – July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Friday June 27, 2014

Weather: Partly cloudy

Winds:  15-20 knots

Waves:  5-6 feet



Science and Technology Log: Bottom Trawling

The Oregon II is a participant and contributor to SEAMAP (The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) which monitors the biodiversity of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary way the Oregon II assists SEAMAP is by conducting bottom trawls with a 42 foot semi-balloon shrimp trawl net.The net is slowly lowered into the ocean until it reaches the bottom and is then dragged along the ocean floor for thirty minutes. The net has a tickler chain between the doors which scrapes the bottom of the ocean floor and flicks objects into the net. The net is then brought to the surface and all of the organisms inside are put into baskets (see video above). The total weight of the catch is massed on scales on the deck. If the catch is large (over 20 kilos), it is dumped onto a conveyor belt and a random sub-sample (smaller) is kept, along with any unique species while the rest of the catch is dumped overboard.

Shrimp Net

Shrimp Net

Once the sample has been selected, the marine organisms are sorted by species and put into baskets. Each species is then massed and counted while the data is recorded into a system called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System). To obtain a random sampling, every fifth individual of the species (up to twenty) is measured, massed and sexed (more on this later). Once the data has been verified by the watch manager, the marine organisms are put back into the ocean. The following are pictures of a sample on the conveyor belt and the organisms divided into a few species.

The sorting process for shrimp (white, brown and pink) differs slightly from that of the other marine organisms. Every shrimp (up to 200 of each species), is massed, measured and sexed.This data is then used by various government agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, etc… to determine the length of the shrimping season and to set quotas on the amount that can be caught by each issued license. States will not open the shrimping season until SEAMAP reports back with their findings from NOAA’s shrimp survey.

Types of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico

Types of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico

The shrimp trawl net used on the Oregon II differs from a shrimp net used on a commercial boat in two main ways. Commercial shrimping boats have BRD’s (Bycatch Reduction Devices) and TED’s (Turtle Excluder Devices). BRD’s and TED’s are federally required in the U.S. to reduce the amount of bycatch (unintentionally caught organisms) and sea turtles. Shrimping boats typically trawl for hours and turtles cannot survive that long without air. TED’s provide turtles and other large marine organisms an escape hatch so that they do not drown (see the video below). Unfortunately, larger turtles such as Loggerheads are too big to fit through the bars in a TED. Additionally, TED’s may become ineffective if they are clogged with sea debris, kelp or are purposefully altered.


Boat Personnel of the Week:

Warren Brown:

Warren Brown

Warren Brown

Warren is a gear specialist who is working as a member of the scientific party. He is contracted by Riverside for NOAA.  While aboard the Oregon II, Warren designs, builds and repairs gear that is needed on the boat. Unfortunately, on this leg of the trip either sharks or dolphins have been chewing holes in the nets to eat the fish inside. This means Warren has spent a large chunk of his time repairing nets.

Warren is not a crew member of the Oregon II  and actually works at the Netshed in Pascagoula where he spends his time working with TED’s. He has law enforcement training and will go out with government agencies (such as the Coast Guard or Fish and Wildlife Service) to monitor TED’s on shrimping boats. He also participates in outreach programs educating fishermen in measuring their nets for TED’s, installing them. Warren will bring TED’s and nets to make sure that every everyone at the training has a hands on experience installing them. While he regularly does outreach in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, his work has also taken him as far as Brazil.

Robin Gropp:

Robin playing his mandolin

Robin playing his mandolin

Robin will be a junior at Lewis & Clark College in the Fall. He is currently an intern aboard the Oregon II. Robin received a diversity internship through the Northern Gulf Institute and is one of eight interns for NOAA. For the first two weeks Robin worked at the NOAA lab participating in outreach at elementary school science fairs. He brought sea turtle shells and a shrimp net with a TED installed. The students were very excited to pretend to be sea turtle and run through the TED. They proclaimed, “we love sea turtles.”  After leaving the Oregon II, Robin will return to the NOAA lab to study the DNA of sharks.


Personal Log:

Overall I have had a hard time processing and accepting the groundfish survey portion of the trip. I am a vegetarian that does not eat meat, including fish, for ethical and environmental reasons. Yet here I find myself on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico surveying groundfish so that others can eat shrimp. A large part of me feels that I should be protesting the survey rather than assisting. Because of this I spent a lot of time talking to the other scientists on my watch and Chief Scientist Andre Debose. After many discussions (some still ongoing) I do realize how important the groundfish survey is. Without it, there would be no limits placed on the fishing industry and it is likely that many populations of marine organisms would be hunted to extinction more rapidly than they are now. This survey actually gives the shrimp species a chance at survival.

Did You Know?

Countries that do not use TED’s are banned from selling their shrimp to the U.S.

Kainoa Higgins: Hard Core Box Core, June 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kainoa Higgins
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northern California Current
Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Current Latitude: 42° 30.2’ N
Current Longitude: 124° 49.5’ W
Air Temperature:  12.8° Celsius
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: S
Surface Water Temperature: 16.0 Celsius
Weather conditions: Overcast and Misty

Find our location in real time HERE!

Science and Technology Log:

The Box Corer

I walk into the wet lab after a night of rocking and rolling and find the day shift team prepping for and executing their respective projects. I sit down with Jason Phillips, a fisheries biologist with Oregon State University at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, to talk about his focus aboard the RV Ocean Starr. Jason serves as lead scientist on the box core sampling project.  The box corer is a piece of equipment used to literally “grab” a sample of the seafloor for analysis both of sediment grain size as well as benthic (seafloor) life.  It is reminiscent of an old candy grab penny arcade where a crane’s claw is used to scoop candies from a floor of goodies.  I don’t anticipate the pay load of this scoop to be as deliciously appealing.

An Offshore Wind Turbine

An Offshore Wind Turbine

Jason explains that he joined this cruise off the coast of Oregon to learn more about the seafloor along a specific series of coordinated sampling stations. These sites are aligned perpendicular from shore and increase in depth as we move further along the continental shelf away from the coastline. The ultimate goal of his project is to better understand the communities of organisms that may be impacted by the commercial development of renewable wind energy. Yes, I’m talking about giant wind turbines anchored to the seafloor, not unlike the terrestrial wind farms seen throughout the country. Before any ground is broken on such a project, the potential impacts have to be investigated. Enter Jason and the rest of his team at Oregon State University. By establishing a fundamental understanding of baseline benthic communities as well as characterizing bottom types, Jason hopes to better explain how the ocean floor changes as we move across the continental shelf.

Jason asks if I’d assist in the deployment of the next box corer and I jump at the opportunity to get my hands dirty. We step onto the stern deck where most of the scientific equipment is kept. There, in all of its silvery splendor, sits the box corer, securely resting in a heavy-duty metal cradle.  Weighing in at 450 lbs. when empty – it’s even heavier when filled with a core sample of seafloor sediment. The ocean is a bit rough today so Jason assigns me a supporting role. Using a thick rope attached to a handle on the box corer my job is to keep it from swinging uncontrollably as it is raised from its resting cradle and lowered into the water.  I’m warned to keep all extremities out of the way as it wouldn’t take much for this piece of scientific kit to become a glorified wrecking ball capable of devastating blows to both ship and its operators.  The winch begins to tighten the slack on the cable line and the box core rises from its cradle. Though it swings slightly from side to side, it cleanly enters the water and starts its decent into the dark depths.

This time it will collect a sediment sample at 200 meters, and takes nearly six minutes to reach the bottom. When it does, its gravity-release mechanism triggers and the shovel-like claws propped open on the surface close as the wire is wound back in, scooping a load of seafloor and any organisms living in or on that substrate. About 10 minutes later, the box corer returns to the surface draining gallons of water as we maneuver the even heavier steel trap back to its cradle.

Once secure, Jason collects a raw sample in a small jar, labels it and sets it aside for grain size analysis in the lab. Using a ruler, he measures the depth of the total sample. I learn that sample size depends largely on grain size. The further away from shore, the deeper the water, and a lower impact by waves and surface currents. The result is the settling and compacting of fine particulates. Conversely, seafloors closer to shore “feel” the more of the effects of these ocean forces, which allows for less settlement, and lighter particles are washed further offshore. There we would find sandier substrates. This sample is incredibly “muddy”, made up mostly of clay.

Box Core Sample

Top left: Peanut worm (emits terrible stench), Bottom left: Dr. Ric Brodeur and Jason Phillips assess an inky worm. Right: Jason Phillips quickly returns an unexpected skate.

Once the seafloor “muck” is extracted from the box corer, Jason uses a small wire mesh and a garden hose to sluice the sediment, breaking up the larger chunks as he hunts for signs of life within.  Any critters found are carefully extracted using tweezers then added to neatly labeled jars for further analysis back in lab at Hatfield. Invertebrates dominate the small haul of benthic life: feather worms, polychaetes and echinoderms are numerous. Occasionally the box core delivers unexpected tag-a-longs. On two separate occasions a large fish and a skate that, of all the places on the bottom of the ocean, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and took the ride a lifetime.

It was an exciting hands-on experience and I quickly learned that the tighter the leash the more stable the box. I am thankful to report that no limbs were lost in the sampling of the seafloor.

Katherine Dale, Hollings Scholar

Later, I sit down with Katherine Dale, a student intern aboard the RV Ocean Starr. Kat currently attends the University of Miami and will be entering her senior year after which she will have successfully earned B.S. degrees in Biology and Marine Science with a Minor in computer science to top it all off.

She arrived on the Ocean Starr as a result of being named recipient of the Ernest F. Hollings scholarship by NOAA. Applying in her sophomore year, Kat received a generous $16,000 towards her junior and senior years of study. The intangible value of the scholarship is in NOAA’s expectation of awardees to participate in a paid internship with a NOAA affiliated mentor and/or facility with the intention being to introduce undergraduate students to NOAA as a potential career path.

Kat has chosen to spend her summer at the Hatfield Marine Science Center under the mentorship of Ric Brodeur, the chief scientist on this cruise. She is here with similar intentions as I have; gain field experience on a NOAA research cruise. Unlike me, this is not her first time at sea. A year ago she toured the Bahamas on a month-long research trip with the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, a regional NOAA research lab based in Miami, Florida.

I ask Kat what she would advise a younger group of marine enthusiasts just starting out. She suggests that budding students should not be afraid to pursue diverse experiences and keep an open mind. There will be great jobs and some not-so-great jobs, but it is all experience, and more experiences lead to more opportunities further down the road.

Kat isn’t quite sure what she wants to do with her laundry list of degrees but finds herself attracted to both the world of scientific research as well as that of science education. Perhaps a role in education outreach for a science organization is somewhere in her future.

Katherine Dale

Hollings Scholar Katherine Dale holding a eel larvae during trawl sorting.

Personal Log:

Adjusting to life on a ship like the Ocean Starr has been interesting. Not necessarily difficult but not easy either. It’s just, different. In my previous post I mentioned the struggles of using the restroom and just getting in and out of bed at night. I’ve since taken my first shower aboard this floating facility and to say it was challenging would be an understatement. When the ship rolls, I roll and when it rocks, I follow suit. I’m still working on those sea legs. It all gets amplified when it comes to anything bathroom related especially when the venue is communal. Trying to keep a change of clothes dry in the shower is hardest! I’ve made a few trips back to my stateroom in wet clothes.

Last night we ran into some rougher waters and falling asleep was nearly impossible. Each time I even began to doze off, the ship would roll so violently that I would be forced into the wall or the railing on the bunk. Being a side-sleeper it’s difficult. I realized the side-to-side motion is generally a result of three major sources: our northbound travels, the bow-to-stern orientation of my bunk and the west-east flow of the swells toward shore. Eventually I gave up attempting to find sleep in my own berth and decided to roam about the ship in search of a more stable locale. In the crew lounge, I found an enormous couch which just so happened to have an orientation to match the swells. Although with each roll I could feel a slight bit of added pressure at my head or toes, I was not long rolling side-to-side. Proud of myself, I fell asleep immediately.

Let me clarify the my tone as I describe the trials above.  In no way do I consider any of these experiences to be “bad”.  I signed up for life at sea and it wouldn’t be realistic if I didn’t struggle to adapt somewhat to such a foreign lifestyle. I am embracing every moment as a unique investigation into the life of not only a scientific research team in the field, but also the life of the crew that keeps us running.  Besides, the immediate perks far outweigh the struggle of adaptation.

The food is delicious.  I realize that in that statement I echo just about every other Teacher at Sea in TAS history. All the same, the food is delicious.  I suppose it’s one of the small comforts that both crew and science team look forward to on a regular basis and Crystal, the head chef, and her partner Liz take great pride in the meals they prepare. Already I’ve gorged myself on freshly- made pizza, gyros, fruit-filled pastries, stir-fry dishes, quiches, steak and potatoes and swordfish just to name a few! The galley is the ship cafeteria and is always stocked with an assortment of goodies: pop, juice, coffee, fruit, and an array of granola bar-type pocket snacks for when you need a quick pick-me-up on the job. There’s even a salad bar with a variety of toppings to choose from. That’s not even the best part!

Aside from usual dinning occasion: breakfast, lunch and dinner, there is a midnight rations service simply called “mid-rats” onboard. It is a meal with naval ties designed to satisfy the hunger of those getting off or just starting their shifts in the middle of the night. Many onboard swear mid-rats to be the best meal of the 24 hour period. I can’t decide, it’s all so tasty! All this and I haven’t even mentioned the overstocked freezer dedicated to nothing but ice cream! I thought, being at sea, I’d drop a few pounds but with four meals a day all the snacks I could ever want, I don’t see that happening. I’ll be lucky to break even.

Chef Crystal

Top: Galley complete with World-Cup Soccer in the background. Bottom: Mid-Rats Menu–Stuffin’ Muffins, Spinach, Parsnippers, Baked Apples in Caramel.

My current shift runs from roughly 2:00 pm – 2:30 am. This time frame allows me the opportunity to participate in a variety of sampling activities that happen only during daylight hours, as well as to help sort a few trawls into the wee hours of morning. Generally speaking, I fall asleep by around 3:00 and wake up for breakfast at 6:00. I love breakfast. I head back to bed for another four hours give or take, depending on how rough the ocean is beneath me. Around 10:00 I’ll wake up and grab some coffee and check in on various projects, lending a helping hand if needed. I’ll generally take my coffee to the flying bridge checking in with Amanda in regards to any recent sightings.

On that note, we stumbled across a hunting group of Stellar sea lions yesterday. They followed us for a bit, as did a flock of gulls, I imagine because they mistook us for an active fishing vessel and were just looking for a free meal.

The Crew Lounge

Not bad living in the Crew Lounge

Day time activities: CTD, box core, neuston net tow, bongo tow, jelly fishing, etc. generally wrap up between 2:00 and 4:00 and at that point we begin transit toward the next trawling station. The commute time can be anywhere from 4 to 6 hours depending on conditions and the team finds various ways to pass the time. Some take naps or watch a movie in the lounge while others play cards, grab a snack, or join Amanda on the flying bridge to look for marine animals. I generally use this time to chat with those around about their projects and think about how to synthesize these encounters into blog posts. I’ve also found myself collecting so much great footage that I spend some time slicing and dicing a short film here and there featuring the day’s happenings.

Once we arrive at the first trawling station the night team sets up shop. We trawl and sort samples throughout the night with the last trawl wrapping up at about 5:00 in the morning. So far, I’ve only made it through the first two or three trawls before turning in for the night. The evening is always an adventure. Just last night while we sorted krill from rockfish, a bird flew into the wet lab and landed in a large bucket full of catch; this guy was a storm petrel, which are apparently attracted to and disoriented by lights, making this a relatively common event. We were able to get it out the door and back onto the ocean both swiftly and safely.

I wrap this post up as I sit atop the flying bridge on an overcast day off of the Oregon Coast. I can faintly see the famous sand dunes framing the coastline.  No more than ten minutes prior to typing these very words did we watch four humpback whales breaching clear out of the water less than 300 meters from the bow of the Ocean Starr; an absolute thrill to see!

Strange Symbols

What does it all mean?