NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
June 18 – July 3, 2014
Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northern California Current
Date: Friday, June 20, 2014, 1500 hours
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Current Latitude: 42 ° 34.7’ N
Current Longitude: 124 ° 37.6’ W
Air Temperature: 12.8 Celsius
Wind Speed: 25-30 knots
Wind Direction: North
Surface Water Temperature: 11.3 Celsius
Weather conditions: Clear Skies
Find our location in real time HERE!
Science and Technology Log:
As we exit the harbor in Eureka, CA I join Amanda Gladics of Oregon State University perched at her post on the flying bridge, scanning the surrounding surface waters for signs of seabirds and marine mammals.
Amanda earned an undergraduate degree at OSU in natural resources. Soon after, she completed a Master’s program with a focus on marine resources, also through OSU. She now serves as a faculty research assistant for Oregon State University at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.
On first hearing, her role aboard the RV Ocean Starr sounds relatively simple but is actually a critical contribution to a long term survey of seabird and mammal life observed in waters along the Northern California Current. The study is an example of collaboration between the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC), both NOAA entities, and Oregon State University. Amanda’s observation data, combined with the monitoring of the southern reaches of the current system, will add to the ongoing collection of information that will serve as a point of cross-reference for a host of other research initiatives including the principal mission of this cruise, the juvenile rockfish survey. In addition, the collected information furthers our understanding of the upper trophic predators of the region. The length of the time over which data has been collected by observers, 25+ years, makes for an exceptionally valuable time series.
I take a captain’s seat next to Amanda and help scan the horizon for signs of life. I quickly point out a small … black and white-ish bird … off the right side of the bow. My bird doesn’t count. Amanda tells me to imagine that our surrounding is broken into four quarters with sections I and II ahead of us on the left and right and III and IV behind us, respectively. Because the study assumes that the observer sees ALL seabirds and marine mammals possible it is important to narrow the range of scope to increase confidence. For the same reason, animals beyond 300 meters in distance do not count towards data collection either. I’m immediately critical wondering how one could possibly tell whether a bird or other was in range. Amanda reveals her trusted “rangefinder”. It’s not a fancy device – in fact, it more strongly resembles a glorified piece of kindling than anything else. Amanda explains that by taking into the account the height of her location on the ship in relation to true water level and the horizon, she can use basic trigonometry to calculate distance. When she holds the top of her rangefinder in line with the horizon she can estimate the animal’s distance away from the ship based on values she has marked on the stick. She records all observations both in writing and digitally. It goes to show that good science doesn’t always require expensive equipment. It’s not long before I begin to get the hang of it all. We soon see a small pod of harbor porpoises and not long after, a humpback whale spouts on the horizon.
While I help to point out black-footed albatrosses here and marbled murrelets there, Amanda explains more specifically her role with the Hatfield Marine Science Center at the Oregon State University. The focus of her current research revolves around an attempt to reduce, or stop altogether, the bycatch of albatross by commercial fisheries. The process is simple and sad:
Albatross hone in on fishing boats hoping for of an easy meal → Long line fishing vessels use a series of hooks on which they attach a piece of bait (generally squid) and send down said long line into the water in series → The birds attempt to steal the bait from the hook as it leaves the boat and occasionally snag themselves → If unable to get free, they are dragged underwater with the gear and drown. It is an unintentional and seemingly unavoidable process.
Of the 22 species of albatross in the world, 19 are considered endangered. In the North Pacific there is special concern when it comes to the short-tailed albatross of which there are less than 4,000 world-wide. In many parts of the world, fishing vessels are required to use a simple device to scare the birds away from the baited hooks: a “streamer line”. If there is hope, it is in the “streamer line”, a device extended during the release of hook lines which creates a visual barrier to the relentless albatross — keeping them out of harm’s way. Amanda and her program are currently working on testing and modifying this preventative measure so as to continue to reduce the number of fatal encounters off the West Coast.
Amanda has had many adventures in her field studies but most notably recalls spending time with albatross colonies on Midway Island in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as well as a leading a two-person expedition to monitor puffin colonies and other critters in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge on an uninhabited Aleutian island in Alaska.
Amanda encourages young scientists to pursue their passions and be enthusiastic. Volunteer a lot and be willing to take low-paying jobs. Look for opportunities to work close to home with local agencies and initiatives; it’s all about connecting with people in a field of study you are interested in.
I’m not even sure it has sunk in…I am sailing off the coast of Northern California with a field research team thanks to this once-in-a-teacher’s-career NOAA opportunity. Wow. When I arrive at the ship I am immediately greeted by various members of both the ship crew and research team, all incredibly welcoming. I meet Captain Bud right away and he warmly invites me to explore the Ocean Starr and “make myself at home”. I did so right away. The first thing I did was head straight for the highest point. The view will be unprecedented! I’ve never been that high over the water. I was immediately fantasizing about whales breaching
in the sunset and dolphins riding the wake of the bow. I would later learn this top observation deck is referred to as the flying bridge. Wandering the halls I meet Toby, the right hand man of Ric, the chief scientist on the mission. He shows me to my stateroom. It’s Cozy, especially for a guy at 6’2” and 225 lbs. This is home for the next two and a half weeks.
Ric arrives and I meet the rest of the team. Everyone I meet continues to be exceptionally friendly, talkative and happy to share their focus of research and role on this cruise. It’s exciting to hear about all the different things that will be happening while I am onboard: bongo nets, box cores, trawls, CTDs, manta tows – the list goes on…
Delvan, my cabinmate, has no preference on bunk and so we let a coin toss seal our fate. I get the top. I look forward to the top because my brother and I shared bunk beds as kids and I rocked the top then as well, though I do recall the ceiling being a bit taller. I hit the sack ready to greet the sunrise and the 5:00 am departure bright eyed and bushy tailed. I sleep hard and fast.
5:30 A.M. I awake to the blast of the ship horn calling all final passengers on board. Not realizing what the sound meant in the moment, I fear I had already missed the shove off the dock. I spring out of bed and throw on deck-worthy clothes as quick as possible. We are still tied up on dock. Adrenaline is pumping in anticipation of the adventure I snag a delicious and filling breakfast. Before I know it, we’re moving. It’s begun!
Things are a bit wobbly. I grew up fishing and working off my dad’s boat in Hawai’i. That boat was 17ft. The Ocean Starr is over ten times bigger both in length and width. Its pitch and roll are slower and relatively docile in comparison but unsettling all the same. I put one foot in front of the other as I make my way up to the flying bridge. From the best view in the house, I soak in the slow ride out of the harbor and am enamored by the striking terrain of the Eureka/Arcata region in the early sunlight. As we exit the entrance to the harbor the wind and waves pick up. A few swells break the bow of the boat. The pitch and roll of the boat continues to increase as do the winds. By the afternoon winds are reaching 25 knots, approximately 30 mph. It is a windy bumpy ride. I am glad I decided to take motion sickness medication after all.
After chatting with Amanda about her role on ship and contributions to the oceanographic world on a larger scale, I decided to perform my first “TAScast” from the flying bridge and nearly lost my prized Teacher at Sea hat in the high winds. The sound quality of the video is halfway decent thanks to the $3.00 lapel microphone attached to my GoPro.
We enter a holding pattern on the first afternoon due to the high winds and are unable to begin operations of any kind until the evening when the weather calms down. Once lifted, we hit the ground running and over the next 24 hours, I participate in a variety of experiences: Ken gives me a tour of the dry lab computer station where all of the data relayed from field instruments is collected. I watch Jason and Curtis drop box core sampling devices to examine the contents of the seafloor. I help Sam spot and net sea nettle jellies for gut content analysis. I also evaluate resulting footage of Curtis’s attempt to mount a GoPro in cod end of a Neuston net. So far either the camera has refused to stay in position or debris has muddled the view. We’ve recently modified the mount and will see if that footage comes out any better after the next tow. The highlight of the evening is sorting the trawl catch. Each new station promises to bring a slightly different sample of critters on board and the suspense is invigorating.
Though some on board are struggling to adapt, I am just fine when it comes to motion sickness. That being said, I am slightly regretting not having a bit more of an opinion on the bunk situation because getting in and out of a top bunk on a rocking ship can be challenging. Those are the only moments where I feel a bit…uneasy; the moments when I have to engage physically and mentally when I am half asleep in tight quarters. Taking showers and standing still enough to use the bathroom are also incredibly taxing. Though the ocean was placid all of yesterday, the seas picked up overnight and I recall a bit of tossing and turning that was out of my control. I am also adjusting to my shift which has modified since the beginning of the cruise. Originally the thought was that I would work noon – midnight but because I want to catch more of the trawl catches, which only happen on the night shift, I’ve begun working from about noon – 2:00 am catching a nap here and there if necessary and we have the time.
I sit here finalizing my thoughts as my computer and chair slide back and forth across the table and floor and I see the horizon appear and disappear out the porthole across from me and I love every minute of it! I can’t wait to share more of my experience with you!
Critter Spotting Report:
Seabirds: Common Murre, Sooty Shearwater, Western Gull, Black-Footed Albatross, Immature Gull, Northern Fulmar, California Gulls, Pink-Footed Shearwater, Heerman’s Gull, Buller’s Shearwater, Cassin’s Auklet, Caspian Tern, Marbled Murrelet.
Marine Mammals: Humpback Whale, Blue Whale, Stellar Sea Lion, Harbor Porpoise.
Specimens in Trawl Haul #166: Krill, Northern lampfish, Blue lanternfish, Sergestid Shrimp, California Headlight Fish, Pyrosome, Gonatid Squid, Pacific Sanddab, Rex Sole, Stoplight Loosejaw, Blacktip Squid, Various Rockfish, Speckled Sanddab, Chiroteuthis squid, Pacific black dragonfish, Longfin dragonfish
Something to think about:
Where 5,280 ft. is equivalent to 1 statute (standard) mile, 1 nautical mile is equivalent to 6,000 ft. Perhaps when one says, “Go the extra mile!” they might instead say, “Go the nautical mile!”
TAScast: From the Flying Bridge