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