Kacey Shaffer: Here We Go! July 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Location: Bering Sea

Date: July 27, 2014


Weather information from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 9º C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Wind Direction: 350º

Weather Conditions: Overcast

Latitude: 56º 29.3 N

Longitude: 170º 35.0 W


Science and Technology Log:

Before we get into detail about the mission, let’s think about the Oscar Dyson’s geographical location. It is important for us to understand this background knowledge so that we may appreciate the scientific research conducted by NOAA. Most of you have gathered that I am aboard the Dyson somewhere off the coast of Alaska. Our survey began and will end at port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Where is Dutch Harbor? Let’s take a look at a map…

Map of Alaska and Bering Sea
Map of Alaska and Bering Sea

Dutch Harbor is on the island of Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands.  We will take a scientific look at the Aleutian Islands before we learn about the Bering Sea. The Aleutian Islands separate the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean. How did this chain of islands come to be? Continental drift and volcanoes! The Pacific Plate moves northward and has been pushing against the North American Plate, which moves southward, for millions of years. The North American Plate is much less dense than the Pacific Plate and has been riding up onto the Pacific Plate. Here is an image that shows this action.

The Pacific Plate is shown on the left and the North American Plate is shown on the right. The volcanoes and mountains represent the Aleutian Islands.
The Pacific Plate is shown on the left and the North American Plate is shown on the right. The volcanoes and mountains represent the Aleutian Islands.

As you can see in the diagram, the Aleutian Islands are formed by volcanic eruptions along the area where these two plates collide. As I read in the book The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands: Region of Wonders, “During an eruption, lava, cinders, and ash burst through the earth’s surface at points of weakness in the globe’s mantle, caused by the collision of the plates, and each volcano leaves a telltale conical peak. Many of those eruptions have occurred below the surface of the sea, and only the tops of the mountains poke out of the water, making up many of the Aleutian Islands.” This is how the island of Unalaska came to be, thus Dutch Harbor was established!

Now we need to investigate the Bering Sea. What are some words we use to describe the Bering Sea? Cold, stormy, bleak, productive. If you have ever watched an episode of the Discovery Channel’s The Deadliest Catch, you’ve been given a peek at the “cold, stormy and bleak” aspect of the Bering Sea.

What about the “productive” side of this great sea? Three facts: 1. Alaska supplies about half of the total U.S. fishery. 2. The majority of this contribution comes from the Bering Sea. 3. The nation’s largest fishery is the Pollock fishery. NOAA has estimated that the 2012 Pollock catch value is more than $343 billion. Are you beginning to understand how valuable the Bering Sea is to our world?

In order to maintain or increase the value of the sea, management practices must be in place. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council provides advice to NOAA Fisheries. Also, NOAA conducts research cruises in the Bering Sea perform biological and physical surveys to ensure sustainable fisheries and healthy marine habitats. This is the ultimate purpose of the survey I’m joining. We are performing the third leg of the biannual Walleye Pollock Survey in the Bering Sea. In my upcoming blogs, we’ll dive into the technical aspects of the survey. Are you ready to see some sea life? I definitely can’t wait to get my hands on some critters! Prepare for sea selfies!

Personal Log:

As I type my blog, I’m sitting on the deck at a picnic table with the cool, crisp air blowing by. We are in transit to our first survey location. We got underway yesterday afternoon and I won’t see land again for many, many days. That is both exciting and scary at the same time! How do you think you’d feel knowing you are miles away from land? Would you worry about your safety? I am fully confident in the crew of the Oscar Dyson. They have been a great group of people to get to know and I’m sure they will take great care of everyone on board the cruise.

Backing up a couple of days, I want to share with you about my journey across North America and my first two days with the Dyson. After taking off from Columbus I made stops in Minneapolis and Anchorage before landing at the airport in Dutch Harbor. All three flights were smooth and I was thankful for a very calm landing in Dutch. The airport there is a real treat! Our pilot had everything under control though. From the airport we came straight to the ship. I was shown to my room and then we took off for supper at The Grand Aleutian Inn’s dining room. I was able to see a few bald eagles that night and we also took a scenic cruise around the two towns, Dutch Harbor and Unalaska. The next morning the other Teacher at Sea, Greg, and I hitched a ride to the Museum of the Aleutians. It was a great place to learn about the history of the Aleutian Islands. We also made stops at Alaska Ship Supply and Safeway. We had to make sure we were stocked up with the essentials (soda and some candy) to get us through the next three weeks!

Exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians
Exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians

Our departure from Dutch Harbor was a beautiful one. Many of the crew members commented on what a beautiful day we were having and how extraordinarily warm it was. The deck crew allowed me to stand on one of the front decks to watch the process of undocking and cruising out of the harbor. They wasted no time as we had our first three drills right away. I’m going to save myself some embarrassment and not share the photo of me donning the survival suit. Let’s just say I’m a little too short for it! Later on that evening we received a call in the lounge that the bridge crew was spotting some whales just west of the ship. I was able to reach the bridge just in time to see a few humpback whales breeching and a few dolphins playing in front of us. That short experience made me really look forward to sorting our first catch. What is one critter from the sea you would like to see in person?


Did you know?

There are nearly 40 active volcanoes that mark the line where the Pacific Plate and North American Plate meet.

3 Replies to “Kacey Shaffer: Here We Go! July 27, 2014”

  1. Kacey this is so cool! I’m excited to follow your journey at sea. I hope you have a great time!

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