NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 3
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean from the Mid-Atlantic Coast to S New England
Date: September 29, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat: 39° 34.6′ N Lon: 072° 14.9′ W
Present Weather: cloudy
Visibility: 7-9 nm
Wind: 140 at 17 knts
Sea Level Pressure: 1010.9 mb
Sea Wave Height: 3-4 ft
Temperature Sea Water: 22.6 C
Temperature Air: 20.8 C
Science and Technology Log
We are continuing to trawl different areas of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Southern New England area. I have graduated from recorder to cutter. This means that when we process the fish and other sea life that we catch, I get to cut fish open to examine them. I am working with Christine Kircun, and we trade off now almost every other tow taking turns to be the cutter and recorder. Christine has been an awesome teacher helping me learn how to properly cut into the fish, identify the sex and maturity of the fish, examine the contents of the fish’s stomach, and find the otoliths. Otoliths are small hard parts of a fish’s inner ear. They are found in cavities near the fish’s brain. The otoliths are collected and sent back to the lab to be analyzed. As the fish grows, the otolith gets different colored (clearer and white) growth rings on it similar to a tree. Counting these can tell the age of the fish. Some fish have otoliths that are really easy to find and remove. Other types of fish are more difficult to find and remove, like windowpane flounder. For more information about how otoliths are used for age and growth, click here.
In my last post, I mentioned that there are left and right-eyed flounder. Summer flounder are left eyed, and winter flounder are right eyed. In a catch the other day, we had winter flounder. As we were working up the winter flounder, we discovered a left-eyed winter flounder! That was pretty cool to see since this is a more rare occurrence.
Before I left for my cruise, I received a CD with information on it including how to identify many of the common fish we catch at sea. I looked through that presentation several times, and I thought I was ready to identify the fish. However, I didn’t get really good at identifying fish until I saw them in person. For instance, there are several kinds of hake. So far, we have caught spotted hake, red hake, silver hake, and offshore hake. Each one looks slightly different, although the offshore and silver hake are the most similar. Red hake have a slight reddish appearance to their scales, and spotted hake have spots down their side. Now that I have seen each one in person, it is much easier to identify the different types of fish. Fish that seemed really similar in the presentation take on new meaning to you when you are holding them in your hand. It’s reminded me once again that when we are learning new things, the most important thing to do is dig in and try things out. You will learn so much more by doing things like experiments in chemistry and building things in engineering than you would by just reading about it or looking at pictures. I have also learned about the anatomy of fish by watching Christine first do the processing and now doing it myself. It’s really cool to see the insides of the fish and the different stages of growth and development. It’s also really cool to push the contents of the fish’s stomach out onto the board to examine what they have eaten!
I thought you might like to see a short video of the process of sorting the fish off the conveyor belt. You can see the fish coming up the conveyor belt from the checker and pouring onto the conveyor belt in the wet lab for sorting.
Careers at Sea
I have learned something really interesting about working at sea. The scientists onboard this cruise do not spend their entire time out at sea. In fact, most of the scientists go out once or twice in the spring and once or twice in the fall. Just like we are doing an autumn bottom trawl survey, there is also a spring bottom trawl survey. During the rest of the time, they work at the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Lab in Woods Hole, MA. It seems like a really cool balance between doing science in the lab with a pretty normal daily routine most of the year but then having the chance to go out to sea a couple of times a year in order to do field work and be part of an adventure. I did not know that opportunities like this existed. If you love to do science but don’t want to spend all of your time in the lab, a career like this might be really interesting to you. Most of the scientists have degrees in marine science/biology, biology, or other related fields.
After just a few short days, I have settled in to my routine here on the Henry Bigelow. It’s an exciting life because you never know what’s going to come up on the next trawl or what other cool things you will see out at sea. Sometimes, we have been really close to the shore, and you can see the lights of the cities off in the distance. Now, we are offshore, but even out here you aren’t alone. There are ships passing by most of the time, and at night you can see the lights from the other ships off in the distance.
One of my favorite things to do is to head up to the flying bridge to watch the sunset. The past few nights have had beautiful sun sets, and we have had time to enjoy them in between sorting and working up the fish. The flying bridge is the highest part of the ship. It’s above the main bridge where the ship is controlled from. When it’s clear, you can see for miles in every direction. There is also a picnic bench up there, so it’s a great place to sit and read a book while waiting for the next trawl to come in.
After my watch finishes at midnight, I also like to head up to the flying bridge. It’s one of the darker places on the ship at night. As your eyes adjust to the night, the stars begin to appear before you. Out here, the sky kisses the sea, and the stars rise out of the inky black of the ocean. I watched the constellation Orion rise up out of the Atlantic. It was inspiring. There are so many stars. It’s not like the light polluted skies of the Atlanta area. Even with the ship’s lights, you can still make out the bands of the Milky Way. I also saw two meteors streak through the sky the other night.
Did You Know?
The goosefish is an angler fish that lives on the ocean floor on the continental shelf and slope. It uses its angler to attract prey. It has a huge mouth compared to its body. It’s also called poor man’s lobster because the meaty tail of the fish resembles the taste of lobster.
Think you have what it takes to figure out the age of a fish using otoliths? Try this interactive, and share how you did in the comments.