Sue Zupko, Diversity, September 13, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 13, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 35°38.1’N     Lon 074°50’W                    

Present Weather PC       
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 220° 5kts

Sea Level Pressure 1016.6
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 27.2°C
Air 28.4°

Science and Technology Log

If you want to learn about biodiversity, come on a NOAA Fisheries Cruise. We hear about the numerous fish in the ocean, but nothing really makes it come alive as does seeing it. There are pockets of animals in each of the strata. Different depths have different temperatures, bottom type, plants, etc. Let me explain a bit about my watch and what we are doing.

I was amazed by the diverse sounds. A crow. A jaguar screaming. A frog croak. Sloshing. Thumps. “Fine”. A ringing telephone. A whip cracking. A waterfall. Thunder. A pinball machine. Music playing. Some people singing along. Laughter. Chatter. The list is seemingly endless.

There are platforms we each stand on along the conveyor belt which brings the fish in to be processed from the checker on the deck. The first person in line and pulls out fish which might be harmful such as electric rays and large sharks. Hope she gets the Lionfish as well. Don’t want to be stuck by those spines. As the animals come down the line we sort them based on the instructions of the watch chief who has been outside to see the catch, comparing what we have.

Heath, our watch chief, programming our catch
Heath, our watch chief, programming our catch

Heath is my watch chief. So, he suits up in his PFD (life jacket–personal flotation device) and hardhat(helmet) to see what was put in the catcher and then tells us what to leave on the conveyor belt as it goes by. That is usually what is most numerous. Sometimes it’s trash, such as starfish and jellies , other times it’s Loligo squid One night we had a huge amount of scallops so a seemingly endless stream of scallops passed us by. I love eating scallops. It is amazing to view them up close. They have numerous eyes lining the inside of the shell.

Containers Small, Gallon, 10 Gallon, 1.47 Cubic Feet Baskets
Containers Small, Gallon, 10 Gallon, 1.47 Cubic Feet Baskets

Once the animals are sorted by species into containers, they then make their way down the conveyor to Heath. Heath scans the container which makes a telephone ringing sound. He enters/selects the name of the animal on his monitor (crow caws–actually except for animal id every time he does something his “ok” sound is a crow), checks our work to be sure the animals in the container are all the same, weighs the catch of that entire species, and sends the container on its way down the conveyor belt.

There are three processing stations along the conveyor. I have mostly worked with Nicole this week so far. She is a fabulous teacher. Very patient with my inexperience and points out when I do something correctly. That way I will repeat things the correct way. She also suggests better ways when I struggle. Heath explained that we process the containers with the most organisms in them first so no one is stuck at the end of the line doing a large container of animals when others are cleaning up. Some containers might just have one animal. This system works pretty well since everyone seems to finish at the same time.

1 Gallon Container
1 Gallon Container

There are two people at each of the three stations. One person is the fish processor and the other is the recorder. First, the processor scans the container. It buzzes and identifies the container and what the animal is. I was very proud of myself today. I have been assigned to work with Larry now. He left me on my own to process (though he was watching from across the conveyor). When I checked to see how to measure the fish I was working with, it said to measure the width of the carapace. Carapaces are found on turtles or crabs. It is their hard shell. I had a tiny fish. On a rocking ship, it is easy to push a wrong button on a screen and this container had the wrong name on it. Easy fix. Sent it back for reassigning a species and I picked it up when it came by again. “Nice catch on that,” Larry said. Made me feel proud that I recognized how to use the equipment, recognize certain species, and fix the problem. Nicole said if we make a mistake, it can always be fixed. Remember, we learn from mistakes. That’s what we stress in my classroom. Try it. If you fail, learn from the mistake and redo. That works with adults as well.

My favorite sound is the pinball machine that says the weight has been recorded. If the animal needs more processing than just being weighed, there is a sound (a jaguar scream or a whip cracking) to tell the team what to do. Sometimes we need to put the animal in a jar to be preserved. )

Other times we need to take a photograph, or it will ask what the animal’s sex is. We have had a lot of requests for fish to be frozen for study back in the lab. These are bagged and put into a large freezer  for the requesting scientist. The most common seems to be getting the otolith, the part of a fish that aids it in orientation, balance, and sound detection. These are tiny in most fish and require a little manila envelope that we put a sticker on identifying it. These special requests from the computer are all preset requests from scientists working in a scientific area back on shore.


The sound of the waterfall is the constant stream of salt water running down a shoot onto the floor. This picks up animals and trash that have dropped and washes them down drains or out the scuppers (small rectangular openings on the bottom of the wall at the floor which opens to the outside) on the sides of the room. The water is very warm and I’ve noticed that the sea water has been warmer than the air temperature. Another sound is the water sloshing around, similar to the sound in a bathtub when you move the water.

Saltwater helps keep the floor clean in the wet lab.
Saltwater helps keep the floor clean in the wet lab.

When I began this blog I was sitting on the O2 deck at a small table under the stairs. We kept changing direction at relatively slow speeds. I have learned that we were using the multi-beam sonar to look at the bottom to find an acceptable spot to trawl. I was excited to sit outside to work and gaze out over the ocean. During that time I spotted three pods of dolphins swimming. John Galbraith, our chief scientist, and I discussed last night how if you aren’t spending time observing something you will miss many things. So true. If I wasn’t observing the ocean frequently, what are the odds I would see a whale?

Meet Scientist Nicole Charriere 

Nicole with Slender Snipe Eel
Nicole with Slender Snipe Eel

Nicole has been my mentor for the past week. She is a sea-going biological technician, sailing about 130 days out of a year. She usually is on scallop surveys, but seems pretty expert in fish, shrimp, and clams as well. Her job on this cruise is to help provide leadership. There are several volunteers on this cruise, me included, and some are novices just learning about fish. She explains about the protocols (a formal set of rules and procedures to be followed during a particular research experiment).

What Nicole likes about her job is she isn’t in an office all the time. Trawls are different every day. No two tows are the same, and there are a huge variety of species. She really enjoys the diversity of people she gets to work with. There are different scientists and crew members to meet each time. She is a scuba diver and knew she wanted a career with NOAA when she graduated college. She had a job on a commercial fishing vessel and was contacted by NOAA. Someone probably noticed her great work and let someone hiring at NOAA know.

There is something very ironic about Nicole working on a fishing vessel. She doesn’t like sea food. She recognizes its importance and that it is important for the world to have a reliable food source, but it isn’t her favorite.

Nicole’s advice to my students is to talk to everyone and learn. Make connections about what you learn. Work hard, since working hard and getting along with people on a team gets you noticed and when a job comes available, guess who gets hired? Not the person who is difficult to work with and is late constantly.

Nicole has an active lifestyle. In addition to scuba diving, she roller blades, plays guitar and keyboard, and plays soft ball and soccer. She knows a lot of people who are still looking for the perfect career for them. Nicole is thrilled to have found her dream job so early in her life. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with this eloquent, interesting, and fun scientist.

Personal Log

Yeah! The captain put out an all-call and said there were pilot whales off the port side. We had just finished our watch and I headed out to the port side. There they were. I said, “They look like dolphins.” Both are cetaceans, both hunt fish, both are smart, both have a dorsal fin that sticks up out of the water. I believe I saw some earlier. One remained in one place with a huge fin sticking up. I hadn’t seen a dolphin do that before. They might swim in a circle going after a fish, but this behavior was a bit unusual.  At the time I just thought how big that dolphin was. Now, upon reflection, I believe that was a Pilot Whale.   That was so kind of the captain to announce the whales’ presence. The XO, Chad Cary, told me that Pilot Whales got their name since they are indicators of where the fish were. The fisherman just piloted their boats to where those whales were. Interesting way to get a name. Obviously, I’m pretty excited. Did you say I would see a whale on that poll?

Did You Know?

Deploying CTD
Deploying CTD

CTD stands for conductivity, sea water temperature, and depth (of where measurements are taken).

According to NOAA, salinity measurements can be used to determine seawater density which is a primary driving force for major ocean currents which help drive the Earth’s climates. This seems analogous (similar) to the causes of wind when air moves from warm air to cold and back again.

Question of the Day

The CTD protocol states that it must stop 5 meters from the bottom to take its measurements. If the CTD descends at 37 m/s, how long will it take for the CTD to get in position to measure its readings and return to the surface if the bottom is 338 m from the surface?


Salinity: The percentage of salt in the water. Think of it as if you had 1000 grams of water and mixed one gram of salt into it. This would be 1 ppt salinity. Our ocean averages about 35 ppt salinity. Our CTD found that the ocean’s salinity where we tested today was 34 ppt.

Something to Think About

We actually let out 361 m of wire with the CTD, but the bottom was only 338 m. Why did we let out more wire than the distance to the bottom when we dropped the CTD?

Animals Seen Today

32 Replies to “Sue Zupko, Diversity, September 13, 2014”

    1. No fair. I really loved seeing the Pilot Whales and the Green Sea Turtle swimming by the boat. However, I really adore the puffers and the skates. They are so cute.

  1. Sue, I am so enjoying reading your posts! I head to Newport on Monday to pick up Leg II of the trawl, and it’s awesome to see what you are doing on Leg I. It looks like you are learning and discovering so much; I’m really looking forward to my experience!

    1. Very cool. Don’t bring too many clothes. They suggest long socks for in the boots. I have worn both knee highs and short ones. It is getting cooler and you will be north so a pair of long pants and a pair of short pants is really all you need (if you don’t mind re-wearing your outer clothes. You will enjoy. Don’t forget to bring earplugs for sleeping. Have fun.

  2. I like your blog Mrs. Zupko, and I think the pictures were interesting, also. My question is: What is an XO, and what do they do?

    1. I spoke with the captain about your question. The XO is the Executive Officer on the ship. He is second in command to the captain. His jobs include all personnel matters except for Engineering. He handles the ship’s budget and whatever the captain assigns. Think of Commander Spock, Will Riker, Mr. Roberts. Walle (the ship’s wheel). I guess the XO is like an assistant principal–in charge when the principal is gone. Handles what is happening with the ship.

  3. Christopher D 5th
    I’m glad you got to see whales and dolphins. Nicole is right all try your best , I’ll do my best to use her advise.

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