NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II
August 13 – 28, 2016
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 28 10.999 N
Longitude: 084 09.706 W
Air temperature: 90.68 F
Pressure: 1020.05 Mb
Sea Surface Temperature: 32.6 C
Wind Speed: 4.74 Kt
Rescue At Sea!
About mid-morning today the ship’s electrician found me to tell me that the night shift crew had just reported seeing a Sea Turtle near the line that they were currently deploying. The turtle swam over the line and then dove toward the baited hooks some 30 meters down near the bottom. Nobody is supposed to catch Sea Turtles; the stress of being on the hook can be fatal so immediate recovery and release is required in the case of an accidental catch. The crew went into immediate pro-active rescue mode!
The deployment was stopped. The line was cut and a final weight and a second hi-flyer were deployed to mark the end of the set for retrieval. The Captain altered course to bring the ship back around to a point where we began retrieving the line. Crew moved to the well deck and prepared the sling used to retrieve large sharks; it would be used to bring a turtle gently to the deck in the event that we had to remove a hook.
As retrieval started and gangions were pulled aboard, it became obvious that this set was in a great location for catching fish. 8 or 9 smallish Red Grouper were pulled in, one after another. Many of the other hooks were minus their bait. The crew worked the lines with a sense of urgency much more intense than on a normal retrieval! If a turtle was caught on a hook they wanted it released as quickly as possible to minimize the trauma.
As the final hi-flyer got closer and the last of the gangions was retrieved, a sense of relief was obvious among the crew and observers on the deck. The turtle they spotted had gone on by without sampling the baited hooks.
On this ship there are routines to follow and plans in place for every emergency. The rescue of an endangered animal is attended to with the same urgency and purpose as any other rescue. The science and deck crews know those routines and slip into them seamlessly when necessary to ensure the best possible result. This is all part of how they carry out NOAA’s mission of stewardship in our oceans.
Here is Where I Live
I am assigned a bunk in a stateroom shared with another science crew member. I am assigned to the top bunk and my roomie, Chrissie Stepongzi, is assigned to the bottom. Climbing the ladder to the top bunk when the ship is rolling back and forth is like training to be an Olympic gymnast! But, I seem to have mastered it! Making my bed each morning takes determination and letting go of any desire for perfection: you just can’t get to “no wrinkles!”
Chrissie works the midnight to noon shift and I work noon to midnight so the only time we really see each other is at shift change. Together, we are responsible for keeping our space neat and clean and respecting each other’s privacy and sleep time.
I eat in the galley, an area open to all crew 24/7. Meals are served at 3 regular times each day. The food is excellent! If you are on shift, working and can’t break to eat at meal time, you can request that a plate be saved for you. The other choice for those off-times is to eat a salad, sandwich, fruit or other snack items whenever you need an energy boost. We are all responsible for cleaning up after ourselves in the galley. Our Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill and her assistant, Chuck Godwin, work hard to keep us well-fed and happy.
There is a lounge, open to everyone for reading, watching movies, or hanging out during down time. There is a huge selection of up-to-date videos available to watch on a large screen and a computer for crew use. Another place to hang out and talk or just chill, is the flying deck. Up there you can see for miles across the water while you sit on the deck or in one of two Adirondack chairs. Since the only shade available for relaxing is on this deck it can be pretty popular if there is a breeze blowing.
My work area consists of 4 stations: the dry lab which has computers for working with data, tracking ship movements between sample sites, and storing samples in a freezer for later study;
the wet lab which so far on this cruise, has been used mainly for getting ready to work on deck, but has equipment and storage space for processing and sampling our catch; the stern deck where we bait hooks and deploy the lines and buoys; the well deck at the front of the ship where lines and buoys are retrieved, catch is measured and released or set aside for processing, and the CTD is deployed/stored for water sampling.
We move between these areas in a rhythm dictated by the pace of our work. In between deployments we catch up on research, discuss procedures, and I work on interviews and journal entries. I am enjoying shipboard life. We usually go to bed pretty tired, that just helps us to sleep well. The amazing vistas of this ocean setting always help to restore my energy and recharge my enthusiasm for each new day.