NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
April 5 – April 20, 2017
Mission: Experimental Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 18, 2017
Winds at 10 KTS
Waves at 2-4 FT
Science and Technology Log
There are always many things happening on a research vessel. As we moved from station to station, scientists Paul Felts and Kevin Rademacher have been deploying a trolling camera with a lure attached. I asked Kevin about the camera and he explained what they are trying to accomplish. The ultimate goal of this experimental camera system is to help develop an index of abundance for pelagic species (billfish, dolphinfish, King mackerel, tunas, etc) to be used in stock assessments for those species. Currently, there are no fishery independent indices for adults of these species. We are trying to achieve this by attaching a camera in front of a hook-less trolling lure. If it is successful, the plan is to deploy it when running between stations on all of our surveys. This would give us enough samples to hopefully create an annual index for these species.
This trip they have taken the system from the idea and initial system build back at the lab, and are trying it in the real world; modifying portions that are not working to get it to work. What is desired is towing the system to where the lure is acting as potential prey, is not being negatively affected by the vessel’s propeller wash or bubbles from the vessel or waves, at a vessel’s transit speed, and is depth adjustable.
The scientists were working opposite watches and during watch changes they would share what they had observed and discuss small changes that they wanted to make to obtain better results. The camera allowed them to watch video footage to assess how clearly the lure could be viewed under the water as it traveled behind the ship. The ship’s crew up in the bridge worked with the scientists requests for the changes in speed they needed for short periods of time while the trolling camera was in the water during a transit to another station.
The longline hooks often yield other species besides sharks. On one set we caught 3 king snake eels, Ophichthus rex, that have long bodies, that are very stoutly built. Instead of a tail fin they have a fleshy nub. One of them was almost as long as scientist Paul Felts is tall. This species is distributed in the Gulf of Mexico. It is often caught around oil rigs. The species is consumed on a very small scale and is prepared and sold in Florida as “keoghfish”. This a burrowing species that inhabits mud, sand and clay between 15-366 meters deep. King snake eels may reach sizes up to 11 feet.
What is a day in the life of this NOAA Teacher at Sea like?
We are on the downhill side of this cruise. It has been full of so many amazing things. I miss my family and will be ready to see them, but am so thankful for this experience. Life on the ship is quite a unique experience. There are 29 of us on this cruise. But because of working 12-12 approximately half are working while the others are sleeping and having some down time. This means we don’t see each other except around shift changes. You are very aware of not banging things, or accidentally letting the motion of the boat slam a door because someone is always sleeping. The berths are small but functional. I am sharing a berth with the XO, LCDR Lecia Salerno, who is also on day watch. You can see from the photo below that the space in any of the berths is limited. I have the top bunk which is kind of scary for those who know how graceful I am, but as of yet I haven’t had any mishaps.
What is a day like onboard the Oregon II for me? I wake up around 8 am and try to convince myself to do a few minutes on the Jacob’s Ladder and a few weights for upper body. Breakfast for me is a power bar, each watch usually eats two meals in the galley and mine are lunch and dinner. There is time to do laundry if the washer is available. Twenty-nine people using one washer and dryer calls for everyone to be courteous and remember to get your laundry done and out of the way. I usually spend about an hour reading or working on blogs and even some new plans for my students next year. I am lucky that the boat has wifi that bounces in and out so I can use I-message and stay in touch with some of my family and friends as well as facebook, and email.
Lunch is at 11 and our watch eats and gets out of the way because we are on at noon and need to let the other watch get into the galley for their lunch. Did I mention the galley only has 12 seats and that courtesy is the big thing that makes life on the ship work? When we aren’t baiting hooks, setting out the line, or pulling in the line we hang out in the dry lab. There are computers in the dry lab and the scientists are able to work on emails, and data that is being gathered. There is also a television and we have watched some random things over the long shifts. Lots of laughter happens in this room, especially the more tired we get. I will also admit that we joined the rest of the internet world in stalking April the Giraffe until she had that baby!!! There is time between sets to go do a little bit of a workout and sometimes I take advantage of this. An important activity is hydration. You do not realize how the warm weather on the deck depletes your system. There are notes posted reminding us to stay hydrated. It is also important for me to keep a little food in my stomach to ward off any seasick feelings. I try not to snack at home, but dry cereal or a piece of toast have become my friends on this cruise. Other than the first night at sea I have not had any real queasy moments so I am going to continue this pattern as long as we are moving. One thing is that I tend to snack and drink a lot of water. Dinner is at 5 and occasionally it falls about the time we have to set out a line or pull in a line. This means we eat really fast and get back to work.
When it is time to set a line we all go out on deck and we bait 100 hooks. The hooks will be baited with either chunks of mackerel or squid. There is nothing glamorous about this at all. If you aren’t paying attention you can even take a shot of squid or mackerel juice to the face. When it is time to get the line in the water there are jobs for each of us. One person puts the high flyer in the water, this marks the start and end of the line of hooks and has a flashing light for night time. One person attaches a number to each hook’s line and hands it to the slinger who puts the hook over the side and hands the line to one of the fisherman to attach to the line and send it on its way. One person mans the computer and inputs when the high flyer, three different weights and each hook go over the side. The computer records the bait used, the wave height, cloud cover, precipitation, longitude and latitude of each hook. I told you the scientists’ collect a lot of data on these cruises. The last person scrubs the barrels clean and places them up front on the bow for the haul back. The deck gets washed down. The crew works hard to keep the ship clean.
When the crew on the bridge gives us the 10 minute call we all dawn our life jackets, grab our gloves and head to the bow to see what we might have caught. The deck crew is getting ready to pull in the high flyer, the computer gets set up and all the necessary equipment for collecting data is laid out. We have two measuring boards, a small sling for weighing bigger sharks on deck, two types of taggers, scales, scissors, tubes for fin clips, pliers, measuring tape, bolt cutters, data sheet, and hard hats for all. One person works the computer, recording if we caught a fish, or whether or not there was any bait left on the hook, another person takes the line and hook and places it in a barrel ready to be baited next time, the number is removed and placed on a cable, two people are ready to “play” with the sharks and fish, meaning they will do the measurements, weights and any tagging, and one person fills out the data sheet. It all works very quickly and efficiently. Sometimes it gets a little crazy when we have fish and sharks on several hooks in a row. I spent most of my time doing the data recording and I must say my experience working the chutes with tagging and vaccinating cattle sure came in handy when it came to keeping the information straight.
The day watch comes on shift at midnight, but they usually show up around 11:30 to visit and see what has happened on our shift. By midnight we are free to go. I stop in the galley for a quick sandwich made of toast and ham. Next up is the much needed shower. We use mackerel and squid for bait and let’s just say the juice and squid ink tends to fly around the deck when we are baiting hooks. Then you get the salty sea air, handling sharks, red snapper, king snake eels, and it makes a hot shower is much anticipated. Lastly, I crawl into my top rack (bed) and adjust to the pitch and roll of the ship.
Did You Know
Typically, biologists can age sharks by examining cross sections of shark’s vertebra and counting the calcified bands, much like you can count the rings on a cross section of a tree trunk. The deep-water sharks we are looking for are trickier to age because their vertebra do not become as calcified as sharks found in shallower depths.