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 25, 2017
I am back settled into the crazy weather that is spring in Arkansas. Supposed to be 90 degrees today and then storms tomorrow.
Science and Technology Log
The second leg of the Oregon II’s experimental longline survey is now complete. The ship and all the crew are safely back in the harbor. Fourteen days at sea allows for a lot of data to be gathered by the science crew.
Now, an obvious question would be what do they do with all the data and the samples that were collected? The largest thing from this experimental survey is looking at catch data and the different bait types that were used to see if there were differences in the species caught/numbers caught etc. They are also able to look at species compositions during a different time frame than the annual survey and different depth ranges with the much deeper sets. Fin clips were taken from certain species of sharks. Each fin clip can be tied to a specific shark that was also tagged. If anyone ever wanted or needed to they could trace that fin clip back to the specific shark, the latitude and longitude of where it was taken, and the conditions found in the water column on that day. Everything the scientists do is geared towards collecting data and providing as many details as possible for the big picture.
Occasionally sharks are captured and do not survive, but even these instances provide an opportunity to sample things like vertebrae for ageing studies or to look at reproductive stages. Science is always at work. With the ultrasound machine on board we were able to use it on a couple of the sharpnose sharks and determine if they were pregnant .
Parasites… did you know sharks and fish can have parasites on them? Yes, they do and we caught a few on this leg. Sharks or fish caught with parasites were sampled to pass along to other researchers to use for identification purposes. Kristin showed me evidence of a skin parasite on several of the small sharks. It looked like an Etch-A-Sketch drawing.
Red snapper were also sampled at times on the survey to look deeper into their life history and ecology. Muscle tissue was collected to look at ecotoxicity within the fish (what it has been exposed to throughout out its lifetime); along with otoliths to estimate age. We are using muscle tissue to examine carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. Each element looks into where that fish lives within the food web. For instance, carbon can help provide information about the basal primary producers, nitrogen can help to estimate the trophic level of the fish within the ecosystem, and sulfur can try to determine if the fish feeds on benthic or pelagic organisms. Otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. There are three different types of ear bones; however, sagittal ear bones (the largest of the three) will be sectioned through the core and read like a tree. Each ring is presumed to represent one year of growth.
Now that I am home and settled I still had a few things to share. One it was great to get home to my family, but as I was warned by the science crew it does take a couple of days to adjust to the usual schedule. It did feel good to go for a jog around town instead of having to face the Jacob’s Ladder again!
Everyone asks me if I had a good time, if it was scary, if we caught any sharks. I just don’t think there are words to express what an amazing experience this was for me. Of course, seeing the sharks up close was just beyond words, but it was also being made a part of a working science team that are working year-round to monitor the health of the ocean and the species that live there. For me this was a two-week section of my life where I got to live on the ocean and catch sharks while learning a little about the data the science crew collects and how they use it. The science crew will all be back out on the ocean on different legs over the next few months.
I confess I am not super hi tech, so I am not proficient with a Gopro so I probably missed out on making the best films. However, I did get some excellent photos and some good photos of some impressive sharks. Thanks to technology I will be able to create slide shows to my K-12 students so they can see the experience through my eyes. I am looking forward to showing these slide shows to my students. My elementary students were so excited to have me back that they made me feel like a celebrity. I was gone a little over two weeks and to my younger students it seemed forever. Many of the teachers shared some of my trip with the students so they would know where I was and what I was doing.
I am settled back into my regular schedule at school. One awesome thing about my job is that I deal with students from kindergarten through seniors. I started back with my elementary students yesterday. Let me just say that young people can make you feel like a Rockstar when you have been gone for 15 days. I knocked on a classroom door and could hear the students yelling “ she’s here! Mrs. Grady is here!” and then there were the hugs. Young kids are so genuine and they have an excitement and love of learning. I have to get busy on my power point to share with them. They wanted a list of sharks we caught, how big they were, etc. I am getting exactly what I hoped, the students want to understand what I did on the ship, why we did these things and what did I actually learn.
For my last blog, I have decided to share some of my favorite photos from my time on the Oregon II.