NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
June 8 – 28, 2017
Mission: MACE Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 11, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 54 38.9 N
Longitude: 161 39.2 W
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 185 T
Wind Speed: 9 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 3-4 foot swell
Barometric Pressure: 1003.4 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 7.4°C
Air Temperature: 7.0°C
Science and Technology Log
The equipment has been calibrated and we are off again. We set out Friday afternoon (June 9) and have left the calm of Kalsin Bay. The swell is a bit bigger now and the boat now is rolling a bit more. I am still getting used to walking from one place to another holding onto the railings and finding myself taking twice an many steps to get someplace. From the time we left Kalsin Bay, it should take us 2.5 days to get to the Islands of Four Mountains. From there we will be conducting acoustic surveys on transect lines all the way back towards Kodiak.
There are 31 crew members on the ship right now. As I mentioned before, they all play a different role. The NOAA corps officers work primarily on the Bridge. They are of making sure that the ship goes where it needs to go and that it is done in a safe manner. The Engineering staff is in charge of making sure that everything works. They oversee the operation of engines, pumps, propeller shafts, electronic equipment, and auxiliary equipment. The Stewards have a very important task of keeping us happy and fed and making sure that we don’t get “hangry”. The role of Survey is to assist the scientists, and make sure that everything is prepared to do the surveys. The Electronic Technician (ET) is in charge of making sure that everything works when it comes to electronics. When I first came aboard, I gave him my devices so that he could hook them up to the ship’s wireless Internet system. The Deck crew’s responsibility is to safely deploy the fishing nets and scientific collection equipment to make sure all of the operations on the ship are running smoothly. Finally, the Scientists are in charge of collecting the data and coming up with reports to summarize what they have collected. The Observers are here to help the scientists collect biological data from the catch. And, on this leg of the research, there is me. I am here to learn, help whenever possible, and get my hands dirty!
I have been enjoying getting to know the NOAA Corps, the additional crew, and the scientists. On this cruise, I will be assisting the scientists as they collect their data. The science team consists of 5 members. Additionally, the two observers and survey crew will be assisting with the surveys. The scientists have a wide range of experience, but most of them are Fisheries Biologists.
We will be working in shifts of 12 hours. I will be working from 4 am to 4 pm every day. We have slowly been acclimating ourselves to the new sleep schedule. This is a bit of a problem though as it is light for so long. The sun rises just after 6 am and sets just after 11 pm. It makes it a bit challenging to think about being tired when it is still light out.
During the 12 hours that we have off, there is some down time. Obviously, some of that time we will be sleeping. The quarters are very tight and everything has to be stored so that once we hit rough waters things don’t get tossed around everywhere. Each stateroom has a double bunk. I will not be sharing my room, so I am very lucky to have a room to myself. Most people share a room and have opposite shifts, making it essential to be quiet when entering and exiting during times that one is off-shift to avoid waking one’s roommate.
Safety is a very important part of the operation of this vessel. During the fist 24 hours, we had a series of safety drills within 24 hours of leaving the port. Everyone on board has a role to play should an emergency happen. Signs are posted all over the ship. The most eventful drill was one where we had to don our immersion suits. The suits are designed to keep one warm AND afloat should we become more familiar with the waters surrounding us.
Many of you may be wondering about the food, and if I am getting enough of it. The answer is yes! The galley makes three meals a day and they make sure that we have a lot of options to choose from. There are always snacks around, including a salad bar, an espresso machine, and even ice cream! Meals times are at specific times, and they are a great opportunity to get to know other members on the ship.
Feeding 31 people, 3 meals a day, for 3 weeks is not easy task. Shopping and planning for feeding that many people is even harder. Remember, it is not an option to go to the store really quick because you forgot to bring the butter or eggs on board. It requires detailed planning for many weeks before hand. Now, after the stewards have planned all of the shopping for the journey, they then have to get it all aboard (this trip’s shopping list came to ~$8,000). Sometimes a “fire line” is set up to carry the delivered food from the deck to the galley, but this time around, they used technology to help them by lowering the pallets of food through a hatch near the storage area with a crane.
Did You Know?
Did you know that (almost) all of the garbage created on the ship is incinerated while on board? That means that any garbage, except for aerosols, cans, and glass bottles are burned on the ship.
Observer- Observers are professionally trained biological scientists gathering data first-hand on commercial fishing boats to support science, conservation, and management activities. The data they collect are used to monitor federal fisheries, assess fish populations, set fishing quotas, and inform management. Observers also support compliance with fishing and safety regulations.
Interview with Ethan Beyer
What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?
My position on the OD is a fisheries research biologist. This means that when catch is brought aboard, I will be responsible (along with others in the science crew) for collecting sex, length, weight, maturity, ovary, and otolith data.
Where did you go to school?
I went to school at Oregon State University where I completed my undergraduate degree in Natural Resources, with a specialization in Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Go Beavers!
What is the role of an observer and what do you enjoy most about your work?
My regular job is a Fisheries Observer for the North Pacific Ground fish and Halibut Observer Program. I work on commercial fishing vessels in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea collecting samples of what the vessel catches. This data is then used collectively with data from MACE/RACE to help manage fisheries. I would have to say that my favorite part of that job is seeing some of the interesting creatures that most people have never heard about or seen.
Have you had much experience at sea?
I have been a Fisheries Observer for the last 2 and half years after completing college. During the summer in my last three years of school I worked as a deckhand for a charter fishing company in Seward, Alaska.
How many months out of the year are you out at sea?
Over the course of the year, I average about 8 months deployed as an observer in Alaska. The program that I work for covers the small boat fleet that only requires having an observer for a fraction of their fishing trips. Roughly half of the 8 months deployed is actually spent at sea.
What are the most challenging aspects of being at sea so much? What is most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect of being at sea is being away from family and friends back at home. Another challenging aspect of the job is working alongside commercial fishing crews. Over the course of a 3-month deployment, observers in my program will average working on 5-10 boats. Each vessel and crew is unique, and the approach used in getting along with the crew, sampling, and adjusting to operations on a specific vessel is something that you learn to adapt to quickly.
The most rewarding part of the job for me is at the end of my assignment on a vessel, hearing the captain say that he thought I got along well with his crew, and that he would request to have me again when he gets another observer (even though, logistically, it would be unlikely, as we move from vessel to vessel and port to port frequently). Aside from collecting the required data from each vessel, it is important to be a positive, professional representative of the Observer Program, so that fishing crews don’t view observers as the enemy.
What is one of the most memorable experiences that you have had at sea?
As a fisheries observer, there are many things that we cannot share about our experiences at sea, due to conflicts of interest. However, the most memorable days at sea are usually the ones where the weather cooperates, there is a clear view of the beautiful scenery of coastal Alaska, and fishing is good. Every once in a while, it takes a storm at sea to remind yourself that the days of good weather are to be cherished.
What is your favorite marine creature?
My favorite marine creatures are whales. Many times while I am on a vessel, I have to refrain from showing my excitement when I see them, as they are typically associated with hampering the vessel’s fishing effort. Whales will often consume the catch of commercial longline fisherman.