Marsha Lenz: Water and Superstitions, June 16, 2017


 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard Oscar Dyson

June 8-28, 2017


Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 16, 2017


Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 53 32.9 N

Longitude: 164. 02.5 W

Time: 1300

present weather: clear

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 102

Wind Speed: 13 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 4-6 foot swell

Barometric Pressure: 1002.8 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 7.8°C

Air Temperature: 8.0°C

We have been getting great views of the islands.

Science and Technology Log

 For the past we few days, we have productive days! We have been able to see great sunrises AND  bring in hauls of fish, use the DropCam to take pictures of the ocean floor and associated fishes, and collect data with the CTD. I have become more and more familiar with some of the many components of the technology on board.

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As I was brushing my teeth this morning when I woke up to get ready for my 4 o’clock shift, many questions started running through my still-half-asleep brain. Where did the water that I was brushing my teeth with even come from? It wasn’t salt water. It was drinkable water. It got me thinking about how much potable, or drinkable, water we need to have onboard the ship for 31 people for 22 days. Everyone needs to drink water, take showers, and do laundry. Water is also used for cooking, cleaning, and cooling engines. If you have ever tried to do any of those things with salt water, you’ll know that it doesn’t work very well.

I did some investigating to figure out how the ship is able to hold so much potable water for such a long time. I talked to one of the engineers, Nick Cuellar, to get the facts. He took me on a tour of the nooks and crannies of the ship. It turns out that the ship actually has a water maker. I asked him how it works.

First, salt water is taken and pumped through an evaporator that has Titanium plates. Titanium is sturdy and resistance to erosion. This makes it ideal for salt water. The evaporator separates the drinkable water from the parts that we don’t want to drink (like salt, for example). After that, it is sent to the “Brominator”, where it is treated for human consumption.   It is then stored in tanks on the ship. There are two tanks on the ship, each holding 450 gallons of water. According to Nick, on average, a ship this size uses about 1,000 gallons of water a day, so it works out to be a very sustainable method of water consumption. The pumps work non-stop, so sometimes, when more water is being made than being consumed, they need to turn the taps on and keep “water running” to allow for space in the tanks.


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Some people on the boat like to bring in their own water from land to drink while onboard. Though I did bring on some cans of bubbling water (for a treat), I have no problem filling up my water bottle every morning with some ice and water and staying hydrated that way. I am grateful to have the technology of a water maker on this board this ship!

Personal Log

I have been spending more time getting to know more of the other people on board. We have, of course, had the usual “get-to-know-you” questions (Where are you from? What do you do when you’re not here? What’s the weather going to be like in the next few days? Did you see the sunrise this morning?) Once we get settled and become more comfortable with each other, more interesting conversions start to emerge. Yesterday, during a breakfast of coffee, eggs, hash browns, and pancakes, the topic of sailors’ superstitions came up. Many superstitions are outdated, and many people that spend extended time on sea aren’t too concerned with them. However, I was told right away to NEVER whistle on the Bridge (the room where the commands are given and from where the ship is controlled), because I would whistle up a storm. I was also told by one of the scientists that people also never set sail on a Friday because that would be bad luck. The list of superstitions goes on and on. Some that came up over and over again were:

  • Don’t bring bananas on board
  • If you had red hair, you were considered to be bad luck on the ship. The same was true if you were a woman.
  • It was bad luck for one crewmember to pass the salt directly to another person. One had to place it on the table before another person could pick it up.
  • One is not supposed to “knock on wood” to avoid a jinx, but rather “touch iron”.
  • It is unlucky to kill an albatross.
  • Though it is not a superstition, many sailors will tell you the stories, or myths, about the “Kraken,” the 200 foot octopus that capsizes boats. (Remember Pirates of the Caribbean?)

The Oscar Dyson had its very own superstition before satellite TV came aboard. It was believed that the Dyson could not set sail on the day that the Super bowl played. Without satellite TV, this meant that no one was able to watch it. This, of course, meant that something was going to break. It happened on a number of occasions. Thank goodness for satellite TV. Now the crew on board can watch the game and nothing breaks (Touch iron!).

Did You Know?

Oceans are amazing!

Here are some cool facts that you probably didn’t know.

  • The tides in the ocean are caused by the gravitational pull from the Sun and the Moon on the ocean water.
  • There are over 25,000 different islands in the Pacific Islands alone.
  • Though scientists have discovered thousands of known marine life forms, they believe that there could be millions of life forms in the oceans.

Animals We’ve Seen

We have seen many animals in the past few days. We have seen three different kinds of albatross. Albatross are sea birds that have inspired sailors for centuries. A famous poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, was written in 1834. He illustrates how a sailor killed an albatross (speaking of superstitions) and how this changed the course of the mariner’s life. (I have included it in the link above if you would like to listen to it).

We have seen the Short tailed albatross, which are an endangered species. We also saw a Black-footed Albatross,  Northern Fulmar, and a Laysan Albatross. Did you know that the albatross spend a lot of time on the water. Unfortunately, they are also in danger. Longline fishing boats have hooks that can kill up to 100,000 large seabirds every year.

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The most fascinating thing that we caught was a baby Giant Pacific Octopus. Did you know that the largest size octopus recorded was 30 feet across and weighed more than 600 pounds (no wonder they were in so many sailor stories!)? The one that we caught wasn’t more than an inch in length. During the time that it was in our temporary custody, we got to see it shoot out its ink, change colors (twice), and attach itself it hard surfaces.

These babies (one is blended into the white background) were not more than just a few months old.
Octopus usually live 4-6 years. (photo credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium)


It has been an awesome few days, full of learning and discovery! I can definitely see why there are so many stories and superstitions around these amazing sea creatures!


Interview with Katy McGinnis

Survey Technician

Katy helps operate equipment on the Oscar Dyson

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?

I am the Senior Survey Tech on the Oscar Dyson

What does a Survey Tech do?

We aid the scientists with their oceanographic and fishery research by performing observations, measurements, and calculations. I operate and deploy various types of research equipment, such as the FS70, EK60, and CTD. I also manage shipboard scientific computing systems (SCS) and process oceanographic or fisheries data.

How long have you been on the Oscar Dyson?

I have been working on the Oscar Dyson since May of 2016.

Have you worked on other ships as well?

I was on an internship on Delaware II for 22 days. I was onboard to assist the Deck and scientists. That’s where I learned about what NOAA does and their mission. I have been supporting them ever since.

What kind of training did you receive before working as a Survey Tech?

I have an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science with a focus on Marine Biology. In order to become a Survey Tech, one needs to have an undergraduate degree and have some boat experience. I grew up around boats. And I like boats.

 What are the most exciting/rewarding parts of your job?

There is a lot of work that we do every day. It is not easy. I work 12-hour shifts. The most rewarding part is at the end of the survey when we get to see all of everyone’s work come together. The chief scientist creates a presentation for everyone who helped work on the crew with all of the results of the data that we collected. It is really cool to see the success of everyone’s hard work coming together. I like being able to see the science of it all and how it is implemented and applied to helping protect ecosystems.

 What are the most challenging parts of the job?

There are many challenging parts of this job as well. It is hard to be away from my family for so long. Being away from my friends and my dog for 9 months at a time is hard for me sometimes. I like my dog. Moving around and having short in ports adds additional stress.

 What is your favorite marine animal?

My favorite animal is the Whale Shark. I have so much respect for them. They are these huge creatures that only eat plankton. They could cause so much damage to their surroundings, just by their size alone, but they don’t. That’s awesome!


A Whale Shark swims in the Maldives.  (photo

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