Staci DeSchryver: The First Rule of Mammal Club, July 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Near the Maro Reef, Northwest Hawaiian Islands

Date:  July 24, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Location: 23 deg, 39.5 min N, 169 deg, 53.5 min W

Wind:  85 degrees at 12 kts

Pressure:  1017.0

Waves: 2-3 feet at 95 degrees

Swell: 3-4 feet

Temperature 27.5

Wet bulb temp: 26.2

 

Science Log

Most of us know the first rule of Fight Club – Don’t talk about Fight Club.  In previous blogs, we’ve established that if acoustics hears a vocalization from the lab, they do not inform the observers on the flying bridge – at least not until all members of the vocalizations are “past the beam”, or greater than 90 degrees from the front of the ship.  Once the vocalizations are past the beam, acoustics can elect to inform the observers based on the species and the specific protocols set for that particular species.  The purpose of this secrecy is to control for bias.  Imagine if you were a marine mammal observer, headed up for your last two hour shift on your ten hour day.  If you stopped by the acoustics lab to say hello and found the acoustician’s computer screens completely covered with localizations from a cetacean, you might change the way you observe for that animal, especially if you had a general idea of what angle or direction to look in. One experimental goal of the study is to eliminate as much bias as possible, and tamping the chatter between acousticians and the visual team helps to reduce some of this bias.  But what about the observers?  Could they bias one another in any way?  The answer to that question is yes, and marine mammal observers follow their own subset of Fight Club rules, as well.

Let’s say for example, a sighting of Melon-Headed Whales is occurring.  On the flying bridge, available observers come up to assist in an abundance estimate for that particular group (more on how these estimates are made later).  They also help with photographing and biopsy operations, when necessary.  Melon-Headed Whales are known to travel in fairly large groups, sometimes separated into sub groups of whales. After spending some time following the group of whales, the senior observer or chief scientist will ensure that everyone has had a good enough opportunity to get a best estimation of the number of Melon Headed Whales present.  At this point, it’s time for the observers to write their estimates.  Each observer has their own “green book,” a small journal that documents estimation numbers after each observation occurs.  Each observer will make an estimation for their lowest, best, and highest numbers.  The lowest estimate represents the number of cetaceans the observer knows for certain were present in the group – for example they might say, “There couldn’t possibly be fewer than 30”.  The highest estimate represents the number that says “there couldn’t possibly be any more than this value.”  The best estimate is the number that the observer feels totally confident with.  Sometimes these values can be the same.  The point is for each observer to take what he or she saw with their own eyes, factor in what they know about the behavior of the species, and make a solid personal hypothesis as to the quantitative value of that particular group.  In a sighting of something like our fictitious Melon Headed Whales, those numbers could be in the hundreds.

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Marine Mammal Observer Allan Ligon records his cetacean estimates in his “green book” after a sighting.

Once the documentation is complete in the green books, the observers direct the ship to return back to the trackline, and begin observing again.  They never discuss how many animals they saw.  This is such an important part of what marine mammal observers do as professionals.  At first glance, one would assume that it would be beneficial for all observers to meet following an observation to come to a consensus on the numbers sighted.  But there are a lot of ways that discussion on numbers can turn sideways and skew overall data for the study.  Let’s take an obvious example to highlight the point.

Imagine if you were a new scientist in the field, coming to observe with far more senior observers.  Let’s assume you’ve just spotted a small group of Pygmy Killer Whales and although you are new on the job, you know for an absolute fact that you counted six dorsal fins – repeatedly – through the course of the sighting.  If the sighting ends, and the more senior observers all agree that they saw five, the likelihood that you are going to “cave” and agree that there were only five could be higher.

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Scientist Paula Olson recording her numbers after a sighting, keeping her information separate from others.

If you never talk about your numbers, you never have to justify them to anyone else.  The question often comes up, “What if an observer consistently over or underestimates the number of cetaceans?”  It’s much better for the scientists to consistently over or underestimate their counts than to spend time trying to fine tune them against the rule of another’s estimate.  If counts skew high or low for a scientist each leg of the trip as the co-workers change, that can create a problem for those trying to analyze the abundances after the study is complete.  Further, not discussing numbers with anyone at all ever gives you a very reliable estimation bias over time.  In other words, if you consistently over estimate, the people who complete the data analysis will know that about you as an observer and can utilize correction factors to help better dial in cetacean counts.  It is because of this potential for estimation bias that all marine mammal observers must never talk numbers, even in casual conversation.  You’ll never hear a marine mammal observer over dinner saying, “I thought there were 20 of those spinner dolphins, how many did you think were there?”

Where do these data go after the study is over?  Data from each sighting gets aggregated by the chief scientist or other designee and the group size for each sighting is determined.  Then, via many maths, summations, geometries, and calculuses, population abundance estimates are determined.  This is a dialed-in process – taking the number of sightings, the average sighting group size, the length of the transect lines, the “effective strip width” (or general probability of finding a particular cetacean within a given distance – think smaller whales may not be as easy to see from three miles away, and therefore the correction factor must be taken into account), and finally the probability of detection – and combining those values to create a best estimate for population density within the Hawaiian EEZ.

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Scientist Kym Yano on the bow of the ship, trying to get an up-close ID photo.

The probability of detection is an interesting factor in that it used to always be considered as a value of 1 – meaning that if a cetacean shows his friendly (or ferocious) mug anywhere on the trackline (the predetermined path the ship is taking in the search) the value assumes that a mammal observer has a 100% chance of spotting it.  This is why there is a center observer in the rotation – he or she is responsible for “guarding the trackline,” providing the overlap between the port and starboard observers in their zero to ninety degree scans of the ocean.  Over time, this value has created statistical issues for abundance estimates because there are many situations when a 100% detection rate is just not a realistic assumption.  Between the HICEAS 2002 study and the HICEAS 2010 study, these detection factors were corrected for, leading to numbers that were reliable for the individual study itself, but not reliable to determine if populations were increasing or decreasing.

Other factors can play a role in skewing abundance estimates, as well.  For example, beaked whales often travel in smaller-sized groups and only remain at the surface for a few minutes before diving very deeply below the surface.  Sightings are rare because of their behavior, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are declining in population.  In HICEAS 2002, there was an unusual sighting of a large group of these whales.  When the statistical methods were applied for this group as a whole, the abundance numbers were very high.   In 2010, the sighting frequency was more “normal” than finding the anomalous group, and the values for the numbers of these whales dropped precipitously.  There wasn’t necessarily a decline in population, it just appeared that way because of the anomalous sighting from 2002. Marine mammal observer Adam Ü assists on a sighting by taking identification photos.

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Marine mammal observer Adam Ü assists on a sighting by taking identification photos.

Statistical analysis methods have also changed over the years once scientists took a harder look at some of the variables that the marine mammal observers must contend with in their day to day operations.  At the start of every rotation, mammal observers make general observations about the sea conditions – noting changes in visibility, presence of rain or haze, wind speed, and Beaufort Sea State.  Observers will go “off effort” if the Beaufort Sea State reaches a 7.  To give you an idea of how the sea state changes for increasing numbers, a sea state of Zero is glass-calm.  A sea state of 12, which is the highest level on the Beaufort scale, is something I’m glad I won’t see while I’m out here.  Come to think of it, we have gone “off effort” when reaching a sea state of 7, and I didn’t care for that much, either.    

Most of our days are spent in at least a Beaufort 3, but usually a 4 or 5.  Anything above a 3 means white caps are starting to form on the ocean, making it difficult to notice any animals splashing about at the surface, especially at great distances – mainly because everything looks like it’s splashing.  Many observers look for splashing or whale blows as changes against the surrounding ocean, and the presence of waves and sea spray makes that job a whole heck of a lot more difficult.  Beaufort Sea States are turning out to be a much bigger player in the abundance estimate game, changing the statistical probabilities of finding particular cetaceans significantly.  

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Everyone loves a cetacean sighting! Corps officers Maggied and Frederick on the bow looking at a dolphin sighting.

One species of beaked whale has a probability of sighting that drops off exponentially with increasing sea state.  As sea state goes up, the chances of seeing any cetacean at all decreases.  Other factors like sun glare play a role in decreased sightings, as well.  When a beaked whale “logs” at the surface in glass calm waters, chances are higher that it will be spotted by an observer. When the ocean comes up, the wind is screaming, and the waves are rolling, it’s not impossible to see a whale, but it sure does get tough.

The good news is that for most species, these abundance estimates account for these variables.  For the more stealthy whales, those estimates have some variation, but overall, this data collection yields estimate numbers that are reliable for population estimates.

 

Personal Log

It is darn near impossible to explain just how hard it is to spot mammals out in the open ocean.  But, being the wordy person I am, I will try anyway.

I had some abhorrently incorrect assumptions about the ease at which cetaceans are spotted.  These assumptions were immediately corrected the first time I put my forehead on the big eyes.  Even after reading the reports of the number of sightings in the Hawaiian EEZ and my knowledge of productivity levels in the tropical oceans,  I had delusions of grandeur that there would be whales jumping high out of the water at every turn of the ship, and I’d have to be a blind fool not to see and photograph them in all of their whale-y glory.

I was so wrong.

Imagine trying to find this:

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Try spotting this from two miles away. There is a Steno Dolphin under that splash!

In this:

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Sun Glare. It’s not easy to find mammals in these conditions.

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Beaufort 6 sea conditions: When you’re looking for splashes…and it’s all splashes…

Here’s the long and short of it – there were times when we were in pretty decent conditions, and marine mammal observers were “on” a sighting, and I trained the big eyes in exactly the direction and my eyes at the exact distance and I still couldn’t see them.  There were times when the mammals pretty much had to be launching themselves out of the water and onto the ship before I was like, “Oh, hey!  A whale!”  I can think of at least four sightings where this happened – whales were out there, everyone else could see them…and I couldn’t find them if they were pulled out of the water and handed to me in a paper bag.  Which is extra disappointing because a) a whale doesn’t fit in a paper bag, and 2) if it did, it would likely soak the bag so that it fell out of the bottom and now I’d have a whale that I couldn’t see anyway who now has a headache and is ornery because someone shoved him in a paper bag that he promptly fell face first out of.  And as I’ve learned over the time I’ve been on the ship and through many forays into the wilderness – don’t anger things with teeth.

I have had the good fortune of watching our six marine mammal observers as they do their work and I am continually floored at the ability and deftness in which they do their jobs.  I have done a few independent observation rotations – I try to get in at least three each day – and I have only once been able to complete a rotation in the same way the observers do.  Looking for forty minutes through the port side big eyes, sitting and guarding the trackline for 40 minutes, and looking for forty minutes through the starboard side big eyes is exhausting.   Weather conditions are constantly changing and sometimes unfavorable.  The sun could be shining directly in the path of observation, which turns the whole ocean into the carnage that could only be rivaled by an explosion at a glitter factory.  While the canopies protect the observers from a large majority of incoming sunlight, there’s usually a few hours in the day where the sun is below the canopy, which makes it blast-furnace hot.  Today the winds are blowing juuuuust below the borderline of going off effort due to sea state conditions.  Sometimes the wind doesn’t blow at all, or worse –  it blows at the exact speed the ship is traveling in – yielding a net vector of zero for wind speed and direction.  Out on the open ocean, Beaufort Sea States rarely fall below a 3, so observers are looking through piles of foam and jets of sea spray coming off the waves, searching for something to move a little differently.  Trying to look through the big eyes and keep the reticle lines (the distance measures on the big eyes) on the horizon during the observation while the ship moves up and down repeatedly over a five foot swell?  I can say from direct experience that it’s really, really hard.

The animals don’t always play nice, either.  It would be one thing if every animal moved broadside to the view of the observers, giving a nice wide view of dorsal fin and an arched back peeking out of the water.  A lot of cetaceans see ships and “run away.”  So, now as an observer, you have to be able to spot the skinny side of the dorsal fin attached to a dolphin butt.  From three miles away.   Some whales, like sperm whales, stay at the surface for about ten minutes and then dive deep into the ocean for close to an hour.  We’re lucky in that if we aren’t on the trackline and spot their telltale blows when they are at the surface, the acoustics team knows when they are below the surface and we can wait until they do surface, so that’s a benefit for everyone on the hunt for sperm whales.

But overall? These things are not easy to find.   We aren’t out here on a whale watching tour, where a ship takes us directly out to where we know all the whales are and we have endless selfie opportunities.  The scientific team couldn’t bias the study by only placing ourselves in a position to see cetaceans.  In fact, the tracklines were designed years ago to eliminate that sort of bias in sampling.  Because we cover the whole Hawaiian EEZ, and not just where we know we are going to see whales (looking at you, Kona) there could be times where we don’t see a single cetacean for the whole day.  As an observer, that can be emotionally taxing.

And yet, the marine mammal observers persevere and flourish in this environment.  Last week, an observer found a set of marine mammals under the surface of the water.  In fact, many observers can see mammals under the water, and it’s not as though these mammals are right on the bow of the ship – they are far far away.  Most sightings happen closer to the horizon than they do to the ship, at least initially.  The only reason why I even have pictures of cetaceans is because we turn the ship to cross their paths, and they actually agree to “play” with us for a bit.   

Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried to hone my non-skill of mammal observation in to something that might resemble actual functional marine mammal observation.  I have been thwarted thus far.  But I have gotten to a certain point in my non-skill – where at first, I was just in glorious cod-faced stupor of witnessing cetaceans, and trying to get as many photos as possible – now, a sighting for me yields a brief moment of awe followed by an attempt to find what the observers saw in order to find the animal.  In other words, I “ooh and ah” for a few moments at first, but once I can find them, I start asking myself, “Ok, what do the splashes look like?”  “How do the fins look as they come out of the water?”  “What does the light look like in front or behind the animal, and would I be able to see that patterning while I’m doing an observation?”  So far, I’ve been unsuccessful, but I certainly won’t stop trying.  I have to remember that the marine mammal observers who are getting these sightings have been doing this for years and I have been doing this for hours comparatively.  Besides, every sighting is still very exciting for me as an outsider to this highly specialized work, and the star-struck still hasn’t worn off.  I imagine it won’t for quite some time.  

 

Ship Fun!

Being at sea for 28 days has its advantages when it comes to building strong connections between scientists, crew, and the officers.  Everyone pitches in and helps to make life on this tiny city a lot more enjoyable.  After all, when you spend 24 hours a day on a ship, it can’t all be work.  Take a look at the photos below to see:

 

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Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana hosts a shave ice party (a traditional Hawaiian treat) on a Monday afternoon

 

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The scientific team gets fiercely competitive when it comes to cribbage!

 

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The Doc and I making apple pie after hours for an upcoming dessert!

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Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana fires up the smoker for a dinnertime pork shoulder. Yum!

 

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Husband and wife team Scientist Dr. Amanda Bradford and Crewmember Mills Dunlap put ice on a freshly caught Ono for an upcoming meal.

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Commanding officer CDR Koes makes a whale shaped ice cream cake to “call the whales over” and aid in our search effort.

Samantha Adams: Day 6 – Testing… 1 – 2 – 3, July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 3, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Saturday, 29 July 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude & Longitude: 22o 45’N, 157o 56’W. Ship speed: 1.3 knots. Air temperature: 27.8oC. Sea temperature: 27.0oC. Humidity: 72%.Wind speed: 14 knots. Wind direction: 107 degrees. Sky cover: Few.

Science and Technology Log:

The most difficult part of Thursday’s buoy deployment was making sure the anchor was dropped on target. Throughout the day, shifting winds and currents kept pushing the ship away from the anchor’s target location. There was constant communication between the ship’s crew and the science team, correcting for this, but while everyone thought we were close when the anchor was dropped, nobody knew for sure until the anchor’s actual location had been surveyed.

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Triangulation of the WHOTS-14 buoy’s anchor location. Look at how close the ‘Anchor at Depth’ location is to the ‘Target’ location — only 177.7 meters apart! Also notice that all three circles intersect at one point, meaning that the triangulated location of the anchor is quite accurate.

To survey the anchor site, the ship “pinged” (sent a signal to) the acoustic releases on the buoy’s mooring line from three separate locations around the area where the anchor was dropped. This determines the distance from the ship to the anchor — or, more accurately, the distance from the ship to the acoustic releases. When all three distances are plotted (see the map above), the exact location of the buoy’s anchor can be determined. Success! The buoy’s anchor is 177.7 meters away from the target location — closer to the intended target than any other WHOTS deployment has gotten.


After deployment on Thursday, and all day Friday, the Hi’ialakai stayed “on station” about a quarter of a nautical mile downwind of the WHOTS-14 buoy, in order to verify that the instruments on the buoy were making accurate measurements. Because both meteorological and oceanographic measurements are being made, the buoy’s data must be verified by two different methods.

Weather data from the buoy (air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, etc.) is verified using measurements from the Hi’ialakai’s own weather station and a separate set of instruments from NOAA’s Environmental Sciences Research Laboratory. This process is relatively simple, only requiring a few quick mouse clicks (to download the data), a flashdrive (to transfer the data), and a “please” and “thank you”.

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July 28, 2017, 5:58PM HAST. Preparing the rosette for a CDT cast. Notice that the grey sampling bottles are open. If you look closely, you can see clear plastic “wire” running from the top of the sampling bottles to the center of the rosette. The wires are fastened on hooks which, when triggered by the computer in the lab, flip up, releasing the wire and closing the sampling bottle.

Salinity, temperature and depth measurements (from the MicroCats on the mooring line), on the other hand, are much more difficult to verify. In order to get the necessary “in situ” oceanographic data (from measurements made close to the buoy), the water must be sampled directly. This is done buy doing something called a CTD cast — in this case, a specific type called a yo-yo. 

The contraption in the picture to the left is called a rosette. It consists of a PCV pipe frame, several grey sampling bottles around the outside of the frame, and multiple sets of instruments in the center (one primary and one backup) for each measurement being made.

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July 28, 2017, 6:21PM HAST. On station at WHOTS-14, about halfway through a CDT cast (which typically take an hour). The cable that raises and lowers the rosette is running through the pulley in the upper right hand corner of the photo. The buoy is just visible in the distance, under the yellow arm.

The rosette is hooked to a stainless steel cable, hoisted over the side of the ship, and lowered into the water. Cable is cast (run out) until the rosette reaches a certain depth — which can be anything, really, depending on what measurements need to be made. For most of the verification measurements, this depth has been 250 meters. Then, the rosette is hauled up to the surface. And lowered back down. And raised up to the surface. And lowered back down. It’s easy to see why it’s called a yo-yo! (CDT casts that go deeper — thousands of meters instead of hundreds — only go down and up once.)

For the verification process, the rosette is raised and lowered five times, with the instruments continuously measuring temperature, salinity and depth. On the final trip back to the surface, the sampling bottles are closed remotely, one at a time, at specific depths, by a computer in the ship’s lab. (The sampling depths are determined during the cast, by identifying points of interest in the data. Typically, water is sampled at the lowest point of the cast and five meters below the surface, as well as where the salinity and oxygen content of the water is at its lowest.) Then, the rosette is hauled back on board, and water from the sampling bottles is emptied into smaller glass bottles, to be taken back to shore and more closely analyzed.

On this research cruise, the yo-yos are being done by scientists and student researchers from the University of Hawaii, who routinely work at the ALOHA site (where the WHOTS buoys are anchored). The yoyos are done at regular intervals throughout the day, with the first cast beginning at about 6AM HAST and the final one wrapping up at about midnight.

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July 29, 2017, 9:43AM HAST. On station at WHOTS-13. One CDT cast has already been completed; another is scheduled to begin in about 15 minutes.

After the final yo-yo was complete at the WHOTS-14 buoy early Saturday morning, the Hi’ialakai traveled to the WHOTS-13 buoy. Today and tomorrow (Sunday), more in situ meteorological and oceanographic verification measurements will be made at the WHOTS-13 site. All of this — the meteorological measurements, the yo-yos, the days rocking back and forth on the ocean swell — must happen in order to make sure that the data being recorded is consistent from one buoy to the next. If this is the case, then it’s a good bet that any trends or changes in the data are real — caused by the environmental conditions — rather than differences in the instruments themselves.

Personal Log:

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The Hi’ialakai’s dry lab. Everyone is wearing either a sweatshirt or a jacket… are we sure this is Hawaii?

Most of the science team’s time is divided between the Hi’ialakai’s deck and the labs (there are two; one wet, and one dry).  The wet lab contains stainless steel sinks, countertops, and an industrial freezer; on research cruises that focus on marine biology, samples can be stored there. Since the only samples being collected on this cruise are water, which don’t need to be frozen, the freezer was turned off before we left port, and turned into additional storage space.  The dry lab (shown in the picture above) is essentially open office space, in use nearly 24 hours a day. The labs, like most living areas on the ship, are quite well air conditioned. It may be hot and humid outside, but inside, hoodies and hot coffee are both at a premium!

Did You Know?

The acronym “CTD” stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. But the MicroCats on the buoy mooring lines and the CTD casts are supposed to measure salinity, temperature and depth… so where does conductivity come in? It turns out that the salinity of the water can’t be measured directly — but conductivity of the water can.

When salt is dissolved into water, it breaks into ions, which have positive and negative charges. In order to determine salinity, an instrument measuring conductivity will pass a small electrical current between two electrodes (conductors), and the voltage on either side of the electrodes is measured. Ions facilitate the flow of the electrical current through the water. Therefore conductivity, with the temperature of the water taken into account, can be used to determine the salinity.

Brad Rhew: Getting Fishy With It, July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brad Rhew

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 23 – August 7, 2017

 

Mission: Hake Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest coast

Date: July 28, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude 4359.5N
Longitude 12412.6 W
Temperatue: 54 degrees
Sunny
No precipitation
Winds at 23.5 knots
Waves at 2-4 feet

 

Science and Technology Log

We are officially off! It has already been an amazing experience over the last couple of days.

One of the goals of this project is to collect data that will be used to inform the Pacific hake stock assessment. This falls in line with the Pacific Whiting Treaty that the US-Canadian governments enacted to jointly manage the hake stock. NOAA and Department of Fisheries and Oceans-Canada (DFO) jointly survey and provide the hake biomass to the stock assessment scientists. (Refer to the link in my last blog about additional information on this treaty.) Major goals of the survey are to determine the biomass, distribution, and biological composition of Pacific hake using data from an integrated acoustic and trawl survey. Additionally, we are collecting a suite of ecological and physical oceanographic data in order to better understand the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME).

There is a very detailed process the scientists go through to collect samples and data on the hake caught and selected for sampling. They want to learn as much as possible about these fish to help with the ongoing research projects.

Here is a quick guide and understanding of how sampling works and what data is collected:

  1. Determine the length and sex of the fish.
    1. To determine the length, the fish is placed on a magnetic sensor measuring board. The magnet is placed at the fork of the tail fin; the length is recorded into the data table. (See figure A.)
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      Figure A. Determining the length of the fish.

       

    2. To determine the sex, the fish is sliced open on the side. Scientist look to see if ovaries (for females) or testes (for males) are present. They also can determine the maturity of the fish by looking at the development of the reproductive organs. (See figure B.)

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      Figure B. Determining the sex of the fish.

  2. Determine the mass.
    1. The Hake are placed on a digital scale and then massed. The data also gets entered into the database. (See figure C.)

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      Figure C. Massing the fish on a digital scale.

  3. Removing of the otoliths (ear bones).
    1. Hake have two otoliths. How this is done is the scientist first cuts a slight incision on top of the fish’s head. (See figure D.)

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      Figure D. Making an incision on the fish’s head to remove otoliths.

    2. The head is then carefully cracked open to expose the bones. (See figure E.)
    3. The bones are removed with forceps and then placed in a vial. The vial is then barcode scanned into the database. The otoliths will then be sent to the lab for testing. Scientists can run test on the otoliths to determine the age of the selected fish. (See figures F and G.)
  4. Removing a fin clip.
    1. Fin clips are removed from the Hake for DNA sampling to be completed back on shore in the lab. This gives researchers even more information about the selected fish.
    2. The fin clip is removed using scissors and forceps. (see figure H.)

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      Figure H. Removing a fin clip.

    3. The clip is then placed on a numbered sheet. (see figure I.)

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      Figure I. Placing the fin clip on a numbered sheet.

    4. The number is also entered into the database with all the other information collected on that particular fish.
  5. All the information is collected in one database so it can be assessed by scientists for future research. (see figure J.)

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    Figure J. All information is stored in a database.

 

Personal Log

Even though this survey is just beginning this has been such an amazing experience already. I have learned a great deal about oceanography and marine research. I cannot wait to use my experiences back in my classroom to expose my students to careers and opportunities they could be a part of in their future.

Another great aspect of being a Teacher at Sea is the relationships I’m building with other scientists and the crew. It is amazing to hear how everyone became a part of this cruise and how passionate they are about their profession and the world around them.

 

Did You Know?

This is Leg 3 of 5 of this Summer Hake Survey. Two more legs will be completed this year to collect even more data on the fish population.

 

Fascinating Catch of the Day!

When we fish for Hake it is very common to collect some other organisms as well. Today’s fun catch was Pyrosomes or Sea Tongues!

These free-floating colonial tunicates are found in the upper part of the open ocean. Pyrosomes rely on the currents to move them around the ocean. They are typically cone shaped and are actually made up of hundreds of organisms known as zooids. The Zooids form a gelatinous tunic that links them together creating the cone shape. They are also bioluminescent and give off a glow in the ocean.

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Fun with pyrosomes!

Check it Out!

If you want to learn more about what is happening on the Bell M. Shimada, check out The Main Deck blog for the ship:

https://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/news/blogs/display_blogentry.cfm?blogid=7

Samantha Adams: Day 4 – D(eployment) Day, July 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 8, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Thursday, 27 July 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude & Longitude: 22.38oN, 158.01oW. Ship speed: 1.3 knots. Air temperature: 27.7oC Sea temperature: 27.1oC. Humidity: 75%.Wind speed: 12.9 knots. Wind direction: 59.7 degrees. Sky cover: Scattered.

Science and Technology Log:

It’s deployment day! After months of preparation and days of practice, this buoy is finally going in the water!

The sheer volume of stuff that’s involved is mind boggling. There’s the buoy itself, which is nearly 3 meters (approximately 9 feet) tall; one meter of that sits below the surface. There’s 16 MicroCats (which are instruments measuring temperature, salinity and depth of the water) attached to over 350 meters of chain and wire. Then there’s another 1,800 meters of wire and 3,600 meters of two different types of line (rope) — heavy nylon and polypropylene. Then there’s 68 glass balls, for flotation. After that, there’s another 35 meters of chain and nylon line. Attached to that is an acoustic release, which does exactly what it sounds like it does — if it “hears” a special signal, it detaches from whatever is holding it down. In this case, that’s a 9,300 pound anchor. (The acoustic release and the glass balls make sure that all the instruments on the mooring line can be recovered.) All in all, nearly 6,000 meters — three and a half miles — of equipment and instrumentation is going over the stern of the Hi’ialakai. The length of the mooring line is actually longer (approximately one and a quarter times longer) than the ocean is deep where the buoy is being deployed. This is done so that if (or when) the buoy is pulled by strong winds or currents, there is extra “space” available to keep the buoy from getting pulled under water.

WHOTS-14 mooring diagram.

Diagram of the WHOTS station. Notice how many instruments are on the mooring line, below the surface! Photo courtesy of the University of Hawai’i.

Take a look at the diagram of the WHOTS-14 buoy. It’s easy to assume that the everything goes into the water in the exact same order as is shown on the diagram — but the reality of deployment is actually very different.

First, the MicroCats that are attached to the first 30 meters of chain (6 of them) go over the side. Approximately the first five meters of chain stay on board, which is then is attached to the buoy. After that, the buoy is hooked up to the crane, and gently lifted off the deck, over the side, and into the water. Then, the remaining ten MicroCats are attached, one by one, to the 325 meters of wire and, one by one, lowered into the water. Then the additional 3,400 meters of wire and nylon line are slowly eased off the ship and into the ocean. After that, the glass balls (two-foot diameter spheres made of heavy glass and covered by bright yellow plastic “hats”) are attached and join the rest of the mooring line in the ocean. Finally, after hours of hard work, the end of the mooring line is attached to the anchor. Then, with a little help from the ship’s crane, the anchor slides off the stern of the ship, thunks into the water, and slowly starts making its way to the bottom.

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4:18PM HAST: Splashdown! The anchor is dropped. 

From the morning-of preparations to the anchor sliding off the Hi’ialakai’s stern, deploying the WHOTS buoy took 9 hours and 41 minutes.

Personal Log:

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My laptop, secured for sea!

Another item to file under Things You Never Think About: Velcro is awesome. Ships — all ships, even one the size of the Hi’ialakai — frequently move in unexpected, jarring ways. (If you’ve never been on a ship at sea, it’s a bit like walking through the “Fun House” at a carnival — one of the ones with the moving floors. You try to put your foot down, the floor drops a few inches underneath you, and you’re suddenly trying to walk on air.) For this reason, it’s important to keep everything as secured as possible. Rope and straps are good for tying down things that can stay in one place, but something like a laptop, which needs to be mobile? Velcro!

Did You Know?

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Getting ready to attach the glass balls to the mooring line. The light blue Colmega is in the upper right hand corner of the picture, trailing out behind the ship. The buoy, at the end of over three miles of mooring line, is no longer visible.

Not all line is created equal. Aside from obvious differences in the size and color, different lines have different purposes. The heavy nylon line (which is white; see the picture in slideshow of the line being deployed) is actually able to stretch, which is another safety precaution, ensuring that the buoy will not be pulled under water. The light blue polypropylene line, called Colmega, floats. In the picture to the left, you can see a light blue line floating in the water, stretching off into the distance. It’s not floating because it’s attached to the ship — it’s floating all by itself!

 

Kip Chambers: Rocking and Rolling on the Reuben Lasker… July 22, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kip Chambers

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 17 – 30, 2017

Mission:  West Coast Pelagics Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean; U.S. West Coast

Date: July 22, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

 Date: 07/22/2017                                                                 Wind Speed: NW at 8 Knots

Time: 20:20                                                                            Latitude: N 43 53.78

Temperature: 18.5 C                                                              Longitude: W 124 38.7

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Kip and Austin Pacific sardine data (Photo Credit: Nina Rosen)

Science and Technology Log:

After steaming north out of San Francisco, the Reuben Lasker arrived on location just south of Newport, Oregon early Wednesday (07/19) morning ready to begin the 2nd leg of the West Coast Pelagics Survey (WCPS). The survey is targeting coastal pelagic species (CPS).  The Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) uses the following characteristics to describe CPS. CPS have relatively short life spans, high reproductive potential, responsivity to climate change, schooling or swarming behavior, and inhabiting the upper or mixed layer of the water column (swfsc.noaa.gov/).  The survey uses a combination of methods to try to locate the target species for sampling.  The primary fish target species for the survey include Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax), Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus), jack mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus), and the northern anchovy (Engrraulis mordax).  In addition to these fish species, the market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) is also included as a target species for the survey.  These coastal pelagic species are critical to the ecology of the California Current pelagic ecosystem.

Source: https://swfsc.noaa.gov/textblock.aspx?id=1041&ParentMenuId=110

A very important part of the survey involves using the acoustic trawling method (ATM) to locate and sample CPS.  This method of sampling uses a systematic approach to help locate the target species that are being monitored.  The area for the survey is laid out using a transect system. Transect lines (perpendicular to the coast) are latitudinal at 10 mile intervals and approximately 30-40 miles long.  During the day, the ship follows these transect lines while using a continuous underway fish egg sampler (CUFES) and “listening” for CPS using some of the most advanced acoustics systems in the world.  CUFES pulls water in from below the ship at a rate of 640 liters/ minute.  As the water moves through the sampler it passes through a fine mesh filter that is continuously agitated.  Any plankton or fish eggs that are larger than 505 microns are screened out, collected, and analyzed at 30 minute intervals.  The CUFES requires constant monitoring and an experienced eye to be able to identify the various organisms in the sample.  That responsibility falls on the shoulders of the lead scientists on the survey, Dave Griffith and Sue Manion.  As this information is coming in it is entered into a computer that plots the results in relationship to the transect line that is being traversed.  Of particular interest to the scientists on this survey are Pacific sardine eggs due to declining populations of this important forage fish over the last 10 years.

Along with the CUFES data, the survey is being guided by a complex array of sonars and split beam eco-sounders.  Dan Palance, is the ships acoustician.  Dan monitors and collects data from 2 split beam echo-sounders, the EK60 and the EK80 and 3 multi-beam sonars, the MS70, ME70 and the SX90.  As the ship moves down the transect line information from the eco-sounders and sonars is being monitored and analyzed.  The images from the acoustics system provide insight into what types of fish or other marine organisms may be present near the transect line.  Dan and the lead scientists use the data from CUFES and acoustics system to determine the best locations to trawl for the target species.  Once the likely target areas are determined, the lead scientist will consult with the NOAA Corps officers to eventually determine where the boat will trawl.  There is an incredible amount of information and data that is being generated to direct the survey.  Each group of people involved bring their own unique skill set to the table, and communication between these groups is essential to the success of the survey.

Once the location for sampling areas has been determined, a series of trawls will be conducted in those areas.  The trawls are done at night to provide the best opportunity to catch the target species which are migrating up in the water column following the plankton species that they feed on.  Since arriving on location we have been able to average 2-3 tows per night.  The Reuben Lasker is equipped with trawl net (13 X 20 meter fishing mouth) with progressively smaller mesh as you move towards the cod end.  The net is deployed behind the boat and fishes from the surface down to a depth of about 13 meters for 45 minutes.  As the net is hauled back the excitement and anticipation about what may be inside grows.  Over the course of the last 3 days we have found 3 of the 4 CPS fish species that are being monitored and market squid. The target fish species that we have seen so far include the Pacific sardine, jack mackerel, and Pacific mackerel.  We have not found northern anchovies yet, but we have seen a variety of other marine organisms (listed below).  Once the haul is collected from the net it is brought into the wet lab to be “worked up.”  Everything that comes up in the net will be weighed and/or measured.  In addition to weight and length measurements, gender is determined and DNA samples and otoliths are collected for the target fish species.

Along with CUFES there is another process in place for collecting plankton using a “bongo net.”  These paired nets are lowered into the water over the starboard side paying out 300 meter of cable before beginning the retrieval process.  Once 300 meters of cable have been released the ship will set a speed to establish a 45O angle in the cable connecting to the bongos.  As ship is underway the nets will be retrieved at of 20 meters/minute.  Once at the surface the nets contents are washed down into a fine mesh collecting bag at the bottom of the net.  This sample is preserved and will be analyzed to gain a better understanding of the planktonic community found in the water column.  The data from the bongo nets is used to help calibrate the acoustics systems.  The sampling protocol for the bongo nets has been well established and consistently followed for a long period of time leading to a reliable data set.  There is also a system in place using a conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) probe for collecting water chemistry data at regular intervals.  The data collected from the various sampling methods is used to help direct the management of CPS in the California Current.

Personal Log:

As we push south down the Oregon coast the science team is settling into a routine and becoming more efficient at processing the hauls.  I feel fortunate to be part of such an eclectic group of people.  The team is made up seven members with a variety of backgrounds and experience, but all sharing the common goal of provide consistent, reliable data that can be used to help protect the ecological integrity of our oceans.  In up-coming posts I hope to be able to provide a brief summary of the individual team members.

Tonight (7/24) will be the fourth set of trawls for this leg.  Despite some of the challenges of switching over to an 8:00 pm to 8 am schedule the teams’ morale is high and everyone on the team is always eager to pitch in and lend a helping hand whenever it is needed.  Although there have been some long shifts and the weather has been pretty rough over the last few days, the people I have met are making this an incredibly rewarding experience.  Please find below a tentative list of common names for some of the species that we have seen since leaving San Francisco…

Taxa list from the net (common names):

 

Pacific sardine                                                        pacific mackerel

jack mackerel                                                           market squid

clubhook squid                                                        hake

northern spearnose poacher                                 pomfret

American shad                                                         ctenophores

blue shark                                                                  lions mane jellyfish

egg yolk jellyfish                                                      pyrosomes

blue lantern fish                                                      steelhead

northern lantern fish                                             chum salmon

California lantern fish                                           pink salmon

Observed from the deck:

humpback whale                                             albatross

Brad Rhew: “What the Hake?!” July 22, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brad Rhew

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 23 – August 7, 2017

 

Mission: Hake Fish Survey and Data Collection

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific Ocean, off of the coast of Oregon

Date: July 22, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Summer is in full swing in my home state of North Carolina. We are averaging temperatures in the mid 80’s-90’s. Most days are very hot and humid. Traveling to Oregon and sailing off the coast will be bringing weather I haven’t experienced since early Spring. I am excited about having the chance to “cool off” for a while before returning to the southern summer temps.

Looking ahead at the forecast for Newport, Oregon where we will be sailing out of, temperatures will average in the 70’s during the day to lower 50’s in the evening/night.

Science and Technology Log

Since we have just officially set sail, the science and technology log will come in future post. On the Shimada, many experiments and forms of data collection will occur to learn more about Hake and the ecosystems they live in. I will be learning everything from what the in internal organs of Hake look like, how acoustics/sound waves are used to determine the location of Hake to how certain microbes in the water affect the marine ecosystem. Be prepared for some exciting news and amazing discoveries!

Introduction

TAS Rhew intro photo

TAS Brad Rhew

My name is Brad Rhew and I am currently a Science Lead teacher at Cook Literacy Model School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

I graduated with my degree in Middle Grades Science and Social Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Before moving into my current role, I was a middle school science teacher. I absolutely LOVED teaching 8th grade science. It was pure enjoyment watching my kiddos get messy in the lab and find their passion for science and learning.

In my current role as a Science Lead Teacher, I work with K-5 teachers planning and executing their science lessons in their classrooms. I also co-teach science lessons in the lab with teachers to help them gain a better understanding of science instruction. This has been a great experience in this role to watch children in kindergarten fall in love with science and then get to foster that passion all the way until they become fifth graders.

I am so excited about my upcoming adventure on the Bell M. Shimada. I know I will experience so many amazing things that I will get to bring back to my classroom. This experience will not only help me in becoming a better educator but will also help me expose my students to even more real-world science concepts.

Did You Know?

On the survey we will be collecting data about Hake fish. Here’s a little bit of information about the type of fish we will be studying.

TAS Rhew hake

Pacific Hake, also known as Pacific Whiting

Hake, also referred to as Pacific Whiting, is normally found off the Pacific coast of the United States. They are typically grey/silver in color with some black speckling. The underside of Hake is a white-cream color. These fish are normally found near the bottom of the ocean since they feed on smaller, bottom-dwelling fish.

These fish normally grow from one to three feet and weigh an average of five pounds. Hake have swim bladders which help them in the changing pressures of the ocean and to be able to navigate between the water columns. In later posts, I will discuss how research scientists in the acoustics lab on the Bell M. Shimada are using these swim batters to locate the fish in the ocean.

Something to Think About                 

You have probably eaten Hake before and didn’t even realize it. Hake is sometimes referred to as “White Fish” on menus. Because Hake is such a great fish for consumption, overfishing of this species is becoming an issue. Many countries and areas are starting to put regulations in place to help with the decreasing of the Hake population. NOAA has also become involved with this movement.

To learn more about NOAA’s involvement with Hake and more about our Summer Hake Survey visit the following website:

http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/fisheries/management/whiting/pacific_whiting.html

 

 

Jenny Hartigan: Tucker Trawl: Collecting Sea Life! July 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 21 – July 28, 2017

 

Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, zooplankton, and water column survey


Geographic Area:
North-central California

 

Date: July 24

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 37.8591° N,

Longitude: 122.4853° W

Time: 0700

Sky: overcast, foggy

Visibility:   less than 1 nautical mile

Wind Direction: NW

Wind speed: 10-20 knots

Sea wave height: 2-4 feet

NW Swell 7-9 feet at 8 seconds

Air Temperature: 52 degrees F

Wind Chill: 34 degrees F

Rainfall: 0mm

 

 

Scientific Log:

On Sunday we encountered heavy fog as soon as we headed out to sea, so the captain sounded the foghorn every 2 minutes. The scientists Jaime, Ryan and Kirsten deployed the Tucker Trawl. It consists of a large net with 3 codends. A codend looks like a small cup that attaches to the end of the net. Each codend collects sea life at a different depth. The Tucker Trawl is always deployed at the edge of the continental shelf. The shelf is about 200 meters below sea level. The goal is to take organism samples from the pelagic (non-coastal or open) ocean. 400 meters of cable are deployed along with the net, so you can see that it goes deep in the ocean!

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The scientists deploying the Tucker Trawl.

Using the Tucker Trawl requires a whole team of people. 3 scientists deploy the net, and the captain operates the winch and A Frame so the net doesn’t hit the deck during the process. The NOAA Corpsman drives the boat so as to maintain alignment and speed. One scientist keeps an eve on the angle of the cable, and communicates with the driver to maintain the proper angle by adjusting speed. After recovering the net, all three samples must be rinsed into a bottle. Too much water pressure can mangle the specimens, so we use a gentle rinse. The bottle is then labeled and treated with fixative to preserve the samples. Then it is stored to later be sent to a lab for identification. I have learned that taking these samples requires a lot of communication, to maintain fidelity to a testable process, utilize equipment wisely, and to ensure safety of all personnel.

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A view from above as the Tucker Trawl goes out to sea.

 

Each offshore transect has one Tucker Trawl site. After that we move to another site and take Hoop net, CTD, Niskin, water, phytoplankton samples. I will explain these later. Sampling all of these sites provides data for the scientists to investigate the entire ecosystem. They collect plankton (producers) from shallow and deep water, observe marine mammals and birds (predators) on the surface, and sample the environmental conditions such as ocean temperature, salinity, nutrients, and ocean acidification indicators. These studies inform decisions for managing a sustainable environment for both sea life and humans.

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Two scientists collecting sea life from the Tucker Trawl.

 

Personal

I want to tell you about the galley. This is the kitchen where we store and prepare our food. We have an oven, stove, microwave, sink and two refrigerators, but everything is compact due to limited space. All of the cabinets and the fridge have latches on them to keep food from flying around when the seas are rough. I have to remind myself to latch the fridge each time I open it. I don’t want to be the person who created a giant smoothie in the kitchen!

 

We eat our meals at the table, which then converts to a bed for sleeping. Every little bit of space is used efficiently here.

 

Did you know?

An albatross is part of the tube-nose family of birds. One of its features is having a tube nose above the nares. Nares are the openings to the nostrils. The birds also have openings at the end of the tubes. This adaptation gives it a keen sense of smell. We saw black-footed albatross, which nests in the Hawaiian Islands, and flies long distances across the ocean to find food in the productive waters of Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. So this albatross has been traveling at sea for a long distance!

 

Animals Seen Today

We spotted a CA sea lion cavorting in the wake of the ship. It looked like it was having so much fun as it leaped and twisted above the waves.

 

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!