Susan Brown: Weather or Not, September 9, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017


Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 7, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2095.92N
Longitude: 08825.06W
Sea wave height: 1.2 m
Wind Speed: 20.3kt
Wind Direction: 50 degrees
Visibility: (how far you can see)
Air Temperature: 025.6 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1018.36 mb
Sky: cloudy

Science and Technology Log

The weather has been a big topic of conversation on this survey and for good reason. The original plan was to fish off the coast of Texas from Brownsville to Galveston. Due to Hurricane Harvey and possible debris in those waters, the survey changed course to sample off the coast of Florida. As we motored east, Irma was building up to a category 5 hurricane.

Captain Dave


Captain Dave has been keeping a keen eye on the weather and after a few days of fishing off the coast of Florida, we headed back toward Pascagoula, Mississippi to pick up a crew member and let another off to tend to his family in Florida which is in the current path of Irma. We have been looking at the various computer modeling showing where Irma will land and this determining our path. Fortunately, a cold front to the west of us is pushing Irma east which will allows to stay out instead of docking and ending the survey early. This cold front is unusual for this time of year according to the Captain. Earlier models showed Hurricane Irma hitting the west side of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico where we are which would end our survey. Now, with the updated weather, we may get to stay out as planned but staying close to Mississippi and then heading West to work off the coast of Texas and Louisiana.

Daily updates and rerouting due to weather

This ship is part of the Ship of Opportunity Program (SOOP). This program enlists ships to collect weather data that is sent to the National Weather Service (a line office of NOAA) every hour. This is the data that supplies information to weather forecasters! Information that is gathered includes wind speed and direction, barometer reading, trend in pressure over the past few hours, as well as wind, wave and swell information. Have you every noticed on TV that the weather reports have a notification that states the data is coming from NOAA? Weather forecasters get weather information from ships out in the ocean like the one I am on.

another beautiful sunset from the top deck

This morning I headed up to the bridge to chat with Captain Dave. Here are some of the questions I asked.

Q: How long have you been a captain?

CD: 9 years

Q: What got you interested in this type of work?

CD:I grew up in Mississippi where you hunt and fish so when I got out of high school I always wanted to work on the water due to my upbringing. We were always taking out the boat to hunt or fish growing up. It’s in my blood.

Q: What is your schooling? What advice would you give someone that is interested in this as a career?

CD: I graduated high school in 1980 and made my living on the water commercial fishing and working on the oil rigs until January 4, 1993. I started as a deck hand and worked my way up to Commanding Officer (CO). I’ve been on the Oregon II 25 years. The hardest thing was taking the test to be a Master.

Captain Dave is a civilian Master which is rare – there are only two in the NOAA fleet. Most NOAA ships are run by NOAA Corps Officers. 

Q: What is the biggest storm you have seen?

CD: East of Miami, Florida in the gulf stream we were seeing 12-15 foot seas. The engine room calls the bridge regarding a busted intake valve. The boat was sinking. The engineers were in knee deep water and were able to find the broken valve and stop the flooding. In another 7 minutes the generator would have been under water and we would have lost power and would be forced to abandon ship in 12-15 foot waves.

Q: Is this weather unusual for this area this time of year?

CD: We never get a NE wind bringing in cooler weather which is probably what is turning Hurricane Irma. Normally it’s blazing hot here with southwest winds at 10 miles. This cold front is the reason we are not going in.

Check out this cool animated site for wind patterns. You can see how the hurricanes impact the flow of air.,-122.121,5

Personal Log

So far the seas have been calm and I keep expecting things to pick up because of all the weather happening around us. Sleeping pretty good with slow rocking of the ship and we will see how I do with some bigger swells. The crew has been super helpful in doling out advice from how keep from getting seasick ranging from eating, drinking and even how best to walk! I’m listening to all this advice and so far so good. I do wonder how much of Hurricane Irma we will feel now that we are heading west a few hundred miles.

The one that got away!
baiting the line with Mackerel
Spinner shark

We have caught a few sharks and I am excited to catch some more. Other critters we have caught were a bunch of eels and a suckerfish. On yesterday’s shift I learned how to tag one of the big sandbar sharks. She was about 6’ long. The night crew caught a 10’ tiger shark! Maybe we will get lucky on today’s shift as I would love to see more sharks and handle some of the smaller ones.


Update: Last night our shift brought in 16 sharpnose sharks so things were busy. These sharks don’t get much bigger than 3 ½ feet. All of the ones we pulled in last night were female. The oceans have gotten a bit rougher with swells 4-5 feet! I have gained a new appreciation for all the rails available along the corridors of the ship and have learned to make sure my door is clicked shut as well as all the cabinets and drawers. Nothing like waking up to drawers slamming open and shut in the middle of the night!

Did You Know?

A Captain of the ship can be ranked as a Captain or a Commander within the NOAA Corps but a civilian does not hold a commissioned rank because they are not in the NOAA Corps and is called a Captain since he holds a Master license gained by taking extensive coursework and an intensive exam through the United States Coast Guard.

Question of the day:

What is the difference between a category 5 hurricane and lesser hurricanes? (hint: check out the link below)






20 Replies to “Susan Brown: Weather or Not, September 9, 2017”

  1. Are you allowed to go on deck at night and check things out? Can you help out? How big is the net for hauling up big sharks? Were you the one with the Remora on your arm? If so, how did it feel? How hard is it to sleep on board? Is there a lot of noise? Is the rocking too much?

    1. You have many questions Diego! We go out on the deck at night all the time : ) It’s nice. The one place I haven’t been is the very front of the ship due to the waves but when things settle down I may stroll out there for a picture. I am part of the science team so I am collecting data, entering data, cleaning…just like the scientist on board to help complete this leg of the shark survey. The suckerfish was on another volunteers arm but I touched the surface the attaches to the shark and it feels slimy. Sleeping is not a problem — it’s like sleeping in a rocking hammock. The cradle is 10 long and about 4 feet wide.

    1. A barracuda is a bony fish. While sharks and bonyfish are fish, sharks have skeletons made of cartilage instead of bones.

    1. Something big bent that hook! We even had a station where 30 of the lines were bitten off. We can only guess but best bet is a bull shark. The hammerhead was amazing. Actually all the sharks are amazing and STRONG!

  2. Can you do a time lapse where you walk around and show us the whole boat please? That would be amazing! Who’s your best friend on board the ship? Have you seen any other ships rocking on the waves, or are you the only one?

    1. I will try and share once I am back in the classroom. The crew is amazing answering all your questions and my questions. We have some some large cargo ships out on the waters with us as well as some private smaller vessels when we were closer in shore earlier on in the trip when we were close to the coast of Florida.

  3. Diego: On the video where you were stringing lines onto the long line, it looks like you clip a bunch of strings with hooks atached and let them fall down the line, but what keeps them from jumbling up in one section because all the weight? How do you keep them equally apart? Or is my hypothesis of how you do it wrong?
    How do you know if a shark is on the line? Hope you are well!!!

    1. There is one long line that is let out across one nautical mile. The 100 gangions are spaced apart on that one mile of line and weighted down in three places. The boatswain/fishermen space them out. We don’t know if there is a shark on the line until we pull it up an hour later. I will try and take a video of the haul up so you can see the retrieval of the line.

  4. Diego: Is it common for sharks to die of fright when they get caught on the long line, or does it never happen? If so, and you’ve seen it, what do you do with their corpses?

    1. They do not die of fright. Some sharks are not as strong and have to swim continuously so once they get hooked and can’t swim anymore they can die. If the shark does die, they are used for research or outreach.

    1. My favorite part is seeing the large sharks being hauled up and getting a chance to touch them before they are tagged and released.

    1. some sharks will rest on the bottom and some sharks have to keep swimming at all times. they probably sleep in short bursts while swimming.

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