Ashley Cosme: Medusa and Loggerheads, and Sharks, OH MY! August 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 19th, 2018

Weather: The weather in Crown Point, IN is 80 degrees and sunny!

 

Introduction:

According to Greek mythology, coral first originated in the Red Sea.  The story has been told that after Perseus, a Greek hero, beheaded Medusa, he set her head down on a clump of seaweed to wash his hands.  The blood from Medusa’s head soaked into the seaweed forming what we know today as coral. Ironically, coral polyps contain tentacles reminiscent of the snakes consuming Medusa’s head.  I am lucky enough to have my own piece of Coral.  Three and half years ago my husband and I had our first child and named her Coral.  The only aspect of Coral’s life that is even a slight resemblance of Medusa is her crazy curly hair!   As we know, coral in the ocean is a beautiful animal that houses thousands of marine organisms.  Similarly, my daughter has an enormous heart for living creatures, and her curiosity for the natural world inspires me every day.

We also have a son named Kai.  In Hawaiian, Kai means ‘the sea’, and in Japanese one of its meanings is ‘ocean.’  I love watching Kai grow daily, and learn new ways to survive having Coral as his big sister. Although I will have to say a heartbreaking temporary goodbye to Coral and Kai, I will be embarking on a journey of a lifetime.  My expedition starts in Pascagoula, Mississippi on August 31st aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, where I will participate in a shark/red snapper longline survey in the Gulf of Mexico.

CoCo and Kai

Coral (CoCo) and Kai on the 4th of July 2018

NOAA Vessel

NOAA Ship Oregon II (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

I have always been fascinated by the water.  Growing up near Lake Michigan, family trips consisted of going to the beach and searching for “seashells” along the shore.  My passion for the ocean also began during my childhood, which was sparked by my interest in turtles.  I was a captivated 15 year old when I saw a sea turtle for the first time as I snorkeled on a patch reef near Key Largo.  The speed at which the juvenile loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) glided through the water was astonishing.  I was fortunate to capture a few pictures of the critically threatened animal as it sped by, which was then painted onto a beautiful canvas by a dear friend of mine.

That moment inspired and motivated me to study the ocean, and I went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL. During my time at Eckerd College, I had the opportunity to intern for the University of Florida’s Cape San Blas sea turtle surveying program.  It was during this internship that I had my first indirect encounter with a shark.  Well, not really an actual shark, but Yolanda, a nesting loggerhead sea turtle.  I first met Yolanda in the summer of 2004.  She was a healthy adult sea turtle and a regular nester on Cape San Blas, as her tag had been recorded since the 90’s on the exact same beach that I first saw her.  What I have failed to mention is that she had an enormous shark bite through her carapace and plastron just above her right rear flipper.  Remarkably, the shark missed all major organs and the bite had healed completely into a perfect mandible mold.  Besides Yolanda’s shark bite, and small reef sharks that I’ve seen diving, I never thought I would experience an up close meeting with a shark.  For two weeks straight I will be assisting NOAA scientists with catching and tagging a variety of different species of sharks.

leatherback

I stumbled upon on this endangered nesting leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriaceaone) one morning on Juno Beach, FL.

I am most excited for the impact that the Teacher at Sea adventure will have on me personally, and as an educator at Crown Point High School.  I hope to take what I learn while aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II and aide my students in better hypothesis-generation, experimental testing, and presentation skills to cultivate major changes in their approach to scientific research.  Ultimately, I can’t wait to share my experience with the Crown Point community, and continue to create an atmosphere where kids are excited about learning science!

Martha Loizeaux: Sea You Later!, August 18, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martha Loizeaux

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 22 – August 31, 2018

 

Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 18, 2018

 

Welcome

Hello from the Florida Keys!   I am so excited to be embarking on my Teacher at Sea excursion in just 4 days.  I will be joining the crew aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter to participate in a Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey in the Northeast Atlantic, departing from Rhode Island and returning to port in Virginia.  I am looking forward to working side by side with NOAA scientists, sharing knowledge with my students, and having the experience of a lifetime!

My students at Ocean Studies Charter School are prepared to follow me along on my journey via this blog and our online classroom.  They have even practiced their own Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey of the Hardwood Hammock forest surrounding our school!

I hope you’ll join us in this adventure and check back here for more blog posts in a few days!

20517

The view from my kayak as I lead Ocean Studies Charter School students on a seagrass investigation.

 

Weather Data from the NOAA weather station at Molasses Reef in the Florida Keys

Molasses buoy

The NOAA weather station at Molasses Reef off of Key Largo. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

  • Latitude: 25.130 N
  • Longitude: 80.406 W
  • Water Temperature: 85.6◦F
  • Wind Speed: 11 knots
  • Wind Direction: ESE
  • Air Temperature: 84.4◦F
  • Atmospheric Pressure: 30.13 in
  • Sky: Partly Cloudy

 

Science and Technology Log

 I am very much looking forward to participating in the Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.  At Ocean Studies Charter School, we do projects to monitor the seagrass, mangrove, and coral reef ecosystems each year while out in the field.  It will be interesting to see how NOAA scientists conduct these surveys; what tools and equipment they use, what animals and plants they will find, and what aspects of water quality they will measure.

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

The ecosystem we will be monitoring on the mission is called the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (NES LME).  You can just call it the “Northeast Shelf.”  This ecosystem spans the coast and out to sea from North Carolina up to Maine.  Scientists want to know a lot about this part of the ocean because it is very important for something we love to do here in the Keys:  FISHING.  Fishing is fun, but it’s also the way that many people in our country get their food and make money to live.  Fishing is a major industry along the east coast, so the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem is considered a very important natural resource that we need to protect.

Northeast Shelf Ecosystem

A map of the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem. Image courtesy of NOAA.

How can scientists understand and protect this resource?  It starts with Ecosystem Monitoring.

An ecosystem is a place where living things and non-living things work together like a big machine.  Each part of the machine, both living and non-living, is important for the whole system to work.  For example, in an ocean ecosystem, every type fish is needed for the food web to function.  Clean water and plenty of sunlight is needed for the ocean plants and phytoplankton to be healthy.  The ocean plants are needed for the invertebrates that the fish eat… and the cycle continues!  In order for scientists to understand the fish that are important to us, they need to understand EVERY piece of the ecosystem since it is all connected.  That’s why we will be measuring lots of different things on our mission!

ocean ecosystem

An ocean ecosystem has many important parts and pieces. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Monitoring means “observing and checking something over a period of time”.  NOAA scientists observe, measure, and check on this ecosystem 6-7 times per year.  Monitoring an ecosystem lets people know WHAT is going on within the ecosystem.  Scientists can use this information to research WHY things are happening the way they are.  Then, they can use modeling to find out WHAT might happen in the future.  This helps the government make decisions about our precious resources and make plans for the future to keep our oceans healthy and our fish populations strong.

Rosette deployment

There are many types of tools scientists use to monitor ecosystems. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

On our mission, scientists will collect plankton, invertebrates, and fish with special nets to count and measure them.  They will look and listen for marine mammals and sea birds.  They will take measurements of the water such as temperature, salinity (amount of salt), nutrient levels, and ocean acidification.  These measurements will help them understand the quality of water and changes of the climate in this area.  What other aspects of the ecosystem do you think are important to measure?

Bongo net deployment

Special nets are used to collect and study plankton. Photo courtesy of NOAA

I can’t wait to see how we will take all of these measurements and what we will see out there!

 

Personal Log

I am proud to call myself the Marine Science Teacher at Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier, Florida Keys.  We are a small public charter elementary school, focused on the surrounding marine environment and place-based learning.  I teach science to all grades (K-5) and lead our weekly field labs.  I even drive the school bus!  We use the term “field labs” instead of “field trips” to highlight that we are not simply visiting a place.  We are using the outdoors as our learning laboratory, working on projects, collecting data, and partnering with local organizations on our excursions.  We study the local habitats of the shallow seagrass beds, mangrove forests, and coral reefs that we are so lucky to have in our backyard.

students at beach

Taking students to the beach to study shallow water ecosystems.

Upon my return from my Teacher at Sea mission, we will be hosting the grand opening of our new Marine Discovery Laboratory in the center of our school!  After teaching marine science in an outdoor classroom for the past 7 years, I am excited for the opportunities that our state-of-the-art indoor lab will bring (no more visits from the local iguanas)!

Lionfish

Learning about lionfish in the lab.

My students impress and amaze me every day with their ideas and discoveries.  I have watched them create and present model ecosystems, examine hurricane protection ideas by studying animal survival, and help scientists tag sharks to learn more about their populations.  At the start of this new school year, I cannot wait to see what ideas they will come up with next!

Everglades

Leading students on a tour of Everglades National Park.

Students fishing

Sustainable fishing with students in the field.

It will be hard to be away from my family, especially my two awesome sons, ages 6 and 9.  I hope they enjoy following along with Mom’s blog and that they are inspired by my experience!

I originally hail from New Hampshire but have lived in Florida for all my adult life.  Prior to teaching, I worked on boats as an environmental educator and earned my captain’s license along the way.  I have been a SCUBA instructor, marine aquarist, and guide for summer travel adventure camps.  As a teacher, I have been lucky enough to also participate in “Teacher Under the Sea” through Florida International University.  In this program, I assisted scientists under the ocean at the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory right here in the Florida Keys.  Throughout my life, I have loved the ocean.  One day, I hope to sail out to sea and travel the world on my own boat.

diving

Diving outside the Aquarius Undersea Lab during “Teacher Under the Sea”.

But for now, I’m not sure exactly what to expect in terms of living aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.  I look forward to sharing adventures and stories of life at sea!  Stay tuned to this blog and check for my updates in a few days.  Sea you soon!

 

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter was named after an American marine biologist and fisheries scientist who was considered a pioneer in the field of fisheries ecology.

The ship was originally built in 1989 as the U.S. Naval Ship Relentless and was transferred to NOAA in 1993.

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

 

Word of the Day

 Ichthyoplankton – The planktonic (drifting) eggs and larvae of fish.

When scientists tow for plankton, studying the icthyoplankton helps them understand fish populations.

Fish Egg

An example of icthyoplankton. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

 

Tom Savage: What is Life Like aboard the Fairweather? August 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  64   42.8 N
Longitude – 171  16.8  W
Air temperature: 6.2 C
Dry bulb   6.2 C
Wet bulb  6.1 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1000.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 4 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm

 

Personal Log

I was asked yesterday by one of my students what life is like aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather?  So I thought I would dedicate this entry to address this and some of the other commonly asked questions from my students.

Life on board the ship is best described as a working village and everyone on board has many specific jobs to ensure the success of its mission; check my “Meet the Crew” blog.  The ship operates in a twenty four hour schedule with the officers rotating shifts and responsibilities. When the ship is collecting ocean floor data, the hydrographers will work rotating shifts 24 hours a day. With so much happening at once on a working research vessel, prevention of incidents is priority which leads to the ship’s success. A safety department head meeting is held daily by the XO (executive officer of the ship) to review any safety issues.

During times when the weather is not conducive for data collection, special training sessions are held. For instance, a few days ago, the officers conducted man over board drills.  Here, NOAA Officers practice navigating the ship and coordinating with deck hands to successfully rescue the victim; in this case it’s the ship’s mascot, “Oscar.”

(Fun fact:  at sea, ships use signal flags to communicate messages back and forth [obviously, this was more prevalent before the advent of radio].  For example:  the “A” or “Alpha” flag means divers are working under the surface; the “B” or “Bravo” flag means I am taking on dangerous cargo [i.e. fueling]; and the “O” flag means I have a man overboard.  The phonetic name for “O” is, you guessed it, “Oscar” … hence the name.  You can read about other messages here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_maritime_signal_flags).

Precision and speed is the goal and it is not easy when the officer is maneuvering 1,591 tons of steel;  the best time was 6:24. This takes a lot skill, practice and the ability to communicate effectively to the many crew members on the bridge, stern (back of boat), and the breezeways on both port and starboard sides of the ship.  Navigating the ship becomes even more challenging when fog rolls in as the officers rely on their navigation instruments. Training can also come in the form of good entertainment. With expired rescue flares and smoke grenades, the whole crew practiced firing flares and activating the smoke canisters.  These devices are used to send distress signals in the event of a major ship emergency. I had the opportunity of firing one of the flares !

 

Flares

Practicing the release of emergency smoke canisters ~ photo by Tom Savage

 

What are the working conditions like on board? 

At sea, the working environment constantly changes due to the weather and the current state of the seas. Being flexible and adaptive is important and jobs and tasks for the day often change Yesterday, we experienced the first rough day at sea with wave heights close to ten feet.  Walking up a flight of stairs takes a bit more dexterity and getting used to.  At times the floor beneath will become not trustworthy, and the walls become your support in preventing accidents.

NavigatingFog

View from the Bridge in fog. ~ photo by Tom Savage

 

Where do you sleep? 

Each crew member is assigned a stateroom and some are shared quarters. Each stateroom has the comforts from home a bed, desk, head (bathroom & shower) sink and a port hole (window) in most cases. The most challenging component of sleeping is sunlight, it does not set until 11:30 pm. No worries, the “port holes” have a metal plate that can be lowered. It is definitely interesting looking through the window when the seas are rough and watching the waves spin by.  Seabirds will occasionally fly by late at night and I wonder why are they so far out to sea ?

Stateroom

My stateroom – photo by Tom

Generally, when sharing a stateroom,  roommates will have different working shifts.

Meals are served in the galley and it is amazing! It is prepared daily by our Chief Steward Tyrone; he worked for the Navy for 20 years and comes with a lot of skills and talents !  When asking the crew what they enjoy the most on board the ship, a lot of them mention the great food and not having to cook.

Fairweather's Galley

Fairweather’s Galley ~ photo by Tom

 

Are there any activities? 

Keeping in good physical shape aboard any vessel out at sea is important. The Fairweather has a gym that can be used 24 hours a day. The gym has treadmills, elliptical, weights and a stair climber.

ExerciseRoom

The exercise room – photo by Tom

 

There is the lounge where movies are shown in the evening. Interestingly, the seats glide with the motions of the waves. Meetings are also held here daily, mostly safety briefings.

The lounge

The lounge

 

What are the working hours like?

During any cruise with NOAA, there is always things that come up that were not planned, staff and schedules are adjusted accordingly. On this leg of the trip during our transit back to Kodiak Island, we stopped by Nome, Alaska, to pick up a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab PMEL office.  One of their research buoys separated from its mooring and went adrift in the Bering Sea (it drifted over 100 miles before we were able to catch up to it.  The Fairweather was dispatched to collect and store the buoy aboard, after which it will eventually be returned to PMEL’s lab in Seattle Washington.

 

Buoy Retrieval

Retrieval of NOAA’s PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Lab) buoy. photo by NOAA

 

The place with the most noise is definitely the engine room.  Here, two sixteen piston engines built by General Motors powers the ship;  the same engine power in one train engine ! It is extremely difficult to navigate in the engine room as there is so many valves, pipes, pumps, switches and wires.  Did I mention that it is very warm in the room; according to the chief engineer, Tommy, to maintain a healthy engine is to ensure that the engine is constantly warm even during times when the ship is docked.

Tom in Engine Room

Navigating the engine room …… I did not push any buttons, promise! Photo by Kyle

 

Until next time,  happy sailing !

~ Tom

Roy Moffitt: Bring in the Bongos, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 16, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening August 16 – Due west of Barrow, Alaska within sight of the coast

Air temp 35F, sea depth  40m , surface sea water temp 41

 

Bring in the Bongos

Bongo Nets ready for deployment

Bongo Nets ready for deployment

In a previous blog I showed the Methot net that catches very small (1-5cm) fish. However, if we want to catch sea life even smaller, we bring in something called a “bongo net.”  The bongo nets have very small openings–the larger nets are 500 micron (1/2 a millimeter) and the smaller nets are 150 micron.   In the picture below, you will see the back tail fin of the Healy with the bongo nets suspended from the hydraulic A-frame.  The A-frame supports a system of pulleys that are used to deploy and retrieve equipment (such as nets and moorings).

 

 

 

 

bongo canister

Organisms caught in the bongo net are washed down into this canister attached at the end.

The net looks and feels more like a tough nylon fabric, however, the water freely flows through the opening trapping the tiny organisms of the sea.  These organisms are pushed into the canister at the end of the net as shown in the picture on the right. While most of them are pushed into the canisters, many are stuck on the side of the net in a sticky goop.   The gelatin like goop is sprayed off the net with seawater by using a hose.  The process takes just a few minutes. Since I was the net holder and stretcher I got little wet!

 

 

Copepods in a Jar

Copepods in a Jar

The main organisms that we caught today were copepods. They are shown in the jar appearing pink.  Copepods are small crustaceans only 1-2mm in size that drift in the sea and feed on phytoplankton. Copepods are an important bottom of the food chain member of the ecosystem and serve as prey for fish, whales, and seabirds.

 

 

 

Flowmeter

Flowmeter suspended at the top of a bongo net

On the front of each net there is a flow meter as shown in the picture. It looks like a little torpedo with a propeller.  When the net trawls behind the ship, water flows through the net.  The amount of water that passes through the net can be calculated.  Using this calculation and the amount of organisms in the net, scientists can calculate the density of living microorganisms at a certain heights in the water column.  With annual samples scientists will be able to determine any changes over time including changes to the overall health of the regional ecosystem.  Today’s samples will also be sent out to a lab for further analysis.

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

Today I had unique experience– listening to wildlife.  This was a highlight.  Marine mammal acoustic scientists, Katherine Berchok and Stephanie Grassia, released an acoustic buoy this afternoon.  On top of the ship they put up an antennae and listened in for whales and walrus.  They were able to hear the constant underwater chatter between walruses.   As I wore the headphones and listened in, I was in awe at the grumbles and the ping sounds the animals were making back and forth underwater.  While we don’t know what the walrus were communicating back and forth to each other, to eavesdrop on these conversations, miles away, in real-time, was a pretty special experience.

 

Now and Looking forward

We did not see any ice today. I am looking forward to getting out of the fog and rain and returning back to the ice in the coming days.

Roy Moffitt: Life on a LEGO, August 14-15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 14-15, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening August 15 – North- Northwest of Wainwright, Alaska

Air temp 35F, sea depth  47m , surface sea water temp 32.2F

 

Life on a LEGO

The LEGO is a nickname given to the large green plastic pallet-like mooring. Their retrieval from the sea floor is pictured here.  This equipment was retrieved after being deployed for a year on the sea floor in about 40 meters of water.  The mooring is called a DAFT (Direction Acoustic Fish Tracker).  On the DAFT there are instruments that measure ocean temperature, salinity, and pressure.  The primary instrument is an echo sounder that records any schools of fish that may pass overhead.

Lego Retrieval

Retrieval of the “Lego,” a large plastic mooring that has spent the past year collecting data at the ocean bottom

What the DAFT was not designed to do, but does well, is catch sea life. The fiberglass pallet has 1 1/2″ square holes in it that allow water to pass through on retrieval and it also catches sea life as if it were a net. Yesterday we pulled two of these “Legos” from the sea and they were covered with marine life. The most remarkable sight were the large blue king crabs, (around half dozen on one pallet). Here I am holding one of the bigger ones– such awesome looking creatures!

Roy and crab

TAS Roy Moffitt holding a blue king crab

On the smaller size, we found a hermit crab (shown here hiding in a shell).

Hermit Crab

Hermit Crab

Also on board were many sea stars. Most were the Brittle Stars. This is the picture of the sea star with the small legs. I think they are called the Brittle Stars because when I tried to gently remove them from the mooring, sadly their legs kept breaking off. There were dozens of these on the mooring.

Sun Star

Sun Star

There was another sea star with nine legs. It was very pretty and looks like a drawing of the sun. Not surprising, I found out this one is called the “Sun Star.”

Some not-so-pretty items on the moorings I like to call “mooring acne” are called tunicates. These are filter feeders and come in many different forms.

The one on my hand looks like a giant pimple and when you try to take it off the mooring it squirts you in the face. Not surprisingly this tunicate is called the “Sea Squirt.”

 

Think about it…

All of the life on the Lego mooring was sent back to the sea to hopefully find a new home.  The Lego pallet mooring mentioned above is not large, about 4 ft by 6ft.  The mooring in this story was only in the ocean one year and became the home of the above mentioned marine animals – crabs, sea stars, tunicates, and also thousands of barnacles!  One tiny piece of the sea floor contained all this life! Imagine how rich in life the entire unseen ecosystem is in the Chukchi Sea!

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

For the last two days, I saw several walruses. Pictured below is one that popped up by a piece of ice.   Teaser – look for a future blog focusing on walrus and their habitat.

Walrus by ice

A walrus pops its head up above water near a piece of ice

 

Now and Looking forward

We are now seeing small bands of pack ice and individual pieces of ice called “growlers”.   Sea ice has not interrupted science operations, as of today. There is plenty of open water so far. We should see ice of different concentrations for the rest of the trip as we continue to head north.  Look for future pictures and some of the science on sea ice coming soon. For now here are a couple pictures from August 15.

Growlers in fog

“Growlers” – the view looking from the deck of USCGC Healy down into the fog

Walrus broken ice

Another view of the walrus, swimming near broken up ice

 

Anne Krauss: All at Sea (But Learning Quickly), August 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 14, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 0030

Latitude: 25° 22.6’ N

Longitude: 84° 03.6’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1017.4 mb

Air Temperature: 28.8° C

Wind Speed: 9.1 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

For the first few days, we steamed, or traveled, to our first station. Each station is a research location where several activities will take place:

  1. Preparing and setting out the longline gear.
  2. Letting the line soak (fish on the bottom) for one hour while other tasks are performed.
  3. Deploying a CTD (Conductivity Temperature Salinity) to collect samples and information about the water.
  4. Hauling back the longline gear.
  5. Recording data from the longline set and haulback.
  6. Collecting measurements and samples from anything caught on the longline.
  7. Depending on what is caught: attaching tags and releasing the animal back into the water (sharks) or collecting requested samples for further study (bony fish).

This is a very simplified summary of the various activities, and I’ll explore some of the steps in further detail in other posts.

During these operations and in between tasks, scientists and crew are very busy. As I watched and participated, the highly organized, well-coordinated flurry of activity on deck was an incredible demonstration of verbs (action words): clean, rinse, prepare, gather, tie, hook, set, haul, calibrate, operate, hoist, deploy, retrieve, cut, measure, weigh, tag, count, record, release, communicate

Last night, I witnessed and participated in my first longline station. I baited 100 hooks with mackerel. I recorded set and haulback data on the computer as the gear was deployed (set) and hauled back in (haulback). I attached 100 numbered tags to the longline gangions (attached to the hooks). I recorded measurements and other data about SHARKS!

We caught, measured, sampled, tagged, and released four sharks last night: a silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, and tiger shark! I’ve never seen any of these species, or types, in person. Seeing the first shark burst onto the deck was a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life!

A sandbar shark being measured with a measuring tape in a rope sling.

A sandbar shark being measured on the cradle or sling used for measuring larger, heavier sharks.

Sometimes, we didn’t catch any fish, but we did bring up a small piece of coral, brittle sea stars, and a crinoid. All three are marine animals, so I was excited to see them in person.

In between stations, there was some downtime to prepare for the next one. One of my favorite moments was watching the GoPro camera footage from the CTD. A camera is attached to the device as it sinks down through the depths to the bottom and back up to the surface again. The camera allowed me to visually ‘dive along’ as it collected water samples and data about the water temperature, salinity, pressure, and other information. Even though I watch ocean documentaries frequently and am used to seeing underwater footage on a screen, this was extremely exciting because the intriguing ecosystem on the screen was just below my feet!

Personal Log

Perhaps it is sea lore and superstition, but so far, the journey has been peppered with fortuitous omens. One of my ocean-loving former students and her Disney-bound family just happened to be on my flight to Orlando. Yes, it’s a small world after all. Her work samples were featured in our published case study, reminding me of the importance and impact of ocean literacy education. Very early the next morning, NASA’s promising Parker Solar Probe thunderously left the Sunshine State, hurtling toward the sun. New York’s state motto: Excelsior. Later that morning, a rainbow appeared shortly before the Oregon II left Port Canaveral. Although an old weather proverb states: “rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning,” we’ve had very pleasant weather, and I chose to interpret it as a reassuring sign. Sailing on the Oregon II as a Teacher at Sea is certainly my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

 

According to seafaring superstition, women on board, whistling, and bananas are supposed to be bad luck on a boat. On the Oregon II, folks do not seem to put much stock into these old beliefs since I’ve encountered all three aboard the ship and still feel very lucky to be here.

A fruit basket and a bunch of bananas

The rest of the fruit seems to think that bananas are bad luck…the crew doesn’t!

In another small-world coincidence, two of the volunteers on the Second Leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey recently graduated from SUNY Potsdam, my undergrad alma mater. What drew us from the North Country of New York to Southern waters? A collective love of sharks.

These small-world coincidences seemed indicate that I was on the right path. Out on the ocean, however, the watery world seems anything but small. The blue vastness and unseen depths fill me with excitement and curiosity, and I cannot wait to learn more. For the next two weeks, the Oregon II will be my floating classroom. Instead of teaching, I am here to learn.

As a fourth generation teacher, education is in my blood. One great-grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in 1894. My other great-grandmother was also a teacher and a Potsdam alumna (Class of 1892). As we traverse the Atlantic Ocean, I wonder what my academic ancestors would think of their great-granddaughter following in their footsteps…whilst studying sharks and snapper at sea. Salt water equally runs through my veins.

 

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As we steamed, or traveled, to our first station (research location), I wondered about the unfamiliar waters and equipment around me. Before I could indulge my questions about marine life, however, I first needed to focus on the mundane: daily life at sea. In many ways, I was reminded of the first day at a new school. It was junior high all over again, minus the braces and bad bangs. At first, those long-forgotten new school worries resurfaced: What if I get lost? Where is my locker (or, in this case, my stateroom)? What if I forget my schedule? What if I have to sit by myself at lunch? To combat these thoughts, I draw upon a variety of previous travel and life experiences: studying abroad, backpacking, camping, meeting new friends, volunteering, working with a marine science colleague, and sailing on other vessels. Combined, those experiences provided me with the skills to successfully navigate this one.

The Atlantic Ocean and a high flyer buoy

The Atlantic Ocean and a high flyer buoy

I’ve spent the first few days getting acquainted with the layout, personnel, safety rules, and routines of the Oregon II. My students wondered about some of the same aspects of life at sea.

Where do I sleep on the ship?

The staterooms remind me of a floating college dorm, only much quieter. I’m sharing a small stateroom with Kristin Hannan, a scientist. We are on opposite work shifts, so one of us is sleeping while the other is working. I am assigned to the day shift (noon to midnight) while she is assigned to the night shift (midnight to noon). Inside the stateroom, we have berths (similar to bunk beds), a sink, and large metal storage cabinets that are used like a closet or dresser. Space is limited on the ship, so it must be used efficiently and sometimes creatively.

A view of water, a pier, and a pulley

The view as we leave Port Canaveral.

Do you know anyone else on the ship?

No, but I’m meeting lots of new people. They have been welcoming, offering interesting information and helpful reminders and pointers. Those first-day-of-school jitters are fading quickly. I didn’t get lost, but I got a bit turned around at first, trying to figure out which deck I needed for the galley (like the ship’s cafeteria), where we eat our meals. And I only had to eat lunch by myself once. On the first day at sea, I made a PB & J sandwich. Eating that, I felt like a kid again (only without my lunchbox), but it was nice to be at a point in my life where I’m confident enough to be all by myself and feel a bit out of place. That’s how you learn and grow. Everything is new to me right now, but with time, it’ll start to make sense. Pretty soon, the equipment and unfamiliar routines will start to feel more familiar. Hopefully, the sharks will like me.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to approximately 200 orcas (scientific name: Orcinus orca, also known as killer whales).

Recommended Reading 

As an introduction to biographies in grades 4 and up, I recommend Women and the Sea and Ruth! written and illustrated by Richard J. King, with additional text by Elysa R. Engelman. Ruth and her stuffed shark explore a maritime history museum, learning about the important roles women have held at sea. Inspired by female sea captains, explorers, and naturalists, Ruth imagines herself in the photographs and paintings, part of an actual exhibit in the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. For more information about the intrepid women featured in the book, brief biographical information is provided at the end. Ruth would no doubt be impressed with the seafaring women (and men) aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.

A children's book about women at sea

Women and the Sea and Ruth! written and illustrated by Richard J. King, with additional text by Elysa R. Engelman; published by Mystic Seaport (2004)

Tom Savage: The Physical Geography of the Aleutian Islands, August 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  68   38.8 N
Longitude – 166  23.8  W
Air temperature: 10 C
Dry bulb   10 C
Wet bulb  8.9 C
Visibility: 8 Nautical Miles   (8.8 miles)
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1007  millibars
Cloud Height: 2 K feet
Waves: 6 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:51 pm

Physical Geography of Aleutian Islands

The Aleutian Islands are a product of a subduction zone between the North American and the Pacific Plate and known as the Aleutian Arc. Along this boundary, the Pacific Plate is being subducted underneath the North American Plate due to the difference in density.  As a result, the plate heats up, melts and forms volcanoes.  In this case the islands are classified as volcanic arcs.  As a result of this collision, along the boundary the Aleutian Trench was formed and the deepest section measures 25,663 ft!  For comparison purposes, the deepest point in the ocean is located in the Mariana’s Trench at 36,070 feet (6.8 miles)! Through the use of radioisotopic dating of basalt rocks throughout the Aleutians, geologists have concluded the formation of the island chain occurred 35 million years ago. (USGS). Today, there are 14 volcanic islands and an additional 55 smaller islands making up the island chain.

ConvergentBoundary

The Aleutian Islands – yellow line indicates subduction boundary (Courtesy of US Geologic Survey)

On the map above, the Aleutian Islands appear small. However, they extend an area of 6,821 sq mi and extend out to 1,200 miles!  In comparison, North Carolina from the westernmost point to the Outer Banks is 560 miles, half of the Aleutian Islands.  It takes roughly ten hours to drive from Murphy NC (western NC)  to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Since this region of the North American plate and the Pacific Plate are both oceanic plates, Island Arcs are formed.  This is the same classification as the Bahamas, located southeast of Florida.

North American and Pacific Plates

Convergence of North American and Pacific Plates – Image courtesy of US Geologic Survey

 

Oceanic-OceanicPlate

Convergence of two Oceanic Plate – Image courtesy of US Geologic Survey

The image above depicts a cross section of the geological forces that shaped the Aleutian Islands.  As the two plates collide, the oceanic crust is subducted under the lithosphere further offshore thus generating the island arcs.  Unlike the west coasts of Washington, Oregon and California,  there is an oceanic/continental collision of plates resulting in the formation of volcanoes further on the continental crust, hundreds of miles inland.  Examples are Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helen’s which erupted in 1980.

Alpine Glaciers are prevalent throughout the mountainous region of Alaska. What about the Aleutians Islands? Today there are a few small alpine glaciers existing on Aleutian Islands. Alpine glacier on the Attu Island is one example, which is the western most island.

 

Personal Log 

One truth about being at sea is don’t trust the wall, floor or ceiling. Sometimes, the wall will become the floor or the ceiling will become the wall 🙂 Lately, the seas have become this ongoing amusement park ride.  Although the weather has been a bit rough, data collection continues with the ship.  The weather outside is more reflective of fall and winter back in North Carolina, though we have not seen any snow flakes.  After surfing the waves yesterday while collecting data, today the hydrographers are processing data collected over the past few days.

Yesterday was whale day!  Early afternoon, humpbacks were spotted from the port side of the ship (left side).   As the afternoon went on, humpbacks were spotted all around the Fairweather, at distances of 0.5 miles to 5 miles.  Humpbacks are considered the “Clowns of the Seas” according to many marine biologists.  Identifying whales can be tricky especially if they are distances greater than a few miles. Humpbacks are famous for breaching the water and putting on a show,  Yesterday we did not witness this behavior, however they were showing off their beautiful flukes.

Humpback whale fluke

Humpback whale fluke, photo courtesy of NOAA

 

Question of the Day:    Which whale species, when surfacing, generates a v shape blow?

Until next time, happy sailing!
Tom