NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 24 – August 11, 2018
Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: August 9, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 60º28.02 N
Longitude: 175º25.19 W
Wind Speed: 8.77 knots
Wind Direction: 236.54º (SW)
Air Temperature: 8.8º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1010.7 mb
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 feet
Visibility: less than 1 nautical mile
I had a chance to interview the chief scientist aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, Taina Honkalehto, and ask her about her career path to working at NOAA as well as recommendations she has for anyone interested in an ocean career.
Taina knew that she wanted to pursue a career in science ever since she was a child as she has always been interested in the outdoors and collecting and observing things. During college, she took an oceanography course as a junior and knew she wanted to work with the ocean. Her college advisor recommended that if she wanted to pursue science she needed to do a field program. As a junior, she was able to secure participation at a marine lab in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which inspired her choice to go to graduate school and study invertebrate zoology.
At NOAA, Taina really enjoys her colleagues and the field work, which includes the pollock counting work she is currently doing on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. She feels that her work at NOAA is an opportunity to contribute to the preservation of our planet. Additionally, she enjoys doing outreach at NOAA and talking to people about her work and answering questions about the ocean. Often, discussions with the public involve balancing what they have heard about fisheries and overfishing in the news versus the reality and experiences Taina has had in the field counting pollock in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
The advice that Taina has for those wanting to work for NOAA is to get an internship. Students can find internship opportunities through the NOAA website and there are avenues into NOAA experience for students at the middle and high school level as well as college students. These internships are a great way to get hands-on experience (as I can attest!) and some of them are even paid if students apply for the Hollings scholarship. Taina also recommends reading some of the following books to get an idea about what it is like on a field placement: “The Log from the Sea of Cortez” by John Steinbeck, “Moby Duck” by Donovan Hohn, and “Cod” by Mark Kurlansky.
The wet lab aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is where most of the action happens during my shift. When a haul comes in, we are responsible for processing the catch and obtaining the needed measurements so that the MACE team can put together their report on the health of the pollock population. The catch is released from the trawling net onto a hydraulic table that can be dumped onto a conveyor belt. The first job to be done is to sort the catch, where all species that are not adult pollock are separated out.
The next task is to measure the length of a subsample of about 300 of the adult pollock in the catch. This helps the NOAA scientists to create histograms of pollock lengths to compare between hauls. Finally, about 30 pollock are separated to measure length, weight and to determine gender and maturity and another 30 have length and weight measured, otoliths taken, and ovaries weighed and collected if the pollock is a spawning female. During my shift, there are six of us in the fish lab and we are working like a well-oiled machine!
Today we are starting the long transit back to Dutch Harbor. It is bittersweet since I feel like we have a nice routine down in the fish lab and I finally feel used to the motions of the ship. However, I am grateful for this opportunity and for all the great people that I have gotten to know during my time on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Also, we finally saw some blue sky again and a rainbow even came out for a moment!
Did You Know?
The NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson was launched on October 17, 2003. It is named after Alaskan fisherman Oscar Dyson and there is a smaller boat on board named after his wife, Peggy Dyson.