Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Nurse Sharks, Tiger Sharks, and Sandbars, Oh My, September 27, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – 30, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 27, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2840.20N

Longitude: 8439.79W

Sea Wave Height: 0m

Wind Speed: 2.2 knots

Wind Direction: 39.04 degrees

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 30.045

Sky: 75% cloud cover

 

Science and Technology Log

We have moved from the coast of Texas, past Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, to the coast of Florida.  When watching the video from the CTD, we have seen the sea floors go from mostly mud to sand.  The water has decreased in turbidity, and the growth on the sea floor has increased.  The make-up of our catches has changed too.  We moved outside of the productive waters associated with the Mississippi River discharge, so our catch rates have decreased significantly.

Yesterday, we had a fun day of catching sharks I had never seen.  Our first catch of the day brought up a juvenile Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier).  I was excited to be able to see this shark, which is listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  On our later catch, we brought up three sharks large enough to require the cradle.  First, we brought up a Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus).  Then, we were lucky enough to bring up a Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum).  The mouth of the nurse shark has barbles, which it uses to feed from the sea floor.  Our final shark of the evening was a much more developed Tiger Shark.  I was lucky enough to help with the tagging of the animal.

juvenile Tiger Shark

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald with a juvenile Tiger Shark

Nurse Shark

Closeup of a Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark release

Nurse Shark release

Last night, we set a line at the end of day shift, and night shift brought it in.  A few of the day shift science team members decided to stay up and watch some of the haul back, and were rewarded with seeing them bring in, not one, but two Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis), back to back.  From the upper deck of the ship, so that I was not in their way, I was able to observe the night shift work together to bring up these two large animals.

Silky Shark

Night Shift retrieving a Silky Shark

The night shift has gotten some pretty amazing catches, and they have enjoyed sharing them with us at shift change.  The two shifts spend about half an hour together around noon and midnight sharing stories of the time when the other shift was asleep.  The other day, the night shift caught Gulper Sharks (Centrophorus uyato) and Tile Fish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps).  These are two species we have not seen on the day shift, so it was fun to look at their pictures and hear the stories of how they caught these fish.

Gulper Shark

Gulper Shark Photo Credit: Gregg Lawrence

tilefish

Tilefish Photo Credit: Gregg Lawrence

 

Personal Log

When we have a long run between stations, once I have gotten done sending emails and grading student work, we will spend some time watching movies in the lounge.  The ship has a large collection of movies, both classic and recent.  Watching movies keeps us awake during the late night runs, when we have to stay up until midnight to set a line.

The day shift has started to ask one another riddles as we are baiting and setting lines.  It’s a fun way to bond as we are doing our work.  One of my favorites have been: “1=3, 2=3, 3=5, 4=4, 5=4, 6=3, 7=5, 8=5, 9=4, 10=3.  What’s the code?”

Did You Know?

Sharks don’t have the same type of skin that we do.  Sharks have dermal denticles, which are tiny scales, similar to teeth, which are covered with enamel.

Quote of the Day

Teach all men to fish, but first teach all men to be fair. Take less, give more. Give more of yourself, take less from the world. Nobody owes you anything, you owe the world everything.

~Suzy Kassem

Question of the Day

I have a lot of teeth but I’m not a cog
I scare a lot of people but I’m not a spider
I have a fin but I’m not a boat
I’m found in the ocean but I’m not a buoy
I sometimes have a hammerhead but I don’t hit nails

What am I?

Martha Loizeaux: Sea You Soon, August 30, 2018


Stephen Kade: the Art of the High Seas, September 21, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: September 21, 2018

Thresher by Kade

Watercolor painting of Thresher shark, Stephen Kade TAS 2018

 

Scientific Journal: 

While aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II, I was able to create some art, which is my absolute passion in life. I was able use my time before and after most shifts to draw and paint the fish and sharks with watercolor paint and water from the ocean. It was tricky to paint with the constant movement of the ship, but I was able to paint over 20 paintings of sharks, fish, and the Oregon II over the 16 days on board the ship.

watercolor paintings

various watercolor paintings done aboard Oregon II, by Stephen Kade, TAS 2018

Now that I’ve been home for a month, I’ve had some time to reflect on my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. If I told you my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience was incredible, I would be understating it quite a bit. I knew the excitement of working on the mighty NOAA Ship Oregon II and participating in the shark survey would be a highlight of my lifetime for sure. The opportunity to work with NOAA scientists, fishermen, and the rest of the crew was the best learning experience a teacher and artist could ask for. But just a week after returning, it was back to school and I needed to find ways to convey what I learned to my students. I began by creating a digital infographic about Longline Fishing so they would have a visual to go along with my explanation.

Longline Fishing infographic

Digital Longline Fishing infographic by Stephen Kade, TAS 2018

 

I wanted to inform my students to create awareness about the species of shark and other ocean inhabitants that are threatened and endangered. I also wanted them to learn science about the animals and incorporate some of that data into their art to make their images more impactful to those that see them. We want to compile related projects together until later in the year for our annual Night of the Arts- NOAA Edition.

Student Art

Student Art from OL Smith Middle School, Dearborn, MI

Student Art

Student Art from OL Smith Middle School, Dearborn, MI

We also created three life size Art Shark paintings and posted them in the hallways of our school to advocate for sharks through art and work to give sharks a more positive community image, and not the sensational, fearful media portrayal of sharks.

Student Art - Sand Tiger Shark

Student Art from OL Smith Middle School, Dearborn, MI

Sandbar Shark

Student Art from OL Smith Middle School, Dearborn, MI

painting of Great Hammerhead shark

3′ x 8′ painting of Great Hammerhead shark, Stephen Kade TAS 2018

As a fine artist painter, the Teacher At Sea experience has helped to make my artwork much more accurate for several reasons. Primarily the reason was proximity. I was able to see the sharks and fish first hand everyday, and take many reference photos of our catch each day. I could now see the beautiful colors of different sharks while out of the water, which I never had seen before. I was also able to speak to the fishermen and scientists each day about the behaviors and biology of the fish and I gained insight from listening to their vast experiences in the oceans all around the globe.

Since being home, I’ve begun to paint a series of scientifically accurate side views of my favorite sharks, and eventually I will digitally compile them into one poster after I get 15 to 18 completed. After that, I’ll begin a series of paintings with sharks swimming in their natural environment to bring more color and visual dynamics onto the canvas. This has been the most inspiring adventure of my life, and I will continue to advocate for my favorite ocean animals by using art to bring the respect and admiration that these beautiful sharks deserve to continue to thrive long into Earth’s distant future.

Kade_hammerhead

Watercolor painting of Great Hammerhead Shark by Stephen Kade, TAS 2018

Great White Shark

Watercolor painting of Great White Shark by Stephen Kade, TAS 2018

Anne Krauss: The Reel Whirl’d, September 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

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

Date: August 26, 2018

Weather Data from the Air

Conditions at 0634

Altitude: 9585 meters

Outside Temperature: -38 ℃

Distance to Destination: 362 km

Tail Wind: 0 km/h

Ground Speed: 837 km/h

(While NOAA Ship Oregon II has many capabilities, flight isn’t one of them. These were the conditions on my flight home.)

Science and Technology Log

The idea of placing an elementary school teacher on a Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey seems like a reality show premise, and I couldn’t believe that it was my surreal reality. Several times a day, I took a moment to appreciate my surroundings and the amazing opportunity to get so close to my favorite creatures: sharks!

Anyone who knows me is aware of my obsession with sharks. Seeing several sharks up close was a hallowed, reverential experience. Reading about sharks, studying them through coursework, and seeing them on TV or in an aquarium is one thing. Being only a few feet away from a large tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) or a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is quite another. Seeing the sharks briefly out of the water provided a quick glimpse of their sinewy, efficient design…truly a natural work of art. Regardless of size, shape, or species, the sharks were powerful, feisty, and awe-inspiring. The diversity in design is what makes sharks so fascinating!

A tiger shark at the surface.

Even just a quick peek of this tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) reveals her strong muscles and powerful, flexible design.

A large tiger shark lies on a support framework made from reinforced netting. The shark and the structure are being lifted out of the water.

This female tiger shark was large enough to require the shark cradle. The reinforced netting on the cradle provided support for the 10.5 foot shark.

The snout and eye of a sandbar shark being secured on a netted shark cradle.

The shape of this sandbar shark’s (Carcharhinus plumbeus) head and eye is quite different from the tiger shark’s distinct design.

A great hammerhead's cephalofoil.

Even in the dark, the shape of the great hammerhead’s (Sphyrna mokarran) cephalofoil is unmistakable.

I envied the remora, or sharksucker, that was attached to one of the sharks we caught. Imagine being able to observe what the shark had been doing, prior to encountering the bait on our longline fishing gear. What did the shark and its passenger think of their strange encounter with us? Where would the shark swim off to once it was released back into the water? If only sharks could talk. I had many questions about how the tagging process impacts sharks. As we started catching and tagging sharks, I couldn’t help but think of a twist on the opening of MTV’s The Real World: “…To find out what happens…when sharks stop being polite…and start getting reeled.

Sadly for my curiosity, sharks have yet to acquire the ability to communicate verbally, despite their many advantageous adaptations over millions of years. To catch a glimpse of their actions in their watery world, scientists sometimes attach cameras to their fins or enlist the help of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to learn more. The secret lives of sharks… reality TV at its finest.

Underwater camera footage is beginning to reveal the answers to many of the questions my Kindergarten-5th grade students have about sharks:

How deep can sharks swim?

How big can sharks get? How old can sharks get?

Do sharks sleep? Do sharks stop swimming when they sleep? Can sharks ever stop swimming? 

Do sharks have friends? Do sharks hunt cooperatively or alone?

Is the megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) still swimming around down there? (This is a very common question among kids!)

The answers vary by species, but an individual shark can reveal quite a bit of information about shark biology and behavior. Tagging sharks can provide insight about migratory patterns and population distribution. This information can help us to better understand, manage, and protect shark populations.

Various tools are spread out and used to weigh (scale), collect samples (scissors and vials), remove hooks (pliers, plus other instruments not pictured), apply tags (leather punch, piercing implement, and tags), and record data (clipboard and data sheet).

These tools are used to weigh (scales on bottom right), collect samples (scissors and vials), remove hooks (pliers, plus other instruments not pictured), apply tags (leather punch, piercing implement, and tags), and record data (clipboard and data sheet).

Using several low-tech methods, a great deal of information could be gleaned from our very brief encounters with the sharks we caught and released. In a very short amount of time, the following information was collected and recorded:

• hook number (which of the 100 longline circle hooks the shark was caught on)
• genus and species name (we recorded scientific and common names)
• four measurements on various points of the shark’s body (sometimes lasers were used on the larger sharks)
• weight (if it was possible to weigh the shark: this was harder to do with the larger, heavier sharks)
• whether the shark was male or female, noting observations about its maturity (if male)
• fin clip samples (for genetic information)
• photographs of the shark (we also filmed the process with a GoPro camera that was mounted to a scientist’s hardhat)
• applying a tag on or near the shark’s first dorsal fin; the tag number was carefully recorded on the data sheet
• additional comments about the shark

Finally, the hook was removed from the shark’s mouth, and the shark was released back into the water (we watched carefully to make sure it swam off successfully)!

A metal tag is marked with the number eight. This is one of 100 used in longline fishing.

Longline fishing uses 100 numbered hooks. When a fish is caught, it’s important to record the hook number it was caught on.

Two kinds of shark tags: plastic swivel tags used for smaller sharks and dart tags used for larger sharks.

Depending on the shark’s size, we either attached a swivel tag (on left and middle, sometimes called a Rototag or fin tag; used for smaller sharks) or a dart tag (on right, sometimes called an “M” tag; used for larger sharks).

For more information on shark tagging: https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/nefsc/Narragansett/sharks/tagging.html 

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Other fish were retained for scientific samples. Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus), blueline tilefish (Caulolatilus microps), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) were some of species we caught and sampled. Specific samples from specific species were requested from various organizations. Generally, we collected five different samples:

• fin clips: provide genetic information
• liver: provides information about the health of the fish, such as the presence of toxins
• muscle tissue: can also provide information about the health of the fish
• gonads: provide information about reproduction
• otoliths: These bony structures are found in the inner ear. Similar to tree rings, counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths can help scientists estimate the age of the fish.

A yellowedge grouper on a table surrounded by sampling equipment.

Samples were taken from this yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus).

Samples were preserved and stored in vials, jars, and plastic sample bags, including a Whirl-Pak. These bags and containers were carefully numbered and labeled, corresponding with the information on the data sheets. Other information was noted about the fish, including maturity and stomach contents. Sometimes, photos were taken to further document the fish.

 

Personal Log

Thinking of the Oregon II as my floating classroom, I looked for analogous activities that mirrored my elementary students’ school day. Many key parts of the elementary school day could be found on board.

A 24-hour analog clock.

Sometimes, my students struggle to tell the time with analog clocks. The ship uses military time, so this 24-hour clock would probably cause some perplexed looks at first! We usually ate dinner between 1700-1800.

Weights, an exercise bike, resistance bands, and yoga mats.

Physical Education: Fitness equipment could be found in three locations on the ship.

A dinner plate filled with cooked vegetables.

Health: To stay energized for the twelve-hour shifts, it was important to get enough sleep, make healthy food choices, and stay hydrated. With lots of exercise, fresh air, and plenty of water, protein, and vegetables, I felt amazing. To sample some local flavors, I tried a different hot sauce or Southern-style seasoning at every meal.

A metal first aid cabinet.

There wasn’t a nurse’s office, but first aid and trained medical personnel were available if needed.

With my young readers and writers in mind, I applied my literacy lens to many of the ship’s activities. Literacy was the thread that ran through many of our daily tasks, and literacy was the cornerstone of every career on board. Several ship personnel described the written exams they’d taken to advance in their chosen careers. Reading and writing were used in everything from the recipes and daily menu prepared by Second Cook Arlene Beahm and Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill in the galley to the navigation logs maintained by Ensign Chelsea Parrish on the ship’s bridge.

A clipboard shows the daily menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The menu changed every day. You could also make your own salad, sandwiches, and snacks. If you had to work through mealtime, you could ‘save-a-meal,’ and write down your food choices to eat later. This was kind of like indicating your lunch choice at school. Instead of a cafeteria, food was prepared and cooked in the ship’s galley.

Shelves of books in the ship's library.

Library: The ship had a small library on board. To pass the time, many people enjoyed reading. (And for my students who live vicariously through YouTube: that sign at the bottom does say, ‘No YouTube’! Computers were available in the lab, but streaming wasn’t allowed.)

I often start the school year off with some lessons on reading and following directions. In the school setting, this is done to establish routines and expectations, as well as independence. On the ship, reading and following directions was essential for safety! Throughout the Oregon II, I encountered lots of printed information and many safety signs. Some of the signs included pictures, but many of them did not. This made me think of my readers who rely on pictures for comprehension. Some important safety information was shared verbally during our training and safety drills, but some of it could only be accessed through reading.

A collage of safety-related signs on the ship. Some have pictures, while others do not.

Without a visual aid, the reader must rely on the printed words. In this environment, skipping words, misreading words, or misunderstanding the meaning of the text could result in unsafe conditions.

A watertight door with a handle pointing to 'open'.

On a watertight door, for example, overlooking the opposite meanings of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could have very serious consequences.

A watertight door with a handle pointing to 'closed'.

Not being able to read the sign or the words ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could result in a scary situation.

 

Did You Know?

Thomas Jefferson collected fossils and owned a megalodon tooth. The Carcharocles megalodon tooth was found in South Carolina. One of the reasons why Jefferson supported expeditions to lands west of the Mississippi? He believed that a herd of mammoths might still be roaming there. Jefferson didn’t believe that animal species could go extinct, so he probably liked the idea that the megalodon was still swimming around somewhere! (There’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that either Thomas Jefferson or the megalodon are still around.)

Recommended Reading

If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams

This picture book acknowledges the scariness of sharks, but explains that a world without sharks would be even scarier. Shown through the eyes of a curious young girl and her family, the book highlights the important role that sharks play in the ocean food web. As apex predators, sharks help to keep the ocean healthy and balanced.

The book includes some mind-blowing facts, such as the concept that sharks existed on Earth before trees. Through easy-to-follow examples of cause and effect, the author and illustrator explores complex, sophisticated concepts such as overfishing, extinction, and trophic cascade. The glossary includes well-selected words that are important to know and understand about the environment. Additional information is provided about shark finning and ways to help save sharks. An author’s note, bibliography, and additional sources are also included.

The cover of a children's book about the important role that sharks fill in the ocean food web.

If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams; Published by Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2017

 

Andria Keene: Awaiting Anchors Aweigh! September 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Andria Keene

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

October 8 – 22, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Fall Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 26, 2018

 

Weather Data for Tampa, Fl: 

Latitude: 27º56’38”N
Longitude: 82º30’12”W
Temperature: 33º Partly Cloudy
Winds Speed: S 4.34 knots
20% chance of rain

 

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

-Jacques Cousteau

first SCUBA gear

My first SCUBA gear! Age 3

My love for all things related to the ocean started at a very early age and grew into a passion by the time I graduated high school. As a young Floridian, exploring the beaches, boating through the intercoastal waterways, and visiting the Miami SeaQuarium were my way of life. When I was in elementary school, my family moved to Virginia and even though we spent the next ten years trading seahorses for Tennessee Walking horses, I still watched every rerun of Flipper and waited with anticipation for each Jacques Cousteau TV special. Then, when I was in high school, my grandparents moved from New Jersey to the Florida Keys and I was reunited once again with the beautiful underwater world that brought me such fascination. We spent our summers snorkeling, sailing, and fishing. In the evenings, we drove around searching for the elusive Key Deer. When we visited the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital, I was shocked to learn that my beloved ocean was facing some serious threats.

Andria Age 5

Enjoying a day at the beach! Age 5

 

As I entered college, my interest transformed from a hobby to a lifestyle. I earned my first SCUBA certification, participated in my first coastal clean-up, and volunteered for restoration projects and turtle walks. I signed up for every life science course I could find. In my senior year at Stetson University, I registered for a class before I even knew what the title meant. Ornithology, with Dr. Stock. I found myself canoeing through alligator-infested waterways to investigate snowy egret rookeries, hiking through the forest at 5am to identify birds by only their calls, and conducting a post-mortem investigation on one of his road-kill specimens to determine its cause of death. Dr. Stock’s class was so different than anything I had experienced. I was in my element. I found myself constantly wanting to learn more. Not just about the organisms around me, but about how to fix the negative impacts we have on their environment. As I learned, I became motivated to teach others about what they could do to make a difference. My passion for teaching was born.

It is hard to believe that I have been teaching science in Hillsborough County for almost twenty years and that approximately 3,000 students have filled the chairs of my classroom. Years ago, I realized that even though we are located in west-central Florida, many of my students have little involvement with the ocean or our local beaches. I decided to change that fact by extending my classroom outside of my four walls.  In true Dr. Stock fashion, I attempt to bring the ocean to life for my students through field trips, restoration projects, and guest speakers. With the help of some amazing organizations like the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Bay Watch, and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, we have participated in many activities to help us learn about the ocean and about how to remedy our impacts.

 

 

We also love to get out in nature and explore the splendor that awaits us. In the pictures below, students from Plant High enjoy a day at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center where we participated in fishing and kayaking clinics and learned about protecting our local estuarine species.

Plant High students

A day of adventure focused on the importance of our beautiful estuaries!

As I head out for two weeks on NOAA Ship Oregon II, I am leaving my classroom and students behind but I know that the value of what I will bring back to them far outweighs the short time I will be away. I hope through my experience my students will see that you are never too old to learn something new and that even the teacher can improve her knowledge.

I am eager to develop first-hand experience with the technology and research methods currently being used to study the ocean. I look forward to meeting the scientists and the crew of my ship and learning about all of the career opportunities that are available to my students through NOAA. I am ready to turn my NOAA education into lessons that will benefit my students and infuse my curriculum with new life.

I cannot wait to see the beautiful sunsets over the gulf and maybe I’ll even catch a few sunrises. I am hoping for the occasional visit from a whale, a dolphin, or a sea turtle. Who knows? Maybe I will even get a chance to see a few of my favorite ornithological species!

Counting down … 12 days to go.

Fair Winds! 

Today’s Shout Out: To Mr. Johnny Bush (Plant High School Principal), Mr. Larry Plank (SDHC Director of STEM), and Mr. Dan McFarland (SDHC Science Supervisor) for all of their support in making this trip possible for me.

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Flotsam and Jetsam, September 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – 30, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 23, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 3006.07N

Longitude: 08741.32W

Sea Wave Height: 1m

Wind Speed: 8.64 knots

Wind Direction: 199.7

Visibility: 7 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 27.6

Sky: 95% cloud cover

 

Science and Technology Log

Over the past few days, we’ve fished a mix of station depths, so I’ve gotten to see a number of new species as we’ve moved out into deeper waters.

At a C station, which is a station at depths between 183 and 366 meters, we caught a Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus).  This catch was so unexpected that a number of crew members ventured out to the well deck to snap a picture.  She was a beautiful juvenile between 1-2 years old.

Kristin and Mako Shark

Our current NOAA Teacher at Sea, Kristin Hennessy-McDonald is all smiles when grabbing this quick picture before releasing the female Mako shark. [Photo Credit: Ensign Chelsea Parrish, NOAA]

juvenile female mako shark

Juvenile Female Mako Shark

I also saw my first kingsnake eel, a long eel with a set of very sharp teeth.  On a later station, we caught a juvenile that we were able to bring on deck and examine.  We also caught a Warsaw grouper (Hyporthodus nigritus), which had parasites on its gills and in its fins.  Gregg Lawrence, a member of the night shift on loan from Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries unit, and I removed the otoliths and took samples of the parasites.

Warsaw Grouper

Measuring the Warsaw Grouper [Photo Credit: Gregg Lawrence]

 

image3

Dissecting a Warsaw Grouper

We had one catch that brought in 20 Red Snappers.  Red Snappers are brought on deck, and a number of samples are taken from each one of them for ongoing assessment of the Red Snapper population.  In addition to the otoliths, which allow the scientists to determine the age of the fish, we also take samples of the gonads, the muscle, the fins, and the stomach.  These allow the scientists to perform reproductive and genetic tests and determine what the snappers ate.  While 4 members of the science team onboard collected samples, Caroline Collatos, the volunteer on the day shift, and I insured that the samples were properly packaged and tagged.  Everyone working together allowed the process to run smoothly.

On the latest B station, which was about 110 meters deep, we caught a number of species, some of which I had not gotten to see yet.  In addition to Gulf smoothound sharks (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), we caught a Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) and a Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) that we had to cradle due to their size.  The Sandbar shark was a bit feisty, but I got the chance to tag her before we released her.

Gulf smoothound shark

Gulf smoothound shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus)

Scalloped hammerhead

Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini)

Sandbar shark

Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)

We work in the rain.  Thankfully, they had some extra rain gear for me to put on, so that I would not get drenched while we were setting the line.  For the most part, the rainstorms have been sprinkles, but we did have one downpour while we were going toward a station.

rain gear

We work in the rain, so I was loaned some rain gear.

 

Personal Log

Between setting lines, I have been busy checking up on my studenats’ work back in Memphis.  One of the great things about having a one-to-one school is that the students are able to do their work on Microsoft Teams and turn it in for me to grade it thousands of miles away.  I have loved seeing their how they are doing, and answering questions while they are working, because I know that they are learning about the cell cycle while I am out at sea learning about sharks.

One of the things that has really surprised me over the past week is how much my hands hurt.  It was unexpected, but it makes sense, given how much of the work requires good grip strength.  From insuring that the sharks are handled properly to clipping numbers on the gangions to removing circle hooks from fish on the lines, much of the work on the science team requires much more thumb strength than I had thought about.  I know my students have commented that their hands hurt after taking notes in my class, so I thought they would get a kick out of the fact that the work on the ship has made my hands hurt.

Did You Know?

Sharks are able to sense electrical fields generated by their prey through a network of sensory organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini.  These special pores are filled with a conductive jelly composed primarily of proteins, which send the signals to nerve fibers at the base of the pore.

Quote of the Day

Remove the predators, and the whole ecosystem begins to crash like a house of cards. As the sharks disappear, the predator prey balance dramatically shifts, and the health of our oceans declines.

~Brian Skerry

Question of the Day

How many bones do sharks have in their bodies?

Mark Van Arsdale: Modeling the Ocean, September 24, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 24, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

30 knot easterly winds, rain, waves to eight feet

60.20 N, 147.57 W (Prince William Sound)

 

Science Log 

Modeling the Ocean

During the last two weeks, scientists aboard the Tiglax will have done over 60 CTD casts, 60 zooplankton tows, measured over one thousand jellies caught Methot Net tows, and collected hundreds of water and chlorophyll samples. What happens with all of this data when we get back?   The short answer is a lot more work. Samples have to be analyzed, plankton have to be counted and measured, DNA analysis work has to be done, and cohesive images of temperature, salinity, and nutrients have to be stitched together from the five different transects.

Preparing for another CTD cast. More than 60 CTD casts were made during our cruise.

Preparing for another CTD cast. More than 60 CTD casts were made during our cruise.

Much of this data will eventually be entered into a computer model.  I’ve spent a great deal of time talking with one of the scientists on aboard about how models can be used to answer essential scientific questions about how the Gulf of Alaska works.  Take Neocalanus, the copepods we collected yesterday, for example.  A scientist could ask the question, what factors determine a good versus bad year for Neocalanus?  Or what are the downstream effects on a copepod species of an anomalous warming event like “the blob” of 2014-2015? A model allows you to make predictions based on certain parameters. You can run numerous scenarios, all with different possible variables, in very short periods of time. A model won’t ever predict the future, but it can help a scientist understand the “rules” that govern how the system works.  But a model is only as good as its baseline assumptions, and those assumptions require the collection of real world data.  A computer doesn’t know how fast Neocalanus grows under optimal or sub-optimal conditions unless you tell it, and to tell it, a scientist has to first measure it.

The fishing industry is a billion-dollar piece of the Alaskan economy.  The ocean is getting warmer and more acidic.  Food webs are shifting, and the abundance and distribution of the species we depend upon are changing as a result.  Using models may allow us to better predict what sustainable levels of fish catches will be as conditions in the Gulf of Alaska change.

I also asked the scientists on board about the future of oceanography in light of the advancements in autonomous unmanned vehicles.  Do you still need to send people out to sea when sending a Slocum Glider or Saildrone can collect data much cheaper than a ship filled with twenty scientists?  The answer I got was, “No, at best these technologies will enhance but not replace what we do at sea.  There will always be a place for direct scientific observations.”  We still need oceanographers at sea.

In twenty-one years of teaching I have had lots students go on to be doctors, PA’s, nurses, micro-biologists, geneticists, and a variety of other scientific occupations, but no oceanographers.  I guess I still have some work to do.

Personal Log

The Weather Finally Gets Us

We have had a few showers, bits of wind and waves, but the weather has been remarkably good for a cruise through the North Gulf of Alaska in late September.  This morning, during the night shift the winds started to blow, it started to rain, and the waves came up. When I went to bed around six AM, the wind was blowing thirty knots, and when I woke up at eleven, it was pushing up some pretty rough seas.  Things got really crazy after lunch.  The winds were being channeled right down Night Island Passage and all work was put to a stop.  I retired to my bunk to read, unable to even go outside and take look.  They eventually battened down the hatches; and we changed course to go hide in a bay sheltered from the wind. (Yes, they really do say batten down the hatches.)

By dinner time decisions were made to not work for the night.  It looked better where we were, but the stations we needed to sample were exposed to winds that were still blowing.  No zooplankton sampling for the night meant that it was time to start washing, disassembling, and drying nets.  We used seventeen different nets to sample zooplankton during the course of this trip and all of them needed to be washed and cared for before they got packed up.

Plankton nets hanging to dry (oceanographer laundry.)

Plankton nets hanging to dry (oceanographer laundry.)

Tomorrow we will begin the journey home with two stations un-sampled.  The storm kept us from getting to the last stations, and another storm is just a few days away. Once the decision was made, I think we were all relieved to be heading in.  Doing oceanography is hard work, and being away from lives, work, and family for such extended periods of time is tough.  Some of the scientists on board have spent as much as six or eight weeks at sea this year.  Having been out here for two weeks, I now understand what commitment that takes.

Unless something really interesting happens tomorrow, this will be my last blog.  This trip has been personally challenging, but a rich experience, and I believe it will be formative to my teaching.  I have learned a great deal about oceanography in general, and the Gulf of Alaska in particular.  The Gulf of Alaska is a magical place.  There is life almost everywhere you look.  More than anything I will leave with a deep impression of the dedication that scientists give to the accuracy and integrity of their work.

[Postscript:  Zooplankton and jelly work was done, so I was able to spend the entire last day on the flying bridge.  There was a good amount of swell from the previous day’s storm, but the sun and scenery made it an enjoyable trip back to Seward.  As we left Prince William Sound we were greeted by an abundance of seabirds that had been blown into the Sound by the weather.  On that day, we documented almost as many species as the rest of the trip combined.  We also got to watch a large group of orcas patrolling the area around Danger Island at the entrance to the Sound.  We made our way back to GAK1.  If the weather allows, GAK1 is always sampled at the beginning and ending of any trip.  The weather was beautiful, Bear Glacier and the entrance to Resurrection Bay was alive with color, and I was going home.  It was a great day.]

Views of the southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula as we traveled from Prince William Sound back to Seward.

Views of the southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula as we traveled from Prince William Sound back to Seward.

Animals seen today

  • Sea otters
  • Fewer birds today, bald eagles, kittiwakes, gulls