NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard R/V Sikuliaq
June 29 – July 18, 2019
Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 17, 2019
For the love of jellies
Jellyfish (or jellies, since they’re not technically fish) are one of the “delights” of recovering instruments from the sea. Often, the CTD returned to the surface covered in brown slimy tentacles, as did the sediment traps on occasion, which needed careful removal. For most of us, the jellies were more of a nuisance, but for Heidi Mendoza Islas, the jellies are love.
Heidi was on the night shift, which I didn’t get to spend as much time with as I would have liked, and her research was based on nightly Methot net drops and subsequent jelly inventories. The Methot net is a 10-meter long net on a square metal frame (roughly 5 meters per side). The net is dragged off the side of the ship for 20 minutes and then recovered. Led by Dr. Ken Coyle, Heidi and the night shift team of Caitlin, Delaney and Adriana then counted the jellies, recorded their type and their volume by type. One night, Heidi’s jelly count reached nearly 900! In the brief time I did spend with the team, I saw Heidi’s passion for jellies in her eyes and heard it in her voice as she lovingly explained the different types they had caught, often exclaiming, “Isn’t it beautiful?” Indeed, watching them swim next to the ship on our calmest days, they were.
What do you want kids to learn from your research?
Heidi: I would like to let people know that there are a ton of jellies out there in the ocean. They are very resilient to changes in the environment such as warmer temperatures, higher salinities, and low levels of oxygen, so this can allow them to easily scale up on the food chain and they might take advantage over other species like larval fish. As part of my research, I would like to determine if any correlations exist among jellyfish biomass, the environmental variables, and the early life stages of pollock.
This Was Not A Drill:
As on any ship, safety at sea is a top priority. Early on in the voyage, Artie Levine, the Third Mate, gave us a safety briefing that included learning how to handle a fire extinguisher as well as how to put on our immersion suits and find our muster stations (gathering places) in case of emergency. We were warned at that point that a drill would occur later in the trip. Kira (my roommate) and I studied the information card on the back of our stateroom door that listed the signals for various emergencies just so we’d be prepared. It’s a testament to how seriously everyone took the safety briefing that when the ship first started sounding fog signals a couple of nights later, many of us popped our heads out of our rooms, ready to muster!
Near the end of the second week, we were indeed drilled, although we were kindly given advance warning on the message board in the mess hall. In any type of emergency, each member of the science team is required to retrieve their immersion suits and PFDs from their rooms and report to their muster stations. In addition, you must have a hat (watch cap or trucker hat) and clothing with long sleeves. In order to reduce the stress of the event, the announcement of the drill is preceded by the statement, “This is a drill” repeated several times.
My exit from the ship was a little earlier than planned, but provided both the land and ship crew with essentially a live drill practice. I woke up the morning of July 12th and found that I was experiencing severe vertigo from rolling over too quickly in bed overnight. Needless to say, it’s pretty miserable when it happens on a moving ship! Artie Levine, the Third Mate, and Christoph Gabaldo, the Chief Mate, came to take care of me and moved me to the infirmary. After my symptoms had calmed down some, it was decided that, since we were about an hour out of Seward by small boat, and that the ship was scheduled to move on to the Kodiak Line, that it would be best to bring me ashore. Artie took me in the next morning on the ship’s rescue boat. Pete, having some work he needed to do ashore, plus being a genuinely nice guy, came with me as well. Ed DeCastro, the Port Captain, met us at the dock, took me to get checked out and then found a place for me to stay. In talking to Ed, the ship and land crews do go over procedures for evacuation in theory, and they were actually grateful to be able to practice the procedures in reality without having a serious situation on their hands. I am grateful that they are prepared for any emergency, because I was taken care of very well. Thank you, Artie, Christoph and Ed, for you compassion and your professionalism!
I got on the ship not really knowing what to expect. Everything was pretty new to me, from being in Alaska, to the research, to being on a big ship. Despite my early exit, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the chance to meet a great group of people who really are unsung heroes for the research they are doing. Whether they were adding data to years of previous research or developing new ways to track changes in the ecosystem, they are on the front lines of climate change research. It was a privilege to be aboard the R/V Sikuliaq with them. Speaking of…the R/V Sikuliaq is an amazing ship with capabilities I only began to learn about. Thank you to Eric, our captain, for answering my questions about dynamic positioning and Z-drives. My respect also goes out to the crew as well for being professional in all regards and unfailingly helpful, from launching and recovering all of our nets and traps, to fixing stuck closets and to cooking 5-star meals.
The ship is is back out now, with some of the same science team on board. To them, and to the TAS who are out or yet to go, I wish you fair winds and calm seas!
Some memorable moments:
- Clay conducting the music in his headphones while doing fluorescence testing
- Heidi exclaiming, “Another beautiful girl!” whenever she found a female copepod
- The food…it was 5-star at every meal! Doug’s midnight chocolate chip cookies were stellar
- The night shift’s tales of how they stayed awake
- Cribbage with Pete, Seth and Ana
- Lunchtime talks with crew members Jim and Arnel
- The “Grunden Girls” (Kate and Kira) on Calvet duty
- Pete’s buoys disappearing…and then reappearing (not that we had any doubt)
- Steffi and the “Loch Ness monster” (the sediment trap)
- Questions of the day
- Dan’s mealtime reports on the sea life he saw that day
- The nightly run-down with Kira
- The rowing machine!