Gail Tang: EngiNEAR, EngiFAR, Wherever You Are, July 6, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gail Tang

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

June 29 – July 17, 2023

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (HICEAS)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaiian archipelago

Date: July 6, 2023

Quick update!

The mission was set to depart June 28, but I have been living on NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette in port on Ford Island since June 29. Just like the service industry, the maritime industry has suffered major staffing shortages post-pandemic. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fleet has several ships that are in need of crew members. NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette is no exception as we are in need of a Chief Engineer to fill in while the permanent one is on leave. To my students who are reading this, check out some opportunities available for you!

Ship Structure

To provide some context, I’ll give a very brief overview of the departments needed to run NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette. Getting this research vessel underway is a gargantuan task that involves the teamwork of several different departments: NOAA Corps, Stewards, Deck, Engineering, Survey, Medical, Electronic Technician and Scientists.

NOAA Corps  Along with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Space Force, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service, NOAA Corps is one of the uniformed services. Commanding Officer (CO) Fionna Matheson leads the whole ship. Her NOAA Corps team consists of the Executive Officer (XO), Operations Officers (Ops), and Junior Officers (JOs). (There are a lot of acronyms!)

Stewards  Many of you know the importance of food to me culturally, historically, and culinarily, so you can guess that the steward department is my favorite one aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette! Christopher Williams, Chief Steward (Chief Stew), works with Denzil Simons, Chief Cook, to help me put on some extra pounds on board. The food is so delicious on board. I’ve heard it’s the best of the fleet. See my Food Log at the end of the blog for more details.

Deck  The Deck Department is led by Chris Kaanaana (Boatswain – many call him “Boats”). He works with the deck hands, Lead Fisherman, Able-Bodied Seafarers (AB), and General Vessel Assistants (GVA).

Engineering  The Engineering department is led by a Chief Engineer. With our permanent Chief and First Assistant Engineer both out right now, Third Assistant Engineer Jason Dlugos is the lead while we are in port. He’s assisted by another Third Engineer, a QMED and a Wiper. They work to make sure the ship’s engines and machinery run! 

Survey  The Survey Team is led by Nich Sucher. Normally, Nich is a one-person department. On this project, he is joined by one other Survey Tech, Evan Schneider, for some cross-training. They are responsible for some of the scientific instruments on board.

Medical  I learned from Jamie Delgado, the Medical Officer (MED-O), that NOAA ships traveling over 200 miles from land have MED-Os. 

Electronic Tech  Joe Roesseler, Electronics Tech (ET), works with the electronics and communications systems on the ship.

Scientists  The scientists are broken up into four groups: Marine Mammal Observers (MMO), Seabird Observers, Acousticians, and a Plankton team. They are all under Chief Scientist, Erin Oleson.

Science and Technology Log

Despite not having sailed, I have learned a tremendous amount of information. Aside from the Cetacean team, I have been working on some small projects for the Monk Seal Team and the Sea Turtle Team.

The Monk Seal team focuses on protecting the native Hawaiian Monk Seal population. The MMOs and I spent several days upgrading ‘stretcher’ nets for the monk seal team, swapping out older wooden poles for lighter weight carbon fiber poles. The nets are used to capture and transport seals, sometimes to relocate them to avoid human-seal interactions or an aggressive male seal, if they are sick or injured from shark predation or fishing gear, or to conduct health evaluations.

The Monk Seals are also tagged in their flippers. After a while, the numbers on the tags wear off so there is a code drilled into each tag. The code was developed by elephant seal researchers in the Farallon Islands (email correspondence with Monk Seal Scientist Brenda Becker). I thought this coding system was so clever because it is designed in such a way that each number can be uniquely read without spaces and without mistaking it for another number, all with just one symbol: the mighty dot. It reminds me of some of the early coding schemes in cryptography. Usually in cryptography, a message is encoded so it cannot be read by an interceptor. However, in this case, the code is created to help understand and read the “message”, or in this case the numbers.

Another fun thing we did was practice launching the small fast boats. Once we’re underway, the small boats get launched to get biopsies and perhaps tag the animals. I got to climb down the Jacob’s ladder and get on the small boat. Here’s a short video I made showing the process. The photos of me are taken by Yin.

[Scientists: Erik Norris, Calla Llloyd-Lim, Allan Ligon, Paul Nagelkirk, Suzanne Yin, Ernesto Vasquez, Deck: Chris Kaanaana, Matt Benes, TJ William, Darryl Henderson II, Octavio De Mena, NOAA Corps: Luke Evancoe, Tegan Murray]

Personal Log

Though I was so excited, the first couple of days were pretty overwhelming as everything was new to me. I was learning about Hawaiian history, the Hawaiian Language, Hawaiian flora and fauna, the ship layout, the scientific protocols, 40-50 people involved with the HICEAS mission, the mission itself, the NOAA Fleet, the day-to-day operations, careers etc. Having been here for nearly three weeks, though, I’ve acclimated. I still learn something new everyday. The MMOs have taken me under their “fins”, so to speak, and we have become like family. We share meals and experiences together. We also collaborate on crosswords! We celebrated Yin’s (Lead MMO) birthday at a Thai/Lao restaurant.

twelve people seated around a table in a restaurant. Yin, in the foreground, takes the photo as a group selfie. she's wearing a crown made of blue and yellow felt, lined with fluff.
NOAA Fisheries Photo Credit: Suzanne Yin. Clockwise starting from Yin, Dawn Breese (Birder), Andrea Bendlin (MMO), Kym Yano (Survey Coordinator), Allan Ligon (MMO), Mike Force (Birder), Ernesto Vazquez (MMO), Me, Paul Nagelkirk (MMO), Erin Oleson (Chief Scientist), Jennifer McCullough (Lead Acoustician),  Marie Hill (Cruise Lead)

Food Log

As I mentioned, the food has been amazing. Chris and Denzil prepare the food in the Galley and we usually eat in the Mess or the Forward Mess. My favorite meals have been the Beef Stroganoff and Taco Tuesday!

close up view of a mountain apple held between a thumb and some fingers
Mountain Apple foraged by Matt Benes

Matt Benes (Able-Bodied Seafarer) foraged some mountain apples on a recent hike on Waimano Ridge Trail and shared some with me, Logan Gary (Able-Bodied Seafarer), and Tegan Murray (Junior NOAA Corps Officer–Ensign). It has a very subtle taste and the texture reminds me of an Asian Pear.

In a subsequent post, I will share some pictures of the living space on the ship. For now, please follow along on the HICEAS Story map:

Did You Know?

There are many boat superstitions? For example, you’re not supposed to whistle on a ship because you’d be “whistling up a wind,” which you don’t want if you’re out at sea!

One Reply to “Gail Tang: EngiNEAR, EngiFAR, Wherever You Are, July 6, 2023”

  1. Wow, can’t believe you’ve had to “cool your jets” so long!! Looks like you’re making the most of this awesome experience!

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