Gail Tang: The Bitter End, September 1, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gail Tang

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

August 4, 2023 – September 1, 2023

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

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaiian archipelago

Date: September 1, 2023

When referring to sailing knots, the bitter end signifies the end of the line (i.e. rope to non-seafarers). I thought this fitting, considering the conclusion of my rich time at sea! From interacting with the different deck crew, I learned different ways to tie knots—sometimes the same type of knot. For example, though I knew the bowline before I set sail, I didn’t have a process that stuck in my memory. With the aid of the crew, I solidified a process for myself. Exposure to different ways to tie a knot (or in the case of the mathematics classroom, different ways to approach a problem) gives the learner autonomy to choose a method that suits their learning. I also learned how to splice. See pictures below!

Science and Technology Log

stunning close-up photo of a bird in flight, must have been taken with a powerful telephoto lens
Adult Brown Morph Red-footed Booby. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Michael Force (Permit #MB03330)

In the final week, all science teams (birders, marine mammal observers, acousticians, plankton team) wrapped up and prepared to disembark the ship. Traveling a total distance of 4,819.2 km, Leg 2 spanned 28 glorious days at sea. The cetacean team tallied 90 visual sightings (visually identified 15 species) and 122 acoustic detections. The seabird side saw 37 species and 4,124 individuals. The plankton team completed 39 net tows on Leg 2 and totals 44 tows overall. The images below from the HICEAS Map Tour page detail the specific cetaceans sighted and heard. I also include some cetacean photos taken by the marine mammal observers (MMOs).

a whale bursts vertically out of the ocean with a mahi mahi fish grasped in its mouth. confusingly, in front of the whale is a dark round object, also mid-air; this must be the trash bucket lid
False killer whale (a priority species) catches a Mahi-mahi from under sea trash (bucket lid). Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Ernesto Vasquez
beautiful view of a dolphin leaping mostly out of the bright blue water
Bottlenose Dolphin. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Gail Tang (Permit #25754)
a map of the Hawaiian Islands, including both the main islands and the outer islands in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, with straight line segments showing the survey tracklines and a variety of symbols marking the locations of sightings of 17 identified species and 5 more unidentified species
Cetacean Sightings and their Locations. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries Map Tour
a map of the Hawaiian Islands, including both the main islands and the outer islands in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, with straight line segments showing the survey tracklines and a variety of symbols marking the locations of acoustic recordings of 14 identified species and 3 more unidentified species
Acoustic Detections and their Locations. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries Map Tour
top down view of a cardboard box containing glass vials separated by cardboard dividers. most of the bottles are capped; the top row contains uncapped empty extras. the capped vials are grouped with lines of labeled colored masking tape, reading "Tow 6," "Tow 8," "Tow 31," etc. Two larger vials are stored among the small ones; the cardboard divider had to be opened to make them fit.
The plankton team completed 39 tows in leg 2! Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Gail Tang

It was an incredible experience to witness science in action. I often referred to my time at sea as “Science Camp!” Cruise leader-in-training, Yvonne Barkley (featured in this previous blog post), briefly interviewed me for the HICEAS 2023 Map Tour. Aside from the science, she asked me what I’ll bring back home with me from this experience. I had to incubate on this question and after some reflection, realized that what I’ve gained are all the connections I made with my ship mates.

Gigantic mahalo to Fionna Matheson (Commanding Officer). We had many conversations during the Conductivity Temperature Depth operations and over meals. We bonded over being women in leadership positions, as well as sharing family stories. Thank you for a smooth cruise!

Gail and Fionna pose for a photo together seated in the galley
Gail Tang (Teacher at Sea) and Fionna Matheson (Commanding Officer) sharing a meal in the mess. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Suzanne Yin

Personal Log

My true purpose on the ship was to create crossword addicts. I love collaborating on crosswords, so I brought a book of Monday-Friday New York Times (NYT) crosswords on the ship. The book mostly stayed up on the flying bridge where someone “off effort” (someone not currently observing) would read clues for the marine mammal observers on effort. In many of our jobs, listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, etc, help us focus on the work at hand; similarly, pondering crossword clues helped the MMOs concentrate on searching for mammals. By the end of the leg, Andrea Bendlin (MMO) printed out a clipboard full of more NYT crosswords, and both Suzanne Yin and Paul Nagelkirk (MMOs) made their own crosswords that incorporated both the science and the science team members. I’d say I left my legacy!

Marie sits in a swivel chair on the flying bridge holding a spiral bound book of crossword puzzles. at her left, Alexa kneels or crouches as she looks on get a closer view at the puzzle. Gail stands off to Marie's right, hands gripping the canvas shade covering above their heads, looking on as well. Gail has a radio hooked on her shorts.
Gail Tang (Teacher at Sea), Marie Hill (Cruise Leader) and Alexa Gonzalez (Acoustician) crosswording on the Flying Bridge. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Andrea Bendlin

Alexa Gonzalez (Acoustician) was one of my roommates! A Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology at University of Hawaii, Manoa initially brought Alexa from sunny California (Santa Clarita! We’re practically neighbors.) to sunny Hawaii. During her time at school, she volunteered for the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) doing data entry and some monk seal responses for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. She also participated in outreach and marine mammal response for the Protected Resources Division of NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office. After graduation in 2018, Alexa had a fun job working on a tour boat wearing many hats as a deckhand, snorkel guide, and bartender. In 2019, she worked on monk seal population assessment efforts at the Hawaiian monk seal field camp at Holoikauaua/Manawai (Pearl and Hermes Atoll). Right after, she was recruited by the Science Operations Division to fill the role she’s in now, Biological Science Technician. She participates on different research projects at PIFSC as a diver, small boat operator, acoustician and lab tech. Below, you can see a photo of Alexa as a small boat operator on Malia.

Gail takes a selfie with Erik and Alexa visible over her left and right shoulders. Alexa stands at the helm of the fast rescue boat. The water churns with the boat's wake, and the sky is blue with only a few clouds low on the horizon. Gail, Alexa, and Erik wear hard hats and life vests.
Alexa Gonzalez (Acoustician) driving fast-boat, Malia, with Erik Norris (Acoustician), and Gail Tang (Teacher at Sea). Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Gail Tang

Pizza and Mexican food top Alexa’s favorite food list, so what’s better than the fusion of the two at one of her favorite restaurants Asada Pizza in Sylmar, California. She loves to get the nopales pizza, topped with jalapeños and cilantro. Yum!! In my time with Alexa, I’ve come to learn the meaning of a quiet sort of connection. We didn’t have to converse much to enjoy each other’s company whether we were decorating Styrofoam cups to crush, playing guessing games in the acoustics lab, or doing crosswords! The lengthy down times made me very thankful for Andrea’s nail polish. Alexa and I had a spa night in the forward mess with Jason Dlugos (3rd Assistant Engineer) and Paul Nagelkirk (MMO).

close-up of Jason looking toward the ceiling as he holds up his hands to show off sparkly blue nails (on his right) and sparkly purple nails (left). He is wearing a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt.
3rd Assistant Engineer Jason Dlugos shows off the sparkles in his eyes and nails. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Yvonne Barkley

While most of us keep aurally busy while we work with our hands, the acousticians keep their hands busy while listening for cetaceans! Jennifer McCullough (Lead Acoustician) brought a never-ending supply of pipe cleaners to build objects. See some of the creations below!

Food and Career Blog

I will really miss the meals aboard the Sette as well as all the conversations shared. Mahalo to all the stewards and friends who made sure I was fed, especially during teaching hours!

As mentioned before, I tried to do one small thing that I did not do the day before to break up the routine. This week’s major routine-break involved Hawaiian shave ice, put on by Verne Murakami (1st Assistant Engineer)!! Though I recognize that sweets can taste good, I generally prefer savory, sour, or spicy foods. Regardless, I had a blast making shave ice for others. In particular, Zack High (General Vessel Assistant–GVA) and Paul Nagelkirk (MMO) allowed me to make their shave ices. First, a scoop of ice cream, then some ube. Shaved ice fills the cup, coming to a mound above the lip. Flavored syrups like mango or blueberry color the ice. Finally, a sprinkle of ling hing mui accents.

Gail smiles at the camera as she pours blue flavored syrup onto a cup of shave ice. In front her we see open containers of vanilla ice cream, bottles of other flavored syrups.
Gail Tang (Teacher at Sea) prepares shave ice for friends. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Suzanne Yin

Zack went to maritime school at Mid-Atlantic School in Norfolk, Virginia. Afterwards, he completed an internship on a vessel with the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command. He learned basic CPR, safety and training, completed his Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping. One of his professors sent his resume to NOAA and a year later, Zack started working in Nov 2021 on the Sette! Though he started in the deck department under Chris Kaanaana (Chief Boatswain/Bosun), two months later, he transferred to the engineering department for a different career opportunity. As part of his role as a GVA, he goes on watch, does rounds, goes down to the main control room to take readings, goes up to the main deck to record temperatures of freezers, look for leaks or other signs of disrepair.  He hopes to become a licensed engineer with aspirations to go into private industry or another federal branch. Zack is a big fan of weight lifting and loves fishing with Verne, catching big tuna and mahi mahi. He calls himself a gearhead because he likes working on cars and going to car shows. He also enjoys going to see live music; his last show was an underground punk concert in Seattle. He would like to start hiking. Zack likes boxing and he even gave me a little lesson on the ship!

Paul went to Michigan State University and majored in environmental biology and zoology. He became a fisheries observer in the Bering Sea and then later worked in oil and gas mitigation in the Gulf of Mexico to reduce environmental impacts due to noise pollution. In 2013, he started both ship and aerial surveys with NOAA. In the aerial surveys, the plane follows transect lines 600ft over the water.

Paul has also conducted aerial surveys of the North Atlantic Right Whale through the New England Aquarium. The New England Aquarium is the pioneer and premier research institution for the Right Whale. They run the individual ID catalog for the North Atlantic Right Whales (see https://rwcatalog.neaq.org/#/). They know the whales’ relationships to each other since they perform year to year tracking for conservation efforts. Climate change alters the whales’ prey locations, causing them to move farther north towards Canada. Further, they are susceptible to entanglements from the lobster and crab industry as well as collisions from ship traffic because they tend towards the coast. The number of North Atlantic Right Whales left is disturbingly low, about 350, landing them on the endangered species list.

Paul and I became fast friends. I affectionately call him my “worstie”, but he really is a “bestie”. We shared his favorite food (Detroit-style pizza) at Pizza Mamo in Honolulu–I highly recommend! His other hobbies (some of which we share) include Wordle, biking, hiking, and disc golf.

Paul smiles for the camera and holds up his cup of shave ice in his upturned palm. We can see his sparkly blue nail polish.
Paul Nagelkirk (MMO) is pleased with his shave ice.

Many Mahalos

A very special mahalo to Cruise Leader 💞Marie Hill💞. Marie’s charm brought much energy to the science team. Her vibrant character will be missed!

Gail, Marie, Suzanne, wearing hard hats and life vests, post for a close-up photo.
Gail Tang (Teacher at Sea), Marie Hill (Cruise Leader), and Suzanne Yin (MMO) during HARP retrieval. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Suzanne Yin

Regrettably, my career highlights lack comprehensiveness. Give me another month, Teacher at Sea Program 😉, and I could feature everyone. I include some visual shout-outs in the images below!

Logan, wearing a hard hat and life vest, stands at the control panel (facing away from the camera) near the rail at sunset. Left hand on the panel, he leans his right arm over the railing, and looks over his right shoulder, gazing intently over the water.
Logan Gary (Able-bodied Seaman) deploying the CTD during sunset. Mahalo for all the fun, especially singing Part of Your World on the boat deck! Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Gail Tang
Chris stands under a davit on the ship's deck. The ship appears to be docked, as we can see land in the background.
Mahalo, Chris Kaanaana (Chief Boatswain/Bosun), for all your years of service aboard the Sette!
Kym and Gail, arms around each other, pose for a photo in front of NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette in port.
A myriad of mahalos to Kym Yano (Cruise Leader-in-Training) for answering my many questions before going underway and welcoming me ashore with an Ilima and Tuberose lei. I’ll miss you!
16 people pose for a photo on the deck of NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette with a whiteboard sign reading "HICEAS 2023 Leg 2!" In the background, we see the water of the harbor and mountains beyond. Everyone in the photo is arranged according to the color of their shirt in rainbow order.
Mahalo to all the scientists that cared for me, showed me the ropes, and involved me in all aspects of the science. Every rainbow I see will forever be a reminder of you. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Nich Sucher

Did you know?

You may be familiar with the duality of the word “aloha”, embodying both a greeting and a farewell. My exposure to new meanings of “aloha” through Chef Chris’s Aloha Kitchen: Recipes from Hawai’i cookbook by Alana Kysar inspired me to learn more. According to the Hawai’i Law of the Aloha Spirit,

“‘Aloha’ is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ‘Aloha’ means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.” 

To all my community aboard the Sette, aloha.

view of a pen-and-ink drawing of NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette across the spread of a moleskin notebook, placed on a desk, surrounded by pens and other little desk objects
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette through the eyes of Gail Tang (Teacher at Sea). Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Gail Tang

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