NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 6 – 25, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 25, 2015
Science and Technology Log
It is hard to believe we are wrapping up this leg of the journey. While our focus has been on the walleye pollock for this survey, we have encountered some other critters in our midwater and bottom trawls, and on our nightly DropCam excursions. We’ve even had some neat finds in our Methot net. There is quite a diverse ecosystem both in and out of water around Kodiak, and I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the critters we’ve caught in our trawls and on camera.
One other neat thing happened on one of our final trawls of the leg. We caught several Dusky rockfish in our bottom trawl, and they were easy to spot as we sorted the trawl because of the large size and dark color. Several of these rockfish had bloated bellies as well. Being the curious scientists we were, we decided to dissect a couple of the rockfish to find out why. Some of them had very inflated swim bladders, while others turned out to be very pregnant females. We pulled out the ovaries, and they were about the size of a water balloon! Millions of tiny eggs poured out of one that we accidentally nicked with the scalpel. We took some of those and looked at them under the microscope. Rockfish are actually viviparous, which means they give birth to live young.
A big Dusky rockfish!
A very pregnant Dusky rockfish
Just one of the rockfish ovaries
Robert and the ovary
Did you know? The Arctic lamprey’s life cycle is similar to salmon. They are born in freshwater, leave for the ocean, and return to the same freshwater they were born in to spawn.
Once again, my experience as a Teacher at Sea has amazed me, and I have taken away so many great experiences I can’t wait to share with my students. While the science was quite different on the Oscar Dyson in comparison with the Groundfish Survey on the Oregon II, there are many similarities in the experiences themselves which make this a valuable program for educators. I formed relationships and made connections with people I may never have encountered, and these relationships have been (and will continue to be) invaluable to my teaching.
Here are just a few of the things I learned while out at sea:
Science is everywhere! From the lab, to the bridge, to the engineering rooms, there is science in everything we do!
Push-ups are a little more difficult in 4ft swells.
Even in the field, scientists are making (and verbalizing) hypotheses, and they are always asking questions about the work they are doing, even in the middle of an experiment or project.
Alaska has an abundance of jellyfish in all colors and sizes.
The shape of an otolith is unique for every species of fish.
Everyone looks funny when they are trying to walk during rough seas, even the experienced sea folk.
Different types of scientists work together toward a common goal, each bringing their unique backgrounds to the work they are doing.
Trust is crucial when you live and work on a ship, as each person on board is a member of a team; that team is like your family.
Everyone has a story. Take a moment, and find it out.
I want to thank everyone that works on the Oscar Dyson for making this experience a memorable one. I enjoyed working with everyone on board, and will cherish the relationships I formed.
This final post wouldn’t be complete without Wilson, our infamous shark who had fun on his trip too. Here he is highlighting his adventures with all the people and places on board the Oscar Dyson!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 6 – 25, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 21, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 57 09.0N
Longitude: 151 16.5W
Wind Direction: 245 degrees
Wind Speed: 24 knots
Sea wave height: 3ft
Swell wave: 5-7 ft
Sea water temp: 11.3 C
Dry temperature: 11.1 C
Birds are always abundant after a trawl
Sunset from the ship
Science and Technology Log
Aside from our survey, there is a lot of other science taking place on the ship. In fact, science is all around us. The officers on the bridge are using science when they use weather patterns and sea swells to calculate the best course of navigation for the ship. The survey technicians are using science when they collect water samples each day and test the salinity of the water. The engineers are using science when they are monitoring the ballast of the ship. Science is happening in places we don’t always take the time to look.
Today we look at a different realm of science, the engineering world. I recently had the opportunity to tour the brains of the ship with two of our engineers on board. I not only learned about the construction of the ship, but I also learned about the various components that help the ship run. The Oscar Dyson was constructed as one of NOAA’s first noise-reduced fisheries vessels. Data have been collected over the years that show fish avoid loud vessels by diving down deeper or moving out of the way of the noise. There was concern that this avoidance behavior would affect the survey results; thus the creation of acoustic quieting technology for research vessels. Another interesting part of the ship’s construction is the retractable centerboard, which allow the transducers to be lowered down below the ship and away from the hull in order to reduce noise and gather higher quality sound data for the surveys.
It turns out 2 of our engineers are from San Diego, the place I lived for my first 21 years of life. Nick even graduated from Westview High School, the rival of my high school, Mt. Carmel (albeit 10 years after me). The engineers are responsible for making sure everything is working on the ship. They, along with the rest of the engineering team, have to anticipate and troubleshoot problems, and be ready to fix something at a moment’s notice.
In addition to taking me on a tour around the innards of the ship, Nick and Rob also sat down for an interview about marine engineering.
Interview with the Engineers: Rob Ball and Nick Cuellar
What is your educational/working background?
Nick: I played soccer throughout high school and was recruited during my senior year by the US Merchant Marine Academy. I went to school there, played soccer, and received a BS degree in marine engineering. I spent 1 of my 4 years at sea doing hands-on training. I was also commissioned into the US Navy as a reservist.
Rob: I’m what they call a hawespiper in the merchant marine world- I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I started at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 1988 and worked my way up ranks from oiler to engineer. I received my captain’s license, and ran sport fishing boats because I wanted to know boats from top to bottom. I went to professional college for refrigeration, and my main forte is refrigeration and air conditioning, I know I’ll never be out of work. I’m a first engineer now, and am going to go for my chief’s license.
How long have you been working on the Oscar Dyson?
Nick: I came on in August of 2014.
Rob: I just came on board in April of 2015
What are your main responsibilities as an engineer on board?
Nick: As a second engineer, I give fuel reports and transfer fuel to maintain stability of the ship. We have saltwater tanks for ballast, which changes as we burn fuel, and I help monitor this. I check the electricity, lights, fuel, water, and AC and make sure everything’s running. I fix anything that’s breaking.
Rob: As a first engineer, I am the supervisor of engine room and am responsible for how everything is operating. I get updates on the fuel status, and communicate with CO of the ship if changes need to be made. I also look at when the oil/filter needs to be changed. My position is more supervisory, and I oversee responsibilities and delegate tasks. I handle the plant and the people.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Nick: Travel; getting work experience, marine life
Rob: Money and travel; getting to see things in ocean that most people would only see on National Geographic
What is most challenging about your job?
Nick: The different personalities you have to work with
Rob: I agree with Nick. Our life exists in 204ft. I am able to take frustrations and put it into things I enjoy, such as working out, reading, or playing guitar.
What is something unique to being an engineer on a ship as opposed to an engineer on land?
Nick: You have to have knowledge of every square inch of the ship; the two things I think about are: are we sinking and are the lights on.
Rob: You have to keep things going when you have big seas, and you have to have the knowledge and ability to handle problems and stay on your feet (literally). You have everyone’s lives in your hands- you have to be on all the time.
What would tell students who are looking at careers in engineering?
Nick: Don’t give up and keep on fighting. Don’t let hardships get in the way. If it makes you happy, keep doing it. And know your math!
Rob: it’s a limitless field; you can build anything, and fix anything. If someone else made it, you’ll have the ability to figure out what they did. You get to break stuff and fix it.
What is your favorite marine animal?
Nick: Humpback whale
Rob: Orca and Great white shark
Thanks gentlemen for the interview!
The ringing of the phone woke me up from the gentle rolling of the ship. I had told the officers and scientists to wake me up if there was anything cool happening, and an excited ENS Gilman spoke into the receiver claiming there were hundreds (ok, maybe hundreds was a bit of an exaggeration) of whales breaching and swimming around the ship. Throwing on a sweatshirt and grabbing my camera, I raced up to the bridge to get a view of this. I had low expectations, as it seemed that every time we got the call that there were whales around, they left as soon as we got up there. This time, however, I was not disappointed. It was a whale extravaganza! Humpback whales, fin whales, orcas, there were so many whales it was hard to decide where to point my camera or binoculars. Like one of those fountains that spurt up water intermittently through different holes, the whales were blowing all around us. I was up on the bridge for over an hour, never tiring to see which one would spout next, or show us a fluke before it dove down deep, only to resurface somewhere else 15 minutes later. It was truly a treat to be able to watch them, and the weather couldn’t have been better. My favorite shot was of a baby humpback breeching – we had been tracking him for a while, his blow noticeably smaller than the adults around him. He looked as if he was just playing around in the water, enjoying himself without a worry in the world. I had been hoping to see Alaska wildlife on this trip, and am thrilled my wish was granted.
A pod of orcas was amidst the whale extravaganza!
The sight of the fluke indicates they are diving down deeper, and may not resurface again for several minutes.
So many whales!
I had a question about our living accommodations on the ship, and I must admit they aren’t too shabby. I share a room with another one of the scientists, and she works the opposite shift. This works out nicely as we can each have our own time in the room, and can sleep uninterrupted. We have bunks, or racks as many refer to them, and I am sleeping on the top bunk. We have a bathroom with a shower in our room, and it’s nice not to have to share those amenities. The walls are pretty thin, and the ship can be loud when operations are going, making earplugs or headphones helpful.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 6 – 25, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 17, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 58 02.3N
Longitude: 152 24.4W
Sky:some clouds, clear
Wind direction: 261 degrees
Wind speed: 10 knots
Sea wave height: 2ft
Swell wave direction: 140 degrees
Swell wave height: 1ft
Sea water temp: 12.1C
Dry temperature: 16.2C
Science and Technology Log
In addition to the walleye pollock survey, there are also a few side projects taking place on the ship. One of the instruments we are trying out on this survey is the DropCam. With some upgrades from a previous version of the camera, this is the first time this camera has come on the pollock survey. It was initially created for a NOAA project studying deep sea corals. Now that the study is over, we are using it for a project funded by North Pacific Research Board. The goals of this project are two-fold: habitat classification and tracking fish densities in untrawlable versus trawlable areas.
My students would be excited to learn that this is very similar to the tool they designed with our underwater ROVs. The DropCam is made up of strobe lights and 2 cameras- one color and one black and white- contained in a steel frame. We’ve been deploying it twice each night in areas where we see the most fish on the echogram. The ship pauses when we get to a point we want to put the camera in, and the camera itself will drift with the current. The DropCam is attached to a cable on deck, and, with the help of the survey tech and deckhand, we lower it over the side of the ship and down into the water. Once it gets down to 35m, we make sure it connects with our computers here in the lab before sending it all the way down to the ocean floor. Once it is down on the ocean floor, it’s time to drive! While controlling the camera with a joystick in the lab, we let it explore the ocean floor for 15 minute increments before bringing it back up. I’ve had the opportunity to “drive” it a few times now, and I must admit it’s a lot of fun for a seemingly simple device. We’ve seen some neat things on camera, my favorite being the octopus that came into view. One night in particular was an active night, and we saw plenty of flatfish, rockfish, krill, shrimp, basket stars and even a skate.
Here are a couple of photos taken from our DropCam excursion.
We have hit some rougher weather the last couple days, and we went from have 2ft swells to 6 ft swells- it is a noticeable difference! Rumor has it they may get even bigger, especially as we head out into open water. We did alter our course a little bit so we could head into Marmot Bay where we would be somewhat protected from rough waters. It is quite interesting to walk around the ship in these swells. It feels like someone spun you around blindfolded 30 times and then sent you off walking. No matter how hard you try to walk straight, you inevitably run into the wall or stumble your way down the stairs. The good thing about this is that everyone is doing it, even those who have been on the boat longer, so we can all laugh at each other.
Because the weather changes just as quickly here in Alaska as it does in Colorado, the clouds lifted this evening and the sun finally came out. We had a great evening just off the coast of Afognak Island with sunshine, a beautiful sunset, and lots of whales! I stayed up on the bridge a good portion of the evening on lookout for blows from their spouts. Some were far off in the distance while a few were just 50 yards away! We were all out on deck when we saw not one, but two whales breeching before making a deeper dive.
Our trawl today was a little sad as we caught a huge longnose skate. We didn’t notice him initially in our catch until he got stuck in all the pollock as we were lowering the fish down into the wet lab. We paused in our processing to try and get him out. He was about 90lbs with a wingspan of 1.5 meters, so he was difficult to lift out. It took 2 of our deck crew guys to pull him out, and then we got him back into the water as fast as we could. Hopefully he made it back in without too much trauma. While he was exciting to see, I felt bad for catching him in our net.
Meet a NOAA Corps Officer: ENS Justin Boeck
There are 5 NOAA Corps officers and a chief mate on board the Oscar Dyson for this leg of our survey: ENS Gilman, ENS Kaiser, ENS Boeck, LT Rhodes, LT Schweitzer, and Chief Mate Mackie. I have a lot of respect for the officers on our ship, as they have a great responsibility to make sure everything is running smoothly. They are one of the reasons I enjoy going up to the bridge every day. ENS Boeck picked me up from the airport when I first arrived in Kodiak, and gave me a short tour of the ship. He works each night during part of my shift, and it’s fun to come up on the bridge and chat with him and ENS Gilman. I had the opportunity to interview ENS Boeck, the newest officer on the Dyson, to learn a little more about the NOAA Corps and what they do on the ship.
Can you give me a little background on how you came to the NOAA Corps?
Before coming into the NOAA Corps, I received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin. After my undergraduate degree, I was in the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa for 3 years. I was an environmental advisor teaching classes to both students and teachers in addition to grant writing and funding. I lived in a village of 500 people, and taught 90 kids and 5 teachers. While I was there we built a wall to protect the garden from animals, helped village members increase their nutrition through micro-gardening, and ran seed bank projects and mosquito net distributions.
In 2015 I went into training with the Coast Guard, and also went through BOTC/OCS (Basic Officer Training Class/Officer Candidate School) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. There were 14 NOAA Corps officer candidates along with about 50 coast guard officer candidates, and we went through the same program with some of our academics varying slightly.
How long have you been in the NOAA Corps? One month, fresh out of BOTC (basic officer training class). I reported to the Oscar Dyson on June 4th.
Have you worked on other ships? If so, which one(s)? This is my first sea assignment. I’ll be at sea on the Dyson for 2 years, and will then move to a land assignment for 3 years.
What made you choose the NOAA Corps? I grew up near Lake Michigan and enjoy the water. I followed NOAA for job postings for a while, and I found out about the NOAA Corps through my last job working at a lab, so I contacted NOAA Corps officers to get more information about the NOAA Corps. I wanted to be on the water, drive a large ship, and get to SCUBA dive on a regular basis. I enjoy science and also working with my hands so this was a great way to be involved and be at the source of how fisheries data is being collected.
What’s the best part of your job? Driving the ship. The Oscar Dyson is the largest scale ship I’ve driven. It’s pretty amazing. I love being on the boat. The Oscar Dyson is considered the gold standard of the fleet, because it is a hardworking boat, running for 10 months of the year (most ships run for about 7 months out of the year) and a lot of underway time.
What is the most difficult part of your job? Getting used to the work and sleep schedule. We work 12 hours a day; 4 hour watch, 4 hours of collateral work, and then another 4 hour watch. We’re also short on deck so I spend some of my time helping out the deck crew. Because I’m new, I’m also learning the different duties around the ship. I need to know all the parts of the ship in order to become OOD (officer of the deck) qualified. I also need to have a specific amount of sea days, an interview with the commanding officer, and the trust of the commanding officer. Right now I’m learning more about the engineering on the ship.
What is something you wish more people knew about the NOAA Corps? With only 321 officers, it is still relatively unknown. We are aligning our training with the Coast Guard, which is creating more awareness and strengthening our relationship with the Coast Guard.
What advice would you give students who are interested in joining the NOAA Corps? Get boating experience and see if it’s something you’re into. Also having a solid understanding how a ship works. Get your experience early, and learn about weather, tide, swells, and ship processes. During BOTC, you get to fill out a request letter for what kind of ship you want to go on- fisheries, oceanographic, or hydrographic. Because my degree is in biology, I wanted to be on a fisheries boat, so I could get immediate experience in ship handling and still be involved with the fisheries data collection.
Did you know? The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 Uniformed Services, which include the US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Air Force, US Coast Guard, US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps.
Or, rather, what sea creature is Wilson hanging out with in this picture? Write your answer in the comments below!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 6 – 25, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 15, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 56 42.2N
Longitude: 153 46.5W
Wind Direction: 173 degrees
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Sea wave height: 2ft
Swell wave: 4-5ft
Sea water temp: 12.3C
Dry temperature: 11.5C
Science and Technology Log
In my last post we talked about the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT), the mid-water trawling net we use to take samples of pollock. There are two other types of nets we may use during our cruise, although not as frequently as the AWT. Sometimes the echogram shows a large concentration of fish closer to the ocean floor. In this instance, we might use a bottom trawl net, known as the Poly Nor’easter (PNE), to “go fishing”. The process for putting out the net is similar to putting out the AWT, except that it is extended to just above the ocean floor in order to catch fish that are congregated towards the bottom. In our recent bottom trawl, we caught a lot of Pacific Ocean perch, or rockfish, and very few pollock.
It has been fascinating to see how scientists “do science” out here. Patterns and observations are important skills for scientists, and analyzing patterns and behaviors of fish help scientists to make informed decisions about whether they are seeing pollock, krill, rockfish, or something else entirely on the echogram. For example, acoustically, pollock and rockfish have the same reflectivity (and therefore are difficult to differentiate based solely on acoustics), but their behaviors are different. When we recently put out a bottom trawl net, we anticipated catching mostly rockfish because of the location we were at, and their schooling behavior close to the ocean floor. Rockfish are also usually found lower in the water column than pollock. Our first bottom trawl yielded quite a few rockfish, some jellies, several flatfish, and a few other types of fish. Just as we did with the pollock, we weighed, sexed and measured a sample of rockfish. These fish were a little more difficult to handle as they have sharp spines in several places.
Robert and Derek looking at krill flatfish larvae under the microscope
Counting out a few hundred krill
They’re so tiny!
There is a third type of net we deploy on this survey is called a Methot net. It’s named after Dr. Rick Methot, a famous fisheries modeler. This net has an opening of 5 square meters, and has a finer mesh than the AWT or the PNE at 2x3mm. At the end of the net is a small codend where the sample is taken from. This net is typically used to catch krill and macrozooplankton that would normally escape the larger nets. From the acoustic display, we would anticipate about 100-200 times more than what is actually caught in the net. Back scatter could be one reason for this. Scientists have worked to try and decrease this discrepancy by using strobe lights mounted on the net. The abundance tends to agree better with strobes on the net, with the hypothesis being that the organisms are blinded and don’t realize they’re going into the net.
Meet the Scientists
During one of our shifts, I had the opportunity to interview 2 of the scientists on our night watch team, Kresimir Williams and Chris Bassett. Their enthusiasm and passion for their work is evident in the discussions we have had and the work they are doing. It is great to work with scientists who are so knowledgeable and also patient enough to explain what we are doing here. Let’s meet them!
What is your educational background?
Kresimir: I received my undergraduate degree in marine science from Samford in Birmingham, Alabama. During this time, I spent summers at Dauphin Island. I received my Master’s Degree in fisheries and aquaculture from Auburn (also in Alabama), and finally received my PhD in fisheries from the University of Washington.
Chris: I went to the University of Minnesota for my undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering and Spanish. I then went on to receive both my Master’s & PhD in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington.
How long have you been working at the AFSC lab in Seattle?
Kresimir: I have been working at the lab for 13 years as a research fisheries biologist.
Chris: I am currently working with both AFSC and the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington as a post-doctoral research associate.
What do you most enjoy about your work as a scientist?
Kresimir: I enjoy doing the research, discovering new things, and conducting field experiments.
Chris: The work that I do allows me to learn by playing with big kid toys in beautiful places; for example, the EK80, one of the broadband acoustic scattering systems brought on this ship
What has been a career highlight for you?
Kresimir: The development of the CamTrawl (what we are currently using on our nets here on the Dyson). I have seen this project from development to operationalization.
Chris: Using broadband acoustics systems in a 4 month long lab experiment to detect crude oil spills under sea ice.
What does it mean to you to “do science”?
Kresimir: It means following a set of rules, and discovering things that can be repeated by other people. Remembering that data leads you to the answers rather than using it for something you want to prove. Research generally generates more questions. Finally, it means learning how the little piece of the world you are interested in works.
Chris: It means looking around and seeing what knowledge exists and where we can advance knowledge in that field and how we can do so. It’s understanding that often identifies more new questions than it answers.
What message would you give students who want to pursue a career in (marine) science?
Kresimir: Do your math homework! There are very few biologists out there discovering new things, so you need to bring something else to the table such as coding or geosciences. There is a lot of quantitative modeling and interplay between other sciences such as physics and chemistry.
Chris: Do your math homework! Having skills in a little bit of everything – all of the sciences come into play. You also need good writing skills.
What is your favorite ocean creature?
Kresimir: I love all kinds of fish because I can find something unique about each one of them.
Chris: Bluefin tuna
Thanks for the interview gentlemen!
The Oscar Dyson runs for 10 months out of the year, more than most of the other ships in the NOAA fleet. Many of the people on this ship are here almost year-round, and call the Dyson their home. Having places where they can relax and feel at home is important. Besides up on the bridge or out on the deck, another place to spend some free time is in the lounge. Equipped with beanbag chairs, a large couch, and some comfy chairs, the lounge encourages people to hang out, watch a movie, play video games, or just relax after their shift. We have a large selection of movies, and have access to some of the most recent movies as well. We recently watched Mockingjay, the third movie in the Hunger Games series. It was a good movie, but not as good as the book.
I am really enjoying my time so far on the Oscar Dyson, mostly because I am being challenged to learn new things. We’ve had a bit of downtime the last couple nights, and it has been a good opportunity for me to learn the game of the ship, cribbage. This is a popular game amongst the scientists, and you can typically find some of them playing a quick round in between shifts or as a break from work. I’m by no means great at it yet, but I expect by the end of this trip I’ll be a lot better.
When I first got on board the Dyson, I remember talking to one of the scientists about filleting fish. I’m not too sure how we got on that subject, but it occurred to me that I had never actually filleted a fish myself. I used to fish as a kid, but we left the cleaning and filleting to my dad (thanks, dad). What could be a better time to learn this skill than on a boat full of experienced fishermen? We ate a rockfish ceviche that Robert, one of the scientists, had made the first night I was on the ship, and it was delicious. When we pulled in our bottom trawl of rockfish, it was the perfect time to learn how to fillet a fish. Rockfish are a bit tricky, as they have several sharp spines covering them. We had to be careful so as not to get stabbed by one of them- it wouldn’t feel very good! I had a busy evening helping to fillet about 14lbs of rockfish. I was by no means quick (our lead fisherman filleted 3 rockfish to my 1), but I had lots of time to practice.
Did you know? Pacific Ocean Perch (POP), or rockfish, were overfished in the 1970’s. Today, Pacific Ocean perch have recovered to the extent that they support a sustainable fishery in Alaska. Read more about the POP.
This POP bears a striking resemblance to the scorpionfish, one of the species we brought up in the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico in my TAS trip in 2012. Guess what? These two fish, while living thousands of miles apart, are actually related! They both belong to the family Scorpaenidae.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 6 – 25, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 12, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 55 25.5N
Longitude: 155 44.2W
Sea wave height: 2ft
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wind Direction: 244 degrees
Air Temperature: 11.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1002.4 mbar
Science and Technology Log
I’m sure you’re all wondering what the day-to-day life of a scientist is on this ship. As I said before, there are several projects going on, with the focus being on assessing the walleye pollock population. In my last post I talked about the transducers we have on the ship that help us detect fish and other ocean life beneath the surface of the ocean. So what happens with all these fish we are detecting?
The transducers are running constantly as the ship runs, and the information is received through the software on the computers we see in the acoustics lab. The officers running the ship, who are positioned on the bridge, also have access to this information. The scientists and officers are in constant communication, as the officers are responsible for driving the ship to specific locations along a pre-determined track. The echograms (type of graph) that are displayed on the computers show scientists where the bottom of the ocean floor is, and also show them where there are various concentrations of fish.
When there is a significant concentration of pollock, or when the data show something unique, scientists might decide to “go fishing”. Here they collect a sample in order to see if what they are seeing on the echogram matches what comes up in the catch. Typically we use the Aleutian wing trawl (AWT) to conduct a mid-water trawl. The AWT is 140 m long and can descend anywhere from 30-1,000 meters into the ocean. A net sounder is mounted at the top of the net opening. It transmits acoustic images of fish inside and outside of the net in real time and is displayed on a bridge computer to aide the fishing operation. At the entrance to the codend (at the end of the net) a CamTrawl takes images of what is entering the net.
Once the AWT is deployed to the pre-determined depth, the scientists carefully monitor acoustic images to catch an appropriate sample. Deploying the net is quite a process, and requires careful communication between the bridge officers and the deck crew. It takes about an hour for the net to go from its home on deck to its desired depth, and sometimes longer if it is heading into deeper waters. They aim to collect roughly 500 fish in order to take a subsample of about 300 fish. Sometimes the trawl net will be down for less than 5 minutes, and other times it will be down longer. Scientists are very meticulous about monitoring the amount of fish that goes into the net because they do not want to take a larger sample than needed. Once they have determined they have the appropriate amount, the net is hauled back onto the back deck and lowered to a table that leads into the wet lab for processing.
We begin by sorting through the catch and pulling out anything that is not pollock. We don’t typically have too much variety in our catches, as pollock is the main fish that we are after. We have, however, pulled in a few squid, isopods, cod, and several jellies. All of the pollock in the catch gets weighed, and then a sub-sample of the catch is processed further. A subsample of 30 pollock is taken to measure, weigh, collect otoliths from, and occasionally we will also take ovaries from the females. There are some scientists back in the lab in Seattle that are working on special projects related to pollock, and we also help these scientists in the lab collect their data.
The rest of the sub-sample (roughly 300 pollock) is sexed and divided into a male (blokes) and female (sheilas) section of the table. From there, the males and females are measured for their length. The icthystick, the tool we use to measure the length of each fish, is pretty neat because it uses a magnet to send the length of the fish directly to the computer system we use to collect the data, CLAMS. CLAMS stands for Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey. In the CLAMS system, a histogram is made, and we post the graphs in the acoustics lab for review. The majority of our pollock so far have been year 3. Scientists know this based on the length of pollock in our catch. Once all of the fish have been processed, we have to make sure to clean up the lab too. This is a time I am definitely thankful we have foul weather gear, which consists of rubber boots, pants, jackets and gloves. Fish scales and guts can get everywhere!
I am finally adjusting to my nighttime shift schedule, which took a few days to get used to. Luckily, we do have a few hours of darkness (from about midnight until 6am), which makes it easier to fall asleep. My shift runs from 4pm-4am, and I usually head to bed not long after my shift is over, and get up around noontime to begin my day. It’s a little strange to be waking up so late in the day, and while it is clearly afternoon time when I emerge from my room, I still greet everyone with a good morning. The eating schedule has taken some getting used to- I find that I still want to have breakfast when I get up. Dinner is served at 5pm, but since I eat breakfast around 1 or 2pm, I typically make myself a plate and set it aside for later in the evening when I’m hungry again. I’ll admit it’s a little strange to be eating dinner at midnight. There is no shortage of food on board, and our stewards make sure there are plenty of snacks available around the clock. Salad and fruit are always options, as well as some less healthy but equally tasty snacks. It’s hard to resist some of the goodies we have!
Luckily, we are equipped with some exercise equipment on board to battle those snacks, which is helpful as you can only walk so far around the ship. I’m a fan of the rowing machine, and you feel like you’re on the water when the boat is rocking heavily. We have some free weights, an exercise bike and even a punching bag. I typically work out during some of my free time, which keeps me from going too crazy when we’re sitting for long periods of time in the lab.
During the rest of my free time, you might find me hanging out in the lounge watching a movie (occasionally), but most of the time you’ll find me up on the bridge watching for whales or other sea life. The bridge is probably one of my favorite places on the ship, as it is equipped with windows all around, and binoculars for checking out the wildlife. When the weather is nice, it is a great place to sit outside and soak in a little vitamin D. I love the fact that even the crew members that have been on this ship for several years love seeing the wildlife, and never tire of looking out for whales. So far, we’ve seen orcas, humpbacks, fin whales, and Dall’s porpoises.
Did you know? Otoliths, which are made of calcium carbonate, are unique to each species of fish.
Where on the ship is Wilson?
Wilson the ring tail camo shark is at it again! He has been exploring the ship even more and made his way here. Can you guess where he is now?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 5 – 25, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 7, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 56 36.1N
Longitude: 156 04.1W
Speed: 12 knots
Wind Speed: 4 knots
Wind Direction: 202 degrees
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 12.6 C
Barometric Pressure: 1004.6 mbar
Sky: SCT (scattered clouds)
Science and Technology Log:
The walleye pollock fishing industry is the largest commercial fishing industry in the country, and one of the largest fishing industries in the world. Have you eaten fish sticks? Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s? Imitation crab? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you have eaten walleye pollock. Since pollock supports such a large industry, scientists need to carefully monitor its abundance each year. Bring on the scientists and crew on board the Oscar Dyson to make this mission possible.
TIn summer, and in a few locations in winter, scientists head out to assess the walleye pollock population in both the Bering Sea and in the Gulf of Alaska. The summer survey alternates between the two areas, and this summer we are traveling in the Gulf of Alaska for our survey. This second leg (out of 3 legs total) will head counterclockwise around the island of Kodiak. This survey, conducted by the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, uses acoustic technology to gather data on the distribution and abundance of fish, which provides researchers with pertinent information about the walleye pollock population.
The Oscar Dyson is a relatively new ship, equipped with noise quieting technology in order to create as little acoustic disturbance as possible when out at sea. Another neat feature crucial to the work of the Dyson is the acoustic transducers located on the bottom of the ship. There are several of these transducers, which are composed of small ceramic disks, and they help scientists detect ocean life and map the seafloor. If you are like me, you are probably wondering what a transducer is, right? It took me a couple of explanations and analogies in order to understand what was happening in these tiny devices. Remember, sound waves are pressure waves that move through a medium, in this case water. The transducer converts electrical energy to mechanical energy, expanding and contracting with electrical signal it receives. This expansion and contraction creates sound waves that move through the water away from the transducers. After sending the pressure waves the transducer switches modes to “listen” to the incoming waves. When the sound waves hit something in the water they are reflected back to the transducer. These reflected waves that are received by the transducers indicate the presence of obstacles in the water. An analogy for this process is that the transducer first acts as a speaker and then as a microphone.
Five of these transducers are being used for the pollock survey in order to detect pollock and other ocean life. The information the transducer receives back is automatically graphed on the computer. Scientists and other crew members can view and analyze this graph, and will use this information to determine when it is appropriate to send out a trawl to collect fish. There are also several transducers located around the bottom of the ship that are gathering information about the ocean floor. Hydrographic surveys use this technology as they map the sea floor. I am amazed at where we have come with technology, especially out at sea. Stay tuned for my next post to learn about more amazing technology we are using on board!
Lucky. That is how I would describe myself when I landed at the Kodiak airport on my flight from Anchorage. First, I was lucky that the flight I was scheduled on made it to Kodiak on its first attempt, as flights are often cancelled for poor weather or low visibility. Planes have been known to turn around and fly back to Anchorage if they can’t make a safe landing in Kodiak. I am also feeling very lucky to have the opportunity to partake in yet another assignment as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, in another area of the country I haven’t yet explored.
I arrived in Kodiak on the 4th of July, and was swept up from the airport by one of the NOAA Corps officers, ENS Justin Boeck. We weren’t scheduled to depart on the Oscar Dyson until Monday, July 6th, so Justin gave me a quick tour of the ship. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Oscar Dyson, but when my first thoughts climbing on board were that it would take me a week to find my way around! It is much larger than the last ship I was on, the Oregon II, down in the Gulf of Mexico.
Trying to take advantage of the nice weather, I decided to explore the area before we left. The town of Kodiak is quaint, and in walking through the downtown area, it is clear that fishing has been and will continue to be integral to the way of life here.
The science crew came in on the 4th as well from Seattle. I met them all when we went out to dinner Saturday evening. Even though we are going to be sleeping on the ship for next 2 nights before we depart, meals won’t be served until we are underway. I did manage to track down some good sushi and seafood places here in town, and am quite satisfied!
On Sunday, the weather turned for the worse, which made the walk into town for coffee a wet one. If you think weather changes quickly in Colorado, try coming to Alaska. My favorite image of the weather status was at a little shop in Homer, Alaska, which outlined a box with a marker on the window and wrote, “If you want to know the weather, look here.”
That afternoon, I was given a little orientation on what some of my tasks would be on the ship, as there is quite a bit going on in addition to the pollock survey. I will be spending most of my time in the acoustics lab analyzing data, the wet lab processing our catches, and chem lab for some of the special projects.
In the evening, the weather cleared just long enough for me to convince ENS Gilman (ok, he didn’t really need any convincing- he was just as excited as I was) to head down to the pier to test out the Waverunner, the ROV made by the students in my class. While the visibility was not the best, we were able to see plenty of moon jellies, sea anemones and some kelp beds. The ROV handled pretty well in the ocean, although we did have some difficulties bringing it back up when it went down too deep. Students, do you have any suggestions for how we could account for this? Any suggestions or modifications we need to make?
We were supposed to be leaving early afternoon on Monday, however due to the bad weather, several of our crew members had not yet made it in to Kodiak. They finally made it over later that afternoon and we left port at 11pm. I stayed up to watch the sun set as we were leaving port (yes, it does actually set in parts of Alaska), and pushed myself to stay awake for a few more hours. I’ll be working the night shift for the next few weeks, which means I’m on duty from 4pm-4am. The faster I can get myself used to this schedule, the better off I’ll be. The first days in Kodiak have been a blast, and I am excited to begin conducting our survey!
Did you know? Acoustic transducer technology has been in use since World War II.
Where on the ship is Wilson?
Wilson, our ring tail camo shark (so aptly named by our awesome science crew) , has been enjoying his time on the ship as much as I have. He has traveled all over the place, and is having fun with the crew on board. Can you guess where he is in the picture above?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 24, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak, AK Date: June 24, 2015
Wanderlust (n): a strong desire or urge to wander or travel and explore the world.
As I sit writing this initial blog post on the beach here in San Diego, California, I find myself reminiscent of the summer of 2012, the “summer of ships”, as I referred to it. In June of 2012, I was preparing for adventures of a lifetime, for I would be on board not one but two ships throughout that summer. The first, the mighty Oregon II, one of NOAA’s fishery vessels, conducting research in the Gulf of Mexico. The second, a luxurious cruise ship, sailing the waters of Alaska. Little did I know I would be sitting here, 3 years later, eagerly anticipating my voyage back to Alaska yet again on board one of NOAA’s fishery vessels, again as a Teacher at Sea.
My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am currently an elementary teacher at the Colorado STEM Academy just north of Denver, Colorado. I just finished my 11th year teaching, and I have had the privilege to teach some amazing students in Germany, California, and Colorado. I have a lot of fun with my students (like 3D printing sharks and coding our own reaction timer), and strive to give them as many engaging science experiences as I can. Outside of the classroom, you can find me creating opportunities for new adventures and experiences through travel and the outdoors. I love to hike and backpack the trails in Colorado with my faithful companion, Wesson. Traveling to new, uncharted territory is also a frequent occurrence.
I first learned about the Teacher at Sea program back in 2008, and it immediately went on my bucket list. After a couple years of applying, I was accepted as a TAS in 2012 and helped scientists conduct the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. It was by far one of the best experiences I have had, so much so, that when given the option to reapply, I knew I just had to. I am thrilled to be heading back to Alaska, this time wearing a different hat, to help scientists conduct the walleye pollock survey. The Walleye pollock is a key species in one of the largest fishing industries in the world. I am looking forward to helping scientists with this important research.
Animal adaptations presentation
3D printing sea creatures
Ms. Schmuttermair, Dr. Mikki, Dr. Caine, Cyndi on presentation day
The Spike crabs
My students spent the last several months of school immersed in the fascinating world of the ocean. Being in a landlocked state, the ocean was still relatively undiscovered for them, yet it drew my students in with a desire and passion I couldn’t feed quick enough. From engaging in problem/project based learning to studying ocean animals and their adaptations to skyping with our favorite shark scientist, Dr. Mikki, to creating 3D printed models of new ocean discoveries, I knew my students had found a niche and a passion for learning. They weren’t done yet though. After some brainstorming, we decided to spend the last month of school on an in-depth project learning about and building our very own underwater ROVs. Inspired by NOAA and James Cameron’s recent film, our class learned about how ROVs are built and how they are used in research in the ocean. Very fascinating! We ended our year building 5 ROVs, which culminated in a competition running them through various challenges. The winning ROV, the Waverunner, is coming with me on this trip to swim through the Alaskan waters off the shore in Kodiak. How cool is that?!
I am counting down the days until I head out to sea. Stay tuned for my next entry on board the mighty Oscar Dyson!
Did you know…that the scientific name for the Walleye Pollock was recently changed? After extensive genetic studies, researchers decided to change the scientific name from Theragra chalcogramma to Gadus chalcogrammus. Read more about it here.
Do you…have any questions about the research being done on Walleye pollock? Leave your questions in the comments below!
*Photos courtesy of Caine Delacey and Andrea Schmuttermair
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II June 22 – July 3
Mission: Groundfish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: July 7, 2012
As I write this final post, I sit at a cafe looking out at the Pacific Ocean. A cool ocean breeze kisses my face, and the smell of the salty sea air fills my nostrils. Different from the damp air and blazing sun that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, yet the ocean all the same. I know I am in my element, and will soak in as much ocean as possible before heading back to land-locked Colorado.
I have spent a lot of time this past week thinking about my trip on the Oregon II, at sea with people passionate about the work they do. I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have had this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity (although I am certain I will do this again) to not only participate in real-life science, but to be able to share this experience with my students.
I have spent some time talking about the scientists that were on board with me on the Oregon II, and I must say that my experience would not have been the same had it not been for these people I worked so closely with. When traveling, it is not only important to see the sights and soak in the culture, but to also get to know the locals. Hear their story. Spend time with them. Listen to them. I placed as much importance on getting to know some of the scientists and crew on board as I did the work that we were doing. In that, I know I have made lasting relationships.
The more I talk to my friends and family and fellow teachers back at home, I am realizing that working on a ship is not for everyone. In fact, it takes a special person to spend a good portion of their years on a ship, away from friends and family, up to their elbows (quite literally) in fish. The adventurous side of me absolutely loved this, and hopes to do it again in the future. Alonzo, my watch leader, says I am welcome back any time. Well, Alonzo, I may just take you up on that one of these days.
Towards the end of my cruise, I had the opportunity to interview one of the junior NOAA Corps officers on board the Oregon II, ENS Junie Cassone. In her interview, she talks about life in the NOAA Corps and how one can become a NOAA Corps officer.
My final post would not be complete without a few last critter pics, as I’ve started naming my ever-growing file. Here are some of my favorite critters from our last few trawls.
To wrap up, I’d like to post one final Critter Query. When we brought up out trawls, I noticed some fish had this red bulge coming out of their mouths. I had never seen this before, and inquired what it was. Do you know what it is and what causes it?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II June 22 – July 3, 2012
Mission: Groundfish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: July 1, 2012
Ship Data from the Bridge Latitude: 2957.02N
Speed: 10 knots
Wind Speed: 9.65
Wind Direction: S/SE
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 28.2 C
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure: 1017 mb
Water Depth: 57.54 m
Science and Technology Log
Reminiscent of my days in high school chemistry, today I had the opportunity to work with our Chief Scientist, Brittany, on completing the daily titration. If you remember, getting readings on the dissolved oxygen in the water is an important part of this survey as we locate any hypoxic (less than 2 mg of oxygen per liter of water) zones or anoxic (no oxygen) zones. This is done with a computerized device on the CTD, but we want to make sure that our readings are accurate. Because “chemistry never lies”, this is how we ensure our readings are accurate.
With our CTD, we have the ability to collect water samples at various depths. We do not collect water samples at every CTD, but rather one or two a day during the daytime hours. We collect water from the bottom to see if there is any expansion of hypoxia.
When the CTD comes back up, we use an Orion dissolved oxygen meter, which is a handheld device, to get a dissolved oxygen reading from our samples. We put the probe on the end of the meter gently into the containers of water on the CTD to get our reading. We will use this number in conjunction with the information sent from the CTD to our dry lab to check against our titration results.
Once we have the reading with the probe, we are ready to take some samples for our titration. We then take the water samples in the cylinders, rinse out our 300 mL BOD (biological oxygen demand) glass bottles a few times with that water, and then fill the botttles up with the sea water from the bottom. These samples are brought back to our Chem Lab (short for chemistry, as I’m sure you figured out) where we will test the amount of dissolved oxygen.
We are using the Winkler method to find the amount of dissolved oxygen in our water samples. The first step in this process is to put 2mL of manganese sulfate into the bottle. After that, we also add 2 mL of azide- iodide. With those 2 chemicals added, we carefully replace the stopper and give the bottle a good shake. We then can wait about 10-15 minutes for the chemicals to settle at the bottom. Pipettes are used to add the liquids and allow us to be very precise in our measurements.
After the particles have settled at the bottom, we add 2 mL of sulfuric acid (which can be a dangerous chemical if used inappropriately), replace the stopper, and shake the bottle again gently. The sulfuric acid “fixes” the solution. Finally we add 2 mL of starch to the solution, which is a blue indicator when we put it in but turns the solution a burnt orange color. Now we are ready to titrate!
Prepared beforehand was a burette filled with phenylarsine oxide, what we use to drip into the sample. We pour the sample into a beaker and place it on a magnetic plate. We’ve placed a magnetic stirrer in the beaker so it gently stirs the solution while we are titrating. We let the phenylarsine oxide slowly drip into the sample until it turns clear. When it does this, we note the amount of phenylarsine oxide that we put in the sample (which is equivalent to the amount of oxygen in the water), and the number should match (or be very close) to the reading of dissolved oxygen that we received from the CTD and the Orion dissolved oxygen meter.
This process is quite simple yet yields important results and is just one of the ways scientists verify their data.
One other interesting thing happened the other night on one of our shifts. We had brought in a bongo tow and were looking into the codends to see what we got. When Alex began rinsing the sample with some salt water, the whole codend began to illuminate. Why did it illuminate? Bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is essentially a chemical reaction that produces light. Many marine critters can produce bioluminescence, as seen below.
One of the things I’ve probably enjoyed the most about my trip so far are the relationships I’ve formed with the people on board. As a teacher, one of my top priorities is to build and maintain relationships with my students, both past and present. That became a bit more of a challenge to me this past year as I took on a new position and began teaching 600 students rather than the 30 I was used to.
I’ve come to love working with the scientists on the night watch, as each of them brings something to the table. Our watch leader, Alonzo, has a wealth of knowledge that he gladly shares with each of us, pushing us to learn more and find the answer for ourselves. I’ve improved immensely on identifying the different fish, crabs and shrimp we find (thanks to Lindsey, who is my partner in crime for making up silly ways to remember these crazy Latin names for all our species). Where I came in knowing names of very few if any types of Gulf critters, I can now confidently identify 15-20 different species. I’m learning more about how to look for the subtle differences between different species, and Alonzo has been able to sit back and be that “guide on the side” while we work and input all of our data. His patient demeanor has allowed all of us to become more self-sufficient and to become more confident in the knowledge we have gained thus far on this trip.
Alex, another one of the scientists on my watch, shows an endless enthusiasm for marine science. He shares in my excitement when a trawl comes up, and the both of us rush out there to watch the net come up, often guessing how big we think the catch is going to be. Will it fill one basket? Two? Six? It’s even more exciting when we get inside and lay it out on the conveyor belt and can really examine everything carefully. His wish finally came true today as we are now in the eastern part of the Gulf. Alex is studying lionfish (Pterois volitans) for his research, and of course has been hoping to catch some. Today we caught 4, along with a multitude of other unique critters that we have not seen yet. Alex’s enthusiasm and passion for science is something I hope my students can find, whether it be in marine science, biology, or meteorology- whatever it is they love is what I hope they pursue.
Lindsey and Renee are both graduate students. Rene wanted to gain some experience and came on the ship as a volunteer. What a better way to get a hands-on experience! Lindsey has joined us on this cruise because she is doing research on Sargassum communities. She has been able to collect quite a few Sargassum samples to include in her research for her thesis. Lindsey, like Alex, is very passionate and excited about what she does. I’ve never seen someone more excited to pull up a net full of Sargassum (which I’m sure you remember is a type of seaweed) in order to sift through and find critters. She has a great eye, though, because she always manages to find even the tiniest of critters in her samples. Just yesterday she found a baby seahorse that couldn’t have been more than a few millimeters long! Outside I hear her giggle with glee- I know this is because she has found a Sargassum fish, which is her all-time favorite.
Our night watch would not be complete without the deck crew, Tim, Reggie and Chuck, who are responsible for helping us lower the CTD, Neuston and bongo tows, and for the trawl net. Our work could not be done without them.
William, one of our engineers, took me down into the engine room the other day. First impressions- it was hot and noisy! It was neat to see all the different machines. The ship makes its own water using a reverse osmosis system, which takes water from the ocean and converts it into drinking water for us (this water is also used for showers and sinks on board). One interesting note is that the toilets actually use salt water rather than fresh water so that we conserve our fresh water.
I cannot believe how fast this leg has gone and that we only have a few more shifts to go before we return to the Oregon II’s home port of Pascagoula. As we’ve moved into the eastern waters of the Gulf, we have seen a lot of different types of critters. On average, our most recent trawls have been much more brightly colored. We are near some coral reefs too- in our trawls we have pulled up a bit of coral and sponge. The markings on some of the fish are very intriguing, and even fish we’ve seen before seem to be just a little brighter in color out here.
Due to the fact that we are finding very different critters, my list of favorites for today has greatly increased! Here are just a few:
Now that we’ve talked about how we collect, sort, and measure our catch, let’s take a closer look at the way we measure, weigh and sex our critters.
When measuring the critters, we use a fish board that is activated by a magnetic wand to measure the animal to the nearest millimeter.
When the fish is placed on the measuring line, we touch the magnetic wand to the board and the length is recorded into our computer program, FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).
Depending on the type of fish we catch, there are different ways to measure it.
When we are done measuring, the fish is placed on a scale to determine its weight to the nearest gram. When we confirm the weight of the fish, that weight is automatically put in the computer for us- no need to enter it manually.
Our last task is to determine the sex of the fish. For many fish, this is done by making an incision in the belly of the fish from their anus to their pelvic fins. It’s easiest to determine the sex when it is a female with eggs. In the males, you can see milt, or sperm, which is a milky white color.
For the flatfish, you can see the female’s ovaries when you hold the fish up to the light. Males lack this feature.
Because we were catching quite a few shrimp earlier in the leg, I got pretty good at sexing the shrimp. Remember, we take samples of 200 for each type of shrimp, and we often had more than one type of shrimp in each trawl. Male shrimp have a pestama on their first pleura to attach onto the females. The females are lacking this part. Although it’s not necessarily an indication of sex, on average the female shrimp tend to be larger than the males.
You know from my previous post what we do with the data we gather from the shrimp, but what about the other fish? With the other fish and critters we catch, we use the data to compare the distribution across the Gulf and to compare it to the historical data we’ve collected in the past to look for trends and changes.
Sometimes scientists also have special requests for samples of a certain species. Some scientists are doing diet studies to learn more about what certain types of fish eat. Other studies include: species verification, geographic range extensions, age and growth, and distribution. Through our program, we have the ability to create tags for the scientists requesting the samples, allowing us to bag and freeze them to send to labs when we return to land.
I’ve had a few people ask me what the living quarters and the food is like on the ship, so I wandered around the ship with my camera the other day to snap some shots of the inside of the Oregon II. There are 17 staterooms on board. Most of the staterooms are doubles, such as mine, and are equipped with bunk beds to sleep on. It makes me reminisce of my days at camp, as it’s been a while since I’ve slept on a bunk bed! We have a sink and some cabinets to store our belongings. Once a week they do room inspections to ensure our rooms are neat and orderly. Most importantly, they want to make sure that our belongings are put away. If we hit rough waters, something such as a water bottle could become a dangerous projectile.
My stateroom is on the bottom deck, where there are also communal showers and toilets for us to use. We can do our laundry down here, providing the seas aren’t too rough. Most of the staterooms are on this bottom deck, as the upper 2 levels are the “living areas” of the ship. On the main deck is the galley, where we eat all our meals, or where we head to when we are trying to make it through the shift to grab a snack or a cup of coffee. This tends to be right around 4:30/5:00am for me, especially when we aren’t too busy. I’ve gotten used to the night shift now, but it still can be tiring, especially when we have a long wait in between stations. Our stewards take very good care of us, and there is always something to snack on. Meals have been pretty tasty too, with plenty of fresh seafood. My favorite!
On the top deck we have the lounge, a place where we hang out in between shifts. We have quite a good movie selection on board, but to be honest we haven’t had the time to take advantage of it. They’ve kept us very busy on our shifts so far, and today is one of the first days we’ve had a lot of downtime. Outside we also have some workout equipment- a bike and a rowing machine- to use on our off time. When you set the rowing machine out on deck, it’s almost like you are rowing right on the ocean!
The other day, 2 of the NOAA Corps officers, LT Harris and LT Miller (who is also the XO for the Oregon II) and 2 of the deck crew, Chris and Tim, got ready to go out on a dive. NOAA Corps officers need to do a dive once a month to keep up their certification. Sometimes they may need to fix something that is wrong with the boat, and other dives are to practice certain dive skills. They dove in the Flower Gardens, which is a national marine sanctuary with a wide diversity of sea life. I was hoping they’d see a whale shark, but no such luck. We stopped all operations for the duration of their dive.
Favorite Catch of the Day: Here are a few cool critters we pulled up today. In addition to these critters, we also started seeing some sea stars, lots of scallops, and a variety of shells.
Critter Query: This isn’t a critter question today, but rather a little bit of NOAA trivia.
What is the oldest ship in the NOAA fleet and where is its home port?
Don’t forget to leave your answers in the comments below!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II June 22 – July 3
Mission: Groundfish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: June 26, 2012
Ship Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 2805.26N
Wind Speed: 5.86 knots
Wind Direction: E/SE
Surface Water Salinity: 35.867 PPT
Air Temperature: 28.8 C
Relative Humidity: 86%
Barometric Pressure: 1010.51 mb
Water Depth: 96.5 m
Science and Technology Log
Opisthonema oglinum, Lagadon rhomboides, Chloroscombus chrysurus…..yes, I have officially started dreaming about taxonomic names of our fish. It’s day 4 and I now have a much better grasp at identifying the variety of critters we pull up in our trawls. I am always excited to be out on deck when they bring up the trawl to see what interesting critters we catch. Surprises are great!
Do you want to know where the Oregon II is headed?
If you click on the link above, you can see the path that our ship is taking to hit all of our stations for the survey. We often have station after station to hit- meaning as soon as we are done sorting and measuring, we have to bring in the next catch. Because some stations are only 3-5 miles apart, we sometimes have to do “double dips”, where we put in the trawl for 30 minutes, pull it up, and put it right back in again.
It’s been interesting to note the variety of our catches. Croakers, bumperfish, and shrimp have been in high abundance the last 2 days as we were in shallower water. Before that we had a couple of catches that had a high abundance of pinfish. When we take our subsample, we typically enter data for up to 20 of that particular species. We take length measurements on each fish, and on every fifth fish. We will also weigh and sex it (if sexing is possible).
When we were in shallower waters, we had a significant increase in the number of shrimp we brought up. Tuesday morning was the first catch that did not have well over 200 shrimp (this is because we’ve been moving into deeper waters). For the 3 commercial shrimp, white (farfantepenaeussetiferus), pink (farfantepenaeusduorarum), and brown (farfantepenaeusaztecus), we take 200 samples, as opposed to our high-quantity fish, where we will only take 20 samples. For each of the commercial shrimp we catch, we measure, weigh and sex each shrimp. I’ve gotten very good at identifying the sex of shrimp- some of the fish are much more difficult to tell. The information we get from this survey will determine the amount of shrimp that boats can take during the shrimping season in Louisiana and Mississippi. During the first leg of the groundfish survey, the data collected determined the amount of shrimp that could be caught in Texas. The groundfish survey is crucial for the shrimping industry and for ensuring that shrimp are not overfished.
Students- think of the food chain. What would happen if we overfished and took out too many shrimp? (Hint: Think of predators and prey.)
We’ve now started doing 2 different tows in addition to our trawls. Some of the stations are trawl stations, whereas others are plankton stations.
At a trawl station, we lower the trawl from the stern down to the ocean floor. The trawl net is meant for catching larger critters that live at the bottom of the ocean. There is a chain, also known as a “tickler”, which moves lightly across the ocean floor to lure fish to leave their hiding spots and swim into our net. The trawl is down for 30 minutes, after which it is brought back on deck to weigh the total catch, and then brought back into the wet lab for sorting.
Another important mission of the groundfish survey is to collect plankton samples. To do this, we use a Neuston tow and a bongo tow.
The Neuston tow has a large, rectangular frame with a fine mesh net attached to it. At the end of the net is a large cylindrical bucket, called a codend, with a mesh screen meant for catching the organisms. In comparison to the trawl net, which has openings of 41.4mm , the Neuston’s mesh is only 0.947mm. This means the mesh is significantly finer, meant for catching some of the smaller critters and plankton that would otherwise escape the trawl net. The Neuston tow is put on the surface of the water and towed for 10 minutes. Half the tow is in the water while half is out. We end up picking up a lot of Sargassum, or, seaweed, that is found floating at the water’s surface. When we gather a lot of Sargassum, we have to sift through it and spray it to get out any of the organisms that like to hide in their protective paradise.
After we’ve completed the Neuston tow, we do the bongo tow. The bongo’s mesh is even finer than the Neuston tow’s mesh at only 0.333mm. The bongo has 2 parts- a left and a right bongo (and yes they do look a little like bongo drums- hence their name). The top part of the bongo is a large cylinder with an open bottom and top. The net is attached to this cylinder, and again at the bottom of each side is cylindrical tube called codends meant to catch the plankton. The bongo tow is meant to take a sample from the entire water column. This means that instead of riding on the surface of the water, it gets sent down to about 3 meters from the ocean floor (there is a sensor at the top that is 2m from the bottom of the net) and brought back up immediately.
For both tows, it is important to rinse the nets to get any lasting organisms we might not see with our own eyes into our sample. Once we’ve done this, we bring the tubes back into the wet lab where we continue to rinse them through a sieve so that only certain items are leftover. In the Neuston, we often find small fish (usually less than 3mm), baby shrimp, crabs and Jessica’s favorite, the Sargassum fish. Most recently a few flying fish got caught in our Neuston tow. Prior to pulling it up, I was enjoying watching them flit across the water- they were about all we could see in the water in the middle of the night. After being rinsed thoroughly through the sieve, we preserve them by placing the sample in a glass jar with either ethanol or formaldehyde solutions. They are preserved in ethanol for DNA work and in formaldehyde for long-term preservation. These samples are then saved to send to a lab in Poland, which is the sorting center for the SEAMAP samples.
Well, I think I am finally getting used to the schedule of working the night shift. I am thankful that my bunk is on the bottom floor of the ship- which means it is completely dark- so that I can sleep during the daytime. Yesterday was probably one of the least busy days we’ve had so far, and because we were in deeper waters, our trawls were much smaller. This means I had a little more time to work on my blogs, which at times can be hard to fit in. It amazes me that we have internet access on the ship, and it’s not even as slow as I expected. It goes down from time to time, especially when the waters are rough. We’ve been fortunate to have pretty calm waters, aside from the first day.
You may have heard about Hurricane Debby on the news as it prepared to hit the Gulf. On Sunday, we were heavily debating heading back to Galveston to “bunker down” and ride out the storm. However, the storm that was forming seemed to dissipate and head in a different direction, thank goodness. I was not thrilled about the possibility of heading back to port!
We had our first drills the day after we set sail. The drills- fire and abandon ship are distinguished by different types of bells, similar to using Morse code. The abandon ship drill was fun. We got to put on our survival suit, which is like a big orange Gumby suit. It not only protects you in cold water, but also makes you highly visible. I remember reading some of the former TAS blogs, and this picture was always in. Of course, I’ve got to add mine as well.
I’ve been having fun exploring different areas of the ship, even though there is only so far you can go on the ship. Yesterday, I went up to the bridge, which is the front of the ship where the captain or the NOAA Corps officers steer the ship from. You can think of it like a control center of an airplane. There are navigation charts (both computerized and paper) and radars that help guide the ship so it knows what obstacles are out there. There is a great view from the bridge that you don’t get anywhere else on the ship. It’s also fun to watch the folks down on deck when they are deploying the CTD or either of the 2 tows.
We’ve caught such an abundance of critters, I thought I’d share some of my favorite catches thus far:
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II June 22 – July 3
Mission: Groundfish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: June 24, 2012
Ship Data from the Bridge Latitude: 2858 N
Longitude: 9310.96 W
Speed: 10 mph
Wind Speed: 6.77
Wind Direction: N/NE
Surface Water Salinity: 30.9
Air Temperature: 28.5 C
Relative Humidity: 79%
Barometric Pressure: 1009.84 mb
Water Depth: 24.3 meters
And the journey has begun! I arrived in Houston on Thursday afternoon, only to be whisked away by Chief Scientist Andre DeBose to meet a few of the other scientists and crew for dinner. I had a great time getting to know a few of the people I will be working with over the next couple of weeks. We arrived to the port at Galveston about 10pm, where I got a quick tour of the Oregon II, my home for the next 2 weeks. Exhausted from traveling, I made myself at home in my stateroom before turning in for the evening.
Because we weren’t scheduled to set sail until 1400, I had a bit of time in the morning to explore Galveston. Being the adventurous type , I took this time to explore the land I would soon be leaving. The Oregon II is docked at Pier 21, located on “The Strand”, a strip filled with historic buildings and tourist shops. I spent most of my morning snapping photos, checking out the shops, and tracking down a good breakfast burrito at one
of the many Mexican food places that don the strip.
Once back at the ship, we were briefed on the “Do’s and Don’ts” while on board, and what our shifts would look like. I am on the night watch, which means I will be working from midnight until noon each day. This will be a tough schedule to get used to, but I’m hoping we’ll see some neat things at night, and that it will be a little cooler out. I knew I should get to sleep as soon as we set sail, however I couldn’t help hanging out on deck for a little while as we left the port. I was rewarded for this opportunity by watching the pelicans and dolphins seeing our ship out of the port. I snapped a few more photos, enjoyed the cool breeze, and then headed down for bed.
I had quite a blast on my first night shift. I think keeping busy was a good thing, even though it was exhausting. I enjoyed getting to know my team a little better, and of course, checking out all the critters! Some of my favorites were the squid, sharp-nose and dogfish sharks, lizardfish, and my all-time favorite so far – the bashful crab.
Science and Technology Log
I am always under the mindset that if you want to learn something, you need to throw yourself in head first. Well, that’s exactly what I did on my very first shift on the Oregon II. We are split up into 2 shifts — midnight to noon or noon to midnight. On my watch, I am working with our watch leader, Alonzo, 2 scientists, Lindsey and Alex, and a volunteer, Renee. Our Field Party Chief Scientist (FPC), Andre, had to leave unexpectedly. Our new FPC, Brittany, was with us a bit of this first watch to make sure we understood our tasks, as I had lots of questions! Not only did I get the privilege to work the nightshift (I know you’re probably wondering why I said privilege — I’ll explain soon), but we also had one of the busiest shifts we’re anticipated to have for the length of this cruise. Just after midnight on Saturday morning, we pulled up our first trawl and conducted our first CTD.
A CTD, if you remember from my first blog, stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. We put the device overboard in the front of the ship (the bow), and let it sit just below the surface for about 3 minutes so the sensors can warm up before we drop it to its scheduled depth. Then we lower it so it is as close to the ocean floor as possible. We do this at every station to collect important information about the oxygen level in the water in these areas. This information is important because we want to find out what the optimal conditions (temperature, salinity and oxygen levels) are for the specimens we collect. Knowing what environmental conditions suit each species allows us to see how shifts in the environment can impact populations. The data from the CTD is displayed on the computer in our dry lab, where the data points are plotted on a graph.
The dry lab is where we process a lot of our data both from the CTD and the sampling. We can monitor our CTD casts and find the weather information here. It is also the area where scientists go when there is a bit of downtime to relax before the next catch is brought in.
Over in the back of the ship, also known as the stern, the trawl picks up all sorts of critters from the ocean bottom. When we’re ready, the deck crew helps us bring up the trawl and dump our catch into large buckets on deck. We had so much on the first catch that they dumped it out on the floor and we shoveled it into buckets like we were shoveling snow. We then weighed our catch before bringing it in and sorting it. Our first few catches were quite large — we had 6 or 7 baskets full of critters! Each basket can hold roughly 25kg. So, mathematicians, about how many kilograms were our first couple of catches? The nighttime brings on some interesting animals, and there is a certain excitement to staring out at the pitch black ocean.
With these large catches, jumping in head first was exactly what I had to do. I got a quick crash course in how to identify and sort the fish. I had no idea there would be so many different types! From the entire catch, we were to pull out red snapper, shrimp (pink, white and brown only), blue crabs, and anything unusual. We did this by dumping all the fish in a large trough, which we would then dig through to find our samples and place them in separate baskets.
We are pulling out samples primarily of shrimp because that is one of the main focuses of our survey this summer. The estimated abundance of shrimp, calculated from the trawl catches, is used to set limits for the commercial fishermen.
In addition to sorting out these important critters, we would also take what we call a subsample, the size of which is determined by the size of our total catch. Of this subsample, we sorted out everything in this section of the catch. We often had over 20 different types fish or crustaceans! Once the subsample was sorted, Alonzo would then weigh the total weight of a certain species and enter the data into our computer system. From here the fun part really began.
We would measure the length of each critter on our measuring board, which uses a magnetic wand to capture the data and send it directly to the computer database. For most of the species, we would also take the weight of the first fish and every fifth fish thereafter, and, if possible, also determine its sex and stage of maturity. All this information was entered in the database. We typically worked in teams of 2 with one person measuring and weighing the fish and the other entering information into the computer. We were a bit slow to start, but after the first catch we had a system down. Once we had all of our data, we bagged up some of the fish that people have requested for samples while the rest headed back to the ocean. Fish from our survey will go to scientists in lab across the country to study further.
Because all the stations were about 2-5 miles apart on our first watch, we were working nonstop from midnight until about 11am. We pulled up about 7 catches, and almost always had a catch waiting to be sorted on deck.
Don’t forget, you can leave your questions in the “Comments” section below, and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Students: Don’t forget to put your name in your response. Remember, the first one to respond correctly will receive a prize in the fall!
Critter Query #1: What’s the biggest commercial shrimp found in the Gulf of Mexico and what is its scientific name?
Critter Query #2: Name 3 types of shark found in the Gulf of Mexico. (more than one correct response — all correct responses will receive a prize providing there are no repeats)
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012
Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (between Galveston TX and Pascagoula, MS)
Date: June 7, 2012
Personal Log (pre-cruise)
++ = ?
That’s right! Ms. Schmuttermair is heading to sea this summer as a participant in NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program!
Hi! My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am a 3-6 grade science teacher at The Academy in Westminster, CO. I just finished up my first year in this position, and absolutely love engaging my students in important science concepts. Outside of the classroom, I can be found hiking, biking, and exploring the mountains of beautiful Colorado with my dog, Wesson.
Growing up in San Diego, CA, I would definitely consider myself an “ocean lover”. I grew up spending countless hours at the beach, checking out the sea life that washed up in the tide pools and snorkeling in La Jolla Cove. When I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, I knew it was right up my alley. Living in land-locked Colorado, I strive to bring both my love and knowledge of the ocean to my students. One of the most memorable teaching moments for me this year was seeing my 3rd graders have that “Aha!” moment when they realized what we do here in Colorado greatly affects our oceans, even though they are hundreds of miles away.
Now, in just a couple short weeks, I will don my sea legs, leave dry land behind, and set sail on the Oregon II. The Oregon II, one of NOAA’s 11 fishery vessels, conducts fishery and marine research to help ensure that our fish population in the ocean is sustainable. Fishery vessels work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide important information about fish populations and what regulations about fishing practices need to be in place.
This summer, we will be conducting the summer groundfish survey, a survey that has been conducted for the past 30 years. This particular survey is conducted during the summer months between Alabama and Mexico. On this second leg of the survey, we will be sailing from Galveston, TX to the Oregon II’s home port of Pascagoula, MS.
What exactly is a groundfish survey, you ask? When I first received my acceptance letter, they informed me that this was the “critter cruise”, and I, being the critter lover, was thrilled! The main goal of this survey is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth. In addition to collecting shrimp samples, we may also collect samples of bottomfish and crustaceans. It will also be important to collect meteorological data while out at sea. I am excited to see what kind of critters we pull up!
How will we be catching all of these critters and collecting data while out at sea? The Oregon II has a variety of devices to help collect information about the ocean, including bottom trawls and a CTD. The bottom trawl is a large net that is towed to collect shrimp and other bottom dwellers that will be sorted once the catch is brought aboard. A CTD (stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) is an instrument that can collect a wide variety of data, including temperature, salinity and oxygen content. I can’t wait to learn how some of these tools are operated!
What are my goals while out at sea?
To learn as much about the environment I am in as possible.
To ask the scientists plenty of questions about their research, and why collecting data is so important.
To take many pictures to bring back to my students
To get to know the crew on board, and how they came to work on the Oregon II
Not getting seasick!
Now it’s your turn: What would YOU like to know more about? Is it more about the animals we bring up in our trawls? Maybe it’s to learn more about life on the Oregon II, and specifications about this ship. Perhaps you’d like to know how to become a scientist with NOAA and work on board one of their many ships. Leave your questions in the “Comments” section below (you are welcome to do this in any of my entries), and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the challenge questions, which from this point forward I will refer to as the “Critter Query”.