I can’t believe I’ve been back on land for one week already. My 14 days on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson flew by. Everyone has asked me how my trip was and I simply state, “epic.” It was by far one of the coolest experiences of my life. I am proud of myself for taking on such an adventure. I hope I inspire my daughters, students, and colleagues to never stop daring, dreaming, and discovering. The trip itself exceeded my highest expectations. I realized how lucky I was to have such warm weather and calm seas. The scientists agreed it was one of calmest expeditions they have ever had in terms of sea conditions. One of the coolest experiences of being a Teacher at Sea was the ability to see every aspect of the vessel. The NOAA Corps officers, the deck crew, and the scientists were so welcoming and friendly. I truly felt at home on board wherever I ventured. By the end of our cruise, our science watch was seamless while conducting the fish surveys. I got the biggest compliment on the last day of our trip when two of the deck crew said they thought I was one of the NOAA scientists the whole time. They both had no idea I was actually a teacher at sea until I mentioned that I was headed back home to teach in Key West.
when I thought my adventure was over, I had one of my most memorable moments of
the trip. The science team and I had some down time while waiting to board our
flight out of Kodiak to Anchorage. We were so thrilled to be back on land that we
decided to go on a walk-about around the airport area. We stumbled upon a
freshwater river where Pink Salmon were spawning (aka a salmon run). The salmon
run is the time when salmon, which have migrated from the ocean, swim to the
upper reaches of rivers where they spawn on gravel beds. We stood on the river
bank in awe watching hundreds of them wiggle upstream. We also came across
fresh bear scat (poop) that was still steaming. It was pretty crazy! Our
walk-about was such a random fun ending to an epic adventure.
I am so thankful for this opportunity. It was the trip of a lifetime. It was an honor and a privilege that I will never forget. I will be sharing it with my students for years to come. I am looking forward to attending future NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumni gatherings to meet fellow TAS participants and continuing this amazing experience.
Latitude: 57° 01.84 N Longitude: 151 ° 35.12 W Wind Speed: 8.45 knots Wind Direction: 257.79° Air Temperature: 15.3°C Sea Temperature: 14.6°C Barometric Pressure: 1010 mbar
Science and Technology Log
Chief Scientist Matt Wilson showed me how to collect otolith samples from pollock. Otoliths are the inner ear bones of fish that keep a record of a fish’s entire life. Similar to tree rings, scientists count the annual growth rings on the otolith to estimate the age of the fish. The size of the ring can also help scientists determine how well the fish grew within that year. To remove the otolith, a cut is made slightly behind the pollock’s eyes. Using forceps, you then remove the otoliths carefully.
NOAA Junior Unlicensed Engineer Blair Cahoon gave me a tour of the engine room yesterday. Before venturing below deck, we had to put on ear protection to protect our ears from the loud roars of engine equipment.
The Oscar Dyson has a total of four engines. The two larger engines are 12 cylinders and the two smaller engines are 8 cylinders. These engines are attached to generators. The motion of the engines gives force motion to the generators, which in turn power the entire ship. On a safety note, NOAA Junior Unlicensed Engineer Blair Cahoon also pointed out that the ship has two of every major part just in case a backup is needed.
The engine room also holds the water purification system, which converts seawater into potable water. Each of the two evaporators can distill between 600-900 gallons of water a day. The Oscar Dyson typically uses between 800-1000 gallons of water a day. The engineers shared with me how this system actually works:
1. Seawater is pumped onto the boat and is boiled using heat from the engine.
2. Seawater is evaporated and leaves behind brine, which gets pumped off of the ship.
3. Water vapor moves through cooling lines and condenses into another tank producing fresh water.
4. This water is then run through a chemical bromide solution to filter out any leftover unwanted particles.
5. The finely filtered water is stored in potable water holding tanks.
6. The last step before consumption is for the water to pass through a UV system that kills any remaining bacteria or harmful chemicals in the water.
We then got to explore the lower parts of the engine room where I got to see the large rotating shaft which connects directly to the propeller and moves the ship. I have learned from my years of working on boats to be extremely careful in this area near the rotating shaft. You must make sure you do not have any loose clothing, etc. that could get caught or hung up in it.
I was unsure of what life would be like for two weeks on a scientific research vessel. We are now steaming towards station number 72 on day twelve at sea. We have done 65 bongo tows and 65 trawls. So yes, there is a lot of repetition day in and day out. However, each day brings its own set of challenges and/or excitement. Weather (wind direction, wave direction, current, etc.) makes each station uniquely challenging for the NOAA Corps Officers on the bridge and the deck crew below. I stand back in awe watching it all come together on our 209 foot ship. I get excited to see what new creature might appear in our latest trawl haul besides the hundreds of kilograms of jellyfish, haha.
Did You Know?
One of the coolest things I learned on my engine tour is that when large equipment parts need to be replaced (like an engine or generator), engineers actually cut a giant hole in the side of the ship to get the old equipment out and the new parts in rather than take it apart and lug it up through the decks piece by piece.
Animals Seen Today
The overnight science shift found a juvenile Wolf Eel in one of their trawl samples. It is not actually a wolf or an eel. It is in fact, a fish with the face of a ‘wolf’ and the body of an eel. Its appearance has been described as having the eyes of a snake, jaws of a wolf, and the grace of a goldfish. They can grow up to eight feet in length and weigh upwards of ninety pounds. Juveniles have a burnt orange hue and the adults are brown, grey, or green. Check out this website for more info about the super creepy wolf eel: https://www.alaskasealife.org/aslc_resident_species/44
Something to Think About
In one of our trawls, we processed 850 kilograms of jellyfish…. That’s 1,874 pounds of jellyfish!!!
Latitude: 58° 27.67 N Longitude: 152 ° 53.00 W Wind Speed: 5.96 knots Wind Direction: 152° Air Temperature: 12.4°C Sea Temperature: 15°C Barometric Pressure: 1008 mbar
Science and Technology Log
I feel the need to start off by stating that the shark did in fact swim away. During our mid-afternoon trawl haul back, Chief Boatswain Ryan Harris called over the radio that we had caught a shark in the trawl net. We quickly put on our boots, hard hats, and life preservers and headed to the back deck. Unfortunately, a 3.2m female Pacific Sleeper Shark had gotten caught in our trawl as bycatch. Thanks to the quick response of our NOAA deck crew, we were able to release the shark back into the water alive.
Unlike most sharks, the Pacific Sleeper Shark is predominantly a scavenger and rarely hunts. They are slow swimmers, but move through the water quite gracefully without much effort of body movement. This lack of movement allows them to catch prey easy since they don’t make much noise/ vibrations in the water. They feed by cutting and suction. The sleeper shark’s large mouth allows it to suck its prey in. Its spear-like teeth help cut prey down into smaller pieces. It then swallows its prey by rolling its head. For more info about this cool shark, visit: https://www.sharksider.com/pacific-sleeper-shark/ .
Bycatch is defined as the unwanted fish and other marine creatures caught (e.g. hooked, entangled or trapped) during commercial fishing for a different species. Bycatch is both an issue ecologically and economically. Bycatch can slow the rebuilding of overfished stocks. Organisms that are discarded sometimes die and cannot reproduce. These mortalities put protected species such as whales and sea turtles even further at risk. Bycatch can change the availability of prey and cause cascading effects at all trophic levels. Bycatch can also occur when fishing gear has been lost, discarded, or is otherwise no longer being used to harvest fish (aka marine debris).
NOAA Fisheries works hand in hand with fishing industries to better understand fishing gear, and to develop, test, and implement alternative fishing gear. For example, NOAA Fisheries and their partners developed turtle excluder devices to reduce sea turtle mortality in the southeastern shrimp trawl fishery. NOAA Fisheries funds the Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program that supports the development of technological solutions and changes in fishing practices designed to minimize bycatch. Laws like the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act also uphold the reduction of current and future bycatch of species.
It’s hard to believe that today is already day eight at sea. To be honest, I don’t even notice that I am on a ship anymore. We have been very lucky weather wise and the seas are still very calm. I have been spending more time on the bridge assisting with the ‘marine mammal watch’. As I said in blog two, we must keep an eye out for any marine mammals in the area before conducting any water surveys. The bridge is amazing because not only do you get the best view, but you also get to observe how the ship operates in terms of headings, maneuverability, and navigation.
The Shelikof Strait is breathtaking. Chief Electronics Technician Rodney Terry pointed out the white ‘cloud’ above one of the snow-capped mountains was actually an active volcano with a smoke plume rising above it. It was incredible to be able to look out and see a glacier and an active volcano in the same panorama.
During one of my marine mammal watches on the bridge, I noticed an oddly flat area of land in the middle of the mountain range that ran along the shoreline. NOAA Corps Officer LT Carl Noblitt explained to me this was actually where a glacier had once weathered down part of the mountain range over time. The glacier has since melted so now all that remains today is its glacial trough.
Animals Seen Today
Besides our unexpected visitor today in the trawl, I was thrilled to hear Chief Boatswain Ryan Harris call out from the scientific deck for Orcas on the horizon. Orcas (aka Killer Whales) have always been a dream of mine to see in the wild. They were pretty far away from the boat, but I was able to see the trademark black dorsal fin rising and sinking at the surface for a few minutes. Hoping to get a photo of one of these pods before our expedition ends.
Another fun organism I got to see in person today was a Lanternfish that was caught in one of our deeper bongo net surveys. Lanternfish are a deep-water fish that gets its name from its ability to produce light. The light is given off by tiny organs known as photophores. A chemical reaction inside the photophore gives off light in a chemical process known as bioluminescence.
Latitude: 57° 01.32 N Longitude: 155 ° 01.21 W Wind Speed: 14.56 knots Wind Direction: 334° Air Temperature: 15.5°C Sea Temperature: 15°C Barometric Pressure: 1017 mbar
Science and Technology Log
Today marks our sixth day at sea. We are headed north into the Shelikof Strait between the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island. We are continuing along our survey stations with bongo nets and midwater trawls. A bongo net consists of two plankton nets mounted next to each other. These plankton nets are ring nets with a small mesh width and a long funnel shape. Both nets are enclosed by a cod-end that is used for collecting plankton. The bongo net is pulled horizontally through the water column by a research vessel.
We are using a combination of four total bongo nets simultaneously to sample plankton. Two of our nets are 60 cm in diameter and the other two are 20 cm in diameter respectively. Depending on the depth at each station, the nets are lowered until they reach a depth of ten meters above the sea floor. Scientists and NOAA crew on the scientific deck must constantly communicate with the bridge via radio during this survey to maintain consistent wire angles. Ideally, the goal is to maintain the winch wire angle at 45° so that the water flow into the nets is parallel to the ocean floor.
Plankton are plants and animals that float along in the oceans’ tides and currents. Their name comes from the Greek meaning “drifter” or “wanderer.” There are two types of plankton: tiny plants called phytoplankton, and weak-swimming animals called zooplankton. Oceanic plankton constitute the largest reservoir of biomass in the world’s oceans. They play a significant role in the transfer of energy within the oceanic ecosystems. Ongoing plankton monitoring data is essential for evaluating ecosystem health and for detecting changes in these ecosystems.
Once the nets are brought back onto the deck, we immediately rinse the nets so that all of the plankton collects in the cod-end (the plastic tube attachment at the bottom). We carefully remove the cod-end tubes and bring them into the wet lab for processing. Using sieve pans, we filter the cod-end sample (plankton) into glass jars. We add formaldehyde and sodium borate to each jar to preserve the plankton for future analysis and study. NOAA Chief Scientist Matt Wilson informed me that all of the sample jars we collect on this expedition will actually be sent to the Plankton Sorting and Identification Center in Szczecin, Poland. Check out their website for more info: https://mir.gdynia.pl/o-instytucie/zaklad-sortowania-i-oznaczania-planktonu/?lang=en .
At even numbered stations, NOAA scientists on board will conduct a RZA (rapid zooplankton assessment) of samples collected using a microscope. This rapid assessment of plankton yields current data that allows scientists to quickly evaluate present-day ecosystem health and changes while they await more in-depth sample results and analysis from Poland.
Everything is still going great on day six at sea. Seas are remaining relatively calm, which I am very thankful for. I am actually sleeping more than I do at home. I am averaging about nine to ten hours sleep at night which is amazing! Most mornings, I get up and head down to the gym to run on the treadmill for some much needed exercise. As I said in my second blog, our meals have been delicious. Chief Steward Judy leaves us out some late night treats to help us get through our long shifts. I thoroughly enjoyed some late night ice cream to help me power through the last trawl of the night. I really like lunch and dinner time on the ship because it brings everyone together for a few minutes to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. Most of the scientists and NOAA crew and officers have traveled all over the world on scientific vessels. It is fascinating to hear about all of their stories and adventures. I have already decided to add the ‘PolarTREC’ (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating in Antarctica and/or the Artic) Program to my bucket list for a few years down the road. My most favorite organism that we have caught in the trawl so far was this Smooth Lumpsucker.
Me and my buddy Mister Lumpsucker – Photos by Lauren Rogers
Did You Know?
The answers to day three blog’s temperature readings were 62.6°F for air temperature and 59°F for sea temperature.
All jellyfish are such weak swimmers that they too are considered plankton. There is also some scientific debate as to whether or not the Ocean Sun Fish (aka Mola mola) is considered a type of plankton. The sun fish is a passive planktonic creature which can only move vertically in the water column since it lacks a back fin. They have a long dorsal and anal fin that help them maneuver clumsily up and down in the water column.
Latitude: 57° 16.15 N Longitude: 152 ° 30.38 W Wind Speed: 6.53 knots Wind Direction: 182° Air Temperature: 17.1°C Sea Temperature: 15°C Barometric Pressure: 1026 mbar
Science and Technology Log
Now that we have been out to sea for 3 days, I can better describe what my 12 hour ‘work shift’ is like. We average about three stations (i.e. research locations) per shift. Each ‘station’ site is predetermined along a set transect.
Before we can put any scientific equipment in the water, we have to get the all clear that there are no marine mammals sighted within 100 yards of the boat. I was thrilled yesterday and today that we had to temporarily halt our survey because of Humpback Whales and Harbor Porpoises in the area. I rushed from the scientific deck up to the bridge to get a better look. Today, we saw a total of 6 Humpback Whales, one of which was a newborn calf. Chief Electronics Technician Rodney Terry explained to me that you can identify the calf because the mother often times pushes the calf up to help it breach the surface to breathe. We observed one tall and one short breathe ‘spout’ almost simultaneously from the mother and calf respectively.
Once we arrive at each station, we must put on all of our safety equipment before venturing out on the deck. We are required to wear steel-toed boots, a life preserver, and hardhat at all times. On scientific vessels, one must constantly be aware that there is machinery (A frames, booms, winches, etc.) moving above you overhead to help raise and lower the equipment in the water. We survey each station using bongo nets, a midwater trawl, and sometimes a CTD device. In future posts, I will go more into detailed description of what bongo nets and a CTD device entail. This post I want to focus on my favorite survey method: the midwater trawl, aka the ‘jellyfish landslide.’
A midwater trawl (aka a pelagic trawl) is a type of net fishing at a depth that is higher in the water column than the bottom of the ocean. We are using a type of midwater trawl known as a Stauffer trawl which has a cone shaped net that is spread by trawl doors.
One of the survey’s goals over the next two weeks is to assess the number of age-0 Walleye Pollock (aka Alaskan Pollock.) These juvenile fish hatched in April/May of this year. As NOAA Scientist Dr. Lauren Rogers, my fellow shift mate, explains, this population of fish species tends to naturally ebb and flow over the years. Fisheries management groups like NOAA study each ‘year class’ of the species (i.e. how many fish are hatched each year).
Typically, pollock year classes stay consistent for four to five years at a time. However, every so often management notes an ‘explosion year’ with a really large year class. 2012 was one of these such years. Hence in 2013, scientists noted an abundance of age-1 pollock in comparison to previous years. Based on the data collected so far this season (2019), scientists are hypothesizing that 2018 was also one of these ‘explosive’ years based on the number of age-1 pollock we are observing in our trawl net samples. It is extremely important scientists monitor these ebbs and flows in the population closely to help set commercial limits. Just because there is a rapid increase in the population size one year doesn’t mean commercial quotas should automatically increase since the population tends to level itself back out the next year.
If you have ever gone fishing before, you probably quickly realized just because you want to catch a certain species doesn’t mean you are going to get it. That is why I have nicknamed our midwater trawl samples, “The jellyfish landslide.” After the trawl net is brought back onto the deck, the catch is dumped into a large metal bin that empties onto a processing table. I learned the hard way on our late night trawl that you must raise the bin door slowly or else you will have a slimy gooey landslide of jellies that overflows all over everywhere. At least we all got a good laugh at 11:15 at night (3:15AM Florida time).
Once on the processing table, we sort each species (fish, jelly, invertebrate, etc.) into separate bins to be counted and weighed. Each fish specimen’s fork length is also measured on the Ichthystick.
We then label, bag, and freeze some of the fish specimens to bring back for further study by NOAA scientists in the future. There is a very short time window that scientists have the ability to survey species in this area due to weather, so each sample collected is imperative.
This experience is nothing short of amazing. Upon arriving in Kodiak on Sunday, I got to spend the next two days on land with my fellow NOAA scientists setting up the boat and getting to know these inspiring humans. Everyone on the boat, scientists and the Oscar Dyson crew, are assigned a 12 hour shift. Therefore, you may not ever see half of your other ship mates unless it is at the changing of a shift or a safety drill. I did thoroughly enjoy the abandon ship safety drill yesterday where we had to put on our survival (nicknamed the orange Gumby) suits as quickly as possible.
Everyone has been commenting that I brought Key West here to Alaska. The last three days at sea have been absolutely beautiful — sunny, warm, and calm seas. I am sure I am going to regret saying that out loud, haha. At the end of my work shift, I am beat so I am beyond thrilled to curl up in my bunk for some much needed rest. Yes, it does finally get dark here around 10:30PM. I was told we might be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights toward the final days of our survey. I am also getting very spoiled by having three delicious homemade meals (and dessert J) cooked a day by Chief Steward Judy. That is all for now, we have another trawl net full of fun that is about to be pulled back onto the deck.
Did You Know?
NOAA CORPS Officer LT Laura Dwyer informed me of the ‘marine mammal’ protocol aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Scientists must temporary halt research collection if any marine mammal (i.e. a Humpback Whale, porpoise, orca, seal, etc.) is within 100 yards or less of the vessel; if a North Pacific Right Whale is within 500 yards; or if a polar bear (yes you read that correctly) is within half a mile on land or ice.
Do you know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? You take the temperature in Celsius and multiply it by 1.8, then add 32 degrees. So today’s air temperature was 17°C and the sea temperature 15°C. Therefore, what were today’s temperatures in Fahrenheit? Answers will be posted in my next blog.
Hi everyone! I am currently on flight number two of four over the next two days to get me all the way from Key West, Florida to Kodiak, Alaska! Sure beats the 5,516 mile drive it would take me by car! My new home for the next two plus weeks will be aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. It is an ultra-quiet fisheries survey vessel built to collect data on fish populations, conduct marine mammal and seabird surveys, and study marine ecosystems. The ship operates primarily in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
So what exactly will I be doing these next few weeks at sea? I
will be working side by side with world-renowned NOAA scientists during twelve
hour shifts (noon to midnight). Our research will focus on collecting data on the
Walleye Pollock (also known as Alaskan Pollock) population and other forage
fishes in the western Gulf of Alaska. Most of our samples will be collected by
midwater trawling (or net fishing). I will be spending many hours in the
onboard fish lab working hands-on with scientists to help sort, weigh, measure,
sex, and dissect these samples. We will also collect zooplankton and measure
environmental variables that potentially affect the ecology of these fishes. We
will conduct CTD casts (an instrument used to measure the conductivity,
temperature, and pressure of seawater) and take water samples along transects
to examine the physical, chemical, and biological oceanography associated with
A Little About Me
How did a little girl who grew up playing in the Georgia woods wind up being a marine science teacher in Key West and now on a plane to Kodiak, Alaska to work as a scientist at sea? I applied for every internship, program, and job I ever dreamed of often times with little to no experience or chance of getting it. I was a wildlife/zoology major at the University of Georgia. However during high school, my parents bought a second home in Key West where I would live during my summers off. I applied and got a job on a snorkel boat at 18 with zero boating experience. After college, I once again applied for a job with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission that I was not qualified for in the least. I did not get the job, but at least I went for it regardless of the outcome. So I continued to do odds and ends (often non-paying) internships at MOTE, the Turtle Hospital, and Reef Relief while working to get my 100 ton captain’s license at age 21.
About 6 months after the first FWC interview, the local FWC director called me one day out of the blue and said I now have a job that you are qualified for.
Over the next year at the FWC as a marine biologist, I found that my favorite part of my week was the student outreach program at local schools. I came across a job vacancy for a local elementary science position and thought why not. I had zero teaching experience, a love for science, and the mindset that I can learn to teach as I teach them learn. Eleven years later, I am very proud to be the head of our marine science program at Sugarloaf School. I get the pleasure of teaching my two passions: science and the ocean. I hope to instill a sense of wonder, discovery, and adventure to all my students from kindergarten all the way up through eighth grade.
Last December, I felt the same
sense of adventure well up inside of me when I came across the NOAA Teacher at
Sea Program. I’m a teacher, a mother of young twins, a part time server, a wife
of a firefighter with crazy work hours, and someone who enjoys the comfort of
their own bed. All rational thoughts lead to the assumption that this program
was out of my league, but it didn’t nor will it ever stop me from continuing to
dare, dream and discover. I hope my trip will inspire my students to do the
same- to never stop exploring, learning, or continuing to grow in life.
Did You Know?
Walleye pollock is one of the type five fish species consumed in the United States. If you have ever eaten frozen fish sticks or had a fish sandwich at fast food restaurant then you have probably eaten pollock.