Deb Novak: Shark Survey, August 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday,August 23 , 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 28.2 degrees C
Sea temperature: 28.7 degrees C
1/2 cloud cover
5 miles of visibility
1.5 foot wave height
Wind speed 4.75 knots
Wind direction ESE

Science and Technology Log:

So now for the sharks and other fish caught on our survey long lines…

Like all  science experiments this survey started with a general question.  What fish are in the  Gulf of Mexico?   NOAA developed the Longline Survey procedure that I described in my last blog.  This is the data collection part of the experiment.

Large sharks are brought up to the boat rail in a cradle.
They are measured and weighed and tagged as quickly as possible to try to minimize stress on the shark.

When there is a large shark on a line it becomes like a dance as everyone performs their part of getting the needed data while taking care of the shark and staying out of other people’s way.

On this trip five large sharks were fitted with satellite tracking tags.

Just like the name says, these tags can track where the shark travels.  These tags were placed by Jennifer who works for the Louisiana Fish and Game Department.  They are trying to answer the question – Do large sharks in the Gulf stay in the Gulf?  I look forward to finding out more about where these sharks travel over the next few years.

My favorite part is when the shark swims away into the depths.

It was really fascinating when we caught large sharks.  It was also an uncommon event.  Over this trip we caught Tiger sharks, Sandbar sharks, Nurse sharks,  a Great Hammerhead, a Scalloped Hammerhead (I never knew that there were different species of Hammerheads!), a Lemon shark and a Bull shark.  I am getting good at telling types of sharks but still need my Science Team for confirmation.

Most of the sharks we caught were Atlantic Sharpnose. They are small reaching a maximum length of about 3 feet.

The small sharks can still bite and give a painful wallop if you are not careful.  I avoided both by following all of my teammates precautions.  We still worked quickly to get needed data so that the sharks could be released ASAP.

Me tagging a small shark. It was like a heavy duty hole punch.

Some of the little sharks are tagged with a little plastic tag.  If the shark is caught again new data can be collected to see if  the shark moved to a new area and if its measurements have changed.

We caught fish like groupers and the Red Snapper on the far left.

With a hundred hooks, I thought we would be catching a hundred fish.  The reality is that we had some Haul backs where there were no fish at all.  It was exciting to see the variety of what we caught and what might appear on the end of each line.   Sometimes there would be several fish in a row and we would scramble to get all of the data collected.  All of the information will be analyzed from this survey and compared with previous data and NOAA will come to a conclusion in a report in the future.

Personal Log:

I have my sea legs and can find my way around the ship pretty well now.  I have moved to a noon to midnight schedule which still seems a little strange.  I don’t know if I would have been good at the midnight to noon shift.  I feel like I am contributing to the team effort with setting lines and hauling them back.  The ocean got a little choppier for a few days, but it cleared quickly.  I can’t believe that this adventure is almost over.  

The Oregon II

Most of the work takes place on the deck, but some time is spent in the various Science Lab spaces.

The library in the Science Lab.
Computers for data collection and route information in the Science Lab.

If there was time when the boat needed to move to another location we could relax in the Lounge.

Relaxing in the lounge. Movies and tv help to pass the time.

I watched a few movies but spent more time watching the water.  I will miss these endless expanses of blue when I return to Albuquerque.

We are watching what is happening with Tropical Storm Isaac.  The next few days schedules may change.  NOAA is very careful with safety and that will be the first priority.

Deb Novak: Shark Longline Survey Part 2, August 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, August 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 30.8 degrees C
Sea temperature: 29.9 degrees C
2/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height
Wind speed 16.9 knots
Wind direction WSW

Science and Technology Log:

How to set a line:

A circle hook is used on the longline. It can hold the fish, but does not hurt them as much as other kinds of hooks.
This is one job that I have only done once. I needed help to get the High Flyer over the top line and into position.
Fish heads and middles and tails! A piece on every hook to try to entice a shark to bite.

I am pretty good at cutting the bait fish.  It is all fractions – for large fish it is cut into 4 pieces, for the smaller bait fish, three pieces.  Putting the bait securely on the hooks is hard, careful work.  You don’t want the bait to fall off the hook as it is put in the water, and the hooks are sharp so I went slow to not stab myself.

A computer program is used to track equipment and GPS the locations of the beginning and end High Flyers, three sets of weights that keep the line on the bottom and each of the 100 hooks that are set out.
Slinging the baited hooks. Justin is attaching the number tags.

Just like using the Scientific Method in class experiments, we have to follow a set procedure for laying out the line.  This way the data gathered  can be compared to previous years and from set to set.  The set locations are randomly generated for sections of the Gulf.  We will lay lines in each grid square.  Lines are set at three different depths,  shallow,  medium and  deep.  Even the deepest sets are still on the continental shelf and not in the truly deep, central Gulf waters. The line is set and left on the ocean floor for one hour.  Then it is time to Haul Back — bring the line up and see what we caught.

Weighing a barracuda – just look at the teeth!

Every hook is recorded as it comes back on the boat.  If the hook is empty or still has bait, or the most wonderful moment — if there is a fish! — everything is recorded.  Each fish is recorded in great detail:  species, length, weight where it was caught and other comments.  Almost everything we catch is released.  There are a few types of fish that are kept to take samples for scientific studies being done.

David measuring the spotted eel’s length.

Personal Log: 

This blog is mostly pictures with captions.  I feel fine even when the waves pick up and the boat starts to rock and roll, WoooHoo!  But 10 minutes on the computer leaves me nauseous  and green for a good long while.

My favorite thing to do is watch the flying fish skitter across the water surface.  It is amazing to me how far they can “fly”.

The Oregon II

Water and fuel are vital to keeping people and  the boat going.  Both are carefully monitored several times a day.

Gauges throughout the ship show water levels.

Drinking water is produced by reverse osmosis, sea water comes in and is put through several filters for us to drink and shower.  With 30 people on board for two weeks at a time we would need huge tanks and the weight would be enormous.   So fresh water is made on board.  Sea water is used to clean the decks and to flush the toilets.

The fuel tank levels are  checked using a plumb gauge. This is a long ruler with a weight on the end.

Deb Novak: Shark Longline Survey Part 1, August 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Monday, August 13, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 30.3 degrees C
Sea temperature: 30.8 degrees C
1/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height
Wind speed 2.4 knots
Wind direction NNE
Lightning visible in clouds to the east

Science and Technology Log:

I love learning new things!  We watched a video about how to set up a longline and how to stay safe.  A longline is just what it sounds like – a very long fishing line, a full nautical mile worth of fishing line.  Because we are surveying for sharks and other big fish, the line is very thick and the hooks are big!  Nothing like I used to fish for supper when I was 12…

Hooks ready to be baited.
Number tags – 1 to 100, these are attached to the lines to identify a particular sample.
High Flyers – floats with a radar reflector and lights  to mark the start and finish of a set line.
Bait thawing. Soon we will cut this into pieces to put on the hooks.

Personal Log:

I will start working with the Science Crew at 12 noon today.  We will work 12 hour shifts, so I will have to stay awake and working until 12 pm or 00 hour in Military time, which is based on a 24 hour day so that you can’t get confused about a.m. or p.m.  My roommate Karen will work the opposite shift.  This way it will be like we both have our own room when we are not working.  This will make it easier to sleep and also give us some time to be alone since it is hard to be alone on a small ship.

Karen is from Bogota, Colombia.  She is working in the NOAA Panama City Florida Lab conducting  data entry and analysis.  She thinks she wants to work with genetics  to help with the conservation of marine mammals, like whales and seals.  If you want to be a research scientist you need to finish college, go to graduate school for a masters and often  get your doctorate degree.  That is like finishing 20th grade or more.  Many of the other folks on the Science Team are also students at various stages of their schooling.  Some volunteered to be here to help with their resume or to explore what part of science they want to work in.

Some people asked about how I am doing with motion sickness.  I seem to be doing fine as long as I don’t spend too much time at the computer.  Ten minutes of scrolling or typing leads to a headache and queasiness. I am happiest up on the top deck watching the water.  To help stop seasickness, it is good to look at the horizon.

A nice sunset with a horizon line, where sea meets sky.

The Oregon II

So like in any city, the Oregon II has a four star restaurant.  It is run by Chefs Paul and Walter.  They turn out three square meals a day, including several different choices for entrees a great salad bar and often homemade cakes or cookies.  If your shift means that you will miss a meal, you can sign up on a board and they will make a plate for you and leave it in the refrigerator with your name on it.  There are always gallons of tea and coffee, Gatorade and water to make sure that everyone stays hydrated.

Cook Paul can ask the New Mexico state question “Red or Green”
A Sample Daily Menu – the problem is that I want to try it all!

If you eat as much as I seem to be eating, it is a good thing that there is a gym available too!  Exercise equipment is tucked away in a few corners of the ship.  I have good intentions of testing this out.  So far I get my exercise walking around the vessel and up and down the stairs to get to different levels of the ship.  Maybe I will find the line setting and haul back to be good exercise…

The top deck gym – equipment is moved outside and you get a great view of the water.
The lower deck “weight room” – no water view in here…

Next up will be line setting and haul back!  Sharks and groupers and ????

Deb Novak: Sailing South, August 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Current Geographical Position: Traveling south along the east coast of Florida to move into position to start survey work.

Date: Saturday, August 11, 2012

Setting sail, you can almost see the Mayport Naval Base in the background

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 30.9 degrees C
Sea temperature: 28.9 degrees C
6/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height

Science and Technology Log:

I spent time on the Bridge (where the Captain and Crew pilot the boat) this morning learning about the weather data collected and all of the gauges and levers and images that they use to guide us.  Captain Dave Nelson  was nice to share information with me while he did the important work of piloting.  He was being careful to not get to close to all of the small boats that were out on the water fishing and enjoying the beautiful day.  On the radar it looked like we were surrounded by about 20 boats, looking out the windows I could only see one. The radar technology helps extend the Captain’s view of the water so that all of the boats stay safe.

The Bridge Crew record the weather every hour of the day and night. The above readings are for 11:00 am.  27.1 degrees Celsius means it is warm out. It is about the same temperature here today as it is in Albuquerque.  The difference is that there is more moisture in the air in Florida. I’ve always called it muggy, when I feel a little bit damp all the time. The crew measures cloud cover by dividing the sky into 8 sections and seeing how much is covered by clouds.  5/8ths means more than half of the sky is covered.  Here on the water we can see pretty far out in all directions, which is called visibility.  0 visibility would mean that the boat is fogged or rained in and can’t see past the boat at all.  We have 10 miles of visibility which is pretty far.  The water is almost flat when I look at it, only a few ripples. The range of wave height is 0-1 foot, but what we are seeing is closer to zero.   Since waves are caused by wind, there can be different heights of waves at the same time so a range is used for the measurement, sharing the shortest and tallest of the waves.  Wind speed and direction are also recorded.  The wind monitor looks like two small, wingless airplanes up on  top of a mast.

Wind speed and direction are read on this device on the bridge.
Wind gauges on the mast show wind direction and wind speed

Personal Log:

Happy Birthday, Mom!  It’s my mom’s birthday and since we are along the coast of Florida (I can see the buildings along the shore), I was able to call on my cell phone to personally wish her well.  She was surprised!  I told her before I left  that I would not be available much since signals won’t work when we are out at sea. There is a satellite phone that works all of the time on board for emergencies. We are never completely out of contact, but people who work on a vessel go long periods of time without phones or internet.  Since we are still moving toward the place where we will start work, many people are spending time out on deck on their phones connecting with their families and friends. They know if they can see the tall buildings lining the shore  that they can call.

Since we are not going to be able to start the survey until we are past the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico, we spent time learning about NOAA Ship Oregon II and conducting safety drills.

Getting into the Full immersion suit
Personal Floatation Device properly cinched!
All suited up!

The safety drills will happen every week to make sure that everyone knows where to go and what to do, just like we practice Fire Drills and Lock-down Drills at school.  We have to listen carefully because there are different numbers and lengths to the alarm sounds and those sounds tell us where to go and what to bring.  The abandon ship code is  seven long tones.  I brought my immersion suit with me the middle outer deck and pulled it on.  It was like stuffing a sausage!  Although the air and water feel warm, they are much colder than the human body – which is about 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit or about 37 degrees Celsius.  If you look in the Weather Report above, I’d be really cold if I stayed in 28.8 degrees Celsius (~84 F) water for too long.  It would be perfect for swimming on a hot Florida day, but not if you are stuck in the water for several hours waiting for help…

NOAA Ship  Oregon II

A ship is like a city.  Everything that people need to live, stay safe and be happy needs to be provided.  William gave me a tour of the Engine rooms before we left Mayport.  Once the boat is underway, the engine rooms are very, very hot and super noisy.  The Engineers make sure to wear earplugs and drink lots of Gatorade to stay hydrated and keep their hearing. The engines are connected to a long shaft with gears (hey 1st and 4th graders, do you remember learning about simple machines last year?) which move the boat forward. There are two of everything on board so that if one breaks down there is a backup.   This is called redundancy.  For the really big pieces of equipment they need to be placed to balance the weight on the ship.  This leads to something you have studied in math, Symmetry.  Many places I look I see mirrored pairs of objects.  See if you can find the lines of symmetry in the following pictures.

Two engines in the Engine room below decks.

A waterproof hatch
Look for symmetry and balance on the bow.

I will be sharing more about NOAA Ship Oregon II, the people on board and surveying sharks later.  We will just keep heading south to the Gulf.

Deb Novak: Introduction, August 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of Survey: The East Coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 8, 2012


Hi! My name is Deb Novak and I am so excited about being a NOAA Teacher at Sea! NOAA is the acronym for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  NOAA studies the ocean, the atmosphere and the fish in the ocean. They are generous enough to invite a few lucky  teachers to come along each year and learn about the science that happens on NOAA vessels. Feel free to read other Teacher at Sea blogs to learn more!

Ms. Deb Novak with Dinos

As the Science Coordinator for Manzano Day School for the last five years, I have loved teaching science to pre-kindergarten through 5th grade students and working with teachers to develop science curriculum. Now, I’m excited about my new position, being named the new Chief of Education for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. I will be sharing this blog with lots of people throughout the state of New Mexico, but the focus of this blog is all the wonderful students at Manzano Day School!  I’m hoping some of our graduates will also log in to share this adventure with me!  Since my new job is only a few short blocks away from Manzano, I will be sharing more of my experience in person when I get back to Albuquerque.

The Oregon II copyright NOAA

This is the ship I’ll be on the Oregon II. It was born the same year I was: 1967. You can find out more about the Oregon II by clicking on the picture. You can also view the path the Oregon II will be traveling during my visit. Once I am on the ship I will send out a blog photo tour of what the inside of the ship looks like. I know that I will be traveling with about 30 people who do lots of different amazing jobs. I will be sharing their stories via this blog as well. There will also be blog posts about the science of the Shark Longline Survey. WhooHooo, sharks! I was given this mission because Ms. Louise Junick’s Kindergarten class put in a special request and so I included sharks in my application. I’ve always been interested in sharks and can’t wait to learn about shark research on the Oregon II.

Whale Shark at the Georgia Aquarium

I had a cool opportunity to learn more about sharks this summer. I visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. They have the only whale sharks in an aquarium anywhere in the world.  And it got even better – I got to snorkel in the tank with the whale sharks! Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, but they have a really tiny mouth and eat little bitty critters called plankton. The Georgia Aquarium makes sure to keep the people safe from the animals in the tank, but even more important we had to learn how to keep the animals safe from us!  Some of the money I paid to swim with the whale sharks goes to a shark study that the aquarium is conducting. That is when I learned that whale sharks spend some time in the Gulf of Mexico! It would be great to see such an amazing and huge fish in the wild! With further research I found an article about whale sharks and the Gulf Oil Spill.  The map shows that I would be extremely lucky if I see one since I will be on the opposite side of the Gulf of Mexico from where they tend to spend their time.

Each day I get more and more excited about my opportunity to be a Teacher at Sea. I know that I will want to share lots and lots of exciting information with everyone reading this blog. I also know that I will be able to send  2 or 3 blogs per week, so I hope you will check in and see where I am and what I am up to working with the scientists on the Oregon II. Wish me a Bon Voyage! (Happy Travels !)