Erica Marlaine: Last Boat Not Least, July 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 17, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 19, 2019

Weather Data from Woodland Hills, California:

Latitude: 34º 16.54 N
Longitude: 118º 60.90 W
Wind Speed: 5 km/hr
Air Temperature:  33º Celsius
Pool Temperature 29º Celsius


Conclusion

It is hard to believe that my 26 days as a Teacher at Sea on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are already over, and that I am back in California.  I am still rocking slightly, and still VERY AWAKE at 4 a.m. as a result of having the night shift. I met so many wonderful people, from the NOAA officers to the crew to the science team, and learned so much about marine species, the ocean, science, technology, Alaska, and myself.

When I tell people how much I loved being up to my elbows in pollock, jellyfish, and sparkly herring scales; processing a catch several times a day; filleting rockfish; and the utter satisfaction that comes from opening a pollock’s head in just the right spot in order to extract its otoliths, they think I am insane. I guess it’s just something they’ll have to experience for themselves. 

I have cooked both Alaskan cod and salmon since returning home, but nothing tastes like Chief Steward Judy’s cooking. I miss being rocked to sleep by the movement of the water; the anemones, sea stars, and fish we saw each night using the drop camera; the sunsets; the endless waves; and all the laughs. This has been the experience of a lifetime, and I look forward to sharing all that I learned with my students and my school. I will always treasure my time in Alaska and on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and hope to return to both soon.

Some favorite memories:

Erica Marlaine: You Never Know Where a Good Book Will Take You, July 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 15 , 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57º 0.79 N

Longitude: 152º40.72 W

Air Temperature:  16º Celsius


Interview with the Chief Scientist

When Sarah Stienessen was a little girl, she got a book about dolphins, and fell in love.  She read the book over and over, dreaming about meeting a real-live dolphin one day.  The problem was she grew up in Wisconsin, not a place with a lot of dolphins. However, as Sarah says “If you have an interest, don’t let location deter you from your dreams.”

When she grew up, Sarah studied zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but her burning fascination with the ocean led her to graduate school at Texas A&M where she finally got to study DOLPHINS (more specifically, the vocal behavior of dolphins). Her research there included using a hydrophone to listen to dolphins. She later moved to Seattle and began working for NOAA conducting acoustic surveys on walleye pollock in Alaska. On this leg of the Oscar Dyson, Sarah acted as the Field Party Chief (or Chief Scientist).  Sarah pointed out that while her use of acoustics with dolphins was passive (placing a hydrophone in the water and listening to the dolphins) she is now using acoustics actively by sending an audible PING into the water and reading the echos that the fish send back.

Sarah was part of the amazing NOAA science team onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, which included, Denise McKelvey, Kresimir Williams, and Taina Honkalehto.

Scientists
Back row: Sarah and Kresimir Front row: Denise and Taina

Denise was on the day shift, so I mostly saw her during shift changes and on those rare mornings when I was still awake at 7 a.m. and came down for breakfast (okay, bacon). However, early in the trip, she took the time to explain the fish lab procedure to me, even drawing pictures and a flow chart. (Thanks!)

While the duties of the science team often overlap, Kresimir is definitely the “techie” who enjoys inventing and creating new underwater cameras and other devices.  Do you remember the TV show MacGyver?  MacGyver was a secret agent who was beyond resourceful and had an encyclopedic knowledge of science.  Every episode, he would solve the problem at hand in a matter of minutes using a combination of ordinary objects such as duct tape, household cleanser, a Q-tip, and some matches. Kresimir reminded me of MacGyver.  If something broke, he would enter the room, grab tools and items that just might work in place of the broken piece, and sure enough, within minutes, the device would be up and running again!

Taina was always in the chem lab during drop camera time, her eyes riveted on the screen.  I was excited whenever the camera spotted something, but I loved that Taina seemed equally excited to see what marine species the camera would uncover each night.  One of the most exciting, and clearly the biggest, was the Giant Pacific Octopus!

Giant Pacific Octopus
A Giant Pacific Octopus captured with the drop camera


Science and Technology Log

The Giant Pacific Octopus (or Octopus dofleini) is often rumored to weigh more than 600 pounds, but most adult octopuses are much smaller. An adult female might weigh up to 55 pounds while an adult male can weight up to 88 pounds. According to NOAA, the plural of octopus is octopuses, NOT octopi as some people say.  Because it doesn’t have bones, a giant octopus can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter! The body of an octopus is shaped like a bag and it has 8 long arms (or tentacles) covered in suction cups. 

Suction cups
Suction cups on the arms of an octopus

A mature octopus can have as many as 280 suction cups on each arm. That’s 2,240 suction cups! The Giant Pacific Octopus loves to eat crabs, but it will also eat snails, oysters, abalone, clams, mussels, and small fish. The octopus’ mouth or jaw is shaped like a parrot’s beak. It is the only hard part of an octopus, and it’s more-or-less indigestible. That means that if a sperm whale eats an octopus, and the contents of the whale’s stomach are later studied, you will see the octopus beak even if you find no other sign that he ate an octopus.

In order to avoid whales and other predators, an octopus will camouflage, or change its color and skin texture to match its surroundings! When he feels threatened, he releases a cloud of purple-black ink to confuse his enemy.


Octopus Elementary Math Time

(Remember, an octopus has 8 arms.)

  1. If an octopus has 2 suction cups on each arm, how many does he have all together? _______
  2. If an octopus has 5 suction cups on each arm, how many does he have all together? _______
  3. If an octopus has 10 suction cups on each arm, how many does he have all together? ______
  4. If an octopus has 2 suction cups on 4 of his arms, and 3 suction cups on his other 4 arms, how many does he have all together? _____________
  5. If an octopus has 4 suction cups on 7 of his arms, but half as many on his 8th arm, how much does he all together? _____________
  6. If an octopus has 259 suction cups and his octopus friend has 751 suction cups, how many do they have all together?

Erica Marlaine: The Best Hardhat Ever, July 14, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 56º 58.03 N
Longitude: 151º 26.26W
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wind Direction: 120º
Air Temperature:  13º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1010.5 mb
Depth of water column 565 m
Surface Sea Temperature: 12.9º Celsius


Science & Technology Log

Safety is of the utmost importance on a ship. There are safety trainings, fire drills, lifeboat drills, and rules about where you can go and whether you need to be wearing a life jacket and/or a hard hat.  Hardhats come in many colors, but most look something like this:

Standard hard hat
Standard hard hat

That is why I had to interview Ryan Harris, the Chief Boatswain on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson about his cowboy hardhat.

cowboy hard hat
Yes, that’s a hardhat.

Ryan hails from Sacramento, California and loves to wear cowboy hats.  One day he saw a cowboy hardhat online, and knew he had to order one! He first started wearing it on the NOAA Ship Hiialakai in Hawaii and liked how it not only protected his head but kept the sun off his face.  In Alaska, he likes how it keeps the rain off.

Ryan began working for NOAA 14 years ago.  I wondered how a kid from landlocked Sacramento, who had never spent time on a boat, ended up with a career at sea. It turns out his aunt saw an advertisement about a free maritime internship program offered through the Sacramento School District (at the time). Ryan was interested in seeing the world, so he looked into it. Through the internship, he learned how to work on boats, and was introduced to NOAA.  Ryan has worked on NOAA ships with home ports in California, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Alaska, and has already traveled with NOAA to at least 13 countries.

So what does the Chief Boatswain do?

Ryan is in charge of all operations concerning the deck and also “watch standards” or lookout (such as making sure that there are not whales in the area if we are going to deploy the fishing net). He is also in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of the ship, including some mundane but all-important things such as making sure there is enough toilet paper or laundry detergent onboard before the ship sails.  (There is no “running to the market” while you are out at sea for weeks or months.)  

Like everyone I have met on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, Ryan enjoys his NOAA life, and feels that NOAA offers a wealth of opportunities.  I asked Ryan how he manages the long stretches of time with no phone service or internet.  Ryan says the temporary “disconnect” allows him to focus on work and simply enjoy his life and his time with his co-workers.  I think a lot of us can learn from that.

Erica Marlaine: What’s an Oiler? And Where Does All That Water Come From? July 14, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 56º 58.03 N
Longitude: 151º 26.26W
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wind Direction: 120º
Air Temperature:  13º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1010.5 mb
Depth of water column 565 m
Surface Sea Temperature: 12.9º Celsius


Science & Technology Log

Ever heard of oilers?  I hadn’t until I got to know Daniel Ruble, a member of the engineering crew on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.

Oiler Daniel Ruble
Oiler Daniel Ruble

Daniel is originally from Chicago but now calls Virginia home.  After serving our country for 20 years in the Marine Corps, a friend mentioned that it was always good to have a Mariner’s Document (a license from the Coast Guard) “just in case.”  Years later, he finally decided to put it to use, and got a job with NOAA in 2014.  He started doing deck work, but his interest and experience in mechanical engineering eventually led him to the NOAA engineering crew.  He is what they call an “oiler.” Oilers maintain, clean, and oil the ship’s engine, including the motors, gears, and compressors. Daniel has worked on every class of NOAA vessel (Oceanographic and Atmospheric Research, Charting and Hydrographic, and Fisheries Research) and all but one of the NOAA ships. 

Daniel and the other engineers onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are easy to spot as they often have bulky, protective ear coverings either on or nearby. That is because the engine room is VERY LOUD.  When I was given a tour, I was first given ear coverings, and much of the explanation about what I was seeing had to come later as it was too difficult to hear each other.  I was told that seeing the engine room is like looking under the hood of your car. Just imagine your car’s engine magnified 1000 times.

Control panel in the Engine Room
Control panel in the Engine Room
Engine Room
Engine Room

The engineering crew is responsible for all of the internal systems of the ship.  Without them, the ship wouldn’t run, and there would be no power or water. The engineering room actually makes all of the water we use onboard by distilling saltwater into potable (drinkable) water.  Here’s how it works.

Saltwater is boiled using energy from the ship itself. Hot engine steam is passed through an evaporation unit, causing the saltwater to boil. The saltwater steam rises and then travel through a water separator which prevents any droplets of saltwater from passing through. After the steam becomes pure water, it is then carried away by a distillate pump. It is then safe for drinking and showering.

Each of the two evaporators on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson can distill between 600-900 gallons of water per day, depending upon how fast the ship is moving.   On an average day, the ship uses 800-1000 gallons!

One of the two evaporators
One of the two evaporators

Erica Marlaine: Diving Down the pH Scale, July 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 13, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57º 09.61 N
Longitude: 152º 20.99W
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: 210 º
Air Temperature:  12º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb
Depth of water column 84 m
Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius


Science and Technology Log

Are you wondering what it’s really like to live and work full-time on a NOAA research vessel? I asked Andrea Stoneman, the Senior Survey Technician on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.

Andrea Stoneman
Senior Survey Technician Andrea Stoneman

Like everyone onboard the Oscar Dyson, Andrea is always working hard, but always has a smile on her face. Originally from Duluth, Minnesota, she has been employed by NOAA as a “wage mariner” for a year. A wage mariner means she is an at-sea civilian employee of NOAA. She began college at the University of Minnesota as a business major, but an internship as a freshwater mussel researcher changed her life and made her realize her true love: BIOLOGY! She earned a degree in Environmental Science, and then attended graduate school at Delaware State University, where NOAA funded her research on ocean acidification and its impact on fish.

Are you wondering what ocean acidification means?  

The amount of carbon in the ocean is rising due to an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air. Carbon dioxide acidifies the water, reducing its pH level.  The letters pH stands for the ‘potential of Hydrogen.’ The pH scale was invented in 1909 by a biochemist names S.P. Sorenson. The scale uses numbers from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic, 14 being the least acidic (or more alkaline) and 7 as the middle (neutral) point.

For the past 300 million years, the average pH of the ocean was approximately 8.2. It is now closer to 8.1, a drop of 0.1 pH units.  Remember, the numbers go “in reverse” so a drop in pH means it is MORE acidic.  You may be thinking, but it’s only a drop of 0.1. That doesn’t sound like a lot. However, a drop of 0.1 represents a 25-percent increase in acidity.  That’s because the pH scale is a logarithmic scale, not a linear scale.  To understand a linear scale, think of a ruler. The difference between inches on a ruler stays constant. A 5-inch fish is one inch bigger than a 4-inch fish, and 2 inches bigger than a 3-inch fish. In contrast, the pH scale is a logarithmic scale in which two adjacent values increase or decrease by a factor of 10.  Therefore, a pH of 3 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 4, and 100 times more acidic than a pH of 5.

Studies indicate that many marine species may experience adverse effects on their health, growth, reproduction, and life span due to ocean acidification. That means fish could develop diseases, have fewer babies, or die younger.

You and I need calcium to build strong bones. We get calcium through milk, cheese, green leafy vegetables, and many other sources. Marine species also need calcium carbonate to build their bones or shells. Ocean acidification causes carbonate ions to be less abundant in the ocean, which makes it harder for marine species to build strong bones and shells. This is especially bad for oysters, clams, sea urchins, corals, and mussels, the very species that made Andrea fall in love with science!

After graduate school, Andrea worked as a fisheries observer on commercial fishing vessels. (I met quite a few people on-board the ship who are or were observers.) To a non-fisheries person, an “observer” SOUNDS like someone who stands around watching others, but it is actually very hard work! Observers document compliance (making sure that things are being done the correct way). They take samples of the catch and collect data regarding the size of the catch and the species caught.  The data goes into the same service model that NOAA data does, which is vital for ensuring sustainable fishing for the future. 

Through her work as an observer in Alaska, Andrea met people at NOAA, took a tour of a NOAA ship, and decided to apply for a job with NOAA.  (Hmmm… When I interviewed Ensign Andonian for an earlier blog, she also mentioned visiting a NOAA ship as the thing that made her decide to choose a career with NOAA. That gives you an idea of just how amazing NOAA ships are!)

So what does a Senior Survey Technician do?

She runs and maintains all of the scientific sensors on the ship (including the meteorological and oceanographic sensors). She also runs the CTD, a device which measures the conductivity, temperature, depth, salinity, and other oceanographic parameters of the water. 

CTD
The CTD device

In addition, she is involved in setting and retrieving the fishing nets and is an expert at processing the catch in the fish lab. Andrea ensures that the data collected onboard is sound and accurate, and “packages” the data so that it is presentable and accessible to NOAA thus becoming accessible to the public whom NOAA serves.

Asked if she recommends a NOAA life, Andrea says it’s great for college graduates who have an interest in science and a love of the ocean. Some perks (especially for new college graduates) include living rent-free onboard, having delicious meals cooked for you three times a day, and getting to see the world while being involved in interesting, and sometimes ground-breaking, scientific research. An added perk is that working for the federal government can “erase” some of your student loans!

Andrea enjoys being the Senior Survey Technician onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, and has fallen in love with Alaska, which she now considers her home.

Click below to watch a 2-minute video by NOAA about ocean acidification:



Personal Log

While I cannot describe what it is like to live full-time on a NOAA ship, I can tell you what it’s like as a Teacher at Sea for 26 days. Like everyone onboard, I “work” a 12-hour shift.  The science team works shifts starting at either 4 a.m. or 4 p.m.  I was assigned the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift. That means I wake up most days between 2:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon.  On days that I am “good” I head down to the gym. On other days, I grab a light “breakfast” before heading to the chem lab to start my shift.

Often we start our shift processing fish by 4:30. First I suit up in steel-toed boots, a waterproof jacket and overalls, and elbow-high rubber gloves. 

Erica ready for the fish lab
I am ready to work in the fish lab!

Then we process the haul, which means sorting approximately 1000 pounds of fish and jellyfish by species.

haul
An average-sized haul

We weigh them, measure them, and dissect some to collect otoliths (ear bones) or ovaries.  All of this can take 2-3 hours. Then we clean.  The fish lab gets COVERED in fish slime, scales, and jellyfish goo.

Jellyfish "goo"
Jellyfish “goo”

There are high-powered waters sprayers hanging from the ceiling, and we blast every surface in the room with saltwater for at least 10 minutes after every haul. Imagine cleaning your kitchen with a fire engine hose! It’s definitely the most fun I have ever had cleaning!  

cleaning the fish room
One of the many high power saltwater sprayers

At the end of the cruise, I will join Andrea the Survey Technician and the science team for 2-3 hours of meticulously scrubbing and spraying the fish lab so that it is clean and ready for the next group that comes aboard a few days after we leave.

Since the scientists onboard often want to do “pair trawls” (fishing in the same area using the “old” AWT net and the “newer” LFS net in order to align the catch data with the acoustics data),  I am often back in the fish lab an hour later to process another haul, and again clean the fish lab.

After that, depending upon the time, I might have a snack, or do research and write blogs, or spend time in the chem lab with my co-workers, Matthew Phillips (the Fish Lab Lead) and volunteer biologist Nathan Battey, discussing the haul or what is coming up for the rest of the shift. At about 11 p.m., the sun sets, and sometimes it is spectacular, so I try to pop out onto the deck for a quick photo. 

The sun setting near Mitrofania
The sun setting near Mitrofania

At midnight, we start getting ready to do the drop camera to determine which areas are trawlable. We usually do at least 4 camera drops, from approximately 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. This time of night often involves the science team consuming caffeine, ice cream, red vines, sour patch kids, or all of the above. At 4 a.m., the next shift starts, and my roommate, Jamie Giganti, comes into the chem lab. Jamie is a field coordinator for AIS. She works as an observer part of the time, but also provides support and training for new observers, and acts as a liaison between boat captains and observers.

Jamie Giganti
My roommate Jamie Giganti

Jamie’s arrival in the chem lab means it is my turn to go to “our” room.  Although we are roommates, we are never actually in the room at the same time. The goal is that you stay out of the room for the 12 hours your roommate is off-shift, allowing them to sleep or relax.  That means that every time I am on shift I need to make sure that I take everything I might need for the day.

The first few days onboard, I was in bed and asleep 15 minutes after my shift ended. Now that I am accustomed to the schedule, or perhaps due to the caffeine or sugar, I am often up until 5 or 5:30 a.m. That means I go to sleep just as the sun rises.

My stateroom has a bathroom and shower, a desk, a few shelves, lockers that act as a closet, and bunkbeds.  (I was so happy when Jamie asked if she could have the top bunk!)

My state room
My state room

The large window has both magnificent views of Alaska and also blackout curtains that block the sun so that people on my shift can sleep.

The shower area in the bathroom has a slightly raised border, but since the boat moves while you are showering, so does the shower curtain.

shower
Shower

Perhaps other people have figured out how to get the water to stay IN the shower.  I am still working on that. On the upside, the bathroom floor gets cleaned every day! (I am told that one trick is to use zip ties to “lengthen” the shower curtain.  (Next time?)

Processing a haul seems easy now, but it was overwhelming the first few days! As a non-scientist, I was unfamiliar with fish and jellyfish species, perplexed by the computer program used to enter data, and kept confusing which fish to measure, which fish to weigh, and which fish to measure and weigh.  I am so grateful for the patience of everyone around me!

Amazingly, I never got seasick. I wore a scopolamine patch for the first part of the trip, and then one day decided to take it off and learned that I had in fact “gotten my sea legs.” Now I barely feel the boat moving during the day and enjoy the light rocking at night.

I am writing this during my last few days onboard.  While we have occasionally been near land, during much of our time onboard, the view was the incredibly beautiful Gulf of Alaska.  Yesterday, when I saw land in the distance, I was sad to learn that it was Kodiak.  That means my time on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is almost over. 


Erica Marlaine: Bear Onboard, July 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 12, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57º 9.61 N
Longitude: 152º 20.99W
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: 210 º
Air Temperature:  12º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb
Depth of water column 84 m
Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius


Welcome to a tour of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.

Your tour guide today is the Room 11 Bear.

Allow me to explain.

When I am not a Teacher at Sea on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, I am the special education preschool teacher in Room 11 at Nevada Avenue Elementary School in Canoga Park, California. My classroom has a classroom bear (made of construction paper) that “hides” every night when the students go home. In the beginning of the year, he is sort of easy to find, but as the year progresses, he is harder and harder to find. By the end of the year, only a paw or an ear might be showing!

The first thing my students want to do every morning is look for the bear.  When they find it, they excitedly explain where it is. Speech and language are things we work on in class all the time, and the bear gives us something fun to talk about! For some students, a single word might be the goal. Other students may be working on putting a few words together, or even enough to make a sentence.  It’s also a great time for them to learn prepositional words or phrases to describe where the bear is hiding, such as next to, under, beneath, or on top of.

Now it’s YOUR turn.  I hope you have fun touring the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with the Room 11 Bear and finding him in the photos where he decided to hide in a tricky spot.   He is in EVERY picture.

bear in captain's chair
Commanding Officer Bear up on the Bridge (the part of the ship above the weather deck which houses the command center). I also spy a snack that is a favorite of some students in Room 11.
bear charting the course
Bear charting our course on the Bridge
bear steering
Steering the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (up on the Bridge)
bear lookout
Binoculars are used to check for whales or other boats before the trawl nets are put out.
bear in the galley
Food is cooked in the galley (the nautical term for kitchen)
bear in the mess hall
This is the mess (the nautical term for eating place) where all of the delicious meals are served.
bear in laundry
The laundry room
bear in gym
One of the two gyms onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
bear in engine room
The engine room
bear at fire station
There are “fire stations” onboard in case of an emergency
bear in jackets
This is where we put on our waterproof rain gear and high boots before entering the fish lab
bear on rubber gloves
High rubber gloves are worn so that we stay somewhat clean and to protect our hands as we use sharp tools and touch jellyfish or pointy quills
bear in acoustics lab
Lastly, a visit to the acoustics lab, where the scientists read and analyze the data from the echo sounders and determine when and where to drop the trawl nets.

Erica Marlaine: The Dreaded Melanasty and the Volunteer Biologists, July 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 12, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57º 09.61 N
Longitude: 152º 20.99W
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: 210 º
Air Temperature:  12º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb
Depth of water column 84m
Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with me are two volunteer biologists: Evan Reeve and Nathan Battey.  Evan is on the opposite shift, so we often pass each other, but on occasion, we have been in the fish or chem lab at the same time.

Volunteer biologist Evan Reeve
Volunteer biologist Evan Reeve

I arrived here knowing very little about fish (other than how to care for a beta fish and how to cook salmon and trout).  Evan, on the other hand, is a recent graduate of the University of Washington (or as he likes to say, “U-DUB”) with a degree in Biology (and an emphasis in fish biology).  When I say recent, I mean recent. Evan graduated five days before we boarded the ship.

Evan has a remarkable “ready for anything” attitude whether it is the start of his 12-hour shift, or the end. His background may be one reason why. Originally from San Diego, he spent his freshman year at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. A planned-year studying abroad at the Universidad Veritas in San Jose, Costa Rica got cut short after one semester due to an illness that forced him to return to San Diego.  There, Evan made the decision to serve our country and joined the Navy. For a few years, he served as a Navy corpsman stationed with Marine infantry units until he was injured during training. That’s when Ready-for-Anything Evan resumed his studies, eventually arriving at his beloved “U-DUB”. 

Evan currently lives in Washington, where he volunteers with the NOAA Hatchery Reform Program in Port Orchard, Washington, tracking hatchery released juvenile salmon in Puget Sound using both acoustics and traditional fishing techniques.  When a biology professor mentioned the opportunity to spend time on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in the Gulf of Alaska, Evan of course volunteered, eager to participate in a larger scale study involving different fish species.  In Puget Sound, the haul is often 10 salmon.  In contrast, the haul being studied onboard the Oscar Dyson is often 1000 pounds of Walleye pollock several times a day (along with prowfish, Pacific herring, rockfish, and a lot of jellyfish). Speaking of prowfish, herring, rockfish, and jellyfish…

FUN FISH FACTS AND PHOTOS:

PROWFISH: In my earlier blog, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, I wrote about the lumpsucker being the cutest fish I had ever seen.  A close runner up is the baby prowfish. 

juvenile prowfish
juvenile prowfish

Every time we get a prowfish in a catch, everyone wants to look at it! We usually get juvenile prowfish which are about the length of my finger. (Adults can get up to 3 feet long.) The juveniles are very soft and smooth looking, and their lower jaw juts out slightly, making them look like they are pouting.  Unlike adults prowfish, who spend most of their time near the bottom of the sea floor, juvenile prowfish spend their time in the middle levels of the water column, which is the area we are trawling on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  I was surprised to learn that juvenile prowfish will try to avoid predators by hiding within the bells of large jellyfish.

PACIFIC HERRING, OR AS I LIKE TO CALL THEM, THE RAINBOW FISH:

Pacific herring
Pacific herring

As a special education preschool teacher, I often read and discuss The Rainbow Fish (by Marcus Pfister) with my students.

cover of The Rainbow Fish
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

It is a popular children’s book about a little fish with very sparkly scales who learns to share. Rainbow Fish was considered the most beautiful fish in the ocean because of his many sparkly scales.  When a plain, little fish asks for one of the sparkly scales, Rainbow Fish refuses to share. This makes all the other fish mad, and they no longer want to play with the Rainbow Fish. In the end, Rainbow Fish decides to share his sparkly scales with all the other fish, keeping only one for himself.  He is less beautiful than he was before, but he has new friends and is now the happiest fish in the sea.

The Pacific herring is similarly covered in sparkly scales, but boy, is he a super sharer (as we say in preschool)!  Since herring are a small fish, they compensate for their size by forming schools (or groups of fish that swim together). Swimming in schools protects them as it reduces the likelihood that any one of them will be eaten by a predator. Sometimes we get only one herring with our huge haul of pollock.  They are somewhat similar in shape and color.  Evan (the volunteer biologist) has a theory: that it’s a herring who got separated from his school and sought protection by joining and blending in with a school of pollock. As a preschool teacher, I love the idea that a group of pollock would allow or even invite a lost little herring to “play” with them.

Other times, we get a lot of herring, and as I mentioned they love to share their sparkly scales.  Everything (and everyone) ends up sparkly: the pollock, the fish belt, the measuring boards, the tables, and ME!  You can always tell when there is herring in a catch by the sparkly fish scales in my hair.

ROCKFISH: Occasionally a few rockfish are in the trawl net.  Rockfish have large eyes, and are not particularly sparkly or cute, but they are delicious! I even learned to fillet them!

Erica fillets a rockfish
My first time filleting a fish
Erica fillets a rockfish
It’s easier than I thought it would be!

It was exciting to later see the rockfish cooked and served for dinner.

prepared rockfish
The rockfish deliciously prepared by the Chief Steward, Judy Capper

AND FINALLY THE JELLYFISH: Not yet… keep reading…

FIRST, Nathan Battey: Nathan, the other volunteer biologist onboard, is on my shift, and works in the fish lab with me 12 hours a day processing the fish hauls. He is my “go-to fisheries biologist” whenever I need help identifying a fish or jellyfish.”

Nathan and lumpsucker
Volunteer biologist Nathan Battey with a lumpsucker

Since he is originally from Goffstown, New Hampshire, it should not come as a surprise that Nathan ended up on a ship since Goffstown is home to the famous Giant Pumpkin Regatta! Every October, Goffstown residents transform enormous pumpkins into boats. They scoop out the sometimes 1000-pound pumpkins, climb in, and race them down the Piscatoquag River. 

Nathan studied biology and earth science at the University of New Hampshire and took a lot of oceanography courses along the way.  Since graduating in 2015, he has done a myriad of fascinating things.  He quantified nitrogen cycling in the wetlands of coastal New England, worked in a microbiology lab, counted larval fish under a microscope, regulated the upstream passage of salmon on the Seattle fish ladder, worked as a scallop fisheries observer, was a State Park Ranger on the eastern shore of Virginia, and worked with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (alongside NOAA scientists, tribal scientists, fish and wildlife scientists, and National Park scientists) on the recolonization of the Elwha River for salmon and other fish after the dams there were removed.  (The tribe had successfully sued the U.S. for the removal of the dams based upon their right to fish there.)

The last two positions were through AmeriCorps, which he highly recommends! AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs.  It is sometimes thought of as the domestic Peace Corps since members serve on projects within the United States. According to their website: “AmeriCorps is your moment to take the path less traveled, to break the status quo, to stop talking about the problem and be the solution.” Whatever your passion, it is likely there is an AmeriCorps opportunity perfect for you. There are projects in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. If you are interested in learning more about AmeriCorps, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps

Nathan is also a talented artist and drew detailed sketches of both marine and bird species which amazed everyone and now hang on the walls of the chem lab. 

Nathan's sketch
Nathan’s sketch of the albatross that would visit the ship during fishing times.

He will also be remembered for the nickname he gave to the Chrysaora melanaster jellyfish: Chrysaora melanasty.

Nathan's jellyfish
Nathan’s sketch of the beautiful but dreaded melanasty

AT LAST, THE JELLYFISH:

Chrysaora melanaster are magnificent creatures. The photo below, captured one night using the drop camera, shows how elegantly they glide through the water with their ribbon-like tentacles flowing gracefully behind them.

Chrysaora melanaster swimming
Chrysaora melanaster captured on drop camera

It is often my job to grab the jellyfish as they come down the belt, separating them from the pollock.  I have held some that are an inch wide, and some that are almost 3 feet wide (and quite heavy). Jellyfish are measured by their bell diameter, or how wide the top part is (not the tentacles).

Erica with large jelly
Here I am with a large Chrysaora melanaster. Before my time on the Oscar Dyson, if I saw a jellyfish in the ocean, I swam away as quickly as I could. Now I probably touch 100 jellyfish per day, albeit with gloves on. Also, look at the sparkly scales in my hair. It must have been a herring day!
Evan and jellies
Volunteer biologist Evan Reeve and a tangled mess of Chrysaora melanster

The photo above might give you an idea of how the nickname “melanasty” came to be.  In the net, all the glorious, long, sticky, ribbon-like tentacles of the Chrysaora melanaster get tangled and attached to all the glorious, long, sticky, ribbon-like tentacles of the other Chrysaora melanaster.  As you try to pull one jellyfish off the belt, several more are attached in a slimy mess, and you often get splashed in the face, mouth, or eyes with jellyfish “goo.”  One day, dealing with the tangle, Nathan dubbed them “melanasty” and the nickname stuck. 

Erica Marlaine: SAY CHEESE, July 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 7, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 24.63N
Longitude:155 º 18.86 W
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 210º
Air Temperature:  11º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1097 mb


Science and Technology Log

Fishing nets like the ones used on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson or on commercial fishing boats can be very expensive.  If one plans on doing a bottom trawl (fishing with a net that goes down to the sea floor) one wants to make sure that there are not rocks or other things that can snag or tear the net.  If there are too many rocks or boulders or uneven topography, the area is considered “untrawlable”. While computer imagery can provide some guidance with regard to what lies deep beneath the surface, scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are hoping that video images taken with an underwater camera can provide a more complete picture and be the basis for a more precise computer model of what areas are in fact untrawlable.

Why is this important? Scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are surveying the fish that live in the middle of the water column. However, groundfish surveys need to account for all the fish living on the ocean floor. If the groundfish program can’t trawl in certain areas, then they don’t know what is there.  For example, rockfish often live in untrawlable areas. If a groundfish survey can’t put a net in areas where rockfish live, then they won’t really “count” the correct numbers of rockfish in their survey. Data obtained using an underwater camera can help determine what species of rockfish are being underrepresented by the groundfish program.

One of the many perks of being on the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift is that I get to watch the drop camera in action!  The camera (with its attached light) is slowly lowered to the sea floor.  

The drop camera

I have seen the camera take 4 minutes to reach the bottom or as long as 8 minutes depending upon the depth of the water being surveyed.  The camera is then “driven” along the bottom (or right above it) for 15 minutes via a control box on the boat (similar to a tiny joystick).  I even got to drive it a few times!

My turn to drive!

The images are recorded and also seen in real time on several computer screens on the boat.  We have seen rocks, of course, but also jellyfish, sea whips, crabs, anemones, octopuses, sea stars, and a wide variety of fish. One night, there were thousands of sand dollars. It looked like we had come across a buried treasure! It is fascinating to see what is happening deep beneath the boat. It’s kind of like virtual scuba diving!

Sand dollars and brittle stars
Sand dollars and brittle stars
Tiger Rockfish
Tiger Rockfish
Flatfish
Flatfish
Giant Pacific Octopus
Giant Pacific Octopus
ANOTHER Giant Pacific Octopus!
Kelp Greenling
Kelp Greenling
Quillback
Quillback


Drop Camera Elementary School Math Fun

If the stereo drop camera takes 8 minutes to reach the bottom when the water is 200 meters deep, how long might it take to reach the bottom if it was:

100 meters deep?  ____________

50 meters deep? ______________

300 meters deep? _____________


Personal Log

It’s time to come clean and admit that I suffer from Pareidola.  Don’t worry, it’s not contagious, or even dangerous. In fact, I think it’s a lot of fun.  You see, Pareidola is a psychological phenomenon where you see patterns.  Quite often, people with Pareidola will see faces in objects where there really isn’t one, like on an electrical outlet. 

Electrical outlets
Electrical outlets… do you think they look like faces?

My Pareidola has reached a new level on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as I am seeing not just faces but ROBOTS like these:

Let me know if you see any robots at your house, and I am on the lookout for more here!


Erica Marlaine: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! July 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 6, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 4.07N
Longitude: 156º 42 W
Wind Speed: 3.2knots
Wind Direction: 96º
Air Temperature:  10.3º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1025.7. mb
Surface Water temperature: 11.05º Celsius
Depth of water column: 1,057.6 meters


If you love science and exploring, consider a career in the NOAA Corps!

NOAA Corps

The NOAA Corps is one of our nation’s seven uniformed services (along with the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service Commissioned Officer Corps). NOAA Corps officers are an integral part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA and the NOAA Corps can trace their lineage to 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill for the “Survey of the Coast.” The survey work was done by Army and Naval officers along with civilian men and women. The Coast Survey was actually the first federal agency to hire female professionals! Their duties included charting our nation’s waterways and creating topographic maps of our shorelines, which made our marine highways among the best charted in the world.

Today, the NOAA Corps is an elite group of men and women trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, and fisheries science. NOAA is comprised of the National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA Research), National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, National Ocean Service, and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. NOAA Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.

NOAA Officer Spotlight

ENS Lexee Andonian
ENS Lexee Andonian

I had the opportunity to speak with Ensign (ENS) Lexee Andonian (although by the time this is published Ms. Andonian will have been selected for LTJG (Lieutenant junior grade)! ENS Andonian has been a member of NOAA Corps for almost 2 years, and loves her job, but it was not something she originally considered as a career (or even knew about). She first learned about NOAA while working at a rock climbing gym. A patron mentioned it to her, and offered to show her around a NOAA ship. She went home and googled NOAA. With her interest piqued, she decided to accept the patron’s offer, and went to Newport, Oregon to tour the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada (which is actually the sister ship of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. A sister ship means they were based off the same blueprint and can serve similar projects.)

ENS Andonian applied for the NOAA Corps, but was waitlisted. NOAA is highly selective and accepts a very limited number of applicants (approximately 15-25 twice a year.) Undeterred, she applied for the next NOAA class, and was once again waitlisted, but this time she was accepted off the waitlist. After 5 months of training at the Coast Guard Academy, she was ready to begin her assignment onboard a NOAA ship, where additional hands-on training occurs non-stop. Each NOAA Corps member wears a multitude of “hats” while onboard. ENS Andonian is currently the Acting Operations Officer, the Navigation Officer, the Environmental Compliance Officer, and the Dive Officer. ENS Andonian loves that her job allows her to see unique places that many people never get to explore since they are not accessible by plane or car. Asked what she misses the most from home, she said, “Bettee Anne” (her dog).


Science and Technology Log

Today I was introduced to a few new species in the fish lab. Until now, most of the jellyfish have been Chrysaora melanasta, which are beautiful and can be quite large, but today I saw 2 egg yolk jellyfish, aptly named as they look like egg yolks.

Egg yolk jellyfish
Egg yolk jellyfish

I also saw a lumpsucker, which is the cutest fish I have ever seen. Lumpsuckers look like little balls of grey goo. He (or she) seemed to look right at me and kept opening and closing its mouth as if trying to say something. Lumpsuckers have a suction cup on their bottom which allows then to adhere to rocks or other surfaces.

Lumpsucker
Lumpsucker


Personal Log

As a teacher, I create experiences for my students that will take them out of their comfort zone so that they can realize just how much they are truly capable of. On the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, it is my turn to step outside my own comfort zone. If you would have told me a few months ago that I would feel comfortable being elbow-deep in live fish and jellyfish, or dissecting fish to see whether they are male or female, or slicing into a fish’s head to collect otoliths (ear bones), I would not have believed you, but that is how I spend every day onboard the Oscar Dyson, and after 2 weeks, it feels like something I have done all my life.  It is an experience I highly recommend to everyone!

Erica Marlaine: Happy Fourth of July from the 49th State, July 4, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 4-5, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 48.9 N
Longitude: 159º 2.3 W
Wind Speed: 4.2 knots
Wind Direction: 186.5º
Air Temperature:  14.7º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1022.12 mb
Depth of water column 84.5 m
Surface Sea Temperature: 10 º Celsius

History

On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire for 7.2 million dollars (or 2 cents per square mile). It was deemed a territory for many years until January 3, 1959 when President Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska into the United States.  The word “Alaska” comes from an Aleut-language idiom that means “object to which the action of the sea is directed.” It is the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States. It is also the largest state.  By comparison, it is twice the size of Texas.


Celebrating the Fourth of July, NOAA style

My usual Fourth of July at home includes a bar-b-que, swimming, and attending a fireworks show at night. The Fourth of July celebration on the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson was completely different, and literally a BLAST.  At noon, an announcement was made for “all hands” to report to the galley for Fourth of July “mocktails” or fun non-alcoholic drinks.  (There is no alcohol on a NOAA ship.) I had a delicious “mimosa” made of orange juice and sparkling cider. Later, we were taken on a wonderful ride past Mitrofania Island. 

Approaching Mitrofania Island
Approaching Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island

Photographs do not do it justice.  It was my first time up on the fly bridge (the “roof” of the boat) and I loved being able to take in the 360 degree views.  Many people never get to see this part of Alaska as it is not a route commonly taken by cruise ships. The “fireworks” part came the next morning, when “all hands” were again called to the deck to light off expired flares.  While some made a popping noise, the one I did produced thick orange smoke for at least 30 seconds. It was, as I said, a literal blast!


Science and Technology

Later, we were back on the bridge but for a sadder reason. A dead whale was floating in the water right near the boat.  I asked if anyone comes to pick up dead whales.  It was explained to me that if a dead whale washes ashore, it will be picked up and taken for a necropsy to see if the cause of death could be determined.  However, if they are at sea, they will be left to decompose and become part of the sea once again.

Whale carcass
Whale carcass

On a happier note, I was sent to the bridge later in the day to see if there were any whales in the vicinity as we do not fish if whales are nearby. It turned out that there were 5 whales in the distance (but close enough to see with binoculars). Whales are somewhat easy to spot as they must come to the surface often to breathe. When they exhale, they produce a spout of moist air from their blowhole.  Since different species of whales produce different shape or size spouts, the spout is one way to identify the type of whale you are seeing. Other identifying features are size, color, fin shape, and whether they are alone or in a group. Some whale species travel in groups or pods, while others are more solitary. For example, killer whales (which are really dolphins) spend much of their time in large groups that travel and hunt together. Sometimes 4 generations of killer whales will be found together.  In contrast, humpback whales are more often found alone or with their calf.


Whale Fun Facts

While many people think that whales spout water, it is actually mostly air.  The spout is their exhale. Since they are mammals, and not fish, they do not have gills, and must come to the surface to breathe through their blowhole.

A baby whale is called a calf.

A group of whales travelling together is called a pod.

The blue whale is the largest animal in the world. It can grow to be as long as 3 buses, and its heart is as big as a car. Despite being so large, blue whales eat some of the smallest marine life, such as the krill discussed in an earlier blog.

A blue whale’s call is so loud, it can be heard underwater for hundreds of kilometers.

Whales are warm-blooded, so they need to develop a layer of fat (called blubber) to stay warm in cold water.


Whale blubber experiment for parents and kids to do together

Make a blubber glove by filling 2 ziploc-type plastic bags with shortening (such as Crisco) and taping them together to form a pocket.

Fill a bowl with water and ice cubes.

Allow your child to quickly touch the cold water in the bowl with their bare hand.

Then have your child put his or her hand in the blubber glove, and then put their gloved hand into the cold water.


 

Erica Marlaine: No Peanut Butter and Jelly but PLENTY OF JELLYFISH, July 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 1, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 56º 50.94N
Longitude: 155º 44.49 W
Wind Speed: 11.3 knots
Wind Direction: 240º
Air Temperature:  12.98º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1027.5 mb

Crew Member Spotlight

At present, there are 31 people onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, and each plays a vital role in making sure that everything runs as it should.  One person whose job touches each and every one of us is Judy Capper, the Chief Steward.  One might think that being onboard a ship for three weeks would mean limited food choices, or lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but so far every meal onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson has been abundant and delicious. From shrimp kabobs to stuffed pork loin to homemade soups to delicious baked goods, Judy keeps everyone onboard fed and happy.

I got a chance to talk to Judy about her job and her journey to becoming a NOAA Chief Steward.  Judy’s first career was in the corporate world (including Hewlitt-Packard) but being the oldest of 5 siblings, she has been cooking since the age of 12.  An interest in cooking led her to study culinary arts at UCLA and other locations.  She then took seamanship training at Orange Coast College.  At the time, she owned a sailboat, and enjoyed cooking and entertaining on the boat.  The captain loved her cooking and asked if she would be interested in cooking on some sailboat charters.  That led to working on yachts and supply ships, and lucky for us, in 2015, Judy was hired by NOAA.  Judy loves her job as a NOAA Steward.  She says it is never boring and allows her to be creative.  Her advice for anyone interested in following in her footsteps is to eat in good restaurants so that you develop your taste buds, get good training, and watch cooking shows.

Judy Capper
Judy Capper, Chief Steward Extraordinaire


Science and Technology Log

Last night we used a different kind of net, known as a Methot net, in order to collect macroscopic zooplankton. Named after its designer, Richard D. Methot, it is a single net with a large square opening or mouth attached to a rigid steel frame. The net is deployed from the stern and towed behind the vessel.

Methot Net
Deploying the Methot Net

The Methot uses fine mesh (e.g. 2×3 mm) but has openings that are slightly larger.  This design allows the net to be towed at high speeds. A flowmeter suspended in the mouth of the Methot net measures the flow of water moving through the net.  Scientists use the flowmeter data to calculate the volume of water sampled.

The flowmeter
The flowmeter

Watching the crew preparing to launch the Methot net was a lesson in teamwork. Everyone knew their job, and they reviewed what each would do when.  They even discussed what hand signals they would use (“If I make this movement, that means XYZ”).

The Methot net did catch a lot more krill than I had seen before, as well as many jellyfish.

Erica and jellyfish
One of the many Chrysaora melanaster we came across.


Fun Jellyfish Facts:

Jellyfish are invertebrates, and have no brain, heart, eyes, or bones.  Instead they have a bag-like body that feels like slippery jello and tentacles covered with small, stinging cells.  They sting and paralyze their prey before eating it.  A jellyfish sting can be painful, but it is not usually harmful for humans.  However, some people may be allergic to the venom, and will have a reaction.

Erica Marlaine: Onboard the City That Never Sleeps, June 28, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 28, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 58º 28.54 N
Longitude: 154º 46.05 W
Wind Speed: 16.8 knots
Wind Direction: 190º
Air Temperature:  11º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 102


Science and Technology Log

Scientists aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are estimating the numbers and biomass of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska.  They use acoustics (sound data)  to help them do this.

acoustic readout
Acoustic representation of fish in the area


Acoustic representation of fish in an area

Echo sounders send an acoustic signal (ping) into the water.  The sound bounces off objects that have a different density than the surrounding water (such as the swim bladder in a fish) and returns back to the echo sounder.  Using the speed of sound, this technology can determine how deep the fish are in the water column. 

How much sound each object reflects is known as the target strength.  The target strength is dependent upon the type of fish and the size of the fish.  A bigger fish will give off more of an echo than a small fish will.  A fish’s swim bladder is primarily what reflects the sound.  Smelt and krill do not have swim bladders. As a result, they do not reflect as much sound as a pollack would. Even though a big fish gives off more sound energy than a small fish of the same species, it is possible that a return echo could indicate either one big fish or several smaller fish clumped together. A big fish of one species could also give off similar sound energy to a big fish of a different species. For that reason, actual fish are collected several times a day in the nets described in a previous blog.

From a net sample, scientists determine the number of each species in the catch as well as the length and weight of individuals of each species. 

Measuring pollock
Measuring pollock

Additionally, scientists also determine the sex and age of the pollock.  The catch data is used to scale the acoustic data, which in turn allows scientists to estimate how many pollock there are of various size and age groups in a given area. These numbers help scientists  determine the sustainability of the pollock population, which in turn allows the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to set catch quotas. 

Counting krill
Counting krill


Krill Fun Facts:

Krill (aka euphausiids) are small crustaceans (a couple of millimeters long) of the order Euphausiacea.  The word “krill” is a Norwegian word meaning “a small fry of fish.” Krill are found in every ocean and are a major food source. They are eaten by fish, whales, seals, penguins, and squid, to name a few.  In Japan, the Phillipines, and Russia, krill are also eaten by humans.  In Japan, they are called okiami.  In the Phillipines and Russia, they are known as camarones. In the Phillipines, krill are also used to make a salty paste called bagoong. Krill are a major source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

krill on spoon
There are many kinds of krill. Thus far, in the Gulf of Alaska, we have been seeing mostly Thysanoessa enermis, which measure approximately 1/2 inch in length.

Personal Log  

People often refer to New York as the city that never sleeps. The same can be said for the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Life onboard the Oscar Dyson carries on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  There is never a time that the ship is not bustling with activity.  Everyone on the boat works 12-hour shifts, so someone is always working while others are sleeping (or doing laundry, exercising, or watching a movie in the lounge before they go to sleep.) Most people on the boat work either the noon to midnight shift or the midnight to noon shift.  However, the science team works 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., or 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. I am in the latter group.  It was easier to get accustomed to than I had imagined, although it is sometimes confusing when you look at your clock and wonder whether it is 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. since the sun is shining for most of the day.  Kodiak has only 4-5 hours of darkness now, and the sun sets at approximately midnight.  Therefore, it does not really feel like nighttime for much of my shift.

View
The view from NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Sunset
Views (and sunsets) like these make it easy to work the night shift!

Erica Marlaine: One Fish, Two Fish, June 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 26, 2019


Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 58º 33.15 N
Longitude: 152º 58.87 W
Wind Speed: 17.5 knots
Wind Direction: 229º
Air Temperature:  13º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1020.2 mb


Science Log

Today we did our first two trawls of the trip. According to Webster’s dictionary, trawl is defined as the act of fishing with a trawl net, which is a large conical net dragged along the sea bottom in order to gather fish or other marine life. It can also mean the act of sifting through something as part of a search.  Both definitions are accurate for what is done on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.

The Oscar Dyson uses a variety of nets to catch the fish being studied. One net that has been used for many years is called an Aleutian Wing Trawl (or an AWT). The mesh size of the AWT is ½ inch.  Attached to the AWT net are smaller nets (called pocket nets) which also have a ½ inch mesh size.  The new net being used this year is an LFS 1421, which has a 1/8 inch mesh size. It has 9 pocket nets, also with 1/8 inch mesh size. It is thought that fewer fish will escape the LFS net because the mesh size is smaller, in turn allowing the scientists to get a more accurate picture of the fish and other creatures living in the areas they are trawling.  Trawls are being conducted using both nets (back-to-back) to determine the extent to which the new net is more efficient and provides a more accurate measure.

AWT and LFS nets
The older AWT net is on the left. The newer LFS 1421 net is on the right.

Once the nets are pulled in, the processing begins. The main net (i.e., codend) is emptied onto the large processing table in the fish lab.

catch on the processing table
One catch on the processing table.

Each pocket net is emptied into a separate plastic bin.  The fish are then identified, weighed, measured, and sometimes dissected in order for us to accurately determine the age and sex of each fish.

Evan with plastic bin
Volunteer Biologist Evan Reeve with a pocket net bin.

Otoliths (ear bones) and ovaries are collected from a sample of the walleye pollock caught in the codend of the net. Otoliths allow scientists to determine the age of the fish.  Over time, ridges form on the otoliths, and are indicative of age in much the same way a tree’s age can be determined by counting the rings of its trunk. 

Ovaries are collected to be sent back to the lab as part of a long-term histology study which hopes to determine whether walleye pollock experience multi-batch spawning events (i.e., do pollock spawn more than one time) within or between seasons. Histology, also known as microscopic anatomy or microanatomy, uses a microscope to study the anatomy of biological tissues. In contrast, gross anatomy looks at structures without a microscope.

After a trawl, scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson examine the ovaries with the naked eye to determine the reproductive stage of the walleye pollock that has been caught. There are 5 stages: Immature (not yet capable of spawning, typically age 0-2); Developing (beginning to develop the ability to spawn) Pre-spawning, Spawning, and Spent (completed spawning).  Once a pollock spawns, it begins the cycle again beginning at step 3 (pre-spawning). Additionally, the histology study also hopes to determine whether the spawning stages being designated by scientists during the cruise are in fact accurate.

Elementary Math Fun

Let’s say 200 total fish were caught in the new LFS 1421 net, including the nine pocket nets attached.

Pocket nets 1, 2 and 3 each had 20 age-0 pollock in them.

Pocket nets 4, 5 and 6 each had 13 lantern fish in them.

Pocket net 7 had 3 small herrings  in it.

Pocket nets 8 and 9 each had 2 age-1 pollock in them.

How many fish were in the codend or main part of the net?


Personal Log

As a Southern Californian, I imagined Alaska to be cold even in the summer, and packed sweaters and a big puffy winter coat.  Apparently shorts and t-shirts would have been more appropriate! The weather in Kodiak has been warm and beautiful, with the sun shining until midnight.

Barometer Mountain
Barometer Mountain, Kodiak, Alaska

My first day in Kodiak was a free day, so I joined the science team on a hike up Barometer Mountain, which many say is the most difficult hike in Kodiak.  It is 2100 feet straight up a very steep, rocky, brush-filled path, and then 2100 feet down that same, steep path.  It was quite the challenge, but the view from the top was magnificent.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
My home for the next three weeks!

At present, there are 31 people onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, including NOAA corps officers, engineers, deck personnel, cooks, scientists, interns, and me, the NOAA Teacher at Sea. The ship, which was originally launched in 2003, and commissioned into service as a NOAA ship in 2005, is named for Alaskan fisherman and fishing industry leader Oscar E. Dyson. It is one of the most advanced fisheries research vessels in the world, due in part to its acoustic quieting technology.  This allows scientists to monitor fish populations without concern that the ship’s noise will affect the behavior of the fish.

Erica Marlaine: Introduction

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 24 -July 15, 2019


Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: South Bering Sea, Alaska

Date: June 14, 2019

Hello! My name is Erica Marlaine, and in one week I will be flying to Alaska for the first time ever to spend three weeks aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am a Special Education Preschool Teacher at Nevada Avenue Elementary School in West Hills, California.

Erica holding a stuffed lamb
Me at the Noah’s Ark Exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles

My students are 3-5 year olds who have a variety of special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, and speech delays. They are fascinated by science experiments and nature, love to explore their surroundings with binoculars and magnifying glasses, and often notice the details in life that the rest of us walk right by. 

little scientist
One of my little scientists
magnifying glasses
Checking the growth of our tadpoles.

Like most 3-5 years olds, they are obsessed with whales, octopi, and of course, sharks. (If you don’t yet know the baby shark song, ask any preschooler you know to teach it to you.)

When I tell people (with much excitement) that I have been selected to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, they ask “who will you be teaching?” thinking that there will be students onboard the ship.  I explain that in many ways, I will actually be both a Student at Sea and a Teacher at Sea. I will be learning from the scientists onboard the ship how to use acoustics as well as more traditional, hands-on methods to count Alaskan pollock in the Bering Sea, and exploring the issues oceanographers are most concerned or excited about.  Then, through blogging while onboard, and upon my return to the classroom, I will use this first-hand knowledge to create STEM projects involving oceanography that will help students see their connection to the ocean world, and instill in them a sense of stewardship and responsibility for the world around them. I am hopeful that these experiences will inspire more students at my school to choose a career in science, perhaps even with NOAA.

When I am not teaching, or taking classes for my administrative credential through the University of Southern California, or being involved with education policy through a fellowship with Teach Plus, I enjoy spending time with my husband and daughter, and apparently EATING Alaskan pollock. It turns out that the imitation crabmeat in the California rolls and crab salad that I eat quite often is actually Alaskan pollock.  We will see if catching them, looking them in the eye, and studying them, will make me more or less interested in eating them.