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.