Patty McGinnis: Heading Home, May 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: San Francisco
Date: Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Personal Log

I’m sitting in my hotel room where I will spend the night prior to boarding a plane for Philadelphia. I still feel the rocking of the boat, a strange, but evidently perfectly normal phenomenon. As I look back on the last week, I am flooded with memories—the smell of the catch, the constant sound of the boat engines, the feel of the ocean as she makes herself known to the Ocean Starr, the sight of a multitude of krill, and the taste of Crystal’s jambalaya made from freshly caught shrimp that had the misfortune of finding their way into our trawl.

Goodbye, Ocean Starr!
Goodbye, Ocean Starr!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. In addition to developing an appreciation and deeper understanding of pelagic fish and the work that goes into managing our fisheries, I take away fond memories of my work and of the friendships forged. Although Fisheries Biologist Don Pearson, Biologist Sophie Webb, and graduate student Jamie Lee worked days, I had opportunities to spend time with each of them and learn from them.

When working the night shift, I found that our operations quickly settled into a comfortable routine thanks to Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma. Methodical and careful in his work, it was obvious how much he enjoyed taking the time to teach us and entertain us as we worked through the night. Although Lindsey, Brianna, Kaia, and Amber all have much more experience identifying fish than I do, we quickly formed a team that worked efficiently and cheerfully throughout the shift. Our work, however, would not have been possible without crewmen Rich, Nate, and Jason who braved the elements several times a night to release the trawl net and reel it back in. Rich especially enjoyed bantering with us and seeing what the trawls yielded.

everybody sorting
The night shift sorts a trawl catch
on deck
Rich worked tirelessly each night to ensure that our trawls were conducted

During my time on the Ocean Starr I also quickly came to appreciate the rhythm of the day that our marvelous ship steward, Crystal, provided. She was always ready with an enthusiastic smile and thoroughly enjoyed applying her creative energies to sating everyone’s appetites.

Ship Steward Crystal kept everyone well-fed

In addition to Crystal, I got to know several members of the crew, all who were unanimous in their enthusiasm for their work. I heard time and time again how much they enjoy traveling and meeting the various scientists that board the Ocean Starr. All of the crew was incredibly patient when answering my questions. Dale Johnson graciously explained his navigational duties and briefed me on some of the equipment he uses. He explained how he keeps a constant eye on the radar which tells him the locations of other ships in the area. He also explained the electronic chart that he uses to navigate. As much as he enjoys the convenience of the electronic chart, however, using a paper chart is still an essential skill. Dale hones this skill frequently as he plans out the route on paper and transfers it to the electronic chart.

Dale explains his job to me

I enjoyed getting to know George Rayford, Jr., a QMED (engineering department) who caught the “working on the water” bug through his employment with a barge line that navigated inland rivers.

George always had a smile for the night shift

Captain Bud Hanson always referred to me as “Patty, Teacher at Sea.” I felt a bit like a princess with such a long title. He, too, was generous with his time and was patient with my questions. Captain Bud was delighted when I asked him if he would sign some flags that had been made by various classes in my school district—-I know that those classes are going to be thrilled when I return their little piece of their classroom that sailed with me on my adventure.

Captain Bud
The captain of the Ocean Starr

Thank you, NOAA, and thank you to my Ocean Starr friends. This past week has been an adventure I’ll never forget!

end of trip
The end of a great trip!

Patty McGinnis: Anchovies, Shrimp, and Krill, May 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pescadero, California
Date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 37 16.941 ° N
Longitude: 123 07.440° W
Air Temperature: 14 Celsius
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Wind Direction: NE
Surface Water Temperature: 12.8 Celsius
Weather conditions: foggy

Science and Technology Log

I’ve come to realize that each trawl is a whole new adventure; although Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma has the historical data to predict what might be found at each station, he is occasionally surprised at the treasures that are yielded by the ocean’s pelagic zone. The majority of our trawls are conducted at 30 meters below the surface. The area that falls between the surface and 200 meters below the surface is known as the epipelagic zone. The next zone, the mesopelagic, is the area that lies 200 meters to 1,000 meters below the surface. Last night our first trawl of the night was a deep water trawl. Although described in the Project Instructions, this was our first opportunity to conduct a deep water trawl. Keith was taking advantage of the fact that the captain wanted to unwind one of the trawl winch cables so that it could be carefully rewound onto the spool.

putting out the net
The crew of the Ocean Starr cheerfully assisted with the trawls each night

During the deep water trawl, the net was dragged for 15 minutes at a depth of 300 meters, rather than the traditional 15 minutes at 30 meters. In addition to a large number of adult hake, we pulled up a long-finned dragonfish. Like many fish that live in the deep ocean, the dragonfish has an organ on its head that produces a bioluminescent light. This light is used by some species to attract prey and can also serve to help the fish see its surroundings. Tonight we found another type of deep dwelling fish; the stoplight loosejaw fish, so named for its large jaw. Its red spot is capable of producing red light to help it navigate. We also pulled in several King of the salmon specimens. The King of the salmon is not a real salmon, but is a type of ribbon fish. It has a very flat, ribbon-shaped body and a long dorsal fin that runs down the entire body. Deep water fish like the stoplight loosejaw and King of the salmon tend to get pretty banged up in the trawl.

deep water trawl haul
I stand next to the results of our deep water trawl haul
stoplight loosejaw
This stoplight loosejaw is a type of dragonfish that lives in deep ocean waters
king of the salmon
King of the salmon fish

Lindsey good-naturedly dissected out a handful of otoliths (ear bones) from the adult hakes so that I could have a memento of my NOAA Teacher at Sea voyage. I anticipate using the otoliths to create a lab activity for the middle school science classroom. The hake lengths were then measured on a special board and a small piece of tissue was cut from five of them to be frozen and analyzed later.

adult hake
Adult hake
These otoliths, or ear bones, came from adult hakes
These otoliths, or ear bones, came from adult hakes

We conducted five additional trawls at 30 meters. Prior to and during each haul one of us does a mammal watch. This consists of listening and watching for mammals that may appear alongside the ship during the trawl. Should we encounter any marine mammals, the protocol is to stop the trawl immediately to avoid injuring any mammals. As of today, we have yet to be accompanied by any marine mammals during our trawls.

One of the surprises of the night was a catch of northern anchovies. I was surprised at their size; rather than the small fish I had envisioned, these fish were solid, robust, and at least 6 inches in length. Keith was pleased with the number of anchovies we hauled in given that very few or none were obtained the last two years. As he explained, the anchovy population tends to go through boom and bust cycles and have been down for the last several years. We also pulled up a North Pacific spiny dogfish, a shark named for its sharp dorsal spines.

Watch out for the dorsal spines on the North Pacific spiny dogfish

Other hauls yielded large amounts of juvenile rockfish and market squid. I have a great fondness for the squid, which I dissect annually with my students each spring. The small market squid we pull up, some barely an inch in length, pale in comparison to the adult squid which I use in my classroom. There is, however, no mistaking the miniature squid for anything else, so strong is their resemblance to their full-grown relatives that make their way from California’s pelagic waters to my classroom in Eagleville, Pennsylvania.

We pulled up this beautiful squid in one of our trawls
Measuring Squid
I measure market squid as part of my work on the Ocean Starr
juvenile rockfish
juvenile rockfish

Krill, of course, are well-represented in the hauls as well. The abundance of the tiny crustacean makes it easy to envision the humpback whale straining out mouthfuls of krill as they make their annual trek to Alaska each spring.


Since identifying and counting the majority of all the organisms for each trawl would be too labor intensive, we concentrate on a subsample. Keith then extrapolates the data from the subsample to obtain an estimation of what the total haul contained. Depending on what is present in the haul, we generally identify a subsample of 1,000 or 5,000 millilitres. Difficult sorts such as one that consists primarily of krill and small shrimp, may be restricted to 1,000 millilitres, whereas easier sorts may be up to 5,000 millimeters. Regardless, the total volume of the trawl is always recorded, as is the total volume of krill. Keith bags some of the catch for later use, carefully labeling each bag with the haul number, cruise number, and species identification code. Up to 30 specimens of each important species are also measured and recorded. In the morning, it will fall to Don Pearson to transfer the data from the data sheets to the computer. These numbers are then cross-checked the following evening to ensure that the data is accurate. The result: the groundfish stock assessments NOAA produces are as accurate as possible, an important factor for fisheries management.

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma obtains a subsample
samples in bags
Samples are carefully labeled and stored for later analysis
catch data sheet
The haul from all trawls are recorded on data sheets

As busy as the night shift is, the day shift keeps busy with important work, too. Don conducts CTDs throughout the day, while Jamie filters phytoplankton from water samples that the CTD captures.

ame filters phytoplankton
Graduate student Jamie Lee filters phytoplankton obtained from CTD sampling
Doug watches the computer as part of conducting a CTD
Fisheries biologist Don Pearson watches the computer as part of conducting a CTD
deploying CTD
Deploying the CTD

As I am sleeping the ship periodically conducts transects over the ocean floor. These transects are conducted in areas where upwelling tends to occur. Upwelling is caused when a predominantly northwest wind pushes water offshore. Water rises up from below the surface to replace the water that was pushed away. In doing so, nutrients from the ocean bottom are transported from the sea floor to the water column. These nutrients serve to promote the growth and reproduction of phytoplankton, which is the basis of all ocean food chains. Upwelling areas therefore attract fish, birds, and marine mammals. While the ship is running transects, a computer in the lab is continually monitoring evidence of sea life at different frequencies. The picture below shows four graphs that monitor for krill, invertebrates, and fish. Fisheries biologist Don Pearson explained that it takes a practiced eye to spot patterns in the data. These patterns should correspond with the birds and mammals that Sophie spots on deck as seeing lots of organisms on the computer means lots of food for the birds and mammals. As much as I’ve enjoyed the night shift, part of me wishes that I had been able to have spent more time on the lookout deck with Sophie.

These graphs indicate the presence of marine organisms
transects on computer
The computer tracks the transects conducted by the Ocean Starr by day

All of this takes an enormous amount of preparation. Keith, Don, Amber, and oceanographer Ken Baltz spent the better part of a day setting up the equipment which will be used over a six-week span. This includes the trawling net which has been built to a specific length, opening and mesh size. The use of a standardized net is important because it enables the scientists to compare catches throughout the years. Other equipment includes an array of computers, the CTD, and miscellaneous equipment needed to sort through catches.

trawl net
Trawl net Photo credit: Kaia

Personal Log

It is interesting getting used to life on ship; this small community consists of 17 crew and 8 scientists (including myself). This vessel, in addition to being equipped with the necessary science equipment, houses its inhabitants in “staterooms.” I have been partnered with Kaia, a reflective wildlife biologist whose company I thoroughly enjoy.

This is where I slept while on the Ocean Starr
Kaia was a wonderful roommate!

I have taken note that you can set your clock by the four meals served each day. Our ship’s steward, Crystal, and her assistant Liz, never fail to amaze me with the diverse menus that they faithfully create for us each day. The mess, or the room where we eat, has snacks and sodas available at all times of the day and night. Crystal also keeps a refrigerator stocked with leftovers that are available for anyone to access at any time. If that wasn’t enough, there is an entire freezer which houses nothing but a variety of ice cream bars (which the night shift enjoys on a regular basis). The mess is a popular place to hang out between meals. Two large televisions are constantly on; I’ve noticed that sci-fi movies (especially B-rated ones) and old war movies seem to be the favored among the crew.

Monday dinner
The ship steward consistently prepares wholesome and delicious meals
What’s for dinner?
ice cream
Ice cream was a favorite treat for the night shift

Yesterday I had an opportunity to do my laundry using one of the ship’s two washing machines. When I first came on board I asked Keith about fresh water on the ship. He explained to me that as long as the ship is moving that it is able to make fresh water through a desalination process. Since the Ocean Starr is in constant movement other than when the CTD is being employed, having fresh water has not been an issue. Regardless, taking the type of long showers favored by many of my students is something I did not indulge in.

The Ocean Starr has all the comforts of home

As I write this the ship rocks gently from side to side. I think of how quickly I have adapted to my new surroundings and to the companionship of my new friends. As Keith had promised, after three days of working the night shift my body has adjusted and has acclimated to the routine. My time here is drawing short, however…three days from now I’ll be back in my classroom sharing stories and photos with my students.

Did You Know?

Commercial fisherman use a big spotlight to attract market squid?

Here is a list of some of the fish I have seen this week:  barracudina, northern lampfish, blue lanternfish, Pacific hake, pallid eelpout, yellowtail rockfish, shortbelly rockfish, cowcod, blue rockfish, boccacio, lingcod, cabezon, Irish lord, wolf-eel, medusafish, Pacific sanddab, speckled sanddab, rex sole, Dover sole, and many more


Patty McGinnis: Women Scientists on the Ocean Starr, May 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Point Reyes, CA
Date: Monday, May 27, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 38 09.465 ° N
Longitude: 123 01.204 ° W
Air Temperature: 10.2 Celsius
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wind Direction: North
Surface Water Temperature:  9.8 Celsius
Weather conditions: clear

Science and Technology Log

If you had asked me ahead of time to predict the percentage of males and females aboard the Ocean Starr, I would have surmised that males would make up the majority. While it is true that most of the crew is male, my scientist co-workers are primarily female.

Lyndsey is dressed to go out on deck

Lyndsey Lefebvre is a fisheries biologist who works for the Groundfish Analysis Team. Her primary job is to study the age and growth of rockfish and flatfish species such as sanddabs to support fishery assessments. Lyndsey ages fish by removing their ear bones, or otoliths. Otoliths contain annual rings, much like a tree. The ear bones are prepared by breaking them in half and holding them over an open flame to darken them; the rings are tiny so a microscope is required to count the rings. Lyndsey explains that this work is important because studying the age structure of a population over time can yield insights into the population’s health. Fish populations that are heavily fished tend to be smaller and younger. Lyndsey is also concerned with reproductive biology such as when and how frequently fish spawn. She studies the blackgill rockfish, a long-lived fish that has internal fertilization. Females give birth to live young once a year, but Lyndsey is trying to determine if a female’s health or environmental conditions impact the numbers of young produced. In contrast, the Pacific sanddab releases eggs on a daily basis for up to six months of the year. Lyndsey says that although she enjoys field work, that about 90% of her work is microscope work done in the laboratory. She likes to listen to audio books or music to help pass the time. Lyndsey says that being a fisheries biologist is a great career. If you think you are interested in such a career, try volunteering doing any type of naturalist work and make as many contacts as you can.

Amber shows a squid jig

One of NOAA’s better kept secrets is the NOAA Corps. The Corps, which is run by the Department of Commerce, consists of approximately 340 commissioned officers who are involved in operating one of NOAA’s ships or piloting a NOAA plane. Amber Payne has been in the NOAA Corps since she graduated four years ago with a degree in marine biology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Amber first became interested in working on marine vessels through her involvement with a Search and Rescue extracurricular club while in college. She considered entering the Coast Guard, but was drawn to the NOAA Corps because it requires a science background. Amber enjoys the many opportunities the Corps has provided, including training and traveling. She recently obtained a 1600 ton Mate’s License which will enable her to work for a private company if she ever decides to leave the Corps. Amber is currently on shore duty as operations officer at the Fisheries Ecology Division which is part of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. In addition to running the Small Boats Program, Amber helps out Lyndsey in the fisheries lab. Recently Amber took a freshly-caught Humboldt squid to an elementary school where she dissected it for the students. She’s pictured above holding a contraption known as a “squid jig” that is used to catch Humboldt squid. Amber’s words of wisdom: always carry a knife and a flashlight with you when on a boat!

Jamie Lee works the day shift so I don’t see much her except at meals. She smiles delightfully as she tells me that her interest in oceanography sprang from watching “Finding Nemo” as a child.

Jamie at work in her floating lab

Jamie is currently a graduate student at San Francisco State University; she attended Stonybrook University in New York as an undergraduate. This is Jamie’s first time on a boat and she is unfazed by its ceaseless motion. Her role on this mission is to assess chlorophyll levels. Chlorophyll is used as an indicator of primary productivity, which dictates how much food is available for ocean organisms. Jamie takes the water samples collected by the CTD and pours the water through a filter to extract chlorophyll from all the phytoplankton in the sample. Jamie tells me that this work must be conducted in subdued light to prevent the chlorophyll from degrading and giving an incorrect reading. The filter paper, which contains the extracted chlorophyll, is then stored in a glass tube or folded in half and put in aluminum foil until it is ready to be read by a fluorometer back at the university lab. I asked Jamie why she is interested in studying phytoplankton, rather than fish or marine mammals. She explains that phytoplankton, although tiny, are the crucial element upon which all the ocean relies.

Kaia sorts krill

Kaia Colestock is a volunteer who free-lances as a wildlife biologist. Kaia has been assisting Lyndsey in the fisheries lab with counting fish eggs present in adult sanddabs. This reproductive ecology study will help to determine if the sanddab fishery is doing well. Kaia earned her undergraduate degree in fisheries wildlife from Michigan State University and her masters in ecology from Utah State. Kaia has participated in a number of wildlife studies over the years, but her favorite is when she had an opportunity to fly aerial surveys for wading birds in the Everglades with supplementary surveys via airboats.  Kaia recommends her career to anyone who likes spending their time outdoors and says that perseverance, motivation, dedication, and being a good critical thinker are important qualities for someone who works as a wildlife biologist. She recommends acquiring special skills related to math, engineering, or physics. Places that hire wildlife biologists such as Kaia include federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies, and non-profit agencies. This is Kaia’s first time on a ship and she is enjoying seeing seabirds during the day and watching how the CTD is deployed.

Brianna preserves krill for future studies

Krill biologist Brianna Michaeud earned her undergraduate degree in marine biology from the University of California Santa Cruz. Brianna plans to pursue a master’s degree beginning this fall at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Brianna enjoys working with krill because of krill’s vital function to the ocean’s food web. Brianna enjoys being on the ocean and seeing what is caught during the trawls. She works for the Long Marine Laboratories, which is affiliated with UCSC. All the data she is collecting will be shared with NOAA scientists. Brianna’s role on this trip is to collect and preserve samples of krill that are collected in both the bongo net and the trawl net. The bongo net is actually two nets that lie parallel to each other; they are designed to remove the effects of the bridles found on regular ring nets. For organisms as small as plankton, the pressure waves produced by the bridles, or connecting cables, can push them away from the net.  The bongo net is made up of a much smaller mesh than the trawl net, so it is capable of capturing the juvenile krill that tend to escape the trawl net. The entire haul from the bongo net is kept in a jar of preservative. Once back at the lab, Brianna will go through the jar to identify the various krill species and obtain a sex ratio for each species. Brianna also preserves 200 milliliters of krill from each of the trawls for later use. Once at the lab, she will count out 100 individuals of the dominant krill species and 50 individuals from the second most dominant.  She’ll then measure each individual, identify how many are gravid (contain eggs), and obtain a sex ratio. Brianna says that marine biology is a “great career” and recommends that students interested in this career take classes in statistics, biology, and chemistry. She also recommends volunteering in laboratories, assisting with beach clean-ups, and reading about oceanography.

Sophie scans the water and air for the presence of birds

The research conducted this week extends beyond the waters; biologist Sophie Webb is onboard to document sightings of seabirds and marine mammals. Sophie is one of only three scientists who work the day shift. One glance at Sophie informs you that her site is one where she is exposed to the elements. You’ll find Sophie on the uppermost level of the ship where she sits with her binoculars and a computer recording data all day. Her job is not for the timid; the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean is cold and she has little company other than the wildlife she is documenting.  Sophie is no stranger to this type of work; she has conducted this research project seven or eight times previously and has also participated in several five month cruises in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (Hawaii,  Mexico and Central America). Currently Sophie is recording all birds seen in a 300-meter strip seen off one side of the ship. She records the species and basic behavior, such as whether the bird is flying, sitting, or feeding. The black-footed albatross is notorious for following the boat, necessitating Sophie to carefully observe so that the bird is not counted more than once. All the information Sophie collects is recorded into a computer program that is hooked into a GPS unit that updates several times a minute. Sophie shares with me that she is also an illustrator and has authored several children’s books such as Far from Shore, Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage and Looking for Seabirds. If you are interested in a career like Sophie’s, she recommends that students obtain advanced degrees in biology and volunteer as much as they can to obtain experience.

Personal Log

It has been amazing to see how quickly the night shift has formed into a team. Everyone works together when the trawl is pulled up to sort, identify, and record the information as efficiently as possible.  I find it interesting to see the variety of organisms we are obtaining in the trawls; tonight some of our catches mainly consisted mainly of shrimp and smelt.

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma displays the results of a haul
shrimp and smelt
Shrimp and smelt

I also continue to be enthralled with the odd looking creatures that the trawls yield. Last night I saw an eel larva. Its body, almost impossibly thin, was gelatinous to the touch. A tiny eye and mouth were the only things that made it recognizable as an animal. When I held it up to the light its many bones became obvious. Even odder was the Phronima, a creature reported to have been the impetus behind the creature in the Alien movies. I also got to hold an octopus in my hand—I could feel the animal’s tiny suckers pulling on my skin. The octopus was returned to its home after the photo op.

eel larva
The bones are visible in this transparent eel larva
This cool creature, Phronima, was the inspiration for the creature in the movie “Alien”
Check out this octopus

Did You Know?

That adult krill have the unique ability to actually shrink in size after a molt if food resources are scarce?

Patty McGinnis: Let’s Go Trawling! May 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Farallones
Date: Friday, May 24, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 37 ° 41.2’  N
Longitude: 122 ° 52.0’ W
Air Temperature: 10.5 Celsius
Wind Speed:  24 knots with gusts as high as 30 knots
Wind Direction: NW
Surface Water Temperature: 9.11 Celsius
Weather conditions: mostly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Last night was my first night of actual work; work that is a challenge given the fact that the boat is moving constantly. There are quite a few tasks that the scientists hope to accomplish over the next week. They will be periodically be deploying a unit called the CTD. The CTD is a carousel that samples for conductivity/salinity temperature, and depth, at a continuous rate as it is lowered from the craft towards the bottom of the ocean floor. The unit transmits data to a computer program which in data analysis and for calibrating the instruments on the CTD itself.

This machine is called a CTD and measures conductivity, temperature, and depth
This machine is called a CTD and measures conductivity, temperature, and depth

The CTD also holds bottles are “fired” at various depths for the purpose of capturing a sample of sea water. The first of these occurs at the lowest point, which is approximately at 10-20 meters above the sea floor. The second bottle fires at the point at which the highest chlorophyll concentration was measured as the CTD made its way to the bottom. This chlorophyll max indicates the productivity created by photosynthetic organisms. The last bottle is fired at five meters below the surface. Water from the bottles is filtered and run through a benchtop fluorometer to obtain chlorophyll concentration which can then be used to estimate primary productivity, or the speed at which photosynthetic organisms produce new matter. Although this measurement may seem a bit boring to some, especially when compared to fish and marine mammals, it is important to remember that photosynthetic organism make up the basis of the food chain and without them no other organisms would exist in the oceans.

The Ocean Starr's floating laboratory
The Ocean Starr’s floating laboratory

My work, however, involves sifting the trawl catches. A trawl is a net that is dragged 30 meters from the surface of the water and is designed to catch organisms in the water column. The trawl is shaped like an ice cream cone with an end called the codend made up of a small mesh that prevents organisms from escaping. The scientist is charge of this part of the operations is Keith, an entertaining character who enjoys telling stories. He has informed me that trawling is conducted at night because if held during the day the fish can see the net and avoid it. Night trawls are therefore the preferred method for sampling for juvenile fish. There are several other people who assist in sorting the catches. Among them are Amber, a member of the NOAA core, Lindsay, who is a fisheries technician, and Kaia, who is a volunteer.

The water has been quite rough, so rough that we altered course last night and made modifications to our planned course which meant only four 15-minute trawls were conducted instead of the planned five. The majority of last night’s haul was krill; a shrimp-like organism about an inch or inch and a half in length. Mixed in with the numerous krill was a variety of organisms that included juvenile rockfish species, juveniles from other types of fish, market squid, Gonatus squid, and several octopi. In addition, we collected jelly-fish like organisms called ctenophores and colonial salps (a common name for any type of gelatinous zooplankton). Ctenophores have sticky cells that trap their food while colonial salps are filter feeders; both consume phytoplankton and zooplankton. Someone unfamiliar with these organisms might have difficulty believing that they are animals since they lack any readily apparent brain, eyes, ears, or mouth.

Does this look like an animal to you?
Does this look like an animal to you?
This salp is from the genus Thetys
This salp is from the genus Thetys
assortment of catch
Some of the typical organisms in a catch


Tonight we conducted a 5-minute trawl to “test” the waters for the presence of jellyfish. Since jellyfish can quickly clog a net, it is important to determine if the area is suitable for trawling before commencing operations. The exploratory trawl produced no jellyfish, so a 15-minute trawl has conducted. Unfortunately, little was obtained during the first trawl, while the second trawl yielded a number of market squid. We’ll continue operations throughout the evening. There is a good bit of down time between each trawl since we have to move to a different point between trawls and wait for the CTD to be deployed at each site. While I keep busy working on my blog, others surf the Internet, nap, eat a snack, or chat. Which would YOU do???

Lindsay and Amber record data
Lyndsey and Amber record data
Check out the krill!
Check out the krill!
I'm holding a juvenile rockfhish
I’m holding a juvenile rockfish

Personal Log

Yesterday morning Dave, one of the crew, went over the safety rules and emergency procedures with me. As part of my training I put on my survival suit which is designed to keep me afloat if there should be a reason to have to evacuate the ship. I hope I never have to actually use it, as is not the easiest item to put on. The large rubberized gloves make it very difficult to pull up the zipper (and it gives you some bad “hat hair!”).

Thumbs up for the survival suit
Thumbs up for the survival suit

I have quickly come to realize that the galley area is the place people come to congregate. Because of the various shifts, food is available 24-7. A whiteboard proclaims the meal times (6 am, 11 am, 5 pm, and 11 pm). The cook, Crystal, has been very accommodating regarding my request of non-dairy products; I have been treated to several non-dairy cheeses and was happy to see soy milk in the fridge. Others were happy to spot the special freezer that contains ice cream.

Along with the varied mealtimes comes varied sleep times; I will be working the night shift starting last night. I am a bit surprised to learn that the majority of the work is actually done during the night; while there are six of us who do the sampling for the night shift, there are only three who work during the day.

Shhhh! People sleeping!
Shhhh! People sleeping!

I have spent quite a bit of time chatting with Don, a fisheries biologist who dabbles in hobbies such as robotics, computer animation, and origami. His main job is to communicate with the captain regarding our course to ensure that we are trawling in the correct areas. He had warned me that things would get rocking once we are underway. Evidently a stubborn stationary high pressure system is responsible for rough seas. A small weather craft has been declared, and although we are not a small weather craft, we are not immune from the effects of the elements.

Don has been correct in his predictions. As I sit here typing in the laboratory, papers and magazines are sliding from one end of the table to the other as the ship rolls back and forth. The pitch today has changed from yesterday. The intensity is no doubt responsible for my discomfort. As the ship pitches unpredictably, I find that my stomach rolls as well despite a preventative course of seasickness medication. Even the old trick of looking out on the horizon did not help much this afternoon when the horizon disappeared and reappeared with each roll. I find it interesting that I am in minority and wonder if immunity to seasickness is something akin to immunity to poison ivy (not that I’m immune to that, either!). My friend Don assures me that things will be calmer soon; the swells are supposed to decrease substantially within the next 24 hours and as long as I “don’t mind a little rain” things should be improving.

Despite this, I am enjoying the friendship of my new acquaintances and have many new “firsts” such as holding an octopus in my hand, truly comprehending what krill look like, and seeing blue whales for the first time. Tomorrow will no doubt bring more surprises as I continue to adjust to life at sea.

Did You Know?

That fish are aged by their ear bones?

Patty McGinnis: San Francisco–Home to Alcatraz, Angel Island, and Sea Lions, May 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: San Francisco
Date: May 22, 2013

Personal Log

Early Monday I flew out of Philadelphia and landed a few hours later on the west coast—a trip that would have taken the pioneer settlers a half a year or more to accomplish. The first leg of my flight landed in Los Angeles, followed by a short hop up north to San Francisco. The plane followed the California coastline nearly the entire time. I found myself mesmerized by the Pacific Ocean as it hugged the shoreline as if to embrace the homes that dotted the land. I had spent many years of my youth growing up in San Diego, and watching the water brought back many memories of lazy summer days complete with gritty sandwiches and sunburned skin.

My first night in San Francisco was spent in a hotel near the airport; yesterday morning I took an expensive (nearly $60!!!) taxi cab to my current accommodation. I was lucky—the hotel had a room free early in the morning so I dumped my bag and went exploring. It was only a short walk to Fisherman’s Wharf—the place where San Francisco fisherman have historically unloaded their catch—most notably the Dungeness crab. The crab gets its name from a town in Washington where it was first harvested (although I didn’t have an opportunity to taste the crab, I wondered how it compares to the Chesapeake Blue Crab).

Although the sun was out, I found it was a mere deception once I got close to the water. The air temperatures were in the 50’s and the wind was blustery at times. Up and down the waterfront are numbered piers; I walked down to Pier 33 in hopes of buying a ticket to Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz, or the “The Rock” is quite visible from the Fisherman’s Wharf area. Although many know it as a famous prison, it has also been a Civil War fort and was home to the first lighthouse on the west coast. The only way to get onto the island, which is managed by the National Park Service, is by purchasing a ticket through a ferry company. Despite it being midweek and not quite summer, all the tickets had been sold out for the entire day.

Alcatraz Island doesn’t seem that far away from San Francisco but cold, rough water means few prisoners escaped

Disappointed, I trudged down towards Pier 39—a famous tourist attraction. I settled for a tour of the bay, which included a good look at both the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Both are engineering marvels. The Bay Bridge, which opened in 1936, is actually a double-decker bridge that is part suspension bridge and part cantilever bridge. Originally the top deck was for cars and the bottom deck was for trains and trucks but now cars can travel on both levels. The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge that opened in 1937. It is possible to walk across the bridge and today was no exception. As our boat passed under the bridge, I could see people waving at us from high above. Our boat had a loud speaker that provided interesting information about the history of San Francisco, but the noise from the wind made it difficult to make out what was being said. Our boat was rocked around by the wind and swells, making me wonder what the water outside the relative shelter of the bay was doing. I do know that rough seas have changed the location where I’ll be boarding the Ocean Starr. Later today I’ll be picked up and driven to Santa Cruz, a town south of here that lies along the Monterey Bay.

On the water with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background
On the water with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background

While on the tour of the San Francisco Bay, I learned about Angel Island—a quiet wildlife area that is a California state park only accessible by ferry. I found the lure of visiting a relatively uninhabited area after the hustle and bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf too strong to ignore. Interested in doing a little hiking, I grabbed an afternoon ferry over to the island and was delighted by the unusual plant life and the opportunity to listen to waves crashing against the shore (check out the Angelcam for a view from the Visitors center). During my walk, I spied numerous succulents, as well as some beautiful (and unidentifiable by me) trees with bark reminiscent of the sycamore.

The bark on this tree reminded me of the sycamore
The bark on this tree reminded me of the sycamore

Angel Island has a fascinating history. Although it is a California park today, at one time it served as an immigration point for nearly a million immigrants, most of whom were Chinese. Unlike European immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, however, the Chinese immigrants were detained until they could prove that they had family in the United States (a process that often took years). Angel Island was also at one time the home of a U.S. Army base called Fort McDawgell and served as a quarantine station to prevent the spread of illness to San Francisco.

It was late afternoon when I returned to Fisherman’s Wharf, where I spent quite a bit of time at Pier 39 observing the resident colony of California sea lions. The sea lions, the majority of which are male, reminded me of some middle school students I know. Although many napped in the sun, others jostled and pushed each other around and off the docks and some brayed loudly as if to say “look at me.” Sea lions have always been present in the bay, but using the docks as a haul out for sunning has only been occurring since 1989. Researchers aren’t sure what prompted the animals to begin using the dock as a habitat, but plentiful food and an absence of predators are two reasons that the animals stay around. Yesterday nearly all the dock space was packed with wall-to-wall sea lions who crowded near each other as they slept. This behavior of seeking out physical contact is known as positive thigmotaxis. The sea lion numbers evidently fluctuate in response to food availability and mating season as many of the “bachelors” head off in search of a girlfriend. You can check out their antics on the Sea Lion webcam.

Look who took over Pier 39!
Look who took over Pier 39!
These sea lions are displaying positive thigmotaxis when they lie on top of each other
These sea lions are displaying positive thigmotaxis when they lie on top of each other

As I finish my writing, I think about the adventure ahead. I’ll soon be picked up soon by two scientists and driven to Santa Cruz, where we will board the Ocean Starr. I worry a bit about the rough seas and the likelihood of seasickness. I also wonder what it will be like to conduct night trawling. I’ve been assigned to the 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. shift; why is it that trawling is done at night? Are fish feeding at that time and more likely to be caught? Does night trawling reduce by-catch (organisms that are caught unintentionally)? Or perhaps it is because you catch more at night? I guess I will soon find out. In the meantime, I better study the picture below so I can help identify the fish we catch!

Which fish would you buy at the supermarket?
Which fish would you buy at the supermarket?

Patty McGinnis: Fishing for Science, May 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: May 9, 2013

Personal Log

Hi everyone! I’m thrilled to have been selected for this opportunity of a lifetime! As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I’m looking forward to learning about the oceans and to sharing that knowledge with you. I’ll be aboard R/V Ocean Star assisting scientists with their work in conducting a Juvenile Rockfish Survey. You can learn more about this important scientific work by clicking here. In my reading, I have found out that there are many species of rockfish, all of which are a commercially valuable groundfish. Since fisheries are a renewable resource, keeping track of the rockfish population is important for managing it wisely. This will involve trawling at night and then analyzing the catch–as my adventure unfolds I will be able to provide you with more details.

I currently work as a gifted support specialist at Arcola Intermediate School in Eagleville, Pennsylvania. I have also taught science (mostly biology) for over 20 years. My favorite part of teaching is watching a student’s face light up with excitement over a new idea. I’m passionate about my work–especially when it involves educating students about ecology and the role man plays in protecting natural resources. I also enjoy traveling and learning about how local people utilize the land–last summer I had an opportunity to go to Kenya. In the picture I am listening to a transmitter that is picking up signals from a radio-collared lion.

I know my experience as a Teacher at Sea will help me to better understand the type of work that a fishery biologist conducts and that I’ll also gain insight into the various careers that are necessary for supporting this research. I’ll be posting to this blog as often as I can–I hope you follow along!

Here I am listening for lions
Here I am listening for lions