Looking Back On 30 Years of Teachers at Sea

This week, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program. Join us as we look back at the history and accomplishments of this groundbreaking program.

Since 1990, more than 850 teachers have sailed aboard NOAA research ships. They serve as valued crew members, conducting hands-on research and learning more about the science that informs our conservation and management efforts.

This unique professional enhancement opportunity is made possible by the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. For three decades, the Teacher at Sea program has helped teachers participate in annual NOAA research surveys conducted by our scientists. Teachers from around the country embark on a two to three week expedition at sea. They gain invaluable on-the-job experience and communicate their journey through a series of blogs and lesson plans.

After their research cruise, teachers take their newfound knowledge back to their classrooms and hometowns. Teacher at Sea alumni have worked with more than 500,000 students and 3 million other people at conferences and other outreach events. The Teacher at Sea Alumni Association was created in 2011 to provide a way for teachers to continue learning and network with others who’ve had the same experience.  

Teacher at Sea Program Manager Jennifer Hammond said, “Teachers at Sea are great ambassadors for NOAA science. We accept Pre-K through college-level teachers in all subject areas who demonstrate they can communicate the science back to their classrooms, whether they’ve taught for one year or 20 years. The original goal of the program was for teachers to get an opportunity to see how we conduct at-sea research and introduce them to NOAA careers, specifically NOAA Corps and at-sea science.”

History of the Program

The program started in NOAA’s Office of Marine Aviation Operations in 1990. NOAA Corps Officer Lt. Ilene Byron placed the first Teacher at Sea, Debora Mosher (pictured right), on the NOAA Ship Oregon II to help conduct an Atlantic scallop survey. 

Mosher said the experience allowed her to see “…the reality of scientific research—the expertise, the planning, the time, the effort, the dangers, the data, the equipment, the cataloging and computing of numbers, the frustrations. But most importantly, I saw the information and careful analysis would help us understand the natural world.”

Experiencing Real-World Science at Sea

By doing the science, the teachers gain a greater connection to the science. They see firsthand how our surveys translate to the real-world and they learn how to communicate the experience to their students. They also become an integral part of the research team. “The teachers learn that problem-solving and team-building are a much bigger component of science than they thought. You have to rely on each other and the equipment you have at-hand,” Hammond said.

Some of these teachers have never had a real-world research experience before. Their first trip out to sea can be intimidating regardless of background and skill level. The Teacher at Sea program puts teachers squarely in the shoes of their students, who encounter new and complex lessons every day at school. For many teachers, their experience at sea reminded them what it felt like to be a student. It allowed them to change their teaching habits to more effectively reach students who feel overwhelmed by new class material.

Program Benefits Teachers—and Scientists

It’s not just the teachers and students that benefit from the program. NOAA scientists are eager to work with Teachers at Sea. “Teachers are suited for sea,” Hammond said. “They stand up all day long, they get no lunch break, rare bathroom breaks, they’re constantly adapting to their class and lesson plans. They’re prepared for rapid change, they work long days, and they tend to be a group that doesn’t sleep much. Scientists find them hard working, energetic, motivated, and appreciative of the experience. They’re such a wonderful contribution to the research team. This is why more than 70 NOAA scientists request Teachers at Sea to join their surveys each year.”

Although we could not send teachers to sea this year, the program continues to support the educational community through the Teacher at Sea Alumni Association.

Karen Rasmussen, July 9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Rasmussen
Ship: R/V Tatoosh
Geographical area of the cruise: Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
Date: July 9, 2011
Cruise to: Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
Crew: Rick Fletcher, Nancy Wright, Michael Barbero, and Karen Rasmussen
Time: Start 9:12 a.m.

Mission

Here I am with Rick Fletcher as we get ready to start surveying
Here I am with Rick Fletcher as we get ready to start surveying

The first part of mission is to conduct Multibeam mapping and to collect ground-truthings at the LaPush/Teahwhit areas of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. We will also service the OCNM buoy, Cape Alava 42 (CA42). The second week of this mission is to explore the Teahwhit Head moorings, ChaBa and sunken ships, and North and South moorings.
Weather Data from the Bridge
3’ swells and light breeze.
Risk factor 18

Science and Technology Log

Today we gassed up the generator in Forks, WA. Once at the boat we completed a safety drill, and then left port at 09:12. We completed a patch test at TH015, one of the OCNMS oceanographic moorings near Teahwhit Head. The patch test was completed to calculate roll, pitch, and yaw as part of a greater suite of error measurement used in multibeam data processing. We conducted a full multibeam survey and CTD cast at TH042. We also moved approximately 5 miles offshore to survey the area around the Milky Way wreck, a purse seiner that sank in the Sanctuary in 1995 hauling a catch of sardines. Although we searched around the last known site of the vessel, we did not find any indication of its existence. We hypothesized that the vessel had been buried by sand.

We docked at 3:30 because we had several hours of data to interpret.

 

Helping to prepare the multibeam
Helping to prepare the multibeam

Personal Log

We had calm seas today–absolutely the best I have seen. We saw dozens of sea lions, one otter, many pelicans and several bald eagles. I drove the boat during part of the multibeam testing and I conducted data acquisition using Hypack software. I am getting the hang of controlling the boat. It is quite a skill. I can understand how long it takes to become a true skipper/captain of a vessel.
It is so wonderful that all equipment was working and we were actually able to collect “real” data. It has been a frustration for me and all of the scientists involved when the equipment was working properly.

Michael Barbero and me on the Tatoosh Helping to prepare the multibeam
Michael Barbero and me on the Tatoosh Helping to prepare the multibeam

Karen Rasmussen, July 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Rasmussen
Ship: R/V Tatoosh
Geographical area of the cruise: Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
Date: July 7, 2011
Cruise to: Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
Crew: Rick Fletcher, Nancy Wright, Michael Barbero, and Karen Rasmussen
Time: Start 6:30a.m.

Mission

Lowering the CTD
Lowering the CTD

The first part of mission is to conduct Multibeam mapping and to collect ground-truthings at the LaPush/Teahwhit areas of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. We will also service the OCNM buoy, Cape Alava 42 (CA42). The second week of this mission is to explore the Teahwhit Head moorings, ChaBa and sunken ships, and North and South moorings.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Winds Lt. Confused seas
W. swell 5 to 7’ Waves 2’
Risk factor 18

Science and Technology Log

We were up at 5:00 a.m. and on the road to La Push, WA. Before leaving the dock, Michael and I measured out 100 meters of rope that will be tied to the CTD. We recorded as follows:

Number of/Color of tape Meters
1 Red 5
1 Yellow 10
2 Black 20
3 Black 30
4 Black 40
1 Green 50
1 Green/1 Yellow 60
1 Green/2 Yellow 70
1 Green/3 Yellow 80
1 Green/4 Yellow 90
2 Red/1 Blue 100

The tank of the boat was filled and all equipment was working. We completed a sound velocity test using a Seacat CTD which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth, as well as density. This device is deployed off the back of the vessel and receives information about ocean chemistry by taking multiple readings throughout the water column. Sound velocity data are used to measure the speed of sound in water, one of many factors used to correct multibeam data.

Doing Multibeam work on the Tatoosh
Doing Multibeam work on the Tatoosh

Doing Multibeam work on the Tatoosh
Doing Multibeam work on the Tatoosh

We found out that there are over 185 sunken vessels in the Marine Sanctuary. There are also 13 NOAA moorings within the Sanctuary. Multibeam surveys of two mooring sites off of La Push were successfully completed this morning. We also began another survey of the sunken ship, Milky Way. However high seas and high winds forced us to return to the harbor before the survey was complete.

I saw only two sea lions and one sea otter today. There were many sea birds including pelicans and puffins.

Personal Log

We had pretty rough seas today. We had to come in to port early today because of small craft advisory, so we docked at 2:30. We went back to ONRC (Olympic National Resource Center) in Forks this afternoon. Rick and Nancy are going over data. We plan on going out tomorrow to Cape Alava to continue with multibeam data collection. I enjoyed driving the Tatoosh today. The swells were amazing.

Becky Moylan: Acoustics and Trawling, July 5, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Becky Moylan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 1 — 14, 2011


Mission: IEA (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment)
Geographical Area: Kona Region of Hawaii
Captain: Kurt Dreflak
Science Director: Samuel G. Pooley, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist: Evan A. Howell
Date: July 5, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 1940.29N
Longitude 15602.84W
Speed 5 knots
Course 228.2
Wind Speed 9.5 knots
Wind Dir. 180.30
Surf. Water Temp. 25.5C
Surf. Water Sal. 34.85
Air Temperature 24.8 C
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
 Water Depth 791.50 Meters

July 5, 2011

Science and Technology Log

Work is going on 24 hours here on the ship. The crew have different shifts, so nothing ever stops. It may be 3:00 in the morning, and you’ll see people sorting fish, filtering water, or working the acoustics table.


Acoustics Computer Screen
Acoustics Computer Screen

To improve the accuracy of identifying what organisms are seen on the acoustic system, Sette researchers collect samples from the scattering layers at night using a large trawl net towed from the ship.One important part of the research here is using the acoustic system to find where groups of fish and other organisms are located. This is done with a “ping”, or noise, sent down in the ocean. The sound waves bounce back when they find something, letting scientists know where, and sometimes what, is swimming underneath. Computers keep data on all the different sound waves showing patterns of fish movement. They have found that some groups move upward during the nighttime, and then move back down during the day.

Cookie Cutter Shark
Cookie Cutter Shark

Trawl Net
Trawl Net

Every night on the ship, there is at least one trawl. The method of trawling started back in the 1400’s. Some people use these nets to catch large amounts of fish to sell, and that has been an environmental concern. NOAA is using this method as a scientific sampling, or survey, method to try and help the environment. They are trawling in the Epipalagic Zone (mid to shallow) which is around 200 meters deep, depending on the total depth at location and where the acoustics pick up signals.

Scientists want to find out the status of the smaller life in order to try and predict the outcome of the larger life. Only a small amount is caught for sampling. They weigh, sort, count, and study them. The goal is to be aware of what is happening in this area of the ocean. Some of the species they have found are different types of shrimp, squid, Myctopids, small crabs, and jellies. Last night they wound up with two Cookie Cutter Sharks. These results will then be combined with the measured acoustic data in order to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of acoustic monitoring.

Examining a Trawl Catch
Examining a Trawl Catch

Puffer Fish
Puffer Fish

One scientist from New York, Johnathan, is looking for specific species of Myctopids. He studies them under the microscope and records detailed data found. The Myctopids are sometimes called Lantern Fish. This is because they have organs that produce light. The lights are thought to be a way of communicating with other fish and also as a camouflage. As mentioned earlier, some fish rise to shallower waters at night and the Myctopid is one of these. The reason might be to avoid predators, yet also to follow zooplankton which they feed upon.


Personal Log

Abandon Ship Suits
Abandon Ship Suits

Last night some of us went out on deck to watch the Kona fireworks. I didn’t realize how far out we were until I saw how tiny the little ball of colors appeared. You could see three different areas along the coast where they were shooting off fireworks. As a fourth of July treat, the cooks barbecued on deck and made special deserts. I especially liked the sweet potato pie.

This morning I was out at 6am preparing the CTD for deployment. It is getting easier each time. There are many precautions and steps to make sure the procedure is done correctly and safely. We could only drop it to 200 meters today because this area is shallower here. I watched and learned how to control the computer from the inside. Very impressive!

CTD Screens
CTD Screens

I’m wondering when the ship is going to have another “abandon ship drill”. That’s when we all carry our floatation suits to the upstairs deck and put them on, and it is not easy to do. You lay the suit down, sit on it, and put your legs in first. Then you stand up, pull the suit hood on, then lastly the arms. This is because the hands don’t have fingers. It is quite a funny sight.

I found out today that the 3am trawl ended up with only one fish because a Cookie Cutter Shark had eaten a round hole in the net. This is where they get their name. They always bite a round hole. Some have even eaten a hole out of humans!

Becky Moylan: July 2, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Becky Moylan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 1 — 14, 2011

Mission: IEA (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment)
Geographical Area: Kona Region of Hawaii
Captain: Kurt Dreflak
Science Director: Samuel G. Pooley, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist: Evan A. Howell
Date: July 2, 2011

Science and Technology Log

Life of all sizes

Glider in Water
Glider in Water

Today I woke up late because the ship rocked me back to sleep many times. When I stumbled out of the berth, people were busy working. They had already released a seaglider that is owned by the University of Hawaii. This is a machine that looks kind of like an airplane. It collects information about the ocean and relays it back to land via satellite.

Glider for CTD
Glider

It goes down, collects data, comes back up to send data to land, then goes back down again for more data, and on and on. The glider is collecting information on ocean temperature, salinity, and phytoplankton (through fluorescence). There is also a hydrophone attached which is “passive” acoustics. This means that the hydrophone can hear sounds, but does not “actively” send out a signal. With passive acoustics they can hear cetacean sounds, and can possibly identify species, but would have less luck understanding *where* the animals were.

Everyday samples of ocean water are taken. This is done using a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) machine. It is cast off several times a day. The CTD is dropped into the ocean using a crane and winch. It is sent down to 1,000 meters, and water is collected at specific depths between 200 meters and the surface. Most of the biological signal they see is in the upper 200 meters of the water, which is roughly the depth of the Euphotic (or Sunlit) Zone.

CTD Ready to launch in the water
CTD Ready to launch

The CTD is attached to the ship’s computers with wire inside a cable. It sends signals to the computers so the scientist can keep track of the where it is, and “fire” one bottle (Niskin Bottles) at a time. This means closing the bottle’s lid so it can hold the water it has collected. After each  one is fired, the water from all the different depths is lifted to the surface and collected for sampling. Scientists then filter the seawater to get a concentrated sample of phytoplankton cells using a small round piece of paper. These filters are put in a liquid called acetone and kept cold (-20 degrees celsius) for 24 hours and then fluorescence levels are measured in the lab. This gives them an idea of how much phytoplankton is located at different depths. Other samples are put in liquid nitrogen, and sent back to the  University of Hawaii where they will use specialized equipment (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) to identify the types of phytoplankton.

Cetacean Crew
Cetacean Crew

Another group of scientists went out on a small boat to look for cetaceans (Spinner dolphins and False Killer whales). They will be taking pictures and collecting samples of the mammal’s “skin” to test it for various reasons. These can tell them what the dolphins are eating and where they are eating. Scientists look at their genetics to help them determine the amount of dolphin species and how different groups are related to each other. Today they were able to see striped dolphins which are very beautiful and not as easy to find.

Sample organisms form the trawl
Sample organisms form the trawl

There are also trawl operations at certain places called stations. This is where the ship releases a net and scoops up small organisms for studying. We saw a lot of shrimp, squid, and fish called Myctophids. They were weighed, sorted by types, and counted.

Personal Log

It has been an exciting day! There are many different activities going on at the same time, so I am glad my time onboard will be two weeks. I have met scientists, student interns, and employees of NOAA. Everyone works together on the ship whether they are from New York, Florida, California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, or Hawaii. Eating in the galley is like going to grandma’s house for dinner. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures when I hope to learn more about the acoustic operations and how they are tracking fish.

Filtering ocean water for photoplankton
Filtering ocean water for photoplankton

Myctophid (Lantern Fish): common in the area
Myctophid (Lantern Fish): common in the area

Tammy Orilio, That’s all, folks!!, July 2, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 2 July 2011

Personal Log:

Well, my trip has finally come to a close. It’s been an eventful 3 weeks and a great experience! I’d like to extend a big THANK YOU to everyone involved with NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program, which allowed me to participate in this wonderful excursion. I learned so much while on this trip, and I cannot wait to be able to use the information in my future classes. I almost said I couldn’t wait for school to start back up, but that’s not quite right- I’m just starting my summer vacation!!

Secondly, I’d like to thank the crew on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, and the scientists on this leg of the trip, for letting me come aboard and participate in this research survey. The time on board, whether working or waiting for fish, will stay with me forever!
Jason- thanks for being so easy to work with! I’m glad we were the “guinea pigs” for working on our logs together- I think it worked well! I’m glad I didn’t ruin the picture you bought by hitting that annoying child on the plane with it!

I hope you all enjoyed reading my blog, and I want to thank you for reading it! It feels great when I see my “Total Pageviews” going up and up 🙂 Dana Steel, thanks for answering all of my questions- correctly!!

Here are some last photos of the trip- I stole them from Jason’s blog (thanks!), and he got them from Paul, our Chief Scientist on the trip. This is what you get when you have a good camera. Thanks again, everyone!!






Fog/clouds in the Gulf of Alaska?? Who ever heard of such a thing?!?!
Fog/clouds in the Gulf of Alaska?? Who ever heard of such a thing?!?!

Tammy Orilio, Last Days in Kodiak…, July 2, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 2 July 2011

Personal Log:
We arrived back at the City Dock in Kodiak early Wednesday morning, so I had all day Wednesday and most of Thursday to explore the area. One of the science team and I set off around noon on Wednesday to check out the town, and boy, did it feel good to finally be off the ship!! 18 days is a long time to be confined to one space! The area where the Oscar Dyson is docked is an “industrial” area, with lots of fish processing plants and canneries, and you could definitely tell even if you weren’t looking- the smell was that strong! Once we got past the industrial area, we were in the main part of the town of Kodiak- lots of little shops catering to fishermen, some restaurants, lots of bars, and a few little gift shops. We first went to a grocery store because we wanted to buy some candy (one thing we didn’t have on the ship!) and as soon as I got inside the store, I started feeling some “dock rock.” It didn’t last very long though, thank goodness!! We walked around a little more, then stopped in to the Kodiak Visitors Center, where they’ve got displays about all of Kodiak’s wildlife. A few of us went out to lunch for sushi later that day- you could definitely tell the salmon was fresh!! Later on, we went to a Mexican place for dinner, and I gotta say, Mexican is not very good up in Kodiak!

Big bear chase me! (Who knows the movie?)
Big bear chase me! (Who knows the movie?)

Mrs. Pearce used to work here!
Mrs. Pearce used to work here!

The marina.
The marina.

On Thursday, Jason (the other TAS), Rick (one of the scientists) and I went to a place called Fort Abercrombie to do some hiking before we left later that evening. It’s got campsites, hiking trails, and remnants of World War II stuff there. I’d love to go back and camp there sometime!

Jason & Rick on some of the artillery.
Jason & Rick on some of the artillery.

What an amazing view.
What an amazing view.

It kind of looks like a monster with a big mouth.
It kind of looks like a monster with a big mouth.

Clouds over the mountain.
Clouds over the mountain.

Lake Gertrude in the foreground.
Lake Gertrude in the foreground.

Little waterfall.
Little waterfall.

Jason and I were on the same flight out of Kodiak on Thursday evening, and we both also had a long (about 3 hour) layover in Anchorage, so we ate one last good Alaskan seafood dinner at the airport, and looked at some of the Native Alaskan art they had there. I left Anchorage around 9 p.m., and was unfortunately stuck in the middle seat for the LONG nearly 7-hour flight to Houston. Since I was stuck in the middle seat (and the guy next to me kept spreading his legs into MY space, grrrr) I didn’t sleep much on the flight. As soon as I landed in Houston (about 30 minutes later than scheduled), I had to get right on my last plane to Fort Lauderdale. I was back in the warm South Florida climate around 11 am Friday, and totally wiped out from traveling! Here are some of the last pics from my trip.

The Kodiak Airport. That's all of it!
The Kodiak Airport. That’s all of it!

You can see the Oscar Dyson- it's the second ship from the left.
You can see the Oscar Dyson- it’s the second ship from the left.

The town of Kodiak.
The town of Kodiak.

Jason Moeller: June 29-30, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11-JUNE 30

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Kodiak Harbor
Date: June 29-30

Ship Data
Latitude: 57.78 N
Longitude: -152.42 W
Wind: 4.9 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 8.5 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.1 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 69%
Depth: 18.99

Personal Log

For the last time, welcome aboard!

We are now back in Kodiak, and I fly out on Thursday, June 30th. We got in late on the 28th, and so that gave us some time to explore! Once again, it was back to the trail to try and look for some bears!

eagle
We had a nice start when this bald eagle flew right above our heads and landed on a light!

eagle2
Another photo of the eagle.

On June 29th, after stopping for some Mexican food, Paul, Jake, Jodi and I hopped in a car and drove out to Anton Larsen Bay in hopes of some great photo opportunities and wildlife. Below are some of the best photographs that I took of the trip.

The first place we stopped the car had this beautiful view of rolling hills and mountains in the background.
The first place we stopped the car had this beautiful view of rolling hills and mountains in the background.

road
The road we took to get here. In the middle of the image is a lake, and if you look hard enough we could see all the way to the ocean.

yoga
Jodi has fun demonstrating a yoga pose!

bay
Our next stop was to explore the actual bay. This mountain overlooked the spot where the water ended and land began.

boat
An empty boat was randomly just drifting in the bay. It made for a nice photo though.

After looking at the bay, we began to explore a trail that led into the woods. There was supposed to be a waterfall at the end of the trail, but the trail just ended with no falls in sight. Oh well! This stream ran alongside of the trail the entire way.
After looking at the bay, we began to explore a trail that led into the woods. There was supposed to be a waterfall at the end of the trail, but the trail just ended with no falls in sight. Oh well! This stream ran alongside of the trail the entire way.

stream 2
Another photo of the stream.

sun
It was nice and sunny yesterday, making it the first time I had seen sun in Kodiak! It made for some picturesque moments while walking through the woods.

fox
In the end, once again, I didn't see a bear. However, as we were driving back, we did see this fox catch a mouse!

Science and Technology Log

As the survey is now over, there is no science and technology log.

Species Seen

Gulls
Arctic Tern
Bald Eagle
Red Fox
Mouse

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

There are no questions of the day for this last log. However, I would like to extend some thank yous!

First, I would like to thank the NOAA organization for allowing me the wonderful opportunity to travel aboard the Oscar Dyson for the past three weeks. I learned an incredible amount, and will be able to bring that back to my students. I had a great time!

Second, I would like to thank the crew of the ship for letting me come onboard and participate in the survey. Thanks for answering all of my questions, no matter how naive and silly, teaching me about how research aboard this vessel really works, editing these blogs, and for giving me the experience of a lifetime.

Third, I would like to thank Tammy, the other NOAA Teacher at Sea, for all of the help and effort that she put into working with me on the science and technology section of the blog. Tammy, I could not have done it without you!

Next, a huge thank you to the staff of Knoxville Zoo for their support of the trip and granting me the time off! A special thanks especially needs to go to Tina Rolen, who helped edit the blogs and worked with the media while I was at sea. She helped keep me from making a complete fool of myself to the press. Another special thanks goes out to Dr. John, who loaned me the computer that I used to post the first several logs.

Thanks also go out to Olivia, my wonderful and beautiful wife, for supplying the camera that I used for the first half of the trip.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who read the log and sent comments! I received many positive comments on the photography in this blog, although I must confess that I laughed a bit at those. Paul, our chief scientist, is the expert photographer on board, and his photos expose me for the amateur that I actually am. I would like to end this blog by posting some of the incredible images he gave me at the end of the trip.

cliffs
Cliffs rise sharply out of the ocean in the Gulf of Alaska

waterfall
A waterfall plummets into the Gulf of Alaska

clouds
Clouds cover the top of an island.

cliffs
Fog rolls down the cliffs toward the ocean.

Twin Pillars
The Twin Pillars

Cliffs
A closeup of the cliffs that make up the Alaskan shoreline.

fog
Since we saw so much of it, it seems appropriate to end this blog with a photo of fog over the Gulf of Alaska. Bye everyone, and thanks again!

Tammy Orilio, Trawling for Krill, June 29, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 29 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 58.01 N
Longitude: -152.50 W
Wind: 23.95 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 9.4 degrees C
Air Temperature: 10.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 71%
Depth: 177.72 m



Science & Technology Log:
What are krill, you ask? They’re animals in the Phylum Arthropoda, which means they’re related to insects, spiders, crabs, lobsters, etc. They have jointed legs and an exoskeleton, are usually a couple centimeters in length, and are reddish/orange-ish in color. They can often be found in dense schools near the surface of the water, and play an important role in the ecosystem as a source of food for lots of larger animals (like fish, whales, & penguins).

I’ve mentioned the two types of trawl gear that we use to catch fish, but if we want to catch smaller things like plankton, the mesh on those nets is way too small. Therefore, we use a third type of trawl called the Methot which has very fine mesh to corral the plankton down into a collection container at the end of the net. In addition to having a hard container at the end- as opposed to just a bag/codend that you see in the fish trawls- the Methot trawl also has a large metal frame at the beginning of the net. Check out the photos below.

The Methot trawl being taken out of the water. Note the square frame.
The Methot trawl being taken out of the water. Note the square frame.

The container that collects all of the plankton in the net.
The container that collects all of the plankton in the net.

After the net is brought back on deck, one of the fishermen or deckhands brings the container of krill into the fish lab. The first thing we do is dump the container into a sieve or a bucket and start picking out everything that isn’tkrill. The two most common things that are collected (besides krill) are gelatinous animals (like jellyfish & salps) and larval fish. The fish get weighed (as one big unit, not individually) and then frozen for someone to look at later on.

The larval fish that we separated from one plankton tow.
The larval fish that we separated from one plankton tow.

After sorting the catch, we’re left with a big pile of krill, which gets weighed. We then take a small subsample from the big pile of krill (it’s a totally random amount- depends on how much we scoop out!) and then weigh the subsample. Then the fun begins, as I’m the one that does this job- I get to count every single individual krill in the subsample. Tedious work. All of the data is then entered into the computer system, and the krill and anything else that we’ve caught (besides the larval fish) are thrown back into the water.

Sorting through the big pile of krill.
Sorting through the big pile of krill.

How many individual krill are in this picture? You get a prize if you're the closest without going over :)
How many individual krill are in this picture? You get a prize if you’re the closest without going over 🙂

Personal Log:
I mentioned that once we’re done with the krill, we throw it back into the water- that was until I came aboard! My eel (Ms. Oreelio for those of you that don’t know!) eats dried krill, and I’m going to run out soon, so I figured I’d take these krill home with me! I got a gallon-size baggie from the galley (kitchen) and filled it up with krill, and holy cow, it’s a lot!! I stuck it in our freezer- which is at -22 degrees C (or 7.6 degrees F) so now I have a big frozen block of krill to take back home with me. What a great souvenir.

Jason Moeller: June 28, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Whale Pass
Date: June 28-29, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 58.01 N
Longitude: -152.50 W
Wind: 23.95 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 9.4 degrees C
Air Temperature: 10.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 71%
Depth: 177.72 m

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

Due to the injury to the deck hand, we are done fishing. Our trip has been cut a day short and we are now headed back to Kodiak. We should arrive tomorrow morning, and I will fly back home on the 30th.

The shortest route to Kodiak was through Whale Pass, a break in Kodiak Island. The pass made for some spectacular scenery.

The entrance to Whale Pass
The entrance to Whale Pass, from the back of the Oscar Dyson

Steep hills rolling down into the water were a common sight in the pass.
Steep hills rolling down into the water were a common sight in the pass.

nav point
An island with a navigational marker in whale pass.

mountain 1
There were some spectacular views of the mountains in the pass as well.

Mountains 2
Another view of the mountains.

Mountain 3
Another view of the mountains.

Mountain
And another...

mountain
Last one, I promise! We all liked the shape of this one.

waterfall
A waterfall drops away into the ocean.

The coolest part of the pass, though, is definitely the wildlife. We saw sea otters everywhere! Unfortunately, they were so fast and at a great enough distance that the following shot is the only decent one I was able to take.

otter
A sea otter at Whale Pass.

We also saw an animal that I have been hoping to see for a long time.

killer whales
Sorry about the grainy image, but it is the only one of the Orcas we were able to get.

We also saw a puffin, but it moved so quickly that there was no hope at a photo for it. Bummer. Several humpback whales were also spotted, along with numerous gulls and other seabirds.

Science and Technology Log

Today, lets talk about krill!

What are krill, you ask? They’re animals in the Phylum Arthropoda, which means they’re related to insects, spiders, crabs, lobsters, etc. They have jointed legs and an exoskeleton, are usually a couple of centimeters in length, and are reddish/orange-ish in color. They can often be found in dense schools near the surface of the water, and play an important role in the ecosystem as a source of food for lots of larger animals (like fish, whales, & penguins).

I’ve mentioned the two types of trawl gear that we use to catch fish, but if we want to catch smaller things like plankton, the mesh on those nets is way too small. Therefore, we use a third type of trawl called the Methot which has very fine mesh to corral the plankton down into a collection container at the end of the net. In addition to having a hard container at the end — as opposed to just a bag/codend that you see in the fish trawls — the Methot trawl also has a large metal frame at the beginning of the net. Check out the photos below.

The Methot trawl being taken from the water. Note the square frame.

container
The container that collects all of the plankton in the net.

After the net is brought back on deck, one of the fishermen or deck hands brings the container of krill into the fish lab. The first thing we do is dump the container into a sieve or a bucket and start picking out everything that isn’t krill. The two most common things that are collected (besides krill) are gelatinous animals (like jellyfish & salps) and larval fish. The fish get weighed (as one big unit, not individually) and then frozen for someone to look at later on.

fish
The larval fish that we separated from one plankton tow.

After sorting the catch, we’re left with a big pile of krill, which gets weighed. We then take a small subsample from the big pile of krill (it’s a totally random amount depending on how much we scoop out!) and then weigh the subsample. Then the fun begins, as I’m the one that does this job; I get to count every single individual krill in the subsample. Tedious work. All of the data is then entered into the computer system, and the krill and anything else that we’ve caught (besides the larval fish) are thrown back into the water.

Tammy sorts through the pile of krill.
Tammy sorts through the pile of krill.

counting krill
How many individual krill are in this picture?

Species Seen

Northern Fulmar
Gulls
Puffin
Humpback Whales
Killer Whale!!!
Sea Otters!!!

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Q. What has been your favorite thing about this trip so far?

A. I’ve been asked this question several times over the course of the last few weeks, but I’ve waited until the end to answer it.

Truth be told, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite thing that I’ve seen or done. There are so many candidates! Exploring the Buskin River and seeing bald eagles before we set sail was a blast! Eating fresh caught salmon for the first time was a great experience, as it just melted in my mouth. Leaving shore for the first time was a lot of fun, as there is no feeling like the salt air blowing past your face at the front of a boat. Trying to take pictures of flying birds with a digital camera was a challenge, and we all had a good time laughing at the blurred images. Getting better at photography is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I feel like I have improved that. The first fish lab with the sleeper shark was great! Working in the fish lab, as messy as it was, was also a lot of fun! The XBT prank that was pulled on me was one of the best executed pranks I’ve ever seen, and it was hilarious! Hanging out and reading Martin’s Game of Throne series during breaks with my fellow scientists was a lot of fun as well, as it was just like a book club. Today’s ride through Whale Pass with the otters, whales, and mountains was exactly what I dreamed Alaska would be like.

The scientists sense of humor also made it an enjoyable trip. For example, this is what happens when you play around with the net camera for too long.

Cam Trawl Dinner
See what I mean?

That being said, if I was absolutely forced to pick a favorite memory, it would probably the impromptu fishing trip at Sand Point. You know you love your job when you decide to keep going at it on your day off.

There will be one last log posted, so if you have questions please send them to me at jmoeller@knoxville-zoo.org!

Pre-trip Pondering

 NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011
 
Personal Log
I will be traveling in a few short weeks to join the crew of the NOAA ship the Oscar Dyson in the Gulf of Alaska.  During the voyage, I will be keeping this log up to date and documenting my “adventures” with a cartoon series as well.  
I hope that you will follow along, ask lots of questions, and travel with me digitally.  
Until our next adventure, Cat 

John Taylor-Lehman, June 29, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea 
John Taylor-Lehman 
Onboard R/V Savannah 
June 24 – July 1, 2011 
NOAA Teacher at Sea: John Taylor-Lehman 
Ship: R/V Savannah 
Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Continental Shelf off of Florida
Date: Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Longitude. 80.15
Latitude 29.08
Salinity 36.343
Temperature 27.25
Barometric pressure 32.00
Depth 47.7 m
Winds S,SW 26 knots

Science and Technology Log 

We continue to bait and deploy traps during the daylight hours. Three sets of 6 traps are typically deployed at one location. On Tuesday, 4 sets were deployed because of the low number of fish caught on the previous 3 sets.

There is an art to selecting sites and retrieving traps. Some traps can get hung-up on the ledges they were meant to be resting upon. Our Chief Scientist, Nate Bacheler, must communicate with the winch operator and captain with gestures to subtly move the tether in the hopes of freeing the trap. In rare events, a trap can be lost.

Here I am getting ready to deploy a fish trap.  On the right is the camera that goes on the front of the trap.
Camera on top of the fish trap.

Here I am getting ready to deploy a fish trap. On the right is the camera that goes on the front of the trap
Here I am getting ready to deploy a fish trap. On the right is the camera that goes on the front of the trap

Mounted on each trap are 2 video cameras. They record the habitat and activity in the vicinity of the trap. The resolution on the videos is remarkable! During the winter months the films will be viewed and the fish species identified and counted.

What Happens to the Data? 

Eric taking measurements on a Red Snapper
Eric taking measurements on a Red Snapper

The data collected on these cruises allows scientists to create an “index of abundance” for each species of interest. This information is combined with information from other sources and in-put to an existing assessment (population) model. The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council then looks at the output from the model to decide on management regulations. They’ll decide on loosening or strengthening harvesting rules for each species.

So What Happens Once the Fish Are Caught? 

There is a great deal of information collected on each fish caught. For example: site location, weight, species, total length, length to fork in tail, and length before the tail. Select fish are later dissected to collect their otoliths (a bone in the head that can be used to determine age) and gonads (for maturity and sex determination). All fish are kept on ice in a large cooler until they are processed. Some of the fish are filleted, wrapped and frozen to ultimately be given away to charity.

Personal Log 

I no longer see the placid Atlantic under the ship. Strong winds (40 knots) have been blowing and stirring up the surface, creating 3-4 ft. waves and at times 4-5 ft. My stomach has noticed the change in conditions so I have been trying to keep busy and my mind distracted. Tried chewing some ginger, a remedy many people have suggested. Later, as the seas calmed and/or the ginger took effect, my stomach settled.

The weather conditions have stimulated much discussion among the science staff and crew. It was decided that conditions were ok to deploy the traps but too “sketchy” to retrieve them safely.

Zeb , David and Nate, members of the science crew
Zeb , David and Nate, members of the science crew

The chief scientist seems to have many contingency plans for when the weather does not cooperate. Decisions can be made at a moment’s notice to head to another site or cancel the trap drops. The fall back plans maximize the productivity of the research with the limited time at sea. The “down” time has given me some extra time to interview the science staff and crew. They are all very interesting people.

Zeb , David and Nate, members of the science crew

New animal sightings: (birds) brown boobies, yellow-throated warbler, Wilson’s storm-petrel, royal terns, (fish) reticulated moray eel, purplemouth moray, and red porgy.

Here I am holding a Red Snapper
Here I am holding a Red Snapper

Jason Moeller: June 25-27, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 25-27, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 55.58 N
Longitude: -159.16 W
Wind: 14.11
Surface Water Temperature: 7.2 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.0 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 90%
Depth: 85.61

Personal Log
Anyone who has seen the show Deadliest Catchknows how dangerous crab fishing can be. Fishing for pollock, however, also has its dangers. Unfortunately, we found out the hard way. One of our deck hands caught his hand between a cable and the roller used to pull up the trawl net and hurt himself badly.

Cable
The cable and the roller.

Fortunately, the injuries are not life threatening and he will be fine. The injuries did require a hospital visit, and so we stopped at Sand Point to treat him.

Town
This is the town of Sand Point.

airstrip
Clouds hang over the hills at Sand Point. The airstrip is in the left edge of the photo.

We stayed at Sand Point for nearly 48 hours. What did we do? We fished, of course! We used long lines and hooks, and had a great time!

lines
Bill and Alex cast fishing lines in the harbor. We tied the lines off on the boat and hauled them up from time to time to check the bait.

Alex
Alex with a flounder that he caught! He also caught several cod and a 32-lb Pacific halibut!

cod
Cod and the flounder in a bucket!

Tammy
As with every fishing trip, we also managed to catch things that we didn't mean too! Tammy (the other NOAA Teacher at Sea) especially liked the kelp!

urchin
A few visitors always hitched a ride on the kelp we caught. Here is a tiny sea urchin.

crab
This crab was another hitchhiker on the kelp.

starfish
We were bottom fishing for Halibut, and a starfish, the largest one I've ever seen, went after the bait!

A one-day fishing license in Alaska costs $20.00. We had internet, so five of us went online and bought the fishing passes. Was it worth it?

Halibut
You bet it was! This is the 25-lb halibut I caught! It was AWESOME!!!

We filleted it and had the cooks make it for dinner. With the halibut, we also cut out the fleshy “cheeks” and ate them as sushi right on the spot! It doesn’t get any fresher (or tastier!) than that!

Science and Technology Log
Today we will look at the acoustic system of the Oscar Dyson! Acoustics is the science that studies how waves (including vibrations & sound waves) move through solids, liquids, and gases. The Oscar Dyson uses its acoustic system to find the pollock that we process.

The process begins when a piece of equipment called a transducer converts an electrical pulse into a sound wave. The transducers are located on the underside of the ship (in the water). The sound travels away from the vessel at roughly 1500 feet per minute, and continues to do so until the sound wave hits another object such as a bubble, plankton, a fish, or the bottom. When the sound wave hits an object, it reflects the sound wave, sending the sound wave back to the Oscar Dyson as an echo. Equipment onboard listens to the echo.

The computers look at two critical pieces of information from the returning sound wave. First, it measures the time that it took the echo to travel back to the ship. This piece of information gives the scientists onboard the distance the sound wave traveled. Remember that sound travels at roughly 1500 feet per minute. If the sound came back in one minute, then the object that the sound wave hit is 750 feet away (the sound traveled 750 feet to the object, hit the object, and then traveled 750 feet back to the boat).

The second critical piece of information is the intensity of the echo. The intensity of the echo tells the scientists how small or how large an object is, and this gives us an idea of what the sound wave hit. Tiny echos near the surface are almost certainly plankton, but larger objects in the midwater might be a school of fish.

good fishing
An image of the computer screen that shows a great number of fish. This was taken underneath the boat as we were line fishing in Sand Point.

poor fishing
The same spot as above, but with practically no fish.

fishing
An image of the screen during a trawl. You can actually see the net--it is the two brown lines that are running from left to right towards the top of the screen.

One of the things that surprised me the most was that fish and bubbles often look similar enough under water that it can fool the acoustics team into thinking that the bubbles are actually fish. This is because many species of fish have gas pockets inside of them, and so the readout looks very similar. The gas pockets are technically called “swim bladders” and they are used to help the fish control buoyancy in the water.

swimbladder
Swim bladder of a fish.

Species Seen
Northern Fulmar
Gulls
Cod
Pacific Halibut
Flounder
Sea Urchin
Crab
Kelp

Reader Question(s) of the Day
Today’s questions come from Kevin Hils, the Director of Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Chehaw, Georgia!

Q. Where does the ship name come from?
A. Oscar Dyson was an Alaska fisheries industry leader from Kodiak, Alaska. He is best known for pioneering research and development of Alaska’s groundfish, shrimp, and crab industry. Dyson was a founding partner of All Alaskan Seafoods, which was the first company actually controlled by the fishermen who owned the vessel. He also served on the North Pacific Fisheries Management council for nine years. He is in the United Fishermen of Alaska’s hall of fame for his work. The ship was christened by his wife, Mrs. Peggy Dyson-Malson, and launched on October 17, 2003.

Dyson
Oscar Dyson

launch
The launching of the Oscar Dyson

Q. How do you see this helping you teach at Knoxville Zoo, not an aquarium?
A. This will be a long answer. This experience will improve environmental education at the zoo in a variety of different ways.

First, this will better allow me to teach the Oceanography portion of my homeschool class that comes to the zoo every Tuesday. For example, I am in the process of creating a hands on fishing trip that will teach students about the research I have done aboard the Oscar Dyson and why that research is important. Homeschool students will not just benefit from this experience in Oceanography, but also in physics (when we look at sound and sonar) and other subjects as well from the technical aspects that I have learned during the course of the trip.

Scouts are another group that will greatly benefit from this experience as well. The Girl Scout council wishes to see a greater emphasis in the future on having the girls do science and getting real world experiences. While the girls are still going to desire the animal knowledge that the zoo can bring, they will also expect to do the science as well as learn about it. My experience aboard the Dyson will allow me to create workshops that can mimic a real world animal research experience, as I can now explain and show how research is done in the field.

The same can be said of the boy scouts.

In addition, one of the most common badges that is taught to boy scout groups that come in is the fish and wildlife merit badge. In the past, the badge has primarily focused on the wildlife aspect of this topic. However, I now have the knowledge to write and teach a fisheries portion for that merit badge, as opposed to quickly covering it and moving on. This will enrich future scouts who visit the zoo for this program.

A major focus for all scouts is the concept of Leave No Trace, where scouts are supposed to leave an area the way they found it. The fisheries research being done aboard the Dyson is focused toward that same goal in the ocean, where we are attempting to keep the pollock population as we found it, creating a sustainable fishery. The goal aboard the Dyson is similar to the goal in scouting. We need to be sustainable, we need to be environmentally friendly, and we need to leave no trace behind.

School children on field trips will greatly benefit, especially students in the adaptations section. There are some bizarre adaptations that I never knew about! For example, sleeper sharks slow, deliberate movement coupled with their fin and body shape basically make them the stealth fighter of the fish world. They can catch fish twice as fast as they are! Lumpsuckers are neat critters too! This knowledge will enhance their experience at the zoo during field trip programs.

Finally, I can pass the knowledge from this experience on to my coworkers. This will not only better the experience of my students, but it will also improve the outreach programs, the bedtime programs, the camps, and other programming done at the zoo.

Q. Are you old enough to be on a ship? You look like you’re 13???!!!!
A. SHHHHHHH!!!! You weren’t supposed to tell them my real age! They think I’m 24!

Karen Rasmussen, June 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Rasmussen
Ship: R/V Tattoosh
Geographical area of the cruise: Olympic Coast NMS
Date: June 28, 2011
Cruise to: La Push
Crew: Rick Fletcher, Nathan Witherly, Karen Rasmussen
Time: Start 9:25 – End 16:00

Mission
The first part of mission is to conduct Multibeam mapping and to collect ground-truthings at the LaPush/Teahwhit areas of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. We will also service the OCNM buoy, Cape Alava 42 (CA42). The second week of this mission is to explore the Teahwhit Head moorings, ChaBa and sunken ships, and North and South moorings.

Weather Data

Wind 5 to 10 Knots
SW Swell 4 to 7’
Science and Technology Log

Seal Rocks
Seal Rocks

We began this morning at 8:00. We loaded the boat and filled the tanks with diesel. Rick completed the safety brief (Risk Factor 21 today). Then we went over roles and responsibilities, PFD’s (personal floatation devices), Immersion Suits (location of, and completed drill- all crew completed), Emergency Situations of fire, abandon ship, MOB (Maintain Lookout, Notify Skipper), and communication systems. We left Port Angeles at 9:25 with Rick and Nathan. Nancy is driving all of our supplies to Forks. We will be spending the next three nights in Forks, WA at the Olympic Suites.

Seal Rocks

The water was choppy today with swells of about 7 feet, which makes it difficult to write in a journal. Our first stop was off of Seal Rocks. We observed sea lions and many different seabirds. An airplane was flying low over and around the islands, which was a concern because there are distance parameters that are enforced for the sea life on and around coast islands. We also noted a small boat. I tried to take a picture of the plane for further reference. The plane and small boat turned out to be State/Federal wildlife resource people doing a mammal count on the islands.

Rick servicing the Cape Alava 42 buoy.
Rick servicing the Cape Alava 42 buoy.

Our next stop was at the Cape Alava 42 buoy. The “42” indicates meters in depth. Nathan piloted the boat and Rick put on protective raingear and boots. His job consisted of standing on the swim deck while Nathan maneuvered the boat as close as he could to the buoy. When we were in the correct position, Rick pulled the buoy up while I controlled the winch. He replaced the current meter which measures how fast the current is going in that area. The buoys in the Sanctuary are serviced about once every six weeks.

From Cape Alava we continued to travel south down the coastline to LaPush. We cleaned up, hosed the Tatoosh off, and packed up stuff. Nancy met us in La Push. We loaded up the car and headed to Forks for the night. Nancy and Rick continued the work from one of the hotel rooms on how to get the technology of this mission up and running correctly.

Personal Log

I had a great time today. I have to admit I was a little worried about traveling from Port Angeles to La Push in such a small vessel. We bounced a lot, but the weather was wonderful. I was very impressed with Nathan Withery’s ability to manipulate the Tatoosh in such swells. I also observed how Rick and Nathan can walk the deck with such ease. We talked a little about how much energy is used to be onboard a small vessel all day. We all are famished!
Rick servicing the Cape Alava 42 buoy.

Tammy Orilio, Sand Point, Alaska, June 27, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 27 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 55.33 N
Longitude: -160.52 W

Wind Speed: 18.24 knots
Surface Water Temp: 7.3 degrees C

Water Depth: 28.43 m
Air Temp: 8.2 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 91%

Personal Log:
I woke up yesterday to the sound of the anchor being dropped (it’s a really loud noise that goes on for a few minutes). We weren’t scheduled to stop anywhere, so I figured something out of the ordinary had to be happening in order for us to be dropping anchor, and I soon found out what happened. Turns out a crew member had an accident onboard, so we headed to the nearest community to get to a medical facility, which is Sand Point- a small little fishing village.

So we ended up spending the day anchored in Sand Point yesterday. It was foggy & rainy yet again, so a few of the scientists purchased fishing licenses online and they fished off the back deck. They ended up catching some cod, halibut, and sculpins (Irish lords to be exact). They also ended up dragging some kelp up to the surface, and of course I was excited about that because I love seaweeds 🙂 And I’ve never seen live kelp in person before- I’ve only seen the dried stuff we ate in Marine 1!

Some buildings and a couple of windmills in Sand Point.
Some buildings and a couple of windmills in Sand Point.

A barge anchored in the bay.
A barge anchored in the bay.

Morning on 26 June 2011.
Morning on 26 June 2011.

A helicopter leaves the airport on 27 June. That spit of land is the runway.
A helicopter leaves the airport on 27 June. That spit of land is the runway.

Docks.
Docks.

We think this is Laminaria, but not positive.
We think this is Laminaria, but not positive.

Some kind of kelp. Salty.
Some kind of kelp. Salty.

We are still anchored here, because one of our science team members is going to fly out of here this afternoon to get to a meeting in Juneau. Sadly, our trip is essentially over- we are not going to do any more fishing 🙁 I’m disappointed that the trip was cut a few days short, but the situation was out of everyone’s control, so there’s nothing I can do about it. I am thankful that I did get to go on this trip even if it was short- it was a great experience!

We’re supposed to be leaving Sand Point at some point this evening, and the weather forecast doesn’t look so good. High winds- up to 35 knots (that’s about 40 mph) and 18 ft seas are forecast for tonight, with only a little decrease for tomorrow. Going to be a great time!! I will definitely have to take my seasick medication before we leave here.

Question of the Day:

  • What kingdom & phylum are brown algae (such as kelp) in?

Karen Rasmussen, June, 27, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Rasmussen
Ship: R/V Tattoosh
Geographical area of the cruise: Olympic Coast NMS
Date: June 27, 2011
Cruise to: Port Angeles Harbor
Crew: Nathan Witherly, Karen Rasmussen
Time: Start 10:30 – End 12:2

Mission
The first part of mission is to conduct Multibeam mapping and to collect ground-truthings at the LaPush/Teahwhit areas of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. We will also service  the OCNM buoy, Cape Alava 42 (CA42). The second week of this mission is to explore the  Teahwhit Head moorings, ChaBa and sunken ships, and North and South moorings.

Weather Data
Calm seas/wind

Science and Technology Log

The Tatoosh at dock
The Tatoosh at dock

We began this morning at 8:00 a.m. Tatoosh had been dry  docked at the Port of Port Angeles to have the multibeam  fixed. This mission was to  have started last week but had  to be postponed because of a small leak in the multibeam. This morning the Tatoosh was  lowered into the water to take the measurements in order to  check the accuracy of the multibeam. Nathan drove the boat to Hollywood Beach (Port Angeles, WA) so we could help take readings. Rick and Nancy stayed onshore and used a surveyor’s tripod with an optical level. I held the surveyor’s rod and we completed a dynamic draft measurement of the Tatoosh. Rick took 3 readings from each position the Tatoosh was in over approximately two hours. Later Nancy and I entered their data into the Hypack software program. I read the data as she typed it in. We finished and found that our computer software programs are not interfacing with each other.

Here we are on the Tatoosh trying to work with the computer programs that will collect the data we need.
Here we are on the Tatoosh trying to work with the computer programs that will collect the data we need.

The HYPAK Program Inc. is Windows-based software created for the hydrographic
and dredging industries. It includes ways to complete surveys, collect data, process it, and generate final products.  It can be used on small or large vessels and is also used to collect environmental data.

HYSWEEP is a module of HYPACK and is used with multibeam and side scan sonar.  It gives on-the-spot information  about the ocean’s bottom  condition and data quality from  your multibeam devise.

HYSWEEP measures:

  • Depth – Nadir beam depth in survey units (ten units to one foot)
  • Time (Event)
  • Tide  Corrections
  • Draft Correction
  • Heave (in survey units, positive upward)
  • Roll – port side
  • Pitch – bow up
  • Heading
  • Easting/Northing (Like XY coordination, X= Easting, Y=Northing)

Personal Log
My learning curve is tremendous today and I am extremely tired. Last night I stayed at the Red Lion in Port Angeles. I was up until almost 4 a.m. Apparently, they are having teenager issues. Lots of horn blowing, yelling, and fighting all night long. I am hoping that tonight will be better.

I really enjoyed being part of the team today. Nancy, Rick, and Nathan have been wonderful with answering all of my questions.  Some of the questions I’ve been asking must seem so obvious to them, but my knowledge of underwater geography is so limited. Every aspect of this day has been interesting. I am truly amazed at what these people are doing with the limited and older materials they are using.

Jason Moeller: June 23-24, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11-JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 23-24, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 54.86 N
Longitude: -161.68 W
Wind: 12.1 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 8.5 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.1 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 95%
Depth: 52.43 m

Personal Log

As I mentioned in the last post, everything here has settled into a routine from a personal standpoint, and on that end there is not much to write about. However, there were three things that broke up the monotony. First, as always, the scenery was beautiful.

Cove
Snow covered hills shield the cove from the winds. Look how smooth the ocean is!

cove2
The view off the back of the ship.

Second, I found out that even with all of the modern equipment on board, catching fish is still not guaranteed. We trawled three times last night on the 23rd and caught a total of 14 fish in all three trawls! Remember, a good sample size for one trawl is supposed to be 300 pollock, so this is the equivalent of fishing all day long and catching a minnow that just happened to swim into the fishing hook.

The first trawl caught absolutely nothing, as the fish dove underneath the net to escape the danger. The second trawl caught two pacific ocean perch and one pollock, and the third trawl caught eleven pollock. All in all, not the best fishing day.

pollock
The lone pollock from the second trawl.

Despite the poor fishing, we did bring up this neat little critter.

isopod
This is an isopod! These animals are very similar to the pillbugs (roly-polys) that we find in the US. Many marine isopods are parasites, and can be a danger to fish!

isopod2
This is the bottom view of an isopod

The third thing to break up the monotony was the Aleutian Islands earthquake. On the evening of June 23rd, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook the Aleutian Islands. According to ABC news, the earthquake was centered about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. The quake spawned a brief tsunami warning that caused a large number of Dutch Harbor residents (Dutch Harbor is the home base of the show Deadliest Catch) to head for higher ground. We had been in the Aleutian Islands and Dutch Harbor area on our survey route, but had left two days before, so the Oscar Dysonwas completely unaffected by the earthquake.

Dutch Harbor residents seek higher ground after a tsunami warning was issued. AP photo by Jim Paulin.

Science and Technology Log

In order to obtain photos of all of this neat sealife, we first have to catch it! We catch fish by trawling for them. Some of you may not know exactly what I’m talking about, so let me explain. Trawling is a fishing method that pulls a long mesh net behind a boat in order to collect fish. Trawling is used to collect fish for both scientific purposes (like we’re doing) and also in commercial fishing operations. We have two types of fish trawls onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson — a mid-water trawl net and a bottom trawl net. We’ve used both types throughout our cruise, so let me tell you a little about each.

The mid-water trawl net is just as it sounds — it collects fish from the middle of the water column — not those that live on the seafloor, not those that live at the surface. The technical name for the net we have is an Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) — it’s commonly used by the commercial fishing industry.

trawl net
Part of the mid-water trawl net as it's being deployed.

The end of the net where the fish first enter has very large mesh, which is used to corral the fish and push them towards the bag at the end. The mesh gets progressively smaller and smaller the further into it you go, and at the very end (where the collecting bag is), the mesh size is 0.5 inches. The end (where the bag is, or where the fish are actually collected) is called the codend.

codend
One of the codends on the deck of the Oscar Dyson

This is the kind of net we use when we want to collect a pollock sample, because pollock are found in the water column, as opposed to right on the seafloor (in other words, pollock aren’t benthic animals). Our particular net is also modified a little from a “normal” AWT. Our trawl has three codends (collecting bags) on it, each of which can be opened and closed with a switch that is controlled onboard the ship. The mechanism that opens and closes each of the 3 codends is called the Multiple Opening and Closing Codend (MOCC) device. Using the MOCC gives us the ability to obtain 3 discrete samples of fish, which can then be processed in the fish lab.

MOCC
The MOCC apparatus, with the 3 nets extending off.

bar
The nets are opened and closed using a series of metal bars. (The bar here is the piece of metal running across the middle of the photo). The net has 6 of these bars. When the first bar is released, the first codend is ready to take in fish. When the second bar is dropped, the first codend is closed. The third and fourth bars open and close the second codend, and the fifth and sixth bars open and close the third codend.

trigger
This is the trigger mechanism for the codends on the MOCC. When the codend is released, the trigger mechanism is up. When the codend is locked and ready to go, it is in the down position.

One other modification we have on our mid-water trawl net is the attachment of a video camera to the net, so we can actually see the fish that are going into the codends.

camera
This is the camera apparatus hooked up to the trawl.

When we spot a school of fish on the acoustic displays, we then radio the bridge (where the captain is) and the deck (where the fishermen are) to let them know that we’d like to fish in a certain spot. The fishermen that are in charge of deploying the net can mechanically control how deep the net goes using hydraulic gears, and the depth that we fish at varies at each sampling location. Once the gear is deployed, it stays in the water for an amount of time determined by the amount of fish in the area, and then the fishermen begin to reel in the net. See the videos below to get an idea of how long the trawl nets are — they’re being reeled in the videos. Once all of the net (it’s VERY long — over 500 ft) is reeled back in, the fish in the codends are unloaded onto a big table on the deck using a crane. From there, the fish move into the lab and we begin processing them.

Videos of the net being reeled in and additional photos are below!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I50Q4SJzzaE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVAqbAGcxRs

net end
This is the end of the trawl net. They are lines that basically hold onto the net.

codend
One of the codends before being opened up onto the conveyor belt. We are inside waiting for the fish to arrive.

open codend
Opening the codend to release the fish catch!

reeled in
The mid-water trawl net all reeled in!

The other type of trawl gear that we use is a bottom trawl, and again, it’s just as it sounds. The bottom trawl is outfitted with roller-type wheels that sort of roll and/or bounce over the seafloor. We use this trawl to collect benthic organisms like rockfish, Pacific ocean perch, and invertebrates. There’s usually a random pollock or cod in there, too. The biggest problem with bottom trawls is that the net can sometimes get snagged on rocks on the bottom, resulting in a hole being ripped in the net. Obviously, we try to avoid bottom trawling in rocky areas, but we can never be 100% sure that there aren’t any rogue rocks sitting on the bottom 🙂

bottom trawl
The mesh and wheels of the bottom trawl.

btrawl2
More of the bottom trawl

btrawlreel
The bottom trawl, all reeled in!

Species Seen

Northern Fulmar
Gulls
Pollock
Pacific Ocean Perch (aka rockfish)
coral
Isopod

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

The first question for today comes from Rich, Wanda, and Ryan Ellis! Ryan is in the homeschool Tuesday class at the Zoo.

Q. We looked up what an anemone was and we found it was some kind of plant. Is that correct?

A. Great question! The answer is both yes and no. There is a type of flowering plant called the anemone. There are about 120 different species, and they are in the buttercup family. For one example of the plant, look below!

Anemone Nemorosa
Anemone Nemorosa. Taken from pacificbulbsociety.org

The sea anemone, however, is not actually a plant but an animal! Anemones are classified as cnidarians, which are animals that have specialized cells for capturing prey! In anemones, these are called nematocysts, which have toxin and a harpoon like structure to deliver the toxin. When the nematocysts are touched, the harpoon structure injects the toxin into the animal that touches it.

Cnidarians also have bodies consist of mesoglea, a non living jelly like substance. They generally have a mouth that is surrounded by the tentacles mentioned above.

Anemone
The Anemone we found.

The second question comes from my wife Olivia.

Q. What has surprised you most about this trip? Any unexpected or odd situations?

A. I think the thing that has surprised me the most is the amount of down time I have had. When I came on, I assumed that it would be physical and intense, like the show Deadliest Catch, where I would spend my whole time fishing and then working on the science. I figured that I would be absolutely toast by the end of my shift.

While I have worked hard and learned a lot, I have quite a bit of down time. Processing a catch takes about one hour, and we fish on average once or twice a night. That means I am processing fish for roughly two hours at most, and my shift is twelve hours. I have gotten a fair amount of extra work done, as well as a lot of pleasure reading and movie watching.

As for unexpected and odd situations, I didn’t really expect to get your camera killed by a wave. Fortunately, I have been allowed to use the scientist camera, and have been able to scavenge photos from other cameras, so I will still have plenty of pictures.

Another technological oddball that I didn’t think about beforehand was that certain headings (mainly if we are going north) will cut off the internet, which is normally fantastic. It is frustrating to have a photo 90% downloaded only to have the ship change vectors, head north, and cut off the download, forcing me to redownload the whole photo.
I also didn’t expect that the fish would be able to dodge the trawl net as effectively as they have. We have had four or five “misses” so far because the fish will not stay in one spot and let us catch them. While the use of sonar and acoustics has greatly improved our ability to catch fish, catching fish is by no means assured.

Perhaps the biggest “Are you kidding me?” moment though, comes from James and David Segrest asking me about sharks (June 17-18 post). An hour after I read the question, we trawled for the first time of the trip, and naturally the first thing we caught was the sleeper shark. Also naturally, I haven’t seen a shark since. Sometimes, you just get lucky.

John Taylor-Lehman, June 26, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea 
John Taylor-Lehman 
Onboard R/V Savannah 
June 24 – July 1, 2011 
NOAA Teacher at Sea: John Taylor-Lehman 
Ship: R/V Savannah 
Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Continental Shelf off of Florida
Date: Monday 26, June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 
South West Winds 10-15 knots
Cloudy
Barometric Pressure 29.73

Science and Technology Log 

I assisted in deploying and retrieving 6 “chevron” fish traps at a time. This was done several times at designated sites. The traps are pushed off the back of the boat (fantail) and winched up along the starboard side. Two buoys are attached to each trap. The traps rest on the bottom of the Atlantic between 45 and 230 ft. deep. Locations are determined before the cruise but can be changed if necessary. Ideal locations have hard bottom with some relief.

taylor-lehman_log02_page_1_image_0001
Here I am (left) getting traps ready with the crew

Traps are baited with 24 “menhaden”, which is a type of fish. Some of the bait is suspended in the trap while other rests on the bottom. The traps “soak” for 90 minutes before being retrieved. There is great anticipation as each trap is being winched aboard the ship. We are all hoping for large numbers of our target fish: grouper and snapper.

This collection technique has been used for 22 years, which allows valid comparisons of data over time. The fish found in the traps thus far are: gag grouper, Warsaw grouper, red snapper, vermillion snapper, sand perch, black sea bass, gray triggerfish.

Personal Log 

Flying Fish
Flying Fish

The entire science staff and ship crew have all been very kind and helpful to me, the novice. They have readily answered all my questions, whether it is about the ship operations or the research being conducted. They have gone out of their way to bring to my attention items or events they think would be of interest to me.

Last evening we spent the last hours of our shift processing black sea bass. I learned how to remove the otoliths from the skull and the reproductive organs from the body cavity. The former can be used to age the fish and the latter to determine maturity and sex.

This is called an oyster toad fish
This is called an oyster toad fish

While walking on the back of the boat last night I heard a great deal of splashing in the water. The lights from the ship were bright enough to illuminate the water below me, so in I was able to see 6 dolphins in the water. They were feeding on the many flying fish that were attracted to the ship’s lights. I imagine a few of the fish were able to escape because the dolphins remained for at least 1.5 hours. Some of the dolphins were able to grab the fish out of the air.

Unusual sights: 4 cruise ships heading south, a double rainbow, oyster toad fish

Tammy Orilio, No Fishing Today, June 25, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 25 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 54.91
Longitude: -161.27
Wind Speed: 13.80 knots
Surface Water Temp: 7.9 degrees C

Water Depth: 113.78 m
Air Temp: 8.3 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 97%

Personal Log:
Unfortunately, it’s been another day of no fishing for me 🙁 My shift just ended, and we’ve only seen small, scattered groups of fish on the acoustic displays today- not enough to put the nets into the water. Yesterday was nearly the same as today, but we did do a plankton trawl to sample the krill in the water. I’ll write more about that in another post.

From what I’ve heard from other Teachers at Sea, I expected to be working in the fish lab pretty much the entire duration of my 12 hour shift. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case! But, there’s not much I can do if there are only a scattering of fish in an area. Even the scientists are saying that they’re surprised by the lack of fish on this leg of the survey. I still have another 5 days or so (depending on when we start heading back to port, and if we’re working on the way there, or just straight sailing), so hopefully I’ll see some more action over the last few days of the trip. However, I know that we can’t control whether the fish are here or not- it’s all part of the science process!

The science team will be disembarking on Thursday June 30 and heading home, but the trip is definitely not over for the rest of the crew and NOAA officers. Another group of scientists and two more Teachers at Sea will be boarding the ship, and then they’ll set sail for another 3 weeks, doing the same thing we’ve been doing, just in a different part of the Gulf of Alaska. Then, the original group of scientists (that are on board now) and two more teachers will come back for the last leg of the trip. This method of switching people every few weeks is advantageous so that no one gets too run down or antsy to get off the ship. However, most of the deck crew, engineers, and NOAA officers stay onboard for all 3 legs of the trip- I don’t know if I could do that! I’ve been on board for 2 weeks now, and I’m doing fine, but I couldn’t imagine being on here for 9 or 10 weeks!

Lastly, here are a few photos of the area we’ve been in the last two days. Looking at our digital map, we’ve got nothing to look at but open water for the next 10 hours or so, but we’re moving into an area filled with lots of little islands in the next day, so I’m sure I’ll get some photos!

I can see Russia from my house!! (kidding, of course)
I can see Russia from my house!! (kidding, of course)

Tammy Orilio, Trawl Gear, June 24, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 24 June 2011


Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 54.14 N
Longitude: -164.16
Wind Speed: 9.73 knots
Surface Water Temp: 7.0 degrees C
Water Depth: 92.75 m
Air Temp: 7.2 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 101%

Science & Technology Log:
I’ve been talking a lot about trawling for fish, and I realize that some of you may not know exactly what I’m talking about, so let me explain. Trawling is a fishing method that pulls a long mesh net behind a boat in order to collect fish. Trawling is used to collect fish for both scientific purposes (like we’re doing) and also in commercial fishing operations. We have two types of fish trawls onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson– a mid-water trawl net and a bottom trawl net. We’ve used both types throughout our cruise, so let me tell you a little about each.

The mid-water trawl net is just as it sounds- it collects fish from the middle of the water column- not those that live on the seafloor, not those that live at the surface. The technical name for the net we have is an Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT)- it’s commonly used by the commercial fishing industry. The end of the net where the fish first enter has very large mesh, which is used to corral the fish and push them towards the bag at the end. The mesh gets progressively smaller and smaller the further into it you go, and at the very end (where the collecting bag is), the mesh size is 0.5 inches. The end (where the bag is, or where the fish are actually collected) is called the codend. This is the kind of net we use when we want to collect a pollock sample, because pollock are found in the water column, as opposed to right on the seafloor (in other words, pollock aren’tbenthic animals). Our particular net is also modified a little from a “normal” AWT. Our trawl has three codends (collecting bags) on it- each of which can be opened and closed with a switch that is controlled onboard the ship. The mechanism that opens and closes each of the 3 codends is called the Multiple Opening and Closing Codend (MOCC) device. Using the MOCC gives us the ability to obtain 3 discrete samples of fish, which can then be processed in the fish lab. One other modification we have on our mid-water trawl net is the attachment of a video camera to the net, so we can actually see the fish that are going into the codends.

The MOCC apparatus, with the 3 nets extending off.
The MOCC apparatus, with the 3 nets extending off.

Part of the mid-water trawl net as it's being deployed.
Part of the mid-water trawl net as it’s being deployed.

The camera apparatus hooked up to the trawl.
The camera apparatus hooked up to the trawl.

When we spot a school of fish on the acoustic displays, we then radio the bridge (where the captain is) and the deck (where the fishermen are) to let them know that we’d like to fish in a certain spot. The fishermen that are in charge of deploying the net can mechanically control how deep the net goes using hydraulic gears, and the depth that we fish at varies at each sampling location. Once the gear is deployed, it stays in the water for an amount of time determined by the amount of fish in the area, and then the fishermen begin to reel in the net. See the videos below to get an idea of how long the trawl nets are- they’re being reeled in in the videos. Once all of the net (it’s VERY long- over 500 ft) is reeled back in, the fish in the codends are unloaded onto a big table on the deck using a crane. From there, the fish move into the lab and we begin processing them.

The end of the trawl net. These are the lines that basically hold on to the net!
The end of the trawl net. These are the lines that basically hold on to the net!

The mid-water trawl net all reeled in.
The mid-water trawl net all reeled in.

One of the codends before being opened up.
One of the codends before being opened up.

The other type of trawl gear that we use is a bottom trawl, and again, it’s just as it sounds. The bottom trawl is outfitted with roller-type wheels that sort of roll and/or bounce over the seafloor. We use this trawl to collect benthic organisms like rockfish, Pacific ocean perch, and invertebrates. There’s usually a random pollock or cod in there, too. As I mentioned in my last post (“Today’s Catch”), the net can sometimes get snagged on rocks on the bottom, resulting in a hole being ripped in the net. Obviously, we try to avoid bottom trawling in rocky areas, but we can never be 100% sure that there aren’t any rogue rocks sitting on the bottom 🙂

The mesh and the wheels of the bottom trawl.
The mesh and the wheels of the bottom trawl.

More of the bottom trawl.
More of the bottom trawl.

The bottom trawl all reeled in.
The bottom trawl all reeled in.

Personal Log:
It’s been a quiet couple of days. On Wednesday, we didn’t see any fish until late in my shift, then we did a mid-water trawl. We ended up actually busting the bag- that’s how many fish we ended up collecting!! Once the codends were opened, we immediately began processing- first separating the pollock from everything else we caught. After sorting, I got to work on sexing the fish- it’s a kind of gruesome job, because you have to take a scalpel and cut them open (while they’re still alive!), exposing their innards- definitely NOT like the preserved organisms we dissect in class. I’m not a huge fan of cutting them open, so I moved on to measuring the length of the male fish- there were so many males in our catch, I was the last one working! After I cleaned up, that was the end of my shift. We were near some islands at the end of my shift, and the bridge called down to the lab to tell us that there some whales off the starboard side of the ship. I grabbed my camera and ran up to the deck, scanning the water for whales. Finally, I spotted a pod waaaay off the starboard side- they were too far off to get a good picture, and I couldn’t even tell what kind they were, but I was able to see them spouting water out of their blowholes, and it looked like one of them breached. The officers up on the bridge said they thought they were minke whales.

Thursday we didn’t see any fish (well, not enough to put our gear in the water) all day, so no fishing for me. Right now, it’s about 9:30 a.m. on Friday, and we’re just cruising to begin our next set of transects. I just read that there was an earthquake in the western Aleutian Islands last night- magnitude 7.2! Holy moly, I was just there! Apparently, people felt the earthquake as far east as Dutch Harbor on the island of Unalaska, and they had a tsunami warning go off. It’s crazy to think that I was in that area a couple days ago!

Question of the Day:

  • Speaking of tsunamis…What would cause the East Coast of the U.S. to be hit by a megatsunami?

Jason Moeller: June 21-22, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 21-22, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 55.03N
Longitude: -163.08W
Wind: 17.81 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 6.7 degrees celsius
Air Temperature: 10.10 degrees celsius
Humidity: 85%
Depth: 82.03 meters

Personal Log
Welcome back, explorers!

June 21
Today has been the calmest evening since I boarded the Oscar Dyson. The night shift did not fish at all, which meant that I basically had an evening off! Even the evenings we have fished have been relatively calm. It takes us about an hour to an hour and a half to process a haul of fish, and up to this point we average about one haul per night. That gives me quite a bit of down time! When I am on shift, that down time is usually spent in one of two places.

computer lab
The first spot is the computer lab in the acoustics room. This is the room where we wait for the haul to be brought in. I write the logs, lesson plan, check emails, and surf the web during quiet times.

lounge
This is the lounge. The cabinet under the TV has over 500 movies, and a movie is usually playing when I walk in. Behind the couch is a large bookshelf with several hundred books, so I have done a fair amount of pleasure reading as well.

When I am not sitting in one of these two places, I am usually running around the ship with my camera taking nature photos. Below are the best nature photos of the past three days.

Volcano
One of the coolest things about the Aleutian islands has to be the number of volcanoes that can be seen. This is the one on Unimak Island.

volcano2
A second picture of the same volcano.

coast
This is just a cool rock formation off of the coast. The Oscar Dyson has been hugging the coast the entire trip, which has been great for scenery.

gull
A gull skims the water by the Oscar Dyson.

gull2
A gull wings toward the Oscar Dyson

June 22
We resumed fishing today! These trawls brought in quite a few species that I had not seen before, along with the ever plentiful pollock.

Net
The net, filled with fish!

Jason by belt
Jason waits for the net to load the fish onto the conveyor belt.

Jason with flounder
Here, I am separating the arrowtooth flounder from the pollock.

skate
We managed to catch a skate in the net! Skates are very close relatives to sharks. We quickly measured it and then released it into the ocean.

skate 2
A second photograph of the skate.

lumpsucker
Do you remember the little lumpsucker from a few posts back? This is what an adult looks like!

lumpsucker2
The lumpsucker was slimy! I tried to pick it up with my bare hands, and the slime gummed up my hands so that I couldn't pick it up! Even with gloves designed for gripping fish I had trouble holding on.

lumpsucker3
A closeup of the lumpsucker

sculpin
This fish is called a sculpin.

crab
I finally saw a crab! None of us know what was attached to it, but the scientists believe that it was an anemone.

starfish
This is a starfish the net pulled up.

Science and Technology Log
There is no Science and Technology Log with this post.

Species Seen
Humpback Whales
Northern Fulmar
Gulls
Rockfish
Walleye Pollock
Lumpsucker
Arrowtooth Flounder
Atka Makerel
Salmon
Sculpin
Copepods
Isopods
Skate
Crab!!!

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Today’s question comes from James and David Segrest, who are two of my homeschool students!

Q. What do you eat while you are on your adventures? Do you get to catch and eat fish?

The food is great! Our chef has a degree in culinary arts, and has made some amazing meals!

I wake up at 2:30 pm for my 4 pm to 4 am night shift, and usually start my day with a small bowl of oatmeal and a toasted bagel. At 5 pm, about two hours after breakfast, dinner is served, and I will eat a huge meal then too. Every meal has two main courses, a vegetable, a bread, and dessert. We have had a wide variety of main courses which have included bratwurst, steak, gumbo with king crab, fish, chicken parmesan, spaghetti with meatballs, and others!

We will often eat some of the fish we catch, usually salmon and rockfish since those provide the  best eating. The salmon disappears to the kitchen so quickly that I have not actually been able to get a photo of one! We have not caught a halibut in the trawl net yet, otherwise we would likely have eaten that as well. Yum! We have not yet eaten pollock, as it is viewed as being a much lower quality fish compared with the rockfish and salmon.

I’m out of questions, so please email me at jmoeller@knoxville-zoo.org with those questions please!

John Taylor-Lehman, June 24, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea 
John Taylor-Lehman 
Onboard R/V Savannah 
June 24 – July 1, 2011 
NOAA Teacher at Sea: John Taylor-Lehman 
Ship: R/V Savannah 
Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Continental Shelf off of Florida
Date: 24 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Winds from the South at 10 mph
Barometric Pressure 29.93

The Research Vessel Savannah sitting at dock in Savannah
The Research Vessel Savannah sitting at dock in Savannah

Science and Technology Log 

We departed on time from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography dock at 0001 hours with 6 crew members, a compliment of 8 scientists and myself. The crew consists of Captain Raymond Sweatte, 1st Mate Michael Richter, Marine Technician John Bichy, 2nd Mate Kevin Holliday, Chief Engineer Richard Huguley, and Joel Formby. Though they have different titles, it became obvious from our discussions that their duties are often shared or overlap. This arrangement is necessary because the R/V Savannah is functioning 24 hours per day.

Because we are in transit to our first sampling site my interest has focused on the operators of the ship and how the ship functions.

Capt. Sweatte outlined for me the steps in his career that have led him to being Captain of this vessel. Though military training is one avenue to prepare for a commercial captain’s license he did not follow that path. He worked his way up through various jobs as an able bodied seaman second mate, first mate, and finally the captain with 1600 ton vessel certification. His training is ongoing through “continuing education” programs in fire safety, sonar, survival training, and first aid.

Chief engineer Richard Huguley gave me an interesting tour of the 4 compartments of the engine room. Water cooling systems, two 450 horse power Caterpillar brand engines, electrical and hydraulic system all have to be monitored and maintained during our cruise. Some systems are checked for pressure, temperature and fluid levels several times per day and around the clock. Engineer Richard Huguley had an interest in machines and an aptitude for mechanics at an early age. His skills have allowed him to have consistent employment in land based industrial enterprises and nautical work.

Personal Log 

Shelly in the “Gumby” suit
Shelly in the “Gumby” suit

My apprehensions about seasickness have been unfounded… thus far. I’m using a Transderm patch with scopolamine. It is difficult however to tease out the exact reason for my relatively calm stomach. Is it the chemical? Is it the relatively calm seas (4-5 ft. waves last night and 2-3 ft. waves today)?

During the safety instructions last night a person was required to don the “survival suit” (also known as the “Gumby” suit). The attempt to don the suit quickly is always good for a laugh. Shelly, part of the science party, was our reluctant “volunteer” for the demonstration.

Shelly in the “Gumby” suit

Since we are in transit, there has been time to explore the ship, talk with science staff and crew, as well as enjoy the view of the Atlantic from the deck. Today I saw dolphins, barracuda, and flying fish, close to the ship and a submarine off in the distance.

Tammy Orilio, Today’s Catch, June 21, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 21 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 54.25 N
Longitude: -163.31 W
Wind Speed: 13.56 knots
Surface Water Temp: 7.5 degrees C
Water Depth: 69.38 m
Air Temp: 6.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 95%

Personal Log:
We did our (well, my) first bottom trawl today. The trawl net is outfitted with rollers/wheels that ride over the seafloor while the net collects benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms. One thing I talk about in Marine 2 is how bottom trawling is damaging to the environment, and we definitely saw that firsthand today- there were quite a few rocks brought up in the net along with the animals. The seafloor was not as flat as we had hoped- in fact, the net ended up with a 4-foot hole ripped in it, which the deckhands/lead fishermen sewed for us later on in the day. Now, in the case of bottom trawling to collect scientific data, I don’t have a problem…but in the case of doing it for profit, as in the case of commercial fishing operations, I can’t abide by that. I would probably feel a little different if ALL we were doing was bottom trawls, but we’ve only done 2 so far, so…that’s how I’m rationalizing it. What’s your take on this? Should scientists damage an environment and/or kill organisms just to collect scientific data? And just so you know, the data we’re collecting on this survey is not just sitting around, completely useless- we are using it to actually help manage fish populations and regulate commercial fishing. The limits that all commercial fishermen have- how much they can legally take- are determined by knowing the current population status, and we can only learn that by seeing what’s out there, where things are, their age, what they’ve been eating, etc etc.
Following are some pictures of the animals from today’s bottom trawl.

Black Rockfish- we had some fried rockfish for dinner tonight!
Black Rockfish- we had some fried rockfish for dinner tonight!

Cushion star- also called Slime Star b/c it secretes slime when it's disturbed...which I discovered today!
Cushion star- also called Slime Star b/c it secretes slime when it’s disturbed…which I discovered today!

Fanellia compressa- a soft coral- it's pinkish/peachish in color
Fanellia compressa- a soft coral- it’s pinkish/peachish in color

Atka mackerel
Atka mackerel

One last thing…we went by Unimak Island today- it’s the easternmost of the Aleutians, which means that we will soon be re-entering the Alaskan peninsula- but we’re still a long way from Kodiak 🙂 Unimak Island has an active volcano on it called Shishaldin, and we were able to see it today. Pretty awesome!

Jason Moeller: June 19-20, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 19-20, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 54.29 N
Longitude: -165.13 W
Wind: 12.31 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 5.5 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 6.1 degrees Celsius
Humidity: 97%
Depth: 140.99 meters

Personal Log

Welcome aboard, explorers!

To be honest, there is not a great deal to write about for the personal log. My daily schedule has settled in quite nicely! I get off work at 4 in the morning, shower, sleep until 2:30 in the afternoon, and then head down to the acoustics room where we track the fish. When we are processing a catch (see the science and technology section of this blog), I am in the fish lab wearing bright orange waterproof clothes that make me resemble a traffic cone.

fishing gear
Jason in fishing gear.

The rest of the time is down time, which is spent reading, working on the blog, learning about the ship, and dreaming up lesson plans that I can use to torment my students. I hope they are interested in a summer fishing trip, as that is the one I am currently planning.

Most of the blog work involves running around and taking photographs. My wife’s camera was soaked beyond repair during the prank that was pulled (see the previous post) as Sarah was holding the camera when the wave came over the railing. Fortunately, there was another camera on board.

Our survey is keeping us very close to the coast and islands of Alaska. As a result, I’ve gotten some gorgeous photos. This place is just beautiful.

An island shrouded by clouds.
An island shrouded by clouds.

waterfall
A waterfall falls off into the ocean.

Wind
Jason in front of an island. It was a bit windy, but at least it was sunny!

view
Mountaintops visible just above the island coast. Jake took this photo while I was in the fish lab.

sunset
Sunset over Alaskan waters.

Science and Technology Log

Pollock
Walleye Pollock waiting to be processed

We finally started fishing! As I mentioned in my very first blog, the Oscar Dyson is surveying walleye pollock, which is an important fish species here in Alaska. Walleye pollock make up 56.3% of the groundfish catch in Alaska, and is eaten in fast food restaurants around the world such as Wendy’s, McDonalds, and Burger King. It is also used to make imitation crabmeat.

Our first catch had a little over 300 walleye pollock, and we processed all of them. Three hundred is an ideal sample size for this species. If, for example, we had caught 2,000 pollock, we would only have processed 300 of the fish, and we would have released the rest of them back into the ocean.

The photo captions below will provide a tour of the fish lab as well as introduce blog readers to the data we wish to collect and how scientists aboard the Oscar Dyson collect it.

Conveyer belt
This is the conveyor belt. After the catch is pulled on board, it is loaded onto this conveyor belt and moved down the belt and into the lab. At this point, the scientists separate the pollock from the rest of the sea life that was accidentally in the net. Today, the majority of the "extra" sea life were brittle stars, sponges, and a few squid.

Gender Box
Once the pollock and other sea life are separated, they are moved to this box to be sexed. In order to do this, we would have to cut the fish open and look at the internal organs of the fish. Once this was done, females would go over the yellow sign on the right and into the box that was hidden behind it. The males went into the box on the left.

Length Station
Once we had determined the pollock's gender, we moved to the measuring station, which was on the other side of the last station. We laid each individual fish on the table on top of the ruler, and then measured the fish from the head to the fork of its tail. We recorded the length by tapping the table at the fork of the fish's tail with a sensor that we carried in our hand. A sensor in the table recorded the data and sent it to the computer monitor seen above the table.

measuring pollock
Jason measures a pollock on the board!

From this catch (we will do this for any following catch as well) we also took and preserved twenty stomachs from random fish. This was done in order to later analyze what the pollock had eaten before they died. We also took forty otoliths from random pollock as well. An otolith is the ear bone of the pollock, and it is incredibly important to researchers as they will tell the pollock’s age in a similar manner to the way a tree’s rings will.

This is a pollock otolith!
This is a pollock otolith!

Stored Otoliths
After removing the otolith from the fish, they were put into these vials. Each pair of otoliths received their own vial.

While looking at pollock is the main focus of the survey, we did run into some other neat critters in this haul as well!

Atka Makerel
This is an Atka Mackerel. We also caught a salmon, but I didn't get a good look at it. Our kitchen grabbed it!

Basket Star
This is a basket starfish. We were trawling close to the bottom and pulled it up in the nets.

Lumpsucker
This is a lumpsucker! They spend their lives on the bottom where they eat slow-moving animals such as worms and mollusks.

Arrowtooth Flounder
This is an arrowtooth flounder. These are not very good eating fish, and are not the flounder found in the supermarket. Check out the nasty teeth in the photo below this one!

Flounder teeth
I wouldn't want to be bitten by this fish!

Rockfish
Finally, this is a rockfish! The red snapper that we see in the marketplace is often this fish instead.

Species Seen

Albatross
Northern Fulmar
Gulls
Rockfish
Walleye Pollock
Lumpsucker
Arrowtooth Flounder
Atka Mackerel
Salmon
Pacific Grenadier
Squid
Shrimp
Basket Starfish

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Today’s question is actually a request. It comes from Tish Neilson, one of our homeschool parents.

Hey Jason –
I had a super favor to ask of you. There is a little girl from Jackson’s school that is a 5th grader and she was recently diagnosed with leukemia. There have been some bracelets created for her that say “Going Bananas for Anna” to show support and several moms and I have gotten together and are putting together a scrapbook for her and trying to get as many people as possible wearing her bracelets in really cool places. Then we are having them take pictures to send to us to put in her scrapbook so she can she how far her bracelets have traveled and how many people are pulling for her. If it’s possible to do so and you would be willing to do it I would LOVE to try and get you a bracelet to take some pictures and send to me from Alaska. Her nickname is Anna Banana and she is always asking for pictures and such so that is why we came up with this idea.
Tish Neilson

Unfortunately, I had left for Alaska before I received the email, and as a result I do not have a bracelet. Hopefully, a sign will work just as well.

For Anna
Hi Anna! This is Unimak Island! It is one of the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska! Hang in there, we are rooting for you!

Tammy Orilio, My First Pollock Trawl, June 20, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 20 June 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 54.29 N
Longitude: -165.13 W
Wind Speed: 12.31 knots
Surface Water Temp: 5.5 degrees C
Water Depth: 140.99 m
Air Temp: 6.1 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 97%

Science & Technology Log: walleye pollock, which is an important fish species here in Alaska. Walleye pollock make up 56.3% of the groundfish catch in Alaska (http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/species/pollock.php), and chances are you’ve eaten it before.  It’s a commonly used fish in all of the fast food restaurants, in fish sticks, and it’s also used to make imitation crab meat.

Our first catch had a little over 300 walleye pollock, and we processed all of them. Three hundred is an ideal sample size for this species. If, for example, we had caught 2,000 pollock, we would only have processed 300 of the fish, and we would have released the rest of them back into the ocean.  Check out the photos/captions below to see how we process the catch.

Conveyer belt

Gender Box

Length Station
After sexing, we then measured the length of each fish. There’s a ruler embedded in the lab table, and we laid each fish down on the ruler. Then we put a hand-held sensor at the caudal (tail) fin of the fish, and the total length was recorded on a computer.

At the sexing station, cutting open pollack.
At the sexing station, cutting open pollack.

We also removed and preserved 20 stomachs from randomly selected fish in order to (later) analyze what they had been eating prior to them being caught. One of the last things we do is collect otoliths from each of those 20 fish. Otoliths are ear bones, and they are used to determine the age of a fish- they have rings, similar to what you see in trees.

Here’s a look at some of the bycatch in our nets:

Basket Star.  Marine 1: What phylum are sea stars in?
Basket Star. Marine 1: What phylum are sea stars in?

Arrowtooth flounder.
Arrowtooth flounder.

The reason(s) WHY they're called ARROWTOOTH flounder.
The reason(s) WHY they’re called ARROWTOOTH flounder.

Animals Spotted:
walleye pollock
chum salmon
rockfish
arrowtooth flounder
squid
basket star
Northern Fulmars
Gulls
Albatross (couldn’t tell what kind)
* I did spot some kind of pinniped yesterday, but have no idea what exactly it was!

Personal Log:
I was very excited that we finally got to fish today!!  As an added bonus, we caught 2 salmon in the trawl, which means we’re having salmon for dinner tonight!  We we supposed the have teriyaki steak, but the cook has changed it to teriyaki salmon instead 🙂  I didn’t get any pics of them because my gloves were covered in fish scales, blood, and guts by that point and I didn’t want to get any of that funk on my camera 🙂
We passed by Dutch Harbor yesterday- it should sound familiar if you watch Deadliest Catch.  We didn’t go into the Harbor, so no, I didn’t see any of the crab boats or any of the guys from the show!  Below are some pics of the Aleutian Islands that I’ve see thus far…many more to come, since we still have another 13 days (give or take) of sailing left!

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY:

  • The Aleutian Islands were formed at the boundary where the North American and Pacific Plates are coming together.  The Pacific Plate is denser than the North American Plate, so it slides underneath the North American Plate.  What is this type of plate boundary called (where plates move towards each other), and what is it called when one plate slides underneath another?
  • One thing we’re doing on this trip is trawling for fish.  We are conducting both mid-water and bottom trawls.  Describe one advantage and one disadvantage to trawling in order to gather scientific data.

Jason Moeller: June 17-18, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 17-18, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 52.34 N
Longitude: -167.51 W
Wind Speed: 7.25 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 6.6 Degrees C
Air Temperature: 7.1 Degrees C
Relative Humidity: 101%
Depth:  63.53 meters

All of the above information was found on http://shiptracker.noaa.gov. Readers can use this site to track exactly where I am at all times!

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

It has been a very eventful 24 hours! We have started fishing, but have done so little that I will wait to talk about that in the next log. Tammy, the other Teacher at Sea, has not begun fishing yet, and as we will be writing the science and technology log together, I will save the fishing stories until she has had a chance to fish.

After turning in last night’s log, we managed to spot eight or nine humpback whales on our starboard side that appeared to be feeding at the surface. They were too far away to get any decent photos, but it was a lot of fun to watch the spouts from their blowholes tower up into the air.

Whale Spouts
Ten whale spouts rise in the distance.

This afternoon started off by dropping an expendable bathythermograph (from here on out this will be referred to as an XBT). The XBT measures the temperature and depth of the water column where it is dropped (there will be more on this in the Science and Technology section). I was told that I would be dropping the XBT this time, and was led off by Sarah and Abby (two of the scientists on board) to get ready.

Ready to launch!
The first thing I had to do was to get dressed. I was told the XBT would feel and sound like firing a shotgun, so I had to put on eye, ear and head protection. I was also put in a fireman suit to protect my body from the kickback, since I am so small. The XBT launcher is the tube in my hands.

Pranked!
This is me launching the XBT. Why no smoke? All we actually needed to do was drop the device over the side. The whole shotgun experience was a prank pulled off by the scientists on all of the new guys. Their acting was great! When I turned towards Sarah at one point with the launcher, she ducked out of the way as if afraid I would accidentally fire it. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

However, the prank backfired somewhat. As the scientists were all laughing, a huge wave came up over the side of the ship and drenched us. I got nailed, but since I was in all of the gear, I stayed dry with the hem of my jeans being the only casualty. Sarah didn’t get so lucky. Fun times!

Sarah
Sarah looking a bit wet.

Science and Technology Log
Today, we will be looking at the XBT (the expendable bathythermograph). Bathy refers to the depth, and thermo refers to the temperature. This probe measures the depth and temperature of the water column when it is dropped over the starboard side of the ship.
“Dropping” isn’t exactly the right phrase to use. We use a launcher that resembles a gun. See the photo below to get an idea of what the launcher looks like.

XBT Launcher
This is the XBT Launcher.

Pin
The silver loop is the pin for the launcher. To launch the probe, we pulled the pin and flung out our arm. The momentum pushed the probe out of the tube and into the water below.

The probe
The probe.

The probe is connected to a length of copper wire, which runs continuously as the probe sinks through the water column. It is important to launch the probe as far away from the ship as possible, as the copper wire should never touch the ship. If the wire were to touch the ship, the data feed back to the ship would be disrupted and we would have to launch another probe, which is a waste of money and equipment. The survey technician decides to cut the wire when he/she has determined that sufficient data has been acquired. This normally occurs when the probe hits the ocean floor.

This is a quick and convenient way to collect data on the depth and temperature of the water column. While the ship has other methods of collecting this data (such as a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) probe), the XBT is a simpler system that does not need to be recovered (as opposed to the CTD).

CTD
A CTD

Data collected from the most recent XBT.
Latitude: 53.20 degrees N
Longitude: 167.46 degrees W
Temperature at surface: 6.7 degrees C
Temperature at bottom: 5.1 degrees C
Thermocline: 0 meters to 25 meters.
The thermocline is the area where the most rapid temperature change occurs. Beneath the thermocline, the temperature remains relatively constant.

Thermocline
This is a graph showing a thermocline in a body of water. Source: http://www.windows2universe.org

Species Seen

Humpback Whales

Northern Fulmar

Albatross

Northern Smoothtongue

Walleye Pollock

Mackerel

Lumpsucker

Squid

Pacific Sleeper Shark

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Today’s reader questions come from James and David Segrest, who are two of my students in Knoxville Zoo’s homeschool Tuesday classes!

1. Did pirates ever travel the path you are on now? Are there any out there now?

A. As far as I know, there are no pirates currently operating in Alaska, and according to the scientists, there were not any on the specific route that we are now traveling. However, Alaska does have a history of piracy! In 1910, a man named James Robert Heckem invented a floating fish trap that was designed to catch salmon. The trap was able to divert migrating salmon away from their normal route and into a funnel, which dumped the fish off into a circular wire net. There, the fish would swim around until they were taken from the trap.

Salmon and trap
Workers remove salmon from a fish trap in 1938. Historic Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife - Fisheries Collection - Photographer: Archival photograph by Mr. Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS.

For people who liked eating fish, this was a great thing! The salmon could be caught quickly with less work, and it was fresh, as the salmon would still be alive when taken from the trap. For the traditional fisherman, however, this was terrible news. The fishermen could not compete with the traps and found that they could not make a living. The result was that the fishermen began raiding the floating traps, using any means possible.

Salmon barge
A barge of salmon going to a cannery. Fishermen could not compete with traps that could catch more fish. Historic Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife - Fisheries Collection -Photographer: Archival photograph by Mr. Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS

The most common method used was bribery. The canneries that operated the traps would hire individuals to watch the traps. Fishermen would bribe the watchers, steal the fish, and then leave the area. The practice became so common that the canneries began to hire people to watch the trap-watchers.

2. Have you seen any sharks? Are there any sharks that roam the waters where you are traveling?

shark
Hi James and David! Here is your shark! It's a Pacific Sleeper Shark.

shark in net
The shark in the net

Shark
Another image of the shark on the conveyor belt.

This is a Pacific Sleeper Shark. It is called a sleeper shark as it does not appear to move a great deal, choosing instead to glide with very little movement of its fins. As a result, it does not make any noise underwater, making it the owl of the shark world. It hunts much faster fish (pollock, flounders, rockfish) by being stealthy. They are also known to eat crabs, octopus, and even snails! It is one of two animals known to eat giant squid, with the other one being sperm whales, although it is believed that these sharks probably scavenge the bodies of the much larger squid.

The other shark commonly seen is the salmon shark. Hopefully, we will catch one of these and I will have photos later in the trip.

Tammy Orilio, A Little Bit of Science…, June 18, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 18 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 52.34 N
Longitude: -167.51 W
Wind Speed: 7.25 knots
Surface Water Temp: 6.6 degrees C (~43.9 degrees F)
Water Depth: 63.53 m
Air Temp: 7.1 degrees C (~44.8 degrees F)
Relative Humidity: 101% (it’s very cloudy/foggy, but not raining)


Science & Technology Log:

The XBT Launcher mechanism.
The XBT Launcher mechanism.

Today I used the Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) a few times. The WHAT??   The expendable part means we use it once and don’t recover it.  Let’s break down the second part into the two main roots:  bathy– which refers to depth, and thermo which refers to temperature.  This probe measures the temperature and depth of the water when it is dropped over the starboard (right) side of the ship.

“Dropping” isn’t exactly the correct phrase- we use a launcher that kind of resembles a gun.  The probe sits inside of the black tube, and after we uncap the end of the tube, we basically fling our arm out over the side of the ship to launch the probe into the water.  I can’t show you any pics of the probe, because if we take it out of the black tube, it’ll start recording data.  The probe is connected to a length of copper wire, which runs continuously as the probe falls through the water column, collecting data.  It’s important to launch the probe as far away from the ship as possible, because if the copper wire touches the metal on the ship, the data feed will be disrupted and we’d have to launch another probe.  Big waste of money and equipment! One of the survey technicians decides to cut the wire (or tells me to) when they’ve decided that a sufficient amount of data has been collected, and we can then look at a graph to see the relationship between temperature and depth.
The XBT is a quick and easy method of data collection, and can be run while the ship is in motion.  The ship does have another piece of equipment- the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth meter (CTD)- to collect the same data, but the CTD is very big and bulky, and the ship must be stopped in order to deploy the CTD.  The CTD can also measure parameters such as dissolved oxygen concentration, current velocity, and other things (depending on the additional equipment on the meter).  The main advantage the XBT has is that it is quick and can be deployed as the ship is sailing.

from www.windows2universe.org
from http://www.windows2universe.org

Data Collected from an XBT probe today:
Latitude: 53.20 N
Longitude: -167.46 W
Water Temp at Surface: 6.7 degrees C
Water Temp at Bottom: 5.1 degrees C
Thermocline located from 0-25 meters depth

What is a thermocline, you ask?  Root word time!  We’ve already gone over thermo, and cline refers to a gradient, or where things change rapidly.  So, the thermocline is the area where you see the greatest change in temperature.  See the diagram as an example (it’s not our actual data).  Beneath the thermocline, the water temperature remains relatively constant.
Personal log:

Launching the XBT in full safety gear (minus the hardhat, it fell off)
Launching the XBT in full safety gear (minus the hardhat, it fell off)

Safety first, my friends.
Safety first, my friends.

Yesterday, as we were finally on our first transect of many, we needed to use the XBT to collect temperature and depth data.  A couple of the scientists told me that I could do it- yay, something for me to do!!  So I go to the lab room and see a ton of safety gear out- heavy coat, hardhat, gloves, soundproof earmuffs, goggles.  The survey tech tells me that I have to use all that protective gear because the XBT launcher is just like a gun- have I shot a gun before?  No!  So this is interesting.  I don the gear, and he explains what I need to do…which doesn’t seem that dangerous.  So now here I am, all geared up, and the rest of the scientists come trickling in to the lab to watch me.  That should’ve been a red light right there.  Why would they want to watch me do something so simple?  Turns out that it’s something that all the new people on the boat go through- we get all hyped up about shooting a loud gun, get loaded with gear, and then…not much.  So I basically got all dressed up in my protective gear for no other reason than the entertainment of the crew!!


QUESTION OF THE DAY:

Why is it important to know the temperature and/or depth of the water that we’re trawling in?

Tammy Orilio, Life at Sea, June 18, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 18 June 2011

Bunk beds
Bunk beds

Since we haven’t yet arrived at our first fishing spot yet, I’m going to let you all know what life has been like onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  I am on the 4 a.m. – 4 p.m. work shift, but since we haven’t been doing much in terms of trawling/collecting fish, I haven’t had to get up at 4 in the morning yet!  Another day or so (definitely not tomorrow, I’m told) and I will have to re-adjust my sleep schedule so I can wake up at 3:45 for my shift!  But for the time being, I’ve been waking up around 9:00.  Breakfast is served in the mess hall from 7-8, but I’m a cereal junkie, so missing the hot breakfast is no big deal for me.  Speaking of cereal, I just had Life for the first time and love it 🙂

The teeny tiny head.  Smaller than any dorm bathroom I've been in!
The teeny tiny head. Smaller than any dorm bathroom I’ve been in!

My whole stateroom. Not much room!
My whole stateroom. Not much room!

Back to my day.  When I wake up, I have to be very quiet moving around my stateroom because my bunkmate works the 4 p.m. – 4 a.m. shift and is still sleeping.  I first head down to the acoustics lab one deck below my sleeping quarters to find out what’s on the agenda for the day.  So far, it’s been a lot of trials/test runs to see if all the equipment is working properly. I’ve also spent some time with the other scientists that are on the day shift with me, and they’ve been great at explaining how they use sound to help them locate fish.  When I’m not with the science team, (which so far, has been fairly often!) I’m usually in the lounge and/or conference room watching movies or reading.  There are over 1000 movies on board!  I try to stay out of my stateroom because my bunkmate is asleep, so I try to take everything I might want for the day with me- Kindle, camera, computer, iPod.

After my shift ends at 4 p.m., I either read some more or go to the “gym.”  There are actually two gyms on board, each with a treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, etc etc.  I definitely need to go after all the great food I’ve been eating on this trip!  Adam and Joe, our stewards, always make sure to have a variety of delicious foods out at every meal.  Here’s what was on the dinner menu tonight:  bacon wrapped tenderloin steak, shrimp & crab St. Jacques, twice baked potato, green beans, and focaccia bread.  In addition, there’s always salad fixings to choose from.  I’m eating better here than I do at home, so stopping at the gym is necessary.

After dinner, I head back to my stateroom to shower and update my blog 🙂  Showering on a moving vessel is quite an experience, and tonight was actually the first time I had to hang on to the handle in the shower- makes it very difficult to wash your hair with one hand!  Then I read or watch a movie, and head to bed.  I’m on the bottom bunk (because I got to the ship 2 days before my bunkmate!), which is better in terms of the motion of the boat.  Less of a chance to fly into the air and fall out of bed 🙂  Our bunks have a little curtain that wraps around them, so we can block out as much light as possible- remember, way up here in Alaska it doesn’t get dark until well after midnight, so I need that curtain!

That’s about it for my shipboard life so far.  I know I keep saying that we’ll get to work in another day or so, but I promise, we’re starting tomorrow!  Be on the lookout for more science-y logs from me.  We are back in some rough seas again, so I’m taking some Dramamine and hitting the sack!!  Let me know if you have any questions about ANYTHING!

Kathleen Brown: Last Days at Sea, June 16-17, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Brown
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 7 – 18, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Dates: June 16-17, 2011

June 17, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 9:27 AM
Winds 7.2 KTs
Air Temperature: 14.89 degrees C
Latitude 41 47.28 N
Longitude 069 49.13 W

Personal Log

We are headed back into Woods Hole sometime tomorrow.

In one of my conversations with Captain Jimmy, he told me that he likes scientists to “enter the ship as customers and leave as family.” Without a doubt, I feel like the whole R/V Hugh R. Sharp team has made that happen. From the excellent meals cooked three times daily, to the willingness of the crew to answer any of my questions, I have felt included and welcome.

Sunset from the deck
Sunset from the deck

My fellow scientists have made travel on this journey fun and worthwhile. I can’t count the number of times someone yelled over to me, “Hey Kathleen, get a picture of this. Your students will love it!” It has been a pleasure to be around others who are curious and passionate about the sea.

In my classroom, I try to convey to my students that science is about collaboration. I will have many real life examples to share with them when I return.

My thanks to the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program, my colleagues and students at Freeport Middle School, and my family, for supporting me on this adventure of a lifetime!

June 16, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1:28 PM
Winds 9.3 KTs
Air Temperature: 14.67 degrees C
Latitude 41 08.86 N
Longitude 069 20.97 W

Science and Technology Log

It has been amazing to me to see the variations in the catches from the many tows. When the tension on the wire used to haul the net is high, it might be because we have a huge haul of sea scallops. Sometimes the table will be filled with so many sand dollars it is difficult to see anything else. We had a number of tows that contained large amounts of brittle stars. The arms of the brittle stars move like little worms. (It is eerie to see thousands of them wiggling.) The last tow, in the open area, had only forty-six scallops. The pile was filled with quahogs, urchins, starfish, sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, and rocks. Sometimes the animals we collect are covered in mud and sometimes the sediment is very sandy. We are now traveling in the shipping channel and the sea floor is rocky. Before we began to tow in this area, the scientists put the rock chains on the dredge. There is also a metal chute attached to the table so that the larger rocks can more easily be rolled back into the ocean.

Brittle Stars
Brittle Stars

We have now completed the inventories in the closed areas of Georges Bank. I learn that large areas in the Gulf of Maine had originally been closed as a measure to restore groundfish stocks. What scientists discovered is that, over time, the sea scallops flourished in the closed areas. It was an unintended result of the fisheries management policies.

There is always something interesting to learn about the species that we collect. Sea scallops have the ability to move through the water column by clapping their shells together. Sometimes, moving up five or six inches can mean escape from a predator like a starfish. (Of note, during this study we also count and measure empty sea scallop shells, provided that they are still hinged together. These empty shells are called clappers.) Speaking of starfish, on this trip we have seen five species of starfish, in colors ranging from purple to yellow to orange. The common name for my favorite starfish is sunburst, an animal that looks just like it sounds. Monkfish, sometimes referred to as goosefish, are called an angler fish. There is a modified spine at the top of its mouth that appears as though the fish is dangling bait. With this structure, the monkfish can lure a prey near its enormous mouth (and sharp teeth) and capture it. The longhorn sculpin feel like they hiss or grunt when they are picked up. I have learned that it is likely the sound is the vibration of a muscle in their chest.

Scientist of the day watch
Scientist of the day watch

The technology used to support the science on this survey is remarkable. In the dry lab, there are fifteen computer screens being used to track all of the data collected. These are in addition to the many that are being used to manage the ship. Everything is computerized: the CTD collection, the route mapping, and the information about the species we are catching. After each tow, the Chief Scientist or Crew Chief can immediately plot the data from the catch. Several screens show images from the cameras that are placed at various locations on board the deck. From the dry lab, the scientists can watch the dredge go in and out and view the tension on each cable. When the technology fails, as it did for four hours one day this week, it is up to the crew and scientists to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it.

When the ship is off shore for hundreds of miles, the skills and talents of each individual on board must be accessed for anything that happens out of the ordinary. The Captain is the chief medical officer. The crew acts as firefighters. The scientists and crew work together on mechanical issues – like yesterday when the hydraulics on the CTD stopped working. Working aboard a scientific research vessel is perfect for those who are flexible and innovative.

Personal Log

It is difficult to explain how beautiful the scene from the back deck of the ship looks. All I can see to the horizon lines is dark blue water. Flocks of seagulls follow the ship to scavenge the buckets of fish we throw overboard. Last evening the full moon was bright and round. When I breathe in the salt air, I think about how grateful I am that I am here.

Question of the Day
Why are the rubber rain pants worn by marine workers called “oilers”?

Jason Moeller: June 14-16, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 14-16, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

June 14

I think I posted my last log too soon, because as soon as I hit the send button interesting things began to happen. First, I was called up to see some Mountain Goats feeding in the wild! I was able to take a picture of them as well! (Well, kind of…)

goats
The mountain goats were so far away I had to use binoculars just to spot them. If you can spot the two tiny white dots to the right of the snow, that is them! There is also one that is on the left hand side in the middle of the photograph. You will have to take my word for it.

While this was going on, the professional members of the science team were still calibrating the sonar that we are going to use to catch the fish! I have explained the process in the captions of the following photographs.

sonar balls
Calibrating starts with these little balls. The one used to calibrate our sonar was made of Tungsten (like the black ball at the top)

Pole
The ball was suspended underneath the water on three poles, placed in a triangular shape, around the ship. This is a photo of one of the poles.

Screen.
Once the ball was placed underneath the boat, the scientist swept sound waves off of the ball and used the above screen to see where the sound waves were striking the ball and reflecting. This allowed them to adjust the sound waves to hit the ball (or out in the ocean, the fish) exactly where they wanted it. This optimizes the amount of sound coming back to the boat and paints a better picture of what is under the water.

The process took several hours, but once we finished, we headed back out to sea to start the two-day journey towards our first fishing spot!

June 15-16

The most common sight off of the boat for the past two days has been this one.

Water
Water, water, everywhere

We are currently in Unimak Pass, which will lead us to the Bering Sea! Unimak Pass is the fastest sea route from the United States into Asia, and as a result is a common merchant route between Seattle and Japan. It is also the best way to avoid rough seas and bad weather when travelling between the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, as it receives some cover from the landmass.

The Bering Sea likely needs no introduction, as it is arguably the best crab fishing waters on the planet and is well-known from the television show The Deadliest Catch. Aside from crab, the Bering Sea is teeming with life such as pollock, flounder, salmon, and halibut. As a result of this diverse and tasty biomass, the Bering Sea is an incredibly important area to the world’s fisheries.

Steaming towards our destination has kept us away from any land, but there are still things to do and to see! We did a second dry cast of the net, but this time two different pieces of equipment were tested.

The net
The first piece of equipment was a special net for taking samples. The net has three sections, called codends, which can be opened and closed individually. You can see two of the codends in this photo. On top of the green net, you should see black netting that is lined with white rope. These are the codends.

net 2
This is a better view of the codends. The codends are opened and closed using a series of six bars. When the first bar is dropped, the first codend is able to take in fish. When the second bar is dropped, the codend is unable to take in fish. The bar system has not worked incredibly well, and there is talk of removing one of the codends to make the net easier to use.

camera
The second piece of equipment was this camera, which was attached to the net. It allowed us to see what was coming in the net. Even though this was a dry run and we were not catching anything, I still saw a few Pollock in the camera!

Even though this was a test run and we did not catch any fish, the birds saw the net moving and came to investigate. The remaining photographs for the personal log are of the several species of birds that flew by the boat.

Bird 1
A Northern Fulmar flies alongside the Oscar Dyson

Bird 2
An albatross (by the thin wire just below the spot the water meets the horizon) flies away from the Oscar Dyson

Bird 3
Fulmar's and Gulls wheel about the Oscar Dyson, looking for fish.

Science and Technology Log

This section of the blog will be written after we start fishing for Pollock in the next day or so!

New Species

Mountain Goats

Northern Fulmar

Albatross

Gulls

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

First, I owe a belated shout out to Dr. John, Knoxville Zoo’s IT technician. He lent me the computer that I am currently using to post these logs, and I forgot to mention him in the last post. Thanks Dr. John!

The two questions of the day also come from Kaci, a future Teacher at Sea with NOAA.

1. What is it like sleeping on the boat?

A. Honestly, I am being jostled around quite a bit. Part of this is due to the way the beds are set up. The beds go from port to starboard (or right to left for the landlubbers out there) instead of fore to aft (front to back). This means that when the boat rolls, my feet will often be higher than my head, which causes all of blood to rush to my head. I still haven’t gotten used to the feeling yet.

Part of the jostling, though, is my fault. I had heard that most individuals took the bottom bunks given the option, and since I was one of the first individuals on board, I decided to be polite and give my roommate, who outranked me by some 10-15 years at sea, the bottom bunk. It turns out that the reason people pick the bottom bunk is that the top bunk moves around more since it is higher off the floor. I’ve heard stories about people being thrown from the top bunk in heavy seas as well.

The most comfortable place to sleep has turned out to be the beanbag chair in the common room. It is considered rude to go into your room if your shift ends early, as your roommate may still be sleeping. My shift ended two hours early the other night, so I sat down on the beanbag chair to catch some zs. The ship’s rocking was greatly reduced by the bean bag chair, and I slept very well for the next couple of hours.

2. Is it stressful so far?

A. The only stressful part of the trip so far has been the seasickness, which I have not yet been able to shake. The rest of it has been a lot of fun!

Follow the Ship!

I just found out about a great tool for those of you that want to follow the path that we’re taking on this expedition.  Go to http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/ , choose Oscar Dyson (DY), and the resulting map will show you where we’ve been, as well as our current location.
Looking at the current map, you can see why it’s taken so long for us to get to our first sampling location.  We departed from Kodiak on Monday night, and spent all of Tuesday at Three Saints Bay- that’s the little “dip” back into Kodiak that you see.  From there, we’ve just been sailing towards the western Aleutians.  Today, we cut through some of the islands to the northern side because the seas were pretty rough (I was feeling a little seasick for a while there). Last time I checked, we were scheduled to arrive at our first location tomorrow (Friday 6/17) morning, and will be conducting our first trawl shortly thereafter.  Science logs are soon to come, along with more of my entertaining personal logs 🙂

Jason Moeller: June 13-14, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 13-14, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back explorers!

June 13th

Kodiak Dock
A view of the dock as we finally leave!

We are finally underway! The weather cleared up on the 12th, so the rest of our scientific party was finally able to make it in from Anchorage. The scientists did not arrive until later in the day, but at 9:00 in the morning, the Oscar Dyson finally left port in order to run some tests, including a practice cast of the fishing net!

island in harbor
An island in Kodiak Harbor. Kodiak is hidden by the island in this photograph.

Open Ocean
Open ocean, straight ahead!

Net spool
Casting the net was a tricky process that took about 30-45 minutes. (I did not time the process.) The casting started by unhooking the edge of the net from this giant spool. The net was wrapped tightly around this spool when not in use.

net caster
Next, the net was hooked to the mechanism that would lower the net in the water. (The mechanism is the yellow object that looks like an upside-down field goal post)

net hooked up
This is a photo of the net being hooked up to the casting mechanism

net being unwound
Once attached, the mechanism then pulled up on the net to start unwinding the net from the spool. Once the net was properly unwinding, the net was lowered into the water to begin fishing!

Once the tests were completed, we headed back towards the harbor to pick up the rest of the scientists. Once we were all on the vessel, we held a quick briefing on the ship rules. This was followed by a meeting among the scientists where shifts were handed out. I am on the 4 PM to 4 AM shift, also known as the night shift! Hopefully, I will see some northern lights during the few hours that we actually have darkness. After the meeting and a fast guided tour, I went to bed, as I was extremely seasick. Hopefully, that is a temporary issue.

June 14

I woke up to discover that the ship has anchored in a protected cove for the day in order to calibrate the acoustic devices on board that are used for fishing. This is a time consuming but necessary process as we will need the baseline data that the scientists receive by calibrating the device. However, that means that there is not much to do except for eating, sleeping, watching movies (we have over 1,000 aboard) and enjoying the beautiful scenery. As we are in a quiet cove with no waves, I am not currently sick and decided to enjoy the scenery.

cove 1
The next four images are from the back of the ship. If printed, you can go from left to right and get a panoramic view.

cove 2

cove 3

cove 4

Jellyfish
I know the image is bad, but can you see the white blob in the middle of the water? That is a jellyfish!

mountain
Here is a photograph from the side of the boat of a snow-capped mountain. Even though it is summer here, there is still quite a bit of snow.

waterfall
This is another image off the side of the boat. A waterfall falls off into the ocean.

waterfall 2
A closer shot of the waterfall. This place is just gorgeous!

Science and Technology

The Science and technology segment of the blog will be written at the start of the Walleye Pollock survey, which should begin in the next day or so.

Species Seen

Jellyfish!

Arctic Tern

Gulls

Reader Question(s) of the Day

I received a few questions from Kaci, who will be a TAS here in September!

1. What is the temperature here?

A. The temperature has been in the mid to upper 40s, so much cooler then back home in Knoxville, Tennessee, where we were getting 90 degree days! It’s actually been pleasant, and I have not been cold so far on this trip.

2. What did you bring?

A. The temperature affected what I brought in terms of clothing. I started with a weeks worth of shorts and t-shirts, which I stuffed in my check in bag, and then two days worth of clothes in my backpack just in case my checked bag didn’t get it. Our other TAS, Tammy, got stuck here with only the clothes on her back, so a backup set of clothes was necessary. In addition, I have several pairs of jeans, 2-3 sweatshirts, a heavy coat, and under armor to round out the clothing. The under armor and heavy coat have been great, it’s why I haven’t been cold. I also packed  all of my toiletries (though I forgot shampoo and had to buy it here.

In terms of electronics, I have my iPod, computer, and my wife’s camera with me. (A special shout out to Olivia is in order here, thanks for letting me use the camera! I am being VERY careful with it!). I have a lot of batteries for the camera, which I have needed since I’ve already gone through a pair!

Just for fun, I brought my hockey goalie glove and ball to use in working out. We have weight rooms aboard the ship, which I will definitely need since the food is fantastic!

I hope that answers those questions, and I will answer more in the next post!

Kathleen Brown: This Week at Sea! June 12-14, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Brown
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 7 – 18, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Dates: June 12-14, 2011

June 14, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 3:32 PM
Winds 13.0 KTs
Air Temperature: 10.78 degrees C
Latitude 41 40.26N Longitude 068 19.96W

Science and Technology Log

Basket of Scallops
Basket of Scallops

Today I have been thinking about sampling. On this leg of the Scallop Survey, we may dredge up to 150 times. Each dredge is called a station. The stations on the trip are generally selected at random, from the places along the bottom of the ocean that scientists expect to find scallops. Once in a while we stop at a non-random station. This is a location that scientists have been studying for a number of years. By selecting the same location over and over again, scientists can see how the scallop population is changing. One scientist uses the data collected at the non-random stations to age the scallops. Scallop shells have rings that scientists can count to see how old the scallop is. (This is similar to the way that a scientist might tell the age of a tree.)

Every time the net is hauled onto the table, we sort every item that has been pulled up from the ocean. Of course sea scallops are the species that are being studied, but we count all the fish as well. The scallops are placed in orange baskets, similar in size and shape to a round laundry basket. Once a basket is filled to the top, we grab another basket. On some tows, there are no sea scallops. On tows where scallops are abundant, there have been as many as 30 baskets full of scallops. If we have collected a few baskets of scallops, we will measure the length of each animal. However, imagine trying to measure and count every scallop in thirty baskets. (My fellow scientist Aaron and I have found that we typically measure 250-300 scallops per basket.) It would not be practical, especially in locations where stations are close to each other. There just wouldn’t be enough time. In those cases, the Crew Chief will select, randomly, the baskets that will be sorted and measured. Usually, it is one fourth of the total sea scallop catch. This is called a sub-sample. Scientists can use the data to extrapolate (estimate) the size and character of the catch.

Smaple a scallop
Sampling a scallop

Scallops that come up from the tows vary in ways other than in size and age. Some of the oldest sea scallops that have been dredged up have been covered with small ecosystems. Barnacles, sea sponges, and algae are firmly attached to the shell. Many of the sea scallops have been so crusted that we had to remove the colonies of barnacles before we could measure them.

We have not been able to see any stars at night, as it has been overcast the whole trip. I had hoped to see a brilliant night sky. Last night I was able to count three other vessels out on the water – small lights bobbing off in the distance.

Personal Log

The day crew has developed a great bond. We have fun joking and telling stories. Before we head out on deck, we each guess the number of species that we might see in the tow. The friendly competition makes us laugh. In the galley, there is a satellite television. If the ship is traveling in a certain direction, we can receive a signal. Can you imagine being 200 miles out in the ocean and watching the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks play in the Stanley Cup finals? Go Boston!

Question of the Day

In areas where American sea scallops are abundant, what other marine animals would scientists expect to find?

 

June 12, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 12:50 PM
Winds 18.7 KTs
Air Temperature: 11.33 degrees C
Latitude 41 18.20N
Longitude 066 49.56W

Science and Technology Log

The Chief Scientist, Kevin, shared some information with me this morning that helps to put our work into perspective. NOAA conducts an annual sea scallop survey, which covers an area from Cape Hatteras to Georges Bank. I am traveling on the second leg of the 2011 survey. Over time scientists and fisherman use the data to track the distribution of the sea scallops. The scallop catch is reported in numbers and disaggregated (broken down) by the size of the animals. Catches are categorized by the size of the scallops’ shell height: less than or equal to 90 mm, greater than 90 mm, and greater than or equal to 100mm. (Notice how scientists use the metric system of measurement to report their results.)

To be sure that the information being compared is valid, scientists use the same type of equipment and the same procedure on every tow and on every trip. According to Kevin, fifteen-minute tows are made at the speed of 3.8 KTs. That means that the dredge is pulled behind the boat for the same time and at the same speed. The dredge (think big, square fishing net) is called a modified 8-foot New Bedford type scallop dredge and it travels along the bottom of the ocean floor to get the sample. It is made of chains linked together and has a liner made out of nylon rope that helps to keep the small scallops in the dredge. Nate, the Crew Chief on my watch, and Sam, a graduate student studying scallops, share with me their experiences on a commercial scallop boat. Those vessels typically have two dredges, each one approximately fifteen feet wide. Imagine the numbers of scallops those ships can catch!

On selected tows, random scallops are studied. On one tow, Aaron and I work together to sample five scallops. First we scrub the outside of the scallop really well, using a wire brush. When we measure and weigh the scallop, we will work to get as accurate a result as possible. Once we have collected data on the exterior of the scallop, I cut it open. Immediately we can tell if the scallop is a male or a female. If the scallop is a male, the gonad is white. If a scallop is a female, the gonad is red. We weigh the gonad and then we weigh the “meat.” The meat is the part of the scallop that most people eat. It is the muscle of the animal. Finally, we save the shells for the scientist back on land who has requested the data.

I have been taking lots of photographs of everything that we have been studying on the cruise. I will upload them when I return to land because of the limited Internet connection on the ship.

Personal Log

I have been sleeping really well on this ship. It doesn’t take very long, once I get to my cabin and climb into my bunk, for me to fall asleep. Working twelve hours in the salt air can make a body tired! Once in awhile, the ship will rock back and forth in a way that wakes me up. I look at my wristwatch and return to sleep. What a great feeling to wake up rested in the morning.

Question of the Day
What does by-catch mean? Why is it important that scientists measure the number and size of the by-catch in each tow?

Tammy Orilio, We are Underway!, June 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 13 June 2011

Three Saints Bay, Alaska
Three Saints Bay, Alaska
This is what the window in my stateroom looks out to. It's a waterfall!
This is what the window in my stateroom looks out to. It’s a waterfall!

After being in Alaska since Friday June 10th, our ship has finally set sail!  The last of the crew and science team arrived this evening, and we immediately left port.  Our first stop is a calm bay so we can calibrate the acoustic equipment to establish some baseline data.  Once we got underway, we had a meeting with the science team, and I found out that I’d be working the 4 a.m. – 4 p.m. shift.  I’ll take that over the night shift any time!  I don’t have much to do for the next day or two, since we will not be trawling for fish yet, so I’m doing a lot of reading and napping.  Rough work.  I know the easy life will be over soon enough, so I have to take advantage while I can!My goal as we’re making way to our first sampling station is to not get seasick.  I’ve been out on two other research cruises, but they were on much smaller ships (R/V Bellows and R/V Suncoaster), and I was fine on those trips, so hopefully the same can be said for this excursion.  However, the Gulf of Alaska is a little more foreboding than the Atlantic Ocean between Florida and the Bahamas, so that’s definitely something to consider!  I just took one of my pills and put on some special wristbands that are supposed to help.  I have no idea what these wristbands actually do- my guess is that it’s all psychological and I just paid $10 for a placebo 🙂
I almost forgot to mention- my bags are here!  The science team checked them when they finally got their flight over to Kodiak from Anchorage.  It will be so nice to have real clean clothes- not new from the store clothes- to change into!

QUESTION OF THE DAY:

Penguins and alcids (a group of birds that includes auks, murres, and puffins) live in similar habitats and ecological conditions, but are found in two completely separate geographic areas.  Both groups of birds evolved to have similar characteristics.  What is this phenomenon called?I’m asking because I saw some murres today…but didn’t get any good pictures 🙁

We've been anchored here all day Tuesday 6/14/11.
We’ve been anchored here all day Tuesday 6/14/11.

Jason Moeller: June 12, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 12th, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back explorers!

fog over Kodiak
Fog over Kodiak

Once again, I woke up this morning to a thick, heavy fog and drizzling rain that enveloped Kodiak like a wet, soggy blanket. While Tammy, who will be the other Teacher at Sea with me, was able to make it into Kodiak, the majority of our science party is still stuck in Anchorage, trying to get aboard a flight. Even though Tammy was able to make it in, her suitcase and clothes did not follow suit, and she was forced to make a Wal-mart run. The result of the weather has been a delay on the cruise, and we hope to set sail for equipment trials tomorrow.

As usual, I had a great day regardless of the rain. I started by helping our steward (cook) stock up on supplies for the ship’s galley. For 40 people on a 19 day cruise, we have $25,000 worth of food stashed away on board. It takes quite a bit of money to stock up a ship!

A river to the ocean
This is a photo of the river I explored weaving its way to the ocean.

After helping shop for the fresh produce, I had the rest of the day off, so I turned to my favorite Kodiak past time, and decided to embark on another bear photo hunt. In addition to bears, I was also on the lookout for salmon (I do not count eating salmon as seeing it) and bald eagles, both of which should be common. Today’s location was the same river that I explored on my first day, but I was much further south. My starting point was where the river met the ocean, and then I walked inland. I will let the photos and captions talk from this point on.

The Beach
I turned left to explore the beach first. It is a black sand beach, the first I have ever seen.

The Beach pic 2
This photo is of the same beach, and better shows the fog cover we had today.

Waterfall 1
While walking down the beach, I noticed a freshwater stream coming out of the woods and winding down to the ocean. I ducked under a pine tree at the edge of the beach and saw this waterfall.

Waterfall 2
Another photo of the waterfall.

Waterfall 3
The same waterfall, falling away towards the ocean.

Bald Eagle
After I left the waterfall, I continued to walk down the beach, and just happened to look up at the right moment to capture this bald eagle, high above the trees. They are so common here that the eagles are jokingly called roaches of the north.

2 eagles
I saw a total of 8 bald eagles, including this pair in the trees. The fog makes them a bit difficult to pick out.

River 1
After exploring the beach, I headed upstream to look for salmon and bears. This is what the river looked like by the ocean.

path
The path by the river was difficult, if it was there at all. Most of the time, I just trudged my way through it. There was not a dry spot on me by the time I finished the hike. It was worth it though.

Marsh
For the first half mile, the river was in a marshland, which the photo shows accurately. However, the marshland quickly gave way to pine forests, which can be seen in the next image.

River in the woods
The river running through the woods.

woods
A photo of the woods running alongside of the river.

Lichen
In the end, I didn't see any bears or salmon in the river, and the vegetation became too thick to go on without a trail. As I was leaving, however, to head back to the ocean and catch my ride home, I ran across this piece of white lichen which contrasted with the darkened woods surrounding it. For me, the photo was worth the trip.

Science and Technology Log

The Science and Technology log will begin at the start of the Walleye Pollock survey.

Species Seen

Bald Eagles!!!

Arctic Tern

Gulls

Magpie

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Reader questions of the day will start at the beginning of the Walleye Pollock survey! At the moment, I have not received any questions yet, so please send them in! I can take questions at jmoeller@knoxville-zoo.org.

My Travails Thus Far…

I left for Alaska on the morning of June 10th- my flight out of Ft. Lauderdale was at 11:50.  Being the smart packer I am, I had a carry on bag with an extra change of clothes, some toiletries, and my heavy jacket.  This was going to be a long trip to get to Alaska, with lots of opportunities for my checked luggage to get lost, so I thought I’d be proactive.

No problems getting to Houston, and then on another plane from Houston to Anchorage.  Once I arrived in Anchorage Friday night around 7:45 their time (which is 4 hours behind us), my short flight to Kodiak was delayed by an hour.  Then two hours, three, then canceled altogether.  Apparently, the weather is very overcast in Kodiak and no planes are flying in or out.  So now, I’m in Anchorage (with all my bags, yay!) and have to find a hotel room, which was no biggie.  I go outside to wait for the hotel shuttle, and it’s about 10:45 p.m. and it’s bright sunlight!  Kind of weird, think about it- you’re getting ready to go out on a Friday night, and leave the house at 11:00, and it’s still light out.

My flight to Kodiak is re booked for Saturday at 9:45 a.m., so I get to the airport at 8:45, and my flight is already delayed due to weather.  One hour turns to two, two to three…I’m making phone calls to make sure the ship doesn’t leave without me(!) and I find out that most of the scientific party is stuck in Anchorage as well, so that makes me feel better.  My flight is now rescheduled to 7:20 p.m., so I just hang out at the airport all day.  What fun.

7:20 rolls around, and flight is delayed…until about 9:00 when it finally clears up enough in Kodiak for the pilot to land the plane.  So yipee, I’m finally getting on the plane to Kodiak and will be getting on the ship!!  I arrive in Kodiak and no bags show up.

Leaving Anchorage (at 9:30 p.m.) on my way to Kodiak finally!
Leaving Anchorage (at 9:30 p.m.) on my way to Kodiak finally!

Remember when I was bragging earlier about how smart I was, bringing my carryon with extra clothes in it?  Well, I checked it for this leg of the trip b/c I was lazy and didn’t feel like carrying it anymore 🙁  So now I’m in Kodiak with just a backpack of electronics and money.  Great.  One last flight from Anchorage arrives about 20 minutes after mine, and I barely want to look at the bags on the carousel.  Of course neither of mine are there.  They’re still in Anchorage, and will arrive on the first flight Sunday.  Keep in mind that as I’m writing this, it’s 3:20 p.m. Sunday, and no flights have yet to arrive because of the inclement weather.  I hop in a cab and speed to Wal-Mart (b/c it closes at midnight, and it’s 11:30 by the time I get in the cab) to grab some sweats to sleep in (I’ve been wearing the same jeans and t-shirt since Friday morning) and toiletries.  My bags DID get on a plane to Kodiak around 7:00 this morning, but the plane had to return to Anchorage b/c of the bad weather here.  Luckily (for me, not them), some of the scientific party is still stuck in Anchorage, and they’ve gotten my bags and will bring them whenever they get here.  So at least I know (hope) the bags are in reliable hands.  I’ve spent today just hanging out on the ship, because it’s been raining all day, and I have no raingear to protect me, so I can’t even go out exploring some of the hiking trails around here without fear of soaking the only clothes I have.

The harbor where the Oscar Dyson is docked. Just a bit overcast.
The harbor where the Oscar Dyson is docked. Just a bit overcast.

This has been quite an eventful trip thus far, and we haven’t even left port yet. We’re scheduled to leave at 0900 Monday, but the rest of the science crew and some deckhands aren’t here yet, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Jason Moeller: June 11, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 11, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

Kodiak
Kodiak, Alaska

Today was my official first day in Kodiak Alaska! Kodiak is a small city on Kodiak Island, which lies off the southern coast of Alaska. The city had a population of 6,653 people in 2009, and is likely growing due to its unique population of animals, including salmon, Kodiak bears, and bald eagles. The city’s main livelihood comes from the ocean, where halibut, pollock, several species of salmon, scallops, and crabs are pulled from the waters surrounding the island. A second source of income comes from tourism.

I woke up today to find the city covered in mist with rain steadily falling. This was bad news for several of our scientists and Tammy, the other teacher at sea on our trip, as they were unable to fly in from Anchorage due to the weather.

Stateroom
Jason's Stateroom on the Oscar Dyson

The weather, however, did not stop me from having an active day in the city. The first thing that I did was move onto the ship into my stateroom, where I will be sleeping during the research expedition. I was surprised at the size, as the room was larger than several college dorm rooms that I had seen.

Once I was moved in, I began to explore the ship. While I have not been given an official guided tour as of yet (that will happen when Tammy arrives), I was able to move around and find some of the rooms that I will be in frequently during the trip.

Acoustic Room
This is the sound/acoustic room, where we will look for the fish using sonar!

Command Deck
This is the command deck of the Oscar Dyson. If I ask nicely, will they let me drive?

Mess hall
The all important mess hall!

Kodiak Bridge
Fred Zharoff Memorial Bridge

In talking with several individuals onboard, I found out that some of the best hiking in the area was within walking distance of the Oscar Dyson. Even better, hikers in this area occasionally saw bears. As I still wanted to see a bear in the wild, I immediately left for the bridge that would take me to another island right off the coast of Kodiak Island. I passed through town on the way.

After walking through town, I reached this bridge and crossed it.

The Island
This is the island that I was headed to.

After crossing the bridge, I came across the following park which had some stunning nature trails. I am going to let my photographs do the talking for this next part of the blog, as words do not do justice for the beauty of this place.

Tree
There were many of these thick bodied pines in the park.

Moss
This image, as well as the next, shows the abundant moss in the woods. It carpeted the forest floor completely!

moss image 2

ocean view
A nice view of the ocean from the trail.

ocean view 2
Another beautiful view of the ocean from the trail.

moss on bushes
Many of the low-lying bushes also had moss and lichens on them.

Elderberries
One of the most common trees was the Pacific Red Elderberry. Elderberries are often used for making wines, and occasionally as the punchline in a joke.

Trees
A few Elderberry trees!

Surprisingly, I did not see a great deal of wildlife, only seeing songbirds. I still have time to see a bear, but I did not spot one today and did not see any bear tracks. Deer tracks were in abundance but I did not see any deer on the pathways.

All in all, I was out hiking on the trails for over three hours, and was soaking wet when I got back.

After the hike and a change of clothes (it rained the entire time), I went out to dinner with a few of the ship’s engineers to a sushi/seafood restaurant. The salmon just melted in my mouth, I have never had salmon that fresh. I also had the opportunity to taste Alaskan king crab, and wish that I hadn’t. I am now addicted, and it is expensive at $47.00 a pound being the market price!

Science and Technology Log

The science and technology section of this blog will begin after the survey of the Walleye Pollock has been started.

Species Seen

Arctic Tern

Pacific Red Elderberry

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

The reader question(s) of the day will start after the survey of the walleye pollock begins. I will answer at least one question during each log, and hopefully will be answering more than one. Please submit your questions to me at jmoeller@knoxville-zoo.org.

Kathleen Brown: Sea Science, June 11, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Brown
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 7 – 18, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 11, 2011

June 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 12:50 PM
Winds 12.9 KTs
Air Temperature: 11.94 C
Latitude 41 05.84N
Longitude 067 25.88 W

Science and Technology Log

Lowering the CTD
Lowering the CTD

Every third station along the journey, the crew takes a CTD reading. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. Using a submersible set of probes, the characteristics of the ocean water are measured at set intervals, from the surface to the sea bottom, and then again from the sea bottom to the surface. Wynn, the marine technician, takes the time to explain to me that on this cruise the equipment is set to measure temperature, salinity, oxygen and phosphorescence. The probe is extremely heavy and must be lowered with a winch. The capability of the equipment is quite sophisticated and can take a water sample at any depth. A canister can be programmed to shut quickly, capturing approximately ten liters of water. The timing of the data collection process depends upon the depth of the water, but today it takes about five minutes. The data is collected for the NOAA team back on land.

Our journey will circle the outer edges of George’s Bank. We are on the eastern leg of the trip, somewhere between 80 and 100 miles from land. As far as the eye can see, it is ocean. Once in a while, we can see a fishing vessel off in the distance and we have seen dolphins and sunfish swimming near the ship. This afternoon I heard Mary, the First Mate, announce over the radio that she spotted a whale. I ran up to the bridge to see if I could get a look, but I was too late!

I have been eager to learn the stories of the scientists and crew, and to find out what has drawn them to the work at sea. The backgrounds of the people on the ship are varied, and they are both men and women of all ages. One person reports, “ I knew that I wanted to be a marine biologist since fifth grade.” Another says, “I grew up around boats.” Yet another speaks about wanting a hands-on career that could last a lifetime. There are several students on this leg of the cruise. I have learned there are many paths to the career at sea: experience in the military, technical school, college and university, and hands on experience over the years It seems that if you are attracted to the sea, you have a place on a scientific research vessel.

Personal Log
Toward the end of the day, the boat starts to roll a bit more than it has. We have been informed that the wave heights tomorrow may increase to 5 to 8 feet. Taking a shower while the boat rocks from side to side is challenging. I grip my flip flops to the floor of the shower and hang on!

Question of the Day
What do you think the level of salt in the water can tell scientists?

Jason Moeller: June 10, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 10, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome aboard, explorers!

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Jason Moeller, and I am the on-site coordinator of education at Knoxville Zoological Gardens. I teach the school groups, scouts, homeschool students, and student researchers who come to the Zoo to learn about the natural world.

Oscar Dyson

The Oscar Dyson sits in Kodiak Harbor

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has invited me on board the Oscar Dyson, a research vessel that will be spending the next three weeks researching a fish known as the walleye pollock in Alaska’s Bering Sea. According to NOAA’s website, the pollock made up 56.3% of Alaska’s groundfish catch, easily making it the most caught fish in Alaska’s waters. Pollock is commonly found in imitation crabmeat as well as a variety of fast food fish sandwiches.

The crew of the Oscar Dyson will be studying the population of pollock over the course of the next three weeks. I will be working with Tammy Orilio (another teacher at sea) in processing the catch. Orientation will be on June 11th, and we will set sail on June 12th.

Clouds from an airplane

Clouds above Canada

Today (June 10th), however, was mainly a travel day. After waking up at four in the morning, I caught a two-hour flight from Knoxville to Chicago, which was then followed by a six-hour flight to Anchorage. Finally, I had a forty-one minute flight from Anchorage to Kodiak. Cloud cover marred what would have been spectacular scenery, but there were some beautiful views from the aircraft otherwise.

After a quick look at the Oscar Dyson and dinner at the hotel, I went to explore the river running by our hotel. According to several fishermen, Sockeye Salmon are beginning their yearly run upriver. Grizzly Bears, though uncommon this time of year, are also occasionally spotted.

Possible Bear track

Unknown Large Track

Unfortunately, I did not see bears or salmon, but I did see this track. While faded, it did look suspiciously like the mold of a track back at the zoo.

While I did not see any bears or salmon, I did get lucky in other regards. I saw a beautiful red fox, which moved too quickly to catch on film, and rabbits were in abundance. The scenery was also beautiful.

Sideways trees

Wind on a hill shaped these trees

river in Kodiak

A river in Kodiak

Science and Technology Log

The Science and Technology segment of this blog will begin after the Walleye Pollock Survey aboard the Oscar Dyson begins.

Species Seen

Red Fox

Rabbit

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

The reader question(s) of the day will also begin after the start of the Walleye Pollock Survey aboard the Oscar Dyson. Readers are encouraged to send questions to jnmoelle@knoxville-zoo.org. I will attempt to answer one or more questions in future posts.

Kathleen Brown: First Days at Sea, June 8-9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Brown
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 7 – 18, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Dates: June 8-9, 2011

June 9, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 10:00 am
Winds 10 to 20 knots
Seas 3 to 4 feet 

Science and Technology Log

R/V Hugh R. Sharp
R/V Hugh R. Sharp

This morning is the first day that I have awoken on board the ship. It will be my first twelve-hour shift. The scientists work either from noon until midnight or from midnight to noon. Kevin, the chief scientist, has assigned me to the day shift. I am very happy about this! We suit up in our foul weather gear. Those who have done this before explain to me that it is easiest to slip on the black rubber boots and rain pants like a firefighter who just got a call might do. We eagerly wait for the winch to pull the catch out of the water. The net drops everything out on the table. When we receive word from the engineer that all is clear, I don a hardhat, and hop up on the table with a white board that lists the station, strata and tow. My shipmate, La Shaun, snaps a photo record of the catch. We stand around the table and begin the inventory. We are looking for sea scallops and any we find go into a big orange basket. Other species that we separate out include: red hake, monkfish, haddock, skate, and ocean pout. We measure the length of the fish that we have separated. I imagine how the data might be used by scientists back on land to indicate the health of that portion of the ocean. As soon as we finish the haul and clean up, it is time to do it all over again. Every third catch we count the number of starfish and cancer crabs. I am excited to hold sponges, sea urchins, and hermit crabs. I am surprised to learn that the sand dollars are red.

Scallops!
Scallops!

Once all the sea life on the table has been sorted, it is time to head to the wet lab. There, the buckets of animals are counted and measured. Two persons work at each table measuring the fish. The fish is laid flat against the scale and one scientist uses a magnetic tool to capture the length electronically. During one catch, Aaron and I measured the length of 37 skate. I am impressed by the knowledge of the scientists who can easily tell the difference between a winter skate and a little skate. I hope by the end of the trip, I will be able to do so as quickly as they can.

Personal Log

I hardly notice the rocking of the ship while we are working. I think I may be starting to get my sea legs. On this first day there is very little time in between stations, and there is no real down time. I have learned how to shuck a sea scallop and seen the anatomy of the animal for the first time. I had been promised that I would get to work hard out on the open ocean and I am not disappointed.

Question of the Day Do you know the shape of the sea scallop shell? If you open the shell of a sea scallop you can immediately tell if it is a male or a female. How?

June 8, 2011

Personal Log

I reported to the Woods Hole dock at 7:30 in the morning. The day was bright and sunny, with temperatures in the 70s. The sight of the ship docked next to the NOAA building was so exciting. I climbed on board and introduced myself to Captain Jimmy who showed me right to the galley and offered me a cup of coffee. He was so welcoming! The ship had arrived in port at about 5:00 am and the crew and scientists were working to get everything ready to go by noon. I was shown my room, which is meant for four persons and has two sets of bunk beds. The room is so much bigger than it appeared in the photographs I saw! I chose a lower bunk and stowed my duffel bag underneath the bed in a cubby that was designed just for that. As more of those traveling on the journey arrived, I was interested to find that five of us have ties to Maine. We gathered to hear a briefing on the research that we will be supporting while on board the ship. Did you know that the American Sea Scallop is the most valuable fishery in the United States? Then we went off to lunch in the galley. The cook, Paul, served us an amazing lentil soup and sandwiches. The galley is full of snacks, a fridge with ice cream, and milk juice, coffee and tea, all of which are available day and night. As we were eating, I felt the ship start to move. We were told our first station is about eight hours away. (A station is a place where we collect a sample of the sea life.) Away we go!

Question of the Day What is the reason that Woods Hole became the location on Cape Cod for ocean research?

Margaret Stephens, May 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Date:  May 28, 2011 (Last day!)

NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo credit: Richard Hall
NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo credit: Richard Hall

Weather Data from the Bridge
As of 06:43, 28 May
Latitude 30.15
Longitude 80.87
Speed 7.60 knots
Course 285.00
Wind Speed 10.77 knots
Wind Direction 143.91 º
Surface Water Temperature 25.53 ºC
Surface Water Salinity 36.38 PSU
Air Temperature 24.70 ºC
Relative Humidity 92.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1011.10 millibars
Water Depth 30.17 m
Skies: clear

r at Sea Margaret Stephens and Scientist David Hoke in Pisces attire.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Margaret Stephens and Scientist David Hoke in Pisces attire.

Science and Technology Log

These scientists are not only smart, but they are neat and clean, too! After completing final mapping and fish sampling on the second-to-last day, we spent the remainder of the time cleaning the wet (fish) lab, packing all the instruments and equipment, and carefully labeling each item for transport. We hosed down all surfaces and used non-toxic cleaners to leave the stainless steel lab tables and instruments gleaming, ready for the next research project. The Pisces, like other NOAA fisheries ships, is designed as a mobile lab platform that each research team adapts to conform to its particular needs. The lab facilities, major instruments and heavy equipment are permanent, but since research teams have different objectives and protocols, they bring aboard their own science personnel, specialized equipment, and consumable supplies. The primary mission of NOAA’s fisheries survey vessels, like Pisces, is to conduct scientific studies, so the ship’s officers and crew adjust and coordinate their operations to meet the requirements of each research project. The ship’s Operations Officer and the Chief Scientist communicate regularly, well before the project begins and throughout the time at sea, to facilitate planning and smooth conduct of the mission.

Gag grouper (top, Mycteroperca microlepis) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) specimens, labeled for further study Photo credit: David Berrane
Gag grouper (top, Mycteroperca microlepis) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) specimens, labeled for further study Photo credit: David Berrane

“Wet” (fish) lab aboard Pisces, cleaned and ready for next research team
“Wet” (fish) lab aboard Pisces, cleaned and ready for next research team

We made up for the two days’ delay in our initial departure (caused by mechanical troubles and re-routing to stay clear of the Endeavor space shuttle launch, described in the May 18 log), thanks to nearly ideal sea conditions and the sheer hard work of the ship’s and science crews. The painstaking work enabled the science team to fine tune their seafloor mapping equipment and protocols, set traps, and accumulate data on fish populations in this important commercial fishing area off the southeastern coast of the United States. The acoustics team toiled every night to conduct survey mapping and produce three dimensional images of the sea floor. They met before sunrise each morning with Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler to plan the daytime fish survey routes, and the fish lab team collected two to three sets of six traps every day. The videographers worked long hours, backing up data and adjusting the camera arrays so that excellent footage was obtained.  In all, we obtained ten days’ worth of samples, brought in a substantial number of target species, red snapper and grouper, recorded hours of underwater video, and collected tissue and otolith samples for follow-up analysis back at the labs on land.

Models

Scientists and engineers often use models to help visualize, represent, or test phenomena they are studying. Models are especially helpful when it is too risky, logistically difficult, or expensive to conduct extensive work under “live” or real-time conditions.

Divers exploring hardbottom habitat Photo Credit: Douglas E. Kesling, UNCWilmington, CIOERT
Divers exploring hardbottom habitat Photo Credit: Douglas E. Kesling, UNCWilmington, CIOERT

As described in previous logs, this fisheries work aboard Pisces involves surveying and trapping fish to analyze population changes among commercially valuable species, principally red snapper and grouper, which tend to aggregate in particular types of hardbottom habitats.  Hardbottom, in contrast to sandy, flat areas, consists of rocky ledges, coral, or artificial reef structures, all hard substrates. By locating hardbottom areas on the sea floor, scientists can focus their trapping efforts in places most likely to yield samples of the target fish species, thus conserving valuable time and resources. So, part of the challenge is finding efficient ways to locate hardbottom. That’s where models can be helpful.

The scientific models rely on information known about the relationships between marine biodiversity and habitat types, because the varieties and distribution of marine life found in an area are related to the type of physical features present. Not surprisingly, this kind of connection often holds true in terrestrial (land) environments, too. For example, since water-conserving succulents and cacti are generally found in dry, desert areas, aerial or satellite images of land masses showing dry environments can serve as proxies to identify areas where those types of plants would be prevalent. In contrast, one would expect to find very different types of plant and animal life in wetter areas with richer soils.

Recovering ROV aboard Pisces Photo source: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/pc/visitor/photos‐a.html
Recovering ROV aboard Pisces Photo source: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/pc/visitor/photos‐a.html

Traditional methods used to map hardbottom and identify fish habitat include direct sampling by towing underwater video cameras, sonar, aerial photography, satellite imaging, using remotely operating vehicles (ROV’s), or even setting many traps in extensive areas. While they have some advantages, all those methods are labor and time-intensive and expensive, and are therefore impractical for mapping extensive areas.

This Pisces team has made use of a computer and statistical model developed by other scientists that incorporates information from previous mapping (bathymetry) work to predict where hardbottom habitat is likely to be found. The Pisces scientists have employed the “Dunn” model to predict potential hardbottom areas likely to attract fish populations, and then they have conducted more detailed mapping of the areas highlighted by the model. (That has been the principal job of the overnight acoustics team.) Using those more refined maps, the day work has involved trapping and recording video to determine if fish are, indeed, found in the locations predicted. By testing the model repeatedly, scientists can refine it further. To the extent that the model proves accurate, it can guide future work, making use of known physical characteristics of the sea floor to identify more areas where fish aggregate, and helping scientists study large areas and develop improved methods for conservation and management of marine resources.

Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke
Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke

Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke
Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke

Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Measurements

Another aspect of the data collection aboard Pisces involves measuring key physical properties of seawater, including temperature and salinity (saltiness, or concentration of salts) at various depths using a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD)  device.

Salinity and temperature affect how sound travels in water; therefore, CTD data can be used to help calibrate the sonar equipment used to map the sea floor. In other instances, the data are used to help scientists study changes in sea conditions that may affect climate. Increases in sea surface temperatures, for example, can speed evaporation, moisture and heat transfer to the atmosphere, feeding or intensifying storm systems such as hurricanes and cyclones.

Pisces shipboard CTD, containing a set of probes attached to a cylindrical housing, is lowered from the side deck to a specified depth. A remote controller closes the water collection bottles at the desired place in the water column to extract samples, and the CTD takes the physical measurements in real time.

Fresh Catch

Of all the many species collected, only the red snapper and grouper specimens were kept for further study; most of the other fish were released after they were weighed and measured. A small quantity was set aside for Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens to prepare for the all the ship’s occupants to enjoy, but the bulk of the catch was saved for charitable purposes. The fish (“wet” lab) team worked well into overtime hours each night to fillet the catch and package it for donation. They cut, wrapped, labeled and fresh froze each fillet as carefully as any gourmet fish vendor would. Once we disembarked on the last day, Scientist Warren Mitchell, who had made all the arrangements, delivered over one hundred pounds of fresh frozen fish to a local food bank, Second Harvest of Northern Florida. It was heartening to know that local people would benefit from this high-quality, tasty protein.

Careers at Sea

Crewmen Joe Flora and Vic Pinones
Crewmen Joe Flora and Vic Pinones

Many crew members gave generously of their time to share with me their experiences as mariners and how they embarked upon and developed their careers. I found out about many, many career paths for women and men who are drawn to the special life at sea. Ship’s officers, deck crew, mechanics, electricians, computer systems specialists, chefs and scientists are among the many possibilities.

Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens worked as a cook in the U.S. Navy and as a chef in private restaurants before starting work with NOAA. He truly loves cooking, managing all the inventory, storage and food preparation in order to meet the needs and preferences of nearly forty people, three meals a day, every day. He even cooks for family and friends during his “off” time!

First Engineer Brett Jones
First Engineer Brett Jones

Electronics specialist Bob Carter, also a Navy veteran, is responsible for the operations and security of all the computer-based equipment on board. He designed and set up the ship’s network and continually expands his skills and certifications by taking online courses. He relishes the challenges, responsibilities and autonomy that come along with protecting the integrity of the computer systems aboard ship.

First Engineer Brent Jones has worked for many years in the commercial and government sectors, maintaining engines, refrigeration, water and waste management, and environmental control systems. He gave me a guided tour of the innards of Pisces, including four huge engines, heating and air conditioning units, thrusters and rudders, hoists and lifts, fresh water condenser and ionizers, trash incinerator, and fire and safety equipment. The engineering department is responsible for making sure everything operates safely, all day and night, every day. Brent and the other engineers are constantly learning, updating and sharpening their skills by taking specialized courses throughout their careers.

Chief Boatswain James Walker
Chief Boatswain James Walker

Chief Boatswain James Walker is responsible for safe, efficient operations on deck, including training and supervising all members of the deck crew. He entered NOAA after a career in the U.S. Navy.  The Chief Boatswain must be diplomatic, gentle but firm, and a good communicator and people manager. He coordinates safe deck operations with the ship’s officers, crew, and scientific party and guests.

NOAA officers are a special breed. To enter the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree with extensive coursework in mathematics or sciences. They need not have experience at sea, although many do. They undergo an intensive officers’ training program at a marine academy before beginning shipboard work as junior officers, where they train under more experienced officers to learn ship’s systems and operations, protocols, navigation, safety, personnel management, budgeting and administrative details. After years of hard work and satisfactory performance, NOAA officers may advance through the ranks and eventually take command of a ship.

Operations Officer, Lt. Tracy Hamburger
Operations Officer, Lt. Tracy Hamburger

Junior Officer Michael Doig
Junior Officer Michael Doig

All the officers and crew aboard Pisces seem to truly enjoy the challenges, variety of experiences and camaraderie of life at sea. They are dedicated to NOAA’s mission and take pride in the scientific and ship operations work. To be successful and satisfied with this life, one needs an understanding family and friends, as crew can be away at sea up to 260 days a year, for two to four weeks at a time. There are few personal expenses while at sea, since room and board are provided, so prudent mariners can accumulate savings. There are sacrifices, as long periods away can mean missing important events at home. But there are some benefits: As one crewman told me, every visit home is like another honeymoon!

Personal Log

One size fits all?
One size fits all?

Navy Showers

I had expected that life aboard Pisces would include marine toilets and salt water showers with limited fresh water just for rinsing off.  I was surprised to find regular water-conserving flush toilets and fresh water showers. Still, the supply of fresh water is limited, as all of it is produced from a condensation system using heat from the engines. During our ship orientation and safety session on the first day, Operations Officer Tracy Hamburger and Officer Mike Doig cautioned us to conserve water.  They explained (but did not demonstrate!) a “Navy” shower, which involves turning the water on just long enough to get wet, off while soaping up, and on again for a quick rinse. It is quite efficient – more of us should adopt the practice on land. Who really needs twenty minute showers with fully potable water, especially when more than one billion people on our “water planet” lack safe drinking water and basic sanitation?

One size fits all?
One size fits all?

“Abandon Ship!”

One size fits all?
One size fits all?

The drill I had anticipated since the first pre-departure NOAA Teacher at Sea instructions arrived in my inbox finally happened. I had just emerged from a refreshing “Navy” shower at the end of a fishy day when the ship’s horn blasted, signaling “Abandon ship!” We’d have to don survival suits immediately to be ready to float on our own in the sea for an indefinite time. Fortunately, I had finished dressing seconds before the alarm sounded. I grabbed the survival suit, strategically positioned for ready access near my bunk, and walked briskly (never run aboard ship!) to the muster station on the side deck. There, all the ship’s occupants jostled for space enough on deck to flatten out the stiff, rubbery garment and attempt to put it on.  That’s much easier said than done; it was not a graceful picture. “One size fits all”, I learned, is a figment of some manufacturer’s imagination. My petite five foot four frame was engulfed, lost in the suit, while the burly six- foot-five crewman alongside me struggled to squeeze himself into the same sized suit. The outfit, affectionately known as a Gumby, is truly designed for survival, though, as neoprene gaskets seal wrists, leaving body parts covered, with only a small part of one’s face exposed. The suit serves as a flotation device, and features a flashing light, sound alarm, and other warning instruments to facilitate locating those unfortunate enough to be floating at sea.

Thankfully, this was only a test run on deck. We were spared the indignity of going overboard to test our true survival skills. I took advantage of the opportunity to try a few jumping jacks and pushups while encased in my Gumby.

Fish bet ‐‐ Rigged results? Photo credit: Jen Weaver
Fish bet ‐‐ Rigged results? Photo credit: Jen Weaver

Bets Are On!

These scientists are fun-loving and slightly superstitious, if not downright mischievous. On the last day, Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler announced a contest: whoever came closest to predicting the number of fish caught in the last set of traps would win a Pisces t-shirt that Nate promised to purchase with his personal funds. In true scientific fashion, the predictions were carefully noted and posted for all to see.  As each trap was hauled in, Nate recorded the tallies on the white board in the dry lab. Ever the optimist, basing my estimate on previous days’ tallies, I predicted a whopping number: 239.

I should have been more astute and paid more attention to the fact that the day’s survey was planned for a region that featured less desirable habitats for fish than previous days. Nate, of course, having set the route, knew much more about the conditions than the rest of us did. His prediction: a measly 47 fish. Sure enough, the total tally was 38, and the winner was………Nate!   Our loud protests that the contest was fixed were to no avail. He declared himself the winner. Next time, we’ll know enough to demand that the Chief Scientist remove himself from the contest.

 

Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler and red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: David Hoke
Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler and red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: David Hoke

 

Crewman Kirk Perry with Mahi‐mahi
Crewman Kirk Perry with Mahi‐mahi

Catching Mahi-mahi

Once the day’s deck work was over, a fish call came over the ship’s public address system. Kirk Perry, one of the avid fishermen among the crew, attached a line baited with squid from the stern guard rail and let it troll along unattended, since a fishing pole was unnecessary. Before long, someone else noticed that the line had hooked a fish. It turned out to be a beautiful mahi-mahi, with sleek, streamlined, iridescent scales in an array of rainbow colors, and quite a fighter. I learned that the mahi quickly lose their color once they are removed from the water, and turn to a pale gray-white once lifeless. If only I were a painter, I would have stopped everything to try to capture the lovely colors on canvas.

Goodbyes

We entered Mayport under early morning light. An official port pilot is required to come aboard to guide all ships into port, so the port pilot joined Commander Jeremy Adams and the rest of the officer on the bridge as we made our way through busy Mayport, home of a United States Naval base. Unfortunately, the pier space reserved for Pisces was occupied by a British naval vessel that had encountered mechanical problems and was held up for repairs, so she could not be moved. That created a logistical challenge for us, as it meant that Pisces had to tie up alongside a larger United States naval ship whose deck was higher than ours.  Once again, the crew and scientists showed their true colors, as they braved the hot Florida sun, trekking most of the gear and luggage by hand over two gangplanks, across the Navy ship, onto the pier, and loading it into the waiting vehicles.

The delay gave me a chance to say farewell and thank the crew and science team for their patience and kindness during my entire time at sea.

These eleven days sailed by. The Pisces crew had only a short breather of a day and a half before heading out with a new group of scientists for another research project. To sea again….NOAA’s work continues.

All aboard!

A big “Thank you!” to all the scientists and crew who made my time aboard Pisces so educational and memorable!

 

Science team. Photo credit: NOAA Officer Michael Doig
Science team. Photo credit: NOAA Officer Michael Doig

Links & Resources

http://www.marinecareers.net/links_degrees.php

Literature cited:

Dunn, D, Halpin, P (2009) Rugosity-based regional modeling of hard-bottom habitat. Marine Ecology Progress Series 377:1-11

Safety! I hope I never have to use that fire axe!
Safety! I hope I never have to use that fire axe!

Sky view from Pisces. Photo credit: David Hoke
Sky view from Pisces. Photo credit: David Hoke

View from Pisces: United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship
View from Pisces: United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship

Engineers Abe Goldberg and Bob Carroll
Engineers Abe Goldberg and Bob Carroll

Loading gear with crane & hoist
Loading gear with crane & hoist

Loading gear with crane & hoist
Loading gear with crane & hoist

Commander Jeremy Adams looks out from Pisces’ bridge Photo credit: Richard Hall
Commander Jeremy Adams looks out from Pisces’ bridge Photo credit: Richard Hall

Margaret Stephens, May 25-27

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens
NOAA Ship:
Pisces 
Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Dates: May 25-27, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 

View from the Pisces bridge: calm seas
View from the Pisces bridge: calm seas

As of 11:43 May 27, 2011
Latitude 29.94
Longitude 80.29
Wind Speed 0.60 knots; calm
Wind Direction 167.50 º
Surface Water Temperature 26.60 ºC
Air Temperature 25.70 ºC
Relative Humidity 81.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1013.70 millibars (mb)
Water Depth 54.59 m
Skies: clear to partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

I struggle to measure a squirmy black sea bass, Centropristis striata.
I struggle to measure a squirmy black sea bass, Centropristis striata.

Previous logs describe in some detail the three principal components of this research work aboard Pisces: overnight mapping using acoustics (SONAR) technology; daytime fish trapping; and underwater videography. The nighttime mapping is used to identify the hardbottom habitats favored by red snapper and grouper species and helps the science team determine where to set traps the next day. The videography provides additional visual clues to the contours and composition of the sea floor, water clarity, and marine life in the area.

Scientific research at sea is far from neat, clean and predictable. Messy, hot, smelly, sometimes frustratingly unpredictable – and not for the weak-stomached– are better descriptors. The work goes on as long as it takes, well past the scheduled twelve hour shifts. The “wet” lab could just as well be called the “fishy” lab. For good reason, the seasoned researchers wear special waterproof bibs and boots and clothing they don’t mind getting dirty. A distinctly fish-infused aroma fills the air and embeds skin, hair and garb. The best laid plans go awry. Equipment and instruments are checked, double- and triple-checked; nevertheless, they don’t always function properly or yield the expected results. Despite using high-tech SONAR to locate what appear to be promising locations, and baiting traps with the most appetizing bait imaginable (dead menhaden), the fish move around and are not always lured into the traps we set so carefully. While this project has been graced so far with unusually calm seas, the currents, other boat traffic, threatening weather and other factors can cause the ship to deviate from its appointed path.

These scientists seem to thrive as they meet the challenges of the ever-changing seascape, solving problems and continuing the hard work day and night.

Todd Kellison (l) and Warren Mitchell (r) confer at sunrise as their long night’s acoustics lab work continues past dawn. Photo credit: David Berrane
Todd Kellison (l) and Warren Mitchell (r) confer at sunrise as their long night’s acoustics lab work continues past dawn. Photo credit: David Berrane

After spending the first few days south of Cape Canaveral, mapping and trap sampling, calibrating and making adjustments to the instruments and deployment procedures, we headed north, because strong currents and turbid (cloudy) waters were limiting the team’s ability to deploy traps and capture useful underwater video images. When the currents are too strong (>2.5 – 3 knots, or nautical miles per hour), the moving water tends to drag the traps, making it very difficult to position them in the desired locations on the sea floor. In addition, the currents swirl sediments around, reducing visibility and yielding video images that are less than revealing. Since moving north of Cape Canaveral, the currents have been less of a problem, and the water clarity has improved.

The mapping, trapping, and video procedures all went more smoothly after the team made adjustments guided by the first days’ experiences. The acoustics team leaders, Warren Mitchell and Todd Kellison, have worked assiduously throughout the taxing, tiring overnight shifts to produce useful bathymetry maps with the ship’s state-of-the-art ME70 multibeam sonar unit. Investigator Jen Weaver has applied her expertise with GIS and mapping software to help Warren and Todd translate the sonar data into three dimensional maps most useful for Nate Bacheler, the Chief Scientist, to plan the trapping routes.

Sonar image shows ledges and outcrops. Photo credit: Christina Schobernd
Sonar image shows ledges and outcrops. Photo credit: Christina Schobernd

By the second and third nights on the acoustics team, I was getting better at recognizing the features on the sonar screen displays, such as ledges and rocky outcroppings, that are indicative the hardbottom habitats we were seeking. Chief Scientist Nate has perfected the timing and communications with the deck crew so that the traps are released off the stern deck at just the right time, sinking to the bottom in the desired locations. Radio transmitter in hand, Nate studies an array of monitors displaying the sonar images of the sea bottom mapped the night before, the navigation system with the ship’s position and path, and a live video feed showing the crew awaiting instructions on the deck. The helmsman alerts Nate that the ship is approaching the next drop point and slows the ship.

Nate issues a series of commands to the deck crew by radio:

Crew deploys baited trap above guard rail on
Crew deploys baited trap above guard rail on

Ready the cameras. Ready the cameras.” – A few minutes before the ship approaches each trap point, a team member activates the two video cameras attached to the trap.

Crew deploys baited trap above guard rail on

Go on standby; stand by to deploy trap.”- The deck crew positions the trap at the edge of the stern (back) deck and makes sure all the lines are clear.

Deploy trap; deploy trap.” The deck crew pushes the trap over the edge of the stern and lets the line attaching it to the ship run free. Once the line goes slack, indicating the trap has reached the bottom, the crew releases the bright orange buoys to float on the surface, marking the trap locations to warn other ships to steer clear and facilitate retrieval.

The deck crew then positions the next trap, and the helmsman, Nate and crew repeat the choreographed sequence until all six traps in each set are in place. Soon after, the helmsman maneuvers the ship for the deck crew to retrieve the traps and their contents one by one using a pothauler, a special hoist.

Technical/Logistical Challenges 

We ran into some initial difficulties with the video cameras attached to the traps when they turned off and failed to record. As good scientists, the team observed the procedures closely and determined that the force of the cameras hitting the water upon release was probably causing them to shut off. At first, the traps with cameras attached were being pushed off the stern above a fixed guard rail, which sits about 1.5 meters above the deck, with three removable guard wires below the rail. A simple adjustment seems to have fixed that problem – instead of releasing the traps above the guard rail, the crew lowered the traps to the deck floor and pushed them off more gently from there. This modified procedure seems to have done the trick, as the cameras have not shut off since.

Science team adjusts camera-trap arrays on stern deck
Science team adjusts camera-trap arrays on stern deck

We are constantly reminded of the ship’s mantra, “Safety first!”, as anyone working on deck while machinery is in operation is required to wear a hardhat and personal flotation device (PFD). He or she who forgets to do so is quickly alerted by others. Because the change in the trap release procedure necessitated removing the three safety wires below the stationary guard rail, leaving a gap large enough for a person to slip overboard, the crew members tied themselves to tethers attached to the deck. Falling off the stern of the ship is dangerous, not least because the propellers turn rapidly and create a backwash effect that could draw a person underwater, even one wearing a PFD.

After each set of six traps is collected, the crew and wet lab team prepare them for redeployment. They empty any fish caught from the traps into bins, separate them into species, then weigh, measure, and release or preserve them for further study. With the help of the deck crew, two or three members of the science team stay on the side deck, dressed in waterproof bibs, boots, life vests and helmets. They detach and dry the cameras and hand them to the dry lab video coordinator, Christina Schobernd, who immediately removes the memory cards, sets up the video to view, and readies the cameras for the next trapping sequence. Occasionally, a camera tilts out of alignment, possibly in the jolt of travel or by hitting something underwater or on the bottom. Each time that happens, Christina meticulously assesses the situation and adjusts the cameras’ attachments.

Under these conditions, working with expensive equipment, it is crucial to anticipate possible problems and build redundancy into the operations as much as possible. This year, the team added a second, high-definition camera to the video array, and each camera is attached to the trap frames with at least six heavy-duty plastic ties and a tether wire and clip. That tether has been a camera-saver, as in one instance the cameras somehow broke free and would have been lost without it.

Fish measuring “assembly line” in the wet lab
Fish measuring “assembly line” in the wet lab

Thanks to good planning, enhanced by a measure of good luck, so far we have not lost any traps or equipment. It is not unheard of to have a trap break free from impact, from a boat propeller running over and cutting the line, or for some other reason. If a trap breaks loose in a place that’s too deep for human divers to search, or if the ship is not equipped with diving capability or a ROV (remote operating vehicle), the trap must be given up for lost.

Once the traps’ fishy contents are brought in and separated by species, three to four people in the wet lab process the fish in assembly-line fashion, as described in the previous log. With traps containing one hundred fifty (150) fish or more, we have to work fast and furiously to weigh, measure and release them before the next haul is aboard. The fish flop and squirm and squirt, and as I learned the first time I handled them, the black sea bass have some mighty sharp spines that can penetrate even the heavy, protective gloves we wear.

To ready the array for the next trap set, the team then

  •  “freshens” the bait by taking out any fully or partially eaten bait and replacing it with the same number of whole menhaden fish;
  •  reattaches the cameras;
  • lines up the numbered traps on deck, ready to go again.

Sometimes, the interim between trap sets coincides with the ship’s lunch time: 11 a.m. If so, the science team takes a short break to refuel with Steward Jesse Stiggens’ tasty culinary creations. If not, the stewards leave the lunch buffet available for whenever the team can get away for a few minutes. While the traps are “soaking” (sitting on the sea floor for the required ninety minute intervals), the science team keeps busy viewing video from the previous haul, processing fish specimens, tidying the deck and lab area, speculating about what the next trap might yield, and telling fish stories from past field work. As anyone who has spent time around fishers (the gender-neutral form of fishermen) knows, fishing stories always get better with time!

Processing and Collection of Biological Samples 

Otolith showing age rings Photo source: dnr.state.oh.us
Otolith showing age rings Photo source: dnr.state.oh.us

To assess fish stock and population trends, scientists must do more than identify species and catch, weigh and measure fish. They also determine the sex, size and ages of fish and genetic diversity within the populations studied. Connecting size and age can help determine the fishes’ growth rates, where they are in their reproductive cycles, and how likely they are to spawn, or reproduce.

Why is it important to determine the age of fish? By knowing the age of fish, fisheries managers can better understand and monitor how fish populations change over time, and how they are affected by environmental stresses or disturbances, including environmental changes, storms, pollution, commercial and recreational fishing, natural mortality, predation, and changes in the availability of food. The age information helps inform policies promoting fishing practices that protect the fish resources for sustainable, long-term benefit.

David Berrane removes otoliths from red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: Christina Schobernd
David Berrane removes otoliths from red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: Christina Schobernd

To determine fish age most accurately, the scientists remove otoliths, two bones located on either side of fish’s skull that are analogous to the human ear bone. The otoliths show annual growth rings, so the technique used is similar to counting tree rings. You may clickhere to try aging a sample fish.

On board Pisces, the experienced scientists remove the otoliths from dead fish with a sharp knife and scalpel, then place the otoliths in small envelopes, labeled with the date and location caught, ready to be analyzed back in laboratories on land. At the same time, they preserve tissue samples used for DNA/genetic analysis. They may also remove the gonads, or egg sacs, of female fish, if they are needed for further study. They can approximate how close the fish are to spawning based on the condition of the egg sac. The closer they are to spawning, the fuller and larger the sacs become.

Removing egg sacs from female black sea bass, Centropristis striata
Removing egg sacs from female black sea bass, Centropristis striata

Through laboratory analysis using DNA from tissue samples, scientists can evaluate the genetic diversity within each species and other population dynamics. Genetic diversity among fish populations, as in other animal and plant species, is desired because more genetically diverse populations are generally more resilient, more resistant to disease and more able to withstand changes in environmental conditions, availability of food, and other stresses.

Personal Log 

We’ve been fortunate to have had a stretch of unusually fine weather and calm seas. Thank goodness, not a single person has shown a hint of sea sickness. It may be bad luck to say this while we are still out on the water, but I have never been seasick, and I certainly would not want this to be the first time. I’ve seen people who literally turned green and felt absolutely miserable while traveling on rough seas. Some of the crew members who served in the United States Navy or on commercial vessels told me that they had been violently sick every day for weeks when they first went to work at sea. Most eventually get over that. I cannot imagine how debilitating and horrible it must be to feel so wretched. There’s no place to go once you are on a ship — you cannot just jump overboard and swim home through long distances and possibly shark-infested waters, although if you are sick enough, that prospect might seem a welcome relief!

Significant events 

Late one afternoon, I noticed that we had changed direction. We had been heading south, and then turned back north. Since this was not the planned route, I thought perhaps I had missed or misunderstood something, so I went up to the bridge to investigate. Commander Jeremy Adams (the CO = Commanding Officer) informed me that he had turned the ship around in response to a radio call from the Coast Guard, the branch of the armed services of the United States in charge of monitoring the coasts for navigation, safety and law enforcement. The radio call was a Pan-pan alert, one step short of the emergency Mayday call that mandates immediate action. A Pan-pan is urgent but not imminent, and ships in the area are not required to respond. In this case, the Coast Guard announced that they had received a report of a partially submerged small boat with possible man overboard/missing. Since Pisces was the closest vessel to the reported location, CO Adams made the decision to deviate from the planned course and redirect her at nearly full speed, approximately fourteen knots (nautical miles per hour), to search and assist if necessary. As Captain Jerry put it, even though he was not obligated to respond, he would not have been able to rest knowing there was a possibility the ship under his command could have helped. While en route there, another radio relay from the Coast Guard canceled the Pan-pan, because the initial report was apparently a false alarm. The CO informed me that false alarms of this kind occur all too often. Sometimes disgruntled or troublemaking recreational boaters, perhaps annoyed with the Coast Guard’s vigilance or just pulling a prank, call in alarms. These are akin to and at least as dangerous as intentionally false bomb scares or fire alarms on land. Such maliciously false reports take emergency personnel and resources away from true emergencies, cause tremendous waste of public funds, and can put emergency responders and others at risk. At sea, if the perpetrators are caught, they can be fined heavily and held responsible for all the costs incurred.

Devastation in Joplin, Mississippi 

On Sunday, May 22, news of the catastrophic tornado in Joplin, Mississippi reached Pisces. One of the crew members watched the news feed in horror, as the images of an elementary school that had been completed flattened played over and over again on the large screen in the mess. His friend lived just two blocks from that same school and had probably been at home when the powerful twister hit. The crew member tried in vain to call her cell phone or reach anyone who might have heard from her.

In the next hours, we learned that this NOAA ship’s crew is like family. The CO authorized the crew member to take personal leave and arranged for Pisces to meet a Coast Guard vessel the next morning to transport the young man to shore, so he could catch a flight and drive to Mississippi to search for his friend. Since he is also a certified medic, he would be allowed in to the town, despite any official restrictions.

We all felt for him and waited anxiously for word from Joplin. Thankfully, a day later, the ship received a message that his friend was alive and physically intact, although her home and entire neighborhood were destroyed, and so many other residents were critically injured, missing or dead.

It would be terrible to be isolated at sea in such circumstances and feel utterly helpless. I was reminded of the sacrifices so many service members make. As other crew members who had served in the U.S. Navy and other military branches know all too well, home leave, even in emergencies, is not always possible. Many of them had missed key personal events and tragedies while they were away from home on active duty.

Links & Resources

Channa Comer: The End of the Journey, May 21, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Channa Comer

On Board Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 — 22, 2011


Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Leg 1

Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: Saturday, May 21, 2011

Final Log
This will be my final log of the cruise. Unlike previous posts, it will not be separated into a science and a personal log. For my final post, I’ve integrated the two because what I’ve

The Last Tow
The Last Tow

gained from the trip is both scientific and personal. In addition to all that I’ve learned about what happens on a Sea Scallop Survey, the FSCS, scallops in general, and many of the other creatures that live on the North Atlantic Ocean floor, I will be taking home new questions to answer and new avenues to explore.

This was my first experience with marine biology and I couldn’t have had a better one. Rather than reading about the ocean in a textbook, I was able to experience it, in all its grandeur, wonder, beauty, diversity, and unpleasantness (sea sickness, green sand dollar slime, sea squirts, sea mouse). I also couldn’t have asked for better hosts that all the people at NOAA who helped to make this trip possible –everyone in the Teacher at Sea program who helped before the trip and everyone here on the boat.

With the many, many, many tows and baskets and baskets of sand dollars, I’ve developed a fascination with them and many questions to answer when I get home. While I’ve learned a bit about them here on the ship, there is still so much to learn about them. Why are they in such abundance in certain areas? How can you tell the difference between a male and a female? How exactly do they reproduce? What is there function in the deep sea food web? What is their life span? Why the green slime? If their anus and mouth is in the same place, how what mechanism exists to turn one function off when the other is active? If any of you know the answers to these questions, feel free to share.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to Vic, the chief scientist who was always willing to share whatever he knows (and he knows a lot), answer all of my many questions, always went out of his way that I had everything that I needed to fulfill my Teacher at Sea obligations, and made me feel like part of the “family.” I am also extremely thankful to all the other members of my watch (and Chief Jakub) for being such an amazing group to work with. We worked together for 12 hours each day for 11 days and NEVER HAD A FIGHT! Everyone always made a conscious effort to be kind, courteous and helpful. Definitely a great lesson to take back with me. One of the most special things about this experience has been the opportunity to get to know the people on board, to learn about their varied backgrounds and how they ended up where they are.
Through my participation in the Teacher at Sea program, I’ve also learned a greater appreciation for the food that I eat. There is so much that happens before food gets to my plate that I usually take for granted. In the case of scallops, the Sea Scallop Survey is just one part of a very complex picture that includes fishermen who make a living for themselves and provide jobs and opportunities for others, all of the organisms who share the ocean with scallops that are affected by scallop fishing, the ocean ecosystem, and the consumers who buy and eat scallops. In reflecting on this, I’m reminded of a series of articles that I read recently about integrating Native American science (viewing science from a holistic perspective with consideration of how our choices affect ecological balance) with western science. While our immediate needs and wants cannot be minimized, as a society, we could definitely benefit a broader, more long-term view of how our choices affect us over the long term, especially as we are faced with diminishing resources and an ever-expanding population.

Thanks to all of you who followed my adventure by reading the blog. And thank you for your comments, both on the blog and via email.

Until the next adventure…………

Channa Comer: If Sand Dollars Were Real Dollars, May 19, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Channa Comer

On Board Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 — 22, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Leg 1
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: Thursday, May 19, 2011

Science and Technology Log
I started this post at just before my shift started and from the portholes (windows) in the conference room it looks like a beautiful, sunny day. I’ve learned to enjoy the sun while its out since the weather can change very rapidly. We’ve had some rough weather over the last few days. It was rough enough on Tuesday that dredging was suspended from 11:30 in the evening until 5am Wednesday morning. Since then, the tows have been proceeding as scheduled and we are on track to complete the 155 scheduled tows by Saturday.

Sand Dollars
Sand Dollars

Yesterday was sand dollar day. We completed 12 tows during the day shift and each tow seemed to have more sand dollars than the last. In our final tow of the shift, there were 48 46-liter baskets of sand dollars and one basket of scallops. If only they were real dollars, everyone on the boat would be able to retire.

All the data that we collect is entered into the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS). The FSCS is the system that is used on the Sea Scallop survey to collect station and biological data for each tow. The SCS collects data during each tow via vessel sensors and manual data entry. At a random location the operator starts a program that logs the station location data into a series of files during the 15 minute tow. Examples of the data collected are, latitude, longitude, ocean depth, vessel speed, time, and various meteorological measures. The data is then compiled and additional values are calculated from the 1 second interval files, tow length, tow duration, average speed, etc. The additional data is important for monitoring and standardizing each tow to a set of default parameters. With a tow duration of 15 minutes, at a speed of 3.8 knots the dredge should cover about 1 nautical mile of distance on the bottom of the ocean. The raw files from the SCS are sent to the mobile sampling van and made available to users there.

After the dredge is brought up and the catch has been sorted, we break up into three teams of two and head to the van. Each work station has an electronic fish measuring board to measure each species, a touch sensitive monitor used to pick the species to work on, and a motion compensating digital scale to weigh individual fish. The main workstation has an additional large scale. The large scale is use to measure each species as a whole rather than an individual within one species. The three computers are interconnected and each workstation can observe the entire list of species being processed.

There are additional FSCS computers in a second, “dry” lab. The computers in the dry lab log data during the measuring process. Each workstation in the dry lab is wired through the ship to the van. All data is backed up immediately to the main FSCS server. Once all data is collected after a tow, the Watch Chief loads the data into a database and audits the data for accuracy. While it is a complex system, we are generally able to process a catch within 30 to 40 minutes.

New Animals Seen
Winter Skate
Fluke
Witch Flounder
Conger Eel
Small Mouth Flounder
Winter Flounder
Snail Fish
Windowpane Flounder
Spotted Hake
Spider Crab
Yellow Tail Flounder
Silver Hake
Sea Grape
Sea Squirt

Personal Log
Day 9 – Thursday, May 19, 2011
Today Vic gave us a lesson in putting together the iron rings that are used in the construction of the scallop dredge. Two inch diameter iron rings are connected with small iron compression links. The rings are put together with a tool called a link squeezer which looks like a giant bolt cutter. I felt very strong after putting a few together and I may use them to make a nautical themed belt. We brought in the largest eel of the trip today, a 64 cm long Conger Eel. Steve who held the fish so that I could photograph it had a hard time since it was pretty strong, slippery and wiggling furiously.

As the cruise draws to a close, while I’ve had a great time, I am anxious to return to NY. I can’t wait to share my photos, experience and the samples that I’ve collected with my students and friends. I also can’t wait to sleep in my own bed, have a long shower in my own bathroom, and have a big bowl of broccoli — seriously. I’m sure that I’ve gained at least 10 lbs on this trip.

Margaret Stephens, May 22-24, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens
NOAA Ship:
Pisces
Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Dates: May 22-24, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge as of 12:43 May 24, 2011
Wind Speed 9.67 knots
Wind Direction 147.00 º
Surface Water Temperature25.09 ºC
Air Temperature 24.20 ºC
Relative Humidity 83.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1016.30 mb
Water Depth 20.57 m
Skies: Clear

Acoustics team leader Warren Mitchell examines sonar display. Miami Dolphins “thinking cap”: optional.
Acoustics team leader Warren Mitchell examines sonar display. Miami Dolphins “thinking cap”: optional.

Science and Technology Log

The scientists’ work day never ends. Their scheduled twelve hour shifts routinely extend to fourteen, even eighteen hours, because they keep going until their tasks are completed, no matter how long they take. By night, beginning at 6 p.m., the acoustics team uses multibeam and split beam sonar to conduct mapping work needed to determine a course for the fish surveys the next day. Based on previous findings and the goals stated by Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler, the team sets up a mapping area and communicates it by ship’s radio to the bridge. The ship runs transect lines (similar to large grid lines, in a back and forth pattern) throughout the hours of darkness to gather information about the contours of the sea floor and translate it into three dimensional images to help visualize potential locations for setting fish traps.

Transect lines used for mapping sea floor.
Transect lines used for mapping sea floor.

Transect lines used for mapping sea floor.
Transect lines used for mapping sea floor.

Here’s where the “art” of science comes in. Because there are so many variables, Nate has to weigh what is known from previous surveys with the recent catches and video footage from the underwater cameras, the new data gathered, factor in wind and current conditions, distance between sites, and any other priorities, and use his best judgment to map a trapping route for the day that looks most promising to catch the target fish species. The entire operation is a delicate balance between science and art.

The videography team backs up all the footage recorded by the underwater cameras attached to the fish traps during the day. Christina spends four to six hours for each set of six traps to catalog and back up the video footage. Nate and Christina view some of the film immediately to look for signs of fish that may not have been trapped and clues to the type of bottom habitat.

Fish Survey

Fisheries scientists face an interesting challenge: their subjects of study—fish, of course—are mostly out of sight, underwater, mobile, often evasive, in scattered groupings, and sometimes smart or timid enough to avoid the enticement of baited traps. Yet to assess the health of fish populations and contribute information leading to sound stock management policies, scientists must first find the fish and then attempt to estimate their relative numbers from year to year. Sandy areas on the sea floor rarely harbor many fish of interest to this survey. Hardbottom provides a much more desirable habitat for fish to feed.

Historically, quantifying fish stocks has involved two principal methods:

Fishery dependent sampling – In this method, samples from commercial fish catches are used to estimate the population size of the species of interest. Because fishery dependent sampling relies on fish already caught by commercial fishers, it has the advantage of not requiring a large, expensive infrastructure of research ships and full

scientific teams. However, the data collected are affected by how fishers harvest their catch, including the areas fished, changing priorities of the market (i.e. if the market price for a particular species is up or down, the fishers are likely to go for more or fewer of them, accordingly), type of equipment used (nets, lines, traps, etc.), the experience and expertise of the fishermen, and seasonal or year-to-year changes in availability of the fish.

In fishery independent sampling, the method used on Pisces and other NOAA fish survey vessels, scientists use existing knowledge of species’ habitats along with statistical techniques to select areas to collect fish with traps, nets and other devices. The advantage is that the scientists can design the sampling area and method carefully, and the data collected are not directly affected by the kind of harvesting done by the fishing industry.

Baited chevron traps ready for deployment
Baited chevron traps ready for deployment

The survey work on Pisces involves positioning a set of six baited fish traps, known as chevron traps because of their shape, on the sea floor in an effort to capture red snapper and grouper for population assessment. The science team begins preparing the traps at 6 a.m. each day. They spear and cut whole menhaden, a plentiful fish common to the east coast and popular as bait fish, and suspend them from cords inside the traps. They attach two high-definition video cameras to the outside of each trap to capture images of the sea floor and fish communities that might not enter the traps, tag each trap with an identification number, and attach brightly colored buoys that float on the surface to mark the trap locations for easy spotting and to warn passing boats to avoid them.

The deck crew, directed by the Chief Scientist, releases each trap from the rear deck in the pre-selected position. Because the traps are weighted with heavy metal rods, they fall directly to the bottom and are left there to “soak” for ninety minutes. By the time the last trap in each set of six is in place, it is usually time for the ship to return to the first location to pick up the traps in sequence. The deck crew, guided by the operator of the “pot hauler” (a mechanized hoist and pulley system) sitting above, raises each trap and lifts it to the side deck, careful not to run over the trap lines or damage the cameras.

Then the real work begins. In some cases, the traps come up empty, save for the untouched bait. While a catch of “zero” may be disappointing, the zeroes provide important clues. The empty traps, together with the video images and sea floor mapping work, help the scientists assemble a better picture of the sea floor conditions and fish locations…or at least where they are not.

Crew member Kirk Perry observes as Investigators David Berrane and Dave Meyer empty catch of red snapper and black sea bass from chevron trap
Crew member Kirk Perry observes as Investigators David Berrane and Dave Meyer empty catch of red snapper and black sea bass from chevron trap

When the traps come up containing live fish, as they often do, the deck is abuzz with activity. The deck crew tips the traps open to slide a mass of jiggling, flopping, somewhat stunned sea life into awaiting large plastic containers. The science team begins sorting the catch by species, tossing each into separate bins. That is easier said than done, because the fish are slimy, slippery, and squirmy, and most have sharp spines. The fish handlers wear special high-grip gloves, waterproof fishing bibs and boots, but all protection that doesn’t prevent them from being decorated with fish scales on their hair and clothes and a decidedly fishy aroma by the end of the day. Water sprays about, and many a fish flops out of the containers and must be retrieved, over, under, or on top of lab tables and equipment. I learned the first day the danger of talking while this commotion was going on – unless one wants a mouthwash of fishy liquid, not too tasty at any time of day.

Non target species are released back into the water immediately. On this trip so far, the haul has included algae, octopus, sea stars, masses of sea jellies, and three moray eels. The sea creatures face some trauma from entrapment and being lifted up from the depths of thirty meters (approximately ninety-eight feet) or more, but the scientists make every effort to release the fish they don’t need for further study as soon as possible.

Many bony fish have swim bladders, balloon-like organs that help them control their position up and down in the water column by regulating buoyancy automatically, so they do not float or sink. The bladders allow gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out as the fish ascend or descend.

The gases in the swim bladder can over-expand when the fish are brought quickly from the bottom to the surface, as happens when they are reeled in on hooks and lines or captured in traps. When that occurs, the fish look like they are blowing bubble gum, as the pressure from the expanded swim bladders can push internal, sac-like tissue through their open mouths temporarily.

A team member places each container on a digital scale and calls out the weights loud enough for the data recorder to hear above the din of the equipment in the background. The team sets up in assembly line fashion to measure and record length of each fish. One or two people line up the still-lively fish while two stand at measuring boards, hold the fish flat to measure snout to tail, and then release them through a chute back into their ocean habitat. Only the individuals needed for further study are kept, frozen for later processing.

Measuring black sea bass in the wet lab
Measuring black sea bass in the wet lab

The NOAA team arranged to donate the fish catch to a local food bank program based in Jacksonville, part of the national Second Harvest initiative to assist families in need. The crew has gladly pitched in even after their long regular work shifts to fillet and package the fresh fish for donation. Since the market price for fillets of these species is $10 or more per pound, this represents a significant contribution of high-quality, protein-rich fresh fish.

Personal Log

After a few days working with the fish survey team, I began doing overnight shifts with the acoustics group. Much of their work is highly technical, requiring knowledge of fish habitats, geology, mapping, elements of ship’s navigation, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), sonar technology, and computer-based data management.

To the uninitiated (that would be me) the multiple computer screens displaying sonar, navigational information and models of the sea floor are overwhelming. Had I not been instructed otherwise, I might think I was in a high-tech hospital room, as the multibeam sonar projects an image akin to a medical ultrasound.

The acoustics team members, headed by Investigators Warren Mitchell and Todd Kellison, were unfailingly patient as they explained to me how all the elements of their complex system fit together and what I was to do.

My first assigned task was to mark points visible on the sonar screens representing changes in topography – ledges, mounds, and other contours that might be good potential habitat for our target species, red snapper and grouper. After the data are entered and processed, they are used to construct three dimensional images of the sea floor.

Challenge at Sea: Fatigue

Besides learning the basics needed to assist the team, a big challenge is staying awake and alert enough throughout the night to avoid making any costly errors. The other members of the team are better adjusted than I to sleeping during the day, although with all the work they do, they don’t get much rest. Try as I might, I haven’t managed to stay asleep for more than three or four hour stretches once the sun comes up, even after a couple of all-nighters and with the shades in the cabin fully drawn. I hate to miss all the activity on board, anyway, and I can catch up on sleep after returning to land.

Who said scientists don’t have fun? Although the acoustics work is mentally taxing, there is allowance for humorous banter and frequent foraging trips for midnight snacks. Warren labeled those mini-meals “re-dinners” and coined the verb form, “re-dinnering”. We each forage through the cupboards and refrigerators in the mess to assemble creative combinations. Among the highlights: English muffins with Nutella, monster salad with grouper and salmon, with and without wasabi, fruit and cake with ice cream, corn chowder and fresh baked bread. Somewhere between 2 and 4 a.m., it is usually time for a pre-breakfast bowl of cereal and a third or fourth cup of coffee for the night owls …. the ones who don’t have trouble sleeping during daylight hours!

Along with the eating and constant work, there are interludes for stretches, yoga and chin-ups from the well-placed overhead bars to keep oxygen flowing to our brains. I can certainly sympathize with people who work shifts, especially overnight, for long periods of time.

Fishy Humor?

Another custom on these research trips is to note any significant sayings or funny phrases that trip from anyone’s lips during the long days and nights.

Among the recent entries:

When the traps come up with no fish: “Zero is a number, too!”

When very few fish, or ones other than our subjects of study, are trapped: “Some is better than none.”

After the umpteenth trap haul containing nothing but black sea bass: “Black sea bass are fish, too.”

Every time someone expresses optimism about bringing in a big haul: “This is the one.”

To refer to just about anything that goes wrong: “It could be worse.”

Attention!

A few times each day, the officer on deck announces something of note over the ship’s public address system.

“Safety first!” Chief Engineer Garet Urban with First Engineer Brent Jones
“Safety first!” Chief Engineer Garet Urban with First Engineer Brent Jones

“Attention Pisces: Sea turtles off port bow…: I rushed out to the deck just in time to catch a glimpse of two turtles.

“Attention Pisces: “Fish call. Fish call on rear deck.” When we are in a quiet period between operations or in transit to one research location to another, anyone who wishes to can use a rod and reel off the rear deck. Many of the crew members enjoy this pastime. So far, I haven’t seen any big catches.

I’m still waiting for the “Abandon Ship” drill. My required hat, long sleeved shirt and survival suit are ready to go as soon as the alarm sounds. I hope it is not during the few hours when I’m fast asleep!

Engineering Tour

I asked the Operations Officer, Lieutenant Tracy Hamburger, if it would be possible to have a tour of the ship’s engine room and other mechanical operations. Before I knew it, First Engineer Brent Jones appeared to lead me on a tour of the very impressive essential inner workings of Pisces. The ship’s engineering department keeps Pisces nearly self-contained with all the systems that support its safe operations, the science work, and the lives and comfort of the people aboard. The engineers maintain and repair everything, including the four engines, the fresh water supply system, refrigeration and air conditioning, trash incineration, sewage treatment and disposal, and all the lifts, hoists and other equipment used for scientific and other work.

Crew member Ryan Harris trying his luck during evening fish call
Crew member Ryan Harris trying his luck during evening fish call

Brent informed me that the ship’s trash is combusted at temperatures of 1200 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Those high temperatures ensure a fairly complete combustion; nevertheless, there is a residue, or sludge, that must be cleared out regularly. The only materials prohibited from being placed in the incinerators are batteries and aerosol cans, which can explode at those temperatures and damage the system. Any hazardous materials such as paints, solvents, and other chemicals must be labeled and stored for disposal at specialized facilities once the ship returns to port.

Among the impressive other Pisces features and facts:

The ship, with a full complement of crew and scientists, generates about 1400 pounds of waste per day.

  • Special “quiet” controls make her four engines among the quietest in the NOAA fleet.
  • 360 degree thrusters provide force enough to make Pisces very maneuverable in all directions.
  • 1900 gallons or more of marine diesel fuel are consumed each day under normal operations.

Special Terminology

  • Fishery – In a resource management context, a fishery refers to a particular species of interest. For this Pisces research trip, the red snapper and grouper fisheries are of most interest.
  • Fisheries biologists – Scientists who study anatomy and physiology, life cycles, population dynamics, behavioral aspects, habitats, distribution and abundance of fish. They may be employed in academic research, government, education, or commercial sectors.
  • Menhaden – A bait fish commonly used for fisheries research. Menhaden are members of the clupeid family, which includes sardines and herrings. They are used here because they are abundant, relatively cheap, easy to catch and transport, the right size for the trap array and attractive to the target species in the snapper-grouper complex.
  • Hardbottom habitat – a sea floor type that allows for attachment of sponges, seaweed, and coral, which in turn support a diverse reef fish community. The target snapper-grouper complex fish species prefer hardbottom conditions, which are also known as “live bottom” or “live rock”.

Links & Resources

Margaret Stephens, May 19, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Dates of log: Thursday, 19 May through Saturday, 21 May, 2011

Here I am with the CTD equipment
Here I am with the CTD equipment

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: Latitude 27.87, Longitude -80.16
Wind Speed 11.06 kts
Wind Direction. 131.46 º
Surface Water Temperature 26.88 ºC
Surface Water Temperature
Air Temperature 27.10 ºC
Relative Humidity 78.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1015.50 mb
Water Depth 28.05 m
Sky conditions: clear

Science and Technology Log

General Description of the Scientific Work Aboard Pisces
While at sea, the ship’s operations and scientific crews work in shifts 24/7 – yes, that’s twenty-four hours, every day, with ship operations, maintenance, data collection and gear deployment continuing day and night.
The scientific team, headed by Chief Scientist, Dr. Nate Bacheler, includes researchers who are mostly marine biologists specializing in fisheries. Each team member has complementary specialized skills such as acoustics (use of sonar for sea floor mapping), physical or chemical oceanography, underwater video camera operations, data management and analysis, and many aspects of fish biology.

The main mission of this research cruise is to study red snapper and related grouper species, fish that are of great importance economically and to the marine ecosystem in near shore areas off the southeastern coast of the United States. In particular, the team is studying where the fish are likely to be found (their spatial distribution patterns) and their numbers, or abundance, and population dynamics (how the populations change over time).

This work expands the knowledge needed to guide decisions about how to protect and manage fisheries in a sustainable manner. Healthy, sustainable fish populations are essential to the economy, to the function of healthy ecosystems, and as high-protein (and tasty) food sources. In the past, many fish species have been overfished, resulting in dangerous declines in their populations.
The scientific work on board Pisces for this project is divided into three main areas. This log entry gives an overview of each of the three main areas of work, with a more detailed account of the acoustics, or mapping portion. Upcoming logs will describe the other phases in more detail.

  1. Acoustics – Using the science of sound with advanced sonar and computer technology, the acoustics team maps the sea floor and identifies areas likely to be good fish habitat.
  2. Fish survey – The survey team sets baited traps to catch fish, then collects them, identifies the species, and records essential data about the species of most interest.
  3. Underwater videography – The video team attaches cameras to the traps to view the kinds and activities of fish in the water and assess the type of sea bottom, such as sandy or hard, flat or “bumpy”, regular or irregular.
  4. After all this information is collected in the field, much of the painstaking, detailed analysis takes place back in the home labs and offices of the researchers.

Acoustics Work
Since acoustics is the first step used to identify specific sites to set traps for the fish survey, we’ll start here.
Throughout a long night shift, from 6 p.m. until the work is complete, often 7 a.m. or later the following day, the acoustics team uses sonar (SOund NAvigation and Ranging) and computer analysis to map the sea floor and identify promising areas to set traps for the fish survey. See a detailed description of the sonar equipment and procedures below.

Investigator Jennifer Weaver showing GIS model of sea floor contours
Investigator Jennifer Weaver showing GIS model of sea floor contours

At 5 a.m., the acoustics team meets with Chief Scientist Nate to report any sites they identified overnight and select the stations to sample with fish traps and underwater cameras during the day. The team then converts their data into a kind of route map that the helmsman (the ship’s “driver”) uses to steer the ship along the designated survey route.

The acoustics team members possess extensive knowledge about fish habitats, geography and geology of the sea floor, and computer and sonar technology. They also need to be aware of the interactions among wind, weather and currents and understand charts (marine maps) and ship’s navigation. They constantly communicate with the ship’s bridge via the internal radio network.

Fish survey team prepares baited traps at dawn
Fish survey team prepares baited traps at dawn

The acoustics lab houses work space large enough for five to ten people, banks of computer screens, servers, and large-scale display monitors projecting images from the sonar devices, real time navigation, and views from cameras positioned in work areas on deck.

Once the now-very-sleepy acoustics lab team wraps up its nocturnal work, the team members turn in for a day’s (or night’s?) sleep, just as the other teams’ daylight tasks begin in earnest.

Fish Survey Work
By 6 a.m., in the predawn darkness, the rear deck becomes a hub of concentrated activity, with sounds muffled by the early ocean haze and drone of the engines and generators. The four or more members of the fish survey team, still rubbing sleep from their eyes, assemble on the stern deck (rear of ship or fantail) to prepare the traps to catch fish for the day. Before the sun rises, floodlights illuminate the work of cutting and hanging menhaden, whole fish bait, in the traps, securing the underwater cameras in place, tagging each piece of equipment carefully and checking that everything is ready for deployment.

Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler directs trap deployment from the dry lab
Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler directs trap deployment from the dry lab

Chief Scientist Nate directs the deployment of the traps from the dry lab, where he faces a bank of computer screens displaying maps of the identified sampling route, the ship’s course in real time, and camera shots showing the personnel and operations on deck. By radio, Nate directs the deck crew to lower the traps at each of the designated sites.

The ship is steered along the sampling route, dropping traps in each of six locations. Each trap is left in place for approximately ninety (90) minutes. Once the last trap is lowered, the ship returns to the first location and raises the traps, usually following the same order. The deck crew members, together with the fish survey team, empty any catch and ready the traps for redeployment.
Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler directs trap deployment from the dry lab

Then the fish survey team, coordinated by Investigator Dave Berrane, sets to work sorting, weighing and measuring any catch and immediately releasing any fish not needed for further study.

Investigator Christina Schobernd views underwater video with Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler
Investigator Christina Schobernd views underwater video with Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler

Videography Work
As soon as the traps are hauled aboard by the deck crew, the wet lab team detaches and dries the cameras and hands them to the dry lab, where the videography team, headed by Investigator Christina Schobernd, removes the memory cards and transfers and makes duplicates of the video files on computer drives. All the teams take extreme care to label, catalog and back up everything carefully. Data management and redundancy are essential in this business. The scientists view some of the footage immediately to see if the cameras are working properly and to make any adjustments necessary. They also look for anything unusual or unexpected, any fish captured on camera other than those that made it into the trap, and they assess how closely the sea floor type matched what was expected from the acoustic team’s mapping work.

Christina works well into the night to back up and catalog all the day’s video recordings.

Detailed Description of Fisheries Acoustics Surveys

Multibeam sonar mapping the seafloor. Image courtesy of Jill Heinerth, Bermuda: Search for Deep Water Caves 2009.
Multibeam sonar mapping the seafloor. Image courtesy of Jill Heinerth, Bermuda: Search for Deep Water Caves 2009.

Fisheries Acoustic Surveys: Acoustic surveys help determine the relative abundance of target species and provide information to determine catch rates and guidance for fisheries management.

The equipment aboard Pisces includes two types of sonar devices that use sound waves to measure the water depth, shape or contours of the sea floor, and to a limited extent, fish groupings, or aggregations. Sonar operates using established knowledge about how fast sound travels in water under different conditions to develop a three-dimensional image of the shape of the sea floor. The first type is known as split-beam sonar, which uses sound waves at different frequencies to provide a picture of the underwater environment. Pisces has a Simrad EK60 echosounder.

The second, more sophisticated and expensive system involves Multibeam sonar mapping. Aboard Pisces is a Simrad ME70 device. Multibeam devices emit sound beams that forms an inverted cone, covering a larger area and providing a more complete picture of the sea floor than the series of vertical or horizontal sound signals that the split beam sonar provides. As described above, the bathymetric mapping surveys are conducted primarily during the night, from sundown until dawn, when fish sampling and other ship operations are not taking place. Ideally, this allows the science team to map out a route of sampling sites for the next day’s fish trapping work. At the end of the overnight shift, the acoustics team presents its findings to the Chief Scientist, who then coordinates the day’s activities with the fish team, the ship’s bridge, and the deck crew headed by the chief boatswain.

It’s called “multibeam” because unlike the first single-beam sonars, which sent out one signal or ping, multibeam sonar sends out a whole group of pings at once. Multibeam sonar can cover a larger area than a single beam can. Here’s a Quicktime movie of multibeam sonar: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/seafloor-mapping/movies/multi_240.mov

Personal Log

I cannot say enough about how friendly and helpful everyone on board has been to this neophyte. It takes a while to adjust to any new environment, but being on a ship at sea has its own learning curve. Pisces, at 209 feet long, operates like a small town. Because it is out at sea for weeks at a time, all supplies and systems must be operating 24/7 to keep the ship and crew focused on the appointed mission and keep everyone on board safe, comfortable, and able to do their jobs.

I spent the first two days getting acclimated to the layout of the ship, safety practices, meeting the members of the scientific crew, adjusting to the rigorous schedule, and doing my best not to commit any grave offenses or make big mistakes that would make the work of this very patient group of dedicated professionals any more difficult than it is already.

Sleep Time Because the ship’s work continues round the clock, sleep time varies, depending on the person’s position and duties. It is important for everyone aboard to be mindful that at any hour of the day or night, it’s likely that someone is sleeping. The mapping crew began a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift (or later, until the work is finished) on our second day at sea, and most of them will keep that difficult schedule for the entire cruise. Since I’m the lucky one to experience every aspect of the work, I’ll rotate through the various jobs and schedules. For the first few days, I’ll work with the fish survey team, from 6 a.m. until their work is completed, which may mean a break for supper at 5 p.m. followed by a few more hours of lab work to process all the day’s catch. My first day on the acoustics team, I’m scheduled to start at 4 a.m. assisting their nightly wrap up, as by the last few hours of their shift, they are quite tired.

Dining and Comforts Aboard Ship

Chief Steward/Chef Jesse Stiggens with a Pisces creation, a vegetable quiche.
Chief Steward/Chef Jesse Stiggens with a Pisces creation, a vegetable quiche.

Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens and Assistant Steward Michael Sapien create a terrific, appetizing menu for the three main meals and plenty of extras and snacks available at any hour.

The stewards are very accommodating, so anyone who will miss a main meal because of their work or sleep schedule can sign up in advance for the stewards to set aside a full plate of delicious food for them. The mess (dining room on a ship) is open all day and night, with coffee, cold beverages, an array of sandwich fixings, cereals and assorted leftovers kept chilled for anyone to microwave anytime they get a hankering for a nibble or a bigger bite. And…very important for morale … there’s a freezer stocked with ice cream, even Blue Bunny (a favorite in the South that I had not seen before) and Häagen-Dazs. There’s also a big screen television in the mess. The lounge area has computers, a conference or game table, a small library of books, a large screen television and several hundred movie titles, even new releases, for the crew to enjoy in their off time. Also available are wonderful reclining chairs, so comfortable, I wish I had time to use them. The one and only time I tried one out, the fire alarm went off for our first drill, and I haven’t had a free moment since.

Doomsday Came and Went: Saturday, 21 May, 2001….and Pisces work continues
CNN reports: After months of warnings and fear, the Day of Rapture, as predicted by apocalyptic Christian broadcaster Harold Camping, passed without apparent calamity. Judgment Day was to have started at 6 p.m., but as darkness fell on many parts of the world, it appeared that heaven could wait. At this writing, there have been no reports of people soaring upward to the skies, but plenty of folks are talking about it.

That includes those of us on Pisces. The possibility that Doomsday was approaching generated some good-natured kidding and gallows humor. We had some debate about when the end would begin. Since most of the ship’s instruments use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a reference, we speculated that our end time might occur four hours later than east coast Daylight Savings Time (DST).

Everyone had their eyes on the clock and the horizon as first, the predicted doomsday hour of 6 p.m. DST came and went, and then, four hours later, 6 p.m. GMT passed without incident. Any apprehensions were put to rest, and now we have new fodder for discussion.

Special Challenges for Research at Sea
Many people have the idea that science is neat, pretty and conducted in sterile lab environments by other-worldly thinkers in clean white lab coats. That is decidedly not the case in fisheries work at sea. This section lists the special challenges (or, as, some optimists would say, “opportunities”) of conducting shipboard research. Each log will focus on or give examples of one or more challenges.

  • Limits of “shooting in the dark” – Imagine a vast, dark, deep, ever-changing, difficult-to-penetrate area, with living organisms moving about in and out, with all kinds of surface, bottom, and in-between conditions. That’s what underwater research involves. Examples: The mapping team thinks it has found great habitat for red snapper and grouper, so the survey team expects a bountiful trap. But up comes nothing but a trap still full of untouched bait. Or, the habitat conditions look promising, but the current is too strong to set the traps safely.
  • The Unexpected – It is often said that the only thing predictable in field research of this kind is unpredictability! You just never know….
  • Curiosity-seekers and just plain business – recreational and commercial boats – Not surprisingly, the areas of interest for NOAA fisheries research are often favorite fishing grounds for recreational fishermen, scuba divers, and active routes for commercial ships. Therefore, Pisces crew and helm (the person steering the ship) must always be on alert for other boat traffic. Example: On Saturday, a small recreational boat occupied by partiers pulled up nearly alongside Pisces. Despite polite cautions and requests from our bridge for the small boat to move away to a safer distance, the visitors just kept waving and cheering for a while.

Challenges to come in next logs:

  • Changing sea conditions, weather, waves and current
  • Fatigue
  • Limited daylight hours
  • Emergencies
  • More unpredictables

Links & Resources

Margaret Stephens, May 18, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Fisheries survey, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Mayport, Florida to South of St. Lucie Inlet, Florida Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
As of 15:05 (3:00 p.m. EDT 18 May)
Wind Speed 11.17 knots
Wind Direction 68.31
Clear, Visibility 10+ miles
Surface Water Temperature 26.33 ºC
Air Temperature 22.10 ºC
Relative Humidity 65.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1011.20 mb
Water Depth 38.09 m

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Pisces, Commissioned on November 6, 2009
NOAA Ship Pisces, Commissioned on November 6, 2009

The principal work of the Pisces involves fish – their habitats, distribution (where they are found) and their population dynamics (how and why their numbers change over time). Teams of scientists come aboard Pisces for a few days to two weeks at a time to study, monitor, and collect data on many marine species and conditions in the waters of the United States from the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and South Atlantic as far north as North Carolina. This region is among the world’s most productive marine areas, with many important commercial and recreational fisheries. Pisces is outfitted with sophisticated equipment and instruments that allow scientists to conduct surveys of many marine species, study ocean conditions and marine habitats, and map the sea floor using bathymetric (underwater mapping) analysis. Their work provides vital information to help establish practices and policies to manage marine ecosystems protect species and habitats facing stresses from overfishing, pollution, and climate change, and maintain sustainable fishing practices. Pisces also observes and collects data on weather, sea conditions, and other environmental factors important to the fishing and other commercial interests, scientists, and coastal residents.

During this research cruise, Pisces will collect data primarily about red snapper and grouper species (known as the snapper-grouper complex) to assess their distribution and abundance, or population numbers. At present, the red snapper fishery is closed, meaning that commercial and recreational fishing of that species is prohibited, because overfishing had led to a severe decline in its population. Groupers, a group (no pun intended) of species, are popular, tasty and economically important fish caught by recreational and commercial fishing boats.

The first step in the scientific work is for the team to identify areas where those species are likely to be found, so that they can have a better chance of catching them to study further. The scientists, like good detectives, gather information from prior studies about the kinds of habitats those species prefer, and then they use advanced sonar techniques to find the most promising areas to survey. There will be more about their techniques, equipment and methodologies in the upcoming log entries.

The scientific party aboard includes eleven professionals, led by Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler, Ph.D. Nate and several of the team work out of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, headquartered in Beaufort, North Carolina. All of them look forward to spending a few or more weeks at sea each year for about a week or two at a time. The ship’s operations crew, headed by Commander Jeremy Adams, includes officers who manage the ship around the clock, ship’s engineers, deck crew and, most importantly, the stewards that keep everyone well fed all day, every day.

Personal Log

I’m so fortunate to be among a terrific group of dedicated scientists and crew as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is like the NASA of the oceans. As a federal government agency funded by public dollars, its mission is to study and provide information to the public and decision-makers about the weather, climate,