Story Miller, July 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Story Miller
NOAA Ship: Oscar Dyson

Mission: Summer Pollock III
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: July 20, 2010

Time: 1240
Latitude: 53°51N
Longitude:166°34W
Wind: 7 knots (approx. 8.055mph)
Direction: 202° (SW)
Sea Temperature: 9.22°C (approx. 48.596°F)
Air Temperature: 9.82°C (approx. 49.676°F)
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1023.8

Scientific Information
Figure 1: View of the low fog, clouds and sunset in Dutch Harbor the night of the delay.

What Is NOAA and How Can You Get Involved?
NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and is part of the United States Department of Commerce. NOAA is involved around the world and there are many different avenues one could become involved with. For example, some people are involved in forecasting the location of the next hurricane strike, which means that you could be responsible for saving the lives of people living in those areas. If climate change is of a particular interest, you could aid in the monitoring of global weather systems to make climate predictions for the future. If ecological studies suit you, a job with NOAA could involve collecting data from costal environments to continue efforts of preserving healthy ecosystems. Perhaps your studies and data analysis would aid in the critical decision making processes of businesses around the world, such as creating and enforcing policies for the fisheries industry to maintain its resources for the future.  Mapping is equally important and part of your experience with NOAA could involve creating or enhancing navigational data to aid in the protection of ships and prevent potential accidents. Finally, perhaps you are interested in commanding a NOAA ship or piloting a NOAA aircraft. In that case, you could become part of the NOAA Corps.

The Mission

The primary mission of the Oscar Dyson is the Walleye Pollock survey, which consists of conducting Acoustic Surveys and Fishery Survey Trawls. The acoustic survey relies on sonar waves that are powerful enough to detect fish at different depths. Once the fish is located on the sonar screen, the trawl net is then accurately deployed to a specific depth depending on where the targeted fish species are located. This depth can range from 16 meters from the surface all the way down to 3 meters from the bottom.  The net is then hauled onto the ship’s aft deck and the contents are spread on the table in the lab for sorting and identification. Different species, such as the Walleye Pollock, will be measured for size, sex, and age before being released overboard. Some other species like Pacific Cod and Arrowtooth Flounder will be collected for additional studies.

Delays, Delays!

Monday, July 19th appeared to be a rare, sunny day in Dutch Harbor for most of the afternoon. We were scheduled to leave Dutch Harbor at 1500h but due to baggage problems for those who recently arrived in Dutch Harbor, we were delayed until the next day. Because of the short airstrip in Dutch Harbor, the sizes of the airplanes are smaller than those of regular airports. Currently Pen Air uses SAAB Turboprop airplanes. These planes are small and hold about thirty passengers. They are typically used for small air carriers for short commutes.  Another critical factor involved with flights is weight. For every passenger, think of the additional weight of all the bags each person has. Most people fly with one or two bags, each weighing 50lbs or less and in our case, some people also had additional bags carrying scientific equipment.

Figure 2: A typical foggy day in Dutch Harbor, Monday, July 19th, 2010

Weight in an airplane causes the plane to use more fuel and smaller airplanes cannot carry as much fuel as the other airplanes, such as Boeing 737 aircraft, commonly used for longer commutes by larger airlines. Because of the distance between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor, full flights generally need to make a stop in the small villages of King Salmon or Cold Bay to refuel. Other difficulties faced by the airport in Dutch Harbor are that the airstrip is a “daylight only” landing zone and the weather can be quite hazardous. Winds reaching up to 90 mph are not uncommon and in the summer, low fog becomes a visibility issue. If the pilots do not have a specific range of visibility, they cannot land. Therefore, the necessity of refueling in Cold Bay or King Salmon is critical because many times when the plane reaches the airport and hazardous weather conditions are preventing a safe landing, the airplane must have enough fuel to circle the airport in hope for a sliver of time when landing conditions are safe and, if necessary, enough fuel to fly all the way back to King Salmon or Cold Bay. Again, weight is an issue in the fuel consumption of an airplane and therefore, on full flights, the airplane must sometimes “bump” bags, which means that sometimes your checked bag will not make it on the flight you are on and will be scheduled on a later flight. This of course isn’t a bad plan except that the weather in Dutch can change from one extreme to the next in a matter of fifteen minutes. In our case, to add to the difficulty of getting our bags, it was explained to us that because the air had become warmer, it lessened the lift on the airplane which was another reason why the planes did not carry very many bags that day. With all these important technicalities, one could maybe understand why flying into Dutch Harbor can be difficult. Therefore, some people have successful flights and others experience the “flight to nowhere” which involves flying part or the entire three hours to Dutch Harbor, circling or waiting in Cold Bay, and then flying back to Anchorage. One could say that you are not a local until you have experienced this situation a few times!

Personal Log:

My first day on the boat proved to be interesting as I quickly learned my way around the ship. I sometimes make the analogy of myself being like a rat in a maze trying to find the cheese. In a way it is accurate because the cook on board has made some fantastic dinners and I’ve been successful at finding the mess hall by simply following my nose! For supper on Monday night, we had a buffet-style dinner and I was pleasantly surprised with the menu as I helped myself to prime rib and king crab legs!

Figure 3: Me in front of the Oscar Dyson, Monday, July 19th, 2010 (notice the extreme weather change!)

On Tuesday, we were able to get underway at approximately 1300. Before pulling away from the dock, we needed to test our FRB (Fast Rescue Boat) to make sure it was functional in the possible event of an emergency. Once we knew the FRB was functional, we hauled it back onto the boat. As soon as we began to move, I went to the flying bridge (the highest deck on the ship) to catch a glimpse of Dutch Harbor and to watch the local birds sitting on the water. Most of the birds I saw were tufted puffins. I always find them amusing because if you get near them when they have eaten too many fish, they try to fly away but their belly is too heavy. Therefore they simply skim over the water, wings flapping intensely, and bellies dragging over the top of the water!

Figure 4: Lead Fisherman Dennis Boggs and Skilled Fisherman Mike Tortorella testing the FRB

Some advances in healthcare that I am extremely excited about is that I have found a seasickness medication that does not knock me out in under 5 minutes and that works for a long period of time. Thank you Meclizine!
Currently we are underway and have approximately 381 miles northwest to travel before we make our waypoint which will take approximately 28 hours. As of right now, my job has been to get acclimated to the ship. Work will begin Thursday at sunrise, about 0700).  My current shifts will run from 0400h to 1600h each day. I cannot wait to begin the first part of my assignment!

Animals Spotted By Me Today:
Blackfooted Albatross
Tufted Puffin
Seagull
Sea Otter
Fur Seal

Something To Ponder:
Regarding NOAA fish surveys, such as the Pollock Survey I’m participating in, what impacts would the scientific information collected have on the fishery industry regarding revenue and long term success?

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Monday, June 21

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N
Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to http://www.dolphindreamteam.com/dolphins/dolphins.html

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum ffor violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Personal Log

The best part of this trip is all the marine life I see in the Gulf. In the past few days, dolphins have been swimming up to the boat and riding the bow wave of the ship. They are so graceful and playful in the water. In addition to the Tiger Shark seen feasting on the dead Sperm Whale, I have seen quite a few sharks swimming in the water near our ship. One, called a Silky Shark, took the bait as some of the crew was fishing from the stern of the boat (shown to the left). It was hauled up so the hook could be taken out and released back into the water. The second was a baby shark swimming near the bow of the ship as I watched the dolphins in the distance. I also saw a shark swimming near the starboard side of our ship while the deckhands were hauling up one of the camera arrays.

The fourth shark was the most exciting. As the crew was working at the stern of the ship to release a line that was caught in the rudder, I looked over the stern to see a large shark very near the surface swimming toward the starboard (right) side of the ship. I hurried to look and to my surprise it was a giant Hammerhead! I never expected to see one of these in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out, the Hammerhead was too far away and too deep to get a clear shot, but what a sight to see!

Hammerhead shark
Hammerhead shark
The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==
The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

I often mistake the fish shown on the left for sharks. Actually they are Cobia, also known as Lemonfish. Once in a while thefish approach the boat as we are hauling fishup on the bandit reel. I have also seen bojellyfish in the water as we are working on the starboard side of the ship and I spotted a brief glimpse of an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) from the bridge of the ship as I was talking to our Commanding Officer (CO). I wish I could have seen this fish up close. They are the largest bony fish in the oceans and as someone on the ship described, they resemble a giant Chiclet swimming in the water.

The smallest living things I have seen while at sea are the tiny creatures that live in the Sargassum, a type of seaweed that floats freely within and on the surface of the Gulf waters. The Sargassum provides a habitat for tiny creatures that are the foundation of the food web, even providing food for some of the largest animals in the sea like whales. The picture below on the left shows a giant patch of Sargassum, while the picture on the right shows some of the creatures that live within it including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs.

Sargassum
Sargassum
Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs
Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs

Seeing all this life has been reassuring as the oil continues to gush into Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana, however I can’t help but think what the overall impact of this spill will be for the future of the Gulf. Will we see the negative environmental impact spread to the Eastern Gulf? Are microscopic droplets of oil and chemical dispersants infecting the food chain beyond the area that we visibly see being impacted? These questions will be answered as NOAA scientists continue to collect and analyze the type of data that I am helping gather on this SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this scientific endeavor.

Animals Seen

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

Cobia (Rachycentron canadum)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

Krill, Shrimp, Crab (species unidentified)

Anne Byford, June 11, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Byford
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – 15, 2010

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Location:  off the coast of New England
June 11, 2010

Weather Data at 1:35pm
EDT: Clear, 14.4˚C
Location at 1:35pm
EDT: Lat: 40 30.07 N
Long: 69 08.66 W
Water Depth: 77.5 m
4th Day at Sea

Why Count Sea Scallops?

That had to be the most common question I got asked before coming on this trip. Much of the information below is from the NOAA FishWatch website (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/species/atl_sea_scallop.htm).

Economically, sea scallops are an important species; in 2008 the scallop harvest was about 53.5 million pounds and was worth about $370 million. The population is not currently considered to be overfished and has been above minimum sustainable levels since 2001. Formal management began in 1982 with the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fisheries Management Plan. The management plan includes limiting new permits, restrictions on gear and on the number of crew on a boat. Since about 2000, the biomass of scallops has been increasing. Biomass is estimated by using the weight of scallops per tow on cruises like this one. Combinations of biomass estimates and estimates of the commercial catch are used to update and adjust the management plan.

Sea Scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) are filter feeders. They can live up to 20 years and begin reproducing at about 2 years, with maximum fertility reached at 4 years. A single female scallop can produce up to 270 million eggs in her life. This high reproductive capacity has helped the scallop population recover relatively quickly. Gender can be determined by the color of the gonad; females are orange while the male gonad is white. Adult scallops average between 6 and 7 inches from hinge to tip (called height) but can be as big as 9 inches. Age can be estimated by counting the rings on the shell. Scallops can “swim” by opening and closing the two shells. This is a useful adaptation for escaping from predators, including flounder, cod, lobsters, crabs, and sea stars. Scallops are harvested for the adductor muscle (the one that opens and closes the shell). There is no commercial aquaculture of scallops in the US as of August 2009.

scallop dorsal and ventral

Personal Log

A storm moved through beginning on Wed. evening (day 2) and stayed with us most of Thursday. By the end of shift on Wednesday, we were working on deck in full foul weather gear and life jackets. Thursday we had an 8 hour steam between dredge sites and by the end of shift on Thursday, the seas had begun to smooth out. Friday was quite nice, weather-wise.

I am learning to shuck scallops, though I am about half the speed of many on the boat. I am also learning to tell the various types of flounder and other fish apart as well. It’s not always obvious which type of founder or hake is which.

New Species

Goose fish (aka monk fish), several more varieties of flounder, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, eel pout, some very large skates, 3 types of sea stars and 1 type of brittle star.

Richard Chewning, June 15th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Chewning
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 4 – 24, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Date: June 15th, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: eastern Bering Sea
Time: 1530
Latitude: N 55 47.020
Longitude: W 165 24.970
Cloud Cover: overcast
Wind: 14 knots
Temperature: 6.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1003.7 mbar

Science and Technology Log

In addition to researchers on the lookout for seabirds, the Oscar Dyson is also hosting researchers hoping to catch a glimpse of some the world’s largest animals: marine mammals. Either ocean dwelling or relying on the ocean for food, marine mammals include cetaceans (whales, porpoises, and dolphins), manatees, sea lions, sea otters, walrus, and polar bears. Although marine mammals can be enormous in size (the largest blue whale ever recorded by National Marine Mammal Laboratory scientists was 98 feet long or almost the length of a ten story building laid on its side!), studying marine mammals at sea can be challenging as they spend only a short time at the surface. Joining the Dyson from the NMML on this cruise are Suzanne Yin, Paula Olson, and Ernesto Vazquez. As a full time observer, Yin spends most of the year on assignment on various vessels sailing on one body of water or another and only occasionally is to be found transitioning through her home of San Francisco, California. Paula calls San Diego, California home and spends most of her time when not observing at sea working on a photo identification database of blue and killer whales. Ernesto is a contract biologist from La Paz, Mexico and has been working on and off with NOAA for several years. Ernesto has worked with several projects for the Mexican government including ecological management of the Gulf of California Islands.

Yin keeping warm from the cold
Ernesto keeping sharp lookout for marine mammals

Paula keeping an eye on the horizon

Yin, Paula, and Ernesto undoubtedly have the best view on the Oscar Dyson. Working as a three member team, they search for their illusive quarry from the flying bridge. The flying bridge is the open air platform above the bridge where the ship’s radar, communication equipment, and weather sensors are located. One observer is positioned both on the front left and front right corners of the flying bridge. Each observer is responsible for scanning the water directly in front to a line perpendicular to the ship forming a right angle. Two powerful BIG EYE binoculars are used to scan this to scan this 90 degree arc. These binoculars are so powerful they can spot a ship on the horizon at over ten miles (even before the Dyson’s radar can detect the vessel!). The third person is stationed in the middle of the flying bridge and is responsible for surveying directly ahead of the ship and for scanning the blind spot just in front of the ship that is too close for the BIG EYES to see. This person is also responsible for entering sightings into a computer database via a lap top computer. The three observers rotate positions every thirty minutes and take a thirty minute break after one full rotation. One complete shift lasts two hours. Yin, Paula, and Ernesto start soon after breakfast and will continue observing until 9:30 at night if conditions allow.

Dall’s porpoise

Weather can produce many challenges for marine mammal observers as they are exposed to the elements for hours at a time. Fortunately, Yin, Paula, and Ernesto are well prepared. Covered from head to toe wearing insulated Mustang suits (the name come from the manufacturer), they are pretty well protected from light spray, wind, and cold. Although a certain amount of the face is always exposed, a shoulder high wind shield helps deflect most of the spray and wind. In addition to wind chill and wind burn, a strong wind can also produce large rolling waves called swells that make viewing through the BIG EYES next to impossible. Sometimes reducing visibility so much that the bow can barely be seen the bridge, fog is undoubtedly a marine mammal observer’s greatest adversary.

Humpback whales through the Big Eyes
Salmon fishing operation through the Big Eyes

So far during the cruise, Yin, Paula, and Ernesto have spotted many blows on the horizon and have identified several species of marine mammals. A common sighting is the Dall’s porpoise. Your eyes are easily drawn towards these fun marine mammals as they produce characteristic white splashes by repeatedly breaking the water’s surface exposing a white stripe on their side. Blows from fin whales have also been regularly observed. Other sightings include killer whales, humpback whales, Pacific white sided dolphins, and a rare sighting of a Baird’s beaked whale.

Personal Log

Life aboard a constantly moving platform can take a little getting used to! I imagine if a person doesn’t live in an area frequented by earthquakes, one will easily take for granted the fact that the ground usually remains stable and firm underfoot (I know I did!). Over the last view days, steady winds from the south have conspired to create conditions ideal for rolling seas. Large swells (waves created by winds far away) make the Dyson very animated as we push forward on our survey transects. In addition to making deployments of gear more difficult, routine personal tasks soon assume a challenging nature as well. Whether you are simply getting dressed in the morning, trying to make your way to your seat with lunch in hand, or taking a shower in the evening, a constantly pitching and rolling deck will make even a seasoned deckhand wobble and stumble from time to time.

Building seas

A piece of advice I have often heard during these conditions calls for “one hand for you and one for the ship”. Maintaining three points of contact with ship, especially when moving between decks, can save you from being tossed off balance. The crew is very considerate of these conditions and allows even more understanding than customary when you bump into shipmates. I have also learned the importance of securing any loose equipment and personal items after usage during rough seas as they might not be in the same place when you return. In addition to waking several times during the night and having a restless sleep, these conditions will also leave you feeling stiff and fatigued in the morning after a bumpy night of being tossed around in your rack. Once you muster the strength to get moving, your legs become surprisingly tired as you constantly try to keep your balance. Along with the rest of the crew, the Dyson also feels the effects of jogging through rough seas as you constantly hear the rhythmic sounds of the bow plowing though the next wave and of the ship’s superstructure groaning under the strain.

Measuring the Dyson’s roll
Passing through the fog

Did you know? Fog is essentially a cloud on the ground’s surface.