Kaitlin Baird: Did You Know? September 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Back in port! Newport Rhode Island
Date: September 21st
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Location Data:
Latitude: 41’53.04
Longitude: 71’31.77

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 13.8 (approx.57°F)
Wind Speed: 10.01 kts
Wind Direction:  North
Surface Water Temperature: 19.51 °C (approx. 67°F)
Weather conditions: overcast

Science and Technology Log:
I thought I would end my trip on the Henry B. Bigelow with some fun facts!
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Did you know?
The Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS) is able to prompt the data recorders with all actions needing to be performed for a particular species. It is coded with unique barcodes for every sample taken. Back in the laboratory all scientists receiving samples can receive all the information taken about the given organism by scanning this unique barcode!
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barcoding for species caught on cruise for further analysis
Barcoding for species caught on cruise for further analysis

Did you know?
Science crew operating on the back deck are required to wear an Overboard Recovery Communications Apparatus (ORCA). This system if it is activated sends a signal by way of radio frequency to a receiver on the ship’s bridge. This system responds immediately to the ship receiver and has a direction finder to help locate the man overboard.

Me getting ready to head to the back deck with my positioning system around my neck
Me getting ready to head to the back deck with my ORCA around my neck
Personal Log:
It would take me hours to go through all of the amazing creatures we caught and surveyed on this trip, so I thought I would write some fast facts about some of my favorites! Enjoy!
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Did you know?
The male spoon arm octopus has a modified arm that passes spermatophores into the oviducts of the female. Pretty neat stuff!
spoonarrm octopus
Spoon arm octopus

Did you know?
Stargazers, like this one, have an electric organ and are one of few marine bony fish species that are able to produce electricity.  This is known as Bioelectrogenesis. They also hide beneath the sand with just their eyes sticking out and ambush their prey!

Stargazer
Stargazer

Did you know?
This fish, the Atlantic midshipman, has bioluminescent bacteria that inhabit these jewel–like photophores that emit light! It also interestingly enough uses this function in fairly shallow waters!

midshipman photophores
Midshipman photophores

Did you know?
Sea spiders like this one have no respiratory organs. Since they are so small gasses diffuse in and out of their bodies, how cool is that!

sea spider
Sea spider

Did you know?
The flaming box crab, Calappa flammea, uses its scissor-like claws that act as a can opener. It has a special modified appendage to open hermit crabs like a can opener!

flaming box crab
Flaming box crab

Did you know?
A female Atlantic angel shark like this one can have up to 13 pups!

angel shark
Angel shark

Did you know?
Seahorses suck up their food through their long snout, and like the flounders I talked about at the beginning of the cruise, their eyes also move independently of each other!!

seahorse
Seahorse

Did you know?
Horseshoe crabs, like this one, have blue blood. Unlike the blood of mammals, they don’t have hemoglobin to carry oxygen, instead they have henocyanin. Because the henocyanin has copper in it, their blood is blue!

horseshoe crab
Horseshoe crab

Last but NOT least, Did you know?
According to the Guiness Book of World Records the American Lobster has been known to reach lengths over 3 ft (0.91 m) and weigh as much as 44 lb (20 kg) or more. This makes it the heaviest marine crustacean in the world! This one was pretty large!!

American Lobster
American Lobster

A big farewell to everyone on the Henry B. Bigelow! Thanks so much, i had a great time and learned a lot! Thanks for reading!

Allan Phipps: From Unalaska to Un-Alaska, September 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

The bow of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson!
Mission: Alaskan Pollock Mid-water Acoustic Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 1, 2012
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Location Data 
Latitude: N 26° 03.476′
Longitude: W 080° 20.920′

Weather Data from home
Wind Speed:   7.8 knots (9 mph)
Wind Direction: East
Wave Height:    2 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 28.9°C (84°F)
Air Temperature: 30°C (86 °F)
Barometric Pressure:    1016 millibars ( 1 atm)

Science and Technology Log:  

Below are the numbers that Johanna (my fellow Teacher at Sea) put together at the end of our mission.

We completed 44 hauls in our leg of the survey and caught approximately 118,474 pollock.  All of those pollock weighed a collective 24,979.92 kg (= 25 tons)!  Last year’s official total allowable catch (called a quota) for all commercial fishermen in Alaska was 1.17 million tons!

So, we only caught 25 tons/ 1,170,000 tons = 0.00002 = 0.002% of the yearly catch in our study.

The estimated population of pollock in the Bering Sea  is 10 million tons (10,000,000 T).  This means we caught only 0.00025% of the entire pollock population!

So, as you can see, in the big picture, our sampling for scientific analysis is quite TINY!

Continuing with more cool pollock data…

  • We identified 7,276 males and 7,145 females (and 2,219 were left unsexed)
  • We measured 16,640 pollock lengths on the Ichthystick!
  • Pollock lengths ranged from 9cm to 74cm
  • We measured 260 lengths of non-pollock species (mostly jellyfish, pacific herring, and pacific cod)
  • We collected 1,029 otoliths for analysis

Personal Log:

After two full days of travel including a long red-eye flight across country, I am back in Ft Lauderdale, Florida.  I had the most incredible experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea on the Oscar Dyson!  The trip was absolutely amazing!  Here are some parting shots taken on my last day in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

The scientists onboard the Oscar Dyson on this leg of the Alaska Walleye Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey. From left to right we see fellow Teacher at Sea Johanna, chief scientist Taina, scientists Rick and Kresimir, myself, then scientist Darin.
The bottom-trawl net all wrapped up and ready to off-load. Note the label says “used and abused.” This is to remind workers in the net yard to check and mend the net.  It reminds me that we worked hard and worked the equipment harder.  Sign me up again for another NOAA Teacher at Sea experience!!!

In closing, I would like to thank a few people.  The NOAA Corps officers and deck crew are wonderful and do a great job running a tight ship.  I would like to thank them all for keeping me safe, warm, dry, and well fed while out at sea.  They all made me feel right at home.

The NOAA scientists Taina, Kresimir, Rick and Darin did a fabulous job patiently explaining the science occurring onboard and I appreciate them letting me become a part of the team!  I loved immersing myself back in the practice of real scientific inquiry and research!

I would like to thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for allowing me to take part in this incredible research experience for teachers!  Teachers and students in my district are very excited to hear about my experiences and I look forward to continuing to share with them about NOAA Teacher at Sea!  Sign me up, and I’d be happy to “set sail” with NOAA again.

Finally, I would like to thank my readers.  I truly enjoyed sharing my experiences with you and hope that, through my blog, you were able to experience a bit of the Bering Sea with me.

Kaitlin Baird: Women in a H2O World: Girl Power in Science, September 19, 2012

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Long Island
Date: September 19th
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Location Data:
Latitude: 40’54.90
Longitude: 73’30.18

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 18.4 (approx.65°F)
Wind Speed: 10.64 kts
Wind Direction:  Northwest
Surface Water Temperature: 20.08 °C (approx. 68°F)
Weather conditions: sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log:

Ocean acidification have been the buzz words in the shellfish and coral reef world for the last few decades, but how will changes in our ocean’s pH affect our coastal fisheries resources? The Henry B. Bigelow is host to another project to help monitor this very question. The ship has an automated system that draws in surface seawater through an uncontaminated line and feeds it to a spray head equilibrator (seen in photo). Here, this instrument measures the partial pressure of carbon dioxide through an infrared analyzer. Standards are used to automatically calibrate the instrument periodically so it can take data while the fish are being counted and measured. How great is that!

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system schematic
Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system schematic

It has already been shown and well documented that our oceans are getting more acidic. Something to remember is that our ocean and atmosphere are always in equilibrium in terms of carbon dioxide. Therefore, if we emit more carbon dioxide some of that will be absorbed by the ocean. The rapid changes in development since the industrial revolution have led to more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and therefore, over time, more diffusing into the ocean. The amount of carbon dioxide our ocean is absorbing has changed its chemistry. Increasing partial pressure of carbon dioxide (through several chemical reactions) makes the carbonate ion less available in the ocean (especially the upper layers where much aquatic life abounds).

This does not mean the ion isn’t there, it just means it is less available. Now why is this important to fisheries? Well, many organisms are dependent on this carbonate ion to make their tests, shells, and skeletons. They combine it with the calcium ion to make calcium carbonate (calcite, aragonite and other forms). If they can’t properly calcify this affects a large range of functions. In terms of commercial fisheries, scientists want to know more how acidification will affect commercial species that make their own shells, but also the fish who call them dinner. Ocean acidification has also been shown to affect other food sources for fish and reproductive patterns of the fish themselves. The fish research at NOAA will concentrate on the early life history stages of fish, as this is their most vulnerable phase. The research priority is analyzing responses in important calcifying shellfish and other highly productive calcareous phytoplankton (base of the food chain). To learn more in detail from NOAA please read this. By monitoring the partial pressure of carbon dioxide at fisheries stations over time, scientists can compare this data with the health, location, and fitness of much of the marine life they survey.

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system
Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system

Personal Log:
As my time on the Bigelow is drawing to a close, I wanted to highlight some of the amazing women in science on board the ship who play key roles in the research and upkeep of the ship. I have asked them all a few questions about their job and for some advice for young women who would like to take on these various roles in the future! Since we have so many talented women on the ship, please stay tuned for another addition!

Amanda Tong

Amanda Tong
Amanda Tong — Fisheries Data Auditor, Northeast Fisheries Observer Program

Job Title:
Fisheries Data Auditor with the Fisheries Sampling Branch
Program: Northeast Fisheries Observer Program
NOAA Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Amanda is responsible for working with the Fisheries Data Editor to be the collator of information received from the Fisheries Observers and more specifically the Fisheries data editors. She is looking for any errors in data reporting from the Fisheries Observer Program and working with the editors who are in direct contact with them.

If you remember in my last blog, I talked about the otolith and length information going to the Population Dynamics group who make models of fisheries stocks. The data from the Fisheries Biology program is also given to this end user. This way the models take into account actual catches as well as bycatch. Other end users of the data are graduate students, institutions and other researchers.

Amanda’s favorite aspect of her job:
Amanda likes being the middle person between the fishing industry while also working for the government. She likes seeing how the data change over the years with changes in regulation and gear types. She finds it interesting to see how the fisheries change over time and the locations of the fish change over time. She also loves hearing the amazing stories of being at sea.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:  Amanda received a degree in marine biology, which she thinks set her up perfectly. She suggests however that the major doesn’t have to be so specific as long as it has components of biology. The most important aspect she feels was volunteering and learning how to do field work with natural resource management, even if on land. Learning how to properly sample in the field was really important. Amanda is a former Fisheries Observer so she also knows the ins and outs of the program that collects the data she is auditing. This helps her look for easily recognizable errors in the data sets from all different gear types. By gear types I mean trawls vs. gill nets vs. long lines etc.

Robin Frede

Robin- Fisheries Data Editor
Robin — Fisheries Data Editor

Job Title:
Fisheries Data Editor
Branch: Fisheries Sampling Branch
Program: Northeast Fisheries Observer Program
NOAA Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Robin deals directly with the Fisheries Observers. Fisheries observers are assigned to different boats and gear types up and down the eastern seaboard to record catches and bycatch as well as run sampling protocols. After each trip Robin checks in with the observer for a debrief and they send on their data to her. It is her responsibility to take a good look at the data for any recognizable errors in measurement or sampling error. Since she was a fisheries observer herself, she can coach the observers and help mentor them in sampling protocol and general life at sea. Once she reviews the data set it gets collated and sent off for review by the Fisheries Data Auditor.

Favorite part of her job:
Robin’s favorite part of her job is being a mentor. Having done the program herself previous to her current job she has a full understanding of the logistical difficulties that observers face at sea. She also is well versed in all of the aspects of sampling with different gear types. Since she is no longer at sea on a regular basis one of her favorite aspects is getting to go to sea on a shadow trip to help out new observers. She also participates in one research trip (currently on the Bigelow now), and one special training trip each year.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Robin suggests a Biology basis for this type of job and lots of experience volunteering with field work. Understanding the methodology and practicing are very important to accurate data collection. Accuracy and practice make her job as an editor a lot easier. If you think you might be interested in this type of career Robin suggests the Fisheries Observer Internship. You can find out if you like spending a lot of time at sea, and this line of work, plus get exposure to many sampling protocols.

Amanda Andrews

Amanda Andrews-Survey Technician
Amanda Andrews — Survey Technician

Job Title:
Survey Technician
Office of Marine and Aviation Operations
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Amanda wears many hats and goes wherever the Henry B. Bigelow goes. She is in charge of supervising data collection and analysis. She is the liaison between the ship’s crew and the scientific crew.  She is in charge of the scientific equipment function and maintenance. Amanda is the go-to person on each survey during sampling. She also is responsible for helping crew on the back deck.

 Favorite Part of her Job:
Amanda’s favorite part of her job is that the ocean is her office. She lives aboard the Bigelow and where it goes, she goes.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Amanda started out working on the back deck of NOAA ships and progressed to become a survey technician. She suggests having a good background in marine biology and biology in school, but more importantly always be willing to learn.

Nicole  Charriere

Nicole Charriere- Sea-going Biological Technician
Nicole Charriere — Sea-going Biological Technician

Job Title:
Aboard the ship currently: Day Watch Chief
Official title: Sea-Going Biological Technician
Branch: Ecosystem Survey Branch
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Nicole’s job entails being at sea between 120 and 130 days a year! She specifically goes out on Ecosystem Survey cruises that she can do some choosing with.  She goes out on bottom trawling, scallop, and clam survey trips. Her job is to help the scientific party either as a watch chief or chief scientist. She has to handle all sampling as well as fully understand all of the survey techniques. She is well versed in the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS) and needs to know her fish and critter ID. She is the one responsible for sending down all the species already pre-tagged with their ID.  On top of all that she is also responsible for monitoring the censors on the net and regularly replacing them.

Favorite part of her job:
Nicole’s favorite part of her job is not being in an office and being at sea. Her work environment is always changing, as the scientific crew is always changing and so are the species she works with. She enjoys working and meeting new people each cruise.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Nicole says to get to where she is you have to work hard. You might not be the one with the most experience, but if you work hard, it doesn’t go unnoticed. She also suggests networking as much as possible. Get to know what people do and learn from them. She says studying biology was helpful, but not an absolute necessity. Above all, make sure you love what you do and make sure you are excited to go to work.
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Caitlin Craig

Caitlin Craig- Department of Conservation (NY)
Caitlin Craig — Department of Environmental Conservation (NY)

Job Title
Diadromous Fish Department Intern
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
State of New York

What she does:
Caitlin participates in field surveys twice a week that target striped bass. The data are used to look at their migration patterns in Long Island waters.  While at DEC she was also looking at the juvenile fish species in the bays and estuaries of Long Island sounds. Her job entails collecting data in the field, entering it and collating data for the various projects.

Her favorite aspect of the job:
She really enjoys that her job is a mix of office and field work where she can put some of the research and management skills she learned at Stonybrook University into practice. She also really enjoys seeing the many species that call Long Island Sound home.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Caitlin suggests trying to make as many connections as possible, and not to be afraid to ask questions. Programs are always looking for volunteers and interns. If you are interested in working at the governmental level she suggests a postgraduate work in Marine Conservation and Policy (she attended Stonybrook University).

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for my final blog with lots of critters from the cruise!

Kaitlin Baird: The Importance of Sound, September 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Maryland
Date: September 16th
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Location Data:
Latitude: 37’72.10
Longitude: 75′ 17.02

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 21.0 (approx.70°F)
Wind Speed: 8.71 kts
Wind Direction:  West
Surface Water Temperature: 22.99 °C (approx. 73°F)
Weather conditions: overcast

Science and Technology Log:

It’s day 13 aboard the Henry B. Bigelow and we have made the turn at our southern stations off the coast of North Carolina and are working our way back to port at some of our inshore stations off the coast of Maryland. You may wonder how each of the stations we sample at sea are chosen? The large area of Cape May to Cape Hatteras are broken into geographic zones that the computer will assign a set amount of stations to, marking them with geographic coordinates. The computer picks a set number of stations within each designated area so all the stations don’t end up all being within a mile of each other. Allowing the computer system to pick the points removes human bias and truly keeps the sampling random. The vessel enters the geographic coordinates of the stations into a chartplotting program in the computer, and uses GPS, the Global Positioning System to navigate to them.  The GPS points are also logged on a nautical chart by the Captain and mate so that they have a paper as well as an electronic copy of everywhere the ship has been.

You may wonder, how does the captain and fishermen know what the bottom looks like when they get to a new point? How do they know its OK to deploy the net? Great question. The Henry B. Bigelow is outfitted with a multibeam sonar system that maps the ocean floor.  Some of you reading this blog might remember talking about bathymetry this summer. This is exactly what the Bigelow is doing, looking at the ocean floor bathymetry. By sending out multiple pings the ship can accurately map an area 2.5-3 times as large as its depth. So if the ship is in 20 meters of water it can make an accurate map of a 60 meter swath beneath the boats track. The sonar works by knowing the speed of sound in water and the angle and time that the beam is received back to the pinger . There are a number of things that have to be corrected for as the boat is always in motion. As the ship moves through the water however, you can see the projection of the bathymetry on their screen below up in the wheelhouse. These images help the captain and the fisherman avoid any hazards that would cause the net or the ship any harm.  A good comparison to the boats multibeam sonar, is a dolphins ability to use echolocation. Dolphins send their own “pings” or in this case “echos” and can tell the location and the size of the prey based on the angle and time delay of receiving them back. One of the main differences in this case is a dolphin has two ears that will receive and the boat just has one “receiver”. Instead of finding prey and sizing them like dolphins, the ship is using a similar strategy to survey what the bottom of the sea floor looks like!

bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow
Bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow
Bigelow multibeam sonar (NOAA)
echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute
Echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

Personal Log:

The last few days I have been trying my hand at removing otoliths from different species of fish. The otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. Just like the corals we have been studying in Bermuda, they are made up of calcium carbonate crystals. They are located in the head of the bony fish that we are analyzing on the cruise. A fish uses these otoliths for their balance, detection of sound and their ability to orient in the water column.

If you remember, at BIOS, we talk a lot about the precipitation of calcium carbonate in corals and how this animal deposits bands of skeleton as they grow. This is similar in bony fish ear bones, as they grow, they lay down crystalized layers of calcium carbonate. Fisheries biologist use these patterns on the otolith to tell them about the age of the fish. This is similar to the way coral biologists age corals.

I have been lucky enough to meet and learn from scientists who work specifically with age and growth at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Fishery Biology Program. They have been teaching about aging fish by their ear bones. These scientist use a microscope with reflected light to determine the age of the fish by looking at the whole bone or making slices of parts of the bone depending on what species it is. This data, along with lengths we have been recording, contribute to an age-length key. The key allows biologists to track year classes of the different species within a specific population of fish. These guys process over 90,000 otoliths a year! whew!

The information collected by this program is an important part of the equation because by knowing the year class biologists can understand the structure of the population for the stock assessment.  The Fishery Biology program is able to send their aging and length data over to the Population Dynamics Branch where the data are used in modeling. The models, fed by the data from the otoliths and length data,  help managers forecast what fisheries stocks will do. It is a manager’s job to the take these predictions and try to balance healthy fish stocks and the demands of both commercial and recreational fishing. These are predictive models, as no model can foresee some of the things that any given fish population might face any given year (ie food scarcity, disease etc.), but they are an effective tool in using the science to help aid managers in making informed decision on the status of different fish stocks. To learn more about aging fish please visit here.

otoliths (fish ear bones) that i removed from a Butterfish
Otoliths (fish ear bones) that I removed from a Butterfish
You can see here is an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will Jan 1st of the next year.
You can see here an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will be Jan 1st of the next year.

I have to end with a critter photo! This is a Cobia (Rachycentron canadum).

Me and a Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland
Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland

Thanks for reading!

Kaitlin Baird: Some Essential Tools! September 14, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Date: September 14th
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Location Data:
Latitude: 35′ 10.67
Longitude:  75’33.60     

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 23.40 (approx.74 °F)
Wind Speed: 2.17 kts
Wind Direction:  Southwest
Surface Water Temperature:2 7.61 °C (approx. 82°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

One of the things I was curious about was the deployment of these large instruments and the technology that supports it. One of the keys to the deployment of things like the BONGO nets, Continuous Depth Recorders (CTD’s) and the trawl net itself are winches. A winch spools the wire cable that is hooked to all of the instruments and allows them to move up, down and out into the water column. With some of the instruments, like the BONGO’S and CTD casts, a retractable A-Frame is used to lower the cable from the winch. You can see the A-Frame on the right and the winch on the left in the photo below. This winch in particular controls the deployment of the net and connects to two winches on the stern that roll out the net to open up the mouth. The wire is constantly monitored from the bridge on the screen below and is automatically adjusted to maintain equal tension on both sides.

Winch for fishing nets, Tension monitor on winches from the bridge and A-frame
Winch for fishing nets, Tension screen for winches from the bridge and retractable A-frame

Once the net is run out with the aid of the winches, it is constantly monitored for its shape during the tow with a number of different censors attached to the net. There is an autotrawl system that sets the depth of the trawl and the tension of the wires. A Global Positioning System (GPS) plots the position of the net for each trawl so that it can be associated with all organisms caught in the tow. At the end of the tow the winches reel back the cable and a crane brings the net with the catch over to the “checker” where the net is unloaded!

Monitoring the position and shape of the trawl in the water
Monitoring the position and shape of the trawl in the water

Personal Log:

The fun part begins when the net opens and all the animals enter the checker. When all of the catch goes into the checker the scientists take a look at the catch, and remove anything too large to go up the conveyor belt. If a fish dominates the catch it will “run”. This means, as it goes down the conveyor belt it won’t be taken off and it will be weighed by the basketful and then a subsample will be taken for further analysis.

The fish are all divided up by species and electronically coded in the FSCS system to be measured. After they are measured, the system will prompt for further analysis for that particular species. If extra sampling of the fish is required,  it is labeled with a printed sticker for the species with a unique barcode that can be scanned to retrieve its record in the database.

tag for the organisms to designate its ID and what is to be done with it
Tag for the organisms to designate its ID and what is to be done with it

I thought I’d share some photos with you of some of the unique things we have seen so far fishing today. We are off the coast of Carolina and finishing up our Southern stations today into early morning!

Fish caught off of North Carolina
Fish caught off of North Carolina

Catch of the day! Thanks for reading!

Shark caught off of Carolina coast
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark caught off of Carolina coast

Kaitlin Baird: Let the Fishing Begin! September 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean steaming to south New Jersey coast
Date: September 8th
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Location Data:
Latitude: 38° 44.58’   N
Longitude: 73 ° 39.30’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 23.2°C (approx. 74°F)
Wind Speed: 5.05 kts
Wind Direction: from N
Surface Water Temperature: 25.29 °C (approx. 78°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log
Other than testing out the FSCS today and learning the ropes, I also learned about another type of tow we are doing on this cruise. When looking at fish stock assessment it is also important to look at the base of the food chain, you guessed it, plankton. Today we were specifically targeting zooplankton, microscopic animal drifters in the ocean that are an important food source for many of the fish and other invertebrates that we are surveying.

When I saw the nets go in, they looked a bit different than those on the R/V HSBC Atlantic Explorer, and I learned a new term, BONGO net. This is the tandem net which we are using  to tow for zooplankton at set locations while we are en route. Unlike the trawl net we tow these on the side of the ship verses the back so there is no interference by the wake made by the ship as it moves through the water. If you imagine a giant windsock with a plastic catchment at the end, this is what these nets look like. The pressure of the water moving through the net forces anything heavy to the “cod end” of the net and sieves the water out of the mesh that makes up the net.

The depth of the net tow is dependent upon bottom depth and protocol at each site, but they normally try to tow pretty close to the bottom (=/- 10 m). A separate, Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) recorder is also deployed with the nets to understand more about the ocean chemistry at set locations.  There is such a variability when towing for plankton (as it can be quite patchy) that having the two nets gives you more opportunity to capture the diversity of life that is out there. The nets are also two different mesh sizes so that they can catch zooplankton in different size classes.

Bongo Nets
Bongo Nets being deployed to 60 feet
Personal Log
It was great to get fishing today off of the coast of Maryland. We were all ready to sort anything that came down the conveyer belt. The species get sorted and then brought to the FSCS stations. Here they are measured along with anything else that needs to be done to them. I helped to get otoliths prepared and input data on gut contents, condition and sex.
Kaitlin in the wetlab with left eye and right eye flounder
Kaitlin in the wetlab with left eye and right eye flounder
One of the things I noticed were a lot of flounders, both left eye and right eye. That’s right folks, flounder usually start with one eye on each side of their heads and then eventually (species dependent) it migrates as they mature so that they sit on the bottom with both eyes on top of their heads. Depending on which way they migrate they are designated as “left eye” or “right eye” as you can see in the photos below. Did you know? These eyes can move independently of each other, pretty cool stuff!
Right Eye Flounder (Top) Left Eye Flounder (bottom)
Right Eye Flounder (Top) Witch Flounder
Left Eye Flounder (bottom) Four spot Flounder
Stay tuned for more critters! Here is just a shortlist of some that we saw today!

Rosette Skate
Little Skate
Tilefish
Goosefish
Chain dogfish
Fawn cusk-eel
Gulf stream flounder
Four spot flounder
Silver hake
Armored sea robin
LOTS of Squid

Bye for now!

Kaitlin Baird: All Ashore Who Are Going Ashore, September 6, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean steaming to south New Jersey coast
Date: September 6, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 41 ° 18.70’   N
Longitude: 71 ° 42.11’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 20.5°C (approx. 69°F)
Wind Speed: 4.97 kts
Wind Direction: from N
Surface Water Temperature: 22.2 °C (approx. 72°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

The purpose of our mission aboard the Henry B. Bigelow is the 1st leg of groundfish surveys from Cape May all the way down to Cape Hatteras with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The scientists aboard the ship are interested in both the size and  frequency of fish at different targeted geographic locations. We will be sampling using a trawl net at about 130 different stations along the way, some inshore and some offshore. We will be using a piece of technology called the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS). This system will allow us to accurately take baskets of different species of fish and code them for their lengths into a large database. This will give us a snapshot of fisheries stocks in the Northeast Atlantic by taking a subsample. The computer system also allows us to see if any other things need to be done with the fish once they are measured. Tasks like otolith (I’ll tell you about these later!) and gonad removal, fin clips or whole organisms sampling may also be done. The computer system will allow us to label each of these requests and assign it a code for scientists requesting samples from this cruise. Additionally, there are scales along with the system for recording necessary weights. We will be sorting fish first by species, and then running them all through the coded FSCS which you can see in the photo below.

Measuring board for fish
Board for magnetically measuring fish

We are currently on full steam to get our first tow in early tomorrow morning. You can track our ship using NOAA’s ship tracker system. Here we are positioned currently passing Block Island.

Ship Tracker with Current Location
NOAA Ship Tracker

Can’t wait to tell you more about the FSCS system when we start using it tomorrow!!

Personal Log

We have just pushed off the dock at 0900 and are headed South to start our first  trawl tomorrow morning. Everyone is getting used to the ship and some swells with a few storms in the Atlantic. I am really excited to get to see what comes up in our first tow. I have been assigned to the day watch which means that my shift runs from Noon-Midnight. The two other ladies that share our room will be on the night watch, so there will be a changing of the guard and some fresh legs and recorders.

Darcy and Caitlin
Darcy and Caitlin two other volunteers learning the ropes
All ready to go
Helly Hansen gear to keep us all dry.

I am looking forward to bringing you some cool fish photos soon! Hello to everyone back  in Bermuda! Stay safe..

Bye for now!!

Deb Novak: Chugging to Pascagoula, August 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Long-line Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, August 25, 2012

Science and Technology Log:

All  of our data has been collected and entered and we have cleaned the Oregon II Science lab equipment and spaces to leave it sparkling for Shark Long line survey Leg 3.  I will be watching for the final report and also checking out where the tagged sharks wander via web.  Like all things in science the conclusions will lead to new questions to refine or expand the search for knowledge.

The data station in action.

Personal Log:

We did stop fishing early in order to dock and give NOAA time to prepare the Oregon II and all the crew time to prepare their houses well in advance of Isaac.  As we headed toward the Pascagoula River I saw many of the oil rigs and oil tankers located in the Gulf of Mexico.  I know that they are also getting ready for the possibility of a Hurricane.

Off in the distance a drilling platform.

I will miss the people and the boat and most of all the water…

From my favorite spot on the top deck.
A placid sunrise.

     

We docked at the NOAA Pascagoula Lab. I learned a new term “Dock Rocks”.  Now that I am on dry land I still get nauseous and motion sick due to my inner ear compensating for the expected motion of the boat…This should go away in a few days.  What will remain are the wonderful memories and lessons learned while on the Oregon II.  I can’t wait to share my pictures, stories and new science activities with Manzano Day School teachers and students, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science and anyone else who will listen to me.

A great big Thank You to NOAA, the Teacher at Sea Program and everyone on board the Oregon II for the 2012 Shark Long-line survey Leg 2.

Deb Novak: Shark Survey, August 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday,August 23 , 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 28.2 degrees C
Sea temperature: 28.7 degrees C
1/2 cloud cover
5 miles of visibility
1.5 foot wave height
Wind speed 4.75 knots
Wind direction ESE

Science and Technology Log:

So now for the sharks and other fish caught on our survey long lines…

Like all  science experiments this survey started with a general question.  What fish are in the  Gulf of Mexico?   NOAA developed the Longline Survey procedure that I described in my last blog.  This is the data collection part of the experiment.

Large sharks are brought up to the boat rail in a cradle.
They are measured and weighed and tagged as quickly as possible to try to minimize stress on the shark.

When there is a large shark on a line it becomes like a dance as everyone performs their part of getting the needed data while taking care of the shark and staying out of other people’s way.

On this trip five large sharks were fitted with satellite tracking tags.

Just like the name says, these tags can track where the shark travels.  These tags were placed by Jennifer who works for the Louisiana Fish and Game Department.  They are trying to answer the question – Do large sharks in the Gulf stay in the Gulf?  I look forward to finding out more about where these sharks travel over the next few years.

My favorite part is when the shark swims away into the depths.

It was really fascinating when we caught large sharks.  It was also an uncommon event.  Over this trip we caught Tiger sharks, Sandbar sharks, Nurse sharks,  a Great Hammerhead, a Scalloped Hammerhead (I never knew that there were different species of Hammerheads!), a Lemon shark and a Bull shark.  I am getting good at telling types of sharks but still need my Science Team for confirmation.

Most of the sharks we caught were Atlantic Sharpnose. They are small reaching a maximum length of about 3 feet.

The small sharks can still bite and give a painful wallop if you are not careful.  I avoided both by following all of my teammates precautions.  We still worked quickly to get needed data so that the sharks could be released ASAP.

Me tagging a small shark. It was like a heavy duty hole punch.

Some of the little sharks are tagged with a little plastic tag.  If the shark is caught again new data can be collected to see if  the shark moved to a new area and if its measurements have changed.

We caught fish like groupers and the Red Snapper on the far left.

With a hundred hooks, I thought we would be catching a hundred fish.  The reality is that we had some Haul backs where there were no fish at all.  It was exciting to see the variety of what we caught and what might appear on the end of each line.   Sometimes there would be several fish in a row and we would scramble to get all of the data collected.  All of the information will be analyzed from this survey and compared with previous data and NOAA will come to a conclusion in a report in the future.

Personal Log:

I have my sea legs and can find my way around the ship pretty well now.  I have moved to a noon to midnight schedule which still seems a little strange.  I don’t know if I would have been good at the midnight to noon shift.  I feel like I am contributing to the team effort with setting lines and hauling them back.  The ocean got a little choppier for a few days, but it cleared quickly.  I can’t believe that this adventure is almost over.  

The Oregon II

Most of the work takes place on the deck, but some time is spent in the various Science Lab spaces.

The library in the Science Lab.
Computers for data collection and route information in the Science Lab.

If there was time when the boat needed to move to another location we could relax in the Lounge.

Relaxing in the lounge. Movies and tv help to pass the time.

I watched a few movies but spent more time watching the water.  I will miss these endless expanses of blue when I return to Albuquerque.

We are watching what is happening with Tropical Storm Isaac.  The next few days schedules may change.  NOAA is very careful with safety and that will be the first priority.

Gina Henderson: Samples Aplenty, August 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012

Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS)
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Thursday, August 23, 2012
Weather conditions: calm conditions overnight leading to widespread radiation fog immediately following sunset. Ship had to make use of foghorn for a couple of hours overnight. Today, cloudy with possible rain showers. Winds SW from 10-15 kts, with gust up to 20 in rain showers. Seas from the SW at 3-5 ft.

Science and Technology Log

WACS Field Campaign Update:

This morning we reached the 3-day mark for sampling at station 1, which was in the high chlorophyll concentration off of Georges Bank. During these 3 days, we have been continuously sampling aerosols using both the Sea Sweep and the Bubble Generator (see last post for descriptions of each of these methods).

Some issues that have cropped up throughout this time are linked to our extremely calm and settled weather. Although the calm winds have made for minimal seas, ideal conditions for the Sea Sweep, those scientists sampling ambient air have been picking up ship exhaust in their measurements, despite the bridge keeping our bow head-to-wind. However, during our transit this complication should not be an issue and ambient sampling can take place continuously.

Conductivity, Temperature and Depth:

CTD rosette
Conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) rosette after deployment. Niskin bottles can be tripped at different depths for seawater sampling at various levels.

We also took a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) profile using the CTD rosette on the 21st, collecting water near the bottom at 55m and other levels on the way to the surface.  These water samples were utilized by numerous scientists on board for experiments such as, testing for surface tension, biological testing and chlorophyll measurement.

The science plan for today involved one final CTD cast while at station 1, with all Niskin bottles being tripped at 5m. This large volume is necessary for a Bubble Generator experiment that will be run with this CTD water during the transit to station 2.

After the CTD cast was completed, the Sea Sweep was recovered and other necessary preparations for the transition to our new station. While underway for approximately 24 hours, intake hoses were switched to enable sampling of ambient aerosols along the way.

How to sample aerosols?

One of the tasks that I have been helping out with is the changing of aerosol impactors that are used to collect aerosol samples. These impactors consist of metal cylinders with various “stages” or levels (upper left photo below). Each level has different sizes of small holes, over which a filter is laid. During sampling, these impactors are hooked up to intake hoses where airflow is pumped through them and as the air is forced through the different “stages” or levels, the aerosols are “impacted” on the filters.

Filters being changed inside aerosol impactors (upper left). Picture of me unhooking impactors from inlet hoses for filter switching (upper right). Kristen just finished changing filters in a clean box (bottom).

This all seems simple enough…. However can be a little more cumbersome as the impactors are heavy, climbing up ship ladders with heavy things can be tricky depending on current sea state, and 2 of our impactor changes happen routinely in the dark, making things a little interesting at times!

Seawater sampling for chlorophyll:

Megan filtering raw seawater for chlorophyll extraction and measurement.

Another type of sampling I have helped out with involves the filtration of raw seawater to extract chlorophyll. This is done in the seawater van where we have a continuous flow of in situ water that is taken in at the bow at a depth of approximately 5m. This is done with two different types of filters, a couple of times a day. The photo below shows Megan running a sample through one type of filter, which will later be prepared with an acetone solution and after a resting period, be measured for chlorophyll concentration using a fluorometer.

Lots of sightings during transit:

As we headed south during our transit to station 2, we had an afternoon full of sightings! An announcement from the bridge informing us that we were now in “shark infested waters” sent an air of excitement around the ship as we all raced to the bridge for better viewing. Some loggerhead turtles were also spotted. Our final sighting of the day was a huge pod of porpoises riding the wake from our bow.

Pod of porpoises riding the bow wave during our transit south to station 2.
Everyone races to the bridge after an announcement about “shark infested waters!”

Gina Henderson: 30 Days of Science in 9 Days… August 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012

Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS)
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Weather Data: Winds light and variable less than 10 kts. Combined seas from the SW 3-5 ft, lowering to 2-4 ft overnight. Into Wednesday 22nd, winds continue to be light and variable, becoming NE overnight less than 10 kts. 

Science and Technology Log

WACS Field Campaign Update

Greetings from Georges Bank off the coast of New England! This is our first of 2 sampling stations during the Western Atlantic Climate Survey (WACS) field campaign, over the next 9 days. Our current location was chosen due to its high chlorophyll values, indicating productive waters. Shortly after our arrival here approximately 0700 on the 20th, the Sea Sweep instrument was deployed, and aerosol collection began (see picture below). However, for many of the scientists onboard, data collection began almost immediately after disembarking Boston, on the 19th.

The Sea Sweep
Photographs showing the Sea Sweep (top left), deployment of the Sea Sweep (bottom left), and Sea Sweep underway with bubble generation and aerosol collection taking place (right).

Upon my arrival to the ship in Boston, I quickly learned that this field campaign is a little unusual due to the sheer volume of equipment being utilized, and the short nature of the cruise itself. As we disembarked the Coast Guard pier in Boston, a running joke being echoed around the ship was, “30 days of science in 9 days…. ready, set, and GO!”

Science vans on deck
Looking from the bow towards the bridge, not visible in this photograph due to the mobile lab vans that have been installed on the deck for this cruise.

Over 9 mobile research vans were loaded onto the Ron Brown in preparation for this campaign making for a “low-riding ship”, joked our captain at our welcome meeting on the 19th. Each van contains multiple instruments, computers, ancillary equipment and supplies, and they also serve as research labs for the science teams to work in.

During the past two days, I have been making the rounds to each of these lab vans to hear more about the science taking place in each. With the help of the Chief Bosun, Bruce Cowden, I have also been able to shoot some video of these visits. With the assistance of Bruce, I am learning how to stitch these clips together into some fun short video pieces, so stay tuned for more to come!

A Little about the Sea Sweep

The Sea Sweep instrument consists of floating pontoons that hold a metal hood. The hood is mounted on a frame that protrudes below the water line when deployed, with two “frizzles” or “bubble maker” nozzles that air is pumped through to produce freshly emitted sea spray particles. These particles are then collected through two intake pipes attached to the hood, and are piped into the AeroPhys van. From there, samples are collected and also the intake is drawn into other vans for additional measurements.

Comparison of Sea Sweep Data with “the Bubbler”

Aerosol generator
Scientist Bill Keene from University of Virginia talking to me about “the bubbler”.

Sea spray particles are also being produced and collected via another method onboard, allowing for comparison with the Sea Sweep data. The picture below shows bubbles being generated in seawater that is fed into a large glass tower. This is an aerosol generator (a.k.a. “the bubbler”) brought on board by the University of Virginia. Through sampling with both the Sea Sweep and the bubbler, a greater size range and variety of aerosols can be sampled throughout the cruise.

Personal Log

After waiting a day or so for things to settle down and instruments to get up and running, I was eager to dive right in and be put to work on board. After an announcement made by the chief scientist, Trish Quinn, during our first evening meeting I was quickly solicited by a few different people to help with a range of tasks. So far these have included helping change impactor filters necessary for aerosol sampling 3 times a day (1 of these switches has been happening at 0500, making for some early mornings but pretty sunrises), getting raw sea water samples every 2 hours from different sampling points on board, preparing sea water samples for different analysis such as surface tension, and measuring samples for chlorophyll, dissolved organic carbon and particulate organic carbon.

Amongst all the sampling taking place however, it has been nice to take a break every once in a while to enjoy the extremely calm and settled weather we are having. A very memorable moment yesterday occurred when an announcement over the ship’s intercom alerted all aboard to a pod of whales off the port bow. It was nice to see the excitement spread, with both crew and science team members racing to the bow in unison with cameras in tow!

fun pics aboard
Early morning sky after an impactor filter change (left). All hands rush to the bow after whale sighting is announced (right).

Kaitlin Baird: From the Sargasso Sea to the Northeast Atlantic, August 19th, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May to Cape Hatteras
Date: August 19, 2012

Pre-cruise Personal Log

In a little over two weeks I am set to board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow at the Newport Rhode Island dock on a NOAA Fisheries survey cruise as a part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program.  My name is Kaitlin Baird, and I am a science educator at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. At this U.S. based not-for-profit, I get to teach students from 2nd grade all the way up to my Road Scholar program. Many of my students come to visit the Institute from all over the world to learn more about the ocean around Bermuda. I have just finished up with 24 interns for the summer as a part of BIOS’ Ocean Academy and I am set for the next adventure!

I am originally from New Jersey where I grew up finding critters along the beaches of the Jersey shore. My mom always used to laugh when I tried to keep critters alive in the outdoor shower. I was one of those kids that was always in the water. Probably no big surprise that I went on to study and teach marine biology!  I am looking forward to my critter cruise and even more so looking forward to learning new species of the Northern Atlantic.

Sargasso Sea Map
The Sargasso Sea is the only sea without a land boundary and entirely in the Atlantic!
Have a look at this NOAA map above.

Being in the Sargasso Sea in Bermuda, we are subtropical. We get a whole suite of coral reef, seagrass and mangrove species. You can see some photos of some critters I’ve spotted this summer!

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I have a few goals for the cruise:

  1. Learn as much as possible from the scientists on the cruise
  2. Participate in taking and understanding data collected on the cruise
  3. Posting and taking photos of some of our critters surveyed on the cruise
  4. Explaining to my students what we are doing and why it’s important!

If there is anything you would like to learn more about as I travel, let me know in the “comments” section below!

Wish me luck, I’m headed North!

Deb Novak: Shark Longline Survey Part 2, August 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, August 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 30.8 degrees C
Sea temperature: 29.9 degrees C
2/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height
Wind speed 16.9 knots
Wind direction WSW

Science and Technology Log:

How to set a line:

A circle hook is used on the longline. It can hold the fish, but does not hurt them as much as other kinds of hooks.
This is one job that I have only done once. I needed help to get the High Flyer over the top line and into position.
Fish heads and middles and tails! A piece on every hook to try to entice a shark to bite.

I am pretty good at cutting the bait fish.  It is all fractions – for large fish it is cut into 4 pieces, for the smaller bait fish, three pieces.  Putting the bait securely on the hooks is hard, careful work.  You don’t want the bait to fall off the hook as it is put in the water, and the hooks are sharp so I went slow to not stab myself.

A computer program is used to track equipment and GPS the locations of the beginning and end High Flyers, three sets of weights that keep the line on the bottom and each of the 100 hooks that are set out.
Slinging the baited hooks. Justin is attaching the number tags.

Just like using the Scientific Method in class experiments, we have to follow a set procedure for laying out the line.  This way the data gathered  can be compared to previous years and from set to set.  The set locations are randomly generated for sections of the Gulf.  We will lay lines in each grid square.  Lines are set at three different depths,  shallow,  medium and  deep.  Even the deepest sets are still on the continental shelf and not in the truly deep, central Gulf waters. The line is set and left on the ocean floor for one hour.  Then it is time to Haul Back — bring the line up and see what we caught.

Weighing a barracuda – just look at the teeth!

Every hook is recorded as it comes back on the boat.  If the hook is empty or still has bait, or the most wonderful moment — if there is a fish! — everything is recorded.  Each fish is recorded in great detail:  species, length, weight where it was caught and other comments.  Almost everything we catch is released.  There are a few types of fish that are kept to take samples for scientific studies being done.

David measuring the spotted eel’s length.

Personal Log: 

This blog is mostly pictures with captions.  I feel fine even when the waves pick up and the boat starts to rock and roll, WoooHoo!  But 10 minutes on the computer leaves me nauseous  and green for a good long while.

My favorite thing to do is watch the flying fish skitter across the water surface.  It is amazing to me how far they can “fly”.

The Oregon II

Water and fuel are vital to keeping people and  the boat going.  Both are carefully monitored several times a day.

Gauges throughout the ship show water levels.

Drinking water is produced by reverse osmosis, sea water comes in and is put through several filters for us to drink and shower.  With 30 people on board for two weeks at a time we would need huge tanks and the weight would be enormous.   So fresh water is made on board.  Sea water is used to clean the decks and to flush the toilets.

The fuel tank levels are  checked using a plumb gauge. This is a long ruler with a weight on the end.

Gina Henderson: Introduction, August 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Soon to be aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012

Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS)
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Introduction: Purpose of the Cruise

Gina Henderson, NOAA Teacher at Sea 2012

Hello from Annapolis, MD! My name is Gina Henderson and I am very excited about my imminent departure to Boston this coming Saturday as part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. In Boston  I will rendezvous with the Ronald H. Brown NOAA ship and join the science team to conduct experiments aimed at collecting in situ measurements of ocean-derived aerosols. The purpose of this experiment is to characterize the cloud-nucleating abilities of these aerosols. We also aim to sample atmospheric particles, gases, and surface sea water to assess the impact of ocean emissions on atmospheric composition.

A Little about Me

I am an Assistant Professor in the Oceanography Department at the United States Naval Academy. Here, I teach courses in climate science, physical geography and weather. My research to date has focused on land-atmosphere interactions using computer climate models, understanding the role of snow cover in the hydrologic and global climate system, and the influence of such elements on atmospheric circulation and climate change.

Growing up on the east coast of Ireland, my interest in climatology was awakened from an early age having been exposed to the elements through outdoor pursuits including sailing, travel, and hiking. I have found that sharing my enthusiasm and passion for these sciences, focusing on the application of how they relate to our day-to-day lives and the environment in which we live, is an excellent platform to foster student interest and participation.

Having worked as a sail racing coach in Ireland, and captaining boats in the Caribbean during my undergraduate summers, I was eager to get back to the sport after relocating to Annapolis. Since my arrival at the Academy, I have also been volunteering as a coach for the Varsity Offshore Sailing Team which has been a great experience so far and helped me learn more about my students outside of the classroom.

Midshipman measuring sea surface temperature with a bucket thermometer.

Going into my second year teaching at the Naval Academy, I am excited to get this opportunity to participate in this NOAA field work campaign. Having spent the last few weeks as the science officer for a Yard Patrol cruise, where we took a group of 17 midshipmen and introduced them to various oceanographic and meteorologic instrumentation on board the Oceanography Department’s dedicated Yard Patrol training vessel, I hope to acquire new fieldwork skills and experiences while aboard the Ron Brown and to use such experiences back in Annapolis.

Prof. Henderson giving some history about sea surface temperature measurement throughout the past 200 years.

The timing of this research cruise coincides with the start of the semester back at the Naval Academy. This semester, I am teaching two sections of the upper level major elective course, Global Climate Change. While it will be challenging to be absent from the classroom for the first two weeks of class, I plan on engaging with my students virtually and as close to real-time as communications allow  through this blog.

With this in mind, after a colleague introduces the course policy statement and syllabus next Monday 20 August, I am asking all students to take 10-20 minutes to google the underlined terms in the “Introduction: purpose of this cruise” section above, beginning with the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Students should write a brief summary (2-3 sentences) of what they find, focusing on the program goal(s). Students should then research the other underlined terms and write a brief summary (1-2 sentences) of what they should know about these terms from their previous course, SO244: Basic Atmospheric Processes. This assignment will be submitted via email to Prof. Henderson before the beginning of class on Tuesday August 21.

Midshipmen visit the Fleet Weather Center in Norfolk with Prof. Henderson during summer Yard Patrol cruise 2012.

Deb Novak: Shark Longline Survey Part 1, August 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Monday, August 13, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 30.3 degrees C
Sea temperature: 30.8 degrees C
1/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height
Wind speed 2.4 knots
Wind direction NNE
Lightning visible in clouds to the east

Science and Technology Log:

I love learning new things!  We watched a video about how to set up a longline and how to stay safe.  A longline is just what it sounds like – a very long fishing line, a full nautical mile worth of fishing line.  Because we are surveying for sharks and other big fish, the line is very thick and the hooks are big!  Nothing like I used to fish for supper when I was 12…

Hooks ready to be baited.
Number tags – 1 to 100, these are attached to the lines to identify a particular sample.
High Flyers – floats with a radar reflector and lights  to mark the start and finish of a set line.
Bait thawing. Soon we will cut this into pieces to put on the hooks.

Personal Log:

I will start working with the Science Crew at 12 noon today.  We will work 12 hour shifts, so I will have to stay awake and working until 12 pm or 00 hour in Military time, which is based on a 24 hour day so that you can’t get confused about a.m. or p.m.  My roommate Karen will work the opposite shift.  This way it will be like we both have our own room when we are not working.  This will make it easier to sleep and also give us some time to be alone since it is hard to be alone on a small ship.

Karen is from Bogota, Colombia.  She is working in the NOAA Panama City Florida Lab conducting  data entry and analysis.  She thinks she wants to work with genetics  to help with the conservation of marine mammals, like whales and seals.  If you want to be a research scientist you need to finish college, go to graduate school for a masters and often  get your doctorate degree.  That is like finishing 20th grade or more.  Many of the other folks on the Science Team are also students at various stages of their schooling.  Some volunteered to be here to help with their resume or to explore what part of science they want to work in.

Some people asked about how I am doing with motion sickness.  I seem to be doing fine as long as I don’t spend too much time at the computer.  Ten minutes of scrolling or typing leads to a headache and queasiness. I am happiest up on the top deck watching the water.  To help stop seasickness, it is good to look at the horizon.

A nice sunset with a horizon line, where sea meets sky.

The Oregon II

So like in any city, the Oregon II has a four star restaurant.  It is run by Chefs Paul and Walter.  They turn out three square meals a day, including several different choices for entrees a great salad bar and often homemade cakes or cookies.  If your shift means that you will miss a meal, you can sign up on a board and they will make a plate for you and leave it in the refrigerator with your name on it.  There are always gallons of tea and coffee, Gatorade and water to make sure that everyone stays hydrated.

Cook Paul can ask the New Mexico state question “Red or Green”
A Sample Daily Menu – the problem is that I want to try it all!

If you eat as much as I seem to be eating, it is a good thing that there is a gym available too!  Exercise equipment is tucked away in a few corners of the ship.  I have good intentions of testing this out.  So far I get my exercise walking around the vessel and up and down the stairs to get to different levels of the ship.  Maybe I will find the line setting and haul back to be good exercise…

The top deck gym – equipment is moved outside and you get a great view of the water.
The lower deck “weight room” – no water view in here…

Next up will be line setting and haul back!  Sharks and groupers and ????

Deb Novak: Sailing South, August 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Current Geographical Position: Traveling south along the east coast of Florida to move into position to start survey work.

Date: Saturday, August 11, 2012

Setting sail, you can almost see the Mayport Naval Base in the background

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 30.9 degrees C
Sea temperature: 28.9 degrees C
6/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height

Science and Technology Log:

I spent time on the Bridge (where the Captain and Crew pilot the boat) this morning learning about the weather data collected and all of the gauges and levers and images that they use to guide us.  Captain Dave Nelson  was nice to share information with me while he did the important work of piloting.  He was being careful to not get to close to all of the small boats that were out on the water fishing and enjoying the beautiful day.  On the radar it looked like we were surrounded by about 20 boats, looking out the windows I could only see one. The radar technology helps extend the Captain’s view of the water so that all of the boats stay safe.

The Bridge Crew record the weather every hour of the day and night. The above readings are for 11:00 am.  27.1 degrees Celsius means it is warm out. It is about the same temperature here today as it is in Albuquerque.  The difference is that there is more moisture in the air in Florida. I’ve always called it muggy, when I feel a little bit damp all the time. The crew measures cloud cover by dividing the sky into 8 sections and seeing how much is covered by clouds.  5/8ths means more than half of the sky is covered.  Here on the water we can see pretty far out in all directions, which is called visibility.  0 visibility would mean that the boat is fogged or rained in and can’t see past the boat at all.  We have 10 miles of visibility which is pretty far.  The water is almost flat when I look at it, only a few ripples. The range of wave height is 0-1 foot, but what we are seeing is closer to zero.   Since waves are caused by wind, there can be different heights of waves at the same time so a range is used for the measurement, sharing the shortest and tallest of the waves.  Wind speed and direction are also recorded.  The wind monitor looks like two small, wingless airplanes up on  top of a mast.

Wind speed and direction are read on this device on the bridge.
Wind gauges on the mast show wind direction and wind speed

Personal Log:

Happy Birthday, Mom!  It’s my mom’s birthday and since we are along the coast of Florida (I can see the buildings along the shore), I was able to call on my cell phone to personally wish her well.  She was surprised!  I told her before I left  that I would not be available much since signals won’t work when we are out at sea. There is a satellite phone that works all of the time on board for emergencies. We are never completely out of contact, but people who work on a vessel go long periods of time without phones or internet.  Since we are still moving toward the place where we will start work, many people are spending time out on deck on their phones connecting with their families and friends. They know if they can see the tall buildings lining the shore  that they can call.

Since we are not going to be able to start the survey until we are past the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico, we spent time learning about NOAA Ship Oregon II and conducting safety drills.

Getting into the Full immersion suit
Personal Floatation Device properly cinched!
All suited up!

The safety drills will happen every week to make sure that everyone knows where to go and what to do, just like we practice Fire Drills and Lock-down Drills at school.  We have to listen carefully because there are different numbers and lengths to the alarm sounds and those sounds tell us where to go and what to bring.  The abandon ship code is  seven long tones.  I brought my immersion suit with me the middle outer deck and pulled it on.  It was like stuffing a sausage!  Although the air and water feel warm, they are much colder than the human body – which is about 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit or about 37 degrees Celsius.  If you look in the Weather Report above, I’d be really cold if I stayed in 28.8 degrees Celsius (~84 F) water for too long.  It would be perfect for swimming on a hot Florida day, but not if you are stuck in the water for several hours waiting for help…

NOAA Ship  Oregon II

A ship is like a city.  Everything that people need to live, stay safe and be happy needs to be provided.  William gave me a tour of the Engine rooms before we left Mayport.  Once the boat is underway, the engine rooms are very, very hot and super noisy.  The Engineers make sure to wear earplugs and drink lots of Gatorade to stay hydrated and keep their hearing. The engines are connected to a long shaft with gears (hey 1st and 4th graders, do you remember learning about simple machines last year?) which move the boat forward. There are two of everything on board so that if one breaks down there is a backup.   This is called redundancy.  For the really big pieces of equipment they need to be placed to balance the weight on the ship.  This leads to something you have studied in math, Symmetry.  Many places I look I see mirrored pairs of objects.  See if you can find the lines of symmetry in the following pictures.

Two engines in the Engine room below decks.

A waterproof hatch
Look for symmetry and balance on the bow.

I will be sharing more about NOAA Ship Oregon II, the people on board and surveying sharks later.  We will just keep heading south to the Gulf.

Allan Phipps: Looking Ahead: The Future of NOAA Fish Surveys? August 10, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

The Oscar Dyson at anchor in Captains Bay during calibration procedures.
Mission: Alaskan Pollock Mid-water Acoustic Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 10, 2012
.

Location Data
Latitude: 53°54’41” N
Longitude: 166°30’61” E
Ship speed:  0 knots (0 mph) In Captains Bay at Dutch Harbor during calibration.

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed:  17 knots (19.5 mph)
Wind Direction: 184°
Wave Height:   1-2 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 10.2°C (50.4°F)
Air Temperature: 12.5°C (54.5°F)
Barometric Pressure:   1005.9 millibars (0.99 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

Imagine a time when fish surveys could be done through remote sensing, thus eliminating the need to catch fish via trawling to verify fish school composition, length, weight, and age data.  During our “Leg 3” of the Alaska Pollock Acoustic Midwater Trawl Survey, we caught, sorted, sexed, and measured 25 tons of pollock!  While this amounts to only 0.002% of the entire pollock quota and 0.00025% of the pollock population, wouldn’t it be nice if we could determine the pollock population without killing as many fish?

Cam-Trawl sitting on deck after several successful trawls.

Introducing the “Cam-Trawl,” a camera-in-net technology that NOAA scientists Kresimir and Rick are developing to eventually reduce, if not eliminate, the need to collect biological specimens to verify acoustic data.  Cam-Trawl consists of a pair of calibrated cameras slightly offset so the result is a stereo-camera.

The importance of setting up a stereo-camera is so you can use the slightly different pictures taken at the same time from each camera to calculate length of the fish in the pictures.  Eventually, a computer system might use complex algorithms to count and measure length of the fish that pass by the camera.  If the kinks are worked out, the trawl net would be deployed with the codend open, allowing fish to enter the net and flow past the camera to have their picture taken before swimming out of the open end of the net.  Some trawls would still require keeping the codend closed to determine gender ratios and weights for extrapolation calculations; however, the use of Cam-Trawl would significantly reduce the amount of pollock that see the fish lab of the Oscar Dyson.  On this leg of the survey, the NOAA scientists installed the Cam-Trawl in a couple of different locations along the trawl net to determine where it might work best.

Installing Cam-Trawl into the side of the AWT trawl net so the NOAA scientists may capture image data during trawls.

Below are some photos taken by Cam-Trawl of fish inside the AWT trawl net.  Remember, there are two cameras installed as a stereo-camera that create two images that are taken at slightly different angles.  In the photos below, I only picked one of the two images to show.  In the video that follows, you can see how scientists use BOTH photos to calculate the lengths of the fish captured on camera.

Pollock (Theregra chalcogramma) as seen by Cam-Trawl.
A Sea Nettle (Chrysaora melanaster)  jellyfish at top right, Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta ) at bottom right, and Pacific Herring (Clupea harengus) on the left as seen by Cam-Trawl installed in the AWT trawl net.

Another NOAA innovation using stereo cameras is called “Trigger-Cam.” Trigger-Cam is installed into a crab pot to allow it to sit on the ocean floor.  For this type of camera deployment, the NOAA scientists removed the crab pot net so they would not catch anything except pictures.

Trigger-Cam back on the deck of the Oscar Dyson after a successful test run.

The real innovation in the Trigger-Cam is the ability to only take pictures when fish are present.  Deep-water fish, in general, do not see red light.  The Trigger-Cam leverages this by using a red LED to check for the presence of fish.  If the fish come close enough, white LEDs are used as the flash to capture the image by the cameras.

Skilled Fisherman Jim lowering down the “heart” of Trigger-Cam for a trial run. On this dip, Trigger-Cam went down to 100 meters. Several of these tests were done before installing Trigger-Cam into a crab pot.

The beauty of this system is that it uses existing fishing gear that crab fishermen are familiar with, so it will be easily deployable.  Another stroke of brilliance is that the entire device will cost less than $3,000.   This includes the two cameras, lights, onboard computer, nickel-metal hydride batteries, and a pressure housing capable of withstanding pressures of up to 50 atmospheres (500 meters) as tested on the Oscar Dyson!  Here is a short animated PowerPoint that explains how Trigger-Cam works.  Enjoy!

Here are a couple of picture captured by the Trigger-Cam during trials!
Two pictures taken from Trigger-Cam during testing.
While these pictures were captured during tests in Dutch Harbor, they do provide proof-of-concept in this design.  With a cheap, easily deployable and retrievable stereo-camera system that utilized fishing gear familiar to most deck hands, Trigger-Cams might contribute to NOAA’s future technology to passively survey fish populations.
NOAA scientists Kresimir Williams (in center), Rick Towler (on right), and me, after assembling and testing another stereo-camera system for a NOAA scientist working on the next cruise. Kresimir and Rick designed and built Trigger-Cam!

Personal Log:

A little fun at sea!  We needed to do one last CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth), and decided to lower the CTD over deep water down to 500 meters (1,640.42 ft)!  Pressures increases 1 atmosphere for every 10 meters in depth. At 500 meters, the pressure is at 50 atmospheres!!!  We wondered what would happen if… we took styrofoam cups down to that depth.  We all decorated our cups and put them in a net mesh bag before they took the plunge.  Here is a picture showing what 50 atmospheres of pressure will do to a styrofoam cup!

Three styrofoam cups that went 500 meters deep in the Bering Sea! These cups were originally the size of the undecorated white styrofoam cup in the background.

We missed the Summer Olympics while out on the Bering Sea.  T-T  We did get in the Olympic spirit and had a race or two.  Here is a little video in the spirit of the Olympics…

All for now… We are back in Captains Bay, Dutch Harbor, but are calibrating the hydroacoustic equipment at anchor.  Calibration involves suspending a solid copper sphere below the ship while the NOAA scientists check and fine-tune the different transducers.  This process will take about 7 hours!  We have been out at sea for 3 weeks, are currently surrounded by land, but must wait patiently to finish this last and very important scientific task.  If the calibration is off, it could skew the data and result in an inaccurate population estimation and quotas that may not be sustainable!  This Landlubber can’t wait to have his feet back on terra firma.  The thought of swimming crossed my mind, but I think I’ll wait.  Then we will see if I get Land Sickness from being out at sea for so long…

Johanna Mendillo: Time to Bid Alaska, the Bering Sea, and the Oscar Dyson Adieu… August 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 10

Mission: Pollock research cruise
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Thursday, August 9, 2012

Location Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57 28 ’ N
Longitude: 173 54’W
Ship speed: 11.2 knots ( 12.9 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air temperature: 8.0 C (46.4 ºF)
Surface water temperature: 8.3 C (46.9ºF)
Wind speed: 7.4 knots ( 8.5 mph)
Wind direction: 130T
Barometric pressure: 1015  millibar (1 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

We have now completed 44 hauls in our survey and are on our way back to Dutch Harbor!  You can see a great map of our sampling area in the Bering Sea– click below.

Map showing sampling transects for Leg 3 of Summer 2012 NOAA Pollock Cruise

From those hauls, let me fill you in on some of the cool statistics:

  • We caught approximately 118,474 pollock and they weighed 24,979.92 kg (= 25 tons)!

COMPARE THAT TO:

  • Last year’s official total allowable catch (called a quota) for all commercial fishermen in Alaska was 1.17 million tons!

So, we only caught 25 tons/ 1,170,000 tons = 0.00002 = 0.002% of the yearly catch in our study.

COMPARE THAT to:

  • The estimated population of pollock in the Bering Sea  is 10 million tons (10,000,000 T)!
  • This means we caught only 0.00025% of the entire pollock population!

So, as you can see, students, in the big picture, our sampling for scientific analysis is quite TINY!

Continuing with more cool pollock data…

  • We identified 7,276 males and 7,145 females (and 2,219 were left unsexed)
  • We measured 16,640 pollock lengths on the Ichthystick!
  • Pollock lengths ranged from 9cm to 74cm
  • We measured 260 lengths of non-pollock species (mostly jellyfish, pacific herring, and pacific cod)
  • We collected 1,029 otoliths for analysis

You will hear more about our results this fall— as well as the management decisions that will be made with this valuable data…

We have also had some exciting specimens on our bottom trawls.  Remember, students, this simply means we drag the 83-112 net along the ocean floor.  By sampling the bottom, we collect many non-pollock species that we would never see in the mid-water column.

Preparing what looks to be a LARGE catch from the bottom trawl...
Preparing to open what looks to be a LARGE catch from the bottom trawl…

Here are some of my favorites:

This was a large Pacific Cod...
This was a large Pacific Cod…
Our close-up!
Our close-up!

Next up, a very different sort: the Opilio Tanner Crab and the Bairdi Tanner Crab- both are known in the market as Snow Crabs!

Snow crabs, big and small
Snow crabs, big and small

Perhaps my favorite…

The one and only... spiny lumpsucker!
The one and only… Siberian lumpsucker!  Yes, this specimen is full grown and no, we did not eat her, don’t worry!

Followed by a slightly different type of lumpsucker!

Contrast that with the regular lumpsucker!
Contrast that with a full grown adult smooth lumpsucker!  So ugly it is cute…

These types of nets require a lot of hands to help sort the species as they come down the conveyor belt!

Hurry up and sort!
Hurry up and sort!
Oh yes, there is MORE sorting to be done!
Oh yes, there is MORE sorting to be done!

Onto… sea urchins!

Sea Urchins!
Beautiful sea urchins!
Here is fellow TAS (Teacher at Sea) Allan removing a grouper...
Here is fellow TAS (Teacher at Sea) Allan removing a … sculpin!

And lastly, to those specimens you may have been waiting for if you are a fan of the “Deadliest Catch” TV show…

It wouldn't be a proper trip to the Bering Sea without Alaskan king crabs, right?
It wouldn’t be a proper trip to the Bering Sea without Alaskan king crabs, right?

Interested in playing some online games from NOAA, students?  Then visit the AFSC Activities Page here— I recommend “Age a Fish” and “Fish IQ Quiz” to get your started!

Lastly, students, as one final challenge, I would like you to take a look at the picture below and write back to me telling me a) what instrument/tool he is using and b) what it is used for:

Here is Rick... hard at work!
Here is Rick… hard at work!

Personal Log:

Well, my time at sea has just about come to an end.  This has been a wonderful experience, and I am very grateful to the NOAA science team (Taina, Darin, Kresimir, Rick, Anatoli, Kathy, and Dennis) for teaching me so much over these last three weeks.  They have wonderful enthusiasm for their work and great dedication to doing great science!  Not only do they work oh-so-very-hard, they are a really fun and personable group to be around!  Many, many thanks to you all.

Thanks also go to my Teacher at Sea partner, Allan Phipps, for taking photos of me, brainstorming blog topics, helping out processing pollock during my shift, and other general good times.  It was great to have another teacher on board to bounce ideas off of, and I learned a great deal about teaching in Southern Florida when we discussed our respective districts and schools.

I would also like to thank the NOAA officers and crew aboard the Oscar Dyson.  I have really enjoyed learning about your roles on the ship over meals and snacks, as well as many chats on the bridge, deck, fish lab, lounge, and more.  You are a very impressive and efficient group, with many fascinating stories to tell!  I will look forward to monitoring the Dyson’s travels from Boston online, along with my students.

Goodbye Oscar Dyson!
Goodbye Oscar Dyson! (Photo Credit: NOAA)

In the upcoming school year, students, you will learn how you can have a career working for NOAA,  but you can start by reading about it here:

  • NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • NOAA Corps (the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps)
  • Alaskan Fisheries Science Center (the research branch of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service dedicated to studying the North Pacific Ocean and East Bering Sea)
  • MACE (the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering program- the NOAA group of scientists I worked with- based in Seattle)

Special thanks to our Commanding Officer (CO) Mark Boland and Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto for supporting the Teacher at Sea program.  I know I speak on behalf of many teachers when I say there are many, many ways I will be bringing your work into the classroom, and I hope, helping recruit some of the next generation of NOAA officers and scientists!

There are many pictures I could leave you with, but I decided to only choose two- one of a lovely afternoon on deck in the Bering Sea, and the other, of course, one more of me with a pollock head!

A lovely afternoon on the Bering Sea...
A lovely afternoon on the Bering Sea…

Last, but not least….

Thank you very much NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program!
Thank you very much NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program!

Deb Novak: Introduction, August 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of Survey: The East Coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 8, 2012

Introduction

Hi! My name is Deb Novak and I am so excited about being a NOAA Teacher at Sea! NOAA is the acronym for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  NOAA studies the ocean, the atmosphere and the fish in the ocean. They are generous enough to invite a few lucky  teachers to come along each year and learn about the science that happens on NOAA vessels. Feel free to read other Teacher at Sea blogs to learn more!

Ms. Deb Novak with Dinos

As the Science Coordinator for Manzano Day School for the last five years, I have loved teaching science to pre-kindergarten through 5th grade students and working with teachers to develop science curriculum. Now, I’m excited about my new position, being named the new Chief of Education for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. I will be sharing this blog with lots of people throughout the state of New Mexico, but the focus of this blog is all the wonderful students at Manzano Day School!  I’m hoping some of our graduates will also log in to share this adventure with me!  Since my new job is only a few short blocks away from Manzano, I will be sharing more of my experience in person when I get back to Albuquerque.

The Oregon II copyright NOAA

This is the ship I’ll be on the Oregon II. It was born the same year I was: 1967. You can find out more about the Oregon II by clicking on the picture. You can also view the path the Oregon II will be traveling during my visit. Once I am on the ship I will send out a blog photo tour of what the inside of the ship looks like. I know that I will be traveling with about 30 people who do lots of different amazing jobs. I will be sharing their stories via this blog as well. There will also be blog posts about the science of the Shark Longline Survey. WhooHooo, sharks! I was given this mission because Ms. Louise Junick’s Kindergarten class put in a special request and so I included sharks in my application. I’ve always been interested in sharks and can’t wait to learn about shark research on the Oregon II.

Whale Shark at the Georgia Aquarium

I had a cool opportunity to learn more about sharks this summer. I visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. They have the only whale sharks in an aquarium anywhere in the world.  And it got even better – I got to snorkel in the tank with the whale sharks! Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, but they have a really tiny mouth and eat little bitty critters called plankton. The Georgia Aquarium makes sure to keep the people safe from the animals in the tank, but even more important we had to learn how to keep the animals safe from us!  Some of the money I paid to swim with the whale sharks goes to a shark study that the aquarium is conducting. That is when I learned that whale sharks spend some time in the Gulf of Mexico! It would be great to see such an amazing and huge fish in the wild! With further research I found an article about whale sharks and the Gulf Oil Spill.  The map shows that I would be extremely lucky if I see one since I will be on the opposite side of the Gulf of Mexico from where they tend to spend their time.

Each day I get more and more excited about my opportunity to be a Teacher at Sea. I know that I will want to share lots and lots of exciting information with everyone reading this blog. I also know that I will be able to send  2 or 3 blogs per week, so I hope you will check in and see where I am and what I am up to working with the scientists on the Oregon II. Wish me a Bon Voyage! (Happy Travels !)

Bhavna Rawal: Net Tow, Dive, Buoy Maintenance and Data Collection, August 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at sea
Bhavna Rawal
On Board the R/V Walton Smith
Aug 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida
Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 8, 2012

.
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Station: 21.5
Time: 1.43 GMT
Longitude: 21 23 933
Latitude: 24 29 057
Wind direction: East of South east
Wind speed: 18 knots
Sea wave height: 2-3 ft
Clouds: partial

Science and Technology Log:

Yesterday, I learned about the CTD and the vast ocean life. Today I learned about a new testing called net tow, and how it is necessary to do, and how it is done.

What is Net Tow? The scientist team in the ship uses a net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed) which is towed alongside the ship at the surface of the predetermined station.

A net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed)
A net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed)

How did we perform the task? We dropped the net which is made of nylon mess, 335 microns which collects zooplanktons in the ocean. We left this net in the ocean for 30 minutes to float on the surface of the ocean and collects samples. During this time the ship drives in large circles. After 30 minutes, we (the science team) took the net out of the ocean. We separated sargassum species, sea weeds and other animals from the net. We washed them with water, then classified and measured the volume of it by water displacement. Once we measure the volume, we threw them back into the ocean.

Dropped the net which collects zooplanktons in the ocean
Dropped the net which collects zooplanktons in the ocean
Types of sargassum
Types of sargassum
Measured the volume of it by water displacement
Measured the volume of it by water displacement
Threw them back into the ocean
Threw them back into the ocean
Record data

Types of Sargassum and Plankton:  There are two types of sargassum; ones that float, and the other ones that attach themselves to the bottom of the ocean. There are two types of floating sargassum and many types attached to bottom of the ocean.

Also there are two types of plankton; Zooplankton and phytoplankton. As you all know phytoplankton are single celled organisms, or plants that make their own food (photosynthesis). They are the main pillar of the food chain. It can be collected in a coastal area where there is shallow and cloudy water along the coastal side. The phytoplankton net is small compared to the zooplankton and is about 64 microns (small mess).

Zooplanktons are more complex than phytoplankton, one level higher in their food chain. They are larva, fish, crabs etc. they eat the phytoplankton. The net that is made to catch zooplankton, is about 335 microns. Today, we used the net to collect zooplankton.

Why Net Tow is necessary: Net tow provides information about habitats because tons of animals live in the sargassum. It is a free floating ecosystem. Scientists are interested in the abundance of sargassum and the different kinds of animals, such as larva, fishes, crabs, etc. Many scientists are interested in the zooplankton community structures too.

Dive, Buoy and other data collection equipments: Two science team members prepared for diving; which means that they wore scuba masks, oxygen tanks and other equipment. They took a little boat out from the ship and went to the buoy station. They took the whole buoyancy and other data collection instruments with them. The two instruments were the Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) and the micro cat which was attached to the buoy. The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents, and the ADCP measures currents of the ocean. Both instruments collect many data over the period. The reason for bringing them back, is to recover data in a Miami lab and the maintenance of the buoy.

The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents
The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents
Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) measures currents of the ocean
Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) measures currents of the ocean

Personal Log:

My first day on the ship was very exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. I had to take medicine to prevent me from being seasick. This medicine made me drowsy, which helped me to go to sleep throughout the night. The small bunk bed and the noise from the moving ship did not matter to me. I woke up in the morning, and got ready with my favorite ‘I love science’ t-shirt on. I took breakfast and immediately went to meet with my science team to help them out for the CTD and net tow stations. Today, I felt  like a pro compared to yesterday. It was a bit confusing during the first day, but it was very easy today.

I started helping lowering the CTD in the ocean. Now I know when to use the lines for the CTD, water sampling for different kinds of testing, how to net tow and do the sargassum classification. I even know how to record the data.

When we have a station call from the bridge, then we work as a team and perform our daily CTD, water testing or net tow. But during the free time, we play card games and talk. Today was fun and definitely action packed. Two science team members dove into the ocean and brought the buoy back. I also saw a fire drill.

Nelson (the chief scientist) took me to see TGF or called the flow through station which is attached inside the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM etc. Nelson explained the importance of this machine. I was very surprised by the precise measurements of this machine. Several hours later, I went to the captain’s chamber, also called the bridge. I learned how to steer the boat, and I was very excited and more than happy to sit on the captain’s chair and steer.

Excited to sit on the captain’s chair and steer the R/V Walton Smith

We have also seen groups of dolphins chasing our ship and making a show for us. We also saw flying fishes. In the evening, around 8 o’clock after dinner, I saw the beautiful colorful sunset from the ship. I took many videos and pictures and I can’t wait to process it and see my pictures.

Saw groups of dolphins ahead of ship

Around 10 o’clock in the night, it was net tow time again. We caught about 65 moon jelly fishes in the net and measured their volumes. Nelson also deployed a drifter in the ocean.

See moon jelly fish in my hand

Today was very fun and a great learning opportunity for me, and don’t forget the dolphins, they really made my day too!

Question of the Day:
How do you measure volume of solid (sea grass)?

New Word:
Sargassum

Something to Think About:
Why scientists use different instruments such as CTD as well as TFG to measuretemperature, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM etc?

Challenge Yourself:
Why abundance of sargassum, types of animals and data collection is important in ocean?

Did you Know?
The two instruments were the Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) and the micro cat which was attached to the buoy. The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents, which means it measures at surface of the ocean, middle of the ocean and bottom layer of the ocean too.

Animals Seen Today:
Five groups of dolphins
Seven flying fishes
Sixty five big moon jelly fishes
Two big crabs

Allan Phipps: Shhh! Be very, very quiet! We’re hunting pollock! August 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

Fun with Blue King Crab (Paralithodes platypus)!
Mission: Alaskan Pollock Midwater Acoustic Trawl Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 7, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 60°25’90” N
Longitude: 177°28’76” W
Ship speed:  3 knots (3.45 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed:  5 knots (5.75 mph)
Wind Direction: 45°
Wave Height:   2-4 ft with a  2 ft swell
Surface Water Temperature: 8.6°C (47.5 °F)
Air Temperature: 8°C (46.4 °F)
Barometric Pressure: 1019 millibars (1 atm)

Science and Technology  Log:

In my last blog, we learned about how the scientists onboard the Oscar Dyson use some very sophisticated echo-location SONAR equipment to survey the Walleye pollock population.

Can the Walleye pollock hear the “pings” from the SONAR?

No.  Unlike in the movies like “The Hunt for Red October” where submarines are using sound within the human audible range to “ping” their targets, the SONAR onboard the Oscar Dyson operates at frequencies higher than both the human and fish range of hearing.  The frequency used for most data collection is 38 kHz.  Human hearing ranges from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.  Walleye pollock can hear up to 900 Hz.  So, the pollock cannot hear the SONAR used to locate them…

Can the Walleye pollock hear the ship coming?

Normally, YES!  Fish easily hear the low frequency noises emitted from ships.

A comparison of hearing ranges for various organisms showing the anthropogenic source noise overlap (courtesy of oceannavigator.com).

If you are operating a research vessel trying to get an accurate estimate on how many fish are in a population, and those fish are avoiding you because they hear you coming, you will end up with artificially low populations estimates!  The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) established noise limits for research vessels that must be met in order to monitor fish populations without affecting their behavior.  Fish normally react to a threat by diving, and that reduces their reflectivity or target strength, which reduces the total amount of backscatter and results in lower population estimates (see my last blog).

A comparison of two ships and fish reaction to the noise produced by each.  The Oscar Dyson has a diesel electric propulsion system as one of its noise reduction strategies.  Notice the smaller noise signature (in blue) and fewer fish avoiding (diving) when the ship approaches (www.uib.no).

That is why NOAA has invested in noise-reducing technology for their fish survey fleet.  The Oscar Dyson was the first of five ships build with noise-reducing technology.  These high-tech ships have numerous strategies for reducing noise in the range that fish might hear.

There are two main sources of engine noise onboard a ship:  machinery noise and propeller noise.

The two main sources of ship noise. (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/acoustics/session2_fischer.pdf)

The best acoustic ship designs are going to address the following:

1)   Address hydrodynamics with unique hull and propeller design.

2)   Use inherently quiet equipment and choose rotating rather than reciprocating equipment.

3)   Use dynamically stiff foundations for all equipment (vibration isolation).

4)   Place noisier equipment toward the centerline of the ship.

5)   Use double-hulls or place tanks (ballast and fuel tanks) outboard of the engine room to help isolate engine noise.

6)   Use diesel electric motors (diesel motors operate as generators while electric motors run the driveshaft.

Propeller Design:

The U.S. Navy designed the Oscar Dyson’s hull and propeller for noise quieting.  This propeller is designed to eliminate cavitation at or above the 11 knot survey speed.  Not only does cavitation create noise, it can damage the propeller blades.

Photo of cavitation caused by a propeller. These air bubbles that form along the edge of the blades can cause damage to the propeller and cause excess noise. (www.thehulltruth.com/boating-forum/173520-prop-cavitation-burn-marks.html)

Hull Design:

The Oscar Dyson’s hull has three distinguishing characteristics which increase its hydrodynamics and reduce noise by eliminating bubble sweep-down along the hull.  The Oscar Dyson has no bulbous bow, has a raked keel line that descends bow to stern, and has streamlined hydrodynamic flow to the propeller.

An artist rendition of the NOAA FRV-40 Class ships. Notice the unique hull design. (http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2004/images/bigelow2.jpg)

Vibration Isolation:

To reduce a ship’s noise in the water, it is absolutely crucial to control vibration.  The Oscar Dyson has four Caterpillar diesel gensets installed on double-stage vibration isolation systems.  In fact, any reciprocating equipment onboard the Oscar Dyson is installed on a double-stage vibration isolation system using elastomeric marine-grade mounts.

A picture of one of the Caterpillar diesel generators before installation in the Oscar Dyson. Notice the double vibration isolation sleds to reduce noise (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/acoustics/session2_fischer.pdf).

Since the diesel engines are mounted on vibration isolation stages, it is necessary to also incorporate flexible couplings for all pipes and hoses connecting to these engines.

A look at one of the four diesel generators onboard the Oscar Dyson. Notice the black flexible hose couplings in place to allow vibration isolation in the white pipes.

Any equipment with rotating parts is isolated with a single-stage vibration system.  This includes equipment like the HVAC, the electric generators for the hydraulic pumps, and the fuel centrifuges that remove any water and/or particles from the fuel before the fuel is pumped to the diesel generators.

A close-up of the single sled vibration isolation system supporting the hydraulic pumps that run the deck winches.

 

Low Noise Equipment:

The only equipment that does not use vibration isolation stages are the two Italian-made ASIRobicon electric motors that are mounted in line with the prop shaft.  Both are hard-mounted directly to the ship because they are inherently low-noise motors.  This is one of the benefits of using a diesel-electric hybrid system.  The diesel motors can be isolated in the center of the ship, near the centerline and away from the stern.  The electric motors can be located wherever they are needed since they are low noise.

Even the propeller shaft bearings are special water-lubricated bearings chosen because they have a low coefficient of friction and superior hydrodynamic performance at lower shaft speeds resulting in very quiet operation.  They use water as a lubricant instead of oil so there is a zero risk of any oil pollution from the stern tube.

Acoustic Insulation and Damping Tiles:

The Oscar Dyson uses an acoustic insulation on the perimeter of the engine room and other noisy spaces.  This insulation has a base material of either fiberglass or mineral wool.  The middle layer is made of a high transmission loss material of limp mass such as leaded vinyl.

The Oscar Dyson also has 16 tons of damping tiles applied to the hull and bulkheads to reduce noise.

The Results:

All of these noise-reducing efforts results in a fully ICES compliant research vessel able to survey fish and marine mammal populations with minimal disturbance.  This will help set new baselines for population estimates nationally and internationally.

A comparison of the Oscar Dyson and the Miller Freeman. Notice that the Oscar Dyson is at or below the standards set by ICES (http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/content/65/4/623.full).

As you can see from the graph above, The Oscar Dyson is much quieter than the Miller Freeman, the ship that it is replacing.  You can see the differences in the hull design from the picture below.

The quieter Oscar Dyson (on right) replaced the noisy Miller Freeman (on left) http://www.afsc.noaa.gov.

Next blog, I will write about new, cutting edge technology that might reduce the need for biological trawling to verify species.

Sources:

Special thanks to Chief Marine Engineer Brent Jones for the tour of the engineering deck and engine room, and for the conversations explaining some of the technology that keeps the Oscar Dyson going.

http://marine.cat.com/cda/files/1056683/7/VRS_Commercial+Vessel+3512B%26+Commercial+Vessel+3508B+Workboat+(6-2005).pdf

www.maritimejournal.com/features101/power-and-propulsion/no_noise_for_noaa

www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/nr/pdf/aug2002.pdf

www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/acoustics/session2_fischer.pdf

http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/content/65/4/623.full

Personal Log:

I found out drills aboard ships are serious business!  Unlike a fire drill at school where students meander across the street and wait for an “all clear” bell to send them meandering back to class, fire drills on a ship are carefully executed scenarios where all crew members perform very specific tasks.  When out at sea, you cannot call the fire department to rescue you and put out a fire.  The crew must be self-reliant and trained to address any emergency that arises.  When we had a fire drill, I received permission from Commanding Officer Boland to leave my post (after I checked in) and watch as the crew moved through the ship to locate and isolate the fire.  They even used a canister of simulated smoke to reduce visibility in the halls similar to what would be experienced in a real fire!

Robert and Libby suit up during a fire drill!

Late last night, we finished running our transects!  Our last trawl on transect was a bottom trawl which brought up some crazy creatures!  Here are a couple of photos of some of the critters we found.

From left to right, Blue King Crab (Paralithodes platypus), Alaska Plaice (Pleuronectes quadrituberculatus), Red Irish Lord eating herring on the sorting table (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus), and Skate (unidentified).

Next blog will probably be my last from Alaska.  T-T

Steven Frantz: Loose Ends at Sea, August 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 7, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 28.4
Wind Speed (knots): 8.62
Wind Direction (degree): 183
Relative Humidity (percent): 080
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1015.41
Water Depth (meters): 43.4
Salinity (PSU): 35.660

Location Data:
Latitude: 3040.46N
Longitude: 08011.74W

Loose Ends at Sea

We are getting close to wrapping up this first leg of a four-leg survey. Speaking of wrapping things up, one very important skill you must know when on a ship is how to tie a knot. Not just any knot, but the right knot for the job, or things might not turn out. Got it?

There are three knots, which we used every day. The Blood Knot (sometimes called the Surgeon’s Knot), the Double Overhand Loop (sometimes called a Surgeon’s End Loop), and the Locking Half-Hitch on a Cleat.

The blood knot is used to tie two ropes together. When we return a longline, it has to be tied back on to the main spool. Watch Tim and Chris demonstrate how to tie this knot.

Blood Knot courtesy Google Images
Blood Knot courtesy Google Images
Blood Knot courtesy Google Images
Blood Knot courtesy Google Images

The double overhand loop is used, as the name implies, to put a loop on the end of a line. It is used at each end of the longline to secure the highflier.

Double Overhand Loop courtesy Google Images
Double Overhand Loop courtesy Google Images
Double Overhand Loop
Double Overhand Loop

The locking half hitch knot is tied on to a ship’s cleat in order to secure the mainline after it has been sent out. This gives us the opportunity to tie a double overhand loop on to the end in order to clip on the highflier.

Locking Half Hitch on a Cleat
Locking Half Hitch on a Cleat
Releasing the Highflier
Releasing the Highflier

We have also been seeing some more different animals during the past couple of days. We saw a green sea turtle surface twice. The first time was right in front of us on the starboard side of the ship. The second time was several minutes later at the stern. Just when I thought I would not get a picture of a dolphin, a trio of Atlantic spotted dolphins followed along the Oregon II as we let out the longline. Dolphins and all sea turtles are protected.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

We have also been catching more sharks. Again, the most common species caught has been the sharpnose shark. We finally caught a silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformes on our shift. The ridge that runs along their back and the smooth, silky look to their skin can be used to identify them.

Taking the hook out of a Silky Shark
Taking the hook out of a Silky Shark
Silky Shark's ridge on its back
Silky Shark’s ridge on its back
Silky Shark
Silky Shark

A 93.6 kilogram nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum was caught and brought up using the cradle. These are bottom-feeding sharks and have an unusual texture to their skin. It feels like a basketball!

Nurse Shark on the line
Nurse Shark on the line
Nurse Shark in the cradle
Nurse Shark in the cradle
Getting a fin clip from the Nurse Shark for DNA studies
Getting a fin clip from the Nurse Shark for DNA studies
All data collected, tagged, and ready for release
All data collected, tagged, and ready for release

It is always nice when you witness the rare or unusual. Such was the case with the next shark we caught. Many photographs were taken in order to document this rare occurrence. After releasing the shark, it was identified as a Caribbean reef shark, Carcharhinus perezi. Mark Grace, who started this survey 18 years ago, believes this is only the third Caribbean reef shark ever caught on the longline survey! Rare indeed! Unbelievable–the very next longline we caught a second Caribbean reef shark!

Carribbean Reef Shark: Measuring Length
Caribbean Reef Shark: Measuring Length
Caribbean Reef Shark: Notice salt water hose to keep oxygen to the gills.
Caribbean Reef Shark: Notice salt water hose to keep oxygen to the gills.

Caribbean Reef Shark
Caribbean Reef Shark
Carribbean Reef Shark
Caribbean Reef Shark

Another first for the first leg of the 300th mission was a dusky shark, Carcharhinus obscurus. This is another rare shark to be found. This one was even bigger than the nurse shark weighing in at 107.3 kilograms! We keep the larger sharks in the cradle while data is collected before releasing them.

Dusky Shark
Dusky Shark
Dusky Shark
Dusky Shark

While cleaning up, this little remora was found on the deck. It is easy to see the suction disc on the top of its head. This is used to hold onto a larger fish and tag along for the ride, cleaning up bits of food missing the mouth of the host fish.

Remora
Remora

This amazing journey is winding down and coming to an end. I would be remiss not to thank the crew and scientists of the Oregon II. Their hospitality, professionalism, friendly dispositions, and patience (LOTS of patience) have made me feel more than welcome. They have made me feel as though, for a brief moment, I was a part of the team. Thank you and may the next 300 missions be as safe and successful as the first 300.

Dinner
Dinner

Johanna Mendillo: Hello pollock…. can you hear me now? August 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
 July 23 – August 10

Mission: Pollock research cruise
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 59 52 ’ N
Longitude: 177 17’ W
Ship speed:   8.0 knots ( 9.2 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 7.3C (45.1ºF)
Surface water temperature: 8.4C (47.1ºF)
Wind speed:  4 knots ( 4.6 mph)
Wind direction: 75T
Barometric pressure:  1018 millibar (1 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

We are wrapping up our final few sampling transects.  Now that you are practically fisheries biologists yourselves from reading this blog, students, we must return to the fundamental question— how do we FIND the pollock out here in the vast Bering Sea?  The answer, in one word, is through ACOUSTICS!

Look at all of these birds off the stern!  Why do you think they are following us?  Are we about to haul up a catch, perhaps?
Look at all of these birds off the stern! Why do you think they are following us? Are we about to haul up a catch, perhaps?

Hydroacoustics is the study of and application of sound in water.  Scientists on the Oscar Dyson use hydroacoustics to detect, assess, and monitor pollock populations in the Bering Sea.

Now, you may have heard of SONAR before and wonder how it connects to the field of hydroacoustics.  Well, SONAR (SOund Navigation and Ranging) is an acoustic technique in which scientists send out sound waves and measure the “echo characteristics” of targets in the water when the sound waves bounce back— in this case, the targets are, of course, the pollock!  It was originally developed in WWI to help locate enemy submarines!  It has been used for scientific research for over 60 years.

(PLEASE NOTE: The words sonar, fishfinders, and echosounders can all be used interchangeably.)

The transducer sends out a signal and waits for the return echo...
The transducer sends out a signal and waits for the return echo once it bounces off the fish’s swim bladder… (Source: http://www.dosits.org)

On the Dyson, there is, not one, but a collection of five transducers on our echosounder, and they are set at five different frequencies.  It is lowered beneath the ship’s hull on a retractable centerboard.  The transducers are the actual part of the echosounder that act like antennae, both transmitting and receiving return signals.

The transducers transmit (send out) a “pulse” down through the water, at five different speeds ranging from 18-200kHz, which equals 18,000-200,000 sound waves a second!

When the pulse strikes the swim bladders inside the pollock, it gets reflected (bounced back) to the transducer and translated into an image.

First of all, what is a swim bladder?  It is simply an organ in fish that helps them stay buoyant, and, in some cases, is important for their hearing.

Swim Bladder (Source: www.education.com)
Swim Bladder (Source: http://www.education.com)

Now, why do the pulses bounce off the swim bladders, you ask?  Well, they are filled mostly with air and thus act as a great medium for the sound waves to register and bounce back.

Think of it this way: water and air are two very different types of materials, and they have very different densities.  The speed of sound always depends on the material through which the sound waves are traveling through.  Because water and air have very different densities, there is a significant difference in the speed of sound through each material, and that difference in speed is what is easy for the sonar to pick up as a signal!

It is the same idea when sound waves are used to hit the bottom of the ocean to measure its depth- it is easy to read that signal because the change in material, from water to solid ground, produces a large change in the speed of the sound waves!

Here is a sonar system measuring the depth of the ocean...
Here is a sonar system measuring the depth of the ocean… (Source: http://www.dosits.org)

Interestingly, different types of fish have different shaped and sized swim bladders, and scientists have learned that they give off different return echos from sonar signals!  These show up as slightly different shapes on the computer screen, and are called a fish’s “echo signature”.  We know, however, that we will not encounter many fish other than pollock in this area of the Bering Sea, so we do not spend significant time studying the echo signatures on this cruise.

So, what happens when these signals return to the Dyson?  They are then processed and transmitted onto the computer screens in the hydroacoutsics lab on board.  This place is affectionately known as “the cave” because it has no windows, and it is, in fact, the place where I spend the majority of my time when I am not processing fish!  Here it is:

Here is Anatoli observing potential fish for us to go catch!
Here is Anatoli observing potential fish for us to go catch!

We spend a lot of time monitoring those computer screens, and when we see lots of “specks” on the screen, we know we have encountered large numbers of pollock!

Here we are approaching a LARGE group of pollock!
Here we are approaching a LARGE group of pollock!

When the scientists have discussed and confirmed the presence of pollock, they then call up to the Bridge and announce we are “ready to go fishing” at a certain location and a certain depth range!  Then, the scientists will head upstairs to the Bridge to work with the officers and deck crew to supervise the release, trawling, and retrieval of the net.

Now, in addition to the SONAR under the ship, there are sensors attached to the top of the net itself, transmitting back data.  All of the return echos get transmitted to different screens on the bridge, so not only can you watch the fish in the water before they are caught, you can also “see” them on a different screen when they are in the net!  As I told you in the last post, we will trawl for anywhere from 5-60 minutes, depending on how many fish are in the area!

Left: Echosounder at work/  Right: The "return signature" is visible on the computer!
Left: Echosounder at work/ Right: The “return signature” is visible on the computer!  (Source: http://www.dosits.org)
A full catch- success!  Without acoustics, it would be much harder for NOAA to monitor and study fish populations.
A full catch- success! Without acoustics, it would be much harder for NOAA to monitor and study fish populations.

Personal Log:

In these last few days, we have crossed back and forth from the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the U.S. several times.  There were some nice views of Eastern Russia before the clouds and fog rolled in!

I can see Russia from my ship!
I can see Russia from my ship! (Photo Credit: Allan Phipps)

In addition, we crossed over the International Date Line!  It turns out that everyone on board gets a special certificate called the “Domain of the Golden Dragon” to mark this event.  This is just one of a set of unofficial certificates that began with the U.S. Navy!  If you spend enough time at sea, you can amass quite a collection- there are also certificates for crossing the Equator, Antarctic Circle, Arctic Circle, transiting the Panama Canal, going around the world, and more…

I will award a prize to the first person who writes back to tell me what does it mean when one goes from a “pollywog” to a “shellback”, in Navy-speak!

Here is a picture of me with the largest pollock I have seen so far- 70cm!

If I am 5' 4", how many 70cm pollock would it take to equal my height?
If I am 5′ 4″, how many 70cm pollock would it take to equal my height?

Lastly, on to some, perhaps, cuter and more cuddly creatures than pollock- pets!  Here in the hydroacoustics lab, there is a wall dedicated to pictures of pets owned by the officers, crew, and scientists:

Those are some pretty cute pets left ashore...
Those are some pretty cute pets left ashore…

Clearly, this is a dog crowd!   I did learn, however, that our Chief Scientist, Taina, has her cat (Luna) up there!  Students, do you remember the name of my cat and, what do you think, should I leave a picture of her up here at sea?

Bhavna Rawal: Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) and Water Testing, August 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bhavna Rawal
Aboard the R/V Walton Smith
August 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida
Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 7, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Station: 6.5
Time: 21.36 GMT
Longitude: 080 17’ 184
Latitude: 250 3’ 088
Water temp: 29.930 oC
Wind direction: East
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 3 ft

Science and Technology log:

Hello students! We know how to do water testing in our lab class using the testing kit. Today, I am going to explain to you the way ocean water is sampled and tested in the South Florida coastline.

Our 5 day cruise consists of over 80 stations along the Atlantic and Gulf coast of Florida.  At each station we take water samples, and at about 20 of the stations we tow nets to catch fish, seaweed or plankton and sometimes scuba dive to recover the instruments mounted on the seafloor.

Our journey begins at station #2 at Dixie shoal, which is near Miami; you can see this on the South Florida bimonthly Hydrographic survey map below (see fig).

South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map
South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map

At each station we performed CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) operations. The CTD is a special instrument to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll and the depth of water in the ocean. It is an electronic instrument mounted on a large metal cage that also contains bottles to collect samples.  These bottles are called niskin bottles and every oceanographer uses them.  They are made of PVC and are specially designed to close instantaneously by activation from the computer inside the ship. Collecting water samples at various depths of the ocean is important in order to verify in the lab that the instruments are working properly. Each bottle has an opening valve at the bottom and top to take in the seawater. The top and bottom covers are operated by a control system. Once a certain depth is reached, the person sitting at the control system triggers and it closes the bottles. You can control each bottles through this system to get a pure water sample from different depths. For example, when the ocean floor is 100 meters deep, water is sampled from the surface, at 50 meters deep, the very bottom.

Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD
Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD

The CTD instrument is very large, and is operated by a hydraulic system to raise it, to place it and lower down into the ocean. Rachel (another fellow member) and I were the chemistry team; we wore hard hats and life vests while we guided the CTD in and out of the water. This is always a job for at least two people.

Guiding CTD in and out of water
Guiding CTD in and out of water

The team usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean, in the middle layer and surface of the ocean. We closed the bottles in the middle layer because the characteristics of the water are different from at the bottom and the surface.  Remember, the ocean water is not all the same throughout, at different depths and locations it has different chemical characteristics. We closed two bottles per layer, just in case something happened with one bottle (it is not opened properly, for example) then the other bottle can be used.

Taking water sample out of CTD bottles
Taking water sample out of CTD bottles

Rachel and I took water samples from the CTD bottles and used them in the lab to conduct experiments. Before I explain the analysis, I want to explain to you the importance of it, and how a “dead zone” can happen. Remember phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients to live and survive. The more nutrients, the more phytoplankton can live in water. As you all know, phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain. They convert the sun’s energy into food. Too many nutrients mean too much phytoplankton.

  1. If certain species of phytoplankton increase, it increases the chance of a harmful algal bloom. Too much of one kind of plankton called the dinoflagellates can release toxins into the water which harms the fish and other ocean life and it can even cause people to feel like they have a cold if they swim in the water that has those plankton.
  2. Large amounts of plankton die and fall to the sea floor, where bacteria decompose the phytoplankton. Bacteria use available oxygen in water. The lack of oxygen causes fishes and other animals die. The zone becomes ‘the dead zone’.
    We prepare the sample for nutrient analysis to measure nutrients such as nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, ammonium and silicate in the water.
    We also prepare the sample for chlorophyll analysis. In the lab, we filter the phytoplankton out of the water. Phytoplankton contains special cells that photosynthesize (chloroplasts) which are made of chlorophyll. If we know the amount of chlorophyll, we can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in a given area of the ocean.
filtering the phytoplankton out of the water
Filtering the phytoplankton out of the water
Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis
Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis

Phytoplankton needs carbon dioxide to grow. Carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it provides an estimate of total carbon dioxide in the ocean.  It is also important in understanding the effects of climate change on the ocean.  If you increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (like when you drive cars), it enters into the ocean.  If you think about a can of soda it has a lot of CO2 dissolved into it to make it fizzy, and it also tastes kind of acidic.  This is similar to when CO2 dissolves into seawater.  When the ocean becomes more acidic, the shells of animals become weaker or the animals cannot produce the shells at all.

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) analysis informs us where this water comes from.  The dissolved organic matter comes from decomposing plants, and some of these dead plants entered the water through rivers.  You can tell for example that water came from the Mississippi River because of the CDOM signal.  You can then follow its circulation through the ocean all the way to the Atlantic.

From the CTD instrument, we measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it on a computer (see figure) to analyze it.

Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it
Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it

Generally, I see that ocean surface water has high temperature but low salinity, low chlorophyll, and low oxygen. As we go deeper into the sea (middle layer), temperatures decrease, dissolved oxygen increases, chlorophyll and salinity increases. At the bottom layer, chlorophyll, oxygen, temp and salinity decrease.

Personal Log:

I arrived on the ship Sunday evening and met with other people on the team, tried to find out what we are going to do, how to set up, etc. Asked so many questions… I explored my room, the kitchen, the laundry, the science lab, the equipment, etc. Nelson (the chief scientist) gave me a really informative tour about the ship, its instruments and operations. He showed the CTD m/c, the drifter, the wet lab etc. He also gave me a tour of a very important instrument called the “flow-through station” which is attached to the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temp, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM, when the boat drives straight through a station without stopping. I was really stunned by how precise, the measurements taken by this instrument are.

flow-through station
Flow-through station

The next morning, Nelson explained that if we have enough tide the ship would leave. We had to wait a bit. As soon as we got the perfect tide and weather, R/V Walton Smith took off and I said ‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown.

‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown
‘Bye bye’ to Miami downtown

I learn so much every day in this scientific expedition. I saw not only real life science going on, but efficient communication among crew members. There are many types of crew members on the ship: navigation, technology, engineering, and scientific. Chief scientists make plans on each station and the types of testing. This plan is very well communicated with the navigation crew who is responsible for driving the ship and taking it to that station safely. The technology crew is responsible for efficient inner working of each scientific instrument. 10 minutes before we arrive on a station, the ship captain (from navigation crew) announces and informs the scientific team and technology team in the middle level via radio. So, the scientific team prepares and gets their instruments ready when the station arrives. I saw efficient communication and collaboration between all teams. Without this, this expedition would not be completed successfully.
I have also seen that safety is the first priority on this oceanic ship. When any crew member works in a middle deck such as CTD, Net Tow etc, they have to wear a hard hat and life jacket. People are always in closed toe shoes. It is required for any first timer on the boat to watch a safety video outlining safe science and emergency protocol. People in this ship are very friendly. They are very understanding about my first time at sea, as I was seasick during my first day. I am very fortunate to be a part of this team.

The food on the ship is delicious. Melissa, the chef prepares hot served breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. Her deserts are very delicious, and I think I am going to have to exercise more once I come back to reduce the extra weight gained from eating her delicious creations!

Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together
Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together

My shift is from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I work with Rachel and Grant. After working long hours, we watch TV, play cards and have dinner together. I am learning and enjoying this expedition on the ship Research Vessel Walton Smith.

Question of the Day:

Why we do water testing in different areas of river and ocean?

New word:

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM)

Something to think about:

How to prevent dead zone in an ocean?

Animals Seen Today:
Two trigger fishes
Three Moon Jelly fishes
Five Crabs

Did You Know?
In ship, ropes called lines, kitchen called galley, the place where you drive your ship is called bridge or wheel house.

Johanna Mendillo: Nets, Northern Sea Nettles and More…, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 10

Mission: Pollock research cruise
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Sunday, August 5, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 61º 10′ N
Longitude: 179º 28’W
Ship speed: 4.3 knots ( 4.9 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature:  11.1ºC (52ºF)
Surface water temperature: 8.1ºC (46.6ºF)
Wind speed: 5.4 knots ( 6.2 mph)
Wind direction: 270ºT
Barometric pressure: 1013 millibar ( 1.0 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

So far, you have learned a lot about the pollock research we conduct on board.  You have learned:

  • How to age fish (with otoliths)
  • How to measure fish (with the Ichthystick)

and

  • How to identify fish gender (with your eyes!)

Now, we are going to backtrack a bit to the two big-picture topics that remain:

  • How do we CATCH the pollock (hint hint, that is today’s topics… NETS!)

and

  • How do we even find pollock in the Bering Sea (that is the next blog’s focus: acoustics!)

So, to begin, there are several types of nets we are carrying on board.  Remember, when a net is dragged behind a ship in the water it is called trawling, and the net can be considered a trawl.  The most-used is the Aleutian Wing Trawl, or AWT, which we use to sample the mid-water column (called a midwater trawl).  We are also using a net called the 83-112, which is designed to be dragged along the ocean floor as a bottom trawl, but we are testing it for midwater fishing instead.  In fact, sometimes during my shift we do one AWT trawl, and immediately turn around and go over the same area again with the 83-112 to see differences in the fish sizes we catch!

If the 83-112, which is a smaller net, proves to be adequate for midwater sampling, NOAA hopes it can be used off of smaller vessels for more frequent sampling, especially in the years the NOAA does not conduct the AWT (NOAA currently does AWT surveys biennially).

Now, for each type of net, there is some new vocabulary you should know:

 A typical midwater trawl
A typical midwater trawl…

The codend is the bottom of the net.  A closed codend keeps the fish inside the net and an open cod end allows them to swim through.  It may seem odd, but yes, sometimes scientists do keep the codend open on purpose!  They do this with a camera attached to the net, and they simply record the numbers of fish traveling through a certain area in a certain time period, without actually collecting them!  Here on the Dyson, the NOAA team is testing that exact type of technology with a new underwater camera called the Cam-Trawl, and you will learn about it in a later post.

The headrope is the top of the opening of the net.

The footrope is the bottom of the opening of the net.

(The 83-112 is called such because it has an 83 ft headrope and an 112 ft footrope.)

The trawl doors are in front of the headrope and help keep the net open.  Water pressure against the trawl doors pushes them apart in the water column during both setting of the net and while trawling, and this helps spread out the net so it maintains a wide mouth opening to catch fish.

There are floats on the top of the net and there can be weights on the bottom of the net to also help keep it open.

Lastly, the mesh size of the net changes: the size at the mouth of the net is 3 meters (128in.), and it decreases to 64in., 32in., 16in.., 8in., etc. until it is only ½ inch by the time you are holding the codend!

Here is a diagram to put it all together:

Courtesy of Kresimir Williams, NOAA

If you think about the opening of the net in terms of school buses, it will help!  It turns out that the AWT’s opening height, from footrope to headrope, is 25m, which is 2 school buses high!  The AWT’s opening width, is 40m across, about 3.5 school buses across!  Now, you can see why positioning and maneuvering the net takes so much care– and how we can catch a  lot of pollock!

Here is a trawl returning back to the ship's deck!
Here is a trawl returning back to the ship’s deck!

Now, when the scientists decide it is “time to go fishing” (from acoustic data, which will be the topic of the next blog) they call the officers up on the Bridge, who orient the ship into its optimal position and slow it down for the upcoming trawl.  Meanwhile, the deck crew is preparing the net.  The scientists then move from their lab up to the Bridge to join the officers– and they work together to monitor the location and size of the nearby pollock population and oversee the release and retrieval of the net.

Along the headrope, there are sensors to relay information to the Bridge, such as:

  • The depth of the net
  • The shape of the net
  • If the net is tangled or not
  • How far the net is off the bottom and
  • If fish are actually swimming into the net!

The fish and the net are tracked on this array of computer screens.  As the officers and scientists view them, adjustments to the net and its depth can be made:

The Bridge!
The Bridge!

The start of the trawl is called “EQ” – Equilibrium and the end of the trawl is called “HB” – haul back.  The net can be in the water anywhere from 5-60 minutes, depending on how many fish are in the area.

The AWT will get would up on this new reel
The AWT will get wound up on this reel

Now, sometimes an AWT catches so many fish that there are simply too many for us to measure and process in a timely fashion, so it is deemed a “splitter”!  In a splitter, there’s an extra step between hauling in the net from the ocean and emptying it to be sorted and processed.  The codend of the AWT is opened over a splitting crate, and half of the pollock go into a new net (that we will keep and sort through) and the rest of the pollock are returned to the water.

 The net is back on board!  Time to open up the codend and see what we have caught!
The net is back on board! Time to open up the codend and see what we have caught!

Personal Log:

Let’s continue our tour aboard the Oscar Dyson!  Follow me, back to the bridge, where the OOD (Officer on Duty) is at the helm.  As you already know, the first thing you notice on the bridge is the vast collection of computer screens at their disposal, ready to track information of all kinds.  You will learn more about these in an upcoming blog.

Busy at work on the bridge...
Busy at work on the Bridge…

In addition to these high-tech instruments, I was very happy to see good old-fashioned plotting on a nautical chart.  In class, students, you will have a special project where you get to track the changing position of the Oscar Dyson!

This chart is showing the northernmost point of three of our sampling transects- including the one closest to Russia!
This chart is showing the northernmost point of three of our sampling transects- including the one closest to Russia!

Here is a sample of the hour-by-hour plotting, done by divider, triangle, and pencil:

Can you spot them, hour by hour?
Can you spot them, hour by hour?

I will end here with a sea specimen VERY different from pollock, but always a fan favorite— jellyfish!  Interestingly, there are a large number of jellyfish in the Bering Sea- something I never would have assumed.  The one that we catch in almost every net is the Northern Sea Nettle (Chrysaora melanaster).  In one net, we collected 22 individuals!

When we collect non-pollock species such as these, we count, weigh, and record them in the computerized database and then release them back into the ocean.  Here they are coming down the conveyor belt after the net has been emptied:

Processing a net with many a jelly!
Processing a net with many a jelly!

The so-called bell, or the medusa, can be quite large- some are the diameter of large dinner plates (45cm)!  Their tentacles can extend to over 3m in length.  They consume mostly zooplankton, small fish (including juvenile pollock), and other jellies.  How so, exactly?  Well, when the tentacles touch prey, the nematocysts (stinging cells) paralyze it.  From there, the prey is moved to the mouth-arms and finally to the mouth, where it’s digested.

Some of the larger ones!
Some of the larger ones!

This same mechanism is used by sea nettle when it encounters danger like a large predator.  It stings the predator with its nematocysts and injects its toxins into its flesh.  In the case of smaller predators, this venom is strong enough to cause death.  In larger animals, however, it usually produces a paralyzing effect, which gives the sea nettle enough time to escape.

Now in the case of me handling them… and other humans…their sting is considered moderate to severe.  In most cases, it produces a rash, and in some cases, an allergic reaction.  However, we wear gloves on board and none of the scientists have ever had an issue holding them.  In fact, they offered to put one on my head and take a picture… but I declined!  If a few students email me, begging for such a picture, maybe I will oblige…

Steven Frantz: Critters at Sea, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 5, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 29.0
Wind Speed (knots): 10.28
Wind Direction (degree): 138.68
Relative Humidity (percent): 076
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1022.33
Water Depth (meters): 28.45
Salinity (PSU): 35.612

Location Data:
Latitude: 3323.40N
Longitude: 07808.17W

Critters at Sea

On my last blog I introduced you to five species of shark found so far. I think you can tell which one is my favorite, which is yours?

Even though our mission is to collect data on sharks, you never know what might come up on the end of a hook (or tangled in the line!). Data is still collected on just about everything else we catch. For today’s blog I have put together a photo journey on the so many other beautiful creatures we have caught.

Basket Starfish
Basket Starfish with pieces of soft red coral
Black Sea Bass
Black Sea Bass
Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)
Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)
Box Crab
Box Crab
Clearnose Skate
Clearnose Skate
Conger Eel
Conger Eel
Red Grouper
Red Grouper
Mermaid's Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)
Mermaid’s Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)
Candling the Mermaid's Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal
Candling the Mermaid’s Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal
Hammerjack
Amberjack
Scallop Shell
Scallop Shell
Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)
Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)
Sea Urchin
Sea Urchin
Spider Crab
Spider Crab
Starfish
Starfish
Red Snapper (10Kg)
Red Snapper (10Kg)

There you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures of just some of the beauty and diversity in the Atlantic Ocean. Be sure to visit my next blog when we tie up loose ends!

Sunset
Sunset

Susan Kaiser: Blue Planet Connections, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: August 5, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 34 min N
Longitude:  81 deg 48 min W
Wind Speed:   2.5 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 32.1 C
Air Temperature:  29 C
Relative Humidity: 71 %

Science and Technology Log

Sunrise on the last day at sea.
Sunrise on the last day at sea.

It is easy to see why the Earth is nicknamed the Blue Planet. Its dominant physical feature is the sea water which covers approximately 70% of the surface making it appear blue even from space.   People have depended on the oceans for centuries not just for the obvious things such as food, transportation, jobs and recreation but also for the very oxygen we breathe and the fresh water we drink to survive.  Humans need the ocean for all these things and more. We are inextricably interconnected to the ocean; our survival depends on it.

The vastness of the ocean allows us to believe that human actions won’t have a major effect on it. For example, pollution that leaks into the ocean would be diluted by the huge amount of water so that no real harm would be done to the habitat or the organisms living in the ocean. This may have been true for a time when the human population was less than the 7 billion people now living on Earth. However, the fact is human actions do influence the ocean and in ways that matter. Often these impacts are unintended or accidental but they still lead to a change in the marine ecosystem.   Sadly, many times these effects are negative such as  the Deepwater Horizon/BP MC252 oil spill In 2010, an explosion on an oil drilling rig in the Gulf  of Mexico released almost 5 million barrels of oil into the ocean immediately changing the marine habitat and harming the organisms that lived there. Scientists are still determining the long term effects of this spill and helping to restore the area. In the past other spills have occurred such as the grounding of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989 that released 11 million gallons of crude oil along the Alaskan coast.

Not all ocean impacts are large events related to the petroleum industry. Even small individual human decisions can be significant. For example, if a pet owner no longer wants to keep his exotic species pet he might release it into the wild or an environment where that organism isn’t usually found.

Mrs. Kaiser holding a speared Lionfish. Photo by Jeff Renchen.
Mrs. Kaiser holding a speared Lionfish. Photo by Jeff Renchen.

This is probably how the Lionfish,  scientific name Pterois volitans, has become established in the coastal waters near the Carolinas and Florida, according to Paula Whitfield, a NOAA marine scientist. It may seem like a minor problem that the Lionfish is now living in Gulf Coast ocean water. What do you predict will happen to the number of Lionfish in this area knowing that they have everything they need to flourish: food, water, space but no predators to hunt them?  They will reproduce and increase their numbers quickly. Lionfish will out number native species of fish and beat them out for those resources displacing them in their ecosystem. Lionfish will out compete native species decreasing their numbers and the diversity of organisms. While on our cruise the science team encountered groups of Lionfish living under large rocks at depths of 100 feet. They speared a specimen and brought it aboard to examine it closely. Lionfish are invading this marine habitat taking it over from the native species. Any organism that is introduced into a new ecosystem where it can rapidly increase numbers taking over native habitat is called an invasive species. One solution to this problem is to start catching Lionfish to eat! I am told they are yummy. People just need to be taught how to safely remove their poisonous fins and taste them!

These tiny (15-20mm) fresh water bivalves are invasive species.
These tiny (15-20mm) fresh water bivalves are invasive species.

Both animal and plant organisms can be invasive species squeezing out more desirable native organisms. In Nevada, we are on the alert to an invasion of  Quagga Mussels (Dreissena bugensis) that have been detected in Lake Mead near Las Vegas. These fresh water mollusks are transported on boat exteriors or in bilge water to other fresh water lakes across the United States. It is important that boaters carefully inspect and maintain their equipment to halt the progress of this invasive species to other lakes in Nevada and elsewhere.

The Blue Planet is home to us all. Our decisions and actions make a

Roof of the Nancy Foster Complex in Key West, Florida. Note the native plants.
Roof of the Nancy Foster Complex in Key West, Florida. Note the native plants.

difference on both a small and large scale. Each of us has a responsibility to make informed choices about these actions. Realizing our reliance on the ocean and other aspects of the environment and working within in these systems really benefits all of us. For example, when architects designed the Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environment Complex in Key West, Florida they created a Green Building.  This means they made choices to  “recycle”  a neighboring building saving building materials and using it for a new purpose. Office furniture was re-purposed to fit in the new energy efficient building that is LEED Silver certified. Contributing to the ecosystem, the roof is planted with native species of grasses that provide habitat for insects and birds. The plants are watered by rain. Excess rain water is collected and stored for other uses in the building helping to conserve water. While the Dr. Nancy Foster Complex building design is indirectly related to ocean preservation it represents a human action that benefits our Blue Planet. As with the release of a hand full of Lionfish, so can many small actions together can create a big impact. Choose to be connected to our  ocean in a positive way. Through a small act you do each day we can preserve and even improve our environment and oceans. The Blue Planet is a great place to call home.  Let’s help keep it that way.

Personal Log

Science Team. Photo by Lt. Josh Slater.
Science Team. Photo by Lt. Josh Slater.

As I finish writing this last blog from my home in Reno Nevada, I am reflecting on the many people I have met and the experiences I have had as a  NOAA Teacher at Sea. It is through NOAA’s interest in connecting scientists, mariners and educators that I was able to participate in this amazing experience but also because I took a chance and applied.  I might not have been chosen but I didn’t let that stop me from taking the risk. If I had not made the time to apply and prepared my essays and sample lessons look what I would have missed. The chief scientist, Scott Donahue, also took a chance on me and accepted me as an active participant on his research cruise. He and the science team went out of their way to make sure that I stayed safe and got an outstanding experience as an observer of their research. Everyone took  time to answer my questions and describe their research to reach a larger audience, YOU!

On the last day we sailed into port at Key West, few people aboard knew that

Ensign Richard De Triquet  (right) maneuvers the ship. Executive Officer CM Donn Pratt (left) observes.
Ensign Richard De Triquet (right) maneuvers the ship. Executive Officer CM Donn Pratt (left) observes.

Ensign Richard de Triquet was given the task of bringing the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster into dock.  It was his first time to manage this procedure! Commanding Officer LCDR Holly Jablonski knew he had the skill and took a risk  assigning Ensign De Triquet to maneuver the ship into port. Working as a team, the other officers on the bridge used binoculars to spot potential obstacles in the channel. They discussed the best course for the ship and provided input to Ensign De Triquet who announced the orders.  By the way, the docking was was smoothly accomplished and I got to observe the entire process including the debriefing. Congratulations Ensign De Triquet, nice work!

My NOAA Teacher at Sea experience is one that I will never forget! It was a pleasure to be a part of this science research cruise and to

Mrs. Kaiser snorkeling Ft. Jefferson. Photo by Alejandro Acosta, PhD.
Mrs. Kaiser snorkeling Ft. Jefferson. Photo by Alejandro Acosta, PhD.

meet such a wonderful group of people. My blog would not be complete without acknowledging several individuals in the group who were especially helpful.  Danielle Morley who cheerfully provided me with an overview of the VR2 research including a power point presentation and got me involved in the data collection. Hatsue Bailey who acted as my photographer whenever needed.  Sarah Fangman who provided ground transportation. Alejandro Acosta, PhD who took me snorkeling after a tour of  Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. He also was the underwater photographer of the organisms we saw that day. Thank you, everyone!

Just as people are interconnected to the ocean they are also interconnected to each other. All of the people I met on this adventure worked together toward a common purpose. Each one of them making their own contribution to reaching that goal. They did it by doing their best work and trusting that each member of the group would in turn do their part to their best ability. Effort and communication were key to their success. From what I witnessed it worked out perfectly.

These 2 sponges are over 100 years old. They are known as the "Redwoods of the Reef." Photo by Hatsue Bailey.
These 2 sponges are over 100 years old. They are known as the “Redwoods of the Reef.” Photo by Hatsue Bailey

Summer is quickly coming to an end and with it the excitement of a new school grows. My students and I  have the opportunity to make connections, to each other, to the Blue Planet and the organisms that live here. This year, if you are faced with a challenge, be brave and take it on. Assess an opportunity and take the risk to try something unfamiliar. Extend kindness to someone outside your existing circle of friends.  Put your toe in the water and get comfortable listening, observing, thinking and asking questions. You will be amazed what you will learn and the things you will experience. Take a chance. Reflect, communicate and work together.  Scientists and NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew showed how well this works to get the job done. Let’s follow their example so that your 7th grade year in science a memorable one too.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the survival suit. Photo by Hatsue Bailey.
Mrs. Kaiser wearing the survival suit. Photo by Hatsue Bailey.
A crab exploring the ocean floor. Photo by Hatsue Bailey
A crab exploring the ocean floor. Photo by Hatsue Bailey
Scientist Danielle Morley changing out a VR2. Photo by Sean Morton.
Scientist Danielle Morley changing out a VR2. Photo by Sean Morton.

Bhavna Rawal: Teacher from Houston, Texas to collect oceanographic data in South Florida! August 6, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bhavna Rawal
Very Soon to be board the R/V Walton Smith
August 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey/ South Florida Program
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 6, 2012

Introductory Log

Greetings from Houston, TX! I have been a science teacher in Northbrook High School for the last six years and I am going to be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Department Chair at the Energized for the STEM academy starting this year. Northbrook High School is in an urban area in west Houston. The school has 1956 students, with 82% Hispanic, 8% black, 7% white, and 3% Asian. Over 80% of the students are in the Free Lunch Program. There are 140 teachers in our school.

I have worked as a physics, STEM and environmental teacher at Northbrook for six years. I am in a curriculum committee and district improvement team. I help with the professional development of the other teachers in our district. I have coached, co-coached and sponsored numerous after-school activities including the green club, and the MIT InvenTeam club. I also organize a community open house every year. As a school science teacher leader, my students’ teams and teachers’ team have done several STEM projects in energy, environmental and oceanic science.

Energy Projects: I used to teach the energy unit by helping students to build electricity circuits in a house designed and made from a foam board for my students to learn the whole unit. But my love of saving energy and the environment inspired me to make the green club students to build the alternative energy house, write and receive the BP energy grant and help my students to receive the National Energy Education Development award in 2008. I also like to travel and do research and bring my experiences back to my classroom. I’ve traveled all over Europe to explore alternative energy and mass transit in 2009 as a Fund for Teachers’ fellow. After coming back from Europe, my student’s team built the future Houston Energy City and participated in city-wide competitions. I love to organize open houses every year in my school and showcase our projects to our teachers, staff, administrators and community. I have helped them perform several energy activities such as the energy audit, energy challenge, and solar cars, wind turbines, recycling program, share a car program, etc. under USDA grant that I have received for three consecutive years.  Under this grant, I have collaborated with my nearest community college and university programs to take students to various field trips and helped students to receive scholarships. My students also received second place in the energy competition in our district schools.

Alternative energy house project
Green Club students

One of my best projects is the invention project called the energy efficient cooling blanket sponsored by the Lemelson MIT program.  We zeroed in on the idea of an “energy efficient cooling blanket”. It was simple, but highly challenging, and would require real technical breakthroughs to actually succeed. I inspired and recruited my students to initiate this project. After we submitted the final proposal, our project was one of 14 finalists selected nationwide to receive the grant. Since the award, I assembled and inspired a volunteer team of students to implement this project. We gelled as a team and worked hard. Our prototype took shape! It was fun and exciting to watch, participate, and guide. I resolved logistical issues with the team, participated in brainstorming, and provided technical guidance and access to experts. In June 2011, our team showcased a prototype of our invention in EurekaFest at MIT!

NHS Lemelson-MIT IntevenTeam

Environmental projects and activities: The science class and green club have done water quality projects with EPA. As an Eye in the sky II ambassador I was fortunate to encourage students to learn and use advanced technology applications to solve community service projects such as Houston’s air pollution for the last ten years using Spatial Technology. With my guidance, my students selected, designed and developed community projects. I work hard to provide my students with the resources that will help them successfully complete their community projects and accomplish their own personal goals.

I was selected in a Toyota International teacher program to Costa Rica in 2011. During my trip, I analyzed and compared plants and animals from cloud forest, rainforest and dry Pacific forests in Costa Rica. I documented my observations using pictures, videos, and artifacts. I brought back information packets, photos, handouts, videos and personal experiences that were shared with my students, fellow teachers, administration and community. I collaborated with my Toyota program cohort group/alumni. I built strong relationships with the people I came in contact with in Costa Rica so that I could bring their first-person voices into my classroom. Students worked on a project called Biodiversity analysis and comparison within Clear Creek, Caney Creek and Mill Creek bayou. The rationale behind this project is to instruct students in field methodologies and introduce students to the concepts of species biodiversity and the biodiversity of interactions. The objectives of this project are: Students will be able to quantitatively assess and compare biodiversity of three distinct plant and animal communities within the three bayous and students will be able to distinguish the concepts of biodiversity of species and biodiversity of tropic interactions. In preparation, my students review the project work that I have performed in Costa Rica, analyze the data, and present comparative study with conclusions. When they are prepped, the students undertake the project in their chosen location and calculate biodiversity of each community in terms of species/area.

Biodiversity study with the Toyota Teachers International group

Recently I have participated in the 2012 Japan-U.S. teacher exchange program for education for sustainable development (ESD). This program was from the Japan Fulbright fund. What I learned during this program was to enrich and expand my school program. I have explored ESD resources and visited to ESD-focused schools. I experienced the Japanese culture and have visited cultural sites. I heard different viewpoints of educators from Japan and the U.S. by attending a joint conference between the Japanese and U.S. teachers. Since it is a collaborative project, it offers students the opportunity to increase their international awareness of ESD and to expand communication beyond our community. This participation allowed me to connect lessons learned from Europe, Central America, the United States, and Japan for educational experiences for students to help them envision the future through a global perspective.

U.S.-Japan ESD group

This summer, I was also selected by Fund for Teacher fellowship which is a self-designed learning odyssey to research the wealth of biodiversity pervasive in Costa Rica’s various biomes to create a unit of study that helps students grasp abstract concepts associated with sustainability and understand the implications of human activity on the environment. After pursuing scientific data, participating in seminars, volunteering with community organizations and observing best practices, I will return to my classrooms as leading learners to inspire my students and school communities.

Soil testing in Corcovado national park, Costa Rica

I am very excited to be a part of this cruise (WS1212), R/V Walton Smith scientific team which is from NOAA and the University of Miami.  I will learn, starting from collecting water samples to various scientific testing, documentation, regular routines and communication among team members and professional societies.

Johanna Mendillo: How Well Do You Know Your Pollock? August 4, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 10, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Saturday, August 4, 2012

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 62  20’ N
Longitude: 179 38’ W
Ship speed:  0.8 knots (0.9 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 7.1C (44.8ºF)
Surface water temperature: 8.3C (46.9ºF)
Wind speed: 22.7 knots (26.1 mph)
Wind direction: 205T
Barometric pressure:  1009 millibar (1.0 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

Out of the 30,000+ species of fish on earth, I would now like to introduce you to the fish we follow morning, noon, and night: pollock.

It is time for some fish biology 101!  The scientific name for pollock, also called walleye pollock, is Theragra chalcogramma.  This is a different species from its East Coast relative,  Atlantic Pollock.  They are in the same family as cod and haddock.

Juvenile pollock
Juvenile pollock… aren’t they cute?

AGE & SIZE:  Pollock are a fast-growing species that typically live to approximately 12yrs, but some live longer.  They are torpedo shaped (long, narrow, and with a streamlined body) and have speckled coloring that help them camouflage with the seafloor to avoid predators.  They generally range from 10-60cm in size; we have been collecting pollock generally in the 20-40cm range so far on this cruise.  Here I am holding one of the larger specimens I have seen so far:

One of the larger pollock I have seen so far...
One of the larger pollock I have seen so far…41cm!

WHERE THEY LIVE:  Younger pollock live in the mid-water region of the ocean; older pollock (age 5 and up) typically dwell near the ocean floor.  In order to sample both of these groups, we conduct trawls throughout the water column so we can get representative biological information from all habitats.

Here I am weighing pollock...
Here I am weighing pollock…

PREDATORS & PREY: 

Juvenile pollock eat a type of zooplankton called euphausids, otherwise known as krill, copepods, and small fish.  Older pollock feed on other fish…. including juvenile pollock, making them a cannibalistic species!  Pollock play an integral role in the Bering Sea food web and you will help construct that web back at school!

REPRODUCTION:  Pollock are able to reproduce by the age of 3 or 4.  In our work, we have to determine the sex of each fish by slicing it open because no reproductive organs are visible on the outside!  So, in addition to seeing the insides of many, many fish heads, I have now seen many, many fish gonads.  Here is a poster we use in the lab to learn how to identify the ovaries and testes at five different developmental stages (immature, developing, pre-spawning, spawning, and spent).

Poster showing male and female reproductive organs for ages 1-5
Poster showing ovary and testes stages 1-5!
And... it is a female!
And… it is a female!

So, how do you tell, exactly?  On the females, we go by the following guidelines:

Immature female pollock contain small ovaries tucked inside the body cavity, the ovary looks transparent, and there are no eggs visible.

Developing females have more visible and pink-ish ovaries, generally transparent to opaque.

Pre-spawning females contain large bright orange ovaries and eggs are easily discernible inside them

Spawning females have large ovaries bursting with hydrated eggs  (the fish has absorbed large amounts of water at this point), so the eggs look translucent or even transparent!

Spent females have empty flaccid ovaries.

It can sometimes be difficult to identify a female maturity stage by this simple visual scale (this is called macroscopic inspection), due to subjective interpretations of color, ovary size, and visibility of eggs, so fisheries biologists can also collect cell samples to look at gamete stages under the microscope (this is called histological analysis).  For example, a female’s ovaries can be slightly different colors based on her diet.  We are not collecting those types of samples on this cruise, however, but those are often collected during wintertime pollock cruises in the Gulf of Alaska.

These are ovaries in the pre-spawning stage
These are ovaries in the pre-spawning stage     (Photo Credit: Story Miller, TAS 2010)

Regardless of the method used, determining the ratio of different maturity stages in the female pollock population has very important implications for how scientists  calculate spawning biomass estimates, which in turn, are entered into statistical models to determine age class structures, overall population sizes, and, finally, catch quotas for the fishing industry.

On the males, we go by the following guidelines:

Immature male pollock have threadlike testes with a transparent membrane (that can be very hard to see).

Developing males have testes which look like smooth, uniformly textured ribbons.

Pre-spawning male testes appear as larger thicker ribbons.

Spawning males exhibit large testes that extrude sperm when pressed.

Spent males have large, flaccid, bloodshot, and watery testes.

These are the testes of a pre-spawning male
These are testes in the developing stage (Photo Credit: Story Miller, TAS 2010)

As for how they reproduce, pollock, like most fish, do external fertilization, which means they release eggs and sperm into the water, where they come together and fertilize.  For pollock in the northern Bering Sea, this tends to happen in the winter, from January-early April.  It appears that sub-populations in other areas of the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska spawn during shorter time windows throughout the late winter and early spring.

Fish gather in large groups to spawn, and an individual female pollock can release anywhere from 10,000s – 100,000s of eggs in a single season!  They could also be released at one time or in several batches, called batch spawning.  Interestingly, if conditions are not optimal, such as low water temperatures or  poor nutrition, females can reabsorb eggs, in a process called atresia.

Here are several hundred pollock we have to sort from a typical catch!  We toss the  females in the"Sheilas" side and the males in the "Blokes" side!
Here are several hundred pollock we have to sort from a typical catch! We toss the females in the”Sheilas” side and the males in the “Blokes” side!

After spawning and fertilization, the resulting larvae grow into juveniles, the juveniles grow into adults, and the process starts anew!  Overall, scientists still have much to learn about the timing and mechanisms behind the pollock reproductive process— and I have enjoyed learning about it from the NOAA team!

Personal Log:

First, the answer was… 75 dozen eggs!  Those were some pretty close guesses, good job!

Let’s continue our tour aboard the Oscar Dyson!  Now, as you can imagine, safety and training are very important parts of life at sea.  I feel very confident in the crew and officers’ careful preparedness.  Each week, we conduct safety drills.  There are three types: man overboard, fire, and abandon ship.  For each drill, each member of the ship has to report to a certain station to check in.  In addition, you may be assigned to bring something, such as a radio, first aid kit, etc.

One of our many life rings
One of our many life rings

The drill I was most interested in was abandon ship, because not only do you carry your emergency survival (also known as an immersion) suit with you, but sometimes you practice putting it on!  I had seen many pictures of other Teachers at Sea wearing them and wanted the chance to try it on myself!

So, without further ado, here are Allan and I in our suits:

Survival Suit Stylin'
Survival Suit Stylin’

What do you think, do we look like Gumby???

So, how exactly does it work?  Well, it is a special type of waterproof dry suit that protects the wearer from hypothermia in cold water after abandoning a sinking or capsized vessel. It is made of stretchable flame retardant neoprene, and contains insulated gloves, reflective tape, whistle, and a face shield for spray protection.  The neoprene material is a synthetic rubber with closed-cell foam, which contains many tiny air bubbles, making the suit sufficiently buoyant to also be a personal flotation device.

There are various types of immersion suits.  Some contain:

  • An emergency strobe light beacon with a water-activated battery
  • An inflatable air bladder to lift the wearer’s head up out of the water
  • An emergency radio beacon locator
  • A “buddy line” to attach to others’ suits to keep a group together
  • Sea dye markers to increase visibility in water

We keep them in our rooms and there are many others placed throughout the ship in case we are not able to return to our rooms in a real emergency.

I hope that gives you a good feel for life onboard here in week two.  Please post a comment below, students, with any questions at all.

A nice sunny day in the Bering Sea!
A nice sunny day in the Bering Sea!

Steven Frantz: Sharks at Sea, August 3, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 3, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 28.79
Wind Speed (knots): 14.14
Wind Direction (degree): 199.05
Relative Humidity (percent): 070
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1017.95
Water Depth (meters): 58.0
Salinity (PSU): 35.635

Location Data:
Latitude: 3409.72N
Longitude: 17611.11W

SHARKS AT SEA

Our 300th mission aboard the Oregon II is a Longline Shark Survey.  Stratified randomly selected sites have been generated using Arc GIS Software. This eliminates potential bias in sampling and each area has an equal opportunity to be sampled. Two depth strata zones (A: 5-30 fathoms, B: 30-100 fathoms) have been factored for the Atlantic. In order to avoid all sampling sites randomly bunched all together, the area has been divided into 60 nautical mile geographic zones from southern Florida to North Carolina. 60% of our effort (ex. time at sea) is put toward “A” stations and 40% of our effort is put toward “B” stations. This method of picking stations is called proportional allocation.

We are here to find sharks. This is important because so very little is known about them, or many of the other animals living in an extreme environment (extreme for people to live in).

One if the first sharks we caught was a blacknose shark, Carcharhinus acronotus. It is relatively small, a uniform gray color, and has a black tip on its nose.

Black-Nose Shark
Here I am holding Black-Nose Shark

The most common shark found so far has been the sharpnose shark, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae. Both sharpnose and blacknose sharks are considered to be small coastal sharks by the National Marine Fisheries Service. While similar in size to the black nose shark, the sharpnose shark is spotted. When brought on board, their size is nothing compared to their strength. I guess you have to act tough when you’re little!

Sharpnose being Weighed
Sharpnose being Weighed

Tough though they may be, we caught several sharp-nose sharks that have become bait themselves! I wonder what (kind of shark?) it was that ate the back half of this sharp-nose?

Shark as "Bait"
Shark as “Bait”

One of the many data we are collecting is the sex of the sharks. Pictured below are a male (top), then female (bottom). The male shark has claspers, which are used for internal fertilization. Claspers are also used to determine a male’s age depending on how calcified they are.  This is the standard way to determine sex on all the sharks we have caught thus far.

Male Sharpnose Shark
Male Sharpnose Shark
Female Sharpnose Shark
Female Sharpnose Shark

Another piece of data collected is a clip of flesh from a fin. This is a non-lethal way for scientists to obtain DNA for genetics studies and possibly for use in population structure for identification purposes.

Fin Clipping
Fin Clipping

As we saw above, some sharks don’t make it on board alive. While this is uncommon, the opportunity does present itself for more invasive study not done on living animals. Sharpnose sharks give birth to live young (viviparous). Pictured below are young sharks taken from a female. It is interesting to note that whether the shark is male or female can be determined at this early stage. Remember, not all sharks reproduce this way.

Baby Sharpnose
Baby Sharpnose

Sandbar sharks, Carcharhinus plumbeus, have been the next most common sharks caught. These are quite a bit larger than sharp-nose sharks, averaging 150 centimeters long and 35 kilograms in mass.

Sandbar Shark
Sandbar Shark

We must be safe when collecting data. Shark’s skin is like sandpaper, so if the teeth or tail doesn’t get you, you can also be given a pretty red rash by the scrapping of their skin against your skin.

Measuring a Sandbar Shark
Measuring a Sandbar Shark
Tagged Sandbar Shark
Tagged Sandbar Shark

Sandbar sharks were popular with the shark fin soup industry because they have a very large dorsal fin compared to their body size. Sharks were caught, their fin was cut off, and then the still-living shark was released back into the ocean to die. This practice has been outlawed in U.S. waters.

Sandbar Shark & Me
Sandbar Shark & Me

Watch the video below as a sandbar shark is caught and brought to the Oregon II.

The prettiest shark (at least to me) I’ve seen so far is the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier. They can get very large. Three meters long or more! The ones we’ve found have been smaller. The one I’m holding is very young. The umbilical scar was still visible! Tiger shark teeth are different from most sharks in that a tiger shark’s teeth are made to slice their prey, like the shells of sea turtles.

Tiger Teeth
Tiger Teeth
Tiger Shark & Me
Tiger Shark & Me

Sharks don’t have eyelids, like we have eyelids, to protect their eyes. They have what is called a nictitating membrane to protect their eyes. Here is a picture of the nictitating membrane partially covering a sharpnose shark’s eye.

Nictitating Membrane
Nictitating Membrane

The most unusual shark we’ve caught has been the scalloped hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini. Once on board the Oregon II they seemed to be docile (for a shark), however, their eyes on the far ends of their head were always looking, watching what was going on.

Why is their head shaped like it is? Even scientists don’t know for sure. Some think it acts as a hydrofoil to help it move through the water. Other scientists think (because of its large size) it helps detect electrical impulses in the water (like a sixth sense). Do you have any ideas why their head is shaped the way it is?

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Scalloped Hamerhead Shark
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Scalloped Hamerhead Shark
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

I have been working the day shift: from noon to midnight. The other crew is the night shift. In addition to what we have seen so far, the night shift has also seen a great hammerhead, Sphyrna mokarran and a silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformes.

We still have five days of fishing left. What will we catch next? I’ll let you know!

Steven Frantz: Language at Sea, August 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Tagging Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 1, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 28.9
Wind Speed (knots): 13.94
Wind Direction (degree): 224º
Relative Humidity (percent): 082
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1012.18
Water Depth (meters): 67.08
Water Temperature (degrees C): 28.5
Salinity (PSU): 35.649

Location:
Latitude: 3135.76N
Longitude: 07931.19W

Language at Sea

The language while at sea is English, however, there are many nautical terms you may not be familiar with. In today’s blog I will look into just some of the language typically used exclusively while on board not only the Oregon II, but also all ships in general. Along with the lesson on vocabulary, I will also be taking you on a visual tour of the Oregon II.

First let’s start with a little quiz. You’re on your own. This is NOT for a grade!!

  1. Bridge                                                _____Right
  2. Port                                                    _____Restroom
  3. Starboard                                          _____Stairs
  4. Bow                                                    _____Front of Ship
  5. Stern                                                  _____Floor
  6. Head                                                  _____Left
  7. Deck                                                   _____Bedroom
  8. Berthing                                            _____Mop
  9. Rain Closet                                      _____Rear of Ship
  10. Mess                                                  _____Control Room
  11. Ladder                                               _____Shower
  12. 1829                                                   _____Hallway
  13. Passageway                                     _____Restaurant
  14. Swab                                                  _____Time

How do you think you did? Follow along on a guided tour of the Oregon II to find out!

Here I am steering the Oregon II preparing to deploy the high-flier for another longline survey. The Bridge is where the captain conrols the ship. And yes, today is Luau Day!
Here I am steering the Oregon II preparing to deploy the high-flier for another longline survey. The Bridge is where the captain conrols the ship. And yes, today is Luau Day!
View from the Bridge looking over the bow.
View from the Bridge overlooking the bow.
Port, Starboard, Stern, Bow image courtesy of Google Images
As you can see, Port is left (red light), Starboard is right (green light), Bow is the front of the ship, and Stern is the rear of the ship. Image courtesy of Google Images.
The Head is the Bathroom!
The Head is the Bathroom!
The Deck refers to each Floor of the ship.
The Deck refers to each Floor of the ship.
Your Berthing is where you sleep. Bunk beds, three drawers, cabinet, one personal grooming shelf, shared sink and desk. On the Oregon II this is called your Stateroom.
Your Berthing is where you sleep. Bunk beds, three drawers, cabinet, one personal grooming shelf, shared sink and desk. On the Oregon II this is called your Stateroom.
Water Closet is where we shower.
Rain Closet is where we shower.
Galley=Food Eating Area! Walter and Paul are the best. Furthermore, "Steward" is the term for chef.
Mess Deck=Food Eating Area! Walter and Paul are the best. Furthermore, “Steward” is the term for chef.
The Ladder is the Stairs that take you from deck to deck.
The Ladder is the Stairs that take you from deck to deck.
The current time is 1829 (6:29 p.m.). We use a 24-hour clock. One p.m. is 1300, two p.m. is 1400, etc.
The current time is 1829 (6:29 p.m.). We use a 24-hour clock. One p.m. is 1300, two p.m. is 1400, etc.
Passageways are the Hallways.
Passageways are the Hallways.
Maybe you've heard the expression, "Swab the Deck?" It just means "Mop the Floor."
Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Swab the Deck?” It just means “Mop the Floor.”

How did you do on the quiz? I thought I would share a few more interesting aspects about life on a ship.

All doors and drawers are latched. You just can't have door and drawers swing back and forth as the ship rocks on the waves.
All doors and drawers are latched. You just can’t have door and drawers swing back and forth as the ship rocks on the waves.
We must do our own laundry. There are four types of water. Of course fresh water and salt water you've heard of before. On the ship we also have brown water, which is water from laundry and sinks. We also have black water, which is the water from the head. You do remember what the head is don't you?
We must do our own laundry. There are four types of water on a ship. Of course fresh water and salt water you’ve heard of before. On the ship we also have brown water, which is water from laundry and sinks. We also have black water, which is the water from the head. You do remember what the head is don’t you?
People are trained to be on the ship's Fire Department. We have fire drills on the Oregon II.
People are trained to be on the ship’s Fire Response Team. We have fire drills on the Oregon II.
There is a gym for working out.
There is a gym for working out.
The Wet Lab wasn't used much for the Longline Shark Survey.
The Wet Lab isn’t used much (mainly for staging equipment) for the Longline Shark Survey.
The bulk of our work was done in the Dry Lab.
The bulk of recording our research was done in the Dry Lab.

There you have it. A vocabulary tour of the Oregon II. Rest assured, we have been catching sharks.  Stay tuned. There WILL BE sharks in my next blog!

Allan Phipps: Show Me the Data! August 2, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

Safety first!

Mission: Alaskan Pollock Mid-water Acoustic Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 2, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 61°12’61” N
Longitude: 178°27’175″ W
Ship speed: 11.6 knots (13.3 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed: 11 knots (12.7 mph)
Wind Direction: 193°
Wave Height: 2-4 ft (0.6 – 1.2 m)
Surface Water Temperature: 8.3°C ( 47°F)
Air Temperature: 8.5°C (47.3°F)
Barometric Pressure: 999.98 millibars (0.99 atm)

Science and Technology Log

At the end of last blog, I asked the question, “What do you do with all these fish data?”

The easy answer is… try and determine how many fish are in the sea.  That way, you can establish sustainable fishing limits.  But there is a little more to the story…

Historically, all fisheries data were based on length.  It is a lot easier to measure the length of a fish than to accurately determine its weight on a ship at sea.  To accurately measure weight on a ship, you have to have special scales that account for the changes in weight due to the up and down motion of the ship.  Similar to riding a roller coaster, at the crest of a wave (or top of a hill on a roller coaster), the fish would appear to weigh less as it experiences less gravitational force.  At the trough of a wave (or bottom of a hill on a roller coaster), the fish would experience more gravitational force and appear to weigh more.  Motion compensating scales are a more recent invention, so, historically, it was easier to just measure lengths.

One of the motion-compensating scales onboard the             Oscar Dyson.

For fisheries management purposes, however, you want to be able to determine the mass of each fish in your sample and inevitably the biomass of the entire fishery in order to decide on quotas to determine a sustainable fishing rate.  So, you need to be able to use length data to estimate mass. Here is where science and math come to the rescue!  By taking a random sample that is large enough to be statistically significant, and by using the actual length and weight data from that sample, you can create a model to represent the entire population.  In doing so, you can use the model for estimating weights even if all you know is the lengths of the fish that you sample.  Then you can extrapolate that data (using the analysis of your acoustic data – more on this later) to determine the entire size of the pollock biomass in the Bering Sea.

How do they do that?  First, you analyze and plot the actual lengths vs. weights of your random sample and your result is a scatter-plot diagram that appears to be an exponential curve.

Scatterplot showing observed Walleye pollock weights and lengths for a sample of the population.

Then you create a linear model by log-transforming the data.  This gives you a straight line.

Linear regression of the Walleye pollock length and weight data.

Next, you back-transform the data into linear space (instead of log space) and you will have created a model for estimating weight of pollock if all you know are the lengths of the fish.  This is close to a cubic expansion which makes sense because you are going from a one-dimensional measurement (length) to a 3-dimensional measurement (volume).

Observed weight and length data showing the model for predicting weight if all you know are lengths.

Scientists can now use this line to predict weights from all of their fish samples and then extrapolate to determine the entire biomass of Walleye pollock population in the Bering Sea (when combined with acoustic data… coming up in the next blog!) when the majority of the data collected is only fish lengths.

Another interesting question… How does length change with age?  Fish get bigger as they get older, all the way until they die, which is different from mammals and birds. However, some individual fish grow faster than others, so the relationship between age and length gets a little complicated.  How do you determine the age distribution of an entire population when all you are collecting are lengths?

Several age classes of Alaskan pollock (Theragra chalcogramma).  Can you tell which one is youngest?                Are you sure???

Just like weight, you can determine the age from a subset of fish and apply your results to the rest. This works great with young fish that are one year old.  The problem is… once you get beyond a one-year-old fish, using lengths alone to determine age becomes a little sketchy.  Different fish may have had a better life than others (environmental/ecological effects) and had plenty to eat, great growing conditions, etc and be big for their age relative to the rest of the population.  Some may have had less to eat and/or unfavorable conditions such as high parasite loads leading them to be smaller…   There are also other things to consider such as genetics that affect length and growth rate of individuals.  Here is where the collection of otoliths becomes important.  By collecting the otoliths with the lengths, weights, and gender data, the scientists can look at the age distributions within the population.  The graph below shows that if a pollock is 15 cm long, it is clearly a 1 year old fish.  If a pollock is 30 cm long, it might be a 2 year old, a 3 year old, or a 4 year old fish, but about 90% of fish at this length will be 3 years old.  If a fish is 55 cm long, it could be anywhere from 6 to 10+ years old!

Graph showing age proportions of the Walleye pollock population when compared to length data.

Collection of otoliths is the only way to accurately determine the age of the fish in the random sample and be able to extrapolate that data to determine the estimated age of all the pollock in the fishery.  Here is a photo comparing otolith size of Walleye pollock with their lengths.

    A comparison of otolith sizes. These otoliths were taken from fish that were 12.5cm, 24.5cm, 30.5cm, 39.0cm, 55.5cm, and 70.0cm counter clockwise from top, respectively.
A comparison of otolith sizes. These otoliths were taken from fish that were 12.5cm, 24.5cm, 30.5cm, 39.0cm, 55.5cm, and 70.0cm counter clockwise from top, respectively.

If we wanted to find out exactly how old each of these fish were, we would need to break the otoliths in half to look at a cross section.  Below is what a prepared otolith looks like (courtesy of Alaska Fisheries Science Center).  You can try counting rings yourself at their interactive otolith activity found here.

Cross section of Walleye pollock otolith after being prepared (courtesy of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center).

All of these data go into a much more complicated model (including the acoustic-trawl survey walleye pollock population estimates) to accurately estimate the total size of the fishery and set the quotas for the pollock fishing industry so that the fishery is maintained in a sustainable manner.

Next blog, we will learn about how the various ways acoustic data fit into this equation to create the pollock fishery model!

Personal Blog

Ok, so here is a long overdue look at the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson that I am calling home for three weeks.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw my state room.  It is bigger than I thought it would be and came with its own bathroom.  I was also pleasantly surprised to learn I would be sharing my state room with Kresimir Williams, one of the NOAA scientists and an old college friend of mine!  Here is a picture of our room.

My state room on the Oscar Dyson. The curtains around each bunk help block out light.

The room has a set of bunk beds.  Thankfully, my bed is on the bottom.  I do not know how I would have gotten in and out of bed in the rough seas we had over the last couple of days.  If I do fall out of bed, at least I will not have far to fall.  Last year, the ship rocked so hard in rough seas that one of the scientists fell head first out of the top bunk!  The room also had two lockers that serve as closets, a desk and chair, and our immersion suits (the red gumby suits).  The bathroom is small and the shower is tiny!  Notice the handles on the wall.  These are really handy when trying to shower in rough seas!

The bathroom in my state room. Notice the essential handles.

Next, we have the Galley or Mess Hall.  This is where we have all of our meals prepared by Tim and Adam.  Notice that all of the chairs have tennis balls on the legs and that each chair has a bungee cord securing it to the floor!  There are also bungee cords over the plates and bowls.  Everything has to be secured for rough seas.

The Mess Hall, also known as “The Galley.”
The chairs in the galley have tennis balls on their feet and have bungee cords holding them down so they will not move during high seas.
The coffee bar and snack bar in the galley.

The Mess Hall also has a salad bar, cereal bar, sandwich fixings, soup, snacks like cookies, and ice cream available 24 hours a day.  No one on board is going hungry.  The food has been excellent!  We have had steaks, ribs, hamburgers and fish that Tim has grilled right out on deck.  Here is a picture of my “surf and turf” with a double-baked potato.

“Surf and Turf” meal, courtesy of Stewards Tim and Adam. Yummy!

Most of my work here on board (other than processing fish) has been in the acoustics lab, also known as “The Cave” since it has no windows.  This is where the NOAA scientists are collecting acoustic data on the schools of fish and comparing the acoustic data with the biological samples we process in the fish lab.

The acoustics lab, also known as “The Cave” since it has no windows.

I also spend some time up on the Bridge.  From the Bridge, you can see 10 to 12+ nautical miles on a clear day.  This morning, we saw a couple of humpback whales blowing (surfacing to breathe) about 1/4 mile off our starboard side!  A couple of days ago (before the weather turned foul), we spotted an American trawler.

An American Trawler spotted in some foggy weather.

Today, we got close enough to see the Russian coastline!  Here is a picture of a small tanker ship with the Russian coastline in the background!

Land Ho! A small tanker off the Russian coastline.

Here are some pictures of the helm and some of the technology we have onboard to help navigate the ship.

The “helm” of the Oscar Dyson.
Radar showing numerous Russian fishing vessels near the Russia coastline.

I have also spent some time in the lounge.  This is where you can go to watch movies, play darts (yea, right!  on a ship in rough weather???), or just relax.  The couch and chairs are so very comfy!

The Lounge aboard the Oscar Dyson.

When you have 30 people on board and in close quarters, you better have a place to do laundry!  Here is a picture of our very own laundromat.

The onboard laundry facilities.

All for now.  Next time, I will share more about life at sea!

Susan Kaiser: Technology, Tool of the Marine Scientist, August 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: August 1, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 29 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 07 min W
Wind Speed:   1.4 kts
Surface Water Temperature:  28.38 C
Air Temperature:  29.3 C
Relative Humidity: 76%

Science and Technology Log

Cycles are patterns that repeat over and over again and science is full of examples of them: rock cycle, carbon cycle and life cycle just for starters. I am sure you can probably even name a few more. Tonight will be the last night of a full moon, another cycle, and with it Mutton Snapper  spawning will end for the time. When the Mutton Snapper, scientific name  (Lutjanus analis), gather in a large group marine scientists call an aggregation.

Mutton Snapper aggregation
Mutton Snapper aggregation

This means that the male and female fish swim to a particular location in the ocean increasing their numbers and the chance that many more eggs will be fertilized to produce the next generation of fish. The trick for the scientists is finding where on the ocean floor these aggregations will occur. Using the Remotely Controlled Vehicle (ROV), diver sightings of good habitat and even knowledge of where fishermen have made great catches, scientists can zero in on where to observe an aggregation.

However, there is one more technology tool that can help locate fish AND map the ocean floor at the same time. This is multibeam charting technology create the colorful maps of the hidden world below the water.

Bathymetry image showing depth of Lake Tahoe
Bathymetry image showing depth of Lake Tahoe made using multibeam charting technology.

You may have seen one of these beautiful images which use different colors to indicate changes in depth. I have always wondered how these charts were made. In fact, NOAA Ship Nancy Foster has crew members charting the ocean floor 24 hours a day while we are underway even when we are sleeping! Multiple sonar signals are directed from the ship toward  the ocean floor  when they bounce back the ship receives the signal on the computers. This signal shows on the computer screen as a small dot. When enough dots are arranged together at the depth they represent a picture of the ocean floor begins to emerge.  The trained eyes of the survey technicians are needed to create an accurate two dimensional image of what lies beneath the water. The charts they create allow ships to remain safe and avoid running aground. When ships and boats stay in the proper depth of water they do not harm fragile coral reef areas which are easily damaged by these destructive collisions. In addition to recording safe passageways and creating depth charts that mariners use as they navigate, this technology can also spot fish within the water column locating the fish aggregations the marine scientists are studying. Many NOAA ships are equipped with this same technology and explore other parts of the ocean gathering similar data.

Technology helps the research team compensate for changing conditions such as visibility, currents, and ocean depth. Each tool has strength and weakness. For example, this morning our boat deployed a Seaviewer drop camera which is tethered by the cord and carried down by a weight. We were at a location called Riley’s Hump where the current is fast!

ROV  technology would not work in this situation because it would be too difficult to maneuver in this current. It takes teamwork to handle the positioning of the boat while one scientist observes the computer screen for video and another pair manage the descent of the camera and weighted rope. However, the drop camera can only “look” one direction so once the fish swim past, the camera cannot follow them unlike the ROV in calm water. When used together, these technology tools allow scientists to develop an understanding of the habitat and the organisms that live on the ocean floor but they also have limitations.

Ben Binder deploys the Seaviewer drop camera over Riley's Hump location.
Ben Binder deploys the Seaviewer drop camera over Riley’s Hump location.

The marine scientists plan their data gathering with these variables in mind. On this trip they returned to the VR2 sites where they have been collecting data since 2008 but they are always looking for other areas of the habitat to study. While they dive to retrieve VR2s or use the ROV and drop camera they are identifying future research sites wondering which fish might prefer that spot.

Computer screen image as we pass over an aggregation site.
Computer screen image as we pass over an aggregation site. The baseline shows the ocean floor in profile. The mass of dots represent fish!

Their path is determined by questions: Do the Mutton Snapper live near their aggregation site or do they swim to this location from elsewhere? Do different groups of Mutton Snapper aggregate each full moon or is it the same group returning to Riley’s Hump? How often do these aggregations happen? All the technology available cannot answer these questions so when the time is right the scientists dive to make a direct observation of what organisms are living in the study area. On this cruise we learned that some areas did not have many fish on the day we visited yet other sites were rich with organisms.

The VR2 data will tell more of the story.  The scientists will revise their plan and add more data in the fall. In time they will learn the answer to these questions and then perhaps identify related or new questions to pursue. This is a cycle of research. You may have heard it called scientific method. It is a process of asking questions and trying to answer them through investigation and observations. It is a process I watched unfold for this marine science team. It was unforgettable!

Personal Log:

Every discipline has its own specialized vocabulary. Tackling new science words with my students breaking down their meaning to understand and remember them is something I do regularly. Living aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster for the last week has put me in role of learner again. My teachers are the marine scientists and mariners.  I am learning the names of organisms that we encounter and details about their behaviors. Some of this information I remember from my college classes but much of it is new. The mariners even have their own vocabulary! In fact, the Executive Officer, Donn Pratt, provided me with a list of seafarer vocabulary. I thought it was interesting and that you might enjoy reading it too:

Safety sign marking the spot to report or "muster"
Safety sign marking the spot to report or “muster”

Seafarers Nomenclature!!
Showers and toilets referred to on ships as “heads!”
Hallways are called “passageways.”
Windows are called “portholes.”
Bunk is called a “rack.”
Floors are called “decks.”
Ceilings are “overheads.”
Lastly…to report to a designated location is to “muster!”

More of a challenge for me is living at sea. I am still adjusting to the rocking motion of the ship. Thank goodness the water has been calm and my plan to prevent seasickness is effective. Today tested this hypothesis by performing a little science experiment. I skipped the seasickness medicine and took off the wrist bands. Within two hours my stomach was  feeling queasy so I popped the wrist bands back on and now feel fine. One of the scientists pointed out that it is effective because you believe it will work. That may be the case but I got the result I hoped for so I am a believer in sea bands.

Mrs. Kaiser on the bridge deck at the last full moon.
Mrs. Kaiser on the bridge deck at the last full moon

My former students know that I love the dictionary and we refer to it often in my classroom.  As I see it, the dictionary is a critical tool to both understand another person’s thinking as well as to communicate our meaning clearly. Unfortunately, I didn’t pack a dictionary and early in the cruise it became clear I needed one. I had worn out “Cool!” “Amazing” and  “Interesting” to comment on what I was seeing and living each day on this adventure.  I looked up the definition of “superlative” when our course pointed away from the “Dead Zone” but the list of synonyms didn’t help much. Perhaps the best way to describe my experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea on NOAA Ship Nancy Foster is just this: I am in AWE!

Superlative: adjective. 1) of the highest quality or degree. 2) expressing the highest or a very high degree of a quality (e.g. bravest, most fiercely).

Awe:noun. a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Marine science team with Mrs. Kaiser after deploying the ROV.
Marine science team with Mrs. Kaiser after deploying the ROV
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster compass.
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster compass.

Johanna Mendillo: From Russia with Love… August 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 10, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 62  18’ N
Longitude: 178 51’ W
Ship speed:  2.5 knots (2.9 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 9.5C (49.1ºF)
Surface water temperature: 8.5C (47.3ºF)
Wind speed: 9.1 knots (10.5 mph)
Wind direction: 270T
Barometric pressure:  1001 millibar (0.99 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

In the last few days, we have crossed into the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone, sampled, and are now back on the U.S. side!   Unfortunately, students, there was no way for my passport to get stamped.  There was no formal ceremony, and we will cross back and forth many times in the next two weeks as we do our science transects, collecting Pollock, but the science team took a moment to celebrate— and I snapped a quick picture of the computer screen.

Crossing into Russia!
Crossing into the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone!

I would now like to introduce you to one of the most simple and valuable tools we use on board to measure a sample of Pollock- the Ichthystick.

The one... the only... Icthystick!
The one… the only… Ichthystick!

First, some background.  Each day we “go fishing” 2-4 times with our mid-water and bottom trawls. “Trawling” simply means dragging a large net through the water to collect fish (and you will learn more about the different types of nets we use quite soon).  After the trawl, we bring the net back on board and see what we have caught!

There are many types of data we collect from each catch- first and foremost, the total weight of the catch and the numbers and masses of any species we catch in addition to pollock.  So far, we have collected salmon, herring, cod, lumpsuckers, rock sole, arrowtooth flounder, Greenland turbot, and jellyfish on my shifts!  Our focus, though, of course, is pollock.  For pollock-specific data, we keep a sub-sample of the catch, usually 300-500 fish, for further analysis, and we release the rest back into the ocean.

From this sub-sample, I help the scientists collect gender and length data.  As I mentioned in my last post, we also collect otoliths from the sub-samples so that the age structure of the population can be studied back in Seattle.  The most straightforward and obvious data, though, is simply measuring the length of the fish, which takes us back to the wonderful contraption known as the Ichthystick!

Now, scientists cannot determines the age of a pollock simply from measuring its length- there are many factors that determine how fast a fish can grow, such as access to food, space, its overall health, environmental conditions, etc.  But, by collecting length data and combining it with age data from otoliths, scientists can begin to see the length ranges at each age class and the overall “big picture” for the population emerges.

And again, once the age structure and population size of pollock in the Bering Sea are determined for a certain year, management decisions can be made, commercial fish quotas are set for the upcoming fishing season, and there will still be a suitable population of fish left in the ocean to reproduce and keep the stocks at sustainable levels for upcoming years.

The Icthystick logo... designed by scientist Kresimir himself!
The Ichthystick logo… designed by scientist Kresimir!

So, it clearly does not make much sense to measure pollock with a ruler, paper, and pencil.  To measure hundreds of fish at a time, the NOAA team has developed a simple yet ingenious measuring tool, powered by magnets, and transmitted electronically back to their computers for easy analysis- the Ichthystick!

The Ichthystick may simply look like a large ruler, but it consists of a sensor and electronic processing board mounted in a protective (& waterproof!) container.  Inside, the sensor processes, formats and transmits the measurement values of each fish to an external computer that collects and stores the data.

 

Here I am...measuring away!
Here I am…measuring away!

Interestingly, the board works with magnets and makes use of the property of magnetostriction.

With magnetostriction, magnetic materials change shape when exposed to a magnetic field.  Magnetostrictive sensors can use this property to measure distances by calculating the “time of flight” for a sonic pulse generated in a magnetic filament when a measurement magnet is placed close to the sensor.  Here, in the picture, I am placing the fish along the sensor and holding the measurement magnet in my right hand.

Do you see stylus in my right hand?
Do you see stylus (containing the magnet) in my right hand?

To determine the distance to the measurement magnet, the elapsed time between when I touch the magnet to the board to generate the ultrasonic pulse and when the pulse is detected by the sensor is recorded– and that time is converted to a distance (using the speed of sound in that material), which is equal to the fish’s length!

Now, the “measurement magnet” is referred to as the “stylus”, and it is a little white plastic piece, the size of a magic marker cap, which contains the magnet embedded into the bottom.  You simply strap the stylus onto your index finger with velcro (so that the north pole of the magnet is facing down toward the sensor) and are ready to begin measuring!  The magnet inside is a small neodymium magnet, chosen because it has a very strong magnetic field.  Each time a measurement is recorded, a chime sounds, and I know I can go on to measuring my next fish!  At this point, I have measured a few thousand fish!

Personal Log:

Let’s continue our tour aboard the Oscar Dyson!  I think it is fair to say that scientific research makes one hungry!  I have enjoyed meeting Tim and Adam, the stewards (chefs) onboard the Dyson, devouring their delicious meals, and spending time talking with the officers and crew in the galley (kitchen) and mess (dining hall).  As you can see from my picture, the first thing you notice are the tennis balls on the bottoms of the chairs!  Why do you think they are there?

Look on the floor...
Look on the floor…

As in most things related to ship design, planning for rough seas is paramount!   So, in addition to tennis balls, which stop the chairs from sliding around, there are bungee cords that attach the chairs to the floor.  The dishes are also strapped down and most items are in boxes, bins, or behind closed doors.  But do not let that fool you— there is a LOT of food in there!  I have enjoyed many a midnight snack- fruit, yogurt, ice cream bars, cereal bars, cookies, and soup to name just a few.  In addition, there is a salad bar and a selection of leftover dinner items available to reheat each night.  Since I am on the 4pm-4am shift, I have been missing breakfast, and I have been told I must have at least one hot cooked-to-order meal before I depart!

Don't be late... or you will go hungry!
Don’t be late… or you will go hungry!
The Mess Rules!
The Mess rules!

I was a little surprised to see a mini-Starbucks on board too!  It is quite a setup, complete with pictures and directions on how to make each concoction:

Which kind would you order?
Which kind would you order?

Dennis, one of the Survey Technicians who works on the overnight shift with me, promised to make me a hazelnut latte if I could correctly predict the number of  pollock in a trawl, Price-Is-Right style.  I finally won a few nights ago….

Interestingly, there are no mechanisms in place to help the stewards cook in rough seas, but Adam assured me that he has never had a dinner for thirty slide off the grill and onto the floor!  Adam has been working in the NOAA fleet for over 10 yrs., including 7 yrs on the Miller Freeman, the precursor to the Oscar Dyson.  He has been onboard the Dyson for almost a year.  Tim has just joined the Dyson on this cruise and was previously in our home state— aboard the Delaware out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts!  Before joining NOAA, he worked on several supply ships that sailed across the world.  Each has been quite friendly and helpful as I learn to navigate my way around both the ship and my new schedule.  One of our frequent conversations is menu planning and the all-important-dessert on the schedule for each night.  So far, I have enjoyed apple cobbler, pineapple upside down cake, snickers cake, carrot cake, brownie sundaes, oatmeal raisin cookies, and… Boston cream pie!

Assistant Steward Adam
Assistant Steward Adam
Chief Steward Tim
Chief Steward Tim
Tim and Adam's domain... the Galley!
Tim and Adam’s domain… the Galley!

One last Q: How many dozens of eggs do you think Tim and Adam will go through on our 19-day cruise with 30 people on board?  Write your guess in the comment section and I will announce the answer in my next post…

Allan Phipps: Fish heads, fish heads, rolly polly fish heads…. July 31, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

Mission: Alaskan Pollock Mid-water Acoustic Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: July 31, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: N 61°39’29”
Longitude: W 117°55’90”
Ship speed: 11.7 knots (13.5mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed: 26 knots (30mph)
Wind Direction: 044°
Wave Height: 4 meters (12 ft)
Surface Water Temperature: 8.2°C ( 46.8°F)
Air Temperature: 7.4°C (45°F)
Barometric Pressure: 994 millibar (0.98 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

Last blog, we learned about the different trawl nets and how the NOAA scientists are comparing those nets while conducting the mid-water acoustic pollock survey.  We left off with the fish being released from the codend onto the lift table and entering the fish lab.  Here is where the biological data is collected.

Walleye pollock on the sorting table. Various age groups are seen here, including one that is 70cm long and may be over 12 years old! Most are 2 to 4 year olds.

The fish lab is where the catch is sorted, weighed, counted, measured, sexed, and biological samples such as the otoliths, or earbones,  are taken (more about otoliths later in this post).  First, the fish come down a conveyor belt where they are sorted by species (see video above).  Typically, the most numerous species (in our case pollock) stay on the conveyor and any other species (jellyfish and/or herring, but sometimes a salmon or two, or maybe even something unique like a lumpsucker!), are put into separate baskets to weigh and include in the inventory count.  In the commercial fishing industry, these species would be considered bycatch, but since we are doing an inventory survey, we document all species caught.  Here are some pictures of others species caught and included in the midwater survey.

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The goal of each trawl is to randomly select a sample of 300 pollock to measure as a good representation of the population (remember your statistics!  Larger sample sizes will give you a better approximation of the real population).  If more than 300 pollock are caught, the remainder are weighed in baskets and quickly sent back to sea.  All of the catch is weighed so the scientists can use the length and gender data taken from the sample to extrapolate for the entire catch.  This data is combined with the acoustics data to estimate the size of the entire fishery (more on acoustic data in a future post). Weights are entered via touch screen into a program (Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Surveys – CLAMS) developed by the NOAA scientists onboard.

The CLAMS display showing that I am “today’s scientist.”

The 300 pollock are sexed to determine the male/female ratio of this randomly selected portion of the population.  Gender is determined by making an incision along the ventral side from posterior to anterior beginning near the vent.  This exposes the internal organs so that either ovaries or testes can be seen.  Sometimes determining gender is tricky since the gonads look very different as fish pass through pre-spawning, spawning, or post-spawning stages.  When we determine gender, the fish are put into two separate hoppers, the one for females is labeled “Sheilas” and the hopper for males is labeled “Blokes.”

Making incision to determine gender on pollock sample.
Hopper for female pollock ready to be measured with the Ichthystick and entered into CLAMS.

We use an Ichthystick to then measure the males and females separately to collect length data for this randomly selected sample.  Designed by NOAA Scientists Rick and Kresimir, the Ichthystick very quickly measures lengths by using a magnet placed at the fork of the fish’s tail (when measuring fork-length).  This sends a signal to the computer to record the individual fish’s length data immediately into a spreadsheet and the software creates a population length distribution histogram in real-time as you enter data.

The Ichthystick with fingertip magnet used to quickly measure and enter length data into CLAMS.

A randomly selected subset of 40 pollock get individually weighed, length measured, sexed, evaluated for gonadal maturity and have the otoliths removed.  Otoliths (oto = ear, lithos = bone) are calciferous bony structures in the fish’s inner ear.  These are used to determine age when examined via cross-section under a dissecting scope.  The number of rings corresponds to the age of the pollock, similar to rings seen in trees. The otoliths are taken by holding the fish at the operculum and making an incision across the top of the head to expose the brain and utricle of the inner ear.  The otolith is found inside the utricle.  Forceps are used to extract the otoliths, which are then washed and put in individual bar-coded vials with glycerol-thymol solution to preserve them for analysis back at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Incision across the skull revealing the otoliths on either side of the brain stem.
One otolith from a Walleye pollock.

Watch this short video to see what the entire process of data collection looks like.

So… why collect all of this data?  How is this data analyzed and used?  Stay tuned to my next blog!

Personal Log:

Well, I can officially say… the honeymoon is over.  The Bering Sea had been so extremely kind to us with several days of great weather while we had a high pressure system over us.  We enjoyed spectacular sunrises and sunsets, cloudless days and calm seas.

Sunny skies and calm seas on the Oscar Dyson.

Now… we have a low pressure system on top of us.  Last night, we experienced 35 knot winds and 12 foot seas.  I have spent a lot of time in my room in the past 24  hours…  Late this morning, the sun came out and the winds calmed down, but the barometric pressure was still very low (around 990 mbars) which basically meant we were in the center of the low pressure system (similar to the eye of a hurricane, but not as strong… thank goodness!).  We had a few hours relief, but we are back to pounding through the waves as the wind picks back up.  It will be another long and sleepless night for this landlubber…

On a positive note, we did see two Laysan Albatrosses (Phoebastria immutabilis) from the Bridge as the winds began to kick up.  They seemed to really enjoy the high winds as they soared effortlessly around the ship.  The Officer on Deck (OOD) also said he saw a humpback breaching, but by the time I got up to the Bridge, it had moved on…

Next blog, I will share pictures of my room, the galley, “the cave,” the Bridge, etc.  Right now, I am just trying to hold on to my mattress and my stomach…

Susan Kaiser: Ready, Set, SCIENCE!! July 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 29, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 36 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 20 min W
Wind Speed: 5.8 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.5 C
Air Temperature: 29.5 C
Relative Humidity: 67.0%

Science and Technology Log

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.
Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Science is messy! Extracting DNA, observing animals in their native habitat or dissecting are just a few examples. On board NOAA Ship Nancy Foster it may even be stinky but only for a little while. That is because the divers are retrieving the Vemco Receivers also called VR2s for short. These devices have been sitting on the ocean floor quietly collecting data on several kinds of grouper and snapper fish. Now it is time to download the VR2s recorded information and give them new batteries before placing them at a new site. So, why are they stinky? Even though the VR2s are enclosed inside another pipe, sea organisms have begun to grow on the top of the VR2. They form a crust that is stinky but can be scraped away with a knife. Any object left in the ocean will soon be colonized by sea creatures such as oysters, algae, and sponges to name a few. These organisms will grow and completely cover the area if they are undisturbed. This crust smells like old seaweed drying on an ocean beach.

VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.
Clean VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Really, it isn’t too bad and after a while you don’t notice it so much. Besides this is the only way scientists can get the numbers out of the VR2. These numbers tell scientists which fish have been swimming by and how often. Some of the VR2s have collected over 21,000 data points but most have fewer. This information alone helps scientists understand which areas of the ocean floor each species of grouper and snapper prefer as their home or habitat. These data points can even paint a picture of how these fish use the habitat space over the period of an entire year.

Have you been wondering what the VR2s are listening for? You may be surprised to learn it is a signal called a ping from a tracking device that was surgically implanted while the fish is still underwater! The ping is unique for each individual fish. The surgeries were completed when the study began in 2008. First, the fish are caught in live traps. If the trap is in deep water (>80ft) divers descend to perform the surgery on the ocean floor. The fish’s eyes are covered and it is turned upside down. Then a small incision is made in their abdomen and the tag is inserted below the skin. Stitches that dissolve over time are used to close the incision. Once the fish has recovered a bit it is released. An external tag is also clipped into the dorsal fin so other people will know the fish is part of a scientific study. Fish caught in the upper part of the water column may be brought up to the surface slowly and kept in a holding tank while the surgery performed on the boat. Scientists have noted the fish are less stressed by being caught, handled and tagged using this method.  This is a factor for collecting enough data to gain a real understanding of these fishes behavior.

Scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are able to conduct this study with support from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant. They have also worked with other agencies on this research including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)  the area where the VR2s are positioned. Since 2008 they have learned a great deal to better understand how grouper and snapper use habitat. Both fish are good for eating and are found on the menu in many restaurants around the world. They are commercially harvested and fished by recreational fishermen like you and me. Fishing is a big industry in all coastal locations and especially in Florida. In fact, commercial fishing alone accounts for  between 5-8% of total income or jobs in the local economy of the Florida Keys.  Knowledge gained from this study will help FWC and FKNMS guide decisions about fishing and recreation in the FKNMS and be aware of negative impacts to these fish populations in the future. Stinky air is small sacrifice to help preserve populations of groupers and snappers.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.
Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.
Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen
Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

You can see that exploring marine habitats takes time, trained people and resources. Luckily a device has been developed to help scientists explore the ocean floor in an efficient and safe way. This little gem is called a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. It is a cool science tool operated with a joy-stick controller.  The ROV can dive and maneuver at the same time it sends images back to the operator who is using a computer or wearing virtual reality glasses. Yes, I said virtual reality glasses! The operator can see what the ROV can “see” in the depths of the ocean. I had the opportunity see the ROV in the lab and then ride with the ROV team as they tested the equipment and built their skills manipulating this tool in dive situations. The beauty of the ROV is that it can dive deeper than is allowed for a human diver (>130 feet) and it can stay down for a longer period of time without stopping to adjust to depth changes like a human. If a dive site has a potential risk due to its location or other factors, the ROV can be sent down instead. Scientists can make decisions based on the ROV images to make a plan for a safe live dive and save time and resources. Science is messy, sometimes, but it is cool too!

Personal Log

The weather has been simply amazing with calm crystal clear seas and very smooth sailing. Still, spending the day in the sun saps your energy. However, that feeling doesn’t last too long after a nice shower and a trip to the mess to enjoy a delicious meal prepared in the galley. There Chief Steward Lito Llena and 2nd Cook Randy Covington work their magic to cook some terrific meals including a BBQ dinner one evening on the upper deck. They have thought of everything, especially dessert! I will be paying for it later by running extra laps when I get back home but it will be worth it.

Mrs. Kaiser's stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
Mrs. Kaiser’s stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

My stateroom is a cozy spot with everything one would need and nothing more. A sink is in the room but showers and toilets are down the hall a few doors. One item that is missing is a window. It is so very dark when the lights are off you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It is easy to over sleep! Surprisingly noise has been minimal since the rooms are very well insulated. I share this space with three female scientists but we each have a curtain to turn our bunks into a tiny private space. I enjoy climbing up in my top bunk, closing my little curtain and reading my book Seabiscuit, An American Legend before being rocked to sleep by the ship.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew have been wonderful hosts on this cruise. All have patiently answered my questions and helped me find my way around to do what I need to do. I am curious about their life at sea and the opportunities it affords them to see new places, meet new people and engage in new experiences too. I hope to learn more about their careers as mariners before this voyage ends. The ship truly is a welcome place to call home for these two weeks.

Talia Romito: Second Day at Sea, July 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Talia Romito
Onboard R/V Fulmar
July 24– July 29, 2012

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries
Date: July 25, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 37 53.55 W
Longitude: 123 5.7 N

Weather Data From Bridge:
Air Temperature 12.2 C (54 F)
Wind Speed 15 knots/ 17 mph
Wind Direction: From the South West
Surface Water Temperature: 13 C (55.4 F)

Science and Technology Log

Wednesday July 25, 2012

Up Early!

I woke up at 6 AM to the sounds of the people scurrying around to get ready for departure.  The Captain, Erik, and Mate, Dave were preparing the boat while the rest of us were getting breakfast and loading gear.  We welcomed four people onto the boat to complete the team for the day.

Me on the left in my Rubber Fashion Statement
Me on the left in my Rubber Fashion Statement

Today we are completing both the Offshore and Nearshore Line 6 transects.  It is going to be a long day for me with eight stations along the transect for deploying different instruments for gathering data.  I’ll tell you more about that a little later.  The scientists and crew decided to start at the West end of Offshore Line 6.  It took about two hours to get out there so while the crew was in the Wheelhouse the rest of us were able to settle in for little cat naps.  It felt so good to be able to get a little more sleep before the work began.

Gear Up and Get to Work!

With ten minutes until “go” time, the team started to get ready for the long day ahead.  Everyone had on many layers of clothes with a protective waterproof outer layer.  I put on my black rubber boots, yellow rubber overalls, and bright orange float coat (jacket with built-in floatation).  I looked like a bumble bee who ran into an orange flower.  It was definitely one of my better fashion statements.  I think everyone should wear rubber clothes in bright colors, just kidding :P.

Conductivity - Temperature - Depth CTD
Conductivity – Temperature – Depth – CTD

The boat stopped and then Kaitlin and I got to work on the back deck.  At each station we deployed at least two pieces of equipment.  The first is the CTD which means Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  This machine is so cool. It gathers information about a bunch of different things.  It has four different types of sensors.  They include percentage of dissolved oxygen, turbidity (amount of particulates in the water), fluorometer for chlorophyll A (the intensity and wavelength of a certain spectrum of light), and a conductivity/ temperature meter in order to calculate salinity.

The second piece of equipment is the Hoop Net.  The name is pretty intuitive, but I’ll describe it to you anyway.  There is a large steel hoop that is 1 meter in diameter on one end.  The net connects to it and gradually gets smaller to the cod end at the collection bucket which is 4.5 centimeters in diameter.

Hoop Net on the winch
Hoop Net

The net is 3.5 meters long from hoop to where it connects to the collection bucket and the mesh is 333 microns.  The bucket has screens that allows water and phytoplankton to escape.  The purpose of the hoop is to collect zooplankton.  The samples we collect to go the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Canada to be processed after the cruise is over.

The third piece of equipment is the Tucker Trawl.  We deploy it once each day near the Shelf Break in order to collect krill.  This net is huge and heavy.  This net allows the scientists to get samples at different depths within the water column.  The Tucker Trawl has three separate nets; top, middle, and bottom.  They deploy it with the bottom net open and then close the bottom and open the middle and top nets in order as the net raises.  They let out  400 meters of cable in order to be at a depth of 200 meters below the surface to start and raise the net from there stopping twice to open the next two nets.  The scientists watch the eco-sounder (sophisticated fish finder) and determine at what depth they would like to open the next two nets.  Please watch the video to get a clear picture of what is going on and how awesome it is.

The Funny Part!

Blow out Pants
Blow out Pants

Ok so working on the back deck has a  lot of ups and downs literally.  When Kaitlin and I are deploying or recovering the CTD and Hoop Net we are bending, stretching, working on our knees and more.  The first time I bent over to rinse down the hoop net I accidentally dropped the spray nozzle and it locked in the open position; I was sprayed with a steady stream of seawater right in the face until Kaitlin was able to turn in off.  It was definitely a cold welcome to work on the boat.  Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you we use seawater on the back deck for rinsing nets, etc.  There is a freshwater hose, but that is mainly used to clean the boat after each cruise.  The second time I got on my knees to collect a specimen from the Hoop Net I had a blow out!  My rubber pants split right down the middle.  So much for being prepared.  The Mate Dave was nice enough to let me borrow his rubber pants for the remainder of the trip.  Thanks Dave – you’re a life saver.

Camaraderie and Practical Jokers!

In between the stations and observing we all like to have a good time.  We always snack in between.  If someone gets something out then we all help ourselves to some of theirs or our own concoction.  We’re eating pretzels, chips and salsa, carrots and humus, pea pods, dried apple chips and more.

Fishing Lure
Fishing Lure

Erik had been planning to punk the scientists during this trip.  He bought a blue glittery fishing lure that looks like a centipede and waited for the most opportune moment to pull his prank.  While the scientists were getting the Tucker Trawl ready he tossed the lure into one of the nets so that it would come up with the sample.  When we pulled up the net Kaitlin and I saw it in the collection bucket and were very curious about what it was.  We called Jamie over and after a few moments realized it was a lure and looked up to see Erik and Dave laughing hysterically at us.  It was a good time all around.  At the same time the observers where coming down from the Flybridge and Jamie was able to continue the prank for at least fifteen minutes.  We all had a good laugh when the second group realized it was a lure too.

View from the Boat!

Black Footed Albatross
Black Footed Albatross

This is one of the best parts of the day!  I saw so many different animals from the boat during the day.  Here are just a few of the highlights.  A mother whale and calf pair were breaching multiple times.  Another Humpback Whale was tail slapping at least 12 times that I counted.  We saw Blue Whales too.  The seabirds were around as well.  The most common were Sooty Shearwaters, Common Murres, Pomarine Jaegers, and Black Footed Albatrosses.  All of these birds are amazing.  If you see a Common Murre adult and chick; the adult is the dad he’s the one that raises the chick.  The Jaeger has a special kind of scavenging style called Cleptoparasitism (stealing food from other birds).  I saw one chasing another bird till it dropped its food in mid-air and the Jaeger caught the fish before it hit the water.  Pretty cool right?!

On the way back to Sausalito we went right under the Golden Gate Bridge.  The weather was perfect.  The sun was setting with puffy clouds in a baby blue sky.  As my eyes drifted down towards San Francisco I was mesmerized by the view.  I could see the entire Bay.  The buildings reflected the golden glow of the sunset perfectly.  There wasn’t a whisper of fog on the water; I could see Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, and The Bay Bridge.

Steven Frantz: Training at Sea, July 30, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Tagging Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the east coast of  Florida
Date: July 29, 2012

 

TRAINING AT SEA

In my last blog I mentioned we would be at sea three days to get to where we will begin the longline survey. I thought I would take a little time to share some of the training before we ever start a longline survey. Everybody pitches in to make sure we have a safe, successful journey.

First we learned the different parts to the longline. The line starts with a high-flier buoy and a weight. Gangions (also known as a branch line or leader) are snapped to the line. Another weight is placed midway, with more gangions, then finally another high-flier buoy at the end. There are 100 gangions used for the NFMS Bottom Longline Survey. While there are several variations when using longline gear, the NFMS Bottom Longline Survey has used this standardized set-up in order to minimize variables.  By using the same gear year after year they are able to compare fish catch data, minimizing any bias attributed to changing gear that may fish differently.

This just isn’t your average fishing trip! The longline itself is one nautical mile long! How long is this on land? In addition, each end is also calculated into the total length. This will vary depending on how deep the ocean floor is where we are fishing. The longline is left for one hour then retrieved.

Longline Diagram
Longline Diagram, courtesy Dr. Trey Driggers

Before we begin, everything needs to be ready and in place. Each gangion has to be placed in a barrel so they do not get tangled taking them out. A tangled bunch of gangions is a big problem. First, the AK snap of the gangion goes into the bucket. Next, let the line go into the bucket. Finally, place the hook in the notch in the bucket, making sure it points in toward the bucket. We certainly do not want anyone passing by caught by a hook.

Parts
From top to bottom: clips, hooks, AK snaps 
Hooks on Bucket
How to place gangions in the bucket
Numbered Tags
Numbered Tags

There are many data scientists use in their research. We need to make sure we collect accurate data; consistent with the 18 years this study has been going on. First we learned how to measure the length (in millimeters) of a shark. We used an Atlantic Mackerel as a measurement example. There are three length measurements to be taken: Total Length (from tip or nose to tip of tail), Fork Length (from tip of nose to notch in tail), and Standard Length (from tip of nose to where body ends and tail begins). The shark is placed on a two meter long measuring board. If the shark is longer than two meters, a measuring tape is used to measure length. The three lengths are recorded.

measuring board
Measuring Board

In addition to the three length measurements, we must also identify the species of shark, measure weight, condition when caught, sex, maturity (for males), hook number, and any tag information if the shark had been tagged before. For some species, if the shark isn’t tagged, we will tag it. We also need to record which vessel we are on, which survey, which station, and the date. Data is also being collected on many aspects of the water. Other samples may be taken that will determine the age of the shark (vertebrae).

Data Sheet
Data Sheet

The last thing we learned was how to bait a hook. These hooks are big! Atlantic Mackerel are used for bait. We must be careful to double hook the bait or it will fall off.

Cutting Bait
Cutting Bait
Baited Hooks
Baited Hooks

There you have it. Tomorrow I will begin working the longline actually fishing for sharks!

After three days in the Gulf of Mexico we see land! We passed near enough to be able to see the coastline of Miami. It all seems so peaceful here aboard the Oregon II when looking out into what I know is the hustle and bustle of Miami, Florida.

Miami
Miami

Allan Phipps: Let the Fishing Begin! July 28, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

Mission: Alaskan Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: July 28, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 61°24’39″N
Longitude: 177°07’68″W
Ship speed: 3.8 knots (4.4 mph) currently fishing

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed: 6.9 knots (7.9 mph)
Wind Direction: 30°T
Wave Height: 2ft with 2-4ft swells
Surface Water Temperature: 8.7°C ( 47.7°F)
Air Temperature: 7.9°C ( 46.2°F)
Barometric pressure: 1005.8 millibar (0.99 atm)

The NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Science and Technology Log:

Since the main goal of this voyage is the acoustic-trawl survey of the mid-water portion of the Alaskan pollock population, I thought I would start by telling you how we go fishing to catch pollock!  This isn