Chris Henricksen: Marine Life is Amazing! May 14, 2014

Christopher Henricksen

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

May 6 – May 16, 2014

Geographical area of cruise: Georges Bank & Gulf of Maine

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl & Acoustic Survey

Date: May 14, 2014

Air Temp: 9.7°C (49.46°F)

Relative Humidity: 81%

Wind Speed: 10.76mph

Barometer: 1016.2mb

Science and Technology Log

The abundance and diversity of marine life in these waters is amazing.  Depending on the ship’s location, and the depth of a trawl, one may see any number of different species on the sorting table.  Bony fish, such as haddock, cod, red fish, dory, ocean pout, silver and red hake, winter flounder, four-spot flounder, longhorn sculpin and on and on.  In deeper waters (around 200 meters), one is likely to see crustaceans such as lobsters, which can get really big!  We also haul in scallops, shrimp, octopi, small sharks, such as dogfin and chain dog, a variety of sea stars, and squid.

Scientists who may not be aboard the Henry B. Bigelow make requests for different data regarding any of the species mentioned above.  Sometimes, a scientist needs a whole organism preserved, or just a part of its anatomy, such as the gonads, or the otoliths (ear bones that are used to determine age of a bony fish).  Often, all a scientist needs are measurements, which the ship’s science team input into a computer database, and which the scientist may access later as part of his or her research.

pic of preserving specimens
preserving specimens

Below are some of the astonishing critters I have seen on this cruise.  Enjoy!


Personal Log

I am so impressed by the people I have met aboard the Henry B. Bigelow.  Everyone is courteous and helpful and, above all, professional.  These folks take great pride in their work, and they enjoy doing it.  I visited the bridge yesterday, where the Commanding Officer (CO) and the Officer of the Deck (OOD) both welcomed me and were more than happy to answer my questions and to explain what they were doing at any given time.  The same can be said of the deckhands.  They don’t mind my questions, and they are amazing at what they do, which includes near constant physical labor. The scientists and techs I am working with are dedicated and do an outstanding job of teaching volunteers, such as myself, the ins and outs of processing a haul, and collecting the resultant data. These folks come from all walks of life, but one thing they have in common is a love for their job and it shows.

pic of fish lab
Science team at work in fish lab

On another personal note, I did laundry yesterday.  As one can imagine, working with marine life can be a seriously smelly endeavor, and keeping yourself and your clothing clean and fresh is a must.  The ship has a laundry room stocked with everything you need to wash and dry your clothes.  It’s a nice feeling to know that I will not leave the ship smelling like the creatures that inhabit deep blue sea.

Chris Henricksen: Doing Science at Sea, May 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Henricksen

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

May 6 – May 16, 2014

Geographical area of cruise: Georges Bank
Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl & Acoustic Survey
Date: May 11, 2014
Air Temp: 11.2°C (52.16°F)
Relative Humidity: 100%
Wind Speed: 21.9mph
Barometer: 1010.5mb

Science and Technology Log

Here’s what a typical watch aboard the Henry B. Bigelow looks like.  Upon assuming the watch, which in my case means beginning work at midnight, the science team gets a rundown of what happened during the previous watch.  When the ship nears its next station (where it will drop the net and begin trawling), the area is surveyed to ensure that it is clear of lobster traps and large rocks before readying the nets for trawling.  Think of the trawl nets in terms of really large butterfly nets, except these nets also contain a set of sensors that tell the science team and the Officer of the Deck (the officer in charge of driving the ship) information about how deep the net is, how fast it’s traveling, etc..  The ship’s deckhands lower the nets from the aft (rear) deck of the ship into the water and then closely monitor them until reaching a specified depth.  With the trawl nets in place, the ship steams at 3 knots for about twenty minutes, pulling the nets along and catching fish and other marine life.  Once the trawl is complete, the net is hauled aboard and it’s time for the scientists to get involved.

picture of trawl net
Hauling the trawl net aboard the Henry B. bigelow
Chris Henricksen

Using a crane, the net is swung over a large stainless steel hopper called the checker.  A scientist working the checker, then pushes the captured organisms onto a conveyor belt, which moves them inside the ship to the wet lab.  In the wet lab, scientists and volunteers (like me) stand along a long conveyor, sorting the catch by species and, sometimes, by sex or size, into a set of buckets.  After the catch is sorted, the buckets are consolidated and placed on another conveyor belt, which moves the buckets to the Watch Chief’s station.  The Watch Chief scans a barcode on the side of each bucket, and uses a computer to assign a species to that barcode.  The barcoded buckets are each filled with a different organism then moved to any one of three cutter stations for processing. The Cutter scans the barcode of an available bucket, which tells the computer at his or her station some basic information about the organism, such as its scientific and common names, and how much the bucket weighs.  The computer also tells the Cutter what sorts of protocols need to occur on that organisms (weighing, measuring, checking stomach contents, determining sex).  As the Cutter processes the organism, the Recorder, standing at a computer screen next to the Cutter,  assists the Cutter by inputting measurement and other data into the computer system.  Often, extra instructions pop up on the screen, instructing the Cutter that a scientist has requested that we collect specimens from an organism.  Otoliths (ear bones from fish) are collected frequently, but sometimes a request is made to freeze or preserve an organism.  Some organisms even go in a live holding tank so the scientist can have a living specimen when the ship returns to port.  This entire process can take anywhere from one hour to several, depending on the amount fish and the types of processing required.

pic of sorting line
Scientists sorting organisms for survey

Personal Log

Well, yesterday (Saturday) was a rough one for yours truly.  We ran into some higher seas, and the ship’s rocking and rolling made me sick as a dog.  So much for that Navy experience helping me in this regard…  Oh, well, that’s part of life at sea.  Everyone was very kind about it. one of my watchmates even fetched some crackers for me, which helped.  Feeling much better today. Here are a few pictures representing life aboard the Henry B. Bigelow (at least as I live it):

pic of galley
The Galley
pic of menu
Dinner menu – good food!
pic of stateroom
My stateroom. I sleep in the bunk with the open curtains
pic of head
The Head (bathroom) in my stateroom

Chris Henricksen: Standing My First Watch, May 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chris Henricksen

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

April 29–May 10, 2014

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Maine

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl & Acoustic Survey

Date: May 7, 2014

Air Temp: 9.1°C (48.38°F)

Relative Humidity: 73%

Wind Speed: 10.83mph

Barometer: 1011.7mb



Science and Technology Log

My section stands watch from midnight to noon–twelve hours on, twelve hours off.  Today I stood my first watch, acting as one of three “recorder” on the fish sorting line.  A recorder’s role is to assist his assigned “cutter” by entering requested measurement data (e.g., length, weight, etc.) of individual fish into a computer database.  The cutter processes fish by identifying the species, then performing any number of actions (i.e., cuts, as in, with a knife) in order to retrieve information about particular fish for later use by scientists.  Such data will consist of measuring, weighing, and sexing the fish, as well as checking the contents of its stomach.  Other particular data may be gathered, such as collecting otoliths (ear bones) from the head of the fish.

photo of net prep
Preparing the net for our first trawl

After getting underway, the captain called a series of drills, one of which was abandon ship.  During this exercise, I reported to the aft deck of the ship, donned a “Gumby” survival suit, which is bright orange/red, keeps you warm while in the water, and helps you to stay afloat.  Following that, we had a collision drill.  In a disaster scenario, everyone has a muster station, so that we can be counted, and then help control the situation, if need be.

photo of abandon ship drill
Abandon Ship Drill

Today was my first of about a dozen watches I will stand.  It went smoothly, but there was considerable down time.  The first stations (the areas in which the nets are lowered and trawling begins) were about 25 nautical miles from one another, so it took a couple of hours to steam from one station to the next.  During this time, I was able to relax, grab a bite, or hang out with other members of my watch. Personal Log The food aboard ship is very good, and there is plenty of it. Between mealtimes, the cook makes sure that plenty of drinks and snacks are available, so there is no reason to go hungry aboard the Henry B. Bigelow. The ship has a huge library of DVDs with many new movies.  We can also watch TV thanks to a satellite connection (DirectTV). The only things I am not allowed to do are 1) re-enter my stateroom after going on watch, as there is always an off-watch shipmate trying to catch some shuteye, and 2) make a surprise appearance on the bridge, which is where the NOAA officers navigate and steer the ship.  That’s for safety, and I am sure they would welcome me, as long as I called ahead first. I am tired, but feeling pretty good.  I boarded the ship wearing an anti-motion sickness patch, fearing that, after twenty years of not being at sea, I might be susceptible to seasickness.  The medicine made me feel awful, so I took it off, and now feel much better!  I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy the rocking of a ship.  It’s an especially good way to fall asleep–gently rocking…

2014-05-06 deck selfie
Deck Selfie!

Chris Henricksen: Permission to Come Aboard! April 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chris Henricksen

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

April 29–May 10, 2014

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to not only return to sea for the first time in twenty years, but to do so as part of a scientific research team.  With two days remaining before I fly to meet the NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow in Providence, RI, I am busily packing and checking over my to-do lists.  My fifth grade students at Mark Twain Elementary in Westerville, OH gave me a heart-warming send-off, as did my colleagues.  I look forward to sharing this experience with them.

students explore pond
My fifth graders exploring a pond ecosystem

My family and I live in Mount Vernon, OH, a small town about an hour northeast of Columbus.

pic of Mount Vernon, OH
Downtown Mount Vernon

I enjoy reading (favorite authors include Patrick O’Brian, Cormac McCarthy, John Steinbeck, and George R.R. Martin), running, photography, and playing guitar.  My wife, Amy, works for the Philander Chase Corporation at Kenyon College in Gambier.  My daughter is in fifth grade, and is both an avid reader and an athlete, participating in competitive gymnastics and softball.  She plays the piano, and has chosen the viola as her instrument for middle school orchestra.  My son is in kindergarten, loves books and anything related to dinosaurs and Mario Brothers.  He also enjoys soccer and banging away on his drum set.

pic of family at beach
Family at the Beach

As a member of the 2014 Teacher at Sea field season, I am honored and excited to work with scientists and maritime professionals in their effort to survey marine species indigenous to the Gulf of Maine fisheries.  Having taught science to fifth graders for the past seven years, I feel that this experience will be invaluable in helping me understand how scientists actually engage in their work, knowledge that I will put to good in use upon returning to my classroom.  I can hardly wait to get underway!

pic of me wearing silly specs
Just Being Myself…