Chelsea O’Connell-Barlow: To Fish Or Not to Fish?…A Question of Sound, September 4, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chelsea O’Connell-Barlow

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 28 – September 13, 2017

 

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Pacific Ocean

Date: 9/04/2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 53.59.372N

Longitude: 133 32.484W

Temperature 59 F

Wind 12.5 knots

Waves 1-2 feet

 

Science and Technology Log

After spending a few days observing what happens in the Acoustics lab and listening to our Chief Scientist Rebecca (RT) Thomas and acoustician Julia Clemons brainstorm aloud, I had one overriding question…”How do you decide when to fish?”

I asked RT this question and it is a multi-factored decision for sure, but seems like the decision could be broken down into 3 parts: what we see, what we know and what is currently happening.

What they see when deciding to fish or not is an echogram created by three acoustic sounders on the ship that send out 3 different frequency wavelengths. The image shows a relatively low frequency 18 kHz, 38 kHz, and a longer wavelength of 120 kHz. Keep in mind that sound travels faster in water than on land so this is a great way to gather information while being minimally invasive to the marine environment.

annotated bridge screens for 9.4 post

Bridge of Bell M. Shimada. The 3 screens we watch during a AWT trawl for Hake.

The backscatter, sound that scatters off of an object or its echo, on the echogram is what they look at to determine what marine life is on the transect we are scouting. As the sound wave bounces off of material in the ocean be it rock, flora or fauna it will create a spot or colored pixel on the echogram. Hake has a particular “look” of backscatter. When the echogram shows this particular hake sign we move in the direction of fishing.

Of course they only know what “hake sign” is because of gathering evidence throughout the course of this multi-year survey. During this survey they have created a huge reference database of hake sign and sign of other integral species to the hake’s environment, for example Euphausiid sp., one of the hake’s favorite food. RT and Julia have both interpreted many echograms and fished to confirm the identity the organisms that created the sign.  They are able to rule out images on the echogram until they find the backscatter that most resembles what they have historically experienced as hake.

The third part of this decision making process is the most variable…what is currently happening. As the boat travels and the sounders are sending out the trio of wavelengths an image of the ocean shelf is created. The scientists are able to see topography and measure the depths of the shelf’s different contours. The Shimada is a 209 foot long boat weighing over 2,400 tons. When deciding to trawl for hake that we suspect are present because of backscatter sign in the echogram the scientists and Commanding Officer always consider the depth to bottom, contours, wind and the maneuverability of the ship. Deploying the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) net to catch hake is a task that involves cooperation and communication between the deck crew, Boatswain, bridge officers and the Chief Scientist. When RT sees a sign on the echogram that she wants to fish, she and Commanding Officer Kunicki quickly discuss the approach, wind direction and depth to get an idea on how the net will be affected and how close the ship can get to the exact sign that she wants to sample.

This is my bare bones description of the process that goes into deciding when to fish on Leg 5 of the Pacific Hake Survey. Stay tuned to see what we learn from comparing the echogram of sign to the actual yield from the AWT fishing net.

For more specifics from NOAA on the Bell M. Shimada’s acoustic and trawling capabilities https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/marine-operations/ships/bell-m-shimada/about

Personal Log

This ship is filled with kind, creative and industrious people. I am reminded of this constantly and appreciate this often. To me it is astounding to consider all the work and thought that is involved in a fifteen-day research survey at sea. This is a science survey so there are specific tools, computer programs and labs that must run well. To me, coming in with a science focus, this is most obvious. What I am blown away by are all of the additional layers that work together to make science even possible on this successful voyage. There are several teams at play: engineering, technology, deck, science and the bridge officers. Engineers are constantly maintaining engines, generators (this ship has 4), plumbing, ventilation and so much more. I had a tour today with Engineering Chief Sabrina Taraboletti that I am still trying to process through.

Technology is handled by one person on this ship. He maintains and trouble shoots computers in the acoustics lab, the bridge, the chemical lab and even found time to help maximize signal for the Fantasy Football draft. The deck crew is as versatile as anyone on this ship. We have two types of nets that we fish with. The deck crew is responsible for getting the nets out to fish and back in with the catch. Way easier said than done when we are talking about over a ton of weight with net, camera, chain, and doors. On top of all their other responsibilities many of the men in the deck crew have been helping out in the galley (kitchen) on this leg of the hake survey. Larry is the chief steward (chef) on board this leg and he typically has someone working with him but not on this leg of the Survey. So in addition to working their 12 hour shift, many of the deck crew have been working with Larry to prep food, clean up the mess (dining area), do dishes or even create their own personal specialties for dinner. We have been spoiled by Matt’s rockfish, Joao’s fresh salsa and soups and our Operations Officer Doug’s amazing BBQ. Liz and I even got to help out and make some donuts with Larry. Eating is great on the Shimada!

Liz & OCB makin the donuts

Liz and OCB making the donuts – thanks for the lesson Larry.

The Shimada team is rounded out with the bridge crew made up of 4 officers. The officers on a NOAA ship have a foundation of science knowledge and extensive nautical training. Before we go fishing I get to participate in the marine mammal watch up in the bridge. As I look for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals near the boat I can listen to the Captain and officers working their magic. We have had an incredibly smooth trip thus far which I credit to our Officers and of course Mother Nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?

our Viperfish for blog

Who is this?

Crazy cool catch of the day…can you figure out what type of fish this is?

Here is a clue…they have specially adapted cells called photocytes that create light producing organs called photophores.  The photophores run along the sides of the fish and help them to lure prey and attract mates.

 

Answer:

This is a Viperfish.

Viperfish live in the deep ocean and migrate vertically as the day goes on in order to catch prey. They typically live around 1,500m (4,921 ft) and in the night will end up around 600m (1,969 ft) at night. This particular fish appears to have photophores along its mouth but it is difficult to be 100% sure from this specimen.

 

 

Chelsea O’Connell-Barlow: Full Steam Ahead, August 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chelsea O’Connell-Barlow

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 29 – September 12, 2017

 

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: NW Pacific Ocean

Date: 8/30/2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 48.472837N

Longitude: -124.676694W

Temperature 59 F

Wind 9.7 knots

Waves 3-5 feet

Science and Technology Log

We have not started fishing yet because we are heading to our first transect off the western coast of the Haida Gwaii archipelago. I thought this would be a perfect time to introduce another research project that is gathering data on the Shimada. One of my roommates, Lynne Scamman, is on-board researching Hazardous Algal Blooms (HABs).

Lynne in Chem lab

Lynne Scamman running wet chemistry tests and identifying phytoplankton.

  1. What are Hazardous Algal Blooms?

They are large numbers of phytoplankton, either diatoms or dinoflagellates, who produce toxins. Phytoplankton are essential to the ecosystem because they produce half of the global oxygen. However under certain circumstances these organisms reproduce rapidly, skyrocketing the population, this is a bloom. Some of these phytoplankton produce toxins. When the populations are low the toxins aren’t a big deal. However, when a bloom of phytoplankton that produce toxins occurs there can be health concerns for organisms exposed to the toxins. We have to consider the marine food chain and something called bioaccumulation. Phytoplankton along with zooplankton create the base of the marine food web. Organisms who eat toxin producing phytoplankton retain the toxin in their body. Then any organism who eats them will also hold that toxin. You can see how the toxin would accumulate along the food chain and potentially hold serious side effects for organisms with high levels of toxin.

  1. Why is research being done on HABs?

HABs are becoming a problem for humans along the coasts and in the Great Lakes. Basically all of the factors that contribute to the increase in HABs are a product of human impact. Global climate change, increased nutrient pollution and global sea trade are all factors contributing to the rise in Hazardous Algal Blooms. We want to monitor so that eventually we will be able to predict when, where and why the HABs will occur.

  1. Why are YOU studying HABs?

One day I walked into my college biology lab and met a guest instructor who specializes in all things phytoplankton related. I was blown away by the complexity that some of these single celled organisms held. The professor shared a few species names and I started investigating. The species that grabbed my attention is called Nematadinium armatum. This organism has a rudimentary eye called a melanosome and nematocysts for hunting, again this is pretty impressive for an organism made of one cell. Once I learned about the variety in this microscopic world and how influential they were to the health of the entire ocean, I knew that I wanted to learn more.

Personal Log

I am still figuratively pinching myself every few hours at just how amazing this experience is to participate in first hand. Yesterday we left the dock of Port Angeles at 10am and the boat hasn’t slowed down since. We did drills to ensure that all aboard knew where to go in case of fire and if we needed to abandon ship. Part of the abandon ship drill is to make sure that everyone has and can get into their Immersion Suit aka “Gumby Suit.” This suit is amazing! This portion of the Pacific is quite cold and the Immersion suit would keep you warm and buoyant until a rescue can occur.

OCB Gumby

Trying on the Immersion suit.

After our drills several of the science crew went up to the Flying Bridge to look for marine mammals. We were cruising between Cape Flattery, Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia with high hopes of seeing activity. WOW, we lucked out. We spotted 17 Humpback whales, 2 Harbor porpoise and 2 Dall’s porpoise. We are also seeing several types of sea birds but I am still brushing up with the Sibley to id birds from this area.

Shimada Flags

The Shimada under two flags as it enters Canadian waters.

 

Did You Know?

The island cluster that we are heading to had a name change at the end of 2009. What was formerly called Queen Charlotte Islands is now called Haida Gwaii. This name change came as part of a historic reconciliation between British Columbia and Haida nation. Haida Gwaii translated means “island of the people.”

Haida Gawaii

Map of Haida Gawaii area.

Chelsea O’Connell-Barlow: Get ready, get set, SAIL!!! August 26, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chelsea O’Connell-Barlow

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 28 – September 13, 2017

 

Mission:  Pacific Hake Survey – Leg V

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Northwest Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Washington

Date:  August 26, 2017

 

Weather from the Bridge…or Backyard

At home in Decatur, GA we are celebrating a weekend break in the humidity.  The sun is shining and the sky is filling with a variety of imagination provoking Cumulus clouds.

Latitude:  33.767782

Longitude:  -84.299283

Wind Speed: 6mph

Wind Direction:  E

On Monday I will travel 2,759 miles to Port Angeles, WA where I will board the Bell M. Shimada.  I look forward to cooler temperatures and the invigorating salty air.

 

Science and Technology Log:

I have yet to meet the scientists and crew of the Shimada so I have no first hand info to share.  However this is a great opportunity to introduce the main focus of this survey… Merluccius productus, Pacific Hake.

Pacific Hake or Pacific Whiting (photo courtesy of http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/)

(photo courtesy of http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/)

Pacific Hake is an important species to both humans and many species in the marine ecosystem off of the Pacific Northwest coast of both the United States and Canada.  There is a cooperative effort to manage these fish that involves the governments of both the U.S. and Canada, fisheries scientists and fisherman.  Such a collaboration and intentional effort  amongst so many groups is a great model and example for other issues at large.  Here is some background reading related to the Pacific Hake Survey.

Personal Log:

I have taught middle school science at Renfroe Middle School (RMS) in the City Schools of Decatur for 10 years.  Renfroe is full of wonderfully intelligent, thoughtful and supportive people – students and staff.  Currently, I work with 7th grade students as we explore ecology, evolution, genetics, cells and anatomy.  I am thrilled to have this adventure at sea to share with my students and friends.  I look forward to bringing back real-world research and developing curriculum that we can ALL benefit from.

As an inquisitive and adrenaline hungry person I love the combination of adventure and challenging work, so I am thinking that my time on the Bell M. Shimada may be about as ideal of a learning opportunity as I could imagine. In addition to being a classroom teacher at RMS, I also work as a Mentor in The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. LEAF provides an opportunity for Mentors and Interns to spend an intensive month focused on all aspects of conservation. This program encourages all involved towards hands-on environmental stewardship experiences and to broaden the boundaries of our comfort zone.  For both my RMS students and LEAF mentees I take this Teacher At Sea opportunity to put into action the message that I often share with them…learning is a life long goal and risk-taking is a way to enhance the connection that you feel with the world.

I want to thank my colleagues and students for a heart warming send-off and I promise all plenty of awesome photos and updates to come.

Teacher At Sea RMS send-off

A lovely RMS bon voyage complete with oodles of creative & pun filled cards.

 

Did you know?

According to Atlas Obscura, in 1914 the town of Port Angeles had such an issue with sewage flooding that they opted to raise one of the town’s main streets by 10-14 feet.  This engineering challenge was accomplished by moving soil from a neighboring hill completely by hand…no mechanical interventions.  To this day you can tour the underground areas and see store fronts frozen in time.  This lovely seaside town is where I will embark on my voyage.