Chris Murdock: I Think We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat, June 19, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chris Murdock

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7 – 20, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 19, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 29 20.49 N

Longitude: 94 3136 W

Air temp: 30.3 C

Water temp: 29.1 C

Wind direction: 175.74 degrees

Wind speed: 9.5 knots

Wave height: 1 meter

Sky: Overcast

 

Science and Technology Blog

Counting the amount of fish in the sea is an incredibly daunting task. After all, the oceans do cover the majority of our planet. This is however, an absolutely essential task if we are to protect these fragile ecosystems. To accomplish this, the trawl catch must be sorted. Once each trawl is brought onto the deck, the science crew takes over. We are responsible for sorting the catch. Before we do that, we must weigh the entire catch prior to sampling.

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A fairly standard catch

That not only gives the scientists important information about the abundance of life at each station, but it also allows the watch leader to see if we can cut the catch. This means that the sample size is larger than what is needed, so we cut the total catch in half with a few exceptions. The other option would be to sort and record the entire catch, and that happens anytime the total weight is under 25Kg. First and foremost, we never leave out a species, so in the process of cutting the catch we sort through to look for species with only one individual present. After we pull out individuals, we then pull out all Peneaus (commercial shrimp) species. Finally, we pull out all species that are labeled as “select” in our program. This means that a scientist has particular interest in them back on land, and we are required to gather specific data about every individual of that species caught. Some examples of those that we have come across so far are all snapper species, as well as the Sphryna tiburo (the bonnethead).

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An example of select species sorted. From left to right: Raja texana (Roundel skate), Lutjanus synagrus (Lane snapper), Rhomboplites aurorubens (vermillion snapper), Lutjanus campechanus (red snapper)

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A fresh catch waiting to be sorted. Check out that monster Lutjanus campechanus!

Once the catch is sampled, we can then begin to sort the catch. We sort everything into a series of buckets, all into different species. Once the catch is successfully sorted, we need to count every organism represented for EACH species. Sometimes this can be as little as one individual. Other times there can be as many as 2000 individuals! Each different species’ total weight and count is then added to a program called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System and pronounced “fiscus”), which automatically records various aspects like weight and length that will eventually be entered into a national stock assessment database. Check out this video of the Oregon II crew sorting a catch:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKLPv2W3Ao4

 

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Intermittent Worker Vaden Fight and Intern Daniella Hanelin getting their sort on

There are two roles we play in the sorting process: The “cutter” and “recorder”. The cutter’s job is to actually measure the fish, while the recorder’s job is to pull the correct species up and to record the sex and maturity of the fish being sorted. Let me start by explaining the cutter in more detail. The cutter will take a fish and line it up snout to tail on a magnetic measuring board called a Limnoterra machine.

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The Limnoterra measuring board

Using a magnetic wand, you press it onto the board to record its length. The way to measure a species varies greatly from species to species. Some examples of lengths are total length (From snout to tip of tail), standard length (from snout to the end of the body, just before the caudal fin begins), Fork length (From the snout to where the caudal fin “forks”) and width (typically done with crabs, and is the width of its body).

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An example of Fork length versus total length. Notice the difference?

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Hint: this is fork length! (pictured: Opisthonema oglinum “Atlantic thread herring hairyjack””

Once the length is recorded, it is weighed and then sexed. To sex a fish, you make an incision from the anal opening towards the anterior end (towards the head). Females have two sacs typically full of translucent eggs, where males have two thin sacs full of white sperm. If the fish is immature or too small to tell, a mark of “unknown” is assessed. Some fish can also be assigned a maturity level. This ranges from running ripe (spawning) or spent (already released eggs/sperm). Again, a mark of unknown is available, but commonly we have to mark “not taken” because assigning maturity can be very difficult for small fish.

 

The recorder is responsible for selecting the correct species in FSCS and then making sure the proper length, weight, sex and maturity are all recorded. Typically the recorder instructs the cutter what to do. For most species, only a length is required and weight/sex/maturity are taken every six organisms for a total number of 20. That means that even if we had to count 800 Loligo plei (a type of squid) we only have to measure up to twenty. If the species was marked originally as select, we take a weight and sex of every individual. The recorder is also responsible for printing labels for species that are to be kept. Not every scientist has the ability to be on every research cruise, so typically certain species they want to study further are marked into FSCS. Once we obtain the species, we set aside the number they desire, label them and place the total amount into the freezer. This is absolutely vital to perform more complex research like diet and genetic analysis that simply cannot be done on the boat in real time.

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The FSCS system. This is where lengths are recorded

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Weight and sex are recorded

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The red box around “special action” indicates this species is to be saved and labeled

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Vaden and FPC Andre DeBose (in purple) working out a catch

Once every species is entered and measured, we run a station check to confirm that each species is accounted for in the system and that all the measurements add up. If weights fluctuate too greatly, or total numbers are higher or lower than originally stated, we must go back in and correct this issue. As soon as it is confirmed that all numbers look good we dump the haul back into the water. Ideally, we try and return as many species as possible alive, but this simply is not a possibility for a majority of the organisms we pull up. Understandably, this is a hard concept for a lot of people to comprehend. Make no mistake, studies like this are ensuring the long-term health of the Gulf of Mexico, and every scientist on this ship has the best interest of ocean life in mind.

Personal Log:

I have really loved my time aboard the Oregon II so far. Each day we pull up something new that I haven’t seen before. At first I thought 12 hour shifts would go by very slowly, but in fact it has been the opposite. Almost every night after my shift I find myself staying back and watching the next few trawls come on deck. The differences of day versus night catches are not surprisingly very different. Just like on land, it is a whole new planet at night under the sea. The night shift so far has gotten a bigger variety of shrimp, where we typically get the larger diurnal fish that are active during the day. The day shift also has the luxury of seeing the transitional period at dusk where a lot of the species that are active during the day travel to the bottom and the species normally inactive during the day begin to become active. Our total catches generally are smaller in a weight sense, but we routinely have 40-50 different species in every single trawl.

 

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A BIG catch for the night crew!

I am starting to fall into the rhythm of things on board too. I repeatedly hear that the Oregon II is the smallest and eldest ship in the fleet, but that the crew on here is like family. I have nothing to compare it to in terms of size, but this boat truly does feel like a family. That is one of the many reasons I love the school staff and students at Regina, so I could not picture being on a better ship. I haven’t known any of these people for more than a week, but I feel like I know each one of them on a personal level and that makes this entire experience so much more enjoyable.

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The stewards on this ship are truly amazing. Prime rib with coconut curry shrimp (that we caught!) Tasted just as good as it looks

I have always been a huge shark fan. Anyone who knows me can attest to that. There is something about the power of sharks that fascinates me. I also think they are incredibly misunderstood creatures that get a terribly bad rap for being especially good, evolutionary speaking. Their lineage dates back hundreds of millions of years, so it is not surprising, yet people take their viciousness the wrong way. Part of me wanted this cruise to be focused on sharks because of my passion for them. Andre told me I would more than likely get to see a shark or two in the course of the weeks at sea, but that they are typically rare to pull up in this kind of research cruise. You can imagine how happy I was when we pulled up those two bonnetheads! I said to myself “this is it. Soak this moment up because you probably won’t get another moment like this again”. Then yesterday happened.

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Our Bonnethead catch!

Our first haul of the day was quite large, and as I ran out to help get it on deck I grabbed a few buckets to get ready. As the net was being emptied I saw something drop that was noticeably larger than the rest of the stock. I shook the bucket to see it better, and to my amazement an immature sandbar shark was staring up at me! I couldn’t believe it. There was even a pretty decently sized Moray eel, (Insert species)!

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Carcharhinus plumbeus, or sandbar shark. What a beautiful animal

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Moray eel

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You wouldn’t guess it from this picture, but the FPC (Andre) is terrified of eels

The next catch wasn’t anything special, but after that things got interesting. The deck came over the radio “You guys are going to want to get out here, this next catch is a big one.” So the scientists all went out, we put on our hard hats and life vests and started preparing the buckets. I fired up my GoPro and got ready. As soon as the cod end broke the surface you could see the characteristic anvil-shaped head of the bonnethead shark. The further the net came up, the more anvils I saw. Two, three, four, FIVE bonnetheads I counted as we brought them on board. I soon found out that I had miscounted, and as we emptied the net we actually had ten sharks. Ten adult sharks were an arm’s length away from me. The awe was short lived, and we had to get back to sorting the catch. I barely had time to process all of that when we got another monster haul.

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Bonnethead sharks

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That’s 40Kg of shark ready to be sorted!

As the next catch was emptied on deck, we got another big surprise: NINE MORE BONNETHEADS! Let that sink in for a second. A shark lover from Iowa was getting the experience of his dreams, and within the span of three hours we pulled up twenty sharks. The sandbar we were able to safely release, but all of the bonnetheads we kept for research. Why keep so many sharks for research purposes instead of release them you ask? Many of you are probably confused and wonder how this could be good for their population. The answer is quite simple: We need to learn as much about these species as possible if we are going to accurately protect them, and sometimes that requires looking at stomach contents or running genetic samples. By understanding what they eat and where they have been, we can make a more comprehensive plan to protect these amazing creatures in the future.

 

As I enter my final five days on board the Oregon II, I am trying as hard as I can to take in every second of this experience. Truth be told, I expected two weeks out at sea to feel like a long time. In reality, I find myself scrambling to hang on to my time here. I may never get another opportunity like this again, and being able to show my students how it is not too late to save the oceans is incredibly humbling. For those of you back in Iowa reading this and wondering “how does this all relate to me”? Stay tuned to further posts and you might just be amazed at how a small flyover farming state like Iowa can have monumental impacts on life in the Gulf.

Did you know?

Lizard Fish (Pictured here is Synodus foetens the “inshore lizard fish”) are equipped with multiple rows of interior razor-sharp teeth that are used to pull prey further into their mouths as they feed.

 

Species Identified Today:

 

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Chris Murdock: We’re not in Kansas (or Iowa) Anymore, June 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chris Murdock

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7 – June 20, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 9 – June 12,  2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 27.0532N
Longitude: 96.3602W
Sea wave height: 4-6 ft
Wind Direction: 17 degrees
Windspeed: 17.31 knots
Air Temperature: 28.2 C
Barometric Pressure: 1010.9 mbar
Sky:  Overcast

Science and Technology Blog

The main focus of this research cruise is stock assessment in the Gulf. This is done using a trawl net. Trawl nets are large nets with the intention of collecting a wide variety of organisms. The specific type of system used aboard the Oregon II is called an otter trawl, which is the most common type of trawl used in the Gulf of Mexico to harvest shrimp. This enormous net forms a large cone shape once deployed. A trawling net has several main components: The first are two areas called the headrope (top line) and footrope. The headrope has floats attached to it that provide flotation to the top portion of the net. The footrope has long chains (often called tickler chains due to the fact that they “tickle” the bottom of the ocean to stir up sea life) on the bottom side of the net. Attached to the net itself are large wooden boards, called otter boards that are located on the main cable between the ship and the net. Water resistance forces the doors to spread and open the net. Inevitably, the organisms caught get held in the cod end of the net, which is the tip of the cone.

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An Otter Trawl (Terraproject.com)

 

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One of Oregon II’s trawl nets. These are switched out every ten tows to check for any structural issues.

The types of organisms caught depends on both the depth of the net, as well as the mesh size (the spaces in between the net). All trawls on this cruise are done with the intention of collecting the three main commercial shrimp species of the Gulf, all under the genus Peneaus, which I will focus on in another blog post. The OOD (Officer Of the Deck) looks at the fathometer and electronic chart to determine how much scope to put out, and then  relays pertinent water depth information to the deck crew, who then release the proper amount of tow line to bring the net to the desired depth. The net is carried behind the ship for 30 minutes at a speed of 2.5-2.8 knots. At that time, the dry lab relays to the deck to “haul up” the net. Depending on the depth the net is currently at, this can take almost a half hour!

Once the Otter boards have reached the surface, the net is then pulsed. This means that the ship returns to a speed of 6-8 knots with the intention of pushing the catch down into the cod end. At that time the ship slows again and the crew hauls the load onto the deck. This entire process is repeated at predetermined locations called stations. If all runs smoothly a typical 12 hour shift will run through 5-6 stations. I will focus about the actual process of sorting the catch in future blog posts.

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Pulling the haul aboard

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Pulsing the tow

 

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A beautiful Gulf sunset behind the trawling gear

Personal log:

The first few days of real work are in the books! I have genuinely loved every minute of my time here on the Oregon II so far. I am assigned the day shift, which is 12 noon to midnight. This is most similar to my normal schedule back in Iowa. Thankfully, I haven’t had to adjust my sleep schedule as a result. It has allowed me to get into a fairly constant rhythm on board. My pre-work schedule typically consists of waking up around 8:30am, eating a light breakfast, working out, and doing work on this blog. I must say the amount of time I have to write meaningful posts is not nearly as much as I anticipated. I could very easily spend all of my waking hours dedicated to uploading photos and videos and writing. I have been keeping a journal on the cruise whenever I have free time so I can go back and elaborate.  Besides sorting out time management issues, everything else has been fantastic!

 

One of the biggest unexpected aspects of the cruise so far has been the food. I was anticipating eating a relatively basic diet while onboard. Boy was I wrong! The food has been absolutely fantastic, above and beyond my wildest expectations. That is in no short part to the wonderful stewards onboard, Arlene and Valerie. They bend over backwards making sure the crew of over 30 people are well fed. Every day has different food, and they are all very accommodating to any dietary restrictions. Roasted Duck is on the menu tonight, and I for one cannot wait!

I don’t know what I was expecting in terms of the type of work I would be doing, but this wasn’t it. I mentally prepared myself to become an expert at shrimp, but in reality I need to become an expert in latin. I routinely make my students memorize certain scientific names to organisms, but never to this extent. The first day of sorting I will admit was very overwhelming. Andre DeBose (the FPC) kept rattling names off to me like Synodus foetens, or Lutjanus campechanus, and all I kept saying to myself is “how in the world am I going to remember this”!? The first name I memorized was the Mexican flounder, or Cyclopsetta chittendeni. The first time I heard that my immediate though was “cyclops chicken dinner”? And just like that, I memorized my first species. After that if felt like every haul I was learning more and more. I am nowhere close to having them down, but I am making serious progress.

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Cyclopsetta chittendeni or the “Mexican Flounder”. The defining characteristic of this fish is the Sombrero-shaped spots around it.

It was so exciting sorting through our various hauls, and seeing dozens of organisms I have never heard of before. To me that is the best part of this whole experience so far. I get to see things that many people (and most of you back in Iowa!) never get the chance to see. How cool is that? I will do my best to post photos of every different species I encounter, but as you can imagine that will not be an easy task.

So far, the most memorable haul for me has been the one depicted below. I have always been a monumental shark fan and advocate, but the only experience I get with them is during Shark Week and when my biology class dissects Squalus acanthius (The atlantic dogfish shark). That all changed when we pulled up two Sphyrna tiburo (The bonnethead, which is a type of hammerhead) sharks. It was very difficult to contain my excitement, but I had to remain focused at the task at hand and get to work. I will speak more at length about the sorting process in my next post, but normally we do not get to save the animals as most are collected for further research back on land. Thankfully we got the sharks weighed and measured and successfully returned them to the sea unharmed. It was a moment I will never forget.  Again, I cannot say enough how lucky I am to get the opportunity to experience this amazing field work. I wake up each day like a child on Christmas Day, wondering what amazing secrets the Gulf has in store for me. The link to the haul can be seen here!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8hm1tmtFyY

 

Fish Species Identified Today:

 

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Chris Murdock: Calibration Time! June 9, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chris Murdock

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7 – June 20, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 9, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 27.193 N
Longitude: 93.133 W
Water Temperature: 28.8 C
Wind Speed: 10.5 knots
Wind Direction: 92.59 degrees
Visibility: 10nm
Air Temperature: 25.9 C
Barometric Pressure: 1012.6 mbar
Sky:  Clear

Science and Technology Log

Prior to our departure from Pascagoula, the ship anchored approximately 8 miles off the coast in order to run a calibration test. This is done in order to calibrate the ship’s multi-beam echosounders. Echosounders emit sound waves downward towards the ocean floor that measure and record the time it takes an acoustic wave signal to travel to the ocean floor, bounce off, and return back to the receiver. Think of this like a dolphin’s echolocation. Dolphins emit sound waves that bounce off objects and allow the dolphin to determine the distance that object is. As you can imagine, this is incredibly important!

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How an echosounder works Source: noaa.gov

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The Oregon II echosounders

The entire calibration process takes a long time, and that time drastically varies depending on the amount of sensors a ship has. The Oregon II has two echosounders, so this whole process took roughly 6-8 hours. The calibration process works like this: Calibration requires deploying one or more calibration spheres under the ship. These are lowered into deep waters, or in wave terms the farfield (the outer limits of the sensors). Each sensor is tethered to a series of down-riggers mounted on the upper deck of the ship, on both the starboard (right) and port (left) sides of the ship. This essentially centers the sphere allowing the operator to control where under the boat the calibration sphere is. The controllers of the down-riggers move the spheres in specific locations until the sensor on deck is fully calibrated.

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Diagram of calibration set up (Noaa.gov)

The calibration of the echosounders is vital to the success of this study, as well as studies like hydrography.  Knowing the proper depth of the ocean underneath the ship is used to determine when and where to trawl for stock assessment (which I will talk about in later blog posts!)

 

Personal Log

So far, life aboard the Oregon II has been smooth sailing (pun intended). We finished the sensor calibration on Wednesday, and have spent the past two days traveling to our first sampling location, so I have had sufficient time to become acclimated to the way things work out in open waters. Thankfully, I am used to being on a rocking ship, so I don’t foresee seasickness being an issue (fingers crossed). I have gotten to know most of the crew, as well as all of the other volunteers aboard the ship. Most of the volunteers/interns are graduate students from schools scattered around the south. I look forward to sitting down with each of them to learn more about their specific fields of study and why they chose marine science.

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Headed out to open sea!

It has been nice to have this downtime, because it has allowed me to become familiar with how things work on board.  With the calibration and travel time, I have really fallen in love with being out on the open water. I spent most of my time on the flying bridge of the Oregon II, or as many of the crew call it the “steel beach”. There is a plethora of workout equipment up there, as well as chairs to have a cup of coffee between shifts. Exercising on the top of a rocking boat is not easy! I have come to find it quite peaceful, however. There is something about being able to look out at the vastness of the open water, with only the occasional speckling of oil rigs and tankers off in the distance, that allows you to separate yourself from everything else and be in that moment. Sometimes, I even spot large numbers of flying fish leap from the boat’s wake and travel just above the surface of the water for large distances, only to watch them disappear into the blue void. For a Midwestern kid, they are truly fascinating animals.

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Oregon II rescue boat

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Crew lounge

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My stateroom

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Showers

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Laundry facilities

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Stairs from the bottom deck up to the crew’s lounge

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Galley

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Chem lab

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TAS Chris Murdock wearing helmet and life jacket

Yesterday was also the time for our first series of drills. We conducted a fire safety drill, as well as the all-important abandon ship drill. In the later, we don our survival suits and life jackets and head to muster (gather) at the bow of the ship (remembering the directions and other ship lingo is taking a little bit to get used to, but after the first day or so it has just become second nature. Port is left, starboard is right, the bow is the front, and the stern is the back). You then have two minutes to properly put it on. The suit itself looks and feels like a giant red Gumby costume, but immediately you can see the benefit of it. It completely surrounds your body with watertight neoprene, and has specially located lights and floats to keep you insulated and on the surface of the water. While you may think the Gulf is very warm (it is), the temperature is roughly 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 12 degrees colder than your core body temperature. In the event that you would have to abandon ship that 12 degree difference would eventually take its toll on you and you could become hypothermic. We do drills like this on a weekly basis to keep our skills sharp. Hopefully we never need them!

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A view like this never gets old

In just a few hours I will begin my first shift on deck collecting data for a stock assessment. I am both excited and nervous. Nervous in the sense of not knowing what to expect, but I cannot wait to get started. While I have loved the downtime to learn the ways of the ship and get to know the crew, I know that it will not last. This type of work is going to be very new to me, and the hours very long. While it is most certainly intimidating, I cannot wait to begin this very important scientific work.

Did You Know?

The deepest part of the Gulf of Mexico is an area known as the Sigsbee Deep. At its deepest, it is more than 12,000 feet! At more than 300 miles long, it is commonly referred to as the “Grand Canyon under the sea”. (Source-Encyclopedia Britannica)

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Noaa.gov

 

Chris Murdock: Let The Adventure Begin! June 5, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Murdock
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7th – June 20th, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 30, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather in Iowa can be crazy! Just last week we went from 90 degrees and sunny all the way down to 50 degrees and rainy in the course of three days. We have been lucky this week to have sunny skies and a very comfortable temperature of 75. Perfect running weather!

Science and Technology Log

I will be joining the crew of the Oregon II on leg one of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring & Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the objectives of this survey are to monitor the size and distribution of shrimp and other groundfish (fish that live near the sea bottom), as well as to provide information on shrimp and groundfish populations within the Gulf of Mexico. In order to accomplish these objectives, large quantities of groundfish are collected using a long net called a trawl net. All shrimp species will be sorted from the catch in order to be weighed and sexed. A total of 200 shrimp from each catch will be documented, and this information will be extrapolated out to determine estimated total numbers from each area studied. This process will be repeated for other selected species of groundfish through the course of the study. Research like this is vital to the long-term sustainability of these fish populations.

 

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NOAA Ship Oregon II. Photo Courtesy of NOAA

Personal Log and Introduction

My name is Chris Murdock and I teach Biology, AP Biology, and Biomedical Science at Regina High School in Iowa City, Iowa. I have been lucky to call Regina home for the past 4 years. Regina is such a unique place for so many different reasons, and I could probably spend this entire post explaining what Regina means to me and how it has made me into the teacher/person I am today. I will forever be grateful to Regina for allowing me opportunities like this one to better myself both personally and professionally.

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Backpacking through Canyonlands National Park, March, 2017

Throughout my entire life, I have always considered myself a very curious person. Even at an early age, I would constantly ask questions about how this and that worked, or why certain phenomena happen the way that they do. As a result, I have always been fascinated by the wonderful world of science. That hunger for knowledge led me to Mrs. Mazucca’s honors biology class my sophomore year of high school. Never before have I had a teacher more passionate, more engaging, and one that genuinely got you excited for a topic you knew nothing about. I loved every second of that class, and I can honestly say that without having Mrs. Mazucca I would not be in the position I am today. It was in that moment I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. From that day on, everything I did was to better prepare myself to be the best educator I could be.

I have always been fascinated by the oceans and the life within them. Growing up in the Midwest, I was confined to exploring local rivers and lakes. While I loved exploring the bodies of water around me, there was always something about the ocean that drew me in. From the vastness of the oceans, to the diversity of life within them, I was awestruck. After all, life has been evolving in the oceans for hundreds of millions of years! Every vacation I took near an ocean, I would spend as much time as possible in and around the water. It is amazing to me that something so prominent in all of our lives can go unchecked for such a long period. During my time at the University of Iowa, I took every marine science class I could. There was even a period where I contemplated leaving the college of education to pursue a career in marine biology. The more I learned, the more I fell in love with the ocean. Unfortunately, one thing became increasingly clear to me throughout college: the oceans and the life within them are in danger like never before. While I could do plenty to educate the masses as a marine biologist, I knew that teaching was where I could make the greatest impact. I decided that as a teacher, I was going to do everything I could to foster an environment to make my students more environmentally and globally aware. In order for this to be successful, I myself needed to embark on a journey to do the same.

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Snorkeling in Belize, August 2016

Fast forward to December of 2015 when my girlfriend notified me of the NOAA Teacher At Sea Experience. “This is absolutely perfect for you!” she said, “You have to sign up for this”. The more I researched, the more I thought this was too good to be true. I spent nearly the entire next year thinking about the potential of this trip until the time finally came to fill out my application. At the end of November, after all the forms were turned in, I received the email “you will receive notification of your application status via the email address listed on your application by February 2017”. It was going to be a long wait.
Then came February 1st, and as I was walking out of the door to go to school I got an email from NOAA. I nearly spilled my coffee all over me as I fumbled over my phone to open the document as fast as I could. Ever since last December, I had prepared myself for a rejection letter. While I was very confident in my application, I just didn’t believe it would work out. It was too perfect of an experience for me to actually happen. With my heart pounding out of my chest, I began to read the document. To my utter amazement I was accepted! Me. Accepted into the experience of a lifetime. Words cannot describe the pure joy I felt as I drove to work that day. I was going to get the chance to live out my childhood dream, without sacrificing my true passion of teaching. To say I am lucky is an understatement.

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My students and I on the senior class trip to Washington, DC. April, 2016

From that day on, my life revolved around NOAA Teacher At Sea. I read dozens of blog posts, I read about every ship in the fleet, and I filled out all the required paperwork as fast as my printer would spit it out. While any cruise would have been an unbelievable experience, I could not be happier with being selected for the SEAMAP survey in the Gulf. Living in Iowa and the heart of farmland, USA, my actions and the actions of my neighbors have a direct impact on the health of the Gulf ecosystem. It is my hope that once I return from my cruise, I will be able to get my community to be more conscious of the oceans and how we positively (or negatively) affect them. Writing this blog, I am still in a state a shock that this is really happening. June 7th cannot get here fast enough! I am so excited to be able to spend two amazing weeks on board the Oregon II learning from some of the best scientists in the world.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is the ninth largest body of water on the planet, covering an area of 600,000 mi2! (Source-Encyclopedia Britannica)

Fact of the Day

In my classroom, we start class every day with a “Fact of the Day” where I share new and upcoming research from the scientific community. Today’s fact comes from NOAA Research Vessel Okeanos Explorer.

This NOAA team has been exploring the depths of the Central Pacific Basin to explore deep water ecosystems before they become impacted too greatly by climate change. On this expedition, the NOAA team captured some truly amazing footage, some of which had previously not been seen except for in the fossil record! Some examples include Sea snails basically eating the poop of crinoids (sea lilies), and usually inactive brittle stars attacking swimming squids! Several videos from this expedition are posted below.

All of this amazing research sheds light on a largely unexplored region of the oceans, and the data collected from this expedition will help create a baseline to measure the effects of climate change moving forward. (Source-Ocean Explorer.noaa.gov) (Videos of these interactions can be found here!- http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1705/logs/photolog/welcome.html)