Christopher Tait: “Water, Water, Everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.” April 8, 2017

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Tait

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

March 21 – April 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA

Date: April 8, 2017

Science and Technology Log

“Water, Water, Everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.”

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Sunrise somewhere over the Pacific Ocean

If you think about a famous quote about the ocean, this one might be one of the first you would think of.  It is from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  I don’t know the first time I heard that quote, but it gave me a view of the ocean as a foreboding place. People like to use quotes to capture a thought or a feeling or an idea that someone else said near perfect. It is a way of remembering ideas of others and being remembered. It is also a way to communicate a deep truth in a memorable fashion. If said well, the quote rings in someone’s head.

The greatest technology a scientist has is their ability to communicate to the public their science. All the measurements in the world, the most exacting procedures, and the best control of variables die on the hard drive if they are not effectively communicated and shared with others. Said well, it will ring in the head of the recipient.

Scientist Profile:

“We are what we do repeatedly. Excellence therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

Aristotle * see footnote

                If you have a career or are retired, you can think back to the path that took you to one of the most important aspect of your life. The people, opportunities, experiences, dreams, or something else that inspired you to take the career you chose. If you are in school, you are being exposed to influential people, ideas, and values that will shape your life. I have to say, the best aspect of this fisheries expedition has been the amazing and inspirational people I have met along the way.  The group of people that were on the Reuben Lasker cover a large span of skill sets that are critical to run a long term research trip.  From the NOAA Corps, to the ship operations, to maintaining the complex systems of the ship, to deploying the scientific equipment from the deck, to the planning, conducting, and evaluating the results of the science, everyone brings to the table their invaluable contributions.  I have not thus far been associated with such an endeavor and I thank everyone for sharing their expertise with me.  I asked the scientists I worked with three simple questions to get an understanding of the events that took them down the path to their career with NOAA.  I’m sure you can relate to these stories and have stories of your own that have brought you to your career.  If you still have many big decisions ahead of you, maybe you can use this as a sign post to reflect upon as you move along your path.  Below is a picture of the scientists I had the privilege to learn from, work with, and share an amazing experience.

 Figure 1:

 

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Scientist (left to right) Dave Griffith, Kevin Stierhoff, Bev, Lenora, Bill Watson, Sue Manion, Chris Tait (Teacher at Sea) & Megan Human

Dave Griffith

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

I was working at Hubbs Marine Research as a laboratory manager prior to coming to NOAA.  A group of us had started what turned out to be a long term project combining aquaculture and natural population enhancement known as OREHAP. One of the aspects of the OREHAP project was describing the micro-habitats of Mission Bay and San Diego Bay.  Many days were spent in the field sampling the various habitats of each bay. One of the scientists that would join us on occasion was Sharon Kramer. At the time Sharon was working on her PhD from Scripps and was also an employee of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Sharon alerted me of an opening at the center working for the Coastal Fisheries Resources Division headed up by Rich Charter, one of the best supervisors she had known, and I agree. The rest is history. I’ve now been with NOAA for 27 years; most of them spent at sea and have experienced sights that many people may only read about. No regrets whatsoever.

What do you like best about your career?

This is probably one of the easier questions. What I like and cherish most about my career is the people I have had the privilege to know and work with.  Not only some of the best scientists in the world but just good people. The world of marine science, especially fishery science, is a relatively small community. They become your family. Throw into the mix that I also get to do something that I have wanted to do since high school and I realize that it wasn’t a bad choice.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

In your early academic life, keep an open mind. There are so many aspects to science that you may not realize until you begin your formal education. Take a look at everything. I spent a short time at a city college exploring various avenues before making my commitment to a four year university. If you can, volunteer. It is definitely not time wasted.  For a career in science, earn the highest degree or degrees you possibly can. And lastly, a major component of a career in science is being able to communicate. Learn to write well. I have found that an excellent way to improve your writing is to read. Read everything. Read novels, magazines, journals, newspapers, whatever you can get your hands on and never stop.               

Lanora

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

Growing up, I loved mysteries and figuring out why things worked the way they did. I was also fascinated by the marine environment.  Having learned about NOAA and its missions from relatives, I participated in a co-op program while in college where I worked at a NOAA Fisheries lab.  That work experience helped me realize that this was a field I would like to make a career.

What do you like best about your career?

I would definitely have to say the challenge of the work.  The marine environment is so dynamic and ever changing and evolving.  Working with so many amazing scientists to better understand this environment and the organisms in it is very fulfilling.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

If this is a career path a student is interested in, I recommend looking into volunteer and internship positions.  These experiences help get an understanding of the work in this career and if it’s a right fit for you.  It also helps to build your experience and make contacts in this field.

Sue Manion

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

I graduated from Michigan State University with a BS in Fisheries Biology. After graduation, I joined Peace Corps and worked for 3 years on the aquaculture program in the Dominican Republic. Upon my return to the states, I applied for and was accepted as a sea-going technician for NOAA at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego.  I have been an employee here since 1989.

What do you like best about your career?

What I like best about my job is the variety of tasks I perform. I was looking for a career where my job was outdoors and physical.  I spend 1/3 of the year working on fisheries research vessels.  I process trawl catches and assist in oceanographic sampling.  In the past, I have been a marine mammal observer on a tuna boat, and have tagged sharks.

The rest of the time I work in an office processing data and prepping gear for our next research survey.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

My advice for someone who would like to follow a similar career path would be to go beyond a BS and get a Master’s.  I recommend taking all the math classes, computer classes and writing classes that are available to supplement whatever field of Science one chooses.

Bill Watson

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

After receiving undergraduate degrees in oceanography and zoology from the University of Washington I went to the University of Hawaii to do a master’s degree working on distributional ecology of fish eggs and larvae. While at UH I visited the larval fish laboratory at the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Center in La Jolla, California, to meet the staff and learn what I could to improve my skill in identifying fish eggs and larvae. I subsequently stayed in touch with the SWC larval fish lab while working first at UH, then for North Carolina State University doing biological monitoring studies at a coastal nuclear power plant as well as ecological studies of fish and shrimp larvae in an estuary and adjacent salt marshes, and then in southern California for a consulting company doing a wide variety of mainly coastal biological studies. While at the consulting company I received a call from the supervisor of the SWC larval fish group letting me know that a vacancy was coming up in the group and to keep an eye out for the job announcement if I was interested. When the announcement came out I applied, and got the job. Interestingly, the person I replaced was the person I started my larval fish career with in Hawaii 20 years earlier.

What do you like best about your career?

I like fish larvae, so having the opportunity to go to sea to collect samples, and being able to spend part of my time in the laboratory looking at fish eggs and larvae through a microscope often are as much entertainment as work.  In addition to the routine sample processing that we do in support of biomass estimations for commercially important fishes, we regularly conduct analyses to look at how the California Current ecosystem functions from a fish perspective. We can do this because most fish species in our area have planktonic larval stages, so with one set of samples we can look at fish assemblages ranging from deep-sea meso- and bathypelagic fishes to rocky reef and shorefishes. In recent years we have added genetic tools to improve our taxonomic resolution, and have added squids to our repertoire. Most of the studies done in my lab are group efforts, in many cases in cooperation with universities and other NOAA Fisheries labs.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

I always tell student interns in our lab that if they plan to be scientists, they need to pay attention in English classes. Research isn’t really done until it’s published, and if a manuscript is poorly written the likelihood is that it will be rejected by scientific journals. Writing is actually one of the more important skills to develop for someone interested in a career in science. Beyond paying attention in English classes, a postgraduate degree is almost a requirement these days to have any chance at doing independent research. Getting some real world work experience between undergrad and graduate school can be useful to help in setting a career course that you will be happy with, for example when I graduated from UW I planned to specialize in algology, but during a postgraduate internship working on the effects of tritium exposure on early development of rainbow trout, I discovered that I liked fish better and have been doing that ever since.

Megan Human

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

My career path with NOAA began during my junior year in college. I had been volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium for several years and decided to apply for an internship opportunity that was collaboration between the University of Washington and the NWFSC working with phytoplankton. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work with plankton, but I ended up loving it and was offered a contracting position when my internship was up. In 2014 I ended up moving to San Diego, and thanks to some connections I had from the NWFSC I was referred to a position working with ichthyoplankton (larval stage of fishes).

What do you like best about your career?

I love getting to work with fish and see all the diversity the ocean has to offer. I‘ve also had the opportunity to conduct an egg rearing experiment where I get to raise fish eggs to larvae at sea and in the lab. While it presents many challenges, it is such a great feeling to be able to do hands research in the field. Once you start working on one question, you realize there are so many unknowns out there and it is exciting to get to be a part of a team that is trying to find the answers.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

The best advice I could give to someone who wants to get into a career with marine sciences is to volunteer. There are usually many opportunities associated with local aquariums, NOAA or University vessels, and research laboratories. These are a great way to experience the different avenues of marine science and provide a lot of valuable experiences and connections with individuals in the field. It is also a great way to find what areas you are most passionate about as well as discovering what fields aren’t the best fits.

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Contemplating a successful fishing voyage as we sail under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Personal Log

As the boat motors under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the port of San Francisco, I think about how this experience will impact me.  How can I take what I have learned and effectively communicate to my students the importance of researching how our planet functions? How will the planet change in the face of growing stressors from impacts of human population growth?  How can I motivate others around me to be mindful of our impacts and to work towards a more sustainable future?  Well, with any great study, you generally end up with more questions than answers.  I thank my friends from the Reuben Lasker for helping me communicate to others about the ocean, their science careers, and marine sciences in general.

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Arrival to port at the Exploratorium in San Francisco!

For hope and encouragement I turned to my students for quotes of their own.

What quote would you use to describe your perspective on the world as you finish up school?

“For me, this class helped me decide to go into environmental studies. I always cared about the environment, but I realized that the more I know, the more empowered I will be to make a difference.” Abi Brown NFHS ‘17

“I am going into the heath field so it was very interesting knowing about all of the toxins that are having consequences on our health.” Ashley Parkinson NFHS ‘17

“This class really opened my eyes to the environmental issues I wasn’t all that aware of. I knew that climate change was occurring but I didn’t know all the contributing factors in my daily life could build up and add to global warming. Just being aware has made me change my lifestyle drastically.”  Courtney Surovy NFHS ‘17

“Taking this class taught me how large of an impact humans have on the environment. It is hard to believe that just one person can make a change, but the more you know, the more you can take action to save the environment.” Emily Glueck NFHS ‘17

“After taking this class, I found myself constantly going home and sharing with my family what I learned. I wanted them to become as passionate as I became. This class has sparked my interest and motivated me to be more conscious of my actions and look at how all possible results can impact the Earth.”  Maya Scocozza NFHS ‘17

“This class has given me a newfound love for the world that I live in, inspiring me to help improve the quality of the environment for current and future generations by doing even simple things such as recycling.” Olivia Hanisch NFHS ‘17

“As an incoming freshman to UConn’s MEM program, a dual business and engineering major, this class will forever impact my actions in the product design industry. Every step I take in my career will include consideration on how to engineer a product that is both marketable as well as environmentally sustainable.” Hailey Altobelli NFHS ‘17

“Taking AP Environmental Science allowed me to evaluate the destructive choices humans, including myself, make on a daily basis and how it amounts to significant impacts on our global climate and the surrounding ecosystems. Even something as little as leaving your lights on in an empty room or leaving water running while brushing your teeth can cause negative impacts on the environment. When individuals refuse to change their smaller habits on smaller issues, it becomes difficult for widespread change to occur. The class opened my eyes to how little changes make a big impact.”                 Matt Trewartha NFHS ‘17

“I will be pursuing a Mechanical Engineering degree via Rensselaer. A successful career to me will be one in which I have assisted in progressing the world environmentally and technologically.”  Matt Sousa NFHS ‘17

“By taking this class, I have realized how much everything impacts the environment. From the cosmetics we use to the food we purchase, we greatly impact the earth’s land and its resources. By working on making sustainable choices, we can make a big impact on the earth.” Hadley Starr NFHS ‘18

“When environmentally friendly energy options become economically beneficial to large corporations and industry, global sustainability will become a tangible goal.”                Kyle Van Vlack NFHS ‘17

“One thing I learned from this class is that little thing you do has an effect. Every bottle you throw out and every shower you take does affects the environment.”                      Leah Anderson NFHS ’17

“As someone who is interested in the field of policy making, this class greatly informed me regarding the hidden dangers in our treatment of the planet. I feel like I am much better educated about the harmful consequences of climate change, pollution, and many other topics.” Matt Rossi NFHS ‘17

“By taking AP Environmental Science, I have become more aware of the destructive effect humanity has on the planet, and thus the necessity of advocating for sustainability. If we wish to preserve the environment, we all must educate ourselves about the severity of climate change and do whatever we can to minimize the negative impact of our lifestyle; even the actions of one person can help make a difference. By becoming catalysts for positive change, we as a society will be one step closer to achieving harmony between humans and the environment.” Nicole Cennamo ‘17

“This class has helped me develop an understanding of the natural world which we live in, and as I move towards studying Biology in college, I believe I have the resources necessary to be successful and have an impact in the world.” Josh Sproule NFHS ‘17

“As a future Political Science major, learning about the massive environmental destruction caused by humans has taught me that fixing the environment should not be politicized, and we should all be committed to doing what is right for the environment.” Mike DaSilva NFHS ‘17

“After this class, I have grown to be able to be more conscientious about my actions and how I affect the world. I care more for the animals and their environment and now have a passion for protecting them as much as I can.” Emily O’Toole NFHS ‘17

“This class has encouraged me to take responsibility in helping to save our planet. I learned that everyday things such as long, hot showers or leaving the lights on actually contribute to the global problems we see today. Taking this class this year has definitely inspired me to take action in helping our planet survive.” – Jackson Lathrop NFHS ’17

“I have gained a lot of knowledge through this class that has helped me to fully understand the impact humans have on the environment, and how to prevent further harm to our world. As I plan to become a business major, this knowledge I now have will impact the choices I will make and influence how I live and go about my daily life, always keeping in mind my environmental footprint.” – Noah Alviti NFHS ’17

*footnote: This quote is actually a misquote of Aristotle.  It was used by Matt Light of the New England Patriots at his retirement speech.  Will Durant deserves the actual quote from his book “Ethics and the Nature of Happiness” where he paraphrased Aristotle’s words from “Nicomachaen Ethics.” 

Christopher Tait: Where am I? April 1, 2017

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Tait

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

March 21 – April 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA

Date: April 1, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 8:51 PDT,

Current Location: South West of Santa Rosa Island, Latitude 33.37N Longitude -120.7 W

Air Temperature 13.4 oC  (56.1 oF)

Water Temperature 13.1 oC  (55.5 oF)

Wind Speed 12 kts

Barometric pressure 1013.98 hPa

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Science and Technology Log

Oceans cover 71% of the surface of Earth and 99% of the livable space (Figure 1).  The Coastal Pelagic Survey is taking several approaches to map the distribution of anchovy, sardine, and other target species within the epipelagic zone.  This zone is the thin surface layer extending to the depths light penetrates the ocean, which is approximately 200 meters near California.  The epipelagic zone in some coastal areas is very productive due to the upwelling of nutrient rich water causing an abundance of primary production by phytoplankton.  Besides the net trawling and acoustic transects, the researchers are using samples of fish eggs and ichthyoplankton (ichthyo = fish, plankton = drifting) to determine locations of spawning. This voyage is mostly surveying over the continental shelf and I am amazed at the diversity of organisms we have found thus far.  In this modern era of exploration of the vastly unknown deeper regions, I can only imagine the species still to be discovered!

 

Figure 1: Ocean Layers

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(c) Knight, J.D., 1998, Sea and Sky, http://www.seasky.org/deep-sea/ocean-layers.html

CUFES:

A CUFES (Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler) system is used to determine the location of fish eggs as we travel transects on a continuous daily basis (Figure 2).  Water from 3 meters below the surface is pulled into the boat at 640 L/min. and poured through a filter to collect fish eggs and other plankton.  The collected samples are analyzed every 30 minutes to determine a density of eggs and which species are spawning.  The collected samples are further analyzed at NOAA’s SWFSC (Southwest Fisheries Science Center) in La Jolla, CA.

Figure 2: CUFES Schematic

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CUFES schematic.

 

Figure 3: Preliminary Results of CUFES Survey

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Preliminary results of the CUFES survey. The CUFES data is overlaid on sea surface temperatures measured by satellite.

The CUFES data is overlaid on sea surface temperatures measured by satellite.

PairoVET Tow & Bongo Tow

A PairoVET (paired vertical egg tow) sample is collected using a pair of small, fine mesh nets dropped to 70 meters deep and vertically towed to the surface to collect fish eggs and zooplankton in the water column at predetermined locations along our transects every 20 nautical miles. This is generally the depths that sardine release their eggs. The Bongo net gets its name because the nets are the size of bongo drums (Figure 4 & 5).  This is a plankton tow that is pulled alongside the ship and occurs every 40 nautical miles.  The net is dropped to a depth of 210 meters and pulled up at a 45 degree angle to get a more complete sample of the ichthyoplankton and zooplankton throughout the water column at location.

 Figure 4: Bongo net in center of image and PairoVET on the right.

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Bongo net in center of image and PairoVET on the right.

Figure 5: Bongo going overboard.

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Bongo going overboard.

Figure 6: Preserving the Bongo Sample for later analysis.

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TAS Chris Tait preserves the Bongo Sample for later analysis

CTD: Conductivity, Temperature and Depth Probe

The scientists use a CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) probe to measure the physical properties of the seawater throughout the water column that biologic samples are being taken (Figure 7). Conductivity is used to calculate the salinity of the water. These physical properties are very important in determining the types of organisms that are present at varying locations.

 Figure 7: CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) Analysis

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CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) analysis

Personal Log

One of the great mysteries of waking up is answering the question of “where am I?”  After a long evening of trawling for fish and keeping an eye on where you are, you go to bed.  Exhausted, the boat rocks you to sleep.  When I wake up the first thing I do is, jump out of bed and run out onto the front deck.  Some days, there is ocean for as far as the eye can see, some days a mysterious island (Figure 8) in the distance and sometimes there is the mainland (Figure 9)!  I run to grab my phone when mainland is in sight to get a couple of phone calls out to family.

 Figure 8: The mysterious island turns out to be Anacapa Island, which is part of the Channel Islands National Park.  The waters surrounding the park are part of a national marine sanctuary.

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Anacapa Island, one of the Channel Islands

 

Figure 9: Sunrise over Santa Barbara.  Time for me to make a call home!

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Sunrise over Santa Barbara

In the Dry Lab there is a computer with a map showing where we are currently located, a red track line showing where we have been and transect lines displaying where we will soon be (Figure 10).  On our acoustic transects, we follow the parallel lines to mow the lawn and find the location of the CPS (coastal pelagic species) from their echoes.  When we trawl, we break transect and go to places that showed promise in the acoustic backscatter.  

 Figure 10: Without tracking our location on the computer I would feel totally lost! The blue lines are where we plan to go, and the red lines show where we’ve actually gone.

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Blue lines show where we plan to go, and the red lines show where we’ve actually gone.

Catch of the Day

As I get ready for my night shift, I feel this anticipation to discover what species we are going to find!  Every day brings a new catch of the day!

Grey Smoothhound Shark (Mustelus californicus): This small coastal shark feeds on small invertebrates and fish.

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Gray Smoothhound Shark (Mustelus californicus)

Needle Fish (Family Belonidae):  This large needle fish is coastal piscivorous fish, meaning they specialize at eating other fish. They have a mouth full of tiny needle like teeth to prevent a slippery fish from getting away.

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Needle Fish (Family Belonidae)

Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax): This is one of our target species on this survey.  Anchovy have the potential to form massive schools and have a tremendous impact of the ecology of the California Current Ecosystem.  They feed on zooplankton, provide food for other fish, sea birds, and marine mammals.  They are also an important fishery which have the potential to be over fished if not properly managed.

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Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax)

Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax, top specimen) and Pacific Mackerel (Scomber japonicas, bottom two specimens): These two species are also part of the Coastal Pelagic Species community, which this survey are targeting.  The sardine is another very important fish due to their ability to form tremendous schools, impacting plankton through feeding, providing food for larger predators, and they are a valuable fishery.  Sardine populations have the ability to boom and crash, and the cause is still not fully understood.  The Pacific mackerel is a species that has been populous at times of lower sardine and anchovy abundance.

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Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax), top, and Pacific Mackeral (Scomber japonicus), bottom two

Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax) and Pacific Mackeral (Scomber japonicus)

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Close-up of Pacific Mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Pacific Mackeral (Scomber japonicus)

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Pacific Mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus) and Larval Rockfish (Sebastes sp.): Jack Mackerel is another target species of the Coastal Pelagic Survey.

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Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus) and a larval rockfish (Sebastes sp.)

Christopher Tait: Suburban Wilderness, March 27, 2017

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Tait

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

March 21, 2017 to April 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA

Date: March 27, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 3:35 PDT,

Current Location: near San Nicolas Island, Latitude 33.3 N Longitude -119.2 W

Air Temperature 16.0 oC  (59.5 oF)

Water Temperature 14.9 oC  (58.6 oF)

Wind Speed 19 kts

Barometric pressure 1014.64 hPa

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San Nicolas Island from the Reuben Lasker

Science and Technology Log

Acoustic Trawl

There is a lot of advanced equipment that is used to do a survey of fish that spans the coast of California. The Reuben Lasker has been fitted with state of the art echo-sounders (Figure 1), which send out pulses of sound that bounce off objects and return to the ship in the form of backscatter.  Looking at the backscatter data you can create a profile of the water column and see a variety of organisms swimming beneath the ship.  The target species for the research is the Northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) and Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax).  The schools of fish are detected using a range of frequencies.  Looking at graphical representations of these data, or echograms, you can see the bottom as an area with strong echoes and, at times, you can see an area of high-intensity back scatter higher in the water column such as a school of fish or an aggregation of krill or plankton (figure 2).  This would be a school of fish, krill or other organisms.  The geographic location of the school is marked for a return by the ship at night for collection using a trawl.  To conduct a thorough survey, the ship travels back and forth between the coast and a predetermined distance out to sea across the predicted habitat of the target species (Figure 3.)  Scientists referred to this as “mowing the lawn.”

 Figure 1: Reuben Lasker Acoustic-Sampling Beams

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©2014 Oceanography, Volume 27, number 4, Zwolinski et al.

Figure 2: An example echogram, showing the seabed and various sound scatterers in the water column.

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Figure 3 : Survey Map of the Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey 2017

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Scientist Profile:

The Cruise Leader, Kevin Stierhoff, is a fisheries scientist who works for the Advanced Survey Technologies group at NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in San Diego, CA.  Not only has he been effectively managing this complex science expedition, he has gone out of his way to make me feel welcome and a part of this scientific endeavor.

 

How did you become a NOAA scientist?

I earned a B.S. in Biology, a Ph.D. in Marine Studies, and completed several postdoctoral research appointments prior to getting hired by NOAA. The work that my colleagues and I do at the SWFSC is very interdisciplinary, and the variety of educational and research experiences that I’ve had prepared me become a researcher at NOAA.

What do you like best about your career?

I consider myself lucky to have a job with a variety of duties. Not only do I spend time in the office analyzing data, but I also get to spend time at sea conducting survey and collecting data. When I’m not using acoustics to study pelagic fishes that migrate between Canada and Mexico, I use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs, or undersea robots) to survey endangered abalone that live on rocky reefs in the deep sea. When I’m not at sea, I’m analyzing the data that we collected at sea to communicate the results of our work.

What advice would you give to a student who would like to follow a similar career path?

Increasingly, a research career in marine biology requires a graduate degree to allow for maximal career advancement. If possible, take some time after undergrad to work in a job related to your career goals. This will allow you to focus your interests before choosing a graduate program, or perhaps discover that you don’t actually like that career path (better to find out sooner than later!) or that you don’t require a graduate degree to do the job that really interests you (which will save you lots of time and money). Most importantly, choose a job that you look forward to going to every day.

 

Personal Log

It is dark out, but as I look down from high atop the ship through an open window from the bridge, the lights of Long Beach reflect on the placid expanse of ocean and I come to a great moment of reflection.  One of the busiest ports in the world is just off in the distance and I am looking for marine mammals in this suburban wilderness.  Beside the glow of humanity, nature continues on.

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Long Beach, California

I have been mostly helping with analyzing organisms that came up in the trawl at night, so my work schedule has moved to a 6 pm to 6 am.  I am struck by how hardworking, dedicated, and driven all members of this expedition are.  The crew, scientists, and NOAA Corps collaborate to continuously run surveys 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I am enjoying working at night now even though it took me a few days to get use to all of the adjustments in my schedule.  I particularly enjoy doing the marine mammal watch from the bridge.  It gives you this aerial point of view of all the action the NOAA Corps expertly navigating the ship and coordinating operations, the deck crew masterfully deploying nets and equipment, and the scientists excitedly exploring the organisms we collect.

Catch of the Day!

Haliphron atlanticusThis strange creature is a gelatinous octopus, whose body resembles a jellyfish, but when you look close, you see eyes looking at you!

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Haliphron atlanticus

Boreal Clubhook Squid (Onychoteuthis borealijaponicus)

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Boreal Clubhook Squid (Onychoteuthis borealijaponicus)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) is the strangest fish I have ever seen! It is one of the heaviest bony fish, surprisingly from a diet high in jellyfish and salps. We caught a small and large sunfish.

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TAS Chris Tait holds an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

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Measuring the ocean sunfish…

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Slide to Freedom!

Pacific Saury (Cololabis saira): This fast looking fish hunts plankton at night near the surface.

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Pacific Saury (Cololabis saira)

Curlfin Turbot (Pleuronichthys decurrens): This juvenile flatfish rises to the water surface at night to hunt zooplankton.  Flatfish have an eye that migrates from one side of their body to the other as they develop.

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Curlfin Turbot (Pleuronichthys decurrens)

Christopher Tait: Catch of the Day, March 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Tait

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

March 21 – April 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA

Date: March 21, 2017

 

The Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey will be conducted in 2 legs between San Diego and Cape Mendocino, CA.  The ship will have a port call in San Francisco, CA between survey legs.

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Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 4:38 PDT,

Current Location: near San Clemente Island, Latitude 32.9 N Longitude -118.96 W

Air Temperature 15.3 oC  (59.5 oF)

Water Temperature 14.8 oC  (58.6 oF)

Wind Speed 13 kts

Barometric pressure 1021.15 hPa

Science and Technology Log

Trawling

                The ship trawls for schooling coastal pelagic fish from sundown to sunrise. This is because, under the protection of darkness, the zooplankton come up toward the surface to feed on phytoplankton and the planktivorous fish, in turn, follow the zooplankton.  Before the trawl net can be deployed, you have to go to the bridge, or the upper floor on the ship where all navigation and operations occur, to do a marine mammal watch for 30 minutes.  A marine mammal watch is a lookout for dolphins or other marine mammals that might be in the vicinity of the ship to avoid catching them in the trawl.  It is difficult to see any dolphins or sea lions in the inky blackness of the night ocean, but this is important to prevent incidental catch.  My first time up to the bridge at night was a surprise.  Walking up the lit stairs, you open the door to the bridge and the whole area is in darkness with just faint red lights so you can see.   After a while your eyes adjust and you make you way to the port or starboard sides of the bridge to start the watch. After you determine that the coast is clear, it is time for the deck crew to start deploying the net.  There is big overhead rigging with winches to help lift the net, ropes, chains, and buoys up to lower them down into the water.  We drag the net behind the boat for 45 minutes and then haul it in, hopefully full of fish!  When the fish are on the boat there is an elaborate process to gather information about the catch.

 Catch of the Day

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Pelagic Red Crab (Pleuroncodes planipes)

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Sorting buckets filled with Pelagic Red Crab

 

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Market Squid (Doryteuthis opalescens)

 

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Pyrosome (colonial tunicate)

 

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Greater Argonaut (Argonauta argo)

 

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King of the Salmon (Trachipterus altivelis)

 

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The Wet Lab where the catch is sorted.

Personal Log

3/21/17

Today is the first day at sea and everyone is busy setting up their labs and calibrating their equipment.  The goal of the research is to survey the distributions and abundances of the coastal pelagic fish stocks, their prey, and their biotic and abiotic environment in the California Current Ecosystem.  The Reuben Lasker is a state of the art research vessel with many specialized research laboratories.

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NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

Coronado Bridge out my window.                                                      My State Room

3/22/17

I’m getting used to the 24 hour nature of the expedition. Everyone is assigned a 12 hour shift and I’m working 12 pm to 12 am.  During the day I am currently observing the methods and trying to assist where I can.  At night there are multiple trawls.  2 to 5 trawl are planned each night.  We caught a variety of different organisms, which are weighted, measured for length, and some saved for further studies such as genetic analysis.

 

3/23/17

Today I woke up to rough seas with waves about 8 feet, which made it very difficult to get moving!  As I moved around the ship everyone smiled because we know how each other are feeling.  The seas calmed later in the day and everyone felt much better.  Looking forward to doing our trawl tonight!

 

Did You Know?

The King of the Salmon got their name from the Makah people who believed the fish lead salmon to their spawning rivers.

The Argonaut looks like a nautilus, but they are really an octopus in which the female creates an egg case that wraps around the body.

 

Christopher Tait: “What Do They Do When Out to Sea?” March 18, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Tait

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

March 21 – April 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Pacific Ocean from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA

Date: Saturday, March 18, 2017

Weather Data

Current weather at home in Wingdale, New York is 39F and we just had 3 snow days in a week after 24 inches of snow.

Science and Technology Log

I will be joining the team aboard the Reuben Lasker to do the Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey.  The goal of the survey is to determine the distributions and abundances of the planktivorous (plankton eating) fish such as Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax), Northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax), jack mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus), and the Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus) in the California Current between San Diego and Cape Mendocino, California.  This will be achieved using multi-frequency acoustic backscatter (sonar), sampling the fish with trawls, sampling spawned fish eggs in the water column, aerial surveys using UAS (unmanned aircraft system), sampling plankton, and measuring the abiotic environment such as temperature, salinity, oxygen levels.

Personal Log

TaitFebruary 1st I walked into work, opened up my email and saw a message from NOAA. I opened the message and saw “On behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Teacher at Sea Selection Committee, we are pleased to inform you that you were selected to participate in NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) Program – 2017 Field Season!”  I couldn’t believe what an opportunity to learn from scientists and to enrich the classroom experience for my students!  I teach AP Environmental Science at New Fairfield High School, in Connecticut, Biology at Western Connecticut State University, and teach field research and study the community structure of fish in Candlewood Lake, CT with Project CLEAR supported by the Candlewood Lake Authority and EdAdvance.

Growing up my family would go to Cape Cod, Massachusetts to visit my uncle.  I remember always feeling this sense of awe about the ocean as my uncle would drive us around to his favorite beach spots, as I would learn about the amazing way the sea shaped the culture in this place.  I went back after finishing up graduate school in Earth and Planetary Science and writing countless papers using NOAA resources. I went to Woods Hole to see this hub of marine research and the NOAA ships sitting in their docks.  I remember wondering “what do they do when out to sea?”

A couple of weeks after I got my acceptance message and medical clearance, I got a research cruise placement on the Reuben Lasker out of San Diego, California!  With three weeks to prepare, I did everything I could to cover my bases at home, school and prepare for the experience of a lifetime.  I don’t think I have the words right now to express the gratitude I feel toward NOAA to have a program that allows a teacher to embed within their scientific community for a moment to experience what happens on those ships and bring my students behind the scenes of world class science.  I look forward to going to San Diego soon and meeting everyone from NOAA that I have been corresponding with!