Jenny Smallwood: From Jellies to Worms, September 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Smallwood

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

September 4 – 17, 2017

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 21, 2017

Weather Data from Virginia Beach, Virginia
Latitude: 36⁰ 49’13.7 N
Longitude: 75⁰ 59’01.2 W
Temperature: 19⁰ Celsius (67⁰ Fahrenheit)
Winds: 1 mph SSW

In just a matter of days, my world has gone from this

(we often had a crazy amount of jellyfish to sort through to find the year 0 Pollock)

to this….

(my super worms are warming up their races at the scout overnight tomorrow)

It’s also given me a few days to reflect on the incredible experience I had at sea.

Science and Technology Log

Science is a collaborative. Many people do not realize the amount of teamwork that goes into the scientific process. For instance, several of the scientists on board my cruise don’t actually study Pollock. One of the guys studies Salmon, but he was still on the cruise helping out. I think that’s what really struck me. The folks from the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center pull together as a team to make sure that everyone gets the data they need. They all jump on board ships to participate in research cruises even if it’s not their specific study area, and it’s quite likely someone else is in another location doing the same thing for them. At the end of the day, it’s the data that matters and not whose project it is.

Personal Log

Since returning home, the most frequent question I have received is “what was your favorite part?” At first, I didn’t know how to answer this question. To have such an incredible experience crammed into two weeks, makes it difficult to narrow it down. After a few days of reflection, I finally have an answer.

The onboard relationships were my favorite part of my Teacher at Sea cruise. I appreciated that the entire crew took me under their wing, showed me the ropes, and made 12 hour shifts sorting through jellyfish for Pollock fun! This is the only place where I could have the opportunity to work and live with scientists in such close proximity. I was fascinated by each scientist’s story: how they got into their specialty, what their background is, why they feel what they’re doing is important, etc. I learned that 10 pm became the silly hour when the second cup of coffee kicked in along with the dance music. I learned that beyond Pollock research these folks were also rescuers taking in tired birds that fell onto the ship, warming them up, and then releasing them.

When the next person asks “what was your favorite part?” I will be ready with an answer along with a big smile as I remember all the goofy night shifts, the incredible inside look at sea based research, and the wonderful people I met.  Oh, and the views.

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The view from Captain’s Bay near Dutch Harbor, Alaska before a big storm blew in.

 

Jenny Smallwood: Rough Seas Asea, September 13, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Smallwood

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

September 4 – 17, 2017

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 13, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 06.6N
Longitude:158 39.5W
Winds: 20 S
Temperature: 11 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit)

Up. Down. Up. Down. Left. Right….no I’m not in an aerobics class. High winds and seas cause my chair to slide across the floor as I type.

weather

Thus far we’ve been working 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day. Today we’re sitting about twirling our thumbs as 12 feet seas toss us about. It’s not too bad actually, but it is bad enough to make operations unsafe for both crew and equipment. I’ve been impressed with the safety first culture on-board the Oscar Dyson. Hopefully, it’ll calm down soon, and we can start operations again.

Science and Technology Log

Ship support systems for power, water, sewage treatment, and heating/cooling are all several levels below the main deck, which makes ship engineers a bit like vessel moles. These hard working guys ensure important life support systems work smoothly. Highlights from my time with them include a lesson on the evaporator and engines.

The evaporator, which for some reason I keep calling the vaporizer, produces the fresh water drinking supply. The evaporator works by drawing in cold seawater and then uses excess engine heat to evaporate, or separate, the freshwater from the seawater. The remaining salt is discarded as waste. On average, the evaporator produces approximately 1,400 gallons of water per day.
*Side note: the chief engineer decided vaporizer sounds a lot more interesting than evaporator. Personally, I feel like vaporizer is what Star Trek-y people would have called the system on their ships.

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The evaporator in action.

The Oscar Dyson has 4 generators on board, two large, and two small. The generators are coupled with the engines. Combined they produce the electricity for the ship’s motors and onboard electrical needs, such as lights, computers, scientific equipment, etc.

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I even got to see the prop shaft.

Personal Log

This week I also spent time in the Galley with Ava and Adam. (For those of you who know me, it’s no surprise that I befriended those in charge of food.) Read on for a summary of Ava’s life at sea story.

Me: How did you get your start as a galley cook?

Ava: When I was about 30 years old, a friend talked me into applying to be a deck hand.

Me: Wait. A deck hand?

Ava: That’s right. I was hired on to a ship and was about to set out for the first time when both the chief steward and 2nd cook on a different ship quit. My CO asked if I cook to which I replied “for my kids,” which was good enough for him. They immediately flew me out to the other ship where I became the 2nd cook. 12 years later I’m now a Chief Steward.

Me: Wow! Going from cooking for your kids to cooking for about forty crew members must have been a huge change. How did that go?

Ava: To be honest, I made a lot phone calls to my mom that first year. She helped me out a lot by giving me recipes and helping me figure out how to increase the serving sizes. Over the years I’ve paid attention to other galley cooks so I now have a lot of recipes that are my own and also borrowed.

Me: What exactly does a Chief Steward do?

Ava: The Chief Steward oversees the running of the galley, orders food and supplies, plans menus, and supervises the 2nd Cook. I’m a little different in that I also get in there to cook, clean, and wash dishes alongside my 2nd Cook. I feel like I can’t ask him to do something that I’m not willing to do too.

Me: So you didn’t actually go to school to be a chef. Did you have to get any certifications along the way?

Ava: When I first started out, certifications weren’t required. Now they are, and I have certifications in food safety and handling.

There are schools for vessel cooking though. My daughter just recently graduated from seafarers school. The school is totally free, except for the cost of your certification at the very end. For people interested in cooking as a career, it’s a great alternative to other, more expensive college/culinary school options. Now she’s traveling the world, doing a job she loves, and putting a lot of money into her savings.

Me: Talking with crew members on this ship, the one thing they all say is how hard it is to be away from family for long stretches of time. A lot of them are on the ship for ten months out of the year, and they do that for years and years. It’s interesting that your daughter decided to follow in your footsteps after experiencing that separation firsthand.

Ava: I was surprised too. Being away from friends and family is very hard on ship crew. Luckily for me, my husband is also part of the NOAA crew system so we get to work and travel together. Nowadays I’m part of the augment program so I get to set my own schedule. It gives me more flexibility to stay home and be a grandma!

Did You Know?

Nautical miles are based on the circumference of the earth and is 1 minute of latitude. 1 nautical mile equals 1.1508 statue miles.

Jenny Smallwood: Can I borrow a cup of sugar? September 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jenny Smallwood
Aboard Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 17, 2017

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 8, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 20.5 N
Longitude: 156 57.7 W
Clear skies
Winds: 12 knots NNW
Temperature: 11.0 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit)

Can I borrow a cup of sugar? Just what does a ship do if it starts running low on critical supplies? In our case, the Oscar Dyson met up with the Fairweather on a super foggy morning to swap some medical supplies and other goods that will be needed on the next leg.

Science and Technology Log
You might remember from my first blog post that Alaskan Walleye Pollock is one of the largest fisheries in the world and the largest by volume in the U.S. Because of this, Walleye Pollock is heavily researched and managed. The research cruise I’m on right now is collecting just a small portion of the data that feeds into its management. Being a plankton nerd, I’m interested in the relationship between year 0 Pollock and its zooplankton prey. Year 0 Pollock are the young of the year; fish hatched in Spring 2017.

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Year 0 Walleye Pollock

Year 0 Pollock feed on a variety of zooplankton some of which have greater nutritional value than others. Certain zooplankton, such as Calanus spp and euphausiids, are preferred prey items due to high lipid content, which yield fatter year 0 Pollock.
Other less lipid rich zooplankton prey, such as small copepod species, yield skinny fish. The fat, happy Pollock are more likely to survive the winter, and the scrawny, skinny fish aren’t likely to survive the winter. So why is this important to know? Well, surviving its first winter is one of the biggest hurdles in the Pollock’s life. If it can survive that first winter, it’s likely to grow large enough to be incorporated in the Pollock fishery. So you just want to make sure there are lots of Calanus spp in the water right? Wrong….

Knowing Calanus spp and euphausiids possess higher lipid content is just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that in colder years they have higher lipid content, and in warmer years they have lower lipid content. So it’s not enough to just know how many Calanus spp and euphausiids are out there. You also need to know what their lipid levels are, which is related to water temperatures. Clearly a lot goes into Pollock management, and this is only a small portion of it.

Personal Log
I have a theory that like minded people tend to seek out similar life experiences. For example, yesterday I was in the bridge getting the scoop on Fairweather meet-up when I met one of the fishermen, Derek. Turns out Derek and I both attended UNC-Wilmington, both graduated in 2003, and both majored in environmental studies. For a while growing up, we lived just a couple of towns over from each other too. What. In. The. World. What are the odds that I run into someone like that? It’s such a small world….or is it?

This is where I get back to the theory that like minded people tend to seek out similar life experiences. There are those people in your life that seem to orbit in the same sphere as you. Maybe it’s shared interests, backgrounds, or experiences, but these are the people that totally “get you.” I feel lucky to have so many of them, from my co-workers at the Virginia Aquarium to the Teacher at Sea folks, in my life right now.

Did You Know?
Did you know Alaska has beautiful sunsets?IMG_20170908_210337

 

Jenny Smallwood: WWE at Sea, September 5, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jenny Smallwood
Aboard Oscar Dyson
September 2 – 17, 2017

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 5, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 56 38.8 N
Longitude: 155 34.8
Clear skies
Wind speed 10 mph NNE
Air temp 11.5 degrees Celsius (52.7 degrees Fahrenheit)

Science and Technology Log
Today I got smacked in the face by a jellyfish. It practically flew into my mouth. Don’t worry I’m perfectly fine. I’ll admit to a lot of silent shrieking when it happened. Perhaps even some gagging….How did this happen you might be asking yourself? Read on my friend, read on..

After a couple of days at the dock in Kodiak, Alaska, we are finally underway!  My first shift was spent hanging out and watching the scenery as we cruised to the first station.

Fluke

Here’s one of the whales we saw while cruising to our first station site. Photo courtesy of Jim McKinney

 We went through the aptly named Whale Passage where we saw orcas, whales, sea otters, and puffins!  It was also the first time we’d seen the sun in two days.  To be honest, that was more exciting than seeing whales.

It took about twelve hours for us to reach the first station site. The established routine is bongo net and Stauffer trawl, cruise to next site, bongo net and Stauffer trawl, cruise to next site, bongo net and…well you get the point.

When the Stauffer trawl net is hauled in, the science team and survey tech sort through everything in the net. Juvenile pollock (less than a year old) go into one bin, capelin into another bin, so on and so forth.

Stauffer Trawl Sorting

The science team and survey tech sort a pile of jellies and fish. *Caution! Watch out for flying jellyfish!*

Now what makes this really interesting is that we’re basically digging these fish out of one massive, gelatinous pile of jellyfish goop. Once all the fish are sorted, the jellies get sorted too, which is where the jellyfish face smack comes in. Picture a smallish conveyor belt with 5 people standing around throwing fish, squid, isopods, and jellyfish into appropriate bins. It turns out that when you throw jellyfish into a bin, it sometimes explodes on impact causing jellyfish goop to go flying, and sometimes it flies onto my face. *smh*

lumpsucker

We caught a cool looking smooth lumpsucker fish.

 

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Here I am holding the smooth lumpsucker.

When the crew and science team aren’t working jellyfish laden Stauffer trawls, they’re busy with the bongo nets. These are my favorite because they pull up lots of plankton.

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The deck crew and survey tech bring in the bongo nets.

Most people would totally freak out if they knew how much stuff was swimming around in the water with them, including pteropods, which look a bit like slugs with wings. Pteropods are a type of zooplankton also know as sea butterflies for the small “wings” attached to their bodies. The ones we got today were big enough to be slugs. My goal over the next couple of weeks is to get a decent video of them swimming.

Personal Log
Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Even though I’ve never gotten seasick, I succumbed to peer pressure and took some meclizine before leaving the dock. I really didn’t want my memories of the Oscar Dyson to include yakking over the side of the ship. In this case, positive peer pressure was a good thing. I’ve been feeling just fine even when confined in small, fishy smelling rooms. Eau de poisson anybody?

The biggest adjustment has been the time change and 12 hour work shift from noon to midnight. I like to describe myself as the oldest, young person alive. We’re talking early bird specials, going to bed early, and waking up at the crack of dawn. So while the day shift I’m on is clearly a perk, it’s still taken me a few days to get used to it, especially since it’s 4 pm to 4 am east coast time. Judging by the 9.5 hours of sleep I got last night, it’ll be smooth sailing from here.

I can also report that the food on board is delicious. Ava and Adam crank out tasty options at every meal, and somehow meet the needs of about 35 people some of whom are vegetarian, vegan, low acid, etc. Since Kodiak was a washout, I tagged along on the shopping trip prior to our departure. Five shopping carts later we were ready to eat our way across the Gulf of Alaska!

Did You Know?
NOAA scientists on board the ship rotate through different at sea research cruises throughout the year. They even participate on cruises that have nothing to do with their actual research. It’s like a big group effort to get the data NOAA needs for its various research projects.

 

 

Jenny Smallwood: Adventure Awaits, August 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Smallwood

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

September 4 – 17, 2017

 

Mission: Juvenile Walleye Pollack Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Current Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Date: 8/29/2017

 

Weather Data from the beach

Currently Virginia Beach is experiencing Potential Tropical Cyclone 10.  The temperature is topped out at 75°F.  The winds are out of the NE at about 13 mph right now.  That’s expected to increase to 25-35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph this afternoon.  Forecasts predict mild flash flooding and some tidal flooding around the 2 pm high tide.

Potential Tropical Cyclone 10

Potential Tropical Cyclone 10 Wind Speed Probability Map. Image courtesy of the National Hurricane Center

Introduction – Personal Log

My name is Jenny Smallwood, and I’m a school and youth programs educator at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  I’m in my 11th year as an educator, which included 8 years as a high school science teacher.  These days I get to hang out with and educate scouts, school groups, and other visitors to the Aquarium.  One of the coolest things I’ve experienced working here is watching as a student sees the ocean for the very first time!  It was that experience that helped me realize how important it is to share the oceans and oceanic research with people who can’t experience it themselves.  I want to bring my Teacher at Sea experience to those individuals who don’t have the Chesapeake Bay or an ocean in their backyard.  I want to help them experience the life of a marine researcher.

Outside of my role as an educator, I love to go on all the adventures.  My husband, Lee, and I enjoy traveling and have nicknamed ourselves “adventure nerds.”  We even have a theme song.  Like I said, we’re nerds.  I’m super excited about this latest adventure with Teacher at Sea.  I’m still amazed that I was one of the few chosen for this year’s research cruises.

Eldfell Volcano

Warming our hands from the heat emitted by Eldfell, a volcano located on the Westman Islands in Iceland.

Science and Technology Log

The Oscar Dyson is a NOAA research vessel used for fisheries surveys important to fisheries management.  Commissioned in 2005, this 208.6 feet long ultra-quiet survey ship is considered one of the most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels in the world.  That’s right.  This ship is super stealthy so we can sneak up on the fish.  It also has numerous labs onboard, including a wet, dry, bio, and hydro lab.

Oscar Dyson

The Oscar Dyson near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Courtesy of NOAA.

On this trip, the Oscar Dyson will pull out of Kodiak, Alaska and make its way southwest through the Gulf of Alaska to take up position for Leg 2 of the EMA-EcoFOCI Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey.

Leg 2 Map

Leg 2 Sampling Station Map in the Gulf of Alaska. Image courtesy of NOAA

What does that mean exactly?  Well, it means that scientists will collect Walleye Pollock data to get an idea of what the population looks like.  They’ll also take zooplankton samples, smaller prey fish samples, and collect environmental data to see how these factors might be affecting Pollock.  Basically scientists and policy makers need information in order to properly manage this fishery, and this is where NOAA comes in.  I can’t wait to learn more about the application of this research as scientists learn even more about the ecology of Pollock. 

To collect these samples, scientists will be using a variety of tools.  Bongo nets will be used to collect zooplankton samples.  From what I’ve learned so far, it sounds like specially mounted equipment collects water data along with the plankton.  A Stauffer trawl net will be used to sample fish species.  A CTD rosette (CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and density) will be used along the way to corroborate that the other water data equipment is indeed working correctly.  Scientists, like mathematicians, do love to double check their work.

 

Did You Know?

Did you know that NOAA is part of our daily lives?  Both the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center are part of this organization.  To learn more about the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Harvey, or Potential Tropical Cyclone 10, visit their website: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/