Mark Wolfgang: Up, Up, and Away…, April 20, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Wolfgang

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

April 11 – April 22, 2017

 

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species (Anchovy/Sardine) Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean

Date: April 20, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Lat: 37o 21.1’N         Long: 123o 45.5’W
Air Temperature: 14.7oC (58.46oF)
Ocean Temperature: 13.3oC (56oF)
Wind speed:  17 knots (19.5 mph)
Barometer:   1026.44 mbar
Conditions:  Mostly sunny with wind and moderately choppy seas

Scientific and Technology Log:

4.18 UAS1

The UAS launched from the Reuben Lasker

Over the past few days, a new technology was brought to the Coastal Pelagic Species Survey: the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).  For NOAA, the drones are a new way to obtain unique views of wildlife and beautiful landscapes.  UAS also offers an innovative method for scientific researchers to obtain important information about marine mammals.  This data will provide data that can further support the conservation of these protected species.

 

According to NOAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program website (uas.noaa.gov):

“Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) can revolutionize NOAA’s ability to monitor and understand the global environment. There is a key information gap today between instruments on Earth’s surface and on satellites – UAS can bridge that gap. Operated by remote pilots and ranging in wingspan from less than six feet to more than 115 feet, UAS can also collect data from dangerous or remote areas, such as the poles, oceans, wildlands, volcanic islands, and wildfires. Better data and observations improve understanding and forecasts, save lives, property, and resources, advancing NOAA’s mission goals.”

4.17 UAS14

The drone being launched from a small boat in rainy weather.

On the Reuben Lasker, they are testing to see how the drones can be used to support the Coastal Pelagic Species Survey.  On board for this leg is Jake Barbaro, a NOAA UAS pilot.  Jake’s background is in fisheries biology (focusing on plankton) and he is now a member of the NOAA Corps.  Normally, the UAS is used to watch dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals, but it may provide a way to gain information about coastal pelagic species.  It should allow the NOAA research to collect data closer to the shoreline.

I had the opportunity to watch a couple missions using the UAS drone.  To fly, the conditions have to be just right, which can be challenging during spring in the Pacific.  We had several days where the wind was too high or there was too much fog to allow the drone to take off.

4.18 UAS Landing1

The UAS being launched directly from the ship.

The first test was taking a small boat about 1 mile from the Reuben Lasker and launching the drone into the air.  They were able to complete one flight, but the rain prevented a second one.  They have a limited battery life so they cannot waste time.  The second mission was on a much nicer day and they launched the drone from the forward deck.  These two missions went off very well.  The drone lifted to about 400 feet above the ship, taking pictures and they came to land smoothly back on the deck.
Yesterday, they were able to take the drone out on a small boat and complete two flights with the drone.  One was right above the Reuben Lasker and the other was closer to the shore.  If conditions are right, they would like to do one more mission.  It was very impressive.  It will be interesting to see how they will use this technology to support the Coastal Pelagic Species Survey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Reuben Lasker from about 400 feet in the air.

Personal Log:

It is about time.  I have been seeing pyrosomes in my sleep, but tonight we did not see many pyrosomes.  I had a feeling it was going to be a good night.  The sunset was beautiful and I saw the best star display while I was on mammal watch.  Thirty minutes before every trawl, a couple of the science team goes up to the bridge to watch for marine mammals.  I have not seen any (partly because it is so dark).  They keep the bridge dark, illuminating things with only red light, so that they can have the best visibility into the dark ocean.  The night was dark, so you could see so many stars….just beautiful.  In our first trawl, most of our catch were market squid.  In our second trawl near the Farallon Islands, we caught 5 jacksmelt and market squid.  It was great to see something more than pyrosomes.

DSC00173

Jacksmelt

I have enjoyed getting to know the science team and other volunteers.  It is interesting to hear their stories and how they started working at NOAA.  Some people work 6 pm to 6 am, some work 12 pm to 12 am, and some work 12 am to 12 pm.  I have had the opportunity to get to know all of them and each of them have a unique story about how and why they are here.  They have all be very friendly and welcoming to me.  I have discovered that there are so many different careers out there and so many different pathways to get to those careers.  It is clear to me that these individuals love their job and the ocean.  They may go “to sea” a couple times a year, but the rest of their time is in the lab in San Diego where they sort and classify the collections or work with the data.  Some of them have quite a lot of experience at sea.  I am glad that they have allowed me to tag along.

Did you know?

The Farallon Islands are a breeding ground for Great White Sharks because of the large elephant seal population. The male sharks return to the islands every year, but the larger females visit every other year.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) we did not see any Great White Sharks since they breed in the fall.  Although, I did make the comment that we may need a bigger boat.  I am sure they haven’t heard that joke before.

DSC00186

The Farallon Islands

Mark Wolfgang: What Does It Take? April 18, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Wolfgang

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

April 11 – April 22, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species (Anchovy/Sardine) Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean

Date: April 18, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Lat: 36o 52.3’N         Long: 121o 53.9’ W

Temperature: 12.62oC (54.7oF)

Wind speed: 4 knots (4.6 mph)

Barometer:  1016.96 mbar

Conditions: Blue skies with a few clouds, smooth seas

Scientific and Technology Log:

I have been blessed to work with a great science team and I hope I have been helpful.  There is a mixture of talents and strengths, but a common love for the oceans.  Since there is always a need for reliable data, the entire team does their job with precision.

4.16 Otolith12

Fishery biologist Bev Macewicz teaches me to remove the otilith from an anchovy

I have enjoyed my conversations with them as we wait to get to a trawl location or for the nets to come in.  There are all possible careers available on the oceans.  From the NOAA Corps of officers, to the deckhands and fishermen, to the guys who work in the acoustic labs, to the engineers that make sure the ship is running properly, to the chief steward and second cook, to the science team, there are so many different potential careers if you love a life at sea.  I interviewed a few members of my science team.

Sue Manion, Chief Scientist:

DSC00046

Chief Scientist, Sue Manion, watches the deployment of a bongo net.

Sue has a B.S in Fisheries Biology from Michigan State University and worked with an aquaculture program with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.  When she was in elementary school, she loved the outdoors and animals, both domestic and wild.  She
always knew she would become a wildlife biologist.  Her first position with NOAA was a temporary job as a Marine Mammal observer on a tuna fishing boat.  Sue told me that she loves the outdoor, physical work and never imagined she would get a permanent position as a sea-going fisheries biologist on the ocean.

Favorite part of the job:

“The most enjoyable part of my job is the outdoor, physical work.”

Dream job:

“I would be raising horses and running a wildlife sanctuary.”

I asked Sue, what advice would you give to a student who wanted to pursue a career in marine sciences?

“Take all the science, math, computer, and writing classes available. Learn all you can about working with hand tools and small electrical tools.”

Ed Weber, Research fisheries biologist

Ed has a B.S in Biology from the University of Michigan, M.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Science from New Mexico State University, and a Ph.D. in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology from Colorado State University.  Ed told me he knew he wanted to do some type of

DSC00164

Ed Weber preserves specimens collected from a pairovet

biology work, but never considered a career in academia and became interested in fisheries after doing a work-study position at the USGS Great Lakes Science Center.  Most
of his experience was with freshwater fisheries and he never expected to be working in oceanography.  He was hired because of his skills in statistical analysis and programming and is “still learning a lot of oceanography.”

Favorite part of the job:

“I like the days when I finish an analysis and go home feeling like I know something that I didn’t know the day before, and neither did anyone else. Most of these are very small incremental research advances that won’t change the world, but it’s still a lot of fun.”

I loved his advice for interested students:

“I think the most important and valuable skills are those that make you a good scientist in any discipline. I suggest early-career scientists focus on critical thinking, the ability to read and synthesize information from a variety of sources, and the ability to write well. Specific tools and techniques can always be learned later. A final piece of advice is something I learned by example from one of the best fisheries biologists I know. That is to approach research with a sense of humility. Never hesitate to admit what you do not know, even if you become a world expert in your area. Then go out and find the person who does know and ask that person about the problem. An honest and humble approach to science will make you a much better than you might have thought you could be.”

Personal Log:

I think I am finally “getting my sea legs.”  I am not referring to sea sickness or getting around the ship.  The last few days, I committed myself to experiencing as much as I can since my time aboard the Reuben Lasker is ending.  I have had a lot of moments where I looked around and smiled because I never thought I would experience something like this.  I hoped for a little more biodiversity in the trawls, but that is science field work.  You get the data that you get.  As I was sorting through seemingly endless pyrosomes, I had to take a moment and realize all that I have seen.  I saw fish and marine invertebrates I only have read about.  I saw a drone take off from a ship (I will share more about that later).  I saw humpback whales swimming in pods from the bridge.  I saw Pebble Beach golf course from the ocean.  How many teachers get that opportunity?  I am a lucky guy and am committed to “soaking it all in.” I am looking forward to seeing my family soon, but I will live for each day.

Did you know?

Phronima is a genus of amphipods that live throughout the world’s oceans.  These semitransparent animals attack salps.  They use their mouths and claws to eat the animal and hollow out its gelatinous shell.  The females enter this cavity and lay their eggs inside.  Phronima propels the salp through the water as the larvae develop which provides them fresh food and water.  Hollywood used this animal as the model for the queen alien in the 1979 science fiction horror film, Alien.

 

4.13 Phronima

Phronima sp.

 

Mark Wolfgang: Fish Eggs, I Will Take Mine Over Easy; April 15th, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Wolfgang

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

April 11 – April 22, 2017

 

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species (Anchovy/Sardine) Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean

Date: April 14, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Lat: 35o 47.1’N         Long: 122o 58.8’ W

Temperature: 14.9oC (59oF)

Wind speed: 29 knots

Barometer:  1020.92 mbar

Conditions: Windy, blue skies with a few clouds, choppy seas

Scientific and Technology Log:

The research into the fish that live in this area of the Pacific Ocean investigates the entire life cycle.  The night trawls will usually catch adults or juveniles.  There are other techniques to collect eggs and larvae.  One of these techniques is a Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler (CUFES).

DSC00050

The Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler (CUFES)

There is an intake valve 3m under the surface of the water and it is collecting water (and anything living in it) all the time.  As the Reuben Lasker moves along a transect water is collected through this machine and filtered.  Every 30 minutes, the specimens that have been collected are removed, counted, and identified under the microscope.  The samples are then rinsed into small vials, preserved in formalin and are labeled and stored.  On this survey, they are looking for sardine, anchovy, jack mackerel, hake, and squid eggs.  The sample also has numerous copepods, but those are not counted and recorded.  So far, we have found mostly jack mackerel and squid eggs which are reflected in our catches during the night trawl.

A second technique involves nets dropped off the side of the ship.  The first is net called a

DSC00040

Deck hands and the chief scientist deploying the pairovet from the side station

pairovet.  A pairovet is a vertical plankton tow.  The net is dropped off the side of the ship
to a depth of 70 meters.  The net stays in place for 10 seconds and then are pulled back up.  The specimens collected are rinsed into containers.  One net’s collection is placed in formalin, a preservative, for later identification, while a second net’s collection is placed in ethanol for possible DNA analysis.  The other net is called a Bongo Net.  This net is an oblique tow and is dropped to a depth of 210 meters and is pulled in at an angle of 45o.  The contents are preserved for later identification and possible DNA testing.  The pairovet has a finer mesh to the net, so it collects smaller zooplankton and icthyoplankton.

DSC00046

The Bongo net being lowered into the waters off of Big Sur

 

The trawls on the night of the 12th had some Jack mackerels, some larger squid, a couple octopi, and a single sardine.  For the Jack mackerel and sardine, we recorded their length

DSC00035

Jack Mackerel

and mass.  We also took tissues for DNA analysis as well as the gonads for female sardines, anchovies, Jack mackerel, and Pacific mackerel.  These will be used for histology and fecundity studies.  Fecundity is the ability to produce an abundance of offspring or their fertility.  We remove a small, hard structure called the otolith.  The otolith is found in the inner ear and maybe used for balance.  The otolith can be used for aging the fish.  We had high winds on the 13th, so we were only able to one trawl.  Ironically, we watched “Finding Dory” while we waited for the bridge to say it was safe to let out the trawl nets.  We didn’t find her.

Personal Log:

It has been quite challenging changing my sleeping schedule.  Not only am I all screwed up with the 3 hour time difference from home, I am currently working the night trawls from 6 pm to 6 am, although the heavy work doesn’t begin until after sunset.  I was awake for 28 hours straight, but was able to get some sleep and relax some this afternoon.  I got a chance to call home and talk to my family.  It has been difficult being away from them and not getting a chance to talk, but I had that opportunity today.  For that I am thankful.  There were some plans to fly the drone when we arrived at the coast of Big Sur, California, but the winds were too high to do so.  I continue to be impressed with the scientists and crew.  I love watching the team work – it is quite impressive.  As we moved up the coast today, I took a few minutes to look around and soak it all in.  Big Sur was beautiful, the sky was clear with only a few clouds, and the water was a deep rich blue.  It was gorgeous.  I am so glad I took a moment to realize how lucky I am.

DSC00038

Big Sur, California

 

Did you know?

The Pacific Ocean is the biggest ocean in the world.  It contains 30% of the space in the earth and contributes half of the water to the world.  It is also the deepest ocean in world, counted at 3800 m.  I am currently traveling through the Northern Pacific Ocean.

Mark Wolfgang: First Impressions, April 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Wolfgang

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

April 11 – April 22, 2017

 

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species (Anchovy/Sardine) Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean

Date: April 12, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Lat: 35o 21.1’ N            Long: 121o 26.9’ W
Overcast, rainy with quite a bit of fog
Temperature: 14oC (56oF)
Wind speed: 9.26 knots
Barometer: 1015.17 mbar
Visibility: Very limited

TAS Mark Wolfgang 4-13-17 Mark on deck

TAS Mark Wolfgang on board NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, passing under San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge

Scientific and Technology Log:

Last night/this morning, we did our first two trawls. These two trawls were kind of “blind” because they had not started doing acoustic trawls. I think I am starting to get the hang of how things happen during a trawl, which I know will be put to the test tonight.

TAS Mark Wolfgang 4-13-17 pulling in net v2

The deck crew reels in the trawl net

As the net is pulled in, a team goes out and removes the camera from the net. The camera is used to monitor the net during the trawl, as well as monitoring the MMED (Marine Mammal Excluder Device) which records animals and their condition as they encounter the metal bars and are excluded through the opening in the top portion of the net. The deck crew continues to pull in the net. The organisms collected in the end of the net are put into buckets and brought into the wet lab. The first trawl had a small sunfish in the catch, but I missed it because I was putting my foul-weather gear on.

TAS Mark Wolfgang 4-13-17 market squid

Contents of the trawl (mostly pyrosomes and market squid) on the sorting table

The organisms are dumped onto a table and sorted. After sorting, the organisms are put on the scale and the mass is recorded. The number and type of fish were recorded. Both trawls had mostly pyrosomes (a colonial tunicate) and market squid. I have taught about tunicates in my zoology class, but never knew they were so common in the Pacific Ocean. Other than the pyrosomes and squid, the two trawls contained some lantern fish, several red pelagic crabs, and some other very small fish as well as a moon jelly.

Since we had no sardines or anchovies to process, we focused our time on the market squid. A random sample of 50 squid are taken. For each squid, we measure the length of the mantle, place the squid on a balance and record the mass. If the squid were larger than 75 mm, the squid was given a tag and placed in a bag. The squid smaller than 75 mm are all placed together in a bag.

It was impressive how all team members got right to work and functioned like a well-oiled machine. I am also impressed with how all individuals think of safety first. Starting at sunrise, they began doing acoustic trawls, so we may have better luck catching sardines and anchovies tonight.

Personal Log:

I have enjoyed my first days on the Reuben Lasker. The crew and science team have been very accommodating and welcoming. I am trying to be helpful and not get in the way. My roommate is a UAS drone pilot, but the weather has not been good enough to fly today – it is quite foggy and rainy and the seas are choppy. I hope I get a chance to see it fly sometime soon. I am trying to get used to the sleeping schedule and since I couldn’t sleep this morning, I took a little tour today and went to the bridge and spoke to some of the crew on the bridge as well as the Commanding Officer (CO). They showed me around a little and described some of the different navigational equipment. The chief electrician showed me around the computers in the acoustic lab. It is crazy to see all of the technology and to hear about how they handle all of this data with limited internet access on the boat. I am so pleased that everyone was been so friendly. The food has been great (we had an incredible crème brulee last night) and I have not been sea sick so far.

Did you know?

Pyrosomes are colonies of hundreds of individuals known as zooids. These zooids are joined by a gelatinous tunic and work in unison to propel the colony through the water.

Mark Wolfgang: Are the fish listening to us? March 22, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Wolfgang

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

April 11 – April 22, 2017

 

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species (Anchovy/Sardine) Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean

Date: March 22, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Although I have not boarded the Reuben Lasker yet, there are 446 bridges in Pittsburgh – the most in the world.  Here is the weather, according to the National Weather Service) from the Roberto Clemente Bridge:

Lat: 40.36oN   Long: 79.92oW

Becoming Sunny

36oF, Wind speed: N 12mph, Barometer 30.31 in, Visibility 10.00 mi.

Introduction:

Greetings to everyone from the city of Latrobe, Pennsylvania (the franklin_regional_logo_2c_goldhome of Arnold Palmer and Mr. Rogers).  My name is Mark Wolfgang and I have taught biology and zoology for the past 16 years at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, a community just east of Pittsburgh.  I am excited to share with you my adventures on the Reuben Lasker as a 2017 NOAA Teacher at Sea.

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker_Photo by Paul Hillman

NOAA ship Reuben Lasker

Personal Log:

Ever since my 4th grade class with Mrs. Kerr, I wanted to be a teacher.  I entered the teaching profession right after college, so my scientific experience outside of the classroom and in the research world is limited.  In college, I became enthralled with the world of insects and worked a summer in the department of invertebrate zoology at the Carnegie Natural History Museum where I got a small taste of scientific research.  When I had the opportunity to create a new course at my high school, my thoughts automatically went to Zoology.  I quickly discovered that although I knew a lot about the bugs crawling around us, I knew very little about the animals that live in our oceans.  Over the past years of teaching this course to our juniors and seniors, I developed an appreciation for all the animals living on our earth and a drive to learn more about them.  This is what led me to NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program – an exciting opportunity to combine my love for animals and quest for knowledge with the research opportunity and to share those experiences with my students.

I am incredibly excited to experience the oceans outside of my classroom full of videos, pictures, and preserved specimens and to help my students realize the career opportunities they have in the world of zoology.  I want my students to see the importance of caring about the health of our oceans and gain an appreciation for animals they will probably never encounter.  My interest in zoology did not start until I was in college, so it is never too late to produce this passion in my high school students.

Outside of the classroom, I am also the director of our school’s spring musical.  This March, I directed my 15th show, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  Admittedly, it is a little odd to go from the producing a musical to researching sardines in the ocean in 6 weeks, but I love the diversity of the experiences I have as a teacher.  I have an incredible wife and two daughters (age 8 and 10) who are supporting me on this exciting adventure.  In my spare time I love experiencing the richness of life with the three of them.  I enjoy music and theater, hockey (Let’s Go Pens!), golf, kayaking, listening to podcasts, reading, and exploring our National Parks.

DSC04179

My family at Yellowstone National Park.

Scientific and Technology Log:

Our Mission:Capture

I will soon leave spring in Pittsburgh to fly 2,300 miles to the west coast where I board Reuben Lasker to begin my journey along the coast of central California.  I am excited to see the city of San Francisco since I have never been here before.  Before I return home, I hope to try some sourdough bread.

I will join the second leg of the Spring Coastal Pelagic Study, where we will be surveying the distributions and abundances of coastal pelagic fish stocks, their prey, and their biotic and abiotic environments in the California Current.  We will be using acoustic sampling and trawling to investigate the Northen Anchovy (Engraulis mordax) and the Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax).  Research will also include sampling pelagic fish eggs, plankton, and conducting unmanned aircraft surveys.

Acoustic-trawl method (ATM) is used to estimate the distribution and abundance of certain organisms.  The ATM transmits sound pulses beneath the ship and receive echoes from animals and the seabed.  The intensities of the echoes provides indications of type of organism and behavior.  I hope to share more information with you after we get underway.

Did you know?

As of March of 2015 there are 228,450 known species in the ocean, ranging from seaweeds to blue whales.  Scientists estimate that between 500,000 and 2 million more multicellular ocean organisms are still unknown.  We have quite a lot to still learn about ocean ecosystems.