Anne Krauss: Farewell and Adieu, November 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: November 11, 2018

Weather Data from home

Conditions at 1615

Latitude: 43° 09’ N

Longitude: 77° 36’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1027 mbar

Air Temperature: 3° C

Wind Speed: SW 10 km/h

Humidity: 74%

 

Science and Technology Log

 

Participating in the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey provided a porthole into several different career paths. Each role on board facilitated and contributed to the scientific research being conducted. Daily longline fishing activities involved working closely with the fishermen on deck. I was in awe of their quick-thinking adaptability, as changing weather conditions or lively sharks sometimes required a minor change in plan or approach. Whether tying intricate knots in the monofilament or displaying their familiarity with the various species we caught, the adept fishermen drew upon their seafaring skill sets, allowing the set and haulback processes to go smoothly and safely.

Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear. The sun is shining in the background.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin is preparing to retrieve the longline gear. A grapnel and his hand are visible against the water.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin preparing to retrieve the longline gear with a grapnel

Even if we were on opposite work shifts, overlapping meal times provided the opportunity to gain insight into some of the careers on board. As we shared meals, many people spoke of their shipboard roles with sentiments that were echoed repeatedly: wanted a career that I could be proud ofa sense of adventureopportunity to see new places and give backcombining adventure and sciencewanted to protect the resources we have

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the engineers and fishermen about their onboard roles and career paths. It was interesting to learn that many career paths were not direct roads, but winding, multilayered journeys. Some joined NOAA shortly after finishing their education, while others joined after serving in other roles. Some had experience with commercial fishing, and some had served on other NOAA vessels. Many are military veterans. With a name fit for a swashbuckling novel set on the high seas, Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Standfast, a United States Navy veteran, explained how the various departments on board worked together. These treasured conversations with the Engineering Department and Deck Department were enlightening, a reminder that everyone has a story to tell. I very much appreciate their patience, kindness, and willingness to share their expertise and experiences.

Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department are hanging on hooks.
Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department
Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway standing on deck.
The ship had a small library of books, and several crew members mentioned reading as a favorite way to pass the time at sea. Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway shared several inspiring and philosophical websites that he enjoyed reading.

 

Lead Fisherman and Divemaster Chris Nichols:

In an unfamiliar setting, familiar topics surfaced in conversations, revealing similarities and common interests. Despite working in very different types of jobs, literacy was a popular subject in many of the conversations I had on the ship. I spoke to some of the crew members about how literacy factored into their daily lives and career paths. Some people described their family literacy routines at home and shared their children’s favorite bedtime stories, while others fondly remembered formative stories from their own childhood. Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols recalled the influence that Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling had on him as a young reader. He described how exciting stories such as Captains Courageous and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer inspired a sense of adventure and contributed to pursuing a unique career path. Coming from a family of sailors, soldiers, and adventurers, Chris conveyed the sense of pride that stems from being part of “something bigger.” In this case, a career that combines adventure, conservation, and preservation. His experiences with the United States Navy, commercial fishing, NOAA, and scuba diving have taken him around the world.

Echoing the themes of classic literature, Chris recommended some inspiring nonfiction titles and podcasts that feature true stories about human courage, overcoming challenges, and the search for belonging. As a United States Navy veteran, Chris understood the unique reintegration needs that many veterans face once they’ve completed their military service. He explained the need for a “tribe” found within the structure of the military or a ship. Chris described the teamwork on the ship as “pieces of a puzzle” in a “well-oiled machine.”

A pre-dive safety briefing takes place on the ship's bridge.
Led by Divemaster Chris Nichols, also the Oregon II’s Lead Fisherman and MedPIC (Medical Person in Charge), the team gathered on the bridge (the ship’s navigation and command center) to conduct a pre-dive operation safety briefing. Nichols appears in a white t-shirt, near center.

Chris also shared some advice for students. He felt it was easier for students to become good at math and to get better at reading while younger and still in school. Later in life, the need for math may resurface outside of school: “The things you want to do later…you’ll need that math.” As students grow up to pursue interests, activities, and careers, they will most likely need math and literacy to help them reach their goals. Chris stressed that attention to detail—and paying attention to all of the details—is extremely important. Chris explained the importance of remembering the steps in a process and paying attention to the details. He illustrated the importance of knowing what to do and how to do it, whether it is in class, during training, or while learning to dive.

Chris’ recommendations:

  • Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
  • Team Never Quit Podcast with Marcus Luttrell & David Rutherford
The sun rises over the Gulf of Mexico.
Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin:

Before joining NOAA, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin served in the United States Coast Guard for fifteen years (active duty and reserves). After serving in the military, Chuck found himself working in education. While teaching as a substitute teacher, he saw an ad in the newspaper for NOAA careers and applied. Chuck joined NOAA in 2000, and he has served on NOAA Ships Bell M. Shimada, Pisces, Gordon Gunter, and Oregon II.

Echoing Chris Nichols’ description of puzzle pieces in a team, Chuck further explained the hierarchy and structure of the Deck Department on the Oregon II. The Deck Department facilitates the scientific research by deploying and retrieving the longline fishing gear while ensuring a safe working environment. From operating the winches and cranes, to hauling in some of the larger sharks on the shark cradle, the fishermen perform a variety of tasks that require both physical and mental dexterity. Chuck explained that in the event of an unusual situation, the Deck Department leader may work with the Bridge Officer and the Science watch leader and step in as safety dictates.

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin
Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin. Photo courtesy of Chuck Godwin.

In addition to his ability to make a fantastic pot of coffee, Chuck has an impish sense of humor that made our twelve-hour work shifts even more interesting and entertaining. Over a late-night cup of coffee, I found out that we shared some similar interests. Chuck attended the University of Florida, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology. He has an interest in writing and history, particularly military history. He co-authored a published paper on white-tailed deer. An avid reader, Chuck usually completes two or three books during a research cruise leg. He reads a wide range of genres, including sci-fi, westerns, biographies, military history, scientific texts, and gothic horror. Some of his favorite authors include R.A. Salvatore, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin. In his free time, he enjoys roleplaying games that encourage storytelling and creativity. For Chuck, these adventures are not about the end result, but the plotlines and how the players get there. Like me, Chuck has done volunteer work with veterans. He also values giving back and educating others about the importance of science and the environment, particularly water and the atmosphere. Chuck’s work with NOAA supports the goal of education and conservation to “preserve what we have.”

 

 

Personal Log

Far from home, these brief conversations with strangers seemed almost familiar as we discussed shared interests, goals, and experiences. As I continue to search for my own tribe and sense of belonging, I will remember these puzzle pieces in my journey.

A high flyer and buoy float on the surface of the water.
A high flyer and buoy mark one end of the longline.

My path to Teacher at Sea was arduous; the result of nearly ten years of sustained effort. The adventure was not solely about the end result, but very much about plotlines, supporting (and supportive) characters, and how I got there: hard work, persistence, grit, and a willingness to fight for the opportunity. Every obstacle and roadblock that I overcame. As a teacher, the longline fishing experience allowed me to be a student once again, learning new skills and complex processes for the first time. Applying that lens to the classroom setting, I am even more aware of the importance of clear instructions, explanations, patience, and encouragement. Now that the school year is underway, I find myself spending more time explaining, modeling, demonstrating, and correcting; much of the same guidance I needed on the ship. If grading myself on my longline fishing prowess, I measured my learning this way:

If I improved a little bit each day by remembering one more thing or forgetting one less thing…

If I had a meaningful exchange with someone on board…

If I learned something new by witnessing natural phenomena or acquired new terminology…

If I encountered an animal I’d never seen in person, then the day was a victory.

And I encountered many creatures I’d never seen before. Several species of sharks: silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, blacktip, great hammerhead, lemon, tiger, and bull sharks. A variety of other marine life: groupers, red snapper, hake, and blueline tilefish. Pelicans and other seabirds. Sharksuckers, eels, and barracudas.

The diminutive creatures were just as interesting as the larger species we saw. Occasionally, the circle hooks and monofilament would bring up small hitchhikers from the depths. Delicate crinoids and brittle stars. Fragments of coral, scraps of seaweed and sponges, and elegant, intricate shells. One particularly fascinating find: a carrier shell from a marine snail (genus: Xenophora) that cements fragments of shells, rocks, and coral to its own shell. The evenly spaced arrangement of shells seems like a deliberately curated, artistic effort: a tiny calcium carbonate collage or shell sculpture. These tiny hints of what’s down there were just as thrilling as seeing the largest shark because they assured me that there’s so much more to learn about the ocean.

A spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
At the base of the spiral-shaped shell, the occupant had cemented other shells at regular intervals.
The spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
The underside of the shell.

Like the carrier snail’s shell collection, the small moments and details are what will stay with me:

Daily activities on the ship, and learning more about a field that has captivated my interest for years…

Seeing glimpses of the water column and the seafloor through the GoPro camera attached to the CTD…

Hearing from my aquatic co-author while I was at sea was a surreal role reversal…

Fishing into the middle of the night and watching the ink-black water come alive with squid, jellies, flying fish, dolphins, sailfish, and sharks…

Watching the ever-shifting moon, constellations, clouds, sunsets, and sunrise…

Listening to the unique and almost musical hum of the ship’s machinery and being lulled to sleep by the waves…

And the sharks. The breathtaking, perfectly designed sharks. Seeing and handling creatures that I feel strongly about protecting reinforced my mission to educate, protect, and conserve. The experience reinvigorated my connection to the ocean and reiterated why I choose to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Capturing the experience through the Teacher at Sea blog reinforced my enjoyment of writing, photography, and creative pursuits.

 

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss looks out at the ocean.
Participating in Teacher at Sea provided a closer view of some of my favorite things: sharks, ships, the sea, and marine science.
The Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial Statue
The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial Statue

In my introductory post, I wrote about formative visits to New England as a young child. Like so many aspects of my first glimpses of the ocean and maritime life, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial statue intrigued me and sparked my young imagination. At that age, I didn’t fully grasp the solemn nature of the tribute, so the somber sculpture and memorial piqued my interest in fishing and seafaring instead. As wild as my imagination was, my preschool self could never imagine that I would someday partake in longline fishing as part of a Shark/Red Snapper Survey. My affinity for marine life and all things maritime remains just as strong today. Other than being on and around the water, docks and shipyards are some of my favorite places to explore. Living, working, and learning alongside fishermen was an honor.

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss visiting a New England dock as a young child.
I was drawn to the sea at a young age.
Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss in Gloucester
This statue inspired an interest in fishing and all things maritime. After experiencing longline fishing for myself, I revisited the statue to pay my respects.
A commercial longline fisherman's hand holds on to a chain, framed against the water.
A New England commercial longline fisherman’s hand

Water and its fascinating inhabitants have a great deal to teach us. The Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico reminded me of the notion that: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Whether misattributed to Plutarch or Yeats or the wisdom of the Internet, the quote conveys the interest, curiosity, and appreciation I hope to spark in others as I continue to share my experience with my students, colleagues, and the wider community.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in Teacher at Sea, and I am also grateful to those who ignited a fire in me along the way. Thank you to those who supported my journey and adventure. I greatly appreciate your encouragement, support, interest, and positive feedback. Thank you for following my adventure!

A collage of images from the ship. The shapes of the images spell out "Oregon II."
Thank you to NOAA Ship Oregon II and Teacher at Sea!
The sun shines on the water.
The sun shines on NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Did You Know?

Xenophora shells grow in a spiral, and different species tend to collect different items. The purpose of self-decoration is to provide camouflage and protection from predators. The additional items can also strengthen the snail’s shell and provide more surface area to prevent the snail from sinking into the soft substrate.

Recommended Reading

Essentially two books in one, I recommend the fact-filled Under Water, Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. The text was translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Cover of Under Earth
Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

One half of the book burrows into the Earth, exploring terrestrial topics such as caves, paleontology, tectonic plates, and mining. Municipal matters such as underground utilities, water, natural gas, sewage, and subways are included. Under Earth is a modern, nonfiction, and vividly illustrated Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Cover of Under Water
Under Water written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

Diving deeper, Under Water explores buoyancy, pressure, marine life, ocean exploration, and several other subjects. My favorite pages discuss diving feats while highlighting a history of diving innovations, including early diving suit designs and recent atmospheric diving systems (ADS). While Under Earth covers more practical topics, Under Water elicits pure wonder, much like the depths themselves.

Better suited for older, more independent readers (or enjoyed as a shared text), the engaging illustrations and interesting facts are easily devoured by curious children (and adults!). Fun-fact finders and trivia collectors will enjoy learning more about earth science and oceanography. Information is communicated through labels, cross sections, cutaway diagrams, and sequenced explanations.

 

 

 

 

 

Ashley Cosme: The Ocean Stirs the Heart, November 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: November 8th, 2018

 

My entire teaching career has been spent seeking ways to inspire my students to be happy, caring, thoughtful, and courageous stewards of the earth.  It is so easy for someone to go through their day to day life without thinking about the impact that their actions have on the ocean, and the organisms that inhabit its waters.  For as long as I can remember my inspiration has come from Robert Wyland, a renowned marine artist that focuses on teaching awareness about environmental conservation.  Until I completed my Teacher at Sea experience, I had no idea that Robert Wyland has partnered with NOAA in outreach programs to actively engage in teaching students about the importance of marine life conservation.  I am completely humbled knowing that as a Teacher at Sea Alumni, I have also now partnered with NOAA in creating opportunities for kids to become informed and aware of life beyond the classroom.

The ocean stirs the heart,

inspires the imagination and

brings eternal joy to the soul.

Robert Wyland

I love the ocean!  I love the feeling of ‘not knowing’ when I look out over the water.  There are so many unanswered questions about the systems, processes, and organisms that lie beneath the surface.  I cannot express enough the gratitude that I have towards NOAA for choosing me to embark on an adventure that I will remember and share with others for the rest of my life.  The Teacher at Sea experience has changed me.  I am more patient with my students, and I have this unexplained excitement every day in the classroom.  I have always been an upbeat teacher, but my passion for educating my students about the importance of scientific research has taken over.  When I was aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, I could feel the desire from the NOAA scientists towards their work.  It is amazing to be able to be a part of a team that gets to explore a territory on earth where most humans will never go.  The ocean will always remain to be a mystery, and scientists will forever be challenged to explore, collect data, and draw conclusions about the existence of life offshore.  Wyland once said, “the world’s finest wilderness lies beneath the waves….”.  Knowing that I have been a part of exploring the ocean’s wilderness with NOAA scientists is something that I will cherish forever.

Two students hold shark jaws
Students checking out a few samples that I brought back from my Teacher at Sea exploration.

 

Ocean Adventure Camp
My co-teacher, Ashley Henderson (8 months pregnant), and me on our last day of Ocean Adventure Camp 2018.

Each summer my co-teacher, Ashley Henderson, and I host a science camp called Ocean Adventure.  This coming summer (2019) we will be adding a new camp called Shark Camp.  Both camps will provide a unique way to educate the young ‘explorers’ in our community on the biological, chemical, and physical forces of the ocean, as well as human impact. Teacher at Sea has provided me with the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge of the ocean, including SHARKS, and will help us create a more impactful experience for the youngsters that attend the camps.  It is important to me to reach out to the children in my community to develop an early interest in science, and nurture that awareness as the students flow through the different grade levels.

 

 

Ocean Adventure Camp 2018
A group of kids from my community at Ocean Adventure Camp 2018. This is my passion!

Anne Krauss: Tooth Truth and Tempests, September 30, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 30, 2018

Weather Data from Home

Conditions at 1515

Latitude: 43° 09’ N

Longitude: 77° 36’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1026.3 mbar

Air Temperature: 14° C

Wind Speed: S 10 km/h

Humidity: 71%

 

Science and Technology Log

My students sent me off with many shark questions before I left for the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Much of their curiosity revolved around one of the most fear-inducing features of a shark: their teeth! Students wanted to know:

Why do sharks eat fish?
How and why do sharks have so many teeth?
Why do sharks have different kinds of teeth?
Do sharks eat each other? What hunts sharks, besides other sharks?
And one of my favorite student questions: Why do sharks eat regular people, but not scientists?

Most people think of sharks as stalking, stealthy, steel-grey hunters. With a variety of colors, patterns, fin shapes, and body designs, sharks do not look the same. They do not eat the same things, or even get their food the same way. Instead, they employ a variety of feeding strategies. Some gentle giants, like the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), are filter feeders. They strain tiny plants and animals, as well as small fish, from the water. Others, such as the angel shark (Squatina spp.), rely on their flattened bodies, camouflage, and the lightning-fast element of surprise. Instead of actively pursuing their prey, they wait for food to come to them and ambush their meal. These suction-feeding sharks have tiny, pointed, rearward-facing teeth to trap the prey that has been sucked into the shark’s mouth. This video demonstrates how the angel shark uses clever camouflaging and special adaptations to get a meal:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/videos/shark-kill-zone/angel-shark-stealth-2838.aspx

A circle hook is held up against the sky. The horizon is in the background.
Circle hooks are used in longline fishing. Each hook is baited with mackerel (Scomber scombrus).
A pile of frozen mackerel used as bait.
Frozen mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is used as bait.
Circle hooks are placed along the edges of plastic barrels. The hooks are connected to thick, plastic fishing line called monofilament.
The circle hooks and gangions are stored in barrels. The hooks are attached to thick, plastic fishing line called monofilament.
100 circle hooks baited with mackerel. The baited hooks are placed on the edges of barrels, which are sitting on deck.
All 100 circle hooks were baited with mackerel, but sharks also eat a variety of other fish.

The sharks we caught through longline fishing methods were attracted to the Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) that we used as bait. Depending on the species of shark and its diet, shark teeth can come in dozens of different shapes and sizes. Instead of just two sets of teeth like we have, a shark has many rows of teeth. Each series is known as a tooth file. As its teeth fall out, the shark will continually grow and replace teeth throughout its lifetime—a “conveyor belt” of new teeth. Some sharks have 5 rows of teeth, while the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) may have as many as 50 rows of teeth!

The sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) usually has about 14 rows of teeth. They may lose teeth every ten days or so, and most sharks typically lose at least one tooth a week. Why? Their teeth may get stuck in their prey, which can be tough and bony. When you don’t have hands, and need to explore the world with your mouth, it’s easy to lose or break a tooth now and then. Throughout its lifetime, a shark may go through over 30,000 teeth. The shark tooth fairy must be very busy!

A sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) tooth with serrated edges.
Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) tooth. The sandbar shark is distinguishable by its tall, triangular first dorsal fin. Sharks’ teeth are equally as hard as human teeth, but they are not attached to the gums by a root, like human teeth. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

Similar to our dining utensils, sharks’ teeth are designed for cutting, spearing, and/or crushing. The tooth shape depends upon the shark’s diet. Sharks’ teeth are not uniform (exactly the same), so the size and shape of the teeth vary, depending on their location in the upper and lower jaws. Some sharks have long, angled, and pointed teeth for piercing and spearing their food. Similar to a fork, this ensures that their slippery meals don’t escape. Other sharks and rays have strong, flattened teeth for crushing the hard shells of their prey. These teeth work like a nutcracker or shellfish-cracking tool. Still others, like the famously fierce-looking teeth of the great white, are triangular and serrated. Like a steak knife, these teeth are used for tearing, sawing, and cutting into their prey.

A shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) tooth is narrow and pointed.
A shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) tooth is narrow and pointed. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA
Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) teeth are flattened for crushing prey.
Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) teeth are flattened for crushing prey. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA
A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) tooth has serrated edges.
A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) tooth has serrated edges. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA
A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) tooth is jagged and serrated.
A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) tooth is jagged and serrated. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

Link to more shark tooth images: https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/rcb/photogallery/shark_teeth.html

Beyond their teeth, other body features contribute to a shark’s ability to bite, crush, pursue, or ambush their prey. The powerful muscles that control their jaws and swimming ability, the position of their mouth, and the shape of their caudal (tail) fin all influence how a shark gets its food. Unlike humans, sharks do not chew their food. They swallow their food whole, or use their teeth to rip, shred, crush, and tear their food into smaller chunks that the shark can swallow. No need to floss or brush after a meal: sharks’ teeth contain fluoride, which helps to prevent cavities and decay.

Some people may find it hard to swallow the idea that sharks aren’t mindless menaces, but shark encounters are quite rare. Sharks have many extraordinary adaptations that make them efficient swimmers and hunters of other marine life, not humans. Whenever sharks come up in conversation, I am careful to dispel myths about these captivating creatures, trying to replace fear with facts (and hopefully, curiosity and respect). Since sharks can’t talk, I’m happy to advocate for them. Despite the way sharks are negatively portrayed in the media, I assure my students that sharks far prefer to eat bony fish, smaller sharks, skates, rays, octopus, squid, bivalves, crustaceans, marine mammals, plankton, and other marine life over humans. Instead of fear, I try to instill awareness of the vital role sharks fulfill in the ecosystem. We are a far greater threat to them, and they require our respect and protection.

For more information on sharks: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sharkseat.html

 

Personal Log

As storms and hurricanes tear across the Gulf of Mexico, causing destruction and devastation, my thoughts are with the impacted areas. Before my Teacher at Sea placement, I never thought I’d spend time in the region, so it’s interesting to see now-familiar locations on the news and weather maps. One of my favorite aspects of being at sea was watching the sky: recognizing constellations while fishing at night, gazing at glorious, melting sunsets, and observing storm clouds gathering in the distance. The colors and clouds were ever-changing, a reminder of the dynamic power of nature.

A colorful sunset on the Gulf of Mexico.
The sky was vibrant.
Storm clouds gather over Tampa, Florida.
Storm clouds gathered over Tampa, Florida.
Darkening clouds over the water.
The clouds clustered around Tampa. The city looked very small on the horizon.
Darkening clouds over the water.
As the rain started, the clouds darkened.
Darkening clouds over the water.
The colors changed and darkened as lightning started in the distance.
Darkening clouds over the water.
Dramatic dark clouds and lightning.

Watching the recent storm coverage on TV reinforced the importance of strong and accurate communication skills. Similar to a sidebar on the page, much of the supplementary storm information was printed on the screen. For someone who needed to evacuate quickly or was worried about loved ones in the area, this printed information could be crucial. As I listened to the reporters’ updates on the storm damage, aware that they were most likely reading from scripted notes, I was reminded of the challenge of conveying complex science through everyday language.

Two maps show the Gulf of Mexico.
The top image from Google Maps shows one research station where we were longline fishing in August (marked in red). The bottom satellite image shows Hurricane Michael moving through the same area. Image credits: Map of the Gulf of Mexico. Google Maps, 17 August 2018, maps.google.com; satellite image: NOAA via Associated Press.

One might assume that a typical day at sea only focused on science, technology, and math. In fact, all school subjects surfaced at some point in my experience at sea. For example, an understanding of geography helped me to understand where we were sailing and how our location influenced the type of wildlife we were seeing. People who were more familiar with the Gulf of Mexico shared some facts about the cultural, economic, and historical significance of certain locations, shedding light on our relationship with water.

Fishing is an old practice steeped in tradition, but throughout the ship, modern navigation equipment made it possible to fish more efficiently by plotting our locations while avoiding hazards such as natural formations and other vessels. Feats of engineering provided speed, power, drinkable water, and technological conveniences such as GPS, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. In contrast to the natural evolution of sharks, these artificial adaptations provided many advantages at sea. To utilize the modern technology, however, literacy was required to input data and interpret the information on the dozens of monitors on board. Literacy and strong communication skills were required to understand and convey data to others. Reading and critical thinking allowed us to interpret maps and data, understand charts and graphs, and access news articles about the red tide we encountered.

I witnessed almost every person on board applying literacy skills throughout their day. Whether they were reading and understanding crucial written communication, reading instructions, selecting a dinner option from the menu, or referencing a field guide, they were applying reading strategies. In the offices and work spaces on board, there was no shortage of instructional manuals, safe operating procedures, informational binders, or wildlife field guides.

Writing helped to organize important tasks and schedules. To manage and organize daily tasks and responsibilities, many people utilized sticky notes and checklists. Computer and typing skills were also important. Some people were inputting data, writing research papers and projects, sharing their work through social media, or simply responding to work-related emails. The dive operation that I observed started as a thoroughly written dive plan. All of these tasks required clear and accurate written communication.

Junior Unlicensed Engineer (JUE) Jack Standfast holds a small notebook used for recording daily tasks and responsibilities.
Junior Unlicensed Engineer (JUE) Jack Standfast carried a small notebook in his pocket, recording the various engineering tasks he’d completed throughout the day.

Each day, I saw real-life examples of the strong ties between science and language arts. Recording accurate scientific data required measurement, weight, and observational skills, but literacy was required to read and interpret the data recording sheets. Neat handwriting and careful letter spacing were important for recording accurate data, reinforcing why we practice these skills in school. To ensure that a species was correctly identified and recorded, spelling could be an important factor. Throughout the experience, writing was essential for taking interview notes and brainstorming blog ideas, as well as following the writing process for my blog posts. If I had any energy left at the end of my day (usually around 2:00 AM), I consulted one of my shark field guides to read more about the intriguing species we saw.

 

Did You Know?

No need for a teething ring: Sharks begin shedding their teeth before they are even born. Shark pups (baby sharks) are born with complete sets of teeth. Sharks aren’t mammals, so they don’t rely upon their mothers for food after they’re born. They swim away and must fend for themselves, so those born-to-bite teeth come in handy.

Recommended Reading

Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey

Appropriate for older readers, the clever, comprehensive text offers interesting facts, tidbits, and trivia. The book dives a bit deeper to go beyond basic shark facts and knowledge. I’ve read hundreds of shark books, and I appreciated learning something new. The text doesn’t shy away from scientific terminology and concepts, such as phylogeny (eight orders of sharks and representative species). The facts reflect recent research findings on shark behavior. Lesser-known species are included, highlighting the diversity in body shapes, sizes, and specialized features. From a design standpoint, the aesthetically appealing illustrations are stylized, colorful, and engaging. Simple infographics provide explanations of complex ideas. Fact meets fiction in a section about shark mythology from around the world. The book concludes with a discussion of threats to sharks, as well as ocean conservation tips.

The cover of Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey.
Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey; published by Flying Eye Books, New York, 2016

 

Andria Keene: The sun is setting on my adventure! October 21, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Andria Keene

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

October 8 – 22, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Fall Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: October 21, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 2018/10/21
Time: 12:52
Latitude: 029 23.89 N
Longitude 094 14.260 W
Barometric Pressure 1022.22mbar
Air Temperature: 69 degrees F

The isness of things is well worth studying; but it is their whyness that makes life worth living.
– William Beebe

 

Last sunset
My last sunset aboard the Oregon II.

Science and Technology Log

Today is our last day at sea and we have currently completed 53 stations!  At each station we send out the CTD.   CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth.   However, this device measures much more than that.  During this mission we are looking at 4 parameters: temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and fluorescence which can be used to measure the productivity of an area based on photosynthetic organisms.

science team with the CTD
Some of the science team with the CTD.

Once the CTD is deployed, it is held at the surface for three minutes.  During this time, 4,320 scans are completed!  However, this data, which is used to acclimate the system, is discarded from the information that is collected for this station.

CTD Collage
The crane lifts the CTD from the well deck and deploys it into the water.

Next, the CTD is slowly lowered through the water until it is about 1 meter from the bottom.  In about 30 meters of water this round trip takes about 5 minutes during which the CTD conducts 241 scans every 10 seconds for a grand total of approximately 7,230 scans collected at each station.

CTD Graph
The computer readout of the data collected at one of the stations.

Our CTD scans have gathered the expected data but during the summer months the CTD has found areas of hypoxia off the coast of Louisiana and Texas.

Summer Hypoxia Zones
Data from CTD scans was used to create this map of hypoxic zones off the coast of Louisiana in summer of 2018.

 

Personal Log

The gloomy weather has made the last few days of the voyage tricky. Wind and rough seas have made sleeping and working difficult. Plus, I have missed my morning visits with dolphins at the bow of the ship due to the poor weather.  But seeing the dark blue water and big waves has added to the adventure of the trip.

Dark clouds lifting
The gloom is lifting as a tanker passes in the distance.

We have had some interesting catches including one that weighed over 800 pounds and was mostly jellyfish.  Some of the catches are filled with heavy mud while others a very clean. Some have lots of shells or debris.  I am pleasantly surprised to see that even though I notice the occasional plastic bottle floating by, there has not been much human litter included in our catches.  I am constantly amazed by the diversity in each haul.  There are species that we see at just about every station and there are others that we have only seen once or twice during the whole trip.

Catch collage
A few of the most unique catches.

I am thrilled to have had the experience of being a NOAA Teacher at Sea and I am excited to bring what I have learned back to the classroom to share with my students.  

 

Challenge Question:

Bonus points for the first student in each class to send me the correct answer!

These are Calico Crabs, but this little one has something growing on it?  What is it?

Calico crabs
Calico crabs… but what is that growing on this small one?

Did you know…

That you can tell the gender of a flat fish by holding it up to the light?

Flatfish collage
The image on the top is a female and the one of the bottom is the male. Can you tell the difference?

 

Today’s Shout Out! 

Kudos to all of my students who followed along, answered the challenge questions, played species BINGO, and plotted my course!  You made this adventure even more enjoyable!  See you soon 🙂

Andria Keene: Let the fun begin! October 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Andria Keene

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

October 8 – 22, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Fall Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: October 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 2018/10/17
Time: 13:10
Latitude: 027 39.81 N
Longitude 096 57.670 W
Barometric Pressure 1022.08mbar
Air Temperature: 61 degrees F

Those of us who love the sea wish everyone would be aware of the need to protect it.
– Eugenie Clark

Science and Technology Log

After our delayed departure, we are finally off and running! The science team on Oregon II has currently completed 28 out of the 56 stations that are scheduled for the first leg of this mission. Seventy-five stations were originally planned but due to inclement weather some stations had to be postponed until the 2nd leg. The stations are pre-arranged and randomly selected by a computer system to include a distributions of stations within each shrimp statistical zone and by depth from 5-20 and 21-60 fathoms.

Planned stations and routes
Planned stations and routes

At each station there is an established routine that requires precise teamwork from the NOAA Corps officers, the professional mariners and the scientists. The first step when we arrive at a station, is to launch the CTD. The officers position the ship at the appropriate location. The mariners use the crane and the winch to move the CTD into the water and control the decent and return. The scientists set up the CTD and run the computer that collects and analyzes the data. Once the CTD is safely returned to the well deck, the team proceeds to the next step.

science team with the CTD
Some members of the science team with the CTD

Step two is to launch the trawling net to take a sample of the biodiversity of the station. Again, this is a team effort with everyone working together to ensure success. The trawl net is launched on either the port or starboard side from the aft deck. The net is pulled behind the boat for exactly thirty minutes. When the net returns, the contents are emptied into the wooden pen or into baskets depending on the size of the haul.

red snapper haul
This unusual haul weighed over 900 pounds and contained mostly red snapper. Though the population is improving, scientists do not typically catch so many red snapper in a single tow.

The baskets are weighed and brought into the wet lab. The scientists use smaller baskets to sort the catch by species. A sample of 20 individuals of each species is examined more closely and data about length, weight, and sex is collected.

The information gathered becomes part of a database and is used to monitor the health of the populations of fish in the Gulf. It is used to help make annual decisions for fishing regulations like catch and bag limits. In addition, the data collected from the groundfish survey can drive policy changes if significant issues are identified.

Personal Log

I have been keeping in touch with my students via the Remind App, Twitter, and this Blog. Each class has submitted a question for me to answer. I would like to use the personal log of this blog to do that.

3rd Period - Marine Science II
3rd Period – Marine Science II: What have you learned so far on your expedition that you can bring back to the class and teach us?

The thing I am most excited to bring back to Marine 2 is the story of recovery for the Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. I learned that due to improved fishing methods and growth in commercial fishing of this species, their decline was severe. The groundfish survey that I am working with is one way that data about the population of Red Snapper has been collected. This data has led to the creation of an action plan to help stop the decline and improve the future for this species.

4th Period - Marine Science I
4th Period – Marine Science I: What challenges have you had so far?

Our biggest challenge has been the weather! We left late due to Hurricane Michael and the weather over the past few days has meant that we had to miss a few stations. We are also expecting some bad weather in a couple of days that might mean we are not able to trawl.

5th Period - Marine Science I
5th Period – Marine Science I: How does the NOAA Teacher at Sea program support or help our environment?

The number one way that the NOAA Teacher at Sea program supports our environment is EDUCATION! What I learn here, I will share with my students and hopefully they will pass it on as well. If more people know about the dangers facing our ocean then I think more people will want to see changes to protect the ocean and all marine species.

7th Period - Marine Science I
7th Period – Marine Science I: What is the rarest or most interesting organism you have discovered throughout your exploration?

We have not seen anything that is rare for the Gulf of Mexico but I have seen two fish that I have never seen before, the singlespot frogfish and the Conger Eel. So for me these were really cool sightings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8th Period - Marine Science I
8th Period – Marine Science I: What organism that you have observed is by far the most intriguing?

I have to admit that the most intriguing organism was not anything that came in via the trawl net. Instead it was the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin that greeted me one morning at the bow of the boat. There were a total of 7 and one was a baby about half the size of the others. As the boat moved through the water they jumped and played in the splashing water. I watched them for over a half hour and only stopped because it was time for my shift. I could watch them all day!

Do you know …

What the Oregon II looks like on the inside?
Here is a tour video that I created before we set sail.

 

Transcript: A Tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.

(0:00) Hi, I’m Andria Keene from Plant High School in Tampa, Florida. And I’d like to take you for a tour aboard Oregon II, my NOAA Teacher at Sea home for the next two weeks.

Oregon II is a 170-foot research vessel that recently celebrated 50 years of service with NOAA. The gold lettering you see here commemorates this honor.

As we cross the gangway, our first stop is the well deck, where we can find equipment including the forecrane and winch used for the CTD and bongo nets. The starboard breezeway leads us along the exterior of the main deck, towards the aft deck.

Much of our scientific trawling operations will begin here. The nets will be unloaded and the organisms will be sorted on the fantail.

(1:00) From there, the baskets will be brought into the wet lab, for deeper investigation. They will be categorized and numerous sets of data will be collected, including size, sex, and stomach contents.

Next up is the dry lab. Additional data will be collected and analyzed here. Take notice of the CTD PC.

There is also a chemistry lab where further tests will be conducted, and it’s located right next to the wet lab.

Across from the ship’s office, you will find the mess hall and galley. The galley is where the stewards prepare meals for a hungry group of 19 crew and 12 scientists. But there are only 12 seats, so eating quickly is serious business.

(2:20) Moving further inside on the main deck, we pass lots of safety equipment and several staterooms. I’m currently thrilled to be staying here, in the Field Party Chief’s stateroom, a single room with a private shower and water closet.

Leaving my room, with can travel down the stairs to the lower level. This area has lots of storage and a large freezer for scientific samples.

There are community showers and additional staterooms, as well as laundry facilities, more bathrooms, and even a small exercise room.

(3:15) If we travel up both sets of stairs, we will arrive on the upper deck. On the starboard side, we can find the scientific data room.

And here, on the port side, is the radio and chart room. Heading to the stern of the upper deck will lead us to the conference room. I’m told that this is a great place for the staff to gather and watch movies.

Traveling back down the hall toward the bow of the ship, we will pass the senior officers’ staterooms, and arrive at the pilot house, also called the bridge.

(4:04) This is the command and control center for the entire ship. Look at all the amazing technology you will find here to help keep the ship safe and ensure the goals of each mission.

Just one last stop on our tour: the house top. From here, we have excellent views of the forecastle, the aft winch, and the crane control room. Also visible are lots of safety features, as well as an amazing array of technology.

Well, that’s it for now! Hope you enjoyed this tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.  

 

Challenge Question of the Day
Bonus Points for the first student in each class period to come up with the correct answer!
We have found a handful of these smooth bodied organisms which like to burrow into the sediment. What type of animal are they?

Challenge Question
What type of animal are these?

Today’s Shout Out:  To my family, I miss you guys terribly and am excited to get back home and show you all my pictures! Love ya, lots!

Andria Keene: Steaming and Dreaming in Safety, October 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Andria Keene

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

October 8 – 22, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Fall Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 2018/10/12
Time: 14:58:22
Latitude: 27 37.15 N
Longitude 091 23.21 W
Barometric Pressure 1015.69mbar
Relative Humidity 60 %
Air Temperature: 27.1 0C

Everyone is an explorer. How could you possibly live your
life looking at a door and not open it?  – Robert Ballard

 

Science/Technology and Personal Log

Hurricane Michael brought a three day delay to our departure. At first, I was a little disappointed that we were not setting sail right away but now I am glad because I had some extra time to explore Pascagoula, familiarize myself with the ship, and slowly meet the crew as they arrived spread out over several days. Plus, the additional time allowed me to start working on my career lesson plan and to prepare a video tour of the ship. I will upload the video to this blog page as soon as it is complete.

Photo collage
#1 – My first tour of Oregon II #2 – Hurricane Michael arrives in the center of where I am and my hometown of Tampa #3 – Exploring Round Point Lighthouse #4 – My first sunset aboard.

On Thursday, Oct 11th at 9:00am, we departed from Pascagoula and headed out into the Gulf of Mexico. I was amazed at how quickly we lost sight of land and at the vastness of this body of water with which I thought I was so familiar. My favorite part was watching the color of the water change from a dark teal to a deep blue.

 

colors of the water of the Gulf
The various colors of the water of the Gulf

On the “Plan of the Day” board under schedule it reads “Steam and Dream til Saturday Afternoon” and that is just what we are doing. Our path will lead us north of the Mexican border and south of Corpus Christi, Texas, where we will find our first station. Until then, in between steaming and dreaming, we are getting to know each other and learning about our roles and responsibilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abandon ship drill
Abandon ship drill! Here I am in my survival suit.

For example, today we practiced our Fire and Abandon Ship Drills. While it is a little nerve-racking to think that something like that could actually happen, it was reassuring to see that everyone was well-trained and the operations ran smoothly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first lesson plan will focus on careers available through NOAA. It is amazing to see the variation in the positions and the backgrounds of the workers on this ship. Basically, on the Oregon II there are three types of employees who make up the ship’s complement.

Types of Employees
This graphic illustrates the structure of the employees aboard Oregon II.

I feel like NOAA has something to offer everyone from entry level positions that require no experience to positions requiring years of experience or advanced college degrees. The best part is that no matter where you start there is always room to advance through hard work and certification. I can’t wait to share all the opportunities with my students!

 

Did You Know?

Oregon II has a reverse osmosis system that uses salt water to create the freshwater needed aboard.  The salt that is removed is returned back to the Gulf.

 

Challenge Question of the Day
(For my students: bonus points for the first person from each class period to answer it correctly):

This picture was taken from the screen of one of the navigation systems on the bridge.

Challenge Question
Screenshot from one of the navigation systems

What do you think is represented by each of the black squares with a dot inside?

 

Animals Seen Today:

Moon Jellyfish and Flying Fish

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: That’s Why They Call It Fishing, September 30, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – 30, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 30, 2018

 

 

Science and Technology Log

The past three days were light catch days.  One day, we only caught a snake fish, which, as you can see, is a pretty tiny little guy.  But, the data from a catch that brings up nothing is just as important as a catch that brings up 50 fish.  As the saying goes, “If we always caught something, we would call it catching, not fishing.”  We have brought up a few Sandbar sharks and Tiger sharks, some of them large enough to have to cradle.  I have gotten to tag a few of the Sandbar sharks, which is still an amazing experience.

Snakefish
Snakefish, our only catch one day

While we did not see many sharks, I had fun seeing the other organisms at the surface.  There have been a lot of moon jellyfish as we have been pulling the line in, and it was clear enough that I was able to get a picture of a few of them as they floated by.  One night, there were flying fish next to the ship, and one of them jumped onto the deck, so I was able to see one up close.  One of the days, a pod of dolphins joined us on a run, and followed the boat for quite a while.  So, while we did not see many sharks, I was able to see some awesome animals throughout the past few days.

Moon Jellyfish
Moon Jellyfish

 

 

 

The last night on the ship, I finished cleaning my shark jaws.  Overnight, they soaked in hydrogen peroxide to whiten them, and today I set them to dry.  I’m looking forward to taking them home and sharing them with all of my students.

 

Drying Shark Jaws
Drying Shark Jaws

 

It was an amazing two weeks.  On Friday night, we set our last line, and it was bittersweet.  Over the past two weeks, I have been able to fish with an amazing group of people.  They allowed me to be a part of the team, and attempt each job setting and pulling in the line.  I was able to put out the high flyer, sling bait, place numbers, clean barrels, and keep data on the computer.  I learned how to tie a double-overhand knot, handle small sharks, tag sharks of all sizes, and had lots of fun doing it.  I’m excited to head back to T-STEM Academy at East High School, but I will always fondly remember my time on the Oregon II.

 

Day Shift Group Photo
Day Shift Group Photo

 

Personal Log

One of the things that the night shift has done a few times is midnight hot dogs.  Chris, the night shift lead fisherman, brings different types of hot dogs on the boat and will cook them at midnight for the shift change.  It gives the night shift members something to eat before breakfast at 7 AM, and gives the day shift something to eat before bed.  They go all out, with a condiment bar and gourmet buns.

 

Did You Know?

Once the Oregon II returns to port from this fourth leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey, they will spend a week cleaning and preparing the ship to return to the Gulf of Mexico on a Groundfish Survey that will run from October 8-November 21.  NOAA Groundfish surveys allow for the collection of data on the distribution of flora and fauna within the target region through the use of trawl nets.

 

Quote of the Day

The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
~ John Buchan

 

Question of the Day

Sharks have teeth that are constantly being replaced.  How many teeth will the average shark go through in their lifetime?

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Nurse Sharks, Tiger Sharks, and Sandbars, Oh My, September 27, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – 30, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 27, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2840.20N

Longitude: 8439.79W

Sea Wave Height: 0m

Wind Speed: 2.2 knots

Wind Direction: 39.04 degrees

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 30.045

Sky: 75% cloud cover

 

Science and Technology Log

We have moved from the coast of Texas, past Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, to the coast of Florida.  When watching the video from the CTD, we have seen the sea floors go from mostly mud to sand.  The water has decreased in turbidity, and the growth on the sea floor has increased.  The make-up of our catches has changed too.  We moved outside of the productive waters associated with the Mississippi River discharge, so our catch rates have decreased significantly.

Yesterday, we had a fun day of catching sharks I had never seen.  Our first catch of the day brought up a juvenile Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier).  I was excited to be able to see this shark, which is listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  On our later catch, we brought up three sharks large enough to require the cradle.  First, we brought up a Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus).  Then, we were lucky enough to bring up a Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum).  The mouth of the nurse shark has barbles, which it uses to feed from the sea floor.  Our final shark of the evening was a much more developed Tiger Shark.  I was lucky enough to help with the tagging of the animal.

juvenile Tiger Shark
Kristin Hennessy-McDonald with a juvenile Tiger Shark
Nurse Shark
Closeup of a Nurse Shark
Nurse Shark release
Nurse Shark release

Last night, we set a line at the end of day shift, and night shift brought it in.  A few of the day shift science team members decided to stay up and watch some of the haul back, and were rewarded with seeing them bring in, not one, but two Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis), back to back.  From the upper deck of the ship, so that I was not in their way, I was able to observe the night shift work together to bring up these two large animals.

Silky Shark
Night Shift retrieving a Silky Shark

The night shift has gotten some pretty amazing catches, and they have enjoyed sharing them with us at shift change.  The two shifts spend about half an hour together around noon and midnight sharing stories of the time when the other shift was asleep.  The other day, the night shift caught Gulper Sharks (Centrophorus uyato) and Tile Fish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps).  These are two species we have not seen on the day shift, so it was fun to look at their pictures and hear the stories of how they caught these fish.

Gulper Shark
Gulper Shark Photo Credit: Gregg Lawrence
tilefish
Tilefish Photo Credit: Gregg Lawrence

 

Personal Log

When we have a long run between stations, once I have gotten done sending emails and grading student work, we will spend some time watching movies in the lounge.  The ship has a large collection of movies, both classic and recent.  Watching movies keeps us awake during the late night runs, when we have to stay up until midnight to set a line.

The day shift has started to ask one another riddles as we are baiting and setting lines.  It’s a fun way to bond as we are doing our work.  One of my favorites have been: “1=3, 2=3, 3=5, 4=4, 5=4, 6=3, 7=5, 8=5, 9=4, 10=3.  What’s the code?”

Did You Know?

Sharks don’t have the same type of skin that we do.  Sharks have dermal denticles, which are tiny scales, similar to teeth, which are covered with enamel.

Quote of the Day

Teach all men to fish, but first teach all men to be fair. Take less, give more. Give more of yourself, take less from the world. Nobody owes you anything, you owe the world everything.

~Suzy Kassem

Question of the Day

I have a lot of teeth but I’m not a cog
I scare a lot of people but I’m not a spider
I have a fin but I’m not a boat
I’m found in the ocean but I’m not a buoy
I sometimes have a hammerhead but I don’t hit nails

What am I?

Martha Loizeaux: Sea You Soon, August 30, 2018


Stephen Kade: the Art of the High Seas, September 21, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: September 21, 2018

Thresher by Kade
Watercolor painting of Thresher shark, Stephen Kade TAS 2018

 

Scientific Journal: 

While aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II, I was able to create some art, which is my absolute passion in life. I was able use my time before and after most shifts to draw and paint the fish and sharks with watercolor paint and water from the ocean. It was tricky to paint with the constant movement of the ship, but I was able to paint over 20 paintings of sharks, fish, and the Oregon II over the 16 days on board the ship.

watercolor paintings
various watercolor paintings done aboard Oregon II, by Stephen Kade, TAS 2018

Now that I’ve been home for a month, I’ve had some time to reflect on my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. If I told you my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience was incredible, I would be understating it quite a bit. I knew the excitement of working on the mighty NOAA Ship Oregon II and participating in the shark survey would be a highlight of my lifetime for sure. The opportunity to work with NOAA scientists, fishermen, and the rest of the crew was the best learning experience a teacher and artist could ask for. But just a week after returning, it was back to school and I needed to find ways to convey what I learned to my students. I began by creating a digital infographic about Longline Fishing so they would have a visual to go along with my explanation.

Longline Fishing infographic
Digital Longline Fishing infographic by Stephen Kade, TAS 2018

 

I wanted to inform my students to create awareness about the species of shark and other ocean inhabitants that are threatened and endangered. I also wanted them to learn science about the animals and incorporate some of that data into their art to make their images more impactful to those that see them. We want to compile related projects together until later in the year for our annual Night of the Arts- NOAA Edition.

Student Art
Student Art from OL Smith Middle School, Dearborn, MI
Student Art
Student Art from OL Smith Middle School, Dearborn, MI

We also created three life size Art Shark paintings and posted them in the hallways of our school to advocate for sharks through art and work to give sharks a more positive community image, and not the sensational, fearful media portrayal of sharks.

Student Art - Sand Tiger Shark
Student Art from OL Smith Middle School, Dearborn, MI
Sandbar Shark
Student Art from OL Smith Middle School, Dearborn, MI
painting of Great Hammerhead shark
3′ x 8′ painting of Great Hammerhead shark, Stephen Kade TAS 2018

As a fine artist painter, the Teacher At Sea experience has helped to make my artwork much more accurate for several reasons. Primarily the reason was proximity. I was able to see the sharks and fish first hand everyday, and take many reference photos of our catch each day. I could now see the beautiful colors of different sharks while out of the water, which I never had seen before. I was also able to speak to the fishermen and scientists each day about the behaviors and biology of the fish and I gained insight from listening to their vast experiences in the oceans all around the globe.

Since being home, I’ve begun to paint a series of scientifically accurate side views of my favorite sharks, and eventually I will digitally compile them into one poster after I get 15 to 18 completed. After that, I’ll begin a series of paintings with sharks swimming in their natural environment to bring more color and visual dynamics onto the canvas. This has been the most inspiring adventure of my life, and I will continue to advocate for my favorite ocean animals by using art to bring the respect and admiration that these beautiful sharks deserve to continue to thrive long into Earth’s distant future.

Kade_hammerhead
Watercolor painting of Great Hammerhead Shark by Stephen Kade, TAS 2018
Great White Shark
Watercolor painting of Great White Shark by Stephen Kade, TAS 2018

Anne Krauss: The Reel Whirl’d, September 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 26, 2018

Weather Data from the Air

Conditions at 0634

Altitude: 9585 meters

Outside Temperature: -38 ℃

Distance to Destination: 362 km

Tail Wind: 0 km/h

Ground Speed: 837 km/h

(While NOAA Ship Oregon II has many capabilities, flight isn’t one of them. These were the conditions on my flight home.)

Science and Technology Log

The idea of placing an elementary school teacher on a Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey seems like a reality show premise, and I couldn’t believe that it was my surreal reality. Several times a day, I took a moment to appreciate my surroundings and the amazing opportunity to get so close to my favorite creatures: sharks!

Anyone who knows me is aware of my obsession with sharks. Seeing several sharks up close was a hallowed, reverential experience. Reading about sharks, studying them through coursework, and seeing them on TV or in an aquarium is one thing. Being only a few feet away from a large tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) or a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is quite another. Seeing the sharks briefly out of the water provided a quick glimpse of their sinewy, efficient design…truly a natural work of art. Regardless of size, shape, or species, the sharks were powerful, feisty, and awe-inspiring. The diversity in design is what makes sharks so fascinating!

A tiger shark at the surface.
Even just a quick peek of this tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) reveals her strong muscles and powerful, flexible design.
A large tiger shark lies on a support framework made from reinforced netting. The shark and the structure are being lifted out of the water.
This female tiger shark was large enough to require the shark cradle. The reinforced netting on the cradle provided support for the 10.5 foot shark.
The snout and eye of a sandbar shark being secured on a netted shark cradle.
The shape of this sandbar shark’s (Carcharhinus plumbeus) head and eye is quite different from the tiger shark’s distinct design.
A great hammerhead's cephalofoil.
Even in the dark, the shape of the great hammerhead’s (Sphyrna mokarran) cephalofoil is unmistakable.

I envied the remora, or sharksucker, that was attached to one of the sharks we caught. Imagine being able to observe what the shark had been doing, prior to encountering the bait on our longline fishing gear. What did the shark and its passenger think of their strange encounter with us? Where would the shark swim off to once it was released back into the water? If only sharks could talk. I had many questions about how the tagging process impacts sharks. As we started catching and tagging sharks, I couldn’t help but think of a twist on the opening of MTV’s The Real World: “…To find out what happens…when sharks stop being polite…and start getting reeled.

Sadly for my curiosity, sharks have yet to acquire the ability to communicate verbally, despite their many advantageous adaptations over millions of years. To catch a glimpse of their actions in their watery world, scientists sometimes attach cameras to their fins or enlist the help of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to learn more. The secret lives of sharks… reality TV at its finest.

Underwater camera footage is beginning to reveal the answers to many of the questions my Kindergarten-5th grade students have about sharks:

How deep can sharks swim?

How big can sharks get? How old can sharks get?

Do sharks sleep? Do sharks stop swimming when they sleep? Can sharks ever stop swimming? 

Do sharks have friends? Do sharks hunt cooperatively or alone?

Is the megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) still swimming around down there? (This is a very common question among kids!)

The answers vary by species, but an individual shark can reveal quite a bit of information about shark biology and behavior. Tagging sharks can provide insight about migratory patterns and population distribution. This information can help us to better understand, manage, and protect shark populations.

Various tools are spread out and used to weigh (scale), collect samples (scissors and vials), remove hooks (pliers, plus other instruments not pictured), apply tags (leather punch, piercing implement, and tags), and record data (clipboard and data sheet).
These tools are used to weigh (scales on bottom right), collect samples (scissors and vials), remove hooks (pliers, plus other instruments not pictured), apply tags (leather punch, piercing implement, and tags), and record data (clipboard and data sheet).

Using several low-tech methods, a great deal of information could be gleaned from our very brief encounters with the sharks we caught and released. In a very short amount of time, the following information was collected and recorded:

• hook number (which of the 100 longline circle hooks the shark was caught on)
• genus and species name (we recorded scientific and common names)
• four measurements on various points of the shark’s body (sometimes lasers were used on the larger sharks)
• weight (if it was possible to weigh the shark: this was harder to do with the larger, heavier sharks)
• whether the shark was male or female, noting observations about its maturity (if male)
• fin clip samples (for genetic information)
• photographs of the shark (we also filmed the process with a GoPro camera that was mounted to a scientist’s hardhat)
• applying a tag on or near the shark’s first dorsal fin; the tag number was carefully recorded on the data sheet
• additional comments about the shark

Finally, the hook was removed from the shark’s mouth, and the shark was released back into the water (we watched carefully to make sure it swam off successfully)!

A metal tag is marked with the number eight. This is one of 100 used in longline fishing.
Longline fishing uses 100 numbered hooks. When a fish is caught, it’s important to record the hook number it was caught on.
Two kinds of shark tags: plastic swivel tags used for smaller sharks and dart tags used for larger sharks.
Depending on the shark’s size, we either attached a swivel tag (on left and middle, sometimes called a Rototag or fin tag; used for smaller sharks) or a dart tag (on right, sometimes called an “M” tag; used for larger sharks).

For more information on shark tagging: https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/nefsc/Narragansett/sharks/tagging.html 

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Other fish were retained for scientific samples. Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus), blueline tilefish (Caulolatilus microps), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) were some of species we caught and sampled. Specific samples from specific species were requested from various organizations. Generally, we collected five different samples:

• fin clips: provide genetic information
• liver: provides information about the health of the fish, such as the presence of toxins
• muscle tissue: can also provide information about the health of the fish
• gonads: provide information about reproduction
• otoliths: These bony structures are found in the inner ear. Similar to tree rings, counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths can help scientists estimate the age of the fish.

A yellowedge grouper on a table surrounded by sampling equipment.
Samples were taken from this yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus).

Samples were preserved and stored in vials, jars, and plastic sample bags, including a Whirl-Pak. These bags and containers were carefully numbered and labeled, corresponding with the information on the data sheets. Other information was noted about the fish, including maturity and stomach contents. Sometimes, photos were taken to further document the fish.

 

Personal Log

Thinking of the Oregon II as my floating classroom, I looked for analogous activities that mirrored my elementary students’ school day. Many key parts of the elementary school day could be found on board.

A 24-hour analog clock.
Sometimes, my students struggle to tell the time with analog clocks. The ship uses military time, so this 24-hour clock would probably cause some perplexed looks at first! We usually ate dinner between 1700-1800.
Weights, an exercise bike, resistance bands, and yoga mats.
Physical Education: Fitness equipment could be found in three locations on the ship.
A dinner plate filled with cooked vegetables.
Health: To stay energized for the twelve-hour shifts, it was important to get enough sleep, make healthy food choices, and stay hydrated. With lots of exercise, fresh air, and plenty of water, protein, and vegetables, I felt amazing. To sample some local flavors, I tried a different hot sauce or Southern-style seasoning at every meal.
A metal first aid cabinet.
There wasn’t a nurse’s office, but first aid and trained medical personnel were available if needed.

With my young readers and writers in mind, I applied my literacy lens to many of the ship’s activities. Literacy was the thread that ran through many of our daily tasks, and literacy was the cornerstone of every career on board. Several ship personnel described the written exams they’d taken to advance in their chosen careers. Reading and writing were used in everything from the recipes and daily menu prepared by Second Cook Arlene Beahm and Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill in the galley to the navigation logs maintained by Ensign Chelsea Parrish on the ship’s bridge.

A clipboard shows the daily menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The menu changed every day. You could also make your own salad, sandwiches, and snacks. If you had to work through mealtime, you could ‘save-a-meal,’ and write down your food choices to eat later. This was kind of like indicating your lunch choice at school. Instead of a cafeteria, food was prepared and cooked in the ship’s galley.
Shelves of books in the ship's library.
Library: The ship had a small library on board. To pass the time, many people enjoyed reading. (And for my students who live vicariously through YouTube: that sign at the bottom does say, ‘No YouTube’! Computers were available in the lab, but streaming wasn’t allowed.)

I often start the school year off with some lessons on reading and following directions. In the school setting, this is done to establish routines and expectations, as well as independence. On the ship, reading and following directions was essential for safety! Throughout the Oregon II, I encountered lots of printed information and many safety signs. Some of the signs included pictures, but many of them did not. This made me think of my readers who rely on pictures for comprehension. Some important safety information was shared verbally during our training and safety drills, but some of it could only be accessed through reading.

A collage of safety-related signs on the ship. Some have pictures, while others do not.
Without a visual aid, the reader must rely on the printed words. In this environment, skipping words, misreading words, or misunderstanding the meaning of the text could result in unsafe conditions.
A watertight door with a handle pointing to 'open'.
On a watertight door, for example, overlooking the opposite meanings of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could have very serious consequences.
A watertight door with a handle pointing to 'closed'.
Not being able to read the sign or the words ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could result in a scary situation.

 

Did You Know?

Thomas Jefferson collected fossils and owned a megalodon tooth. The Carcharocles megalodon tooth was found in South Carolina. One of the reasons why Jefferson supported expeditions to lands west of the Mississippi? He believed that a herd of mammoths might still be roaming there. Jefferson didn’t believe that animal species could go extinct, so he probably liked the idea that the megalodon was still swimming around somewhere! (There’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that either Thomas Jefferson or the megalodon are still around.)

Recommended Reading

If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams

This picture book acknowledges the scariness of sharks, but explains that a world without sharks would be even scarier. Shown through the eyes of a curious young girl and her family, the book highlights the important role that sharks play in the ocean food web. As apex predators, sharks help to keep the ocean healthy and balanced.

The book includes some mind-blowing facts, such as the concept that sharks existed on Earth before trees. Through easy-to-follow examples of cause and effect, the author and illustrator explores complex, sophisticated concepts such as overfishing, extinction, and trophic cascade. The glossary includes well-selected words that are important to know and understand about the environment. Additional information is provided about shark finning and ways to help save sharks. An author’s note, bibliography, and additional sources are also included.

The cover of a children's book about the important role that sharks fill in the ocean food web.
If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams; Published by Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2017

 

Andria Keene: Awaiting Anchors Aweigh! September 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Andria Keene

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

October 8 – 22, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Fall Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 26, 2018

 

Weather Data for Tampa, Fl: 

Latitude: 27º56’38”N
Longitude: 82º30’12”W
Temperature: 33º Partly Cloudy
Winds Speed: S 4.34 knots
20% chance of rain

 

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

-Jacques Cousteau

first SCUBA gear
My first SCUBA gear! Age 3

My love for all things related to the ocean started at a very early age and grew into a passion by the time I graduated high school. As a young Floridian, exploring the beaches, boating through the intercoastal waterways, and visiting the Miami SeaQuarium were my way of life. When I was in elementary school, my family moved to Virginia and even though we spent the next ten years trading seahorses for Tennessee Walking horses, I still watched every rerun of Flipper and waited with anticipation for each Jacques Cousteau TV special. Then, when I was in high school, my grandparents moved from New Jersey to the Florida Keys and I was reunited once again with the beautiful underwater world that brought me such fascination. We spent our summers snorkeling, sailing, and fishing. In the evenings, we drove around searching for the elusive Key Deer. When we visited the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital, I was shocked to learn that my beloved ocean was facing some serious threats.

Andria Age 5
Enjoying a day at the beach! Age 5

 

As I entered college, my interest transformed from a hobby to a lifestyle. I earned my first SCUBA certification, participated in my first coastal clean-up, and volunteered for restoration projects and turtle walks. I signed up for every life science course I could find. In my senior year at Stetson University, I registered for a class before I even knew what the title meant. Ornithology, with Dr. Stock. I found myself canoeing through alligator-infested waterways to investigate snowy egret rookeries, hiking through the forest at 5am to identify birds by only their calls, and conducting a post-mortem investigation on one of his road-kill specimens to determine its cause of death. Dr. Stock’s class was so different than anything I had experienced. I was in my element. I found myself constantly wanting to learn more. Not just about the organisms around me, but about how to fix the negative impacts we have on their environment. As I learned, I became motivated to teach others about what they could do to make a difference. My passion for teaching was born.

It is hard to believe that I have been teaching science in Hillsborough County for almost twenty years and that approximately 3,000 students have filled the chairs of my classroom. Years ago, I realized that even though we are located in west-central Florida, many of my students have little involvement with the ocean or our local beaches. I decided to change that fact by extending my classroom outside of my four walls.  In true Dr. Stock fashion, I attempt to bring the ocean to life for my students through field trips, restoration projects, and guest speakers. With the help of some amazing organizations like the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Bay Watch, and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, we have participated in many activities to help us learn about the ocean and about how to remedy our impacts.

 

 

We also love to get out in nature and explore the splendor that awaits us. In the pictures below, students from Plant High enjoy a day at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center where we participated in fishing and kayaking clinics and learned about protecting our local estuarine species.

Plant High students
A day of adventure focused on the importance of our beautiful estuaries!

As I head out for two weeks on NOAA Ship Oregon II, I am leaving my classroom and students behind but I know that the value of what I will bring back to them far outweighs the short time I will be away. I hope through my experience my students will see that you are never too old to learn something new and that even the teacher can improve her knowledge.

I am eager to develop first-hand experience with the technology and research methods currently being used to study the ocean. I look forward to meeting the scientists and the crew of my ship and learning about all of the career opportunities that are available to my students through NOAA. I am ready to turn my NOAA education into lessons that will benefit my students and infuse my curriculum with new life.

I cannot wait to see the beautiful sunsets over the gulf and maybe I’ll even catch a few sunrises. I am hoping for the occasional visit from a whale, a dolphin, or a sea turtle. Who knows? Maybe I will even get a chance to see a few of my favorite ornithological species!

Counting down … 12 days to go.

Fair Winds! 

Today’s Shout Out: To Mr. Johnny Bush (Plant High School Principal), Mr. Larry Plank (SDHC Director of STEM), and Mr. Dan McFarland (SDHC Science Supervisor) for all of their support in making this trip possible for me.

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Flotsam and Jetsam, September 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – 30, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 23, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 3006.07N

Longitude: 08741.32W

Sea Wave Height: 1m

Wind Speed: 8.64 knots

Wind Direction: 199.7

Visibility: 7 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 27.6

Sky: 95% cloud cover

 

Science and Technology Log

Over the past few days, we’ve fished a mix of station depths, so I’ve gotten to see a number of new species as we’ve moved out into deeper waters.

At a C station, which is a station at depths between 183 and 366 meters, we caught a Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus).  This catch was so unexpected that a number of crew members ventured out to the well deck to snap a picture.  She was a beautiful juvenile between 1-2 years old.

Kristin and Mako Shark
Our current NOAA Teacher at Sea, Kristin Hennessy-McDonald is all smiles when grabbing this quick picture before releasing the female Mako shark. [Photo Credit: Ensign Chelsea Parrish, NOAA]
juvenile female mako shark
Juvenile Female Mako Shark

I also saw my first kingsnake eel, a long eel with a set of very sharp teeth.  On a later station, we caught a juvenile that we were able to bring on deck and examine.  We also caught a Warsaw grouper (Hyporthodus nigritus), which had parasites on its gills and in its fins.  Gregg Lawrence, a member of the night shift on loan from Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries unit, and I removed the otoliths and took samples of the parasites.

Warsaw Grouper
Measuring the Warsaw Grouper [Photo Credit: Gregg Lawrence]

 

image3
Dissecting a Warsaw Grouper

We had one catch that brought in 20 Red Snappers.  Red Snappers are brought on deck, and a number of samples are taken from each one of them for ongoing assessment of the Red Snapper population.  In addition to the otoliths, which allow the scientists to determine the age of the fish, we also take samples of the gonads, the muscle, the fins, and the stomach.  These allow the scientists to perform reproductive and genetic tests and determine what the snappers ate.  While 4 members of the science team onboard collected samples, Caroline Collatos, the volunteer on the day shift, and I insured that the samples were properly packaged and tagged.  Everyone working together allowed the process to run smoothly.

On the latest B station, which was about 110 meters deep, we caught a number of species, some of which I had not gotten to see yet.  In addition to Gulf smoothound sharks (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), we caught a Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) and a Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) that we had to cradle due to their size.  The Sandbar shark was a bit feisty, but I got the chance to tag her before we released her.

Gulf smoothound shark
Gulf smoothound shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus)
Scalloped hammerhead
Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini)
Sandbar shark
Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)

We work in the rain.  Thankfully, they had some extra rain gear for me to put on, so that I would not get drenched while we were setting the line.  For the most part, the rainstorms have been sprinkles, but we did have one downpour while we were going toward a station.

rain gear
We work in the rain, so I was loaned some rain gear.

 

Personal Log

Between setting lines, I have been busy checking up on my studenats’ work back in Memphis.  One of the great things about having a one-to-one school is that the students are able to do their work on Microsoft Teams and turn it in for me to grade it thousands of miles away.  I have loved seeing their how they are doing, and answering questions while they are working, because I know that they are learning about the cell cycle while I am out at sea learning about sharks.

One of the things that has really surprised me over the past week is how much my hands hurt.  It was unexpected, but it makes sense, given how much of the work requires good grip strength.  From insuring that the sharks are handled properly to clipping numbers on the gangions to removing circle hooks from fish on the lines, much of the work on the science team requires much more thumb strength than I had thought about.  I know my students have commented that their hands hurt after taking notes in my class, so I thought they would get a kick out of the fact that the work on the ship has made my hands hurt.

Did You Know?

Sharks are able to sense electrical fields generated by their prey through a network of sensory organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini.  These special pores are filled with a conductive jelly composed primarily of proteins, which send the signals to nerve fibers at the base of the pore.

Quote of the Day

Remove the predators, and the whole ecosystem begins to crash like a house of cards. As the sharks disappear, the predator prey balance dramatically shifts, and the health of our oceans declines.

~Brian Skerry

Question of the Day

How many bones do sharks have in their bodies?

Mark Van Arsdale: Modeling the Ocean, September 24, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 24, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

30 knot easterly winds, rain, waves to eight feet

60.20 N, 147.57 W (Prince William Sound)

 

Science Log 

Modeling the Ocean

During the last two weeks, scientists aboard the Tiglax will have done over 60 CTD casts, 60 zooplankton tows, measured over one thousand jellies caught Methot Net tows, and collected hundreds of water and chlorophyll samples. What happens with all of this data when we get back?   The short answer is a lot more work. Samples have to be analyzed, plankton have to be counted and measured, DNA analysis work has to be done, and cohesive images of temperature, salinity, and nutrients have to be stitched together from the five different transects.

Preparing for another CTD cast. More than 60 CTD casts were made during our cruise.
Preparing for another CTD cast. More than 60 CTD casts were made during our cruise.

Much of this data will eventually be entered into a computer model.  I’ve spent a great deal of time talking with one of the scientists on aboard about how models can be used to answer essential scientific questions about how the Gulf of Alaska works.  Take Neocalanus, the copepods we collected yesterday, for example.  A scientist could ask the question, what factors determine a good versus bad year for Neocalanus?  Or what are the downstream effects on a copepod species of an anomalous warming event like “the blob” of 2014-2015? A model allows you to make predictions based on certain parameters. You can run numerous scenarios, all with different possible variables, in very short periods of time. A model won’t ever predict the future, but it can help a scientist understand the “rules” that govern how the system works.  But a model is only as good as its baseline assumptions, and those assumptions require the collection of real world data.  A computer doesn’t know how fast Neocalanus grows under optimal or sub-optimal conditions unless you tell it, and to tell it, a scientist has to first measure it.

The fishing industry is a billion-dollar piece of the Alaskan economy.  The ocean is getting warmer and more acidic.  Food webs are shifting, and the abundance and distribution of the species we depend upon are changing as a result.  Using models may allow us to better predict what sustainable levels of fish catches will be as conditions in the Gulf of Alaska change.

I also asked the scientists on board about the future of oceanography in light of the advancements in autonomous unmanned vehicles.  Do you still need to send people out to sea when sending a Slocum Glider or Saildrone can collect data much cheaper than a ship filled with twenty scientists?  The answer I got was, “No, at best these technologies will enhance but not replace what we do at sea.  There will always be a place for direct scientific observations.”  We still need oceanographers at sea.

In twenty-one years of teaching I have had lots students go on to be doctors, PA’s, nurses, micro-biologists, geneticists, and a variety of other scientific occupations, but no oceanographers.  I guess I still have some work to do.

Personal Log

The Weather Finally Gets Us

We have had a few showers, bits of wind and waves, but the weather has been remarkably good for a cruise through the North Gulf of Alaska in late September.  This morning, during the night shift the winds started to blow, it started to rain, and the waves came up. When I went to bed around six AM, the wind was blowing thirty knots, and when I woke up at eleven, it was pushing up some pretty rough seas.  Things got really crazy after lunch.  The winds were being channeled right down Night Island Passage and all work was put to a stop.  I retired to my bunk to read, unable to even go outside and take look.  They eventually battened down the hatches; and we changed course to go hide in a bay sheltered from the wind. (Yes, they really do say batten down the hatches.)

By dinner time decisions were made to not work for the night.  It looked better where we were, but the stations we needed to sample were exposed to winds that were still blowing.  No zooplankton sampling for the night meant that it was time to start washing, disassembling, and drying nets.  We used seventeen different nets to sample zooplankton during the course of this trip and all of them needed to be washed and cared for before they got packed up.

Plankton nets hanging to dry (oceanographer laundry.)
Plankton nets hanging to dry (oceanographer laundry.)

Tomorrow we will begin the journey home with two stations un-sampled.  The storm kept us from getting to the last stations, and another storm is just a few days away. Once the decision was made, I think we were all relieved to be heading in.  Doing oceanography is hard work, and being away from lives, work, and family for such extended periods of time is tough.  Some of the scientists on board have spent as much as six or eight weeks at sea this year.  Having been out here for two weeks, I now understand what commitment that takes.

Unless something really interesting happens tomorrow, this will be my last blog.  This trip has been personally challenging, but a rich experience, and I believe it will be formative to my teaching.  I have learned a great deal about oceanography in general, and the Gulf of Alaska in particular.  The Gulf of Alaska is a magical place.  There is life almost everywhere you look.  More than anything I will leave with a deep impression of the dedication that scientists give to the accuracy and integrity of their work.

[Postscript:  Zooplankton and jelly work was done, so I was able to spend the entire last day on the flying bridge.  There was a good amount of swell from the previous day’s storm, but the sun and scenery made it an enjoyable trip back to Seward.  As we left Prince William Sound we were greeted by an abundance of seabirds that had been blown into the Sound by the weather.  On that day, we documented almost as many species as the rest of the trip combined.  We also got to watch a large group of orcas patrolling the area around Danger Island at the entrance to the Sound.  We made our way back to GAK1.  If the weather allows, GAK1 is always sampled at the beginning and ending of any trip.  The weather was beautiful, Bear Glacier and the entrance to Resurrection Bay was alive with color, and I was going home.  It was a great day.]

Views of the southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula as we traveled from Prince William Sound back to Seward.
Views of the southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula as we traveled from Prince William Sound back to Seward.

Animals seen today

  • Sea otters
  • Fewer birds today, bald eagles, kittiwakes, gulls

Mark Van Arsdale: Waking up Copepods, September 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 23, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Variable winds, partially cloudy, calm seas

60.20 N, 147.57 W (Prince William Sound)

 

Science Log

Waking Up Copepods

One of the scientists on board is interested in the life cycles of a particular species of Neocalanus copepod. Neocalanus is a remarkable looking copepod.  They have long antennae with feathered forks at the ends. They have striking red-orange stripes on their bodies and antennae that reminds you a bit of a candy cane. Neocalanus is an important copepod in the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem, and it typically makes up the largest portion of zooplankton biomass in the spring.

Neocalanus cristatus, photo credit Russ Hopcroft, UAF
Neocalanus cristatus, photo credit Russ Hopcroft, UAF

Its life cycle is interesting.  If zooplankton were cars, the Neocalanus might be a Toyota Prius.  It’s not fast or fancy, but it’s efficient.  Neocalanus copepods feast in the spring and early summer and then settle down several hundred meters below the surface to enter into a diapause state.  Diapause is a kind of dormancy that involves slowing basic metabolic functions to near zero.  It is a strategy used by other Alaskan arthropods, most notably mosquitos, to survive long winters.  As for why they travel deep into the water column, the answer seems to be that they use less energy in the dark, cold, high pressure waters at depth.  Inside the Neocalanus there is an unmistakable large, sausage shaped sack of oil that should provide the energy reserves needed to survive prolonged diapause.

When the Neocalanus females wake up, they have to restart their metabolism and begin meiotic development of their oocytes (egg cells.) They have previously mated and they store the male’s sperm within their bodies during diapause.  Each of these biological events involves turning on several dozen genes.  What our scientist wants to know is what genes get turned on, in what order, and what environmental clues tell the initial genes to start making RNA. To study all of this, she needs living copepods in diapause.  Our collection process inevitably wakes them up, but it gives her a time zero for observing this transformation.  For the next twelve hours, she separated and preserved copepods every hour for later genetic analysis that may give her insight into when genes turn on and in what order as the copepods wake up.

In order to get her copepods, the night team did a vertical Multi-net tow at four AM.  We dropped the Multi-net down to a depth of 740 meters. The work we were doing was sensitive, as she needed the copepods alive and undamaged.  I was glad to have slept a few hours as we were moving between sampling stations, because what came up in the tow was pretty amazing.  Along with the Neocalanus, there were many other types of zooplankton including the copepod MetridiaMetridia produce an intense bioluminescence when disturbed. When we brought the nets to the surface, the cod ends were glowing electric blue and individual copepods could be seen producing pinpricks of light that were remarkably bright.

Bioluminescence is ubiquitous amongst deep sea species.  Deep sea fishes, jellies, and plankton use it to attract prey, to camouflage their silhouette, to surprise and distract predators, and likely to communicate with members of the opposite sex.  The deep oceans make up 95% of biological habitat on Earth.  If you consider bioluminescence communication a kind of language, it may be the most commonly spoken language on the planet.

Luciferin production and luciferase transcription in the bioluminescent copepod Metridia lucens. Michael Tessler et al (2018)

Personal Log

Protected Waters

Knight Island Passage, Prince William Sound
Knight Island Passage, Prince William Sound

Waking up in Prince William Sound today felt good.  I was closer to home this morning than at any time since leaving Seward.  The Sound feels comfortable and protected.  Should bad weather come up, and it sounds like it will tomorrow, there are hundreds of sheltered bays to hide in.

Chenega Glacier, Icy Bay, Prince William Sound.
Chenega Glacier, Icy Bay, Prince William Sound.

Prince William Sound’s beauties are hard to describe without sounding cliché.  Most striking of all are the large tidewater glaciers.  In the evening, we made our way to Chenga Glacier, to do CTD cast.  It was a quite a sight, as were the three hundred harbor seals hauled out on the floating ice in front of the glacier.

These glaciers directly shape the ecosystem of the Sound.  They provide a large freshwater input that is high in trace minerals, while creating pockets of cold water, which serve as micro-climates within the larger area.  These glaciers are melting at incredible rates, and freshwater inputs are greater than they have been at any time since the last ice age.  Sampling stations that were once near the face of the Chenga and Columbia Glaciers are now miles away from their quickly receding faces. Click here to watch the satellite images of Columbia’s retreat.  This ecosystem is changing, and only through long term ecological monitoring will we know exactly how or what it means.

The completion of the road to the town of Whittier has also changed the Sound.  It’s late September, and most pleasure boaters have stowed their boats for the winter, but the number of boats and people coming into the sound to fish, hunt, and sight see has increased dramatically.  Many Alaskans have come to recognize the coastal gem that lays just seventy miles and one long tunnel through the mountain from Anchorage.

Columbia Glacier 1986 (left) 2011 (right). Image from https://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=78657
Columbia Glacier 1986 (left) 2011 (right). Image from https://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=78657

 

Animals seen today

  • Lots of harbor seals near Chenega Glacier
  • Sea otters
  • Fewer birds today, mergansers, Kittlitz’s murlets, mew gulls, goldeneyes,

 

 

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Apex Predators, September 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-September 30, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 20, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2759.75N

Longitude: 09118.52W

Sea Wave Height: 0m

Wind Speed: 3.72 knots

Wind Direction: 166.48֯

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 31.1

Sky: 5% cloud cover

 

Science and Technology Log

We’ve been out at sea for three full days now and have traveled along the Gulf coast from Alabama to Texas.  The Science Team has run mostly shallow longline sets during this time, meaning that we have fished in depths from 9 to 55 meters.  As we move forward, we will fish stations at these depths and stations at depths of 55 to 183 meters, and from 183 to 366 meters.  The locations of the stations are randomized based on depth and the area that is being fished.  Due to the weather that hit south Texas the week before we joined this leg of the survey, we have been fishing the area that was impassable on the last leg of the survey.

As a member of the science team, there are five jobs that need to be done on each side of the set.  When the line is being cast, someone needs to release the highflyer, clip numbers, sling the bait, work the computer, or cleanup.  When the line comes in, there is a data collector, 2 fish handlers, a hook collector, and the computer person.  The highflyer is the marker that is put on either end of the line, so that the line can be seen from the bridge.  The data that is collected on paper and on the computer on each fish includes the number of the hook that they are on, species, length, and gender.  Additionally, some sharks are tagged and a fin clip is taken.

After a line is set, we check the water using a CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) Probe.  It has a GoPro video recorder that takes a video of the water and the sea floor at the site of the line.

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Field Party Chief Kristin Hannan setting up the CTD

 

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CTD ready for deployment

A few of the highlights from the catches so far:  We had one catch that was coming up with mostly empty hooks, but then we caught a scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini).  The shark was large enough that we used a cradle to pull it up to deck level.  I got to insert the tag right below the dorsal fin.

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Kristin Hennessy-McDonald tagging a scalloped hammerhead Photo Credit: Caroline Collatos

We had another survey that caught 49 sharks, including Atlantic Sharpnose Sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Blacknose Sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), Spinner Sharks (Carcharhinus brevipinna), and Blacktip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus).  Between these, we had a number of lines that brought up some sharks and a few Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  I have been able to dissect some of the Red Snapper, and collect their otoliths, which are their ear bones.

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Kristin Hennessy-McDonald holding a Red Snapper

In the time between setting and retrieving lines, one of the ways we kept ourselves busy was by cleaning shark jaws that we had collected.  I look forward to using these in my classroom as an example of an apex predator species adaptation.

Personal Log

During much the 12 hours of off time, I spend my time in my bunk.  Working for 12 hours in the hot sun is exhausting, and it’s nice to have the room to myself while I try to get some rest.  Though I share a bunk with another member of the Science Team, we work opposite shifts.  So, while I’m on deck, she’s sleeping, and visa versa.  As you can see, my daughter sent me with her shark doll, which I thought was appropriate, given that I was taking part in shark research on this ship.

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Kristin’s bunk on the Oregon II

While we were going slow one day, we had a pod of dolphins who swam along with us for a while.  They were right beside the ship, and I was able to get a video of a few of them surfacing next to us.

Did You Know?

Many shark species, including the Atlantic Sharpnose shark, are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young.  These sharks form a placenta from the yolk sac while the embryo develops.

Quote of the Day

Without sharks, you take away the apex predator of the ocean, and you destroy the entire food chain

~Peter Benchley

Question of the Day

While it is a common misconception that sharks do not get cancer, sharks have been found to get cancer, including chondromas.  What type of cancer is that?

Mark Van Arsdale: Marine Debris, September 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Southeast wind to 20 knots, rain showers, 6-8 with occasional 12 feet seas

59.913 N, 144.321 W (Kayak Island)

 

Science Log

Marine Debris

The wind came up a bit today, and so did the waves, but we are far enough ahead of schedule that the captain and head scientist decided we should take a two-hour excursion to Kayak Island before taking the eighteen-hour trip into Prince William Sound.  The Tiglax has a pretty deep draft, and the waters surround Kayak Island are shallow, so the boat was anchored about a mile off shore.  The waves were pretty mellow when we departed and it was a pleasant zodiac ride to shore.

The ocean side of Kayak Island is as remote as you can get, but it is covered with human trash. Marine debris is not new, fishing lines, nets, and glass floats have been washing up on beaches for hundreds of years, but the issue changed with the advent of plastics in the 1950’s.  Plastic is buoyant, supremely durable, and absolutely ubiquitous in modern human society.

The beach we walked on faces the ocean and the intense energy of winter storms was obvious.  There were logs thrown up to the high tide of the beach that were nearly four feet in diameter.  The rocks on the beach were polished, rubbed free of their edges.  Driftwood pieces were sanded smooth by the energetic action of waves smashing against rocks.  There were all kinds of interesting things to discover, including fresh bear tracks and some rather large piles of scat.  But more than anything else, there was plastic.  Plastic bottles, plastic fishing floats, fishing line, and wide variety of other refuse.  Some of it below the high tide line, and much of it thrown far back into the dense alder and salmon berry bushes above the high tide line.  Labels and lettering indicated much of the debris was from Asia.  Some of it may have been debris from the large tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, but much of it was just fishing gear lost during ordinary storms or accidents.

The Kuroshio Current
The Kuroshio Current

So how does fishing gear from Taiwan or Japan end up on a remote Alaskan beach?  Currents is the simple answer, specifically, the Kuroshio Current that flows towards the northeast from Japan.  The Kuroshio Current is a swift moving, warm water current, and it pushes debris into the North Pacific Gyre.  A Gyre is clockwise moving merry-go-round of ocean moved by the rotation of the Earth around its axis and by the prevailing winds.  Much of the debris from Asia gets trapped in that Gyre and coalesces into a floating soup of trash known as the Great Pacific Garbage patch. Some of that debris ends up washing ashore on the islands of Northwestern Hawaiian Archipelago, and some of it takes a left-hand turn, getting caught up in the counterclockwise movements of the Gulf of Alaska Current.  Kayak Island sticks out into the Gulf of Alaska like a hitchhiker’s thumb, and does a good job of catching floating debris.

Kayak Island Alaska
Kayak Island Alaska

Marine debris is more than a problem of unsightly litter.  Fishing gear lost in the water keeps on fishing, catching fish, birds, and sea turtles.  Plastic breaks apart into smaller pieces and ends up in the bellies of seabirds, turtles, marine mammals, and fish.  It’s not uncommon to find dead sea birds in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands with bellies completely filled with human trash.  Seabirds don’t consciously eat plastic, but in lower light conditions floating plastic can look like squid or krill.  To a hungry sea turtle, plastic bags and bottles can look like floating jellies and may clog the digestive system of an animal that eats them.  Plastics also concentrate potentially toxic organic chemicals that can work their way up the food chain into the fish and seafood that we eat.

Much to the annoyance of the crew, we picked up some of the larger floats and brought them on board the Tiglax. Larger efforts have been organized to do summer clean-up work on the outer islands of the Prince William Sound, but their efforts are a drop in a very large bucket.  The problem of plastic debris is enormous and in desperate need of a global solution.

Marine debris, Kayak Island.
Marine debris, Kayak Island.
Marine debris, Kayak Island.
Marine debris, Kayak Island.
Marine debris, Kayak Island.
Marine debris, Kayak Island.
Marine debris, Kayak Island.
Marine debris, Kayak Island.

Personal Log

Big Wave Riders

A rainbow visible as we left Kayak Island.
A rainbow visible as we left Kayak Island.

It doesn’t take long for waves to build in the Gulf of Alaska.  Within an hour and a half, the waves had risen to six feet with occasional ten foot monsters cresting just off the beach.  You could see white caps and even a mile away on the beach you could see the Tiglax bobbing up and down.  Marin, our ever-calm skiff driver, told us in a pleasant voice that the ride would be a little bumpy and that we might be “uncomfortable.”  In reality, it was a harrowing fifteen minutes that seemed to take much longer. I was sitting in front of the zodiac and was thrown several feet in the air more than once as we crested waves much larger than our boat. While on the beach I had discovered an intact 500-watt red lightbulb, used as a squid attractor by fishermen in Asia.  We had seen some of these floating on the surface the last few days, and to me it was the perfect piece of marine debris to take back to my classroom.  Unfortunately, that meant I was riding the bucking bronco that was our zodiac with a very fragile piece of glass in my left hand.  As I was getting air going over each wave, I was very conscious of the potential laceration I was risking to my hand or worse to the rubber zodiac.  Somehow we made it back to the boat, light bulb intact.  For the last two weeks, the Tiglax has grown to feel quite small, even confining, but as we approached the boat it seemed gigantic, dwarfing our skiff with its large steel hull crashing up and down in the waves like a giant hammer.  We tossed our bow line to the crew waiting on the back deck and they held us marginally in place as each of us timed our climb up a safety line with a rising wave.  “Don’t jump, take it slow, wait for the next wave if you need to,” said the captain.  The three other passengers on the zodiac did just as instructed.  The last passenger out, I grabbed the safety line with my right hand, but was unable to climb because of the glass treasure in my left hand. I jumped, skidding onto the back deck as if it was home plate, light bulb still in my left hand.

[Postscript: That lightbulb survived a trip across the Pacific Ocean, washing ashore on a rocky beach, and a trip to the Tiglax by a possibly foolish collector.  However, it only survived 24 hours in my classroom, smashed by an unknown student while I was visiting the bathroom.  Just so you know, high school students are rougher than the Pacific Ocean.]

Red Light Bulb Marine Debris
Red Light Bulb Marine Debris

We all managed to get back on board safely.  The experience and training of the crew really showed through.  When asked later if that was crazy, they answered with a casual dismissal, “just another day at the office.”

We got underway in large seas, six to eight feet, with the occasional twelve-footer.  I don’t know the techniques used to calculate such things, but some of those waves were huge.  As we positioned the boat perpendicular to the waves, each dip into a trough sent spray crashing over the bow of the boat.  I went up to the flying bridge, held on tight to a railing, and enjoyed the ride. The waves were wild and beautiful.  The sun occasionally peaked out from the clouds and the seas reflected a diverse assortment of blue and grey hues.

At the end of Kayak Island there stands the sharp cliffs of Point Elias, a lighthouse at its base, and a rock spire called Pinnacle Rock in front of it.  I’ve seen pictures of this place. It’s an iconic Alaskan image.   I felt lucky to be watching it as we rounded the point and headed into Prince William Sound for the last leg of our trip.

Did you know?

The size of a wave is determined by the multiplication of three variables.  The speed of the wind, the duration the wind blows, and the fetch (distance the wind blows.)  Increase any of those three and waves get bigger.  The size of waves can also be impacted by changing tides or currents and the specific topography of a shoreline.

Animals seen today

  • Stellar Sea Lions
  • Sea otter
  • Lots of birds including Haroquin ducks, double crested cormorants, gulls, common murres, and a blue heron

Mark Van Arsdale: Gelatinous Fireworks, September 21, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 21, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Partially cloudy skies, variable winds, calm seas to three feet

59.27 N, 143.89 W (Cape Suckling Line)

 

Science Log

Gelatinous Fireworks

 

CTD (water chemistry) data visualized along the Cape Suckling Line.
CTD (water chemistry) data visualized along the Cape Suckling Line.

Last night, we traveled between the Middleton Island line and the Cape Suckling line, providing us with a change in pace from our regular routine of zooplankton and jelly collecting.  Still, it wasn’t a night off, and at midnight, while still in deep waters, we stopped to do a special Multi-net tow. At 800 meters (almost 2500 feet,) this was our deepest tow of the trip.  A tow that deep takes almost two hours to get down to depth and back up again.  This tow was looking for unique organisms for later genetic analysis, and most of the stuff that came up I had previously only seen in movies.  Deep red shrimp, giant copepods almost a centimeter in length, big-eyed lantern fish, comb jellies, and amphipods that looked straight out of the movie Aliens.

Lanternfish from a deep water (800 m) Multi-net tow.
Lanternfish from a deep water (800 m) Multi-net tow.

We had a couple of hours break until we reached the outermost Cape Suckling station, so naturally I slept.  We did our first Methot net jelly tow at five am. We were in deep water, 2500 fathoms (~15000 feet), and far enough off shore that the jellies were abundant.  In fact, as we were putting the net in the water we noticed that there were more jellies than we had previously seen at any sampling station.   After putting the net in, we turned off the ships lights and lay witness to a fireworks show in the water.  So many jellies, and each time one hit the net there was an explosion of blue green light.  Jellies, particularly the glass jellies, are super fragile with long delicate tentacles.  When they hit the net, their tentacles break apart and they release a plume of glowing bioluminescence.  The normal in-water time for this net is twenty minutes, but after seeing such dense concentrations of jellies we decided to pull it early.  As we pulled it out of the water, the net nearly bursting at its seams, we had to attach an extra line and bring the cod end out of the water with the crane.  We measured jellies for a long time, and watched the sky glow red as the sun came up over the rugged peaks of Cape St. Elias and the Bering Glacier.

The Scientists

Yesterday, I talked about the Crew of the Tiglax. Today I thought I would say a bit about the scientists on board.  Excluding myself, there are thirteen scientists on board.  Of those thirteen, ten are women and three are men.  The group includes four graduate students, three research technicians, two wildlife biologists, two primary investigators/professors from UAF, one investigator/professor from the University of Hawaii, and one semi-retired UAF research staff.  Aside from the wildlife biologists and the researcher from the University of Hawaii, they are all physical oceanographers.  Physical oceanographers look at the ocean almost as if it is an equation waiting to be solved.  If you have the right physical drivers, wind and currents may combine nitrates and iron at the surface.  If you have the right nutrients mixed with light near the surface, you get phytoplankton growth.  If you have oxygen and phytoplankton with the right physical conditions to stay near the surface, you can grow and sustain zooplankton. They build ecosystems as if by Lego blocks, each piece critical to the final outcome.

Ask any one of them how they get paid and you will inevitably get the response – it’s complicated.  Most of the salaries are funded through grants in what they describe as “soft money.”  Grants for research are funded by a variety of agencies, in this case, the largest being the National Science Foundation.  Writers of the grants list the number of positions required and the dollar figure attached to those positions.  Once the grant is awarded it gets managed by The University of Alaska accounting department.  For the grad students, these trips are certainly a learning opportunity, and one that a lot of schools could not offer.

Personal Log

Autonomy

The back and forth nature of the way we sample stations is at times dizzying.  We make progress slowly, sample four stations at night, drive back to where you started in the morning, then sample the same four stations during the day.  At sunset, start at the next station down the line.  Much of the conversation aboard revolves around what station we are on and what test is being run.   The acquisition of data is slow, tedious, and deliberate work.

Today we are closer to Canada than we are from the town of Seward where we left. When you are part of a research cruise one hundred miles off shore, you can’t just go home because you’re tired, or because something happens at home, or because you just want a break. If something breaks, you have a spare, or you try to fix it.  If a schedule gets altered because of waves or weather, you just sleep when you can and work later.  There is no phone and no internet, so you can’t call your kids to wish them goodnight.  There is just work, and I have found myself in many ways ill prepared for its single-minded focus.

I have come to realize how much I take for granted the autonomy I have to do or go where I want.  Out here, you have no autonomy.  You go where the boat goes, you eat what and when the chef says, you work when the chief scientist says to work, and you do exactly what they say.  This of course, is driven by the sheer expense of doing research at sea as well as the tremendous travel times it takes to get out this far.

Northern Fulmar, notice it's "tube nose."
Northern Fulmar, notice it’s “tube nose.” photo credit Callie Gesmundo.

Did you know?

Many seabirds have a structure on the tops of their beaks that looks like the air intake on a muscle car.  These birds are known as “tube-nosed” birds and they make up the order Procellariiformes.  The group includes albatross, fulmars, petrals, and shearwaters.   The tube hides two nasal glands that help them concentrate and remove excess salt from their blood.  The glads allow them to drink saltwater without suffering dehydration.

 

Animals seen today

  • Minke whale
  • Lots of sea birds including puffins, auklets, shearwaters, albatross, fulmars, petrels, and gulls

Mark Van Arsdale: The Tiglax, September 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 20, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Partially cloudy skies, variable winds, calm seas to three feet

59.38 N, 146.3 W (Middleton Island Line)

 

Careers at Sea

The Tiglax

The R/V Tiglax  (TEKH-lah – Aleut for eagle) has been in operation since 1987.  During the 2018 field season, it traversed to Seattle, Nome, St. Mathew Island in the Bering Sea, and on multiple trips down the Aleutian Chain.  It supposedly logged enough miles in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea this summer to circumnavigate the Earth. It is operated by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The North Gulf of Alaska Long Term Ecological Monitoring Project charters the boat for about $11,000 a day.

The Tiglax as seen from Middleton Island
The Tiglax as seen from Middleton Island

The boat itself is 121 feet long and 32 feet wide. It has two cranes for moving gear and a winch with 2000 meters of cable. The Tiglax has a front and back operating deck and a walk around on one side. Inside, the boat is equipped with a small science lab, bunks to accommodate sixteen passengers besides the crew, a galley, kitchen, a dry room for hanging rain gear and mustang suits, and a large hold for storing equipment at the bottom of the boat. The boat has its own water desalinization system, electrical generator, a huge fuel capacity, a walk-in fridge, and two walk in freezers. It can stay at sea for weeks, limited only by its supply of fresh food.

The Tiglax has a crew of six.  John Faris is the captain.   He has worked on the boat for eighteen years, the last three as captain.  John keeps tabs on all of the scientific work going on aboard the Tiglax and works closely with Russ Hopcroft, the chief scientist, to maximize what can get done on the boat with the time and equipment we have.  He’s always lighthearted and upbeat, unless you forget to wear your float coat while working on deck.  I appreciated that John seemed to have a genuine interest in the science understanding that his boat was contributing to.

Dan, Andy, and Morgan lowering a skiff for our trip to Middleton Island.
Dan, Andy, and Morgan lowering a skiff for our trip to Middleton Island.

Dan is the mate and back-up pilot, running the boat on the night shift. He is a recent addition to the boat, having previously worked in marine salvage.  He was full of great stories and we shared a common distaste for the night shift.

Andy is the ship’s engineer.  I never knew where he was, down in the engine room somewhere maybe, but when things broke, which they did, he was always on it.  Despite having blown a hydraulic line on the main crane, and having seriously taxed the aging winch, we only missed out on one tow in fourteen days.

There are two shifts on the Tiglax.  The night shift operates from 10 pm to 6 am, and then again from 2pm to 6 pm.  The dayshift runs on the opposite hours.   There are two deckhands to staff those shifts, Dave on the day shift and Marin on the nightshift. Dave and Marin have both been with the boat for a few years, and seemed to enjoy the life that an intensive six-month season provides.

Dave keeps a van in Arizona, and is looking forward to some desert therapy after a long season spent on the cold water of the Gulf.   He was patient when I lashed things down poorly and always offered up a smile when I reached zombie status at the end of the night shift. He also taught me that the phrase “make sure the dog is in the clover,” doesn’t have anything to do with a four-legged animal or a plant (my bad), but rather meant I was supposed to put the metal tie down hook (dog) in the clover-shaped tie down slot (clover) on deck.

Marin at the winch controls.
Marin at the winch controls.

Marin grew up commercial fishing and is pretty much super woman.  She could move heavy equipment as well as any man on board and run the crane with a delicate touch, all while making a float coat and Grundens rubber bibs look stylish.  Marin does some other gigs during the winter, including work as a professional climber cleaning tents for Cirque du Soleil.

This type of cruise is not the main function of the Tiglax. For much of the summer the Tiglax is bringing scientists to,  picking scientists up from, or resupplying study sights in the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. The Tiglax is really a scientific taxi service and hotel. Our work, by comparison, is certainly repetitious if not dull. Running a deep-water plankton tow or a deep cast of the CTD typically means two hours of standing at the winch controls.  The deck hands will run the winch for those casts and tows over one hundred and twenty times during the length of this cruise.

Hardworking oceanographers have got to eat, and Morgan is key to that. Morgan is the ship’s chef; three times a day, she plans and prepares meals for twenty.  She is amazingly efficient in the kitchen, and always playing great music.  The rest of the crew thinks she has the hardest job on the ship.  Although fresh vegetables got a little hard to find, the food was always excellent.  Working just six months a year on the boat, she runs a private catering company the rest of the year.   She talked to me about the challenges of running a growing small business when you are so remote for so much of the year.

The entire crew lives in the town of Homer, the boat’s home port. They seem to enjoy their jobs on board the Tiglax as well as the exotic places it took them.

Personal Log

What’s it really like being at sea?

Being on board a small research vessel at sea is a series of sharp contradictions.  The boat can go anywhere, but you can’t go anywhere. You are in an incredibly remote and exotic location, but your day is totally routine.  When working, you are constantly busy, but when you aren’t working, there are few distractions and time moves slowly.  Look out at the horizon for an hour and you may see nothing but water and sky, but then in an instant a fifty-ton fin whale surfaces right in front of the boat.  You are traveling though places completely devoid of human noise, but the ship itself is a constant cacophony of sound.  When the boat moves completely out of sight of land, there is a visual blandness that lays in contrast to the thrill of the living things that populate the absurd depths below you.

Sunset on the Middleton Island Line
Sunset on the Middleton Island Line

Did you know?

If you want to open a door on a boat at sea you first have to unhook it.  All doors and shelves have hooks to keep them from flying open or closed.

Animals seen today

  • Fin whales
  • Dall’s porpoises
  • Lots of sea birds including puffins, auklets, shearwaters, albatross, fulmars, petrels, and gulls

 

Mark Van Arsdale: Estuaries, September 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 19, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clear skies, calm seas

 60.25N, 145.5 W (Middleton Island Line)

 

Science Log

Estuaries

Water chemistry for the Middleton Transect Line
Water chemistry for the Middleton Transect Line

Estuaries are semi-enclosed bodies of water where fresh and saltwater mix.  By this morning, we had moved into the Copper River Estuary and the salinity reading at the surface showed nearly fresh water.  Estuaries can be sites of incredible biological productivity, but in Alaskan high rates of water flushing due to rain and glacial melt along with low rates of plant decay (and almost zero use of agricultural fertilizers) mean that may not be the case.  Close to the Copper River, light may also become a limiting factor as the glacial sediments increase turbidity and decrease water clarity.  Along this line, we did see a narrow band of higher productivity (seen as Fluorescence on the graph above) about fifty kilometers out where water clarity had improved.

Estuaries tend to be shallow with lots of tidal movement.  This creates ideal conditions for plankton growth, and our nightly plankton tows did see more algae than we had in previous tows.  We also started to see juvenile pink shrimp and salmon smolt.  Much to our surprise, we were still catching jellies well into the freshwater area. For most oceanic species, fresh water is a stressor. Dealing with the constantly changing salinity is a challenge for any estuarine species.  An inflowing tide brings in denser saltwater, which moves along the bottom.  Freshwater flows in from rivers at the surface.   Depending on the conditions of the estuary, that can create either well mixed brackish water or distinct salt and freshwater wedges.

Bird biologist Dan Cushing entering data along the Middleton Line.
Bird biologist Dan Cushing entering data along the Middleton Line.

Estuaries across the world have historically been centers of intensive human development. In the U.S., New York, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Seattle are just a few examples of large urban areas sitting along large and important estuaries.  For historically developing cities, estuaries meant easy to access food and oceanic transportation, as well as the benefits of fresh water for drinking and the outflow of sewage waste.  Sixty percent of North America’s estuaries are considered to have significantly degraded habitat. However, the Copper River Estuary remains a largely undisturbed gem.  There are no dams on the Copper River and very little development along its watershed.   

Personal Log

Human Connections

When the sun came up in the morning we could see the heavy glacial silt of the Copper River.  There were sightings of ducks and other water fowl.  The water was grey and murky, but the peaks surrounding the Copper River water shed were sensational, and I found myself wishing I could stay awake.  As we get further east and into areas that I am completely unfamiliar with, there is so much to see, and I find myself wishing I did not have to sleep through the mornings.

Sunrise over the Copper River Estuary
Sunrise over the Copper River Estuary

At this point we were just a few miles away from the town of Cordova.  Although I did not, many people on board had cell service this morning.  When I woke up after five hours of sleep it was impossible to walk around the boat without seeing someone looking down at their phone.  Scientists at sea are very work focused, but even hard core scientists miss their human connections.  People wanted to talk to spouses or kids, and get updates on their friend’s social media.  There were also murmured discussions about what news we had missed over the last eight days, much of it ominous.  Our human connections are life sustaining points of encouragement, our twenty-four-hour news cycle maybe not so much.  By afternoon we were headed far back out to sea working on the Middleton line.  Because of the zig-zag nature of our day-night work, we have had a clear view of Middleton Island several times now.  Those who were here last year recall such torrential rains that they never saw the island once.  Our weather continues to be remarkably good.  We hope to complete the Middleton Line tomorrow and head further east to Cape Suckling after that.  Ironically, the good weather seems to be leaving the captain and crew slightly ill at ease.  It can’t last forever, and they seem to be wondering when the other shoe will drop.  I just hope that if and when the weather goes bad, it’s during the last leg of our trip when we have moved into the protected waters of Prince William Sound.

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Engineer for a Day, September 18, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – 30, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 18, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2901.62N

Longitude: 0932.87W

Sea Wave Height: 0m

Wind Speed: 6.63 knots

Wind Direction: 203֯

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 32.4

Sky: 0% cloud cover

 

Science and Technology Log

My first day onboard was spent following around 2nd Engineer Will Osborn.  Will is an officer in the Merchant Marines, and a NOAA Augmentation Pool Engineer assigned to the Oregon II.  He invited me to follow him around and learn how the engineers prepare the ship for sea.  One of the duties of the engineers is to check the liquid levels of each of the tanks prior to sailing.  They do this by performing soundings, where they use a weighted measuring tape and a conversion chart to determine the number of gallons in each of the tanks.

 

The engineering team then prepared the ship to sail by disconnecting shore power and turning on the engines aboard ship.  I got to flip the switch that disconnects the ship from shore power.  I followed the engineering team as they disconnected the very large cable that the ship uses to draw power from shore.  I then got to follow 2nd Engineer Will as he turned on the engines aboard ship.

turning off the shore power
Kristin Hennessy-McDonald turning off the shore power in the engine room

Once we set sail, the science team met and discussed how longline surveys would work.  I am on the day shift, which is from noon to midnight.  We got the rest of the day, after onboard training and group meetings, to get used to our new sleep schedule.  Because I was on the day shift, I stayed up and got to watch an amazing sunset over the Gulf.

Our second day out, we set our first two longlines.  The first one was set before shift change, so the night shift crew bated the hooks and set the line.  My shift brought the line in, and mostly got back unbaited hooks.  We got a few small Atlantic Sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks on the line, and used those to go over internal and external features that differentiated the various species we might find.

 

After the lines were in, it was time for safety drills.  These included the abandon ship drill, which required us to put on a submersion suit, which is affectionately referred to as a Gumby suit.  You can see why below.  It was as hard to get into as it looks, but it will keep you warm and afloat if you end up in the water after you abandon ship.

Gumby Suit
Kristin Hennessy-McDonald in the Gumby Suit

 

Personal Log

I have learned a few rules of the boat on my first days at sea.  First, always watch your head.  The stairwells sometimes have short spaces, and you have to make sure not to hit them on your way up.  Second, always keep a hand free for the boat.  It is imperative at sea that you always have a hand free, in case the boat rocks and you need to catch yourself.  Third, mealtimes are sacred.  There are 31 people aboard the boat, with seating for 12 in the galley.  In order for everyone to get a chance to sit down and eat, you can’t socialize in the galley.

Did You Know?

In order for the crew to have freshwater to drink, the Oregon II uses a reverse osmosis machine.  They create 1000-1200 gallons of drinkable water per day, running the ocean water through the reverse osmosis generator at a pressure of 950 psi.

Quote of the Day

And when there are enough outsiders together in one place, a mystic osmosis takes place and you’re inside.

~Stephen King

Question of the Day

How do sharks hear in the water?

Mark Van Arsdale: Sightings from the Flying Bridge, September 18, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 18, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clear skies, calm seas

59.30 N, 146.15 W (Middleton Island Line)

 

Science Log

Sightings from the Flying Bridge

We finished up night work on the morning of the 17th in a bit of swell. Our last casts of the Methot and the Bongo nets were bumpy.  It was hard to stand up, and hard to keep objects from shifting dangerously.  But the swell didn’t last, and by time I woke up mid-morning it was a picture-perfect day, clear and calm. The day shift finished up sampling the Kodiak line by dinner, and we began a twenty-four-hour transit from the Kodiak line to Middleton Island east of Prince William Sound. I got the night off, and with it my first solid night of sleep since the trip started.  I felt like a whole new human.

Mola mola
Sunfish (Mola mola) with diver
© Tomas Kotouc
Tomas Kotouc
Sladkova 331/II, Jindrichuv Hradec, 377 01, Czech Republic

The transit allowed me to spend most of the day in the flying bridge and it was a good day for it.  We sighted fin whales in the morning, numerous sea birds, another Mola mola (ocean sun fish), and two pods of Risso’s dolphins in the afternoon.  The last two sightings are really interesting.  That was the third Mola mola spotted on the trip.   The Mola mola is the largest bony fish in the ocean.  They can grow up to four meters long and three thousand pounds, eating almost exclusively jellies. They are a bizarre looking fish.  They have no true caudal (tail) fin, thin elongated pectoral fins, and a body shaped like more like a giant head than a fish.   They also swim (if you can call it that) on their side.  The interesting thing is that the Mola mola is a sub-tropical fish and should not be seen in the North Gulf of Alaska – but here they are.

The Risso’s dolphins were another unusual sighting.  We saw them in groups of twenty or so.  Fast swimmers and acrobatic in their movements, you could see their characteristically white faces and scratched backs as they jumped out of the water.  None of the crew or scientists on board had ever seen them and we went through three books trying to get a solid ID.  Very little is known about this species, and confirmed sightings at sea are limited.  It’s likely that this will be the farthest north sighting of Risso’s dolphins recorded.

In the last few years, unusual sightings of species have become more common and not just on the surface.  Plankton tows are revealing copepod species more commonly associated with the California Current than the Gulf of Alaska.  It’s possible that these sightings represent observational bias – we are just paying more attention.  But it seems likely that species in the Gulf of Alaska are on the move.

The North Gulf of Alaska changes seasonally, it changes based on your depth and location, and it changes with weather and currents, but it seems obvious that it is also experiencing long term climactic change.  How will that change affect the stability of this rich ecosystem?  How will it affect the large slice of the Alaskan economy that depends on the wealth of fish brought out of the Gulf?  Already this summer, the Gulf of Alaska cod fishery closed due to lack of fish.  A disaster to some of fishermen in Kodiak, and a heavy hit to the Kodiak Island economy. By tomorrow morning we will be at the outflow of the Copper River.  Copper River salmon are famous for their rich flavor, high prices, and dependable arrival, but this summer, fishing for Copper River king and sockeye salmon was also closed for much of the summer. Fish were coming back small or not at all.

Middleton Island, the kittiwake tower in the background.
Middleton Island, the kittiwake tower in the background.

Personal Log

Middleton Island

Good weather has left us a bit ahead of schedule, and the captain and chief scientists decided we could make an excursion to Middleton Island.  When I get home I plan to do some more research on the Island, but it seems to have an interesting, albeit short history.  The island is just a few thousand years old, brought up out of the ocean by the tectonic movements of the Pacific and North American plates.  Much of the island is a flat plateau, surrounded by a series of shelves descending down to the water.  Some of the shelves are quite new, the latest edition came during the 1964 Alaska Good Friday Earthquake, as the island was force 12 feet up from the ocean.

Abandoned air force buildings and the newly remodeled kittiwake tower.
Abandoned air force buildings and the newly remodeled kittiwake tower.

The island was once home to a World War II Air Force base.  It was believed that its moderate climate would make an ideal early warning site, but the base was abandoned some time ago. Middleton is currently home to an FAA weather station and an immense number of nesting seabirds.   At some point the disintegrating air force buildings were taken over by those nesting sea birds.  Scott Hatch, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, saw an opportunity and over the years has turned the old Air Force tower into an observation and study center for nesting black legged kittiwakes.  Over a thousand birds have nests on the outside of the tower, and each one now has a one-way glass window at its back.  The nesting birds can be observed and studied by budding biology students from inside the tower. Studies have been done on their diets, metabolism, behaviors and numerous other details of their private lives. We got to meet Scott and his wife, who were just finishing up some end of the season work on the sight.  They gave us a bit of a tour and showed us where they had built facilities for students and observation sites for nesting common murres, as well as burrow digging sea birds like rhinoceros auklets and puffins. The sea birds were all gone, having fledged their young and returned to the ocean a few weeks before, but it was fun to imagine what the island looked and sounded like with thousands of sea birds on it.

View from inside the kittiwake tower.
View from inside the kittiwake tower.

The day off and a shore excursion seemed to leave everyone more relaxed that they have been for the last week.  People smiled and joked and enjoyed the unusually warm September day.  Feeling recharged, I was even looking forward to my night shift.

Cool Moment of the Day

We start working most nights just after the sun goes down.  Last night I noticed there was a bird following us just overhead.  It was an osprey, and it followed us for more than two hours as we worked through the night.  The bird undoubtedly thought we were a fishing vessel and was looking for handouts, but in the middle of the night it was an amusing distraction to look up at the rapture silhouette against the clouds.

Animals seen today

  • Fin whales
  • Harbor porpoises
  • Risso’s dolphins
  • Another Mola mola
  • Lots of sea birds including puffins, auklets, shearwaters, cormorants, fulmars, petrels, a merlin, an osprey

Mark Van Arsdale: Kodiak, September 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

This morning 25 knot winds from the NE, waves to 8ft, tonight calm seas variable winds, light rain

58.14 N, 151.35 W (Kodiak Line)

Science Log

Kodiak  

CTD (water chemistry) data visualized along the Kodiak line.
CTD (water chemistry) data visualized along the Kodiak line.

My wife and I have traveled to Raspberry and Kodiak Islands twice.  The island’s raw beauty, verdant colors, and legendary fishing make it one of my favorite places on Earth.  Its forests are dense, with huge hemlocks and thick growths of salmon berries.  The slopes are steep and covered with lush grasses.  Fish and wildlife abound.  As we moved our way down the Kodiak line, getting closer and closer to land, that richness of life was reflected in waters surrounding the Island.  In just fifty nautical miles we moved from a depth of a few thousand meters to less than one hundred.  Seabirds became more abundant, and we saw large groups of sooty and Buller’s shearwaters, some of them numbering in the thousands.  Sooty shearwaters nest in the southern hemisphere and travel half way across the planet to feed in the rich waters surrounding Kodiak.  Fin whales were also abundant today, and could be seen feeding in small groups at the surface. Our plankton tows also changed.  Deep sea species like lantern fish and Euphausiids disappeared and pteropods became abundant. We caught two species of pteropods that go by the common names – sea butterflies and sea angels.  Sea butterflies look like snails with clear shells and gelatinous wings.  Sea angels look more like slugs, but also swim with a fluttering of their wings.  Pteropods are an important part of the Gulf of Alaska Ecosystem, in particular to the diets of salmon.

Sooty shearwaters as far as you can see.
Sooty shearwaters as far as you can see.

In the last decade, scientists have become aware that the ocean’s pH is changing, becoming more acidic. Sea water, like blood, is slightly basic, typically 8.2 on the pH scale.  As we have added more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, about half of that gas has dissolved into the oceans. When CO2 is dissolved in sea water if forms carbonic acid, and eventually releases hydrogen ions, lowering the waters pH.  In the last decade, sea water pH has dropped to 8.1 and is predicted to be well below 8 by 2050.  A one tenth change in pH may not seem like much, but the pH scale is logarithmic, meaning that that one tenth point change actually represents a thirty percent increase in the ocean’s acidity.   Pteropods are particularly vulnerable to these changes, as their aragonite shells are more difficult to make in increasingly acidic conditions.


A nice introduction to Pteropods

Personal Log

I chose teaching

We have been at sea now for one week. I feel adrift without the comforts and routines of family, exercise, and school. There are no distractions here, no news to follow, and no over-scheduled days.  There is just working, eating, and sleeping. Most of the crew and scientists on board seem to really enjoy that routine.  I am finding it difficult.

There was a point in my twenties where I wanted nothing more than to become a field biologist. I wanted to leave society, go to where the biological world was less disturbed and learn its lessons. I see the same determination in the graduate students aboard the Tiglax. When working, they are always hyper focused on their data and the defined protocols they use to collect it.  If anything goes wrong with tow or sampling station, we repeat it. You clearly need that kind of focus to do good research. Over time, cut corners or the accumulation of small errors can become inaccurate and misleading trends.

When I was in graduate school hoping to become a marine biologist, I was asked to be teaching assistant to an oceanography class for non-science majors. Never having considered teaching, the experience opened my eyes to the joys of sharing the natural world with others, and changed my path in ways that I don’t regret. I am a teacher; over the last twenty years it has come to define me. On this trip, they call me a Teacher at Sea, yet the title is really a misnomer.  I have nothing to teach these people, they are the experts.  Really, I am a student at sea, trying to learn all that I can about each thing I observe and each conversation I have.

Bowler's shearwater, photo credit Callie Gesmundo.
Buller’s shearwater, photo credit Callie Gesmundo.

 

Animals seen today

  • Fin whales
  • Lost of shearwaters (mostly sooty but also Buller’s), along with puffins, auklets, skua

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Something Incredible, September 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – 30, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 16, 2018

 

Personal Introduction

Greetings to those following my adventure from afar.  My name is Kristin Hennessy-McDonald, but my students and fellow faculty call me Dr. Hen-Mc.  I am so excited to have been selected to be a member of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program aboard the Oregon II.  I am the science lead at T-STEM Academy at East High School, where I teach Honors Biology.  My path to the classroom was far from straight.  I attended the University of Notre Dame, where I earned a B.S. in Biology.  I then continued my academic path at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where I earned my PhD in Cell Physiology.  After spending a little less than 3 years at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, I had an epiphany.  I found that I enjoyed sharing my passion about science more than doing research at the bench.  I made the decision to transition to the classroom and have not looked back.  8 years later, I have found my home at T-STEM, and my family in Team East.

The journey to boarding the Oregon II has been a long one, but well worth it.  When my boss brought the opportunity to me, I applied with hope.  When I got the acceptance letter, I gasped and started jumping up and down in my classroom.  My students were confused, but then excited when they found out that I had gotten this opportunity.  I teach many of the same students who were in that class, and they have all been sharing in my excitement over the past months as I have prepared for this adventure.

I have always been fascinated by water.  From the time I was a small child, my parents would have to watch carefully when we went to the pool or the beach, because I was liable to jump right in.  As I grew up, that love of water has remained, and I spend time each summer on the Gulf.  I am thrilled to have a chance to study ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico, and see things that I only read about in National Geographic magazine.

Mark and Kristin Gulf
Me and my husband in Gulfport, MS

I have passed my love of water on to my daughter.  Beth is the same way I was when I was young.  She wants to run into the water, to play in the waves.  She sees the beauty of the sea, watching dolphins alongside the boat when we take trips to Ship Island out of Gulfport, MS.  I look forward to sharing my adventures at sea with her.  I am sad to leave her and my husband for two weeks, but grateful that they waved me off on my adventures with a smile.

Beth Gulf
Beth at Ship Island building a sandcastle

I began my career as a teacher because I wanted to share my love of science with young people.  I dreamed of someday being a child’s gateway to the wonders and knowledge of science.  While none of my students have stood on a desk reciting Whitman, some of my students have allowed my love of science to guide them along science career paths.  When I joined Team East at T-STEM Academy at East High School, I knew that I was in a place that would foster the idea of learning by doing.  I wanted to exemplify that going on this trip.  I cannot wait to bring all of the knowledge and experiences of this trip back to my classroom.  Instead of just sharing case studies of Gulf Coast ecosystems, I will be able to share what I learned as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.

 

Personal Quote of the day

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
~Carl Sagan

 

Did You Know?

Red Snappers are considered to be one of the top predators in the Gulf of Mexico?

 

Question of the day

Given that red snapper hatch at 0.0625 inches long, and can reach sizes of 16 inches within two years, do you think their cells have a long or short G1 phase?

 

Mark Van Arsdale: What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part IV – Jellies, September 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Mostly cloudy, winds variable 10 knots, waves four to six feet during the day, up to eight feet at night

57.27 N, 150.10 W (Kodiak Line)

Science Log

What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part IV Jellies

Ever seen a jellyfish washed up on the beach? Ever gotten stung by one?  Most people don’t have very favorable views of jellyfish.  I’m getting to spend a lot of time with them lately, and I am developing an appreciation. We have a graduate student on board studying the interactions between fish and jellies.  Her enthusiasm for them is infectious.

Graduate student Heidi photographing a phacellophora (fried egg) jelly
Graduate student Heidi photographing a phacellophora (fried egg) jelly

Jellyfish really aren’t fish.  They belong to a group called Cnidarians, along with corals, sea anemones, and hydras.   It’s one of the most primitive groups of animals on the planet.  Ancient and simple, Cnidarians have two tissue layers, a defined top and bottom, but no left and right symmetry and no defined digestive or circulatory systems.  Jellies have simple nerves and muscles.  They can move, but they are unable to swim against oceanic currents and therefore travel at the whim of those currents.  Jelly tissue is made of a collagen protein matrix and a lot of water.  I have heard one scientist call jellies “organized sea water.”  That’s really not too far off.  Seawater has a density close to one kilogram per liter, and when you measure jellies, their mass to volume ratio almost always approaches one.

Despite their simplicity, jellies are incredible predators.  When we scoop them up with the Methot net, they often come in with small lantern fish paralyzed and dangling from their tentacles.  Jellies possess one of the more sophisticated weapons in the animal kingdom. Located in their tentacles are stinging cells, called cnidocytes. These cells contain tiny, often toxic harpoons, called nematocysts. The nematocysts are triggered by touch and can deploy as fast as a rifle bullet, injecting enough venom to kill small fish or to give the person weighing the jellies a nasty sting.

Me holding a Chrysaora (sea nettle) jelly.
Holding up a Chrysaora (sea nettle) jelly.

Jellies have not been thoroughly studied in the Gulf of Alaska, and the work onboard the Tiglax may take us closer to answering some basic questions of abundance and distribution.  How many jellies are there, where are they, and are their numbers increasing in response to increasing ocean temperatures?

In order to sample jellies each night, four times a night we deploy a Methot net. The Methot net is a square steel frame, two and a half meters on each side and weighing a few hundred pounds.   It is attached to a heavy mesh net, ten meters long. Even in relatively calm seas, getting it in and out of the water takes a lot of effort.  We have already deployed it in seas up to eight feet and winds blowing 20 knots, and that was pretty crazy. The net is attached by steel bridle cables to the main crane on the Tiglax.  As the crane lifts it, four of us guide it overboard and into the water.  We leave it in the water for 20 minutes, and it catches jellies – sometimes lots of jellies.  On still nights, you can sometimes see jellies glow electric blue as they hit the net.

As we retrieve the net there are a few very tense moments where we have to simultaneously secure the swinging net frame and lift the jelly-filled cod end over the side of the boat. A few of the hauls were big enough that we had to use the crane a second time to lift the cod end into the boat.

Smaller ctenophores (comb jellies) caught in the Methot net.
Smaller ctenophores (comb jellies) caught in the Methot net.

Once on board, the jellies have to be identified, measured, and weighed.  Assuming catches stay about the same, we will measure over one thousand jellies while on this cruise.  I don’t know how all of this data compares with similar long-term ecological projects, but on this trip the trend is clear.  Jellies are true oceanic organisms, the further we go offshore the larger and more numerous they get.  Go much beyond the continental shelf and you have entered the “jelly zone.”

Personal Log

Seasick teacher

Last night was tough.  During our transit from the Seward line to the Kodiak line, things got sloppy.  The waves got bigger, and their periods got shorter.  To make things more uncomfortable, we were running perpendicular to the movement of the waves.  I retreated to my bunk to read, but eventually the motion of the ocean got the better of me and I made my required donations to the fishes.  The boat doesn’t stop for seasick scientist (or teacher) and neither does the work; at 11:00 last night I dragged myself from bed and reported for duty.

The work on the Tiglax is nonstop.  The intensity of labor involved with scientific discovery has been an eye-opener to me.  We live in a world where unimaginable knowledge is at our fingertips. We can search up the answer to any question and get immediate answers.  Yet we too easily forget that the knowledge we obtain through our Google searches was first obtained through the time and labor of seekers like the scientists aboard the Tiglax.

The goal of this project is to understand the dynamics of the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem, but one of the major challenges in oceanography is the vastness of its subject.  This project contains 60-70 sampling stations and 1,800 nautical miles of observational transects, but that is just a few pin pricks in a great wide sea. Imagine trying to understand the plot of a silent movie while watching it through a darkened curtain that has just a few specks of light passing through.

 

Transect lines for the North Gulf of Alaska Long-term Ecological Research Program.
“Pinpricks in the ocean,” Transect lines for the North Gulf of Alaska Long-term Ecological Research Program.

Did You Know?

Storm petrels periodically land on ships to seek cover from winds or storms.  They are one of the smaller sea birds, at just a few ounces they survive and thrive in the wild wind and waves of the Gulf of Alaska.

Last night we had a forked-tailed storm petrel fly into the drying room as I was removing my rain gear between zooplankton tows.  A softball-sized orb of grey and white feathers, it weighed almost nothing and stared at me with deep black and nervous eyes as I picked it up, wished it well, and released it off the stern of the boat.  It was a cool moment.

Animals Seen Today

  • Fin whales
  • Lots of seabirds including Storm Petrels, tufted puffins, Laysan and black-footed and short-tailed albatross, flesh footed shearwater, and an osprey that followed the boat for half the night
  • Mola mola (ocean sunfish), which was far north of its normal range

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ashley Cosme: Jaws! – September 13th, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 13, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 29 45.5N
  • Longitude: 88 22.4W
  • Wind speed: 4 Knots
  • Wind direction: 060 (Coming from Northeast)
  • Sky cover: Clear
  • Visibility: 10 miles
  • Barometric pressure: 1016.4 atm
  • Sea wave height: 1 foot
  • Sea Water Temp: 30.3°C
  • Dry Bulb: 28.2°C
  • Wet Blub: 25.9°C

 

Science and Technology:

The one thing that pops into most people’s mind when they hear the word ‘shark’ is their sharp teeth.  Surprisingly, not all sharks have sharp teeth.  The diet of a shark determines the shape of their teeth.  The picture below is a set of jaws from two different species of sharks.  The jaws on the right are from an Atlantic sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), and the set of jaws on the left is from a gulf smoothhound (Mustelus sinusmexicanus).  The Atlantic sharpnose shark possesses small razor blade-like teeth because their diet consists of many different species of fish, as well as worms, crabs, and mollusks.  The gulf smoothhound possess teeth that are shorter, less sharp, and more closely packed together.  Their diet consists mainly of crustaceans and smaller species of fish.

jaws.jpg
Jaws from a gulf smoothhound (Mustelus sinusmexicanus) and an Atlantic sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)

 

Personal Log:

Day Crew.jpg
Shark/Red Snapper Survey Day Crew

We completed our last haulback tonight and we caught a whopping 48 fish.   Just before the haulback I watched the sun set one last time before I head home tomorrow.  These past two weeks have been so rewarding for me professionally and personally.  There were times when I felt like a college intern again, and I loved the feeling of not knowing all the answers.  So often my students think I have the answer to everything, and it was so refreshing to be back in their shoes for two weeks.  The NOAA scientists and fisherman expressed so much patience with me.  It reminded me that my students are learning most of the material in my classroom for the first time, and they will be more successful if I show them patience as they work through understanding the many details that I throw at them in one class period.

I most excited to get back to my family.  I fly in very late tomorrow night so I will not see my kids until they wake up on Saturday morning.  I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they see that Mommy is finally home!  Once everyone is awake I am driving straight to Dunkin’ Donuts for an iced coffee.

Martha Loizeaux: Sensational Satellites, August 29, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Martha Loizeaux
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
August 22-31, 2018
 
Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 29, 2018
 
Weather Data from the Bridge

 

  • Latitude:  39.115 N
  • Longitude:  74.442 W
  • Water Temperature: 26.4C
  • Wind Speed:  11.7 knots
  • Wind Direction: SW
  • Air Temperature: 28.2C
  • Atmospheric Pressure:  1017.03 millibars
  • Depth:  22 meters

 

Science and Technology Log
 
Today I was excited to learn more about the work of Charles Kovach, Support Scientist with Global Science and Technology, a contractor to NOAA Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR).
 
Charles’s work may sound familiar.  It is a bit similar to the work I wrote about yesterday that Audrey and Kyle are doing with the University of Rhode Island.  He wants to match what satellite pictures are seeing to what is really here in the ocean. 
 

Charles has another cool tool called a “hyperspectral profiler” or hyperpro for short.  He can put this tool into the water to measure light at the surface, light coming down through the water, and light bouncing back up from the deep.  He wants to know how the sunlight changes as it goes down into the deep and back up through the water.  The hyperpro measures thousands of different colors as they travel through the water. Seeing what colors bounce back from the water can help you understand what is IN the water.  For example, you can see some of this with your own eyes.  Blue water is usually clean and clear, green water has a lot of algae, and brown water has a lot of particles like sand or dirt.  But the hyperpro gets A LOT more detail than just our eyes. 

Martha hyperpro computer
Me assisting with the hyperpro deployment. I had to read the computer program and alert Charles regarding the depth of the instrument.
Charles hyperpro
Charles deploying the hyperpro
 
The main purpose of this is to understand what satellites are seeing.  We can get images from satellites out in space, like a picture of the ocean.  But the satellite is outside of our atmosphere so it is seeing light that has gone through a lot of air and gases as well as the ocean.  So when scientists can measure the light in the ocean at the same time that the satellite is taking a picture, they can use MATH to find a relationship between what the satellite sees and what is really happening on Earth.  In this way, Charles can calibrate (make more accurate) and validate (make sure it is right) the satellite images. 
 
This is helpful information for A LOT of people all over the world.  Scientists are pretty good at collaborating because they know how important it is to share information with everyone so we can all be more aware of what is happening in our natural world.  Charles collaborates with other countries and their satellites, as well as NOAA’s satellites. 
 
Charles also collaborates with other scientists on the ship and in NOAA’s laboratories.  This way he can compare his light data to other measurements such as chlorophyll (remember?  It’s from phytoplankton!), turbidity, and even specific species of plankton.  Then he can find relationships between things like the light and the plankton or turbidity.  He can use MATH to write an equation for this relationship (we call that an algorithm).  And you know what that means?  We can use a satellite picture to tell what kind of plankton is in the water!  We can see tiny plankton from space!  WOW.
 
Collecting and Analyzing Data
 

When Charles uses his hyperpro, the machine automatically records the light data and we can see it on a computer screen.  Then he uses special computer software to analyze the data to better understand what it means and how it relates to the satellite.  He creates line graphs to understand the colors of light that are coming down into and up out of the water.  

data processed
Charles’s data after it’s been processed or analyzed. He ends up with line graphs, satellite images, and photos as scientific evidence.
 
One thing I have noticed with all of the scientist on the ship is the importance of data collection!  I have entered some of the data and have noticed data sheets around the wet lab.  If we do not write or type every bit of data, then it can’t teach us anything.  Scientists write data into a data table of columns and rows.  This keeps it organized and easy to understand.  When they analyze the data, they will often create a graph from the data table.  This helps them to see a picture of relationships between the measurements.
data sheet
Audrey and Kyle’s data sheet
 
A Few Questions for Charles
 
Me – How did you become interested in your field of study?
Charles – I worked in Florida as a water quality manager.  It became obvious that we needed to see the bigger picture to truly understand what was happening in the water.  Satellites are the best way to try to get a picture of what is happening over a large space at the same time.
 
Me – What would you recommend to a young person exploring ocean and science career options?
Charles – Work hard in MATH!  I use math every day and would not be able to do this work without it.  It is very important!  Computer coding is also important in the work I do.
Charles computer
Charles surrounded by his work.
 
 
Personal Log
 
Wow, I cannot believe how much I am learning during this experience.  It is truly fascinating.
 
In my past blogs, I mentioned spending some down time on the fly bridge.  I wanted to share more about that part of the ship because it is a truly peaceful place and really allows you to feel that you are in the middle of the ocean!
fly bridge
The fly bridge is the uppermost deck
 
The fly bridge is the highest of the decks on the ship.  It is above the “bridge deck” (where NOAA Corps operates the ship) and just under the radar sensors.  At any given time during the day, you can find some of the science team and sometimes the NOAA Corps team up on the fly bridge.  We might be checking with the seabird observers to see what animals have been spotted, taking a nap in the sun at the picnic table, staring out at the water with binoculars, or getting cozy with a good book.  It’s a great place to soak it all in and my favorite place on the ship. 
fly bridge view
The view from the fly bridge
 
One level below the fly bridge is the bridge deck where the ship is operated.  NOAA Corps Officers are happy to answer questions and it’s also a fun and interesting place to visit.  It’s a great place to see the charts that officers use to navigate, radar screens, and other cool ship operating tools.  They even let me take control of the ship!  JUST KIDDING!  That would never happen, unless I trained to become an officer myself and was authorized to control the ship.  Maybe one day!
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Me driving the ship. Just kidding. But I could pose for a photo just for fun.
 
Did You Know?
 

The largest species of plankton is called a Mola mola.  It is a large fish that looks like it had its tail cut off!  It’s flat, rounded shape allows it to flow with the currents along with its food source, other plankton!  Because the Mola mola is a living thing that drifts with currents, it is plankton!  The seabird observers have seen several Mola mola on this trip.  Maybe I’ll see one tomorrow…

mola mola
A mola mola at the surface. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
 
Mystery Photo
 
Can you guess what this photo is?  Add your guess to the comments below!
Mystery photo
Do you know what this is?
 
 

Mark Van Arsdale: What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part III – Zooplankton, September 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 15, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Mostly cloudy, winds southerly 20 knots, waves to eight feet

57.56 N, 147.56 W (in transit from Gulf of Alaska Line to Kodiak Line)

Science Log

What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part III Zooplankton

The North Gulf of Alaska Long-term Ecological Research Project collects zooplankton in several different ways.  The CalVET Net is dropped vertically over the side of the boat to a depth of 100 meters and then retrieved.  This net gives researchers a vertical profile of what is going on in the water column.  The net has very fine mesh in order to collect very small plankton.  Some of these samples are kept alive for later experiments. Others are preserved in ethanol for later genetic analysis. One of the scientists aboard is interested in the physiological details of what makes copepods thrive or not.  Copepods are so important to the food webs of the Gulf of Alaska, that their success or failure can ultimately determines the success or failure of many other species in the ecosystem.  When “the blob” hit the Gulf of Alaska in 2014-2016, thousands and thousands of sea birds died.  During those same years, copepods were shown to be less successful in their growth and egg production.

Chief Scientist Russ Hopcroft prepping the Multi-net
Chief Scientist Russ Hopcroft prepping the Multi-net

The second net used to collect zooplankton is the Multi-net.  We actually use two different Multi-nets.  The first is set up to do a vertical profile.  In the morning, it’s dropped vertically behind the boat.  Four or five times a night, we tow the second Multi-net horizontally while the boat moves slowly forward at two knots.  This allows us to collect a horizontal profile of plankton at specific depths.  If the water depth is beyond 200 meters, we will lower the net to that depth and open the first net.  The first net samples between 200 and 100 meters, above 100 meters we open the second net.  As we go up each net is opened in decreasing depth increments, the last one being very close to the surface.  Once the net is retrieved, we wash organisms down into the cod end, remove the cod end, and preserve the samples in glass jars with formalin. In a busy night, we may put away twenty-five pint-sized samples of preserved zooplankton.  When those samples go back to Fairbanks they have to be hand-sorted by a technician to determine the numbers and relative mass of each species.  We are talking hours and hours of time spend looking through a microscope.  One night of work on the Tiglax may produce one month of work for technicians in the lab.

 

Underwater footage of a Multi-net triggering.

The last type of net we use is a Bongo net.  Its steel frame looks like the frame of large bongo drums.  Hanging down behind the frame is two fine mesh nets, approximately seven feet long terminating in a hard plastic sieve or cod end.  Different lines use different nets based on the specific questions researchers have for that transect line or the technique used on previous years transects.   To maintain a proper time series comparison from year to year, techniques and tools have to stay consistent.

A cod end
A cod end

I’ve spent a little bit of time under the microscope looking at some of the zooplankton samples we have brought in. They are amazingly diverse. The North Gulf of Alaska has two groups of zooplankton that can be found in the greatest abundance: copepods and euphausiids (krill.)    These are food for most other animals in the North Gulf of Alaska.  Fish, seabirds, and baleen whales all eat them.  Beyond these two, I was able to observe the beating cilia of ctenophores and the graceful flight of pteropods or sea angels, the ghost-like arrow worms, giant-eyed amphipods, and dozens of others.

Deep sea squid, an example of a vertical migrator caught in our plankton trawls
Deep sea squid, an example of a vertical migrator caught in our plankton trawls

By far my favorite zooplankton to watch under the microscope was the larvae of the goose neck barnacle.  Most sessile marine organisms spend the early, larval stage of their lives swimming amongst the throngs of migrating zooplankton.  Barnacles are arthropods, which are defined by their exoskeletons and segmented appendages.  Most people would recognize barnacles encrusting the rocks of their favorite coastline, but when I show my students videos of barnacles feeding most are surprised to see the delicate feeding structures and graceful movements of this most durable intertidal creature.  When submerged, barnacles open their shells and scratch at particles in the water with elongated combs that are really analogous to legs. The larva of the goose neck barnacle has profusely long feeding appendages and a particularly beautiful motion as it feeds.

We have to “fish” for zooplankton at night for two reasons.  The first is logistical.  Some work needs to get done at night when the winch is not being used by the CTD team.  The second is biological.  Most of the zooplankton in this system are vertical migrators.  They rise each night to feed on phytoplankton near the surface and then descend back down to depth to avoid being seen in the daylight by their predators.  This vertical migration was first discovered by sonar operators in World War II.  While looking for German U-boats, it was observed that the ocean floor itself seemed to “rise up” each night.  After the war, better techniques were developed to sample zooplankton, and scientists realized that the largest animal migration on Earth takes place each night and each morning over the entirety of the ocean basins.


One of my favorite videos on plankton.

Personal Log

The color of water

This far offshore, the water we are traveling through is almost perfectly clear, yet the color of the ocean seems continuously in flux.  Today the sky turned gray and so did the ocean.  As the waves come up, the texture of the ocean thickens and the diversity of reflection and refraction increases.   Look three times in three directions, and you will see three hundred different shades of grey or blue.  If the sun or clouds change slightly, so does the ocean.

The sea is anything but consistent. Rips or streaks of current can periodically be seen separating the ocean into distinct bodies.  So far in our trip, calm afternoons have turned into windy and choppy evenings. Still, the crew tells me that by Gulf of Alaska standards, we are having amazing weather.

Variations in water texture created by currents in the Gulf of Alaska.
Variations in water texture created by currents in the Gulf of Alaska.

 

Did You Know?

The bodies of puffins are much better adapted to diving than flying.  A puffin with a full belly doesn’t fly to get out of the way of the boat so much as butterfly across the surface of the water.  Michael Phelps has nothing on a puffin flapping its way across the surface of the water.

 

Animals Seen Today

  • Fin and sperm whales in the distance
  • Storm Petrels, tufted puffins, Laysan and black-footed and short-tailed albatross, flesh footed shearwaters

Mark Van Arsdale: What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part II – Phytoplankton, September 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 14, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Mostly cloudy, winds variable 10 knots, waves to four feet

58.27 N, 148.07 W (Gulf of Alaska Line)

 

Science Log

What Makes Up an Ecosystem?  Part II Phytoplankton

Most of my students know that the sun provides the foundational energy for almost all of Earth’s food webs.  Yet many students will get stumped when I ask them, where does the mass of a tree comes from?  The answer of course is carbon dioxide from the air, but I bet you already knew that.

Scientists use the term “primary productivity” to explain how trees, plants, and algae take in carbon dioxide and “fix it” into carbohydrates during the process of photosynthesis.  Out here in the Gulf of Alaska, the primary producers are phytoplankton (primarily diatoms and dinoflagellates). When examining diatoms under a microscope, they look like tiny golden pillboxes, or perhaps Oreos if you are feeling hungry.

Primary productivity experiments running on the back deck of the Tiglax.
Primary productivity experiments running on the back deck of the Tiglax.

One of the teams of scientists on board is trying to measure the rates of primary productivity using captive phytoplankton and a homemade incubation chamber. They collect phytoplankton samples, store them in sealed containers, and then place them into the incubator.  Within their sample jars, they inject a C13 isotope.  After the experiment has run its course, they will use vacuum filtration to separate the phytoplankton cells from the seawater.  Once the phytoplankton cells are captured on filter paper they can measure the ratios of C12 to C13. Almost all of the carbon available in the environment is C12 and can be distinguished from C13.  The ratios of C12 to C13 in the cells gives them a measurement of how much dissolved carbon is being “fixed” into sugars by phytoplankton.  Apparently using C14  would actually work better but C14 is radioactive and the Tiglax is not equipped with the facilities to hand using a radioactive substance.

During the September survey, phytoplankton numbers are much lower than they are in the spring.  The nutrients that they need to grow have largely been used up.  Winter storms will mix the water and bring large amounts of nutrients back to the surface.  When sunlight returns in April, all of the conditions necessary for phytoplankton growth will be present, and the North Gulf of Alaska will experience a phytoplankton bloom.  It’s these phytoplankton blooms that create the foundation for the entire Gulf of Alaska ecosystem.

Personal Log

Interesting things to see

The night shift is not getting any easier.  The cumulative effects of too little sleep are starting to catch up to me, and last night I found myself dosing off between plankton tows.  The tows were more interesting though.  Once we got past the edge of the continental shelf, the diversity of zooplankton species increased and we started to see lantern fish in each of the tows.  Lantern fish spend their days below one thousand feet in the darkness of the mesopelagic and then migrate up each night to feed on zooplankton.  The have a line of photophores (light producing cells) on their ventral sides.  When they light them up, their bodies blend in to the faint light above, hiding their silhouette, making them functionally invisible.

A lantern fish with its bioluminescent photophores visible along its belly.
A lantern fish with its bioluminescent photophores visible along its belly.

Once I am up in the morning, the most fun place to hang out on the Tiglax is the flying bridge.  Almost fifty feet up and sitting on top of the wheelhouse, it has a cushioned bench, a wind block, and a killer view.  This is where our bird and marine mammal observers work.  Normally there is one U.S. Fish and Wildlife observer who works while the boat is transiting from one station to the next.  On this trip, there is a second observer in training.  The observers’ job is to use a very specific protocol to count and identify any sea bird or marine mammal seen along the transect lines.

Today we saw lots of albatross; mostly black-footed, but a few Laysan, and one short-tailed albatross that landed next to the boat while were casting the CTD.  The short-tailed albatross was nearly extinct a few years ago, and today is still considered endangered. That bird was one of only 4000 of its species remaining.  Albatross have an unfortunate tendency to follow long-line fishing boats.  They try to grab the bait off of hooks and often are drowned as the hooks drag them to the bottom.  Albatross are a wonder to watch as they glide effortlessly a few inches above the waves.  They have narrow tapered wings that are comically long. When they land on the water, they fold their gangly wings back in a way that reminds me of a kid whose growth spurts hit long before their body knows what to do with all of that height.   While flying, however, they are a picture of grace and efficiency.  They glide effortlessly just a few inches above the water, scanning for an unsuspecting fish or squid.  When some species of albatross fledge from their nesting grounds, they may not set foot on land again for seven years, when their own reproductive instincts drive them to land to look for a mate.

Our birders seem to appreciate anyone who shares their enthusiasm for birds and are very patient with all of my “What species is that?” questions.  They have been seeing whales as well.  Fin and sperm whales are common in this part of the gulf and they have seen both.

A Laysan Albatross
A Laysan Albatross, photo credit Dan Cushing

 

Did You Know?

Albatross, along with many other sea birds, have life spans comparable to humans.  It’s not uncommon for them to live sixty or seventy years, and they don’t reach reproductive maturity until well into their teens.

 

Animals Seen Today

  • Fin and sperm whales
  • Storm Petrels, tufted puffins, Laysan and black-footed and short-tailed albatross, flesh footed shearwater

 

Justin Garritt: I Came, We Fished, I Learned. . . 2 Amazing Weeks Aboard Shimada: September 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Garritt
NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
September 1-14, 2018

Mission: End of Hake Research

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon

Date: September 11-14, 2018: Day 11-14

Location: Off the coast of Newport, Oregon. End of research cruise.

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Throughout my life there have been moments when I recognize I am in the presence of something truly unique and special. Moments when I realize just how beautiful our planet can be. Moments I know will be engraved in my brain as life passes by. Hiking Zion National Park, night boat riding down the beautiful Saint Lawrence Seaway in the heart of the Thousands Islands, the view on top of Whiteface Ski Mountain, climbing the mountain islands in Greece, landing a helicopter on an Alaskan glacier, gigantic waves crashing in on an empty Puerto Rican beach with nothing but the moon in sight, taking a train ride up the gigantic Alps, and color of the fall leaves over the Castleton University skyline in Vermont are just a few of those moments I have been so privileged to have experienced in my short life. Monday evening, I got to add another new nature wonderland experience aboard the NOAA Bell M Shimada.

It was 5:15pm and I was eating a terrific dinner when one of the scientists came in the galley to tell us fishing was on hold because of the abundance of marine wildlife that was surrounding our ship. I immediately ran upstairs to check it out. When I stepped in the bridge (command room of the ship) the first thing I noticed was the beautiful blue skies with a touch of clouds and the sun that set the stage for the spectacle. My ears rang with the crashing waves against the boat and seagulls squawking in the background. As I looked over the side of the boat there were two pairs of dolphins synchronized swimming all around the ship. After a few minutes, three California sea lions came floating by on their backs waving at the passing ship. Another minute later, the dolphins came back for their encore followed by a spray of a Humpback whale spouting directly behind it. As the whale came closer it swam gracefully in an up and down pattern until it bent its massive dinosaur-like body down followed by its tail flipping over as it took a deep dive below the surface. As soon as the whale took the dive another pair of sea lions came floating by smiling as they took in the heat of the sun. Before I could look again, a Pelagic Cormorant landed directly in front of me on the ship. Right after I took a picture of that I looked up and saw at least fifteen spouts surrounding the ship like a spectator would see at the Bellagio Hotel light show in Las Vegas. For the next hour whale after whale surfaced, spouted, and even breached behind the beautiful blue sky backdrop. No matter where I looked I was seeing whales grace our presence. No camera could capture the magic of that hour as I ran from side to side on the viewing tower above the bridge to soak in as much of this experience as possible. I was in awe at the majesty of the sea creatures. As the ship made its way through the evening and to sunset, the whales slowly trickled off beyond sight as the sun came down in the background. Hope that future generations can experience this beauty for centuries to come.

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The reality is the ever growing world’s population consumes large amounts of fish.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that in 2016, the global seafood trade was worth $140 billion. In the US it is estimated that 1.5 million people are employed by the fishing industry. That is a lot of communities and families that rely on the resources in our water systems. Throughout the week I learned that so much of the work of NOAA is not limiting the growth and catch of our fishermen/fisherwomen, but it is to ensure there is a fish population to catch and future generations can experience what I was able to experience these past two weeks. Part of NOAA’s mission is to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Having the most high tech equipment constantly being researched to seek improvements mixed with “ground truthing (catching and surveying)” to analyze different species is crucial for the future of the world’s fisheries.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the main goals for this research cruise. The first was to gather data to study the impact of the US 32mm net liners and the CANADIAN 7mm net liners. The second was to compare the old acoustic equipment called the EK60 with the new equipment called the EK80. Throughout the last two legs of the trip, scientists have gathered data and will be working on analyzing it over the coming months to make better conclusions on these goals. The vision is for someday to reduce the number of surveying trawls needed to determine the population of fish, and instead, use this highly advanced acoustics equipment instead. If those ships are filled with as curious, hardworking, and focused people as the people I met on this ship, I am confident we will be able to obtain this goal in the future.

Here are some pictures from the final 3 days of fishing and exploring the ship:

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Reading the acoustics for hake

 

Bringing my experience back to the classroom:

Throughout the past two weeks I constantly thought about how I can bring my experience back to my students in Baltimore. My students receive half the amount of hours of science instructional time than math and reading. After much reflection I decided to use the same core standards we are obligated to teach but begin rewriting most of the 6th grade statistics unit. At the start of the unit I will begin with the purpose of NOAA, pictures of my trip, and exciting stories from my adventure. From there I will have investment in the subject from my students which will allow me to dive in to applying data collected at sea to find: mean, mode, range, variability, mean absolute deviation (MAD), and interquartile range (IQR). We will also be able to use real live data to create histograms, frequency tables, box and whisker plots, and dot plots.  I believe it will be exciting for them to have the opportunity to apply required statistical concepts to learning how NOAA (along with others) survey our fish population so species will survive for generations to come. It will also make our school’s 6th grade teacher, Mr. Davis, very happy!

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An example of my change in classroom instructional materials to teach Box Plots with data from the research cruise.

At any given moment, there are thousands of NOAA employees studying our environment across the globe. I had the honor of sailing with incredibly intelligent and hardworking people who are dedicated to the mission. From them, I learned so many valuable things that I will carry with me as I disembark on Friday.

Chief Scientist, Rebecca Thomas was an excellent manager/role model. She taught me that leading through kindness, support, trusting others, and giving people rest will produce better and more accurate results than pushing people past their limitation.

 

Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas

Scientist Steve de Bluis encouraged me to maintain a hobby outside of work that you love. Steve loves to fly planes and dive and talked about these trips all the time. You can tell how much joy it has brought him and how excited he is to continue to dive well into his retirement in a few years. He was also a BEAST in the wet lab!

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Roommate and Future Scientist Charlie Donahue taught me the importance of accuracy over speed. He constantly pushed me to be sure the data we were collecting was as accurate as possible. He never let speed and efficiency take away from quality. For those of you who know me, this is certainly an important push for me!

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Scientist John Pohl taught me about supporting newcomers. He was the first guy I met aboard and always spent time breaking down complicated science topics for me.

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Scientist John Pohl analyzes the depth of the net vs. the acoustic picture on his screen
Scientist Melanie Johnson taught me about working through chaos with calmness. She has been on both commercial and scientific ships and constantly kept calm during any situation that arose.

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Scientist Dezhang Chu (Super Chu) taught me about focus. No matter what was going on “Super Chu” always kept a clear view of his own goals and purpose aboard and stayed focused on the prize. Chu was also super hard working and was in the acoustics lab at 6:30am when I went to the gym and still in on his computer analyzing data from the day when I returned from yoga at 10pm. I think he could even give KIPP Ujima Resident-Principal Reese a run for it in terms of work ethic!

Volunteer Scientist Heather Rippman  taught me about service and life-long learning. Heather commits herself to volunteering for important science missions across the country. After leaving an executive position with Nike, she now travels and volunteers to learn all she can about marine science and give back to the marine science community. She shared so much knowledge with me and was the first person to teach me how to dissect hake.

Master Chef Arnold Dones reminded me about the power of food bringing people together. At exactly 7am, 11am, and 5pm, roughly 40 people from all over the country with all types of jobs aboard came together to feast. Arnold made that happen because of the pride he takes in his craft.

Chef Arnold

Chief Engineer Sabrina Taraboletti spent 3 hours with me on our last day to show me the massive engine room. She explained what every piece of equipment does below deck. I learned the science behind creating freshwater from sea water. I learned the regulations behind sewer and contaminants. The best part was climbing to the bottom of the ship and watching the shaft that makes the propeller turn move. Her team of engineers barely see daylight and work long hours to make sure the ship moves safely and all the amenities and scientific research equipment works flawlessly. She keeps the morale of her team high, keeps an impressively organized work space that is approximately the size of over a dozen typical garages, and is one of the most knowledgeable professionals I ever crossed paths with.


How to apply for the Teacher At Sea Program:

Ms. Ellmauer is a 25 year veteran science teacher from my hometown of Liberty, NY. She was also my high school ski coach. She has been following my blog and reached out about information on how to apply. I am humbled to see so many teachers and school officials reading my blog from across the country so I thought I would pass on the website with information about the program and how to apply for this once in a lifetime experience. Please reach out to me at JAGarritt@gmail.com if you have any questions.

https://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/#/home/


Tomorrow we pull in to Newport, Oregon, and the research cruise will come to an end. Thank you to the nearly one-thousand readers who have been following my journey. I am grateful for your support.

Good bye for now, until I hopefully sail again a part of the NOAA Teacher At Sea Alumni Program,

Justin

 

Mark Van Arsdale: What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part I – Chemistry, September 13, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 13, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clear skies, variable winds, swell 4-6 ft

59.58 N, 148.38 W (Gulf of Alaska Line)

 

Science Log

What Makes Up an Ecosystem?  Part I Chemistry

CTD (water chemistry) data visualized along the Gulf of Alaska Line.
CTD (water chemistry) data visualized along the Gulf of Alaska Line.

The scientists aboard this ship are trying to understand the working parts of the North Gulf of Alaska ecosystem.  Since Descartes, the western approach to science has required that the understanding of complex systems begin with the reduction of a system it to its simpler working parts.  For example, to understand the clock, you must take it apart and try to understand the mechanism of each piece separately.  The Gulf of Alaska is huge, and its ecosystem is both highly complex and highly variable.  Changes take place because of weather, season, and climactic regime.  Nonetheless, the first step to understanding it is to understand its chemistry.

The CTD gets dropped or “cast” at each station.  On this boat, that means four people shoving it out the back door while trying not to fall out themselves. There is more than $100,000 worth of equipment attached to the CTD Rosette and there is a moment in each cast where the CTD swings precariously before the winch lowers it down into the water. When the CTD comes back up, all of that data is run through a computer and it paints a picture of what conditions are like at depth.

Inside the "van" where water samples are processed for trace medals
Inside the “van” where water samples are processed for trace medals

CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, depth.  In reality, it tests for those things plus salinity, dissolved oxygen, nitrates, pressure, and florescence (which is a measurement of the chlorophyll in phytoplankton).  The CTD also has a camera onboard that takes gray-scale images of particles and plankton in the water column as it goes down.  Most of our CTD “casts” are showing a water column that is highly stratified, with a surface layer that is relative warm (34o Celsius), lower salinity, and a chlorophyll maximum around twenty meters.  The CTD shows a thermocline (rapid change in temperature) around fifty meters.  Below that, the water is colder and has a higher salinity, both of which results in water with a higher density.  The density differences between these two layers make it so that they don’t easily mix.  The stratification effect had been intensified by the recent stretch of sunny weather and light winds.  Stratification by density “traps” phytoplankton at the surface in waters ideal for photosynthesis except that in September, the availability of nutrients needed for growth is quite low.  Nitrates, nitrites, and silica have been used up by growing phytoplankton earlier in the summer and their absence now limits growth.

Catch from a Multi-net, mostly small euphausiids (krill)
Catch from a Multi-net, mostly small euphausiids (krill)

We have scientists on board measuring the surface waters for trace metals – iron in particular. It’s a common joke on board that the smaller the subject you study, the greater the equipment needs.  Whale watchers just need binoculars but the chemists have their own lab set up inside a twenty-foot shipping container or “van” strapped to the top deck.   The metals team drags a missile shaped device along the side of the boat known as an “iron fish.”  The iron fish, is connected to a long plastic tube and pump that provides them a constant stream of surface water.  Samples are continuously collected and frozen for later analysis back in Fairbanks.   Months of work will be required to process all of the samples collected on this trip.

A three-spined stickleback
A three-spined stickleback

Our plankton catches were much less variable last night.  The Multi-net caught almost exclusively small euphausiids (krill.)  The Methot net caught four kinds of jellies, including one moon jelly that the jelly expert was very excited about – perhaps a species not described in Alaska before.  The Methot net also caught a lot of small fishes swimming at the surface. One of which was the three-spine stickleback.  This was exciting for me because the three-spine stickleback is a species we use in my AP Biology class as an easy to understand and highly local example of natural selection.  The three-spine stickleback is a small fish, around 1 inch in size, found in both fresh and saltwater.  In saltwater, they have three large spines that discourage predators from eating them. Out here in the ocean, the spines give the fish a selective advantage.  During the last ice age, some sticklebacks were trapped in fresh water ponds and lakes in South Central Alaska.  There, they underwent a change.  The spines which were such a great defense in the ocean were a disadvantage to them in freshwater.  Aggressive dragonfly larva use the spines like handles to grab the small fish and eat them.  Over time there was a selective advantage to have smaller spines, and today freshwater sticklebacks have greatly reduced pelvic spines as compared to their saltwater cousins. Natural selection did not design a better fish, it simply picked which variants were more likely to survive and reproduce in its environment.

Personal Log

Cetacean acoustic recording buoy recovered by the Tiglax.
Cetacean acoustic recording buoy recovered by the Tiglax.

My second night shift was not any easier, but it was more pleasant.  Just before sunset, we took a slight detour from our transect line to recovery a buoy for a scientist from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  An acoustic recorder, designed to count whales by their unique calls, it had been deployed a year earlier in 900 meters of water.  The crew had onboard a device that would talk to the buoy and signal it to release from its mooring.  It took about a half an hour, but eventually there we saw it bobbing at the surface.  Luckily the seas were pretty calm, and we were able to pull it through the side door.

The seas and weather continue to be excellent.  Last night we were treated to a display of the aurora around 3:30 AM.  It was so calm and so quiet that at one point, we could hear whales breathing around us.  Both served as distractions to the routine of net deployment, net retrieval, sample containment, repeat.

As we traveled the ten nautical miles between stations, the flood lights on the front deck were turned off and I would sit down to watch the stars.  To ancient mariners, the clear night sky was a map that could direct you across an ocean. It made me think of the Polynesian navigators tracking their small canoes across the Pacific.  It also made me think about Ptolemy, who thought the Earth was encased in a perfect glass sphere with stars painted along its interior.  I could see how you would think of such a sky as art.

Did You Know?

Did you know the Earth is round?  It seems silly to have to say, but as a science teacher, the battle against the fantasies and fallacies of the Internet are never ending.  Last year was the first year in twenty-one years of teaching that I was challenged by a student to prove to him that the Earth is round, and it happened twice.  So here goes.  On a boat in the Gulf of Alaska on a clear day, you know the Earth is round because as you move slowly away from the mountains, they disappear from the bottom up.  By the end of the day we had traveled far enough from shore that we saw just the snow-covered tips of mountain peaks.

Sunset, it must be time to go to work.
Sunset with the mountains receding in the background, it must be time to go to work.

Animals Seen Today

  • Dall porpoise
  • Lots of seabirds including black-footed and Laysan albatross, sooty shearwater, puffins and fulmars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ashley Cosme: Special Situation Lights, September 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 11, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 28 40.5N
  • Longitude: 91 08.5W
  • Wind speed: 22 Knots
  • Wind direction: 080 (East)
  • Sky cover: Scattered
  • Visibility: 10 miles
  • Barometric pressure: 1014.5 atm
  • Sea wave height: 3-4 feet
  • Sea Water Temp: 29.9°C
  • Dry Bulb: 25.9°C
  • Wet Blub: 24.6°C

 

Science and Technology:

When NOAA Corps officers go through training they learn a poem to help them remember how to identify Special Situation Lights on other vessels.

Red over green, sailing machine.

Red over white, fishing boat in sight.

Green over white, trawling at night.

White over red, pilot ahead.

Red over red, captain is dead.

mast of the Oregon II
The mast of the Oregon II is identified by the arrow.

When driving a vessel like the Oregon II it is always important to have the ability to analyze the radar, locate other vessels in the water, and determine their current situation by reading their mast lights.  Line 1 of the poem describes a vessel that is currently sailing by use of wind without the use of an engine, line 2 describes a boat engaged in fishing operations, line 3 indicates that the vessel is currently trawling a net behind the boat, line 4 indicates that the vessel is a pilot boat (a boat containing a pilot, who helps guide larger tanker and cargo ships into harbors), and line 5 of the poem is used for a situation when the vessel is not operating properly and other vessels should steer clear.

 

 

 

Personal Log:

blacktip shark
NOAA Scientist, Adam, Pollack, and I measuring and tagging a blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

There are currently three named storms in the Atlantic, including a category 4 hurricane (Florence) that is headed towards the Carolinas.  I have never experienced a bad storm while out on the water.  The waves the last 24 hours have ranged from 3-5 feet, with an occasional 8 foot wave.  We have changed our port call location and will now be going back to Pascagoula, Mississippi instead of Galveston, Texas.  There was also no internet for part of the day so my team and I sat in the dry lab and told ghost stories.  I was also introduced to the “dinosaur game” in Google Chrome, which is sort of like a low budget Mario.  Apparently it is the dinosaur’s birthday so he is wearing a birthday hat.

I am still making the most of every minute that I am out here.  Our last haulback was very active with many large blacktip sharks.  It is a workout trying to handle the sharks on deck, while collecting all required data, and getting them back in the water as fast as possible.  I am loving every second!

 

 

Did you know:

Sharks possess dermal denticles (skin teeth) that makes their skin feel rough when running your hand tail to nose.  Shark skin used to be used as sandpaper before it was commercially manufactured.  It can also give you shark burn, which is sort of like a rug burn, if the shark brushes up against you.

 

Animals Seen:

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)

Blacknose Shark (Carcharhinus acronotus)

Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

Flying Fish (Exocoetus peruvianus)

Gafftopsail Catfish (Bagre marinus)

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuate)

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

Spinner Shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)

Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Mark Van Arsdale: Night Work, September 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 12, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Partially Cloudy, Variable Winds, Seas to 3ft

59.43 N, 149.21 W (Gulf of Alaska Line)

 

Science Log

Night Work

Loading gear on the Tiglax
Loading gear on the Tiglax

Most of day one was spent loading, sorting, unpacking, and storing gear.  Scientists do not travel light.  There were more action packers on board than I have ever seen in once place. At midday, we had a safety training, which consisted of learning how to put on a survival suit and how to use the coffee machine without flooding the galley.  For night work, I was assigned a mustang float coat, a water activated flash light, and satellite locator, so that they could find my body if I went overboard.

After dinner, work shifted to putting together various nets and the CTD which I will describe in more detail later.  We got underway at about 8:00 PM, just as the sun was setting. I slept for an hour and was woken at 10:30 to begin my shift doing zooplankton tows.

The first tow uses a Methot net, which is a large square steel frame attached by d-rings to a heavy mesh net, ten meters long.  The net ends in a plastic sieve tube called a “cod end” that keeps any jellies from escaping.  The net is quite heavy, and it takes four of us to guide it as a crane raises it off of the deck and then lowers it over the side.  The net is dragged at the surface for twenty minutes.  In the darkness of night, it glows slightly green as ctenophores and other bioluminescent jellies smash into it.

Dave demonstrating the proper technique for putting on a survival suit
Dave demonstrating the proper technique for putting on a survival suit

After the Methot net is retrieved and secured on deck, we leave the collected jellies for a few minutes to go deploy the next net, called a Multi-net.  The Multi-net is a steel box about the size of a dishwasher with a funnel entrance and five separate fine-mesh nets hanging off of the back.  The net also has a heavy “fish fin” that acts to drag it down and keep it moving straight.  The four of us work the net to the edge of the boat, open the back gate, and use two winches to lower it overboard.  Once in the water and if the bottom depth allows it, the Multi-net gets dropped to a depth of two hundred meters and the first net is opened.  The Multi-net allows you to “carve up the water column.”  Each net can be triggered remotely to open and collect a horizontal sample of zooplankton at a specific depth.  The electronics also allow you to measure how much water volume flows through the net.  Each net is about two meters long, made of a fine mesh that funnels plankton into a soft sieve or “cod end”. While the Multi-net is “fishing,” we sort, classify, and measure the jellies collected in the Methot net tow.

A Methot Net Tow
A Methot Net Tow

The Seward Line Transect is made up of fifteen stops or stations.  Each one designated as GAK1, GAK2, etc. Once we finish sampling a station, the boat speeds up and drives us ten nautical miles to the next station.  Last night we managed to sample four stations, finishing the last one just as the sun rose around 7:00 AM.  When daylight comes, the Tiglax makes its way back to the place the night shift began.  All of the day-time sampling has to be done at each of the stations we sampled the night before.  The day-time sampling uses different tools, the main tool being the CTD Rosette Sampler.  The Rosette is a steel cage with water collecting “Niskin Bottles” and lots of other instrumentation strapped into the cage. There are fifteen bottles and each is triggered by computer to close at a specific depth.  This allows the scientists on board to measure a variety of physical and chemical properties of the water at depth.

Personal Log

The night shift was surprisingly dark.  That may sound obvious, but after a long Alaskan summer, with campfires and hikes that often went past midnight in perfect daylight, dark is an adjustment.   The night was beautiful and warm, but the work of deploying and retrieving nets was tedious and physical.  By morning I was exhausted, but I was reminded repeatedly that there are no cutting corners.  No matter how tired you get, each sample needs to be meticulously cared for.

After the sun came up, I forced myself to eat some breakfast and then I fell in bed for a hard sleep.  I could only stay there for a couple hours before my well-trained, morning-self wanted to greet the day.  The day was flawless, picture-perfect, sunny and calm, the kind of days you don’t often seen in the stormy Gulf of Alaska.

Animals Seen Today

  • Dall Porpoise
  • Lots of seabirds, including black-legged kittiwakes, pelagic cormorants, and sooty and flesh-footed shearwaters.
Shearwater taking off
Shearwater taking off, photo credit Callie Gesmundo

 

 

 

 

Ashley Cosme: Otoliths, Ice Cream, and Annabelle – September 9, 2018

Ashley and shark

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 9, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 28 08.58N
  • Longitude: 92 24.27W
  • Wind speed:  8.66 Knots
  • Wind direction:  143 (from Southeast)
  • Sky cover: Scattered
  • Visibility:  10 miles
  • Barometric pressure:  1011.96 atm
  • Sea wave height: 0-0.5 feet
  • Sea Water Temp:  30.4°C
  • Dry Bulb: 28.7°C
  • Wet Bulb: 25.4°C

Science and Technology Log: 

In addition to collecting data on the many species of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, this survey also collects data that will go towards assessing the population of red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  One piece of evidence that is collected from the red snapper is their two distinct otoliths.  Otoliths are structures that are used for balance and orientation in bony fish.  One fascinating characteristic of the otolith is that they contain natural growth rings that researchers can count in order to determine the age of the fish.  This information is important for stock assessment of the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.

Otoliths
Otoliths from a red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

 

Personal Log:

I would have to say that the hardest part about being out at sea is not being able to see Coral and Kai.  I miss them so much and think about them nonstop.  Coral is at a very curious stage in her life (I hope the curiosity stays with her forever) and I cannot wait to get home and tell her about all the animals that I have been lucky enough to witness on this adventure.  Kai is just the sweetest little boy and I can only imagine the way he will react when I get home.

Ashley and shark
Bearing Down on the Oregon II

I am very busy on the boat and when there is down time my team and I are getting shark lessons from the incredibly intelligent Chief NOAA Scientist, Kristin Hannan, or we are in the movie room catching up on all the Annabelle movies.  It is almost impossible to get scared while aboard a ship.  It may seem that many things could go wrong, but the lights are always on and someone is always awake.  It is the perfect environment to watch any horror film because this atmosphere makes it much less scary.

Probably the scariest thing that is happening on this boat is the amount of weight I have gained.  All of the meals are delicious and they come with dessert.  It is kind of nice to not have to worry about going to the gym or staying on a normal routine.  Life is always so hectic day to day when I am at home, but being out here on the water gives me time to relax and reflect on the amazing people I have in my life that made this opportunity possible.

I am sad to report that the Chicago Bears lost tonight to Greenbay, but I did show support for my team!  I think the best part of the day was when I was on the bow of the boat and Kristin announced over the radio that the Bears were winning 7 to 0.  It is exciting being out here seeing everyone cheer for their fantasy team, as well as their home town team.

 

Animals seen:

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

King Snake Eel (Ophichthus rex)

Bonnethead Shark (Sphyrna tiburo)

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuate)

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)

Blacknose Shark (Carcharhinus acronotus)

Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

Gulf Smooth-hound Shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus)

Justin Garritt: Paired Trawling, X-raying, and The Galley Master: September 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Justin Garritt

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

September 1-14, 2018

Mission: Hake Research

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon

Date: September 9-11, 2018: Day 7-9

Location: West of the Columbia River and Astoria, Oregon

 

Where Are We? After fishing off of the Straits of Juan de Fuca on Friday and Saturday, we headed south.  We ended up west of the Columbia River off the coast of Astoria, Oregon and continued to fish for a few days.

 

The fishing and sampling continues: A typical day consists of the scientists waking up before sunrise to begin scouting for fish. We use the information from the acoustic transducer to find fish.

Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas
Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas spots signs of fish on the sonar
sonar from the acoustic transducer
The sonar from the acoustic transducer showing signs of fish

Paired Trawling: Last week I wrote about our goals of the cruise. One of them was to perform paired trawls to determine net size impact to evaluate the differences between the US 32mm net liners and the Canadian 7mm net liners. A paired trawl is when we fish approximately the same location and depth two times using two different size liners. Data is collected on the size, characteristics, and species of fish being caught to eliminate the possibility that there is bias in the data between the two liners. Below are pictures of the nets being sent in and brought back based on information from the sonars. This typically happened 2-4 times per day (1-2 paired trawls).

 

Sorting the Fish Aboard:

rockfish photo shoot
A rockfish photo shoot 🙂

How We Collect Data:

When fish come aboard we follow this flow chart to determine what analysis needs to be done on the catch.

img_11131
Our instructional chart for how we analyze the hake and other species

Hake is the majority of the fish we catch. It is also the main species we are researching this cruise.

A random sample of 250 are set aside and the rest are sent back in to the ocean. Of the approximately 250 random hake, 30 are dissected for enhanced sampling (length, weight, sex, maturity, and other projects).

220 are set aside for sex/length analysis. All other species of fish must be logged into the computer and some are kept for special research projects. See pictures below:

Male vs. female hake distinction:

Determining the length of the hake:

Enhanced sampling (length, weight, sex, maturity, and other projects):

IMG_1251
Dissecting the hake to enhance sample

Special Projects: There are also a number of special projects going on aboard:

Fish X-ray: Scientist Dezhang Chu x-rays samples of fish occasionally. The x-ray is used to determine the volume of the swim bladders in certain species of fish (see picture below). The volume of different species’ swim bladders affects the observed acoustics. I spoke to him about the purpose of this study. He said that the present acoustic transducers are great to capture whether fish are present below the ship’s surface but are still not able to classify the type of species being observed. He is working on a team that is trying to use x-ray’s from multiple species to solve that problem. When asked how long he thought it may take for there to be an acoustic system advanced enough to better predict the species onscreen, he said, “People have and will continue to spend their entire careers on improving the system.” If we have more scientists like Dr. Chu on this project, I predict it will be much sooner than he leads on.

"Super Chu"
“Super Chu” and I with his new apron I made him for x-raying

Filming the Catch: Melanie Johnson leads the science team’s visual analysis. During each trawl a camera is placed securely on the net. The purpose of the net is to analyze approximately which depth and time certain fish enter the net.

fish entering the net
Camera footage of fish entering the net

———————————————————————

Getting to know the crew: As promised in other blog posts, here is another interview from the incredible crew aboard  NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada who continue to make my journey such a rich experience:

Mr. Arnold Dones, Head Chef

Arnold Dones is our head chef or what I like to call him, “Master Chef.” Since the minute I’ve been aboard I quickly noticed the incredible work ethic and talent of our chef. To be clear, every meal has incredible! When I spoke to my mom a few days into the cruise my exact words were, “The food aboard is better than a buffet on a cruise ship. I expected to come aboard for two weeks and lose a few pounds. Well that’s not going to happen!”

Chef Arnold
Chef Arnold and his incredible food artwork

Arnold was born in the Philippines and his family migrated here when he was twenty. When he first got here he knew very little English and worked hard to learn the language and the American culture. He worked a few odd and end jobs until he joined the United States military as a chef. During his first years in the military, he showed so much promise as a chef that he enrolled in “A School” which allowed him to learn how to be a master chef in the military. He spent more than a decade working on military vessels. His last ship placement was aboard the USS Ronald Reagan where he and his team prepared meals for 6,000 soldiers per meal. Two months ago he joined the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada family as head chef.  Arnold has two children and a wife who live back in San Diego.

After a tour of the galley with Arnold, I learned how much work it takes to pull 42 meals in 14 days for over 40 crew members without a supermarket nearby. A few weeks out, Arnold has to create his menu for the next cruise leg (typically two weeks). He then has to order the food required to make the meals and do so by staying under a strict budget. When the ship ends a leg and pulls in to port, a large truck pulls up and unloads all his ordered food in large boxes. He then organizes it in the order he plans to prepare it in his large freezer, refrigerator, and store rooms. The trick is to be sure his menu is organized so nothing spoils before it is used.  Arnold’s day begins at 05:00  (5am) and goes until 19:00 (7pm) with a short break after lunch. The only days off he has is a day or two once every two weeks when the boat is in port.

Here is a sample menu for the day:

Breakfast (7-8am)- Eggs benedict, blueberry pancakes, french toast, hash browns, scrambled eggs, oat meal, cut fresh fruit, and breakfast danish.

Lunch (11-12pm)- Bacon wrapped rockfish, chicken wings, Chinese noodles, brussel sprouts, bread, a large salad bar, homemade salads, avocado, bean salad, homemade cookies, and ice cream.

Dinner (5-6pm)-  Stuffed pork chops with spinach and cheese, fine braised chicken thigh, baked salmon, Spanish rice, oven potatoes, peas, dinner rolls, a large salad bar, homemade salads, homemade apple pie, and ice cream.

Snack (24/7)- Soup, crackers, ice cream, and salad/fruit bar

We dock in Newport, Oregon on Friday, September 14, 2018. My final post will be on Friday. Thank you for continuing to follow along in this journey. I am grateful for your support and for the amazing people I have met aboard.

Justin

 

Justin Garritt: Fishing Begins aboard!!! September 7, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Garritt
NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
September 1-14, 2018

Mission: Hake Research

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon

Date: September 7, 2018

Location: Just South of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Pacific Ocean

Back at Home: To the KIPP Baltimore community. . .  I got this picture from Madison and Anaiyah Alexander the other morning from the first day of school and thought of you all. I hope you are all surviving the heat wave sweeping across the east coast. I hope the first few weeks started off strong! I miss you all!

img_0972

Where Are We? Our ship left the Seattle dock on Monday afternoon and calibrated in Elliott Bay for two days. Before leaving the bay, one of our Survey Technicians had a medical issue. He needed to be taken off the ship to get the treatment he needed. Before pulling up anchor to depart, we were able to bring him off the ship and over to the mainland using one of the small tender boats. Once the tender returned, we left the bay on Wednesday at 16:00 (4pm) and started to sail out of  Puget Sound and Admiralty Inlet. On Thursday morning we stopped at Port Angeles to pick up Scott, our new Survey Technician. At 11:00am, we departed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the Pacific Ocean. Once we got out of the Strait and into the ocean, the sea got rougher and fog appeared. Throughout the journey, we sailed at about 11 knots until we got to the area Chief Scientist, Rebecca Thomas, gave orders to sail to.

It was impressive how quick NOAA acted in order to get a new survey technician aboard. In less than 24 hours they notified someone from the NOAA augmenting pool (like a substitute teacher pool) and we had Scott aboard. Scott got a call yesterday mid-day and had to drive all the way from Portland, Oregon to a smaller city on the coast of the Pacific Ocean called Port Angeles to meet the ship. The ship pulled close to port, sent in a small tender boat to pick Scott up, and then he came aboard. It was remarkable how quick NOAA had to act to replace our survey technician and impressive how flexible people like Scott (who are in the augmenting pool) have to be to make sure the mission continues.

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How and What We Fish? NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada was delivered to NOAA in 2010. The ship is the fourth Fisheries Survey Vessels (FSV) built by NOAA starting in 2003. FSV’s were built to introduce a low level of sound and vibration in their surrounding waters. The acoustics detect and measure the distribution of fish and other living marine life and describe their habitat. The transducer transmits a sound pulse (ping) which bounces off of different things beneath the ocean.

 

Depending on the ship’s mission, acoustic transducers help determine the abundance of fish and invertebrate species. These readings help derive population estimates of marine life to set harvest rates for commercial fisherman. The acoustic transducer also provides  the chance to study the spatial and temporal patterns of the fish so we can analyze their habitat choice, predator-prey interactions and food web dynamics.  This technology offers our incredible scientists aboard the ability to monitor fish populations without altering their behavior. It also gives biologists and oceanographers the ability to provide analyses to better assist marine resource managers in making more informed decisions without actually catching the fish. This technology could save an abundance of time, energy, and resources. 

img_0983
A picture of the acoustic transducer below the ship.

Hydroacoustics also has limitations and is not the solution to all sampling problems. The technique has difficulty differentiating between species, and limited ability to measure fish close to the surface and close to the bottom.  Therefore, hydroacoustics is mostly used alongside traditional trawling.

The main organism we are looking at is the Pacific hake. It is the largest single-species fishery on the west coast (not including Alaska). The United States has made over $40 million annually from Pacific hake since 2008. They prey upon euphasuiids, pandalid shrimp, and many fish such as herring. Hake are prey for predators such as tuna, sharks, and marine mammals. Hake are an essential part of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem as shown by this food web.

6122180In the United States hake is most commonly used to make imitation crab, fish sticks, and cat food.  It sells for a very low amount per pound. When I searched “hake” on the Walmart app, no hake filet came up in the United States. However, when I looked at the ingredients label on their seafood salad, hake was listed. Most Pacific hake are exported to Asia and Russia and bring in excellent revenue for our citizens who live on the North Pacific northwest. The scientific work done by people aboard ships like NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada helps to ensure that the population of Pacific hake and other species thrive and can provide food and revenue for future generations to come.

Here is the process the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada goes through when “fishing” and analyzing the catch (pictures of all the steps are below).

  1. The science team, led by the Chief Scientist, analyzes the data being recorded by the acoustic transducers.
  2. They communicate where they want to drop the fishing nets to the captain and officers standing by at the bridge.
  3. The officers communicate to the deck hands to drop the net.
  4. The science team carefully stands by and watches the computer monitors. They give orders to the officers on how far down the net should go and when to pick up the net based on their computer screens.
  5. The deck hands reel in the net.
  6. The deck hands drop the catch in the hopper.
  7. The fish is sorted by species (Pacific Hake, Rock fish, Pollock, etc)  on a conveyor belt by four scientists and scientific volunteers.
  8. Assessments are taken on the hake using the chart below. Some fish are weighed and sent back, ~250 random hake in the batch are assessed by weight and sex, and ~30 hakes receive an enhanced assessment for length, weight, sex, and maturity.