Latitude: 33.64° Longitude: 117.62°
Sea wave height: 1-2 ft
Wind speed: 4 kts
Wind direction: 90
Visibility: 10 nm
Air temperature: 29.0°C
Barometric pressure: 758 mm Hg
The past few days back home have given me a chance to share my experiences as a NOAA Teacher at Sea with family and friends and to enjoy some slime and scale free days in southern California. I no longer have the picturesque sunrises and sunsets, but I don’t have to climb down a ladder to get out of bed anymore. I am so grateful that I was selected to be a Teacher at Sea this season and that I had an opportunity to learn from and work with some fantastic people.
My experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea greatly exceeded my expectations and has reinvigorated me as a teacher. From the first full day on NOAA Ship Pisces, I was having fun learning about and collecting data that are used to create models of fish populations. The techniques the NOAA scientists taught me not only allowed me to contribute to their research in a small way, but it gave me an opportunity to collect data that I can immediately integrate into my classroom. My students will be able to analyze salinity, temperature, and pressure changes as depth changes, as well as biological data such as fish length, weight and age using tissue samples I was able collect while a Teacher at Sea. Furthermore, I was also able to learn about the men and women that serve as officers in the NOAA Corps, engineers, and deck crew, without whom the scientists would be unable to gather the necessary data. Meeting these dedicated men and women and learning about the mission of NOAA will allow me to help my own students know about career opportunities in marine biology and STEM fields. Every day was an opportunity to learn and I am eager to share my experience and knowledge with my future students as well as my colleagues in Irvine.
I want to thank Nate Bacheler and the entire NOAA science group for not only teaching me how to extract otoliths and ovaries, but for answering my many questions and including me in everything. Whenever I asked if I could help out in some way I always got a, “Sure, let’s show you how to get that done.” I truly had a blast getting slimed by flopping fish. I also would not have learned so much about the NOAA Corps and the mission of NOAA without being able to freely go to the bridge and engage with the officers on duty. They too were willing to tell me the story of how the came to be NOAA Corps officers and answered my questions ranging from navigating and the propulsion of NOAA Ship Pisces to college majors and family-life.
As I have only a couple more days aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces, I have begun to reflect on what I have learned and experienced, and am grateful for the chance to further develop as a scientist and educator. From my first day on board, the scientists have been willing to mentor and teach me about the role they play in the conservation of marine fisheries, and have patiently answered my many questions and taught me techniques I did not previously know. The science crew includes NOAA scientists from labs in Beaufort, the Outer Banks and Panama City, as well as scientists from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF). Although these men and woman have a common interest in studying fish and their population dynamics, the routes that they have taken to get to their present job are diverse and examples of determination and drive, being at the right place and the right time, and most importantly, pursuing something that you are truly passionate about.
The scientists attribute their choice of careers to a lifetime of enjoying the natural world, fishing and hunting as a youth, and an interest in conservation. Anne M. of the NCDMF recalls attending a marine science summer camp during middle school that piqued her interest in aquatic life, Dave H. of NOAA spent a lot of time outdoors growing up in Texas and set up aquariums as a kid, John B. of NOAA followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a marine biologist, and Julia R. of the SCDNR vacationed on and around the ocean most of her life so working in fisheries seemed like a natural fit. All of the scientists on board have advanced degrees in Marine Biology or Biology with an emphasis in fisheries and more than one has served our country by being in the armed services. Each person has a story to tell about the many paths and detours that eventually led them to a career in fisheries. No one moved from college directly to NOAA; each scientist attributes their current position to being open to new opportunities and forming genuine, professional relationships with coworkers. The road to NOAA has been long in some cases and is paved with unique experiences, each offering new skills and a chance to learn. Zach G. scraped barnacles from acoustic sensors and buoys, Rob C. scrubbed tanks used to raise brine shrimp, Brad T. worked in marsh restoration in Delaware Bay, Christina S. trudged through mud to study shrimp, John B. tagged sharks and has helped map Oculina coral reefs, and Dave H. trapped snakes and turtles in Louisiana. Each person would tell you that no matter how difficult these jobs may have been, they played an important part in their journey. Through it all, each continually pursued their passion and were willing to be adaptable.
Rob C. escapes the rain (photo by David Knight)
Julie P. holding a Nurse Shark that was trapped before releasing it. (photo by David Knight)
John B. and Dave H. are port agents, sampling fish that are brought in by commercial fisherman in Florida and North Carolina. Over the years they have formed relationships with the fisherman in their region and are responsible for collecting data as fish come off the boats into a fish house, measuring specific species and removing otoliths. Each collect fishery dependent data that, when taken together with the fishery independent data like that being gathered today on NOAA Ship Pisces, is used to create population models of fish such as king mackerel, grouper, and snapper species. Todd W. uses his skills as a hydrographer to create detailed images of the seafloor and operates the CTD to gather valuable physical chemistry data on a site so that the physical and biological data can be amalgamated. Christina S. loves good data. As a member of the SEFIS group in Beaufort, Christina is responsible for taking all of the data that are collected throughout the various surveys and making sure it is useful for modeling. Her field experience in a number of agencies throughout the country has given her the ability to understand how best to gather, process and store data to make it useful. Once data have been collected, Rob C. works hard to make sure that the best science available is used for modeling. His innovative and informative statistics serve as a resource to researchers and fisheries commissions that ultimately create state and federal policies and programs. As state fisheries scientists in North and South Carolina one would assume that Anne M. and Julia R. have similar jobs, however, they both have very different roles in their respective agencies. Anne M. is primarily involved in independent sampling; gathering data from gill netting, trawls, and seines that then play a role in stock assessments for certain species in North Carolina waters. Julia R. collects gonad samples, looking for cellular clues to help determine the gender of certain species (remember, some transition from female to male) and the sex ratio of a particular population. Both play a role in helping the public understand state and federal regulations and for conducting research to help create state fisheries management plans. The point of all of this is to demonstrate to you, my students and readers, that a degree in biology can be just the beginning of an interesting and rewarding career in science.
Being outside in the field or on the sea, studying wildlife and seeing new fish or animals drives most of them, and is the reason they enjoy what they do. While the fish may be the same, the behavior or the habitats they study are different. Additionally, being able to travel and meeting lots of interesting, diverse people with a similar interest is rewarding. Like any career, there are drawbacks. Being in a field that is driven by state or federal politics does create challenges. While a team my sample and analyze vast amounts of data and generate scientifically sound conclusions, sometimes stakeholders determine that the sciences does not reflect their interests, therefore, they want to reject or ignore the findings. Furthermore, sufficient funding is a constant issue. Being away from your family, tedious paperwork like filling out government timecards, and typical “office politics” are never fun no matter where you work, although Zach G.’s dislike of splicing lines may be unique to his choice of career!
Chief Scientist. Dr. Nate Bacheler
As coordinator of SEFIS (SouthEast Fishery Independent Survey), Dr. Nate Bacheler wears many hats. As a research scientist, Nate is interested in how best to survey fish using traps and cameras in order to improve the data that are used to make stock assessments. Like others, his transit (to use a nautical term) to NOAA was indirect and includes stops in Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Having always enjoyed the outdoors and biology, he was fortunate to work with professors and advisors that gave him a firm foundation in conservation biology and helped him to know the right questions to ask and cultivated in him an inquisitive nature and strong desire to learn. Nate has studied nesting behavior in largemouth bass, conducted research into the diet and reproduction of freshwater fish in Puerto Rico, and implanted transmitters in fish. Like the other scientists I have been fortunate to work with as a Teacher at Sea, Nate is passionate about what he does and cannot see himself doing anything but studying marine fish. For Dr. Bacheler and all of the scientists I have gotten to know and work with the past two weeks, It’s All About the Fish.
Certain fish that we collect have samples of their fins collected for DNA testing. For example, if a Spotfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus) is brought up in a trap, a small pair of scissors are used to clip a portion of its anal fin in order to obtain a sample that is then place in a micro-test tube containing a buffer. Back in the on-shore lab, technicians will obtain the DNA, which is then used to determine the genetic make-up of the population in a particular area.
One may assume that the genetic make-up of a population is uniform across the east coast, after all, fish can swim, right? However, that is not necessarily the case. Changes in the frequency of particular alleles create spatial differences in some stocks of fish over a broad area. In other words, there may be slight genetic differences in a population of Gray Triggerfish off of the coast of North Carolina compared to those found in the waters of Florida.
Why does this matter? Currently, the management of most fish occurs over a broad area, often including many states. By understanding the slight differences that may be present in a smaller subset of a population, scientists can create better, more accurate management plans instead of a “one size fits all” model.
As written in an earlier blog, many fish in this region are sequential hermaphrodites and change sex during their life-time, starting off as females, then changing to males. By taking the gonads of certain species, scientist can determine if the fish is male or female, and taken together with size and age, it is possible to estimate when these fish are transitioning from one sex to another.
By sampling the ovaries of fish, it is possible to estimate the fecundity of the species. Fecundity is the reproductive potential an organism possesses. The number of eggs in an ovary can be estimated and then, taking the age and size data of the specimen, it is possible to predict the potential a population has for growth. Many factors, such as the number of males in a population and the season, can influence the reproductive behaviors of fish, so sampling the gonads provides an additional pieces of data.
Finally, sampling the gonads of fish can help determine the sex ratio in the population. In fish that display sequential hermaphroditism, such as the Black Sea Bass, the number of males in the populations increase with age.
Question: Fisherman will be able to get more money for larger fish, so naturally they will want to “select for” larger fish, potentially decreasing the number of reproductive males in the population. If the number of large, reproductive males in a population decreases, then more females will transition to become male.
What may happen to the average age of sex transition in sequential hermaphrodites?
A select few species have their stomach contents sampled. If we know what a particular species is eating, then we are able to understand the trophic interactions within the ecosystem much better. An ecosystem-based management plan will look at the interactions taking place between the many prey and predator species, whom are often competing for the same resources. Because the diverse species in an ecosystem are inextricably linked, an increase in one species is likely to affect the other. If one species is over-fished or not reproducing at its potential, this may create a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem.
The food on board the NOAA Ship Pisces has been great. The Stewards, Rey and Dana, have kept us well fed with a variety of great meals. We’ve had everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to bacon wrapped filet mignon and shrimp, and a crew favorite, Taco Tuesday! Meal time is very important because not only is the crew refueling for work, but it affords them a chance to sit down, talk, and to catch up on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ newest “Fixer Upper” on the TV that runs continuously. The first day on board, Operations Officer, Lieutenant Jamie Park, told me that any NOAA ship runs on two very important things: 1) diesel fuel, and 2) COFFEE. The galley is open 24-7 with snacks and drinks always available since crew members are working in shifts, with some getting off at midnight or 4 a.m.. And…., I recently found the freezer that contains Klondike Bars, popsicles, ice cream, and Hot Pockets.
Did You Know?
The Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) gets its name from its enlarged canine teeth. According to the 2016 stock assessment of South Atlantic red snapper, the stock is overfished and subject to overfishing, but is rebuilding. Management plans in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico place annual catch limits on both commercial and recreational fisherman to decrease the pressure on the fish, as well as minimum size restrictions to protect young and juvenile snapper. Red Snapper can live over 50 years and are of reproductive age as early as two.
Latitude: 30° 30.2 N
Longitude: 80° 15.6 W
Sea wave height: 1-2 ft
Wind speed: 15 kts
Wind direction: 187°
Visibility: 10 nm
Air temperature: 30.1 °C
Barometric pressure: 1014.7 mB
Sky: Broken Clouds
Science and Technology Log
Warning!!! Great Science Ahead…
As fish traps begin to be brought up by the deck crew, scientist wait to see what may be in the trap. I’ve actually found that I am looking over the deck in anticipation of new fish that may have been caught, or to see how many fish will need to be “worked up.” Once the fish have been removed from the trap and emptied into a large bin, they are then sorted by species into 17-gallon bins to determine the total weight of all fish. Moving 17 gallons worth of fish up to the lab bench to the scale can be quite a “work out.” There have been a couple of hauls that have captured so many fish of a particular species that more than one bin has to be used. After the fish have been weighed, the total length of each fish is determined to get a length frequency of the entire catch. For species like Tomtate (Haemulon aurolineatum), every fish is measured and then returned to the ocean. For some species, a pre-determined percentage are kept for a more detailed work up that may include the extraction of otoliths, removal of gonads, or a collection of stomach contents. The data collected from each fish will then be used by scientists in a number of different agencies and in different states to better understand the growth and reproduction of the particular species. All of this data is then used to create management plans for economically and ecologically important fish as well as to gain a better understanding of its life history.
One may assume that a very long fish is also very old, but that is not necessarily the case. The length of a fish is not a good way to determine the age of a fish because factors such as temperature and food availability may alter the growth rate. Many fish grow very rapidly early on, but then slow their growth, so it is possible that a fish that is twelve years old is the same size as a fish that is three years old. Because many fish demonstrate logistic growth rates in terms of length, it is important to use additional pieces of data to determine their age.
In the head of ray-finned fish, one can find small, bone-like structures called otoliths. These structures have a variety of sensory functions that include detection of sound vibrations in water, movement, and its orientation in the water. As fish age, calcium carbonate will be added to the otolith, forming ring-like structures that can be used to determine the age of a fish, much like a tree will add new tissue each season forming tree rings. Otoliths are the best way to determine the actual age of a fish.
For the fish that we were sampling, we remove the sagittal otoliths which are located beside the brain just about level with the eyes. To extract them, a cut is made on the dorsal side of the fish with a sharp knife to gain access to the skull case. To extract otoliths from some very “hard-headed” fish, a saw is used, while others take little effort. After a few hours of otolith extraction, I feel as though I am getting the hang of it, although I am nowhere near as fast as the biologist on board! I’ve been collecting otoliths from Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata) and Vermillion Snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens) to bring home with me to create a lab for my class and to post on the NOAA Teacher-at-Sea website.
Be sure to check back for Part II. Gonads, Diet and DNA
The motion of the ship has not been a problem so far and I stopped taking any motion sickness pills after the first day. As I have been removing otoliths from fish, I cannot help but think about the similarities in how both fish and humans perceive their spatial environment and maintain balance. In our vestibular system, we too have otoliths that help to sense acceleration in a vertical and horizontal direction. Of course my thoughts then go to a dark place…what if someone were removing my otoliths to determine my age?
Did You Know?
The longest known life span in vertebrates is found in the Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus). It is estimated that the Greenland shark grows less than 1 cm per year. Since sharks do not have otoliths, scientist have to analyze proteins found in the lens of their eye. In 2016, scientist from the University of Copenhagen collected a 5 m shark that was estimated to be about 392 years old, but may be anywhere from 272 to 512 years old.
Reference: Eye lens radiocarbon reveals centuries of longevity in the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus). Science 12 Aug 2016: Vol. 353, Issue 6300, pp. 702-704
My first day on NOAA Ship Pisces I was introduced to about 300 different people. Well, maybe it was more like 30, but it sure seemed like a lot of people were aboard. NOAA vessels have civilian personnel that perform a myriad of important duties, scientists that assist in planning and carrying out the various missions of the ship, and commissioned NOAA Corps Officers that ensure the mission of NOAA is carried out.
Engineers are responsible for making sure that all of the systems on the ship are operating properly. The engineers must be able to fix and maintain all mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems on the ship. It’s this important group that makes sure the A/C is working in our cabins and that the propulsion system gets us from one trap site to the next. Members of the deck department use equipment to lower CTD units, bring up traps, deploy and retrieve buoys, and maintain watches throughout the day. These men and women are responsible for making sure very expensive equipment is safely and effectively used. As a research vessel, the Survey department’s role in the acquisition and processing of oceanographic and survey data is crucial. These individuals operate and analyze data from a number of different pieces of equipment including the CTD and the multibeam echosounder. And finally, there are the Stewards. The stewards are the ones responsible for making sure everyone is well fed and comfortable. They prepare and plan all meals, ensure the pantry is stocked and ready for each mission, and that all of the common areas are clean and sanitary.
Soon after boarding, I met Ensign Luke Evancoe, the newest NOAA Corps Officer to join the NOAA Ship Pisces. After talking to him briefly and learning about his varied background and the circuitous route that brought him to NOAA, I decided I wanted to interview him and find out more about his role as a NOAA Corps Officer.
Where are you from and what did you do before coming to NOAA?
I grew up in Pittsburgh and have a B.S. in Biology and Masters in Teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. After high school and two years of college, I decided to join the United States Marine Corps and become an Infantryman. While in the Marine Corps I was a member of the USMC Silent Drill Platoon, a 24-member team that are ambassadors of the USMC that perform at sporting events and parades. I was then deployed to Afghanistan for seven months. I was a vehicle commander for an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle.
After the Marine Corps, Mr. Evancoe went back to VCU and then became a sixth grade science teacher at the Franklin Military Academy in Richmond, Virginia where he taught for two and one half years. While at a research symposium, he learned about the work of NOAA and the NOAA Corps and decided to apply to the program and once he was accepted, left teaching to train to become an NOAA Corps Officer.
What was a memorable experience while you were teaching?
My most memorable experience teaching was when I successfully executed an experiment to see whether the myth that if someone moves while stuck in quicksand, they sink faster than if they remained motionless was true or not. Using Hexbugs, which are tiny robot bugs, my students tested whether the Hexbugs which were turned on and “squirming” sank into a cornmeal mix (the quicksand) at a faster or slower rate than Hexbugs that were turned off. It was a simple, yet fun way to demonstrate the basics of the scientific method to middle school children.
Tell us about your training with NOAA Corps.
The NOAA Corps training lasts 19 weeks and is held at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Our training is called Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC) and is carried out alongside the Coast Guard Officer Candidates.
The training is similar to the military academies in that we wear a uniform, start our day at about 5 a.m., go to classes and are expected to carry out other duties when we are not in class. It is very regimented, but it is also rewarding.
How is training for NOAA Corps similar to your Marine Corps training that you received?
They are really incomparable. What is similar, however, is the training you receive in leadership and discipline and how to best represent yourself as a member of a uniformed service for the United States.
What types of things do you learn during your BOTC training?
As I mentioned, we learn a lot about leadership, but we also learn about the goals and mission of NOAA and the role of officers in fulfilling that mission. Obviously, we also learn about skills that will allow us to be good seamen. We have to know about all of the different operations of a NOAA ship like propulsion, navigation, and communication and we also learn the skills of each of the departments like engineering and the deck crew. We learn different nautical skills and about maritime regulations. Obviously, we learn how to handle both large ships and small vessels.
The training program involves a lot of hands on opportunities beside the classroom sessions we have. It is similar to how you would teach science with some lecture time and then lab time.
You are currently an ensign, what are your duties right now?
I am considered a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD). I am assigned two 4-hour watches on the bridge. During this time, I am driving the ship as we transit from one location to another or as we drop and pick up traps. You have to multi-task very well. I have to be listening to the radios as the crew relays information to the bridge, the scientists also communicate with the bridge as traps are being deployed or retrieved, I have to know our speed, pay attention to the strength of the current, wind direction and its speed, I have to watch for other vessels in the area, there’s a whole lot going on. Fortunately, I am being mentored by a senior officer when I am on the bridge. All of the training I am currently doing will allow me to become an Officer of the Deck (OOD) which will allow me to be unsupervised on the bridge.
What is the most difficult aspect of driving the ship?
The most difficult aspect of driving the ship would have to be maintaining an understanding of the current state of the wind, currents, and swell, while realizing that these variables can change multiple times over the course of a watch; a strategy that I was using to pick up fish traps the first hour of watch may not work at all with how the sea state has changed an hour later.
In addition to my shifts on the bridge, I have collateral duties that I am learning. For instance, I am learning the duties of the Navigation Officer who is responsible for ensuring that all of the navigation charts are up to date, that the navigation equipment is working properly, and that upcoming tracklines are laid out on our charts and approved by the CO. The Imprest Officer is responsible for managing some of the ship’s funds and making sure the wage mariners are paid when required. I am also learning about the duties of the Movie Officer. We have a large inventory of movies from the US Navy that have to be cataloged and replaced. We get movies that are still playing in theaters so crew members can use their time when they are not on duty to relax. It’s important that people can relax. Finally, I am coming up to speed with the duties of the Property Officer, who maintains inventory of all of the ship’s electronically-based and sensitive property and accounts for assets that must be properly disposed of.
What is the OOD workbook?
It is like on-the-job training. The work that I do in the workbook helps me put into practice the things I learned at BOTC, and once I have completed the workbook and it has been approved, it will allow me to stand watch on the bridge without supervision.
The workbook assesses my knowledge of the mission and maintaining the safety and security of the ship.
What didn’t you realize before you became a NOAA officer that you discovered since joining the NOAA Corps?
I guess I did not realize that, as an officer, you have to know everyone else’s job in addition to yours. An officer is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the ship, so I have to be knowledgeable in not just navigating or driving the ship, but I also have to know about all the other departments. It’s a lot to know, but I find it very rewarding.
What are your goals with NOAA?
My commitment as a NOAA Officer is three years, but I plan on making this my career. After my two years on NOAA Ship Pisces I will then spend time at my land based assignment. I enjoy my job because I am involved in collecting valuable data for the scientists to analyze, there is a lot of responsibility and you have to constantly be 100% engaged in your work, and you get to see and experience amazing things while at sea.
There is always work to be done on the NOAA Ship Pisces, but at the end of a day there may be time to relax and to play a little Corn Hole. Sunday evening the scientific team cleared the back deck for a little tournament. Playing Corn Hole on a moving ship is quite a bit different than playing in your back yard! Just as you are getting ready to release the bag a swell will move the ship and cause your bag to miss the board—-at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Did You Know?
Pisces is the Latin word for “fish”. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite and Eros were transformed into fish to escape the monster, Typhon.
Latitude: 33° 26.6 N
Longitude: 77° 02.02 W
Sea wave height: 1- 3 ft
Wind speed: 10.4 kts
Wind direction: 39.9
Visibility: 10 nm
Air temperature: 30.2°C
Barometric pressure: 1018.5 mb
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Science and Technology Log
Numerous physical, chemical, and biological factors determine the distribution of any organism in its environment, and throughout the first few days that traps have been set and retrieved I have witnessed changes in fish distribution firsthand. Some factors affecting the distribution of fish would include water temperature and currents, available nutrients, the presence of predator or prey species, and the type of habitat substrate (e.g., sand/mud vs hardbottom vs pelagic). We learn in biology or marine science about species richness and species abundance. Species Richness is the number of different species one may find in a particular area; in one trap you may find four or five different species of fish with one particular species represented once and others represented in high numbers. Large numbers of one particular species of fish would be considered a high Species Abundance.
Members of each team watch each trap as it rises out of the water hoping for both high species richness and abundance. On the second full day at sea a trap was brought up containing 262 total fish and 8 different species that included: 174 Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata), 1 White Grunt (Haemulon plumierii), 1 Gray Trigger (Balistes capriscus), 1 Spottail Pinfish (Diplodus holbrookii), 1 Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboids), 67 Tomtate (Haemulon aurolineatum), 6 Bank Sea Bass (Centropristis striata), and 7 Stenotomous sp. Compared to other traps, both the richness and abundance present in this trap were high. The abundance of Black Sea Bass in this trap was fairly high, but other traps during the day had a much greater number of exclusively Tomtate, creating a “Tomtate Tornado”. Traps occasionally come up with nothing in them, to the disappointment of all—I quickly learned this is called a “water haul”. On July 12th, we caught 1060 fish, and the following day, July 13th, we caught 37 fish, and the distance between trap sets was only 10 miles! This is why sampling from six different locations at a time and over a wide geographic area is important, one trap only gives you a glimpse into the fish in that particular area which may not represent the area’s true species distribution. Sampling up to twenty-four different locations per day along the coasts of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida will allow members of the SEFIS group (Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey) to better understand the populations of fish in these waters, allowing state and federal agencies to make informed decisions about the management of these fish stocks.
Friday the Thirteenth…today has been both a low species richness and species abundance day, but it has produced some interesting finds, not least of which was an Almaco Jack (Seriola rivoliana). This large, I would say plain looking, fish has a long, extended dorsal and anal fin and look like they are built for speed. After the otoliths were removed, I was collecting scales to take back to my class for use during a lab when one of the scientists said, “If you want to see something really disgusting, we should fillet that fish so you can see some parasitic worms.” Like any good parasite, Amberjack, or Spaghetti worms, take advantage of the feeding behaviors of multiple hosts. Passed up the food chain from eggs, to larvae and then into prey species of the Almaco Jack, the larvae take up residence in the muscle of the intermediate host Jack waiting for its final host species, a shark. Once a shark consumes a Jack, the larva then become adult tapeworms within the digestive tract of sharks and from there, the entire life-cycle begins again……now that’s scary.
I have quickly learned how many different government agencies participate and contribute in the SEFIS survey. There are state biologists from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and from the Southeast Fisheries Science Center which is part of the National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA. These various groups collaborate in data collection so accurate models can be created to estimate fish stocks. Estimates are obtained through fishery dependent and independent sampling methods. Fishery dependent sampling involves gathering data from commercial and recreational fisherman through the use of surveys, phone apps, and going to the docks of these fisherman and sampling their catch. Because fisherman want to ensure a good catch, they will go to locations that they know are good fishing spots, or will only try and catch a particular species of fish, introducing statistical bias into the sample. Fishery independent sampling is what SEFIS does, collecting data at predetermined locations, not based on what they may or may not catch, thus decreasing statistical bias in the hope of obtaining a true picture of the fish populations. Together, both fishery dependent and independent sampling are then analyzed to create an assessments of the fish stock.
Did You Know?
You can see an 8.8 m long tapeworm that was pulled out of a human on display at the Meguro Parasitological Museum in Tokyo, Japan. The museum has over 300 different types of parasites on display.
Today we set off on our two-week fishery survey off the coasts of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida with Tropical Storm Chris lurking off the shores of the Carolinas. The officers and crew of NOAA Ship Pisces have been busy all morning preparing for departure and do not seem too concerned about the weather. There are a lot of moving parts on a ship this large with deck hands busy at work repairing, maintaining, and preparing equipment for this leg of the survey. A concern of the scientists is that a large refrigerator that is used to store bait fish is not operable, and after trying to repair the current one, as well as trying to find a replacement, it was decided that the survey leg should not be delayed so we will make due. One set of traps were set about 5 miles off the coast the first day with a haul of black sea bass, tomtate, gulf flounder, pigfish, pinfish, and a type of porgy. Each of the chevron (V-shaped) traps (Figure 1) have bait fish inside that attract the species and are fitted with two GoPro cameras, one facing the front and one facing the back of the trap. A numbered buoy is attached and then the trap is sent overboard and allowed to sit on the seafloor for about 90 minutes. Once the deck crew retrieve the traps, the fish in each trap are first sorted and then weighed and measured and then released back into the sea. A pre-determined number of fish are kept for additional analysis that includes the removal of gonads and otoliths–more on this in a future post.
One may ask, “If you are trying to conserve fish species, why are you killing them?” A number of the fish that are caught are returned back to the sea successfully because of the speed and efficiency of the scientists that are removing the fish from the traps and taking the various measurements; however, some fish are killed in the process. By taking small samples of fish at a variety of locations within the study area, a bigger picture of the overall distribution and abundance can be determined which will then allow for the proper management of important fish species in the Atlantic. The numbers of fish trapped are insignificant in the bigger picture. As an example, approximately 200 metric tons of Black Sea Bass were caught off the coast of North Carolina in 2015 and 2016; today we caught a few hundred fish in the traps. What the scientists take is like putting a drop of food coloring in an Olympic-sized swimming pool–it is insignificant in the overall scheme of managing populations.
The great American writer Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Being in a classroom is much different than being in the field (or in this case, on the ocean) doing research. I am determined to try my hand at as many tasks as I am allowed, and to experience as much as possible without getting in the way of the crew and scientists. When will I ever have another chance to remove gonads and otoliths from fish or string bait lines at 7 a.m.? When a remora was captured, Dr. Bacheler recommended I experience the great sucking power of this fish, and paraphrasing Mark Twain, “I threw off the bowlines and explored.” I now have a nice remora hickey on my forearm even eight hours later and have decided to question the notion that remora and the animals to which they attach have a mutualistic relationship. “Why would you do this?” you may ask, because the opportunity was there of course!
Did You Know?
Many marine fish are capable of changing sex during their lifetime in a process called sequential hermaphroditism. Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata) begin their lives as a female and may change to a male during their life depending on population conditions. This type of hermaphroditism is called protogynous (“proto-“ first or original; and “gyno-“ woman) hermaphroditism. In California, a common species of fish that undergoes protogynous hermaphroditism is the California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher).
NOAA Office of Fisheries. National Marine Fisheries Service. Commercial Fisheries Statistics. [https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/commercial-fisheries/]
Weather Data from my patio in Mission Viejo, California
Sea wave height: 0 m
Wind speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: East
Visibility: 8.6 nm
Air temperature: 24 C
Barometric pressure: 1014 mb
Personal Log and Introduction
What a summer I am having! I just got back from an eight-day adventure to Belize with sixteen of this year’s AP Biology students. During our trip we hiked in the rainforest both during the day and at night, snorkeled the meso-American reef at South Water Caye, went tubing in a limestone cave, visited the Mayan site of Xunantunich, hiked into the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave system to see Mayan artifacts and remains, and zip-lined above the rainforest in the Mayflower Bocawina National Park. Now I begin preparations for my Teacher at Sea adventure aboard NOAA Ship Pisces. What a life I lead… I sometimes feel as though I am living in a mashup episode of “Dora the Explorer”, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego”, and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.
I have been teaching at University High School in Irvine, California since 1990. UNI was my first and will be my only teaching position—I’ve found a great place and intend to teach there my entire career. The teachers in my department are not only my colleagues, they are my friends. I have so much respect for the staff at UNI because we all work hard to teach and serve the students and share a passion for investing in the lives of kids. The students at the school are motivated to learn, are respectful and encouraging of one another, and are supported by parents that value education. I frequently tell people, “when I got hired at UNI 28 years ago, I won the lottery!”
Throughout my career I have taught all levels of life science, from remedial biology to AP Biology and everything in between. My current teaching schedule includes Marine Science and AP Biology. I began teaching Marine Science four years ago and love the class. In Marine Science we get to study Oceanography and Marine Biology throughout the year so I get a chance to practice some of my physical science skills along with my love of biology. Teaching this class has reinvigorated me and has given me a chance to teach a diverse range of students. I know that my experience as a Teacher at Sea will benefit both Marine Science and AP Biology, but I also hope it will benefit my colleagues at UHS and in the Irvine Unified School District.
As previously mentioned, I just got back from a trip to Belize with my AP Biology students. For the past fifteen years I have been taking groups of AP Biology students outside the United States to see and experience the natural world first-hand. On our trips we have learned about tropical rainforest and coral reef systems, plants and animal diversity, and geology as well as many different cultures and customs in countries like Belize, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Iceland. My former students tell me that these trips have played an integral part of their high school experience and have given them opportunities to challenge themselves physically and mentally as well as a great appreciation for the world in which we live.
As a Teacher at Sea I will be working with Dr. Nate Bacheler of the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center aboard NOAA Ship Pisces. The NOAA Ship Pisces is a 208 ft. ship that was designed specifically for fisheries studies. The ship is designed to sail quietly through the water in order to better collect samples using a variety of collection methods including hook and line, traps, and video systems. During my cruise on NOAA Ship Pisces I will be helping scientists survey snapper and grouper to better understand their distribution and abundance for better management of these economically important species. Additionally, we will be collecting bathymetric and water quality data at various sample sites.