Latitude: 34º 16.54 N Longitude: 118º 60.90 W Wind Speed: 5 km/hr Air Temperature: 33º Celsius Pool Temperature 29º Celsius
It is hard to believe that my 26 days as a Teacher at Sea on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are already over, and that I am back in California. I am still rocking slightly, and still VERY AWAKE at 4 a.m. as a result of having the night shift. I met so many wonderful people, from the NOAA officers to the crew to the science team, and learned so much about marine species, the ocean, science, technology, Alaska, and myself.
When I tell people how much I loved being up to my elbows in pollock, jellyfish, and sparkly herring scales; processing a catch several times a day; filleting rockfish; and the utter satisfaction that comes from opening a pollock’s head in just the right spot in order to extract its otoliths, they think I am insane. I guess it’s just something they’ll have to experience for themselves.
I have cooked both Alaskan cod and salmon since returning home, but nothing tastes like Chief Steward Judy’s cooking. I miss being rocked to sleep by the movement of the water; the anemones, sea stars, and fish we saw each night using the drop camera; the sunsets; the endless waves; and all the laughs. This has been the experience of a lifetime, and I look forward to sharing all that I learned with my students and my school. I will always treasure my time in Alaska and on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and hope to return to both soon.
When Sarah Stienessen was a little girl, she got a book about dolphins, and fell in love. She read the book over and over, dreaming about meeting a real-live dolphin one day. The problem was she grew up in Wisconsin, not a place with a lot of dolphins. However, as Sarah says “If you have an interest, don’t let location deter you from your dreams.”
When she grew up, Sarah studied zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but her burning fascination with the ocean led her to graduate school at Texas A&M where she finally got to study DOLPHINS (more specifically, the vocal behavior of dolphins). Her research there included using a hydrophone to listen to dolphins. She later moved to Seattle and began working for NOAA conducting acoustic surveys on walleye pollock in Alaska. On this leg of the Oscar Dyson, Sarah acted as the Field Party Chief (or Chief Scientist). Sarah pointed out that while her use of acoustics with dolphins was passive (placing a hydrophone in the water and listening to the dolphins) she is now using acoustics actively by sending an audible PING into the water and reading the echos that the fish send back.
Sarah was part of the amazing NOAA
science team onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, which included, Denise
McKelvey, Kresimir Williams, and Taina Honkalehto.
Denise was on the day shift, so I mostly saw her during shift changes and on those rare mornings when I was still awake at 7 a.m. and came down for breakfast (okay, bacon). However, early in the trip, she took the time to explain the fish lab procedure to me, even drawing pictures and a flow chart. (Thanks!)
While the duties of the science team often overlap, Kresimir is definitely the “techie” who enjoys inventing and creating new underwater cameras and other devices. Do you remember the TV show MacGyver? MacGyver was a secret agent who was beyond resourceful and had an encyclopedic knowledge of science. Every episode, he would solve the problem at hand in a matter of minutes using a combination of ordinary objects such as duct tape, household cleanser, a Q-tip, and some matches. Kresimir reminded me of MacGyver. If something broke, he would enter the room, grab tools and items that just might work in place of the broken piece, and sure enough, within minutes, the device would be up and running again!
Taina was always in the chem lab during drop camera time, her eyes riveted on the screen. I was excited whenever the camera spotted something, but I loved that Taina seemed equally excited to see what marine species the camera would uncover each night. One of the most exciting, and clearly the biggest, was the Giant Pacific Octopus!
Science and Technology Log
The Giant Pacific Octopus (or Octopus dofleini) is often rumored to weigh more than 600 pounds, but most adult octopuses are much smaller. An adult female might weigh up to 55 pounds while an adult male can weight up to 88 pounds. According to NOAA, the plural of octopus is octopuses, NOT octopi as some people say. Because it doesn’t have bones, a giant octopus can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter! The body of an octopus is shaped like a bag and it has 8 long arms (or tentacles) covered in suction cups.
octopus can have as many as 280 suction cups on each arm. That’s 2,240
suction cups! The Giant Pacific Octopus loves to eat crabs, but it will also
eat snails, oysters, abalone, clams, mussels, and small fish. The octopus’
mouth or jaw is shaped like a parrot’s beak. It is the only hard part of an octopus,
and it’s more-or-less
indigestible. That means that if a sperm whale eats an octopus, and the
contents of the whale’s stomach are later studied, you will see the octopus
beak even if you find no other sign that he ate an octopus.
to avoid whales and other predators, an octopus will camouflage, or change its
color and skin texture to match its surroundings! When he feels threatened, he releases
a cloud of purple-black ink to confuse his enemy.
Octopus Elementary Math Time
(Remember, an octopus has 8 arms.)
If an octopus has 2 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? _______
If an octopus has 5 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? _______
If an octopus has 10 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? ______
If an octopus has 2 suction cups on 4 of
his arms, and 3 suction cups on his other 4 arms, how many does he have all
If an octopus has 4 suction cups on 7 of
his arms, but half as many on his 8th arm, how much does he all
If an octopus has 259 suction cups and
his octopus friend has 751 suction cups, how many do they have all together?
Latitude: 56º 58.03 N Longitude: 151º 26.26W Wind Speed: 17 knots Wind Direction: 120º Air Temperature: 13º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1010.5 mb Depth of water column 565 m Surface Sea Temperature: 12.9º Celsius
Science & Technology Log
Safety is of the utmost importance on a ship. There are safety trainings, fire drills, lifeboat drills, and rules about where you can go and whether you need to be wearing a life jacket and/or a hard hat. Hardhats come in many colors, but most look something like this:
That is why I had to interview Ryan Harris, the Chief Boatswain on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson about his cowboy hardhat.
from Sacramento, California and loves to wear cowboy hats. One day he saw a cowboy hardhat online, and
knew he had to order one! He first started wearing it on the NOAA Ship Hiialakai
in Hawaii and liked how it not only protected his head but kept the sun off his
face. In Alaska, he likes how it keeps
the rain off.
working for NOAA 14 years ago. I
wondered how a kid from landlocked Sacramento, who had never spent time on a
boat, ended up with a career at sea. It turns out his aunt saw an advertisement
about a free maritime internship program offered through the Sacramento School District
(at the time). Ryan was interested in seeing the world, so he looked into it. Through
the internship, he learned how to work on boats, and was introduced to
NOAA. Ryan has worked on NOAA ships with
home ports in California, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Alaska, and has already traveled
with NOAA to at least 13 countries.
So what does the Chief Boatswain do?
Ryan is in charge of all operations concerning the deck and also “watch standards” or lookout (such as making sure that there are not whales in the area if we are going to deploy the fishing net). He is also in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of the ship, including some mundane but all-important things such as making sure there is enough toilet paper or laundry detergent onboard before the ship sails. (There is no “running to the market” while you are out at sea for weeks or months.)
everyone I have met on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, Ryan enjoys his NOAA
life, and feels that NOAA offers a wealth of opportunities. I asked Ryan how he manages the long stretches
of time with no phone service or internet. Ryan says the temporary “disconnect” allows him
to focus on work and simply enjoy his life and his time with his co-workers. I think a lot of us can learn from that.
Latitude: 56º 58.03 N Longitude: 151º 26.26W Wind Speed: 17 knots Wind Direction: 120º Air Temperature: 13º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1010.5 mb Depth of water column 565 m Surface Sea Temperature: 12.9º Celsius
Science & TechnologyLog
Ever heard of oilers? I hadn’t until I got to know Daniel Ruble, a member of the engineering crew on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
Daniel is originally from Chicago but now calls Virginia home. After serving our country for 20 years in the Marine Corps, a friend mentioned that it was always good to have a Mariner’s Document (a license from the Coast Guard) “just in case.” Years later, he finally decided to put it to use, and got a job with NOAA in 2014. He started doing deck work, but his interest and experience in mechanical engineering eventually led him to the NOAA engineering crew. He is what they call an “oiler.” Oilers maintain, clean, and oil the ship’s engine, including the motors, gears, and compressors. Daniel has worked on every class of NOAA vessel (Oceanographic and Atmospheric Research, Charting and Hydrographic, and Fisheries Research) and all but one of the NOAA ships.
Daniel and the other engineers onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are easy to spot as they often have bulky, protective ear coverings either on or nearby. That is because the engine room is VERY LOUD. When I was given a tour, I was first given ear coverings, and much of the explanation about what I was seeing had to come later as it was too difficult to hear each other. I was told that seeing the engine room is like looking under the hood of your car. Just imagine your car’s engine magnified 1000 times.
The engineering crew is responsible for all of the internal systems of the ship. Without them, the ship wouldn’t run, and there would be no power or water. The engineering room actually makes all of the water we use onboard by distilling saltwater into potable (drinkable) water. Here’s how it works.
Saltwater is boiled using energy from the ship itself. Hot engine steam is passed through an evaporation unit, causing the saltwater to boil. The saltwater steam rises and then travel through a water separator which prevents any droplets of saltwater from passing through. After the steam becomes pure water, it is then carried away by a distillate pump. It is then safe for drinking and showering.
Each of the two evaporators on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson can distill between 600-900 gallons of water per day, depending upon how fast the ship is moving. On an average day, the ship uses 800-1000 gallons!
Latitude: 57º 09.61 N Longitude: 152º 20.99W Wind Speed: 15 knots Wind Direction: 210 º Air Temperature: 12º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb Depth of water column 84 m Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius
Science and Technology Log
Are you wondering what it’s really like to live and work full-time on a NOAA research vessel? I asked Andrea Stoneman, the Senior Survey Technician on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
Like everyone onboard the Oscar Dyson, Andrea is always working hard, but always has a smile on her face. Originally from Duluth, Minnesota, she has been employed by NOAA as a “wage mariner” for a year. A wage mariner means she is an at-sea civilian employee of NOAA. She began college at the University of Minnesota as a business major, but an internship as a freshwater mussel researcher changed her life and made her realize her true love: BIOLOGY! She earned a degree in Environmental Science, and then attended graduate school at Delaware State University, where NOAA funded her research on ocean acidification and its impact on fish.
Are you wondering what ocean acidification means?
The amount of carbon in the ocean is rising due to an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air. Carbon dioxide acidifies the water, reducing its pH level. The letters pH stands for the ‘potential of Hydrogen.’ The pH scale was invented in 1909 by a biochemist names S.P. Sorenson. The scale uses numbers from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic, 14 being the least acidic (or more alkaline) and 7 as the middle (neutral) point.
For the past 300 million years, the average pH of the ocean was approximately 8.2. It is now closer to 8.1, a drop of 0.1 pH units. Remember, the numbers go “in reverse” so a drop in pH means it is MORE acidic. You may be thinking, but it’s only a drop of 0.1. That doesn’t sound like a lot. However, a drop of 0.1 represents a 25-percent increase in acidity. That’s because the pH scale is a logarithmic scale, not a linear scale. To understand a linear scale, think of a ruler. The difference between inches on a ruler stays constant. A 5-inch fish is one inch bigger than a 4-inch fish, and 2 inches bigger than a 3-inch fish. In contrast, the pH scale is a logarithmic scale in which two adjacent values increase or decrease by a factor of 10. Therefore, a pH of 3 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 4, and 100 times more acidic than a pH of 5.
that many marine species may experience adverse effects on their health,
growth, reproduction, and life span due to ocean acidification. That means fish
could develop diseases, have fewer babies, or die younger.
You and I need calcium
to build strong bones. We get calcium through milk, cheese, green leafy
vegetables, and many other sources. Marine
species also need calcium carbonate to build their bones or shells. Ocean acidification causes carbonate ions to be less
abundant in the ocean, which makes it harder for
marine species to build strong bones and shells. This is especially bad for oysters,
clams, sea urchins, corals, and mussels, the very species that made Andrea
fall in love with science!
After graduate school, Andrea worked as a fisheries observer on commercial fishing vessels. (I met quite a few people on-board the ship who are or were observers.) To a non-fisheries person, an “observer” SOUNDS like someone who stands around watching others, but it is actually very hard work! Observers document compliance (making sure that things are being done the correct way). They take samples of the catch and collect data regarding the size of the catch and the species caught. The data goes into the same service model that NOAA data does, which is vital for ensuring sustainable fishing for the future.
her work as an observer in Alaska, Andrea met people at NOAA, took a tour of a
NOAA ship, and decided to apply for a job with NOAA. (Hmmm… When I interviewed Ensign Andonian for
an earlier blog, she also mentioned visiting a NOAA ship as the thing that made
her decide to choose a career with NOAA. That gives you an idea of just how
amazing NOAA ships are!)
So what does a Senior Survey Technician do?
She runs and maintains all of the scientific sensors on the ship (including the meteorological and oceanographic sensors). She also runs the CTD, a device which measures the conductivity, temperature, depth, salinity, and other oceanographic parameters of the water.
In addition, she is involved in setting and retrieving the fishing nets and is an expert at processing the catch in the fish lab. Andrea ensures that the data collected onboard is sound and accurate, and “packages” the data so that it is presentable and accessible to NOAA thus becoming accessible to the public whom NOAA serves.
she recommends a NOAA life, Andrea says it’s great for college graduates who
have an interest in science and a love of the ocean. Some perks (especially for
new college graduates) include living rent-free onboard, having delicious meals
cooked for you three times a day, and getting to see the world while being
involved in interesting, and sometimes ground-breaking, scientific research. An
added perk is that working for the federal government can “erase” some of your
enjoys being the Senior Survey Technician onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson,
and has fallen in love with Alaska, which she now considers her home.
Click below to watch a 2-minute video by NOAA about ocean acidification:
While I cannot describe what it is like to live full-time on a NOAA ship, I can tell you what it’s like as a Teacher at Sea for 26 days. Like everyone onboard, I “work” a 12-hour shift. The science team works shifts starting at either 4 a.m. or 4 p.m. I was assigned the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift. That means I wake up most days between 2:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon. On days that I am “good” I head down to the gym. On other days, I grab a light “breakfast” before heading to the chem lab to start my shift.
start our shift processing fish by 4:30. First I suit up in steel-toed boots, a
waterproof jacket and overalls, and elbow-high rubber gloves.
Then we process the haul, which means sorting approximately 1000 pounds of fish and jellyfish by species.
We weigh them, measure them, and dissect some to collect otoliths (ear bones) or ovaries. All of this can take 2-3 hours. Then we clean. The fish lab gets COVERED in fish slime, scales, and jellyfish goo.
There are high-powered waters sprayers hanging from the ceiling, and we blast every surface in the room with saltwater for at least 10 minutes after every haul. Imagine cleaning your kitchen with a fire engine hose! It’s definitely the most fun I have ever had cleaning!
At the end of the cruise, I will join Andrea the Survey Technician and the science team for 2-3 hours of meticulously scrubbing and spraying the fish lab so that it is clean and ready for the next group that comes aboard a few days after we leave.
the scientists onboard often want to do “pair trawls” (fishing in the same area
using the “old” AWT net and the “newer” LFS net in order to align the catch
data with the acoustics data), I am
often back in the fish lab an hour later to process another haul, and again
clean the fish lab.
After that, depending upon the time, I might have a snack, or do research and write blogs, or spend time in the chem lab with my co-workers, Matthew Phillips (the Fish Lab Lead) and volunteer biologist Nathan Battey, discussing the haul or what is coming up for the rest of the shift. At about 11 p.m., the sun sets, and sometimes it is spectacular, so I try to pop out onto the deck for a quick photo.
At midnight, we start getting ready to do the drop camera to determine which areas are trawlable. We usually do at least 4 camera drops, from approximately 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. This time of night often involves the science team consuming caffeine, ice cream, red vines, sour patch kids, or all of the above. At 4 a.m., the next shift starts, and my roommate, Jamie Giganti, comes into the chem lab. Jamie is a field coordinator for AIS. She works as an observer part of the time, but also provides support and training for new observers, and acts as a liaison between boat captains and observers.
Jamie’s arrival in the chem lab means it is my turn to go to “our” room. Although we are roommates, we are never actually in the room at the same time. The goal is that you stay out of the room for the 12 hours your roommate is off-shift, allowing them to sleep or relax. That means that every time I am on shift I need to make sure that I take everything I might need for the day.
few days onboard, I was in bed and asleep 15 minutes after my shift ended. Now
that I am accustomed to the schedule, or perhaps due to the caffeine or sugar,
I am often up until 5 or 5:30 a.m. That means I go to sleep just as the sun
stateroom has a bathroom and shower, a desk, a few shelves, lockers that act as
a closet, and bunkbeds. (I was so happy
when Jamie asked if she could have the top bunk!)
The large window has both magnificent views of Alaska and also blackout curtains that block the sun so that people on my shift can sleep.
The shower area in the bathroom has a slightly raised border, but since the boat moves while you are showering, so does the shower curtain.
other people have figured out how to get the water to stay IN the shower. I am still working on that. On the upside,
the bathroom floor gets cleaned every day! (I am told that one trick is to use
zip ties to “lengthen” the shower curtain.
a haul seems easy now, but it was overwhelming the first few days! As a
non-scientist, I was unfamiliar with fish and jellyfish species, perplexed by
the computer program used to enter data, and kept confusing which fish to
measure, which fish to weigh, and which fish to measure and weigh. I am so grateful for the patience of everyone
I never got seasick. I wore a scopolamine patch for the first part of the trip,
and then one day decided to take it off and learned that I had in fact “gotten
my sea legs.” Now I barely feel the boat moving during the day and enjoy the
light rocking at night.
writing this during my last few days onboard.
While we have occasionally been near land, during much of our time
onboard, the view was the incredibly beautiful Gulf of Alaska. Yesterday, when I saw land in the distance, I
was sad to learn that it was Kodiak. That
means my time on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is almost over.
Latitude: 57º 9.61 N Longitude: 152º 20.99W Wind Speed: 15 knots Wind Direction: 210 º Air Temperature: 12º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb Depth of water column 84 m Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius
Welcome to a tour of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
Your tour guide today is the Room
Allow me to explain.
When I am not a Teacher at Sea on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, I am the special education preschool teacher in Room 11 at Nevada Avenue Elementary School in Canoga Park, California. My classroom has a classroom bear (made of construction paper) that “hides” every night when the students go home. In the beginning of the year, he is sort of easy to find, but as the year progresses, he is harder and harder to find. By the end of the year, only a paw or an ear might be showing!
thing my students want to do every morning is look for the bear. When they find it, they excitedly explain where
it is. Speech and language are things we work on in class all the time, and the
bear gives us something fun to talk about! For some students, a single word might
be the goal. Other students may be working on putting a few words together, or
even enough to make a sentence. It’s
also a great time for them to learn prepositional words or phrases to describe
where the bear is hiding, such as next to, under, beneath, or on top of.
Now it’s YOUR turn. I hope you have fun touring the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with the Room 11 Bear and finding him in the photos where he decided to hide in a tricky spot. He is in EVERY picture.
Latitude: 57º 09.61 N Longitude: 152º 20.99W Wind Speed: 15 knots Wind Direction: 210 º Air Temperature: 12º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb Depth of water column 84m Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius
Science and Technology Log
Onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with me are two volunteer biologists: Evan Reeve and Nathan Battey. Evan is on the opposite shift, so we often pass each other, but on occasion, we have been in the fish or chem lab at the same time.
I arrived here knowing very little about fish (other than how to care for a beta fish and how to cook salmon and trout). Evan, on the other hand, is a recent graduate of the University of Washington (or as he likes to say, “U-DUB”) with a degree in Biology (and an emphasis in fish biology). When I say recent, I mean recent. Evan graduated five days before we boarded the ship.
Evan has a remarkable “ready for anything”
attitude whether it is the start of his 12-hour shift, or the end. His background
may be one reason why. Originally from San Diego, he spent his freshman year at
the University of Missouri, Kansas City. A planned-year studying abroad at the
Universidad Veritas in San Jose, Costa Rica got cut short after one semester
due to an illness that forced him to return to San Diego. There, Evan made the decision to serve our
country and joined the Navy. For a few years, he served as a Navy corpsman
stationed with Marine infantry units until he was injured during training. That’s
when Ready-for-Anything Evan resumed his studies, eventually arriving at his
Evan currently lives in Washington, where he volunteers with the NOAA Hatchery Reform Program in Port Orchard, Washington, tracking hatchery released juvenile salmon in Puget Sound using both acoustics and traditional fishing techniques. When a biology professor mentioned the opportunity to spend time on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in the Gulf of Alaska, Evan of course volunteered, eager to participate in a larger scale study involving different fish species. In Puget Sound, the haul is often 10 salmon. In contrast, the haul being studied onboard the Oscar Dyson is often 1000 pounds of Walleye pollock several times a day (along with prowfish, Pacific herring, rockfish, and a lot of jellyfish). Speaking of prowfish, herring, rockfish, and jellyfish…
FUN FISH FACTS AND PHOTOS:
PROWFISH: In my earlier blog, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, I wrote about the lumpsucker being the cutest fish I had ever seen. A close runner up is the baby prowfish.
Every time we get a prowfish in a catch, everyone wants to look at it! We usually get juvenile prowfish which are about the length of my finger. (Adults can get up to 3 feet long.) The juveniles are very soft and smooth looking, and their lower jaw juts out slightly, making them look like they are pouting. Unlike adults prowfish, who spend most of their time near the bottom of the sea floor, juvenile prowfish spend their time in the middle levels of the water column, which is the area we are trawling on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. I was surprised to learn that juvenile prowfish will try to avoid predators by hiding within the bells of large jellyfish.
PACIFIC HERRING, OR AS I LIKE TO CALL THEM, THE RAINBOW FISH:
As a special education preschool teacher, I often read and discuss The Rainbow Fish (by Marcus Pfister) with my students.
It is a popular children’s book
about a little fish with very sparkly scales who learns to share. Rainbow Fish
was considered the most beautiful fish in the ocean because of his many sparkly
scales. When a plain, little fish asks for
one of the sparkly scales, Rainbow Fish refuses to share. This makes all the
other fish mad, and they no longer want to play with the Rainbow Fish. In the end,
Rainbow Fish decides to share his sparkly scales with all the other fish,
keeping only one for himself. He is less
beautiful than he was before, but he has new friends and is now the happiest
fish in the sea.
The Pacific herring is similarly covered in sparkly scales, but boy, is he a super sharer (as we say in preschool)! Since herring are a small fish, they compensate for their size by forming schools (or groups of fish that swim together). Swimming in schools protects them as it reduces the likelihood that any one of them will be eaten by a predator. Sometimes we get only one herring with our huge haul of pollock. They are somewhat similar in shape and color. Evan (the volunteer biologist) has a theory: that it’s a herring who got separated from his school and sought protection by joining and blending in with a school of pollock. As a preschool teacher, I love the idea that a group of pollock would allow or even invite a lost little herring to “play” with them.
Other times, we get a lot of herring, and as I mentioned they love to share their sparkly scales. Everything (and everyone) ends up sparkly: the pollock, the fish belt, the measuring boards, the tables, and ME! You can always tell when there is herring in a catch by the sparkly fish scales in my hair.
ROCKFISH: Occasionally a few rockfish are in the trawl net. Rockfish have large eyes, and are not particularly sparkly or cute, but they are delicious! I even learned to fillet them!
It was exciting to later see the rockfish cooked and served for dinner.
AND FINALLY THE JELLYFISH: Not yet… keep reading…
FIRST,Nathan Battey: Nathan, the other volunteer biologist onboard, is on my shift, and works in the fish lab with me 12 hours a day processing the fish hauls. He is my “go-to fisheries biologist” whenever I need help identifying a fish or jellyfish.”
Since he is originally from Goffstown, New Hampshire, it should not come as a surprise that Nathan ended up on a ship since Goffstown is home to the famous Giant Pumpkin Regatta! Every October, Goffstown residents transform enormous pumpkins into boats. They scoop out the sometimes 1000-pound pumpkins, climb in, and race them down the Piscatoquag River.
Nathan studied biology and earth science at the University of New Hampshire and took a lot of oceanography courses along the way. Since graduating in 2015, he has done a myriad of fascinating things. He quantified nitrogen cycling in the wetlands of coastal New England, worked in a microbiology lab, counted larval fish under a microscope, regulated the upstream passage of salmon on the Seattle fish ladder, worked as a scallop fisheries observer, was a State Park Ranger on the eastern shore of Virginia, and worked with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (alongside NOAA scientists, tribal scientists, fish and wildlife scientists, and National Park scientists) on the recolonization of the Elwha River for salmon and other fish after the dams there were removed. (The tribe had successfully sued the U.S. for the removal of the dams based upon their right to fish there.)
The last two positions were through AmeriCorps, which he highly recommends! AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs. It is sometimes thought of as the domestic Peace Corps since members serve on projects within the United States. According to their website: “AmeriCorps is your moment to take the path less traveled, to break the status quo, to stop talking about the problem and be the solution.” Whatever your passion, it is likely there is an AmeriCorps opportunity perfect for you. There are projects in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. If you are interested in learning more about AmeriCorps, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps
Nathan is also a talented artist and drew detailed sketches of both marine and bird species which amazed everyone and now hang on the walls of the chem lab.
He will also be remembered for the nickname he gave to the Chrysaora melanaster jellyfish: Chrysaora melanasty.
AT LAST, THE JELLYFISH:
Chrysaora melanaster are magnificent creatures. The photo below, captured one night using the drop camera, shows how elegantly they glide through the water with their ribbon-like tentacles flowing gracefully behind them.
It is often my job to grab the jellyfish as they come down the belt, separating them from the pollock. I have held some that are an inch wide, and some that are almost 3 feet wide (and quite heavy). Jellyfish are measured by their bell diameter, or how wide the top part is (not the tentacles).
The photo above might give you an idea of how the nickname “melanasty” came to be. In the net, all the glorious, long, sticky, ribbon-like tentacles of the Chrysaora melanaster get tangled and attached to all the glorious, long, sticky, ribbon-like tentacles of the other Chrysaora melanaster. As you try to pull one jellyfish off the belt, several more are attached in a slimy mess, and you often get splashed in the face, mouth, or eyes with jellyfish “goo.” One day, dealing with the tangle, Nathan dubbed them “melanasty” and the nickname stuck.
Fishing nets like the ones used on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson or on commercial fishing boats can be very expensive. If one plans on doing a bottom trawl (fishing with a net that goes down to the sea floor) one wants to make sure that there are not rocks or other things that can snag or tear the net. If there are too many rocks or boulders or uneven topography, the area is considered “untrawlable”. While computer imagery can provide some guidance with regard to what lies deep beneath the surface, scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are hoping that video images taken with an underwater camera can provide a more complete picture and be the basis for a more precise computer model of what areas are in fact untrawlable.
Why is this important? Scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are surveying the fish that live in the middle of the water column. However, groundfish surveys need to account for all the fish living on the ocean floor. If the groundfish program can’t trawl in certain areas, then they don’t know what is there. For example, rockfish often live in untrawlable areas. If a groundfish survey can’t put a net in areas where rockfish live, then they won’t really “count” the correct numbers of rockfish in their survey. Data obtained using an underwater camera can help determine what species of rockfish are being underrepresented by the groundfish program.
One of the many perks of being on the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift is that I get to watch the drop camera in action! The camera (with its attached light) is slowly lowered to the sea floor.
I have seen the camera take 4 minutes to reach the bottom or as long as 8 minutes depending upon the depth of the water being surveyed. The camera is then “driven” along the bottom (or right above it) for 15 minutes via a control box on the boat (similar to a tiny joystick). I even got to drive it a few times!
The images are recorded and also seen in real time on several computer screens on the boat. We have seen rocks, of course, but also jellyfish, sea whips, crabs, anemones, octopuses, sea stars, and a wide variety of fish. One night, there were thousands of sand dollars. It looked like we had come across a buried treasure! It is fascinating to see what is happening deep beneath the boat. It’s kind of like virtual scuba diving!
Drop Camera Elementary School Math Fun
If the stereo drop camera takes 8 minutes to reach the bottom when the water is 200 meters deep, how long might it take to reach the bottom if it was:
It’s time to come clean and admit that I suffer from Pareidola. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious, or even dangerous. In fact, I think it’s a lot of fun. You see, Pareidola is a psychological phenomenon where you see patterns. Quite often, people with Pareidola will see faces in objects where there really isn’t one, like on an electrical outlet.
has reached a new level on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as I am seeing not
just faces but ROBOTS like these:
know if you see any robots at your house, and I am on the lookout for more
Latitude: 55º 4.07N Longitude: 156º 42 W Wind Speed: 3.2knots Wind Direction: 96º Air Temperature: 10.3º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1025.7. mb Surface Water temperature: 11.05º Celsius Depth of water column: 1,057.6 meters
If you love science and exploring, consider a career in the NOAA Corps!
The NOAA Corps is one of our nation’s seven uniformed services (along with the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service Commissioned Officer Corps). NOAA Corps officers are an integral part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA and the NOAA Corps can trace their lineage to 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill for the “Survey of the Coast.” The survey work was done by Army and Naval officers along with civilian men and women. The Coast Survey was actually the first federal agency to hire female professionals! Their duties included charting our nation’s waterways and creating topographic maps of our shorelines, which made our marine highways among the best charted in the world.
Today, the NOAA Corps is an elite group of men and women trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, and fisheries science. NOAA is comprised of the National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA Research), National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, National Ocean Service, and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. NOAA Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.
NOAA Officer Spotlight
I had the opportunity to speak with Ensign (ENS) Lexee Andonian (although by the time this is published Ms. Andonian will have been selected for LTJG (Lieutenant junior grade)! ENS Andonian has been a member of NOAA Corps for almost 2 years, and loves her job, but it was not something she originally considered as a career (or even knew about). She first learned about NOAA while working at a rock climbing gym. A patron mentioned it to her, and offered to show her around a NOAA ship. She went home and googled NOAA. With her interest piqued, she decided to accept the patron’s offer, and went to Newport, Oregon to tour the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada (which is actually the sister ship of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. A sister ship means they were based off the same blueprint and can serve similar projects.)
ENS Andonian applied for the NOAA Corps, but was waitlisted. NOAA is highly selective and accepts a very limited number of applicants (approximately 15-25 twice a year.) Undeterred, she applied for the next NOAA class, and was once again waitlisted, but this time she was accepted off the waitlist. After 5 months of training at the Coast Guard Academy, she was ready to begin her assignment onboard a NOAA ship, where additional hands-on training occurs non-stop. Each NOAA Corps member wears a multitude of “hats” while onboard. ENS Andonian is currently the Acting Operations Officer, the Navigation Officer, the Environmental Compliance Officer, and the Dive Officer. ENS Andonian loves that her job allows her to see unique places that many people never get to explore since they are not accessible by plane or car. Asked what she misses the most from home, she said, “Bettee Anne” (her dog).
Science and Technology Log
Today I was introduced to a few new species in the fish lab. Until now, most of the jellyfish have been Chrysaora melanasta, which are beautiful and can be quite large, but today I saw 2 egg yolk jellyfish, aptly named as they look like egg yolks.
I also saw a lumpsucker, which is the cutest fish I have ever seen. Lumpsuckers look like little balls of grey goo. He (or she) seemed to look right at me and kept opening and closing its mouth as if trying to say something. Lumpsuckers have a suction cup on their bottom which allows then to adhere to rocks or other surfaces.
As a teacher, I create experiences for my students that will take them out of their comfort zone so that they can realize just how much they are truly capable of. On the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, it is my turn to step outside my own comfort zone. If you would have told me a few months ago that I would feel comfortable being elbow-deep in live fish and jellyfish, or dissecting fish to see whether they are male or female, or slicing into a fish’s head to collect otoliths (ear bones), I would not have believed you, but that is how I spend every day onboard the Oscar Dyson, and after 2 weeks, it feels like something I have done all my life. It is an experience I highly recommend to everyone!
Latitude: 55º 48.9 N Longitude: 159º 2.3 W Wind Speed: 4.2 knots Wind Direction: 186.5º Air Temperature: 14.7º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1022.12 mb Depth of water column 84.5 m Surface Sea Temperature: 10 º Celsius
On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire for 7.2 million dollars (or 2 cents per square mile). It was deemed a territory for many years until January 3, 1959 when President Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska into the United States. The word “Alaska” comes from an Aleut-language idiom that means “object to which the action of the sea is directed.” It is the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States. It is also the largest state. By comparison, it is twice the size of Texas.
Celebrating the Fourth of July, NOAA style
My usual Fourth of July at home includes a bar-b-que, swimming, and attending a fireworks show at night. The Fourth of July celebration on the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson was completely different, and literally a BLAST. At noon, an announcement was made for “all hands” to report to the galley for Fourth of July “mocktails” or fun non-alcoholic drinks. (There is no alcohol on a NOAA ship.) I had a delicious “mimosa” made of orange juice and sparkling cider. Later, we were taken on a wonderful ride past Mitrofania Island.
Photographs do not do it justice. It was my first time up on the fly bridge (the “roof” of the boat) and I loved being able to take in the 360 degree views. Many people never get to see this part of Alaska as it is not a route commonly taken by cruise ships. The “fireworks” part came the next morning, when “all hands” were again called to the deck to light off expired flares. While some made a popping noise, the one I did produced thick orange smoke for at least 30 seconds. It was, as I said, a literal blast!
Science and Technology
Later, we were back on the bridge but for a sadder reason. A dead whale was floating in the water right near the boat. I asked if anyone comes to pick up dead whales. It was explained to me that if a dead whale washes ashore, it will be picked up and taken for a necropsy to see if the cause of death could be determined. However, if they are at sea, they will be left to decompose and become part of the sea once again.
happier note, I was sent to the bridge later in the day to see if there were
any whales in the vicinity as we do not fish if whales are nearby. It turned out
that there were 5 whales in the distance (but close enough to see with binoculars).
Whales are somewhat easy to spot as they must come to the surface often to
breathe. When they exhale, they produce a spout of moist air from their
blowhole. Since different species of
whales produce different shape or size spouts, the spout is one way to identify
the type of whale you are seeing. Other identifying features are size, color,
fin shape, and whether they are alone or in a group. Some whale species travel
in groups or pods, while others are more solitary. For example, killer whales
(which are really dolphins) spend much of their time in large groups that
travel and hunt together. Sometimes 4 generations of killer whales will be
found together. In contrast, humpback
whales are more often found alone or with their calf.
Whale Fun Facts
people think that whales spout water, it is actually mostly air. The spout is their exhale. Since they are
mammals, and not fish, they do not have gills, and must come to the surface to
breathe through their blowhole.
whale is called a calf.
A group of
whales travelling together is called a pod.
whale is the largest animal in the world. It can grow to be as long as 3 buses,
and its heart is as big as a car. Despite being so large, blue whales eat some
of the smallest marine life, such as the krill discussed in an earlier blog.
A blue whale’s
call is so loud, it can be heard underwater for hundreds of kilometers.
warm-blooded, so they need to develop a layer of fat (called blubber) to stay
warm in cold water.
Whale blubber experiment for parents and kids to do together
Make a blubber glove by filling 2 ziploc-type plastic bags with shortening (such as Crisco) and taping them together to form a pocket.
bowl with water and ice cubes.
child to quickly touch the cold water in the bowl with their bare hand.
Then have your child put his or her hand in the blubber glove, and then put their gloved hand into the cold water.
At present, there are 31 people onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, and each plays a vital role in making sure that everything runs as it should. One person whose job touches each and every one of us is Judy Capper, the Chief Steward. One might think that being onboard a ship for three weeks would mean limited food choices, or lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but so far every meal onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson has been abundant and delicious. From shrimp kabobs to stuffed pork loin to homemade soups to delicious baked goods, Judy keeps everyone onboard fed and happy.
I got a chance to talk to Judy about her job and her journey to becoming a NOAA Chief Steward. Judy’s first career was in the corporate world (including Hewlitt-Packard) but being the oldest of 5 siblings, she has been cooking since the age of 12. An interest in cooking led her to study culinary arts at UCLA and other locations. She then took seamanship training at Orange Coast College. At the time, she owned a sailboat, and enjoyed cooking and entertaining on the boat. The captain loved her cooking and asked if she would be interested in cooking on some sailboat charters. That led to working on yachts and supply ships, and lucky for us, in 2015, Judy was hired by NOAA. Judy loves her job as a NOAA Steward. She says it is never boring and allows her to be creative. Her advice for anyone interested in following in her footsteps is to eat in good restaurants so that you develop your taste buds, get good training, and watch cooking shows.
Science and Technology Log
Last night we used a different kind of net, known as a Methot net, in order to collect macroscopic zooplankton. Named after its designer, Richard D. Methot, it is a single net with a large square opening or mouth attached to a rigid steel frame. The net is deployed from the stern and towed behind the vessel.
The Methot uses fine mesh (e.g. 2×3 mm) but has openings that are slightly larger. This design allows the net to be towed at high speeds. A flowmeter suspended in the mouth of the Methot net measures the flow of water moving through the net. Scientists use the flowmeter data to calculate the volume of water sampled.
Watching the crew preparing to launch the Methot net was a lesson in teamwork. Everyone knew their job, and they reviewed what each would do when. They even discussed what hand signals they would use (“If I make this movement, that means XYZ”).
The Methot net did catch a lot more krill than I had seen before, as well as many jellyfish.
Fun Jellyfish Facts:
invertebrates, and have no brain, heart, eyes, or bones. Instead they have a bag-like body that feels
like slippery jello and tentacles covered with small, stinging cells. They sting and paralyze their prey before
eating it. A jellyfish sting can be
painful, but it is not usually harmful for humans. However, some people may be allergic to the
venom, and will have a reaction.
Latitude: 58º 28.54 N Longitude: 154º 46.05 W Wind Speed: 16.8 knots Wind Direction: 190º Air Temperature: 11º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 102
Science and Technology Log
Scientists aboard NOAA
Ship Oscar Dyson are estimating the numbers and biomass
of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska.
They use acoustics (sound data) to help them do this.
Acoustic representation of fish in an area
Echo sounders send an acoustic signal (ping) into the water. The sound bounces off objects that have a different density than the surrounding water (such as the swim bladder in a fish) and returns back to the echo sounder. Using the speed of sound, this technology can determine how deep the fish are in the water column.
How much sound each object reflects is known as the target strength. The target strength is dependent upon the type of fish and the size of the fish. A bigger fish will give off more of an echo than a small fish will. A fish’s swim bladder is primarily what reflects the sound. Smelt and krill do not have swim bladders. As a result, they do not reflect as much sound as a pollack would. Even though a big fish gives off more sound energy than a small fish of the same species, it is possible that a return echo could indicate either one big fish or several smaller fish clumped together. A big fish of one species could also give off similar sound energy to a big fish of a different species. For that reason, actual fish are collected several times a day in the nets described in a previous blog.
From a net sample, scientists determine the number of each species in the catch as well as the length and weight of individuals of each species.
Additionally, scientists also determine the sex and age of the pollock. The catch data is used to scale the acoustic data, which in turn allows scientists to estimate how many pollock there are of various size and age groups in a given area. These numbers help scientists determine the sustainability of the pollock population, which in turn allows the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to set catch quotas.
Krill Fun Facts:
euphausiids) are small crustaceans (a couple of millimeters long) of the order Euphausiacea. The word “krill” is a Norwegian word meaning “a
small fry of fish.” Krill are found in every ocean and are a major food source.
They are eaten by fish, whales, seals, penguins, and squid, to name a few. In Japan, the Phillipines, and Russia, krill are
also eaten by humans. In Japan, they are
called okiami. In the Phillipines and
Russia, they are known as camarones. In the Phillipines, krill are also used to
make a salty paste called bagoong. Krill are a major source of protein and
omega-3 fatty acids.
People often refer to New York as the city that never sleeps. The same can be said for the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Life onboard the Oscar Dyson carries on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is never a time that the ship is not bustling with activity. Everyone on the boat works 12-hour shifts, so someone is always working while others are sleeping (or doing laundry, exercising, or watching a movie in the lounge before they go to sleep.) Most people on the boat work either the noon to midnight shift or the midnight to noon shift. However, the science team works 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., or 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. I am in the latter group. It was easier to get accustomed to than I had imagined, although it is sometimes confusing when you look at your clock and wonder whether it is 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. since the sun is shining for most of the day. Kodiak has only 4-5 hours of darkness now, and the sun sets at approximately midnight. Therefore, it does not really feel like nighttime for much of my shift.
Latitude: 58º 33.15 N Longitude: 152º 58.87 W Wind Speed: 17.5 knots Wind Direction: 229º Air Temperature: 13º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1020.2 mb
Today we did our first two trawls of the trip. According to Webster’s dictionary, trawl is defined as the act of fishing with a trawl net, which is a large conical net dragged along the sea bottom in order to gather fish or other marine life. It can also mean the act of sifting through something as part of a search. Both definitions are accurate for what is done on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
The Oscar Dyson uses a variety of nets to catch the fish being studied. One net that has been used for many years is called an Aleutian Wing Trawl (or an AWT). The mesh size of the AWT is ½ inch. Attached to the AWT net are smaller nets (called pocket nets) which also have a ½ inch mesh size. The new net being used this year is an LFS 1421, which has a 1/8 inch mesh size. It has 9 pocket nets, also with 1/8 inch mesh size. It is thought that fewer fish will escape the LFS net because the mesh size is smaller, in turn allowing the scientists to get a more accurate picture of the fish and other creatures living in the areas they are trawling. Trawls are being conducted using both nets (back-to-back) to determine the extent to which the new net is more efficient and provides a more accurate measure.
Once the nets are pulled in, the processing begins. The main net (i.e., codend) is emptied onto the large processing table in the fish lab.
Each pocket net is emptied into a separate plastic bin. The fish are then identified, weighed, measured, and sometimes dissected in order for us to accurately determine the age and sex of each fish.
Otoliths (ear bones) and ovaries are collected from a sample of the walleye pollock caught in the codend of the net. Otoliths allow scientists to determine the age of the fish. Over time, ridges form on the otoliths, and are indicative of age in much the same way a tree’s age can be determined by counting the rings of its trunk.
Ovaries are collected to be sent back to the lab as part of a long-term histology study which hopes to determine whether walleye pollock experience multi-batch spawning events (i.e., do pollock spawn more than one time) within or between seasons. Histology, also known as microscopic anatomy or microanatomy, uses a microscope to study the anatomy of biological tissues. In contrast, gross anatomy looks at structures without a microscope.
After a trawl, scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson examine the ovaries with the naked eye to determine the reproductive stage of the walleye pollock that has been caught. There are 5 stages: Immature (not yet capable of spawning, typically age 0-2); Developing (beginning to develop the ability to spawn) Pre-spawning, Spawning, and Spent (completed spawning). Once a pollock spawns, it begins the cycle again beginning at step 3 (pre-spawning). Additionally, the histology study also hopes to determine whether the spawning stages being designated by scientists during the cruise are in fact accurate.
Elementary Math Fun
Let’s say 200 total fish were
caught in the new LFS 1421 net, including the nine pocket nets attached.
Pocket nets 1, 2 and 3 each had 20 age-0 pollock in them.
Pocket nets 4, 5 and 6 each had 13 lantern fish
Pocket net 7 had 3 small herrings in it.
Pocket nets 8 and 9 each had 2 age-1 pollock in them.
How many fish were in the codend or main part of the net?
As a Southern Californian, I imagined Alaska to be cold even in the summer, and packed sweaters and a big puffy winter coat. Apparently shorts and t-shirts would have been more appropriate! The weather in Kodiak has been warm and beautiful, with the sun shining until midnight.
My first day in Kodiak was a free day, so I joined the science team on a hike up Barometer Mountain, which many say is the most difficult hike in Kodiak. It is 2100 feet straight up a very steep, rocky, brush-filled path, and then 2100 feet down that same, steep path. It was quite the challenge, but the view from the top was magnificent.
At present, there are 31 people onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, including NOAA corps officers, engineers, deck personnel, cooks, scientists, interns, and me, the NOAA Teacher at Sea. The ship, which was originally launched in 2003, and commissioned into service as a NOAA ship in 2005, is named for Alaskan fisherman and fishing industry leader Oscar E. Dyson. It is one of the most advanced fisheries research vessels in the world, due in part to its acoustic quieting technology. This allows scientists to monitor fish populations without concern that the ship’s noise will affect the behavior of the fish.
Geographic Area of Cruise: South Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 14, 2019
Hello! My name is Erica Marlaine, and in one week I will be flying to Alaska for the first time ever to spend three weeks aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I am a Special Education Preschool Teacher at Nevada Avenue Elementary School in West Hills, California.
My students are 3-5 year olds who have a variety of special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, and speech delays. They are fascinated by science experiments and nature, love to explore their surroundings with binoculars and magnifying glasses, and often notice the details in life that the rest of us walk right by.
Like most 3-5 years olds, they are obsessed with whales, octopi, and of course, sharks. (If you don’t yet know the baby shark song, ask any preschooler you know to teach it to you.)
When I tell people (with much excitement) that I have been selected to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, they ask “who will you be teaching?” thinking that there will be students onboard the ship. I explain that in many ways, I will actually be both a Student at Sea and a Teacher at Sea. I will be learning from the scientists onboard the ship how to use acoustics as well as more traditional, hands-on methods to count Alaskan pollock in the Bering Sea, and exploring the issues oceanographers are most concerned or excited about. Then, through blogging while onboard, and upon my return to the classroom, I will use this first-hand knowledge to create STEM projects involving oceanography that will help students see their connection to the ocean world, and instill in them a sense of stewardship and responsibility for the world around them. I am hopeful that these experiences will inspire more students at my school to choose a career in science, perhaps even with NOAA.
When I am not teaching, or taking classes for my administrative credential through the University of Southern California, or being involved with education policy through a fellowship with Teach Plus, I enjoy spending time with my husband and daughter, and apparently EATING Alaskan pollock. It turns out that the imitation crabmeat in the California rolls and crab salad that I eat quite often is actually Alaskan pollock. We will see if catching them, looking them in the eye, and studying them, will make me more or less interested in eating them.