Karah Nazor: Cool Catch Highlights, June 2-7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: June 2-7, 2019

June 2, 2019 Game Plan and Trawling Line: 5 hauls in the Piedras Blancas Line near San Simeon, CA. Piedras Blancas is known for its Northern elephant seal colony, M. angustirostris. Hauls were conducted outside of the marine reserve and we did not encounter seals.

Catch Highlights: The night started off with excitement when Keith Sakuma brought in an Pacific electric ray, Torpedo californica, and we all got to see it up close before releasing.

Keith S and electric ray
Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma holding a Pacific electric ray, Torpedo californica

In Haul 3 we collected a pelagic octopus, Ocythoe tuberculata, shown below. Chromatophores in cephalapods, including squid, cuttlefish and octopus, are complex organs made up of both muscle and nerve and provide the ability for the animal to rapidly change its skin color in order to blend into the surrounding environment to avoid predation, communicate, or send a warning signal. It was impressive to watch the chromatophores at work as the pelagic octopus attempted to blend into the white background of his tank by turning white (see photos below) We released it back to the sea.

Pelagic octopus
Pelagic octopus (Ocythoe tuberculata) attempting to camouflage with the background and flashing white
Pelagic octopus chromatophores
Pelagic octopus (Ocythoe tuberculata) with chromatophores expressing orange, purples and pinks. The beak is exposed here.

The differences in skin coloration of the five primary squid species we are catching including Boreal Squid, Blacktip Squid, Unknown Squid, Gonadus Squid, and Market Squid (see image below) are noteworthy. While living market squid exhibit brown, pink and purple skin color (see image below) the Chiroteuthis squid tentacle displays orange and red chromatophores (see image below).

Common squids
Common squids in our catches. From top to bottom, Boreal Squid, Blacktip Squid, unknown species, Gonadus Squid, and Market Squid.
market squid
Living market squid exhibiting brown, pink and purple chromatophores.
chromatophores
Pink and purple chromatophores on the mantle of a market squid.
chromatophores
Orange and red chromatophores on a tentacle of the Chriroteuthis squid.

In Haul 4 we collected a Cranchia scabra, which Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma calls the “baseball squid” or glass squid whose body is covered with tubercles (brown spots on mantle in photo below). This animal attempted to hide from us by turning white, retracting its tentacles and inflating himself into a ball, somewhat resembling a baseball. After a few pictures, we released it back to the sea.

Cranchia scabra or "baseball squid"
Cranchia scabra or “baseball squid”

Another exciting deep-sea creature, the Pacific hatchet fish, Argyropelecus affinis, was collected in a bongo net deployed prior to CTD, for Dr. Kelly Goodwin’s eDNA research.  The fish we collected below still has intact blue scales due to being well preserved in the bongo. The hatchet fish lives in mesopelagic zone down to 2000 m depths where the CTD sensors recorded a temperature of four degrees Celsius! Hatchet fish have upward facing eyes and mouths and swim up to the the epi-pelagic zone at night to feed on salps and krill.

Pacific hatchet fish, Argyropelecus affinis
Pacific hatchet fish, Argyropelecus affinis

Kelly conducted a quick surface bucket dip prior to CTD deployment in which we found a small (~2 inch) siphonophore, which I was very excited about since this was my first one to ever see in person! Siphonophores are colonial Cnidarians composed of individual animals called zooids. Moss Landing Graduate Student Kristin Saksa and I were able to confirm the identification of this beautiful creature as a siphonophore using an invertebrate field guide that Keith Sakuma brought on board. Perhaps due to the temperature change from being in the sea to being observed in a cell culture dish under the microscope, the siphonophore broke apart into its individual zooids right in front of my eyes.  See before and after photos below.   

Intact Siphonophore colony
Intact Siphonophore colony from bucket dip, note tip or “hat” at the bottom on the animal.
individual siphonophore zooids
Siphonophore individual zooids appear as semi circles consisting of small brown semi-circles.

Tonight I was also able to observe living salps that were pulled up in the bongo net and take a video.  It was neat to see the salps pulsing.

Haul 5 was a massive haul full of pyrosomes, Pyrosoma atlanticum.  Kristin Saksa volunteered to stir the bucket of pyrosomes (using her arms) so that we could obtain an accurate distribution of organisms for the initial volume count and analysis.  As I video of this event (see stills from the video below), we were all laughing and realized that Kristin may be the only human on Earth who has ever stirred pyrosomes.

Kristin stirring pyrosomes
Kristin Saksa stirring a bucket full of Pyrosoma atlanticum
Kristin stirring pyrosomes
Kristin Saksa stirring a bucket full of Pyrosoma atlanticum

In haul 5 we were surprised to find a Giant 7-armed Atlantic octopus, or blob octopus. Keith Sakuma explained that the males have 7 arms as the fifth is a sex appendage whereas the female has 8 arms. After photographing this beautiful deep-sea octopus, we released him back to the sea.

blobtopus
Giant Seven-Armed Atlantic Octopus or “blob octopus”


June 3, 2019 Game Plan and Trawling Line: 5 hauls Outside Monterey Bay

Catch Highlights: Two of the hauls produced a lot of krill. The hauls had a high species density with a lot of myctophids, salps and blue lanternfish. Such hauls are time consuming to sort so as not to overlook something new and small. In one of the hauls we found a new-to-me myctophid called Nanobrachium. I dissected some of the fish and found that CA lanternfish and Northern anchovies were full of eggs, and their age/reproductive status was previously unknown.

A catch with a high krill count
A catch with a high krill count

We caught 2 young ocean sunfish, Mola mola.  Both were immediately returned to the sea.

Kaila with young Mola mola
Scripps Graduate Student Kaila Pearson with a young ocean sunfish, Mola mola.
Keith and mola mola
LTJG Keith Hanson with a young ocean sunfish, Mola mola.

We found several species of deep sea dragonfish which we arrayed below on a ruler. Most of these fish are less than 6 inches long, no bigger than a pencil, but they are equipped with sharp fangs and are apex predators in their realm! Dragonfish have large bioluminescent photophore organs underneath their eyes (and sometimes lining their bodies) which produce light and are used to attract or deter prey and attract mates.

dragonfish
All of the dragonfish caught on June 3, 2019 on the NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker.
more dragonfishes
Longfin dragonfish, Tactostoma macropus, on left and a Pacific black dragon, Idiacanthus antrostomus, on right. Also in the photo are a krill (on the left of the dragonfish) and a Gonatus Squid (top left corner of photo).
Longfin dragonfish, Tactostoma macropus, with large photo organ underneath the eye

We collected a stoplight loosejaw, Malacosteus niger, which can unhinge its jaw in order to consume large prey.

Stoplight loosejaw
Stoplight loosejaw, Malacosteus niger.
Face of stoplight loosejaw
Face of stoplight loosejaw, Malacosteus niger.


June 4th: Davenport Line

The highlight of today was at 5:45 P.M.  when team red hats went to the flying bridge for our workout and to hang out with Ornithologist Brian Hoover.  There was a lot of Humpback whale activity. I counted around 20 spouts. We observed one whale that flapped its tail against the sea surface around 45 times in a row, perhaps communicating to nearby whales by generating pulses in the water or creating a visual cue.  We saw several full breaches. We finished up the Davenport Line at 6:00 AM as the sea became rough. Thanks goodness for handrails in the shower.

The sorting team
The sorting team, aka Team Red Hats. From left: Kristin Saksa, Flora Cordoleani, Karah Nazor, Ily Iglesias, and Kaila Pearson.


June 5th: Outside of Tomales Bay

I woke up at 4PM and headed to the galley for dinner at 5PM.  The boat was rocking so much that I became dizzy and knew that I would become sick if I tried to eat dinner, so I headed straight back to bed. Around 9PM the sea seemed to have calmed a bit, but I soon learned that it only felt calmer because the ship was traveling in the same direction as the swell at the moment but that we were about to turn around.  Due to the rough conditions, the first haul inshore at Tomales Bay was delayed until midnight so the fish sorting team decided to watch “Mary Poppins Returns” in the galley. The talented chefs of the Reuben Lasker made the most amazing almond cookies today and, thankfully, temped me to eat again.  

Catch Highlights: Haul 1 at station 165 was one of the easiest and most exciting catches of the survey so far because we collected a lot of jellyfish – my favorite! We counted 66 West Coast sea nettles, Chrysora fuscescens, seven Northern anchovies (7) and 24 market squid. I actually have a tattoo of West Coast sea nettle on my ankle. We placed the jellyfish flat on the lab bench and quickly measured their bell diameter before returning them to the sea. They did not sting us as most of the nematocysts were likely triggered during haul in.  I removed a rhopalia, a sensory structure that lines the margin of the bell of Syphozoans (the “true” jellyfish). West Coast sea nettles have eight rhopalium which house the the ocelli (light sensing organ) and statolith (gravity sensing organ). A photomicrograph I took of the rhopalia under the dissecting microscope is below.

Karah measures sea nettle
Teacher at Sea Karah Nazor measuring a West Coast sea nettle Chrysora fuscescens.
Karah examines sea nettle
Karah Nazor examining a West Coast sea nettle, Chrysora fuscescens.
Kaila holds up sea nettle
Scripps graduate student Kaila Pearson examining a West Coast sea nettle, Chrysora fuscescens.
Kristin holds up a sea nettle
Moss Landing graduate student Kristin Saksa examining a West Coast sea nettle, Chrysora fuscescens.
light sensing organ
Photomicrograph of the ocelli or light sensing organ in the rhopalia of a West Coast sea nettle, Chrysora fuscescens.

Haul 2 mostly consisted of Northern anchovies, 1 krill, a few moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita, a few squid, which made for another very short and easy sort (see photo below). I study moon jellyfish in my lab back at McCallie High School, so I was curious to look inside of the stomach and reproductive organs of these wild jellyfish. Under the dissecting microscope, eggs were present and were purple in color (see photomicrograph below).

jellyfish eggs
Photomicrograph of purple eggs and clear gastric filaments of the moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita
sorting Haul 2
Kaila Pearson (left) and Karah Nazor and Keith Hanson sorting Haul 2.

Haul 3 had a lot of krill, young of year (YOY) Pacific hake, Merluccius productus, one large hake, and a few market squid. This sort was also super easy except for separating the small YOY Pacific hake from the krill.

Sorting of haul 3 which had a lot of krill and young of year (YOY) Pacific hake, Merluccius productus.


June 6th: Outside Farallones. On our final night, we conducted three hauls with very small harvests consisting of few organisms and low species density.  One new to me fish in the final catch was a top smelt fish (see image below). These were the three easiest sorts of the survey. It was suggested by Keith Sakuma that the catches were small due to the stormy conditions.

catch from the last night
A small catch from the last night June 6, 2019, with one West Coast Sea Nettle, a Gonatus squid, and two topsmelt silversides, Atherinops affinis.
Kristin with a topsmelt
Moss Landing graduate student Kristin Saksa with a topsmelt silverside, Atherinops affinis, from the final haul of the survey.


June 7, 2019: Return to San Francisco

Group photo at Golden Gate Bridge
In front of the Golden Gate Bridge at the conclusion of the cruise. From left: Brian Hoover, Kelly Goodwin, Ily Iglesias, Karah Nazor, Flora Cordoleani, Kristin Saksa, Lauren Valentino, and Jarrod Santora.
group photo at Marin Headlands
In front of the Marin Headlands at the conclusion of the cruise. From left: Ily Iglesias, Kristin Saksa, Flora Cordoleani, Kaila Pearson, Lauren Valentino, and Karah Nazor.

Karah Nazor: Interview with NOAA Scientist Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., June 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: June 2, 2019

Scientist Spotlight: Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., NOAA NMFS, SWFSC, Fisheries Ecology Division (FED). Dr. Cordoleani is a member of the fish sorting team on this survey.

Interests: Rock climbing, surfing, reading, studying Japanese

Education: Dr. Cordoleani’s doctoral degree is in Marine Biology and Ecology from Aix-Marseille University in France. There she researched interactions between phytoplankton and zooplankton. During her postdoc at the University of California, Davis, in the lab of Louis Botsford, she studied the impact of marine protected areas on rockfish along the CA coast.  

Flora measuring anchovies
Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., measuring Northern Anchovies after a sort on the Reuben Lasker.
Flora and Karah
Dr. Flora Cordoleani and Dr. Karah Nazor, Teacher at Sea.

Current Research: Dr. Cordoleani leads a research program at UC Davis on preservation of Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, of the Central California Valley Spring Run, which is a threatened species. She explains that these Chinook Salmon are genetically different from salmon of other runs such as the Late Fall, Fall, and Winter runs that take place in the Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, the Delta, the San Francisco Bay, and all of its tributaries.

The primary objective of Dr. Cordoleani’s research is to develop a life cycle model of the entire Spring Run from the spot where the young salmon are reared in the river to their journey through the Golden Gate to the sea where they spend a couple of years before returning back to their home river to spawn, thus completing the life cycle.  She aims to uncover environmental factors that are impacting the survival at each stage of the life cycle.

Project 1: Dr. Cordoleani’s team placed acoustic tags in the stomachs of young fish to trace their journey from the river to the ocean.  She has found that water temperature, water velocity, and flow are the major factors impacting whether or not juvenile fish are able to make it from their place of birth to the Golden Gate. She has observed that drought negatively impacts survival and that the fish fare better in wetter years.  Her data helps federal agencies, such as NOAA, with fish stock assessments and informs them for making science policy decisions on fishing and setting fishing quotas.

Project 2: Since water flow and velocity affect the survival of young salmon called fry, Dr. Cordoleani is very interested in water usage in the Central California Valley and gaining a better understanding how freshwater habitats are managed and how this affects wild salmon.  A major obstacle these fish encounter are dams, which blocks the natural flow of rivers. Spring run salmon have an additional challenge of low water levels and low stream flow in the Spring. During the Spring months, there is less water available in floodplain habitats due to the heavy consumption of water by the agriculture industry during this time.   

To study the effects of water flow and velocity on salmon fry, Dr. Cordoleani made mesh fish cages and placed the cages in either shallow floodplain habitats or the main river.  She placed ten fry (measuring 40 mm in length) in each cage and allowed them to grow for 6 weeks. At the end of the 6 weeks, she again measured the fish and found that the floodplain shallow water habitat promoted fish growth.

Rice farmers use floodplain habitats for their crop and Dr. Cordoleani is working on partnering with this industry to explore how they can work together to manage land to benefit native salmon runs.  She is excited that the rice farmers, as well as duck clubs, are interested to learn how their land can be used to help wild salmon populations thrive and how they can be a part of the solution to some of the obstacles wild salmon face.

Project 3:  Fish otoliths provide a treasure trove of information to reconstruct the life history of fish.  The CA Department of Fish and Game has for many years been collecting otoliths from salmon carcasses after spawning events throughout various locations in the Central CA Valley.  They gave Dr. Cordoleani access to their 450 stored otoliths for her research on the salmon life cycle. She will analyze the otoliths using laser ablation mass spectrometry and stable isotope analysis (using the Strontium 64 or 65 ratio) to determine in which river the adult fish were reared, where they were present at each stage of their life cycle, and how long they spent there. She will also be able to determine if the fish were wild or farmed-raised because hatchery feeding produces a different strontium signal, she explains.

With data from the otolith project, Dr. Cordoleani will compare different cohorts of fish and assess how fast the fish grew in each type of habitat in order to understand which habitats are most ideal for salmon survival. Importantly, she will be able to determine whether and how their growth was affected by different environmental factors and seasons over the years.  Dr. Cordoleani uses USGS databases and other agency websites to obtain water data records for her research.

Karah Nazor: Myctophids, Rockfish, eDNA, and Interview with NOAA Lab Operation Officer Keith Hanson, June 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: June 1, 2019

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Four trawls on the San Miguel Line in the Channel Islands.

Time Recap: 5:00 PM: Wake up and then Squat Challenge. 5:30 PM: Dinner. 8:30 PM: Report to fish lab.  Learn how to count to ten in French. Kristin sang France’s National Anthem (she learned in 7th grade). 10 PM: First Haul. 3AM: Kaila used her face flip app to turn us into the opposite sex and it was the most hilarious thing ever. 4AM: Latte made by Kaila. A lot of laughing. 6:20 AM: Finish fish lab clean up. 6:21 AM: Still heavily caffeinated so Team Red Hats headed up to the flying dock to watch the sunrise. The sea was very smooth and glassy as we approached Conception Point. We saw several dolphins and a humpback whale. 7:00 AM: To the Galley for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes. 7:45 AM: Lights out.

Part 1: How to distinguish between myctophid species in our catches

In this survey, we are conducting trawls at 30 meters, which is technically the epipelagic zone, so why do we catch deep sea creatures?   Many deep sea creatures, such as myctophids, participate in a daily vertical migration where they swim up into the upper layer of the ocean at night, likely following the migration of zooplankton on which they feed.  Myctophids are also known as lantern fish or lampfish and they feature photophore organs which bioluminesce. Around 250 species of mcytophids have been described. Graduate student Ily Iglesias is saving a lot of the myctophidae we catch on this cruise for her dissertation work.

Tonight most of the catches were small in volume (filling about 10% of a blue bucket), but had good species density. The catches consisted mostly of salps, anchovies and several species of myctophids. It is important to learn how to properly distinguish between the various myctophids in our catches. This is a daunting task for the novice fish sorter, such as myself, since these fish are small (1 to 2 inches long) and appear very similar to each other. It is worth noting that most of the myctophids lose their skin (scales) during the trawling operation. This exposes the underlying pink muscle tissue, however, their photophores remain intact. Fish collected in a bongo net deployment typically have better preserved scales.

Northern lampfish, Stenobrachius leucopsarus, have 3 photophores in a slanted line under the lateral line while the similar looking Mexican lampfish, Triphoturus mexicanus, have more streamlined bodies and have 3 photophores on the lateral line. Many of the Northern lumpfish had a heart parasite which is evident in the photo below. California lanternfish, Symbiophorus californiensis, are typically larger fish and have a distinguished lateral line. California headlight fish, Diaphus theta, have two photophores “headlights” on the front on their face. Blue lanternfish, Tartetonbeania crenularis, are easy to distinguish from the others because they have wider bodies and blue/silver scales.

Northern lampfish photophores
Northern lampfish, Stenobrachius leucopsarus, have three photophores in a row (circled).
Mexican lampfish
Mexican lampfish, Triphoturus mexicanus, are more narrow than Northern lampfish and have three photophores right on the lateral line.
California lanternfish, Symbiophorus californiensis, have a distinguished lateral line.
California headlight fish
California headlight fish, Diaphus theta, are easy to distinguish because of the two large photophores on the face.
Blue lanternfish
Blue lanternfish, Tartetonbeania crenularis, collected in a bongo net with intact scales. Photo courtesy of Lauren Valentino.
Blue lanternfish Photoorgans
Photoorgans lining ventral surface of Blue lanternfish, Tartetonbeania crenularis.


Part 2: Rockfish: why are we catching so few?

Last night there were 4 rockfish in the last haul, and the fish sorting team got excited because we have not seen very many.  The title of this survey is officially “Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey,” however, sampling for pelagic juvenile rockfish is only one of the project’s objectives. Other objectives include sampling for other epi-pelagic micronekton species, studying prevailing ocean conditions and examining prominent hydrographic features, mapping the distribution and abundance of krill (Euphausiacea), and observing seabird and marine mammal distribution and abundance.

Rockfish, perch, or redfish are common names for the Sebastes genus of fish (with more than 100 species) which are abundant off of the California coast, and are a very important genus for the commercial fishing industry. Rockfish are benthic fish that live among rocks, and can be found in kelp forests or in the bathypelagic zone. One of the goals of this survey is to inform the fishing industry on the status of the population of rockfish so that reasonable catch limits can be set.

This year is proving to be a poor year for the rockfish pre-recruitment index, lower than the previous several years, says Chief Scientist, Keith Sakuma. He explains that one year of a weak young of year (YOY) rockfish class is not enough to have an impact on the fishing industry, but if the index was low for say, 10 years in a row, then this could potentially affect the exploitable population. He explains that since rockfish can live to be 100 years old or greater, they have many seasons to reproduce. Rockfish prefer cold water habitats. Keith’s research has demonstrated that most poor pre-recruitment index years are correlated to El Nino events which cause an increase in water temperatures and a reduction in cold water upwelling. This year’s slump in terms of rockfish numbers is not correlated to a strong El Nino event.

 young Cabazon Rockfish
Two young Cabazon Rockfish, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus.


Part 3: Environmental DNA (eDNA) Sampling on the Reuben Lasker

Last night Flora Cordoleani and I helped Dr. Kelly Goodwin collect water from the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) bottles for the purpose of collecting environmental DNA (eDNA).  Kelly’s assistant, Lauren Valentino, is primarily on the day shift (see photo of Lauren with the CTD apparatus below). Isolation of eDNA from seawater is a newer technique used to determine which species swam through a particular location based on the DNA they left behind, through shedding of cells. This technique does not require that the organism be harvested to know that it had been present, and could be of value in detection of the presence of endangered species, for example.

For this CTD deployment, three bottles are filled at depths of 5 and 100 meters, and at the chlorophyll max somewhere between 5 – 20 meters. The water from each depth is run through a filter (pore size of 2 microns) in the eDNA lab on the ship (see photo below). The vacuum filtration procedure is a time-consuming process, as samples must be processed in triplicate, and in which aseptic technique is paramount so that human DNA does not contaminate the water.  Once the DNA is trapped on the filters, they are stored at -20C. The DNA will be purified from the filters back in the San Diego NOAA lab using a Qiagen kit. Species-specific regions of DNA known as bar-code regions will be amplified by Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using 3 primers sets for analysis of DNA from bacteria, plankton, and fish. Illumina techology will be used to obtain DNA sequences, which are compared to DNA libraries for species determination.

The results from the eDNA study will give us a list of species that were present at each trawling station up to 48 hours prior to CTD deployment and fishing using the Cobb Trawl. We will be able to compare this list with the list of species that were physically caught in nets. Nighttime CTDs are deployed at the same station as bongo nets. Daytime CTD trawls occur at the same stations as night fishing.

Lauren with CTD
Lauren Valentino with the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Rosette on the Reuben Lasker.
Kelly Goodwin in the eDNA lab
Kelly Goodwin filtering water in the eDNA lab on the Reuben Lasker.


Part 4: Career Spotlight: NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, Scientist Interview: Keith Hanson, NOAA Lab Operation Officer B.S. Marine Biology, University of Miami (UM) Hometown: Rye, New York

Keith H. and anchovies
NOAA Lab Operation Officer Keith Hanson with a large catch of anchovies.
Keith H sorting the catch
NOAA Lab Operation Officer Keith Hanson sorting the catch.

Keith Hanson joins this survey to assist with research and is a knowledgeable and experienced member of the science team.  Keith has taught me a lot about the fish we are collecting and was the first to show me around the ship.

Keith earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from the University of Miami (UM) where he was vice president of the scuba club.   His favorite part of being a student at UM was being located so close to ocean and the many trips he took to Biscayne Beach and The Everglades.  While at UM, Keith worked as a Naturalist at the Biscayne Nature Center and with the Marine Operations Department at The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), where he managed boats and vehicles.  

After graduating from UM, Keith started the NOAA Corps Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.  His first assignment as a Junior Officer was on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster in Charleston, SC which has a multi-mission platform with fish habitat and population studies, seafloor mapping surveys, oceanographic studies, and maritime heritage survey.  Keith enjoys the traveling opportunities afforded in this line of work. On the Nancy Foster, he got to travel to Cuba, the Caribbean, and Mexico. After 2.5 years of service, Keith advanced to OP Officer.

Keith is currently on his land assignment in Santa Cruz NOAA working as the Vessel Operations Coordinator and he manages a fleet of small boats from kayaks to a 28 foot barge.  Most vessels are used for river salmon work and groundfish research. His favorite vessel is the Egret offshore fishing boat which is used for rockfish hook and line sampling.

When asked what advice he has for undergraduate students wanting to purse degrees and careers in marine biology, he suggests getting involved in a research lab early on to gain a competitive edge.

Karah Nazor: The Glowing Dolphins of the Channel Islands and Interview with UCSC Graduate Student Ilysa “Ily” Iglesias, May 31, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 31, 2019

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Channel Islands San Nicolas Line

I am up on the flying bridge and I just saw two humpback whales spouting, an albatross soaring and a large Mola Mola on the sea surface.  In this blog I will write about an amazing once in a lifetime experience that from last night- May 31, 2019. The first haul was called off due to an abundance of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, (as reported by the inside marine mammal watch prior to net deployment), so we motored on ahead to the second station, but dolphins chased the ship all the way there, too.  One strategy to encourage marine mammals to leave is for the ship to stop moving with the hope that the dolphins become disinterested and vacate the area. This pod was intent on having a party at the ship so Keith Sakuma encouraged everyone to just go outside to observe and enjoy the dolphins! 

Fishing on this survey takes place at nighttime (so the fish do not see the net) and Scripps graduate student Kaila Pearson and I stepped outside on the side deck into the darkest of dark nights. Kaila and I carefully placed one foot in front of the other because we couldn’t see our feet and where to step next. I was afraid I would trip. When I asked Keith Hanson if we should use a flashlight to safely make our way up to the top deck, he suggested that we stay in place for a few minutes to allow our eyes to adjust. Within 5 minutes or so objects around us started to present themselves to us within the black void.  We could eventually see our feet, each others faces, the dolphins, and even the finer features of the sea surface.

Within a few minutes Ily Iglesias reported seeing bioluminescence, a type of chemiluminescence that occurs in living things, such as the familiar green glow of lightening bugs in the Summer in the South.   This glow results from oxidation of the protein luciferin (present in photophore cells/organs) by the enzyme luciferase.  It its excited state, lucifern emits light.  This reaction is known to occur in some marine bacteria, dinoflagellates (single celled photosynthetic organisms), squid, deep sea fish, pyrosomes and jellyfish, and I am fortunate to have observed many of these creatures already on this research cruise (see photos below).  Some animals have photophore organs and generate their own luciferin, while others are hosts to bioluminescent bacteria.

deepsea longfin dragonfish
The large photo organ is a large green circle under the eye of the deepsea longfin dragonfish, Tactostoma macropus.
California lanternfish
California lanternfish, Symbolophorus californiensis, with photophores under the lateral line and the ventral surface.
California lanternfish photophores
California lanternfish photophores
Blue lanternfish
Blue lanternfish, Tarletonbeania crenularis, collected from a bongo net at 265 meters. Photophores line the ventral surface of the body.
Cranchia scabra
Cranchia scabra “baseball squid” with large photophores lining the eyes.
Chiroteuthis veranii squid
Chiroteuthis veranii squid

When dinoflagellates floating on the sea surface are agitated, they glow.  At first when I was trying really hard to see this, I noticed a couple of tiny flashes of green light, sort of like lightening bugs, but it wasn’t anything super obvious. In time, I noticed clouds of faint light, sort of like a glowing mist floating the water’s surface, that moved up and down with the swell.  I hypothesized that dinoflagellates on the sea surface were being agitated by the passage of waves through them and Ily suggested that it was caused by schools of anchovies.

Since the dolphins were intent on staying, we decided to head to the next station.  I knew that as the ship began to move that the bow would be breaking through surface water that had previously been undisturbed, and I predicted the bioluminescence would be much more intense.

As we took off, the dolphins began to bow surf and, as I predicted, the dinoflagellates were activated and this time their glow was a bright white.  As the dolphins surfaced to breath, their skin became coated with the glowing algal cells, creating an effect as if they were swimming in an X-ray machine.  The dolphins were literally glowing white swimming in a black sea! We were so entranced and excited by the beauty, we screamed in delight. I am sure the dolphins heard us cheering for them. They too, seemed excited and could see each other glowing as well.

Next we saw the faint cloud of dinoflagellates caused by Northern anchovies (Ily was right) up ahead of us. As the ship encountered the school of small (~ 3-6 inch) fish, they also started to glow really bright and it was easy to see all of the individual fish in the school. The dolphins could also see the glowing fish and split off in different directions to hunt them.  There were hundreds of fish that dispersed as they were being chased creating a pattern of short white glowing lines somewhat like the yellow lane markers on the highway.

The display was unlike anything I have ever witnessed. It was like the Aurora Borealis of the sea.  Despite our best efforts, our cell phone cameras were unable to pick up the bioluminescent signal, however, we do not need photos because the patterns of light will be forever embedded in our minds. The dolphins eventually tired from the surf and chase and departed. Ily said the experience was “an explosion of light that overwhelmed the senses” while Flora said it was “better than fireworks.”

With no marine mammal sightings at the third station, we completed a five minute haul in the deep channel and collected a huge white bin of anchovies (see photo of Keith Hanson with this catch below). In this catch we found a few Mexican lampfish, 3 king of the salmon, a lot of of large smooth tongues, a lot of salps, a few pyrosomes and one purple striped jellyfish.  The purple-striped jelly (Chrysaora colorata) is is primarily preyed upon by Leatherback turtles. Haul 2 was conducted over shallower water near San Nicolas Island and we only found salps and four small rockfish in the catch.  After these two hauls, we called it a night and wrapped up at 4:15 a.m.

Scientist Spotlight: Ilysa Iglesias, NMFS SWFSC FED/ University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC)

Ilysa “Ily” is a doctoral student who works in John Field’s Lab at UCSC.  She is studying the fish we are collecting on this cruise as part of her research. She is very knowledgeable about all of the survey research objectives. She is also one of the most positive and gregarious people I have every met. Ily grew up in Santa Cruz, CA, and enjoys surfing, hiking, gardening and raising chickens.   Ily is a fan of early marine explorer Jacques Cousteau, who often wore a red beanie/toboggan and a blue shirt. Ily came prepared and brought six red hats (that she knit herself) for each of the members of the sorting team. Ily’s favorite fish is the hatchetfish. She was thrilled when we found on in the catch!

Ilysa with hatchetfish
Ilysa Iglesias with deepsea marine hatchetfish
deepsea marine hatchetfish
A deepsea marine hatchetfish caught in the bongo which was deployed to depth of 265 meters.

Ily obtained a Bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley in integrated biology and a Masters Degree from the University of Hawaii in Zoology with a specialization in marine biology.  Her thesis was on the function of intertidal pools as a nursery habitat for near-shore reef fish. She compared otoliths (fish bone ears) of fish reared inside and outside of tide pools and compared their growth rates.  Otoliths can be used to the age of the fish much like counting rings on a tree and stable isotope analysis reveals information about where the fish were reared.

Ily, Flora and Kristin have all used otoliths in their research and taught me how to locate and collect the sagittal otolith from anchovies and myctophids. It is a tiny ear bone (one of three) that is positioned near the hindbrain of fish.  See photos below of the otoliths we collected. This is a technique that I will definitely take back to my classroom and teach my McCallie students.

Otoliths
Otoliths we collected and observed under the dissecting microscope.
Photomicrograph of otoliths
Photomicrograph of otoliths we collected from blue lanternfish (top) and Northern Anchovy (bottom) and observed under the dissecting microscope.

After obtaining her masters degree, Ily was Conservation Fellow for the Nature Conservancy in HI and worked in octopus fisheries before returning home to join NOAA’s salmon team and then the rockfish team as a Research Associate.  Ily has just completed the first year of her doctoral work in the Field Lab and expects to complete the program within 5 years.

On this cruise, Ily is collecting small fish called Myctophids for her research. These are small bioluminescent fish that live at depths of 300 and 1,500 m in the bathypelagic zone. In this survey, we encounter these deep sea dwellers during their nightly vertical migration up to the edge of the photic zone at depths we are targeting.  They are likely chasing their prey (krill) on this upward journey. It is amazing to me they are able to withstand the pressure change. Mcytophids are also known as lanternfishes and have bioluminescent photophores dispersed on their bodies. The fish sorting team analyzes the position of these organs to help distinguish between the different species. There are 243 known species of myctophids, making these little fishes one of the most diverse vertebrates on Earth.  They are so abundant in the sea that they make up 65% of the ocean’s biomass, but most people have never heard of them!

In 2014- 2015 there was an anonymously high sea surface temperatures off of the Pacific Coast known as The Blob.  Marine scientists are still elucidating the effect of the hot water had on fish populations and ecosystems. Ily explains that “atmospheric forcing caused changes in oxygen and temperature resulting in variability in the California current.”  The water was less nutrient dense and caused a reduction in phytoplankton. This disruption of primary production propagated up the trophic cascade resulting in die offs of zooplankton, fish, marine mammals and birds.  

Ily is using the catch records and acoustics data from the rockfish survey to study changes in distribution and abundance of myctophids from before, during and after The Blob (2013-2019).  She aims to understand if and how their trophic position of myctophids was affected by the unusually high sea surface temperatures.   Using elemental analysis isotope ratio mass spectrometry to analyze the Carbon and Nitrogen atoms incorporated into fish muscle, Ily can determine what the myctophids were eating each year.

Karah Nazor: Sorting Protocol and the Ubiquitous Tunicates of the Central CA Coast: Salps and Pyrosomes, May 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 30, 2019

Last night I fell asleep, twice, at the lab bench in between trawls, since I am still adjusting to being on the night shift.  We worked from 9:00 P.M. to 6:30 A.M. After the shift I had a nice hot shower and slept a solid 9 hours from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Hopefully, I will be less drowsy tonight!

Upon waking, I went to the galley and grabbed some Raisin Bran and coffee and took it up to the flying bridge to hang out with Ornithologist Brian Hoover.  Our current location is in the middle of the Channel Islands, an area I know something about because my friend Evan Morrison, mentioned in my first blog, helps with the Channel Islands Swimming Association, and I would like to swim between these islands one day.  Lauren Valentino, Flora Cordoleani, Ily Iglesias and I congregated on the flying bridge and decided we should exercise. We joined Flora in her squat challenge (80 squats on this particular day), followed by 5 minutes of planking and a bit of erging.  Half of female members of the fish sorting team are avid rock climbers. They did lots of pull-ups using the rock ring climbing training holds that are installed there.

It felt nice and warm when the ship stopped for deployment of the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Rosette, and it got chilly again as the wind picked up when the ship started moving again. We saw a few whale spouts in the distance and at 5:30 P.M. we went down to the galley for a delicious meal of steak and mashed potatoes.  I am beginning to really appreciate how nice this whole experience has been in terms of amenities. The NOAA Reuben Lasker first set launch in 2014 and is a state of the art fisheries vessel with a sophisticated acoustics lab, fish lab, dynamic positioning system, CTD, etc., but is ALSO equipped with creature comforts including a movie lounge, an ice cream cooler loaded with ice cream sandwiches, snickers, fruit pops, you name it, and my personal favorite – a coffee bar where all coffee is freshly ground, an espresso machine, and all varieties of milk and creamers, including Reese’s cup whipped cream. The mattress in my stateroom bunk is quite comfortable and the shower gets hot within seconds! I doubt it can get much better than this for a research experience at sea?

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Point Sal line with five 15 minute hauls.

I am familiar with the sorting protocol now. The catch is dropped from the net into the bucket by members of the deck crew and survey tech, with the oversight of Keith Sakuma, Chief Scientist and NOAA Operations Officer Keith Hanson.  The bucket is immediately placed in the fish lab and this is when the fish sorting team starts our work.

Cobb Trawl net
Dropping the catch from the Cobb Trawl net into the bucket.
fish on a sorting tray
A volume of fish just placed on a sorting tray. This catch has a lot of anchovies, krill, and California smoothtongues.
Separating the krill
Separating the krill from the myctophids, Northern anchovies, and California smoothtongues.
Sorting fish group photo
Team Red Hats sorting fish. NOAA’s Keith Hanson in the rear left side.


SORTING AND COUNTING METHOD

We start by carefully picking through a 2000 mL or 5000 mL volume of the harvest, depending on Keith Sakuma’s initial assessment of the species density and volume in the bucket.  The first volume of catch to be sorted is evenly dispersed onto four white sorting trays arrayed on the main lab bench. Once you have a pile of the catch on your tray, you start to separate them into piles of different types of organisms, such as Northern anchovies, ctenophores, krill, salps, pyrosomes, Californian smoothtongues, squid, rockfish, myctophids, and young of year (YOY) fish.  I prefer to use my hands for sorting while others use forceps. Once sorted, we count the number of individuals for each species. If we have difficulty identifying an animal that we have not yet seen, we ask Keith Sakuma or a more experienced team member to help with identification. YOY fish, some in larval form, are particularly difficult for me.

Once sorted and counted, we verbally call out the common name and number of organisms to Keith Sakuma who manually records the data in a 3-ring binder for the lab hard-copy.   For smaller organisms, such as krill or salps, or in hauls with a high number of any particular species, it would be quite tedious to pick out and count each individual in the total haul.  This is why we start with a small subsample volume or 0.5, 2 or 5L, count the individuals in that small volume, establish the ratio for the number of individuals in that volume, and then extrapolate and calculate by the total volume of the haul.  For example, if we counted 97 pyrosomes in the initial 5L sort, and we collected a total of 1000L, then we can say that there are 19,400 pyrosomes in the haul.

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma
Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma recording the data from a haul during sorting.

Once 20 individuals of each species have been called out, we no longer have to count that species since the ratio for this catch has already been established and to expedite sorting the rest of the volume.  Following sorting, the length of the twenty representatives of each species is measured using electronic calipers and the values populate on an Excel spreadsheet. After measuring, specimens requested by various research institutes including Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Moss Landing, and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) are collected, labelled and frozen.

Flora Cordoleani
Flora Cordoleani keeping track of which specimens are to be preserved for various research groups.
Keith Sakuma bagging specimens to send to collaborators.

Creature(s) feature: Salps and Pyrosomes. 

Salps What are these strange gelatinous organisms in our catch that look like little puddles of clear jelly with a red, green, yellow, and brown digestive organ in the center?  They are goopy, small and slippery making them difficult to pick up by hand. They float on the sea surface and are ubiquitous in our hauls BUT NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM.

These creatures are called salps and belong to the subphylum Tunicata. Tunicates have a notochord in their early stage of life which makes them members of the phylum Chordata, to which humans also belong. Having a transparent body is a way escape being preyed upon.

A group of salps. This species is dime to quarter sized and this number of salps occupies a volume of ~10-15 ml once placed in a beaker.
Salp digestive organs.

Salps are planktonic tunicates  That can be found as individual salps or in long chains called blastozooids.   The salps shown in the photo below were individuals and were notable in most of our hauls. Individual salps in this pile are dime to quarter sized and occupy a volume of ~10-15 ml. We measured the volume of salps in every haul.

While on the topic of salps, I will tell you about a cool 1 inch long salp parasite I found on my sorting tray (see image below). Keith Sakuma explained that it was a deep sea amphipod called Phronima which is a parasitoid that takes up residence inside of a salp’s body, eats the salp’s organs, and then lays its eggs inside of the salp. The King-of-the-salmon, Trachipterus altivelis, (which we are also catching) uses its protrusible jaw to get inside of the salp just to eat this amphipod!

Phronima amphipod
Phronima amphipod – lives and reproduced in salp after eating the salp’s organs. King-of-the-salmon fish use their protrusible jaws to eat the amphipod.
King-of-the-salmon
King-of-the-salmon, Trachipterus altivelis
King-of-the-salmon jaw protruded
King-of-the-salmon, Trachipterus altivelis, who preys upon phronima living inside of salp, with jaw protruded.
A large haul full of salps.

Another type of salp we keep catching is Thetys vagina, a large solitary species of nektonic salp that feeds on plankton, such as diatoms, and is an important carbon sink in the ocean. Thetys has an external surface, or test, that is covered with bumps and ridges, as seen in the photo below.

Thetys vagina, the twin-sailed salp.
Thetys vagina, the twin-sailed salp.
internal filtering organ
The internal filtering organ of Thetys vagina.
Kristin Saksa examining a larger Thetys
Kristin Saksa examining a larger Thetys vagina, or the twin-sailed salp. The dark colored tentacles are downward facing. This is the siphon where water enters the sac-filled body.

Pyrosomes Pyrosoma atlanticum are another type of planktonic tunicate which are very numerous in most of our hauls. Pyrosomes look like bumpy pink hollow tubes with openings on both ends. They are rigid in structure and easy to pick up by hand, whereas salps are goopy and difficult to pick up by hand.  We have collected some pyrosomes that are 13 inches long, while most are in the 4-6 inch range. The small pyrosomes look like clear Tic Tacs, but they do not taste as such.

Pyrosoma atlanticum
Pyrosoma atlanticum, with an ~6 inch specimen on the left and small pyrosomes on the right.

How can pyrosomes be so ubiquitous just 20 miles or so off of the Central California Coast, but I have never seen one that has floated up on the beach or while swimming?

Pyrosoma atlanticum are also planktonic tunicates, but are colonial organisms made up of many zooids held together by a gelatinous structure called the tunic. One end of the tube is wide open and filters the water for zooplankton and phytoplankton, while the other end is tighter and resembles a diaphragm or sphincter. The pyrosomes we harvested appeared in diverse array of pinks and purples.  Pyrosomes are believed to harbor intracellular bioluminescent bacteria. Pyrosomes are drifting organisms that swim by beating cilia lining the branchial basket to propel the animals through the water and create a current for filter feeding. 

Pyrosome rainbow
Pyrosoma atlanticum assorted by color.
Kristin Saksa
Moss Landing Graduate Student Kristin Saksa excited about the large haul of Pyrosoma atlanticum.
high-five
Pyrosoma atlanticum high-five.

Karah Nazor: Departure from the San Francisco Bay and First Night of Fishing, May 29, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 28-29, 2019


I departed Chattanooga, TN, for San Francisco, CA, on May 28th to participate as a NOAA Teacher at Sea on Leg 2 of NOAA’s Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  My job as a Teacher at Sea will be to share my experience and knowledge acquired over the next 10 days working alongside NOAA scientists with MY AUDIENCE. Who is my audience? You! I hope that you all can be my students!  You, my McCallie students and colleagues, my friends, my swimming community and my family members. My intention here is to explain in layman’s terms what I learned, and especially, what I thought was cool.

After tapas in North Beach with my San Francisco friends Cathy Delneo and Evan Morrison, they dropped me off at Pier 15 to sleep in my stateroom on the NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker. I felt rocking even while docked in the San Francisco Bay, but I slept great and am happy to report that my CVS brand “less drowsy” Dramamine tablets seem to be working as I am prone to motion sickness. This morning Evan and I got to explore the ship and take a bunch of photos of The City from the top deck of the ship, called the Flying Bridge. I imagine I will be spending many hours up here over the next 10 days!

Karah and Evan on the Flying Bridge
Karah and Evan on the Flying Bridge the morning of departure.


Meeting the Science Team

The first science team member I met was Kelly Goodwin, Ph.D., an environmental molecular biologist from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) La Jolla, and NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.  Kelly is here along with Associate Researcher Lauren Valentino to collect environmental DNA (eDNA) from water collected at three depths (5 meters, the chlorophyll maximum, and 100 meters) during deployment of the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Rosette.  There will be more about these marine scientists and the cool biotechnology they will be employing to come in a future post!

Next, I met my stateroom bunkmate Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., of NOAA NMFS, SWFSC,Fisheries Ecology Division (FED).   Her research lab at the University of California Davis focuses on the management of the endangered king salmon in the Central California Valley.  I will definitely interview her for a future blog!

Meet the rest of the team: Doctoral student Ilysa (Ily) Iglesias, NMFS SWFSC FED/ University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), works in John Field’s Lab.  Ily will be analyzing the myctophids (one of the most abundant mesopelagic fish groups) collected on this survey and elucidating their role in the trophic cascade.  She was on the cruise last year as well and I can already tell is psyched about this opportunity and wants to teach everyone. 

John Field, Ph.D., was on the previous leg of the cruise and is the Principal Investigator for this project while Keith Sakuma, of NMFS SWFSC FED, is the Chief Scientist and has been working on this survey for 30 years as of this cruise!     

Kristin Saksa of NMFS SWFSC FED/ Moss Landing Marine Lab (MLML) and Kaila Pearson, NMFS SWFSC FED, of Scripps, who are both working on master’s degrees in marine science.  

Jarrod Santora, Ph.D., an ecologist from NMFS SWFSC FED/UCSC, will be on the day shift.  Brian Hoover, Ph.D., an ornithologist who works for the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research (FIAER), will be observing birds and marine mammals on the day shift. 

Keith Hanson is a NOAA Corps Officer representing NMFS SWFSC FED and is also a valuable member of the science team.

Night shift fish sorting crew
Night shift fish sorting crew. From left: Karah Nazor, Ph.D., Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., Kristin Saksa, Keith Sakuma, Keith Hanson, Kaila Pearson, and Ilysa Iglesias.

After a welcome aboard orientation and safety briefing given by NOAA Corps Officer David Wang, we enjoyed a delicious reuben sandwich in the galley (cafeteria) of the Reuben Lasker.  Meals are served at 7 AM, 11 AM and 5 PM. Since I will be on night shift I can request to have meals put aside for me to eat whenever I want. Below is a typical menu.  The food is superb! See a menu from one of our last days below.

Menu for my last day.
Menu for my last day.

After a noon departure the engineers spent a couple of hours testing the dynamic positioning system just north of the Bay Bridge.  This system takes inputs from ocean conditions such as the tide, wind, waves and swell and uses the propulsion and thrusting instruments on board to maintain a fixed position on the global positioning system (GPS).   Most of the night shift science crew used this opportunity to nap since we had to stay up all night!

Kaila Pearson woke me up just in time as we exited San Francisco Bay to take in the spectacular view of passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was a gorgeous sunny day in San Francisco and I felt super grateful to be a part of this research team, excited to get to know the team of amazing (mostly) female scientists I had just met, and ready to start fishing! It was fun to get to serve as a impromptu San Francisco tour guide as we departed the Bay, since I am quite familiar with this landscape. This body of water was my first open water swimming playground when I used to live in San Francisco during my postdoc at UCSF and was a member of the South End Rowing Club.  

Departing San Francisco Bay
Our departure from the San Francisco Bay. Photo taken on the flying bridge. From Left: Kaila Pearson, Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., Lauren Valentino, and Ilysa Iglesia with Teacher at Sea Karah Nazor, Ph.D., in front.


Night 1 of Cobb Trawl and Fish Sorting

We arrived at our first trawl line, Monterey Bay, around 11:00 P.M.  My job as part of the night crew is to participate in marine mammal watches before and during fishing, and then to sort, count and measure the different species of animals collected, as well as bag and freeze specimens for various research organizations.  The fishing method used on this survey is a modified Cobb midwater trawl.  The net is deployed to fish at 30 meters depth and has a 9.5 mm codend liner (mesh at the end of the net where the fish gather).  Trawl operations commence just after dusk and conclude just before dawn, with the goal of conducting up to 5 trawls per night. The duration of fishing at target depth before “haul back” of the net can be either 5 minutes or 15 minutes.  Five minute trawls are used in areas of high abundance of gelatinous organisms such as jellyfish in order to reduce the size of the catch (e.g., fishing the additional 10 minutes would result in catches large enough to damage the net). 

catch from the first Cobb trawl
From left, Keith Hanson, NOAA Operations Officer, and Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma, help release the catch from the first haul of the survey.
first haul's catch
At first glance, it appeared the catch consisted mostly of Northern anchovies.
Graduate student Ilysa Iglesias
UCSC graduate student Ilysa Iglesias examines the first sort of the first haul, with the organisms arranged by species.

There are two marine mammal watches per trawl: the inside watch and the outside watch.  The inside watch goes to starboard side of the bridge 30 minutes prior to reaching the planned trawl station.  If any marine mammals such as sea lions, seals, dolphins or whales are spotted within one nautical mile of the planned trawl station, then the ship must move.  This protocol is employed for mitigating interaction with protected marine species.

If the inside watch does not see any marine mammals, then trawl operations can begin.  This is when the outside mammal watch takes over and looks for marine mammals during net deployment, trawling, and haul in.  The outside watch is conducted one floor above the fishing deck, and the person must wear foul weather gear, a life vest, and a helmet. This is summer, but it is the Pacific, and it is COLD out there.  If a marine mammal is spotted by the outside watch then the trawl net must immediately be reeled in.

I spotted a school of dolphins in Monterey Bay during haul back and reported the sighting via radio to the bridge officers and recorded my observations in the lab on the provided data sheet in the lab.

The duration of the entire fishing operation from net deployment, dropping the two “doors” (large metal plates weighing 900 pounds each) used to spread the net mouth open, fishing, haul in, properly wrapping the net on the winch, and finally, dispensing the harvested fish into the collection buckets, takes between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on conditions.  

Our first catch consisted primarily of Northern anchovies (Engraulis mordax) and California market squid, Doryteuthis (Loligo) opalescens. Ily was excited by the presence of a few plainfin midshipman, Porichthys notatus, and showed us their beautiful pattern of large photophores located on their ventral surface.  These fish are quite hardy and survive the trawling procedure, so as soon as we saw one in the bucket, we placed it in a bowl of sea water for release after obtaining its length. Photophores are glandular organs that appear on deep sea or mesopelagic fish and are used for attracting prey or for confusing and distracting predators.  

Northern anchovies
Northern anchovies, Engraulis mordax,, are one of the most abundant species we catch.
Photophores
Photophores on ventral surface of Plainfin midshipman, Porichthys notatus.

Mesopelagic depths start around 200 meters, a depth at where 99% of the sunlight can no longer penetrate, and extend down to 1000 meters below the ocean surface.  Above the mesopelagic zone is the epipelagic zone where sunlight reaches from the ocean surface down to 200 meters and, in California, corresponds to the ocean above the continental shelf.  

In this survey, we will conduct trawls at 30 meters, which is technically the epipelagic zone, so why do we catch deep sea creatures?   Many deep sea creatures participate in a daily vertical migration where they swim up into the upper layer of the ocean at night as that area is relatively rich in phytoplanktonic organisms.  Phytoplankton are the sun-powered primary producers of the food chain, single-celled photosynthetic organisms, which also provide the majority of the oxygen we breath.

After the first night of work I feel confident that I can identify around 10 species of mesopelagic fish and forage organisms, the California Headlight Fish (more to come on these amazing myctophids from my interview with Ily), a juvenile East Pacific red octopus, Octopus rubescens, (alive), and ctenophores!  Thanks to the Tennessee Aquarium’s Sharyl Crossly and Thom Demas, I get to culture ctenophores in my classroom.

Californian Headlightfish
Two large photophores in between the eyes of a Californian Headlightfish, Diaphus theta
Small octopus
Small octopus – Octopus rubescens.
Karah holding ctenophores
Karah Nazor with a handful of ctenophores! These are Hormiphora – Undescribed Species.


Scientist Spotlight: Ornithologist Brian Hoover

Brian Hoover, Ph.D., an ornithologist who works for the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research (FIAER) in Petaluma, CA, observes birds and marine mammals on the day shift of this NOAA research cruise.  

Brian Hoover
Brian Hoover, Ph.D., at his office in the San Francisco Bay
Brain and Jarred watching for birds
Brian Hoover, Ph.D., and Jarred Santora, Ph.D., watching for birds and marine mammals as we went underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Brian is from Colorado and earned his doctorate at UC Davis in 2018.  On this cruise we will be traversing through biological hotspots that occur near islands, underwater canyons, and where there is strong upwelling of the cold and nutrient rich deeper waters of the California Current.  Small fish feed on these nutrient rich waters, and birds feed on these fish. Hotspots on this cruise included the Gulf of the Farallons (just south of the Point Reyes upwelling plume) , the Channel Islands, and Monterey Bay with its submarine canyon. Brian’s hours on the ship are from 7am to 7pm.

Brian can be found perched on the flying bridge during the day shirt with a pair of binoculars in his hand and his laptop off to his right on a table.  Every time a bird or marine mammal is spotted within 300 yards of the ship to the right of the mid centerline of the bow, Brian records the species and numbers of animals observed in his database on his laptop. The objective of Brian’s work aboard the ship is to study how what is present underwater correlates with birds observed above the water.  In other words, he aims to find correlations between the distribution and abundance of seabirds and marine mammals to the species and abundance of prey we collect during our night trawls and data collected from the ship’s acoustic krill surveys which collect data during the day. Brian explains that such information teaches us about what is going on with the bird’s prey base and how well the ecosystem is functioning as a whole. His observations allow him to observe shifts in the system over time and how this affects tertiary and apex predators.  To find trends in these datasets, he used R software, Python, and ArcGIS mapping software to run spatial statistics and linear models.

Since 2010 Brian has been on 12 to 13 cruises and this is his third on the Reuben Lasker.  Brian is excited to perhaps spot the Cooks Petrel, Pterodroma cookii, or the Short-tailed albatross, Phoebastria albatrus, which only lives in a volcano in japan.  His favorite birds are the storm petrels because these birds are small and live in open ocean, only coming onshore to breed once a year.  His dissertation focus was on the reproduction and behavior of the leeches storm petrol. He explains that seabirds have an incredible sense of smell which they utilize to find a mate and food. Brian was able to collect blood samples from burrowing birds for genotyping. He found that the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules located on antigen-presenting cells may play a role in odor detection and mate selection in these birds.  He found that males chose and avoided particular genotypes combinations and that healthier birds had more diverse MHCII complexes.

Brian is a sensory ecologist and studies how seabirds interact with their environment  through observations of their behavior and physiology. When Ily asked Brian how do the seabirds know where the fish are in the open ocean, he explained that birds have a sense of smell that is as good or better than any commercial sensor that detects sulfur.  Why have some seabirds evolved to be so good at sniffing out traces of sulfur in the ocean breeze up to 10 miles away from its source? Brian explained that sulfur is an important part of the photosynthetic pathway for phytoplankton (algal cells) and that when krill eat the algae, the algae releases the chemical dimethyl sulfide (DMS).  Marine plastic debris floating on the sea surface also release DMS and provides an explanation as to why seabirds eat plastic.

Karah Nazor: One Week Until I Board and I am Already Dreaming About Fish, May 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 22, 2019

Hi!  My name is Karah Nazor and I am a science teacher at McCallie High School, an all-boys college preparatory school in Chattanooga, TN, which is also my hometown. It is one week until I board the Reuben Lasker in San Francisco, and I am already dreaming about fish.  I teach marine biology, molecular biology and environmental science and “coach” students in our after-school science research program. We typically have around 20 tanks running at a time in my classroom including three species of jellyfish, a reef tank, zebrafish tanks, and a freshwater shrimp tank.  Ongoing marine research projects in my lab include primary culture of nerve nets of the jellyfish Aurelia aurita, moon jellyfish, (students Jude Raia and Danny Rifai), the effects of ocean acidification on the jellyfish Cassiopea xamachana, upside down jellyfish, (students Ian Brunetz and Shrayen Daniel) and spawning of the lobate ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi (Thatcher Walldorf). Seniors Keith Kim and Eric Suh just presented their findings on the effects of river acidification on freshwater snails at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, AZ, and sophomore Kevin Ward just wrapped up his research on the effects of a high sugar diet on tumor formation in tp53 zebrafish.

A corner of the Nazor Classroom/Lab
A corner of the Nazor Classroom/Lab
Freshmen Ian Brunetz and Shrayen Daniel Shenanigans
Typical shenanigans with Freshmen Ian Brunetz and Shrayen Daniel
Freshman Danny Rifai and Junior Jude Raia Culturing Moon Jellyfish Nerve Cells
Freshman Danny Rifai and Junior Jude Raia Culturing Moon Jellyfish Nerve Cells

Education

I am a lifelong competitive swimmer who loves the sea, marine mammals, and birds, and like many of my students today, as a high schooler I dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.  I earned a bachelors of science in biology with a minor in gerontology from James Madison University, where I was also on the swim team. I was interested in learning more about the neurodegenerative diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and attended the Ph.D. Program in Gerontology at the University of Kentucky and worked in the Telling Lab.  There I studied the molecular foundation of prion diseases, caused by protein misfolding which forms aggregates in the brain, a pathology similar to AD. I continued this research as a postdoc at the University of San Francisco (Prusiner Lab).

How did I come to raise jellyfish in my classroom?

Chattanooga is home to the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, the Tennessee Aquarium, located on the Tennessee River waterfront.  This non-profit public aquarium has two buildings, River Journey, which opened in 1992, and Ocean Journey, which opened in 2005. The Ocean Journey exhibit “Boneless Beauties and Jellies: Living Art” (2005-2019) featured exotic invertebrates including around 10 species of jellyfish, ctenophores, cuttlefish, giant Pacific octopuses, and spider crabs. On my first visit to Ocean Journey in 2005, I became transfixed with the “comb jelly” (the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi) tank, specifically its rapidly beating ctene rows, which refract light creating a rainbow effect, and function as the animal’s  swimming organ. Many people mistake the light refraction of the beating ctenes for electrical signals traveling along the ctenophore’s body.  This first visit to the comb jellies tank left a lasting impression on me, and I was truly inspired by their beauty and curious to learn more about this gelatinous creature..

A  comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi in my classroom tank
A comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi in my classroom tank

Six years ago, I visited the comb jelly exhibit again and decided to try to bring jellyfish into my classroom.  I missed swimming in the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay, so I sought to bring the cold ocean and at least one of it’s critters into my classroom. I chose to raise the Pacific Ocean variety moon jellyfish, which I so often encountered swimming in the San Francisco Bay and at Tomales Point!   A gifted student built a special jellyfish tank, called a Kriesel, and next I contacted the TN Aquarium’s invertebrate specialist Sharyl Crossley to inquire about how to raise jellyfish. I was beyond thrilled when she invited me to train under her for a summer!  That Fall, I began culturing moon and upside down jellies in my classroom and my students began research projects right away. Raising jellyfish is not easy, as they require perfect current, and water the salinity and temperature that matches their native habitat.  Jellyfish require daily live feed of two day old enriched brine shrimp nauplii and rotifers. We actually have to feed the jellyfish’s food. The next year, I was ready to introduce the more difficult to raise comb jellies into the lab and have cultured them ever since.  In 2017, I got to spend a week with Dr. William Brown at the University of Miami to learn how to spawn ctenophores, study hatchlings, and dissect out stem cell rich niches from the animals for in vitro work in the cell culture lab.   You can often find me in the lab late at night at the dissecting scope still mesmerized and awed by the simplistic nature and immense beauty and of ctenophores in their spawning bowl.

Moon Jellyfish (Pacific Ocean variety) in my classroom tank
Moon Jellyfish (Pacific Ocean variety) in my classroom tank

Back to the Bay Area for a cruise on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker!

The years that I lived in San Francisco for my postdoc were some of the best of my life because of the science plus athletic opportunities afforded by living next to the ocean including open water swimming, surfing, and abalone diving.   I made lifelong friends partaking in these cold and rough water ocean sports. I lived in the Sunset neighborhood and I often went to Ocean Beach for the sunset and swam in the Bay several times per week at the South End Rowing Club (SERC).   In 2008 I swam the English Channel. While swimming in the Bay, we often saw NOAA ships and I never thought I would get to join a cruise one day as part of the science team! While living in San Francisco, I did have the opportunity to go on a couple of whale watching tours and swim all over the San Francisco, Richardson, and San Pablo bays for my training swims, but I have never got to spend much time on a boat and I have never spent the night at sea!  I am a bit nervous about becoming seasick and adjusting to being on the night shift next week.

Swimming with SERC friends in 2017 next to the Muni Pier at Aquatic Park in San Francisco (I am in the center with goggles on).
Swimming with SERC friends in 2017 next to the Muni Pier at Aquatic Park in San Francisco (I am in the center with goggles on).

Even though I was raised visiting the Atlantic ocean for summer vacations and am fond of the Caribbean Islands and the coral reefs, I am partial to the West Coast, where the mountains meet the sea.   I prefer the cold green rough seas, the winter swell, kelp forests, abalone at Fort Bragg, great white sharks at the Farallones, Pier 39 sea lions, harbor seals, salps, humpbacks, orcas and sea otters in Monterey Bay, Garibaldi of La Jolla Cove, sting rays of La Jolla Shores, and elephant seals of Ano Nuevo.  I enjoy kayak fishing for rockfish and yellowtail in San Diego with my brother, Kit.

Karah at Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay, CA in 2018
Karah at Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay, CA in 2018
Abalone shell on top of a cooler or some other white surface
A large beautiful abalone I harvested from about 40 feet down from Fort Bragg, CA in 2007. You can see the algae on its shell. The abalone diving season is now closed until 2021.

The rockfish recruitment survey is a longitudinal research project in its 30th year led by the NOAA chief scientist Keith Sakuma.  I have always been inspired by ichthyologists, specifically Dr. David Etnier, of the University of Tennessee, who worked with my step-dad, Hank Hill, on the snail darter case (Hill v. TVA) in the court’s first interpretation of the Endangered Species Act in 1978.   I am excited to learn from NOAA chief Scientist Keith Sakuma and the other members of the Reuben Lasker‘s science team about the rockfish and groundfish species we will be targeting in the recruitment survey. I look forward to learning how to identify up to 100 additional species of epipelagic fish, most of which I have never seen (or even heard of) before, as well as micronekton including several types of krill, tunicates, and hopefully jellyfish!  

The animals we will be surveying are known as forage species and are mostly primary and secondary consumers in the food web. These young of year rockfish and groundfish, epipelagic crabs, and small fish such as anchovies, sardines, and lanternfish are important prey for tertiary consumers including marine mammals, large fish, and seabirds. Long-term research studies allow for scientists to study the relationships between hydrographic data such as sea surface temperature, salinity, and density and the abundance and geographic distribution of forage species over decades, and in the case of this survey, three decades. An ecological rearrangement of forage species can affect not only the tertiary consumers and apex predators such as orcas and great white sharks, but will also impact the fishing industry. It is important to understand the impact of warming oceans and weakened California upwelling events have had and will have on the diversity and health of the ecosystem of the Pacific Coast.