Martin McClure: Reflections, August 29, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martin McClure

NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 25– August 9, 2023

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 29, 2023

Latitude: 39° 9′ 0.6084” N

Longitude: 123° 12′ 28.0332” W

Air Temperature: 29.4° Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Sharks use many senses to hunt their prey. For long range hunting, they use smell and detecting pressure changes, similar to hearing. They are famous for having a keen sense of smell. Some studies conclude that they can, in theory, detect blood at 1 per 20 million parts in water. So, they clearly use smell to hunt. They also have a keen sense of “hearing.” They can detect some low frequency sounds, the kind made by injured fish, from a kilometer away.

a very close-up photo of the eye of a sandbar shark. around the eye, we can see tiny pores in the shark's skin - these are the ampullae of Lorenzini
The eye and amupullae of Lorenzini of a sandbar shark

As sharks get closer to their prey, they use their eyesight. While they see in black and white, they can see well unless it is nighttime or if the water is cloudy.

They also have a sense that humans do not. They have a lateral line along the side. This is a series of canals that helps them detect vibrations in the water.

As the shark closes in on the prey, sharks engage their ability to detect slight electrical impulses, electrosense. For this they use their ampullae of Lorenzini. These are pores on the skin that lead to canals filled with a conductive gel containing keratan sulphate. They can detect the electrical impulses that are given off by other fish. Some sharks use this sense to find fish that are hidden under sand on the ocean floor.

close-up view of a cross section of shark skin with pores (ampullae of Lorenzini) visible, revealing the keratan sulphate that fills them
Shark skin cross-section showing keratan sulphate and ampullae of Lorenzini

Sharks may use their sense of touch by bumping into a potential prey target. Finally, they might use their sense of taste to decide if their target is indeed food.

Personal Log

As I return to my own teaching position in a classroom, I continue to reflect back on how everyone on board NOAA Ship Oregon II took all of the volunteers under their wing to “show them the ropes,” and teach them more than they could have learned in any classroom. It was clear that the whole crew was proud and eager to share their own specialty with us. For me, I was poking my nose into every nook and cranny, looking for stories to include in my blog. I was always welcomed with a smile and regaled with great stories. Far too many to include in my blog. I was impressed with the detailed and patient answers to my basic questions. This included not only the professional NOAA scientists and crew but also the other volunteers on board as I was the only one on the science crew who was a novice in marine biology. So, thank you Josh, Cait, Hannah, Macie and John.

But I was not the only one to be tutored in the details of life on the ship. Trey Driggers spent many hours discussing shark science with the other volunteers. The NOAA Corps members joined in the hauls and shared their experiences with the other volunteers. Their friendliness, openness and supportive presence added a lot to the team. They shared their own career journeys and at least one of the volunteers is seriously considering joining the NOAA Corps. John Brule, a volunteer, was working on his dissertation on parasites. (I am a convert. Parasites are fascinating and well deserving of detailed scientific study.) He engaged with the other volunteers on wide ranging subjects and guided them on dissections.

John, at right, looks on as a volunteer leans over a dead shark on a table mid-dissection; the volunteer is grasping tools in each hand to lift up and extract the shark's gills for additional study
Doctoral candidate John Brule guides undergraduate volunteer in removal of shark gills

The fishing/deck crew readily discussed not only their jobs and experiences but also shared their knowledge of fish behavior and how weather conditions affect the likely catch.

dark storm clouds gather above the ocean at sunset
Storm clouds gathering over the ocean

In the end, of all the amazing things I experienced, my most enduring memories are of people sharing their love of their chosen field, reaching out to guide and teach the novices. It is really people, connecting to others, that makes an education impactful.


Martin McClure: Navigating the Seas, August 7, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martin McClure

NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 25– August 9, 2023

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 7, 2023

Latitude: 30°33.167’N

Longitude: 81°04.685’W

Air Temperature: 31° Celsius

Wind Speed: 12.01 knots

Rachel, wearing a navy blue NOAA Corps uniform, stands for a portrait photo next to a plaque on an exterior wall of the ship that reads: R.V. Oregon II, designed by R. H. Macy for U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, built by The Ingalls Shipbuilding (Company), a Division of Litton Industries, Pascagoula, Mississippi, 1967
Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Rachel Pryor

Navigating NOAA Ship Oregon II is at once one of the most important and complex tasks on board. It is in motion 24 hours a day and must have skilled individuals to keep the crew safe and accomplish the mission of the survey. I spoke with Commander Adam Reed, Acting Commanding Officer, and Lieutenant Commander Rachel Pryor, Executive Officer, about this task.

Oregon II operates on two engines with one propeller (prop). It has a controllable pitch prop. This means that the pitch of the blades can be changed in order to change speed or even reverse the direction of the ship. The rudder turns the ship to port or starboard. There are also bow thrusters that turn the bow one way or the other.

There are a variety of devices that the navigator uses to know where the ship is, and to stay on course. They have two different GPS devices, in case one goes out. Additionally, they have a magnetic compass as well as a gyrocompass.

A storm and cruise ship off near Jacksonville, FL.

There are two radar units to see where other ships are and to get detailed weather information. One unit is more precise than the other but may pick up rain storms which may interfere with spotting ships. The other unit will still work in that situation.

When navigating, it is important to not just maintain the correct heading but also monitor course over ground. Even though the ship is heading in the right direction it can be pulled off course by the water currents and winds. This is very important to keep in mind not only across long distances but also when approaching the high flyer to pick up the longline. They must approach at a 90° angle and then turn to follow the longline. This is a fairly precise maneuver that is affected by both wind and current. 

view of the bridge, empty of personnel. It is lined with windows facing three sides. We see control panels and map tables, the helm, electric boxes on the interior wall.
The bridge. This is where NOAA Corps officers navigate Oregon II.

One important factor affecting the operation of the ship is the weather. Careful consideration of any weather conditions must be factored into any decisions made. No one is allowed on the deck if there are winds of 25 knots or more, waves of 4-5 feet, or lightning within 25 miles. Weather information is always monitored through five different sources. Decisions must be made while consulting and comparing different sources of data.

Executive Officer Rachel Pryor explained that there are two types of weather patterns to keep in mind when considering operations. The first are small squalls, which can be fast moving and may have lightning. These squalls may keep moving in the same direction and you can calculate when they will arrive. But they can sometimes dissipate, change course, or stay where they are. There are also larger weather systems to consider. These tend to be slower moving but can have seas “kicking up,” increased wind speeds, and lightning. These may require seeking some sort of shelter or even docking at a port. 

photo of a screen displaying radar data from the website We are looking at map centered approximately on Brunswick, Georgia, extending south to the northern counties of Florida, north to Charleston, and west to about the border of Alabama and Georgia. The radar shows a storm system concentrated on the Georgia-Florida border with other storm patches in central Georgia.
Radar showing an approaching storm system.

Weather has impacted the survey several times during this cruise. One of the most memorable was when I was working my shift and we were told to expect a long delay due to the weather. After about 30-45 minutes we were told to go ahead and bait the hooks and lay the longline. It takes about 2 ½ hours to run a station from putting the first hook in, to pulling the last one out of the water. The weather was beautiful and the seas were relatively calm during the station. Within a few minutes of finishing, the winds began to kick up as a system approached. In my estimation, these were pretty amazing calculations by Lieutenant Commander Pryor who was Officer of the Deck (OOD) for the haul.

The other incident to include here was a larger storm system that we were told on a Tuesday would arrive on Friday. Sure enough, it did. We headed in for cover near Cape Fear, NC. In this case, all fishing stopped and we sailed in an oval pattern keeping the waves to the bow or stern as much as possible. This led to a work stoppage of about 36 hours. In both cases careful calculations were made to keep the crew safe and maximize mission success. 

Meet the Crew: Taniya Wallace, Fish Biologist

Taniya and another crew member stand on deck, each wearing life vests, work gloves, and rubber boots. The other crewmember grips a small (2-3 foot long) shark firmly with two hands, holding it at an angle toward Taniya. Taniya grasps the shark's head with her left hand and reaches with her right to remove a hook. Both Taniya and the unnamed crewmember look down at the shark, focused on their work.
Fish biologist Taniya Wallace unhooks a small shark

Taniya Wallace is a fish biologist contractor on the science team here on Oregon II. Taniya hails from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where she grew up and still lives. Her mother is a teacher and her father works in naval ship design. Taniya credits her 6th grade teacher with first inspiring her interest in science. She says, “Science challenged my mind and made me wonder how things worked.”

After graduating high school, she got a summer internship at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory where she developed an interest in marine biology.  Taniya attended Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Mississippi. She played softball for her university and they won the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship three years in a row! At Mississippi Valley State, she earned a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. 

Taniya sits at a desk, facing a computer with two monitors. The screen is too bright to make out. She holds a microphone from an intercom system up to her mouth with her left hand, perhaps ready to read out data or provide direction.
Taniya works on a computer

After college she was hired as a contractor during the Deepwater Horizon disaster working on small boats trawling for fish and crustaceans to gather samples for NOAA Fisheries Seafood Inspection program.  This was a three month contract.

Next, she was contracted to work with NOAA for the Plankton Unit for the next four years. On the surveys, she worked with the team to collect plankton (microscopic organisms) in three different sized nets. Then, back in the lab, she sorted and identified decapods (crabs, lobster, shrimp) and red snapper. 

In 2014, she moved to the trawl survey. In this survey, they pulled a large net behind the boat and caught a variety of marine animals. They sort, identify and record measurements on what they find on the boat. Back at the lab, they would identify unknown species. This included different kinds of fish as well as invertebrates. She explained to me that the science team uses only scientific names so, often, she may not know the common name of species she is cataloging.

Here on the shark and red snapper survey her computer and data entry skills are evident. She catalogs otoliths (ear bones) and other parts quickly and easily. I am not sure if patience, kindness and equanimity are requirements of her job but she, like the other members of the science crew, excels in these qualities. And, her shark handling skills are really impressive. 

Personal Log: A very exciting haul!

Every day continues to be full of new experiences and animals. Yesterday, there was a haul which on paper would look pretty boring but it proved to be anything but. First, we brought up a royal sea star ( Astropecten articulatus), a beautiful hand sized star with cream colored feet, with orange edges filled by a deep purple band. I half expected Trey, our lead on the science team, to claim it for Clemson. (Go tigers! Or, is that LSU? Yes, there is a school rivalry playing out among the science team.)

close-up view of a sea star held on the open palm of a gloved hand. the sea star is purple and orange with cream-colored 'feet' that looks like frills.
Royal sea star

Hook number 33 had a feisty seven foot nurse shark. The next shark, a nearly seven foot sandbar shark, was on hook number 43.

Hook number 49 had a baby tiger shark that was being pursued by a great hammerhead. The hammerhead was closing in on its prey when the gangion tightened and the tiger shark was hauled out of the water. I cannot say what was in the hammerhead’s brain, but it was certainly animated. For the next few minutes, it searched in vain for the tiger shark, circling and making several passes on the starboard side of the ship and showing its dorsal fin.

view over the rail of NOAA Ship Oregon II of a hammerhead shark swimming at the surface of the water in the direction of the ship
Hammerhead, thwarted in pursuit

Confusion? Anger? We can only speculate but I can imagine how strange the situation was from the hammerhead’s point of view. “Just another second and then, yum. Wait… where did it go?” I know this is purely unscientific and I am anthropomorphising (giving human characteristics to animals) but it really was a sight to witness. 

Now where did that darn fish go? I know its here somewhere.

Later on that same haul, we hooked into a large tiger shark. It is not unusual to see a shark sucker or cobia, maybe two, hanging out around the shark as we bring it in. We have even caught a shark sucker on a hook. But this tiger had at least 10 cobia following it in.

A group of cobia following a tiger shark.
Photo credit: NOAA Corps Lieutenant Junior Grade Cassidy Ring
She was big and had no intention of getting tagged.

She broke the line, and we were not able to measure and tag her. In this haul, only one fish was landed, but each of those events excited all involved and will be remembered and shared long into the future. 

Martin rides a stationary bike in the workout room, facing the camera and smilng for a photo. He is wearing a Nokomis Staff t-shirt that reads "We run with the wolves" and a Teacher at Sea hat. A rack full of weights is visible on the floor to his right.
Enjoying some time off shift.

Animals seen: Shark sucker, royal sea star, brittle star, sea fan, nurse shark, cobia, royal tern

Did you know? Sometimes hammerhead sharks swim on their sides.

Martin McClure: Let’s Talk Sharks, August 4, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martin McClure

NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 25– August 9, 2023

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 4, 2023

Latitude: 33°47.753′ N

Longitude: 78°13.019 W

Air Temperature: 22.3 kph

Wind Speed: 26° Celsius

Science and Technology Log: Meeting the tiger shark

Let’s face it, sharks are cool! They are an apex predator of the ocean. They are hunters and capture our imagination. Like most people, sharks are fascinating creatures if you take the time to get to know them.

Sharks are an ancient group of fishes. They have been on Earth since before there were any trees. They are intelligent and can be are very curious creatures that want to investigate new objects. Some species have social structures and recognize each other, and form relationships that last over many years. Some sharks have been observed hunting in groups. Personality, or should I say “sharkonality,” wise, individuals have been observed to be more assertive or more timid. They have sensory organs called ampullae of Lorenzini that sense electricity to help them find prey. 

Sharks are quite varied. Some sharks must keep moving to breathe, while others can sit on the sea floor for hours at a time. Some sharks lay eggs, while others have live pups.

view from above of a tagged tiger shark in a sling net suspended on the outside of the ship's railing, above the water. three crewmembers stand on deck near the rail. they are wearing hard hats, life vests, and gloves.
A tiger shark in the sling ready to be released. Notice the tag by its dorsal fin.

So far we have caught sandbar, Atlantic sharpnose, tiger, scalloped hammerhead, and great hammerhead sharks. The Atlantic sharpnose, sandbar, and tiger sharks all belong to the family Carcharhinidae, or requiem sharks. They have a flattened but not wide snout. In many species teeth are similar because in the top row the teeth are triangular and serrated (like a saw) and in the bottom row they are narrow and smooth-edged. Their eyes have a nictitating membrane that functions like an eyelid, but they can see through it.  Interestingly, reproduction varies within this family of sharks. 

two gloved hands hold a small tiger shark up for a photo; only the middle of the shark, from the base of the caudal fin to the gills, is visible (tail and head are out of view.) This close-up shows the black and white markings on the shark, more like spots than tiger stripes.
Markings on a tiger shark pup. (ba-by shark doo doo doo doo doo doo)

Tiger sharks are striking to see up close. Their markings on their skin gives them their name and makes them easy to identify, even for a novice. Young tiger shark markings tend more toward spots that can grow into bars or stripes as they age. The bars will fade as the shark grows older.

The teeth of a tiger shark are easily identifiable as they are curved with a notch in it. Unlike other sharks in the Carcharhinidae family, the bottom row of teeth has the same triangular, serrated teeth as the top row. They eat a variety of food including crabs, squid, bony fishes, turtles, rays and birds as well as many other animals even other sharks. They have also been known to eat boat cushions, tin cans and even license plates.

They are one of the larger sharks, often growing 11 – 14 feet long and up to 1400 pounds. In the United States, tiger sharks are found from Massachusetts to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Tiger Sharks have live babies called pups. They are ovoviviparous, and young develop inside their body before giving birth to live young. It is common for them to bear between 35 and 55 pups but have been known to have as many as 104. Because they bear so many pups, and the gestation is between 15 to 18 months, it is believed that they reproduce every three years.

Depredation: When a shark takes your fish

Depredation is when a fish has been hooked by a fisherman and is then attacked and eaten or partly eaten by another marine animal. This is obviously a problem for the fisherman because the fishermen cannot use the fish. According to Dr. William Driggers, Chief Scientist on the Oregon II Longline Shark and Snapper survey, depredation is on the increase in U.S. waters because shark populations are increasing. Shark populations are increasing because of good management of the shark populations. The most likely shark species to take a hooked fish is the whatever shark species is most common in that area. In other words, no one species is the worst offender. We have witnessed this at least six times on this survey leg.

A sandbar shark biting a red snapper on a fishing line at the surface of the ocean
A sandbar shark takes a bite out of a red snapper.
Caitlin, wearing fish gloves and a life vest, holds up only the front half of a red snapper. Just below the dorsal fin, ragged edges of the fish reveal a shark bite. Caitlin stands on the aft deck, and we can see obscured views of other crewmembers behind her, plus a cloudy sky.
Graduate student Caitlin Retzlaff shows the results of depredation.

Meet the Crew: Fisherman/Deckhand Josh Cooper

Josh is a professional fisherman aboard the Oregon II! Yup, one position on this crew is to be a professional fisherman.

The responsibilities of a fisherman are many. Everyone on the boat has very well defined duties and must be flexible and a good team member. He helps load the ship before it leaves the dock. He helps with docking by handling the lines. There are many duties once underway. There is painting and cleaning to be done, preparing gear and running the machinery used for fishing.

Then there is the fishing. Josh loves fishing. The fishermen are on board to help handle the big sharks and other large fish. Josh has done a lot of fishing. He sometimes operates the crane when the cradle is needed for a big shark. In emergency situations Josh is on the fire team and operates the small rescue boat that is aboard the Oregon II.

Josh running the crane to use the cradle.

Josh graduated from the University of Alabama, but a degree from a university is not required to be a fisherman/deckhand.  After earning a dual major in biology and marine biology, he went to Alaska as a fisherman on commercial fishing vessels.

After that, he joined NOAA as a fisheries observer.  In this job, he was on commercial fishing boats. He would be assigned to join a fishing boat, usually a small boat with two to three fishermen. It was his job to collect data on the fish caught. This would include species, length and weight. After doing this for two years in Alaska, he moved to do the same job in the Gulf of Mexico. Josh continued to do this work for six more years.

He first came to the Oregon II as a contractor working with Artificial Intelligence (AI) teaching the computers to recognize fish species. He was doing this when a position opened up as a part of the deck/fisherman crew. He has been on the Oregon II for two years. He likes that the accommodations are better than many of the other boats that he has lived on and he likes the people that he works with.

Being a fisherman is a big commitment. Josh says that he is out to sea about 140 days a year. When the ship is docked there are many maintenance tasks to be done. 

Josh sits on a bench on the aft deck of NOAA Ship Oregon II. It's a bright, clear day. He's spreading his arms about as wide as they can go and smiling at the camera. A pair of yellow fish gloves rests on the bench beside him.
Josh telling a fish story. He was not exaggerating, by much.

Personal Log: Schedules

A 24 hour analog clock, hung on a wall. the NOAA logo is at the center of it. it is about 14:05 (2:05 pm).
NOAA Clock

Life on the Oregon II is dictated by schedules, until it’s not. My basic schedule is dictated by my shift. I am on the day shift, which means that I work from noon until midnight. The night shift is midnight until noon. We use a 24 hour time schedule to avoid any confusion about which 8:00 or 10:30 we are referring to. So I am working from 12:00 – 0:00. During that time we might set and haul as many as three stations, or as few as one, so far.

Many factors might impact this schedule, including transit time between stations, as well as weather. I usually wake up some time between 7:00 and 8:00. Breakfast closes at 8:00 and I do like breakfast. On those mornings that I do not make it to breakfast, there is always fruit, cereal, and a variety of leftovers available. The rest of the morning I can use to exercise, write, read and relax. I like to enjoy a few minutes up on the flying bridge watching the ocean or observing a haul below. Lunch begins at 11:00 and I like to get in there fairly early to be sure that I am ready for my shift at 12:00. Our shift simply takes over where the last one left off. Sometimes we are in transit, but we might take over with the set or haul. We continue for the rest of the shift with the station schedule until midnight. Dinner is scheduled from 17:00 – 18:00. If we are not able to make it to the galley due to working, they will hold a dinner for us.

The ship operates and holds to schedules 24-7 unless there is a problem with the weather or mechanical problems. It has taken a while, but I have adjusted to this schedule and it feels pretty normal. Currently, we are taking shelter near shore to wait out a storm. We are expecting a 24 hour delay with no fishing stations.

A photo of just the moon - orange, but with some topography visible - against a completely black background
The Sturgeon Supermoon

One of the real treats is the natural beauty. The ocean is not just a repetitive body of water, but an everchanging montage of colors and shapes. Sometimes a light green, to deep blue at other times. At night, the blanket of black is broken by the white foam of the bow waves and whitecaps. There are dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, not to mention all of the interesting creatures that come up on the longline. Sunsets never fail to disappoint, and then of course, the moonrises. We were lucky enough to be hauling in the longline when the Antares rocket was launched from Wallops Island, Virginia. We watched as the orange glow slowly receded into the clouds. Just a few minutes later, the Sturgeon Supermoon rose behind the clouds on the horizon. That was an incredible experience. There is always some new natural beauty to be found out here. Nature may be beautiful but it is not subject to our schedules.

Animals seen: spotted dolphins, laughing gulls, gag grouper, scamp grouper, oyster toadfish, bonita, great hammerhead, scalloped hammerhead, sucker fish

We had been watching these dolphins coming to the surface. This is the video we got when we retrieved the CTD.
oyster toadfish, photographed head-on, in a white plastic bin.
Oyster toadfish, watch out for those venomous spines.
Photo credit: John Brule

Did you know?

Have you ever had someone wish you “fair winds and following seas?” Josh explained this saying to me. While we were talking, the boat was rocking back and forth in 3-5 foot waves. Not a particularly smooth ride. He commented that, “It seems like we always find the trough.” I asked him what he meant. He explained that when waves are coming from one side or the other, this is said to be “in the trough.” The low point between waves is called the trough. The smoothest ride on a boat comes when the waves are coming from the stern, following the ship, so to speak. That would be the seas following the boat.

Martin McClure: Starting the Survey, July 30, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martin McClure

NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 25– August 9, 2023

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean

Date: July 30, 2023

Latitude: 31°21.967’N

Lonfitude: 80°12.135’W

Air Temperature: 27.5° C.

Wind Speed: 6.79 kph

Science and Technology Log: Longline Fishing

Teacher at Sea Stephen Kade created this graphic to help explain longline fishing.

We have started the longline survey and it is well organized and exciting. The first part of the process is called the set. We start the fishing process by baiting circle hooks. These hooks are attached to a 12 foot length of 3 mm line called a gangion (gan-jin). We use mackerel for bait. Each piece of fish is hooked through a circle hook.

Circle hooks ready for baiting

Next we drop over a buoy with a radar reflector on top called a hi flier. Attached to this is a 4 mm line called the main line. Then a weight is attached to the line and dropped. This anchors the beginning of the fishing line to the seafloor. Next, a numbered clip is attached to each gangion. The gangions are attached to the main line in order from 1- 50. A second weight is then attached to the main line and the process is repeated with gangions numbered 51- 100. A third weight is then attached to anchor this end of the line to the seafloor.

Tagging and attaching the gangions

Finally, a second hi flier buoy is attached and released to mark the end of the line.  As each of these steps is done a member of the team records it on a computer. This gives a precise time that each baited hook went in the water as well as when and where the anchors and buoys were released. 

Ready to drop the hi flyer

The next step is to take water measurements. This is done with a remarkable device called a CTD. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. Conductivity is related to how much salt is in the water (salinity) and is related to how well it will conduct electricity. It also measures the temperature and depth of the ocean at that spot. We attach a camera to it to see what the seafloor is made of at that spot. We want to know if it is a sandy bottom, sea grass, muddy, etc.  


Then we wait one hour. 

The second part of the process is called the haul. The haul is simply the set done in reverse, except that we often catch fish. The fishermen use a grappling hook to retrieve the main line attached to the hi flier.

Grappling hook ready to thrown

When it is brought on board, the main line is attached to a winch. The winch is used to pull the main line up of the seafloor. As the main line is pulled in the gangions are detached and replaced in a barrel, the numbered clips are detached and kept on a line in number order. That way,  everything is ready to be used for the next set. Whatever is on, or not on, the hook is recorded on the computer. If the bait is missing or damaged is noted.

Weighing a barracuda

Any fish caught is noted on the computer and the team jumps into action. For sharks there are several things that happen. They are identified by species. The hook is removed and the shark is weighed. It is then measured for three different lengths, precaudal (before the tail fin), fork (at the fork in the tail, and total (the end of the tail fin). The sex, male or female,  and maturity is determined. Tissue samples are taken by cutting off a small piece of a fin. This tissue sample is placed in a small plastic vial and labeled. They are also often given a numbered tag. This information is all recorded and entered into the computer. 

Me, tagging a sandbar shark.

Meet the Crew: Lieutenant James Freed

NOAA Corps Lieutenant James Freed is the operations officer for the Oregon II. He has many responsibilities as part of his job. Part of his job is to liaison, or maintain communication, between the science party and the ship’s commanding officer (CO). That means making sure that everything that the science team needs is on the ship. If the science team has needs then we would go through him and not directly to the CO. As Operations Officer he is also in charge of organizing materials when they come aboard the ship. He posts the Plan of the Day which lets everyone on board know what to expect that day. Lieutenant Freed coordinates port logistics for the ship. This means he coordinates the loading and unloading of materials. His duties also include acting as Officer of the Deck (OOD). During this 4 hour shift he is responsible for the ship’s navigation and safety. His emergency response assignments on the Oregon II include being the nozzleman on the fire team, launching life rafts for abandon ship and he goes out on the rescue boat for man overboard. 
Lieutenant Freed grew up in Santa Rosa, California. He attended Santa Rosa Junior College and then transferred to University of California, Santa Cruz where he studied marine biology. During this time he worked as an intern on a fishing vessel and this is where he first heard about the NOAA Corps. He has now been in the NOAA Corps for 6 years. Before being assigned to the Oregon II he was first assigned to the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada in Newport, Oregon. He then moved to Seattle working with the Marine Mammal Laboratory at Alaska Fisheries Science Center. For this assignment his duties were quite varied. They included doing a lot of field work, flying drones, and doing whale biopsies. 
Lieutenant Freed is clearly enthusiastic about his career in the NOAA Corps. He describes it as an “incredible career” that supports his growth with leadership and management training. The NOAA Corps is growing with new ships and aircraft and will need to recruit new members.. The ships participate in a wide variety of tasks including fisheries research, oceanographic and atmospheric data collection and hydrographic mapping. 

Personal Log

Well these last few days have been quite a transition. After 2 1/2 days of transit from Pascagoula, MS to Miami. It was a bit shocking to see how the skyline has changed after 40+ years. It has grown, to say the least. We started fishing just north of Miami. The 10 person science team is split into two shifts. I am on the “day” shift. We work from noon to midnight. These long shifts are filled with alternating periods of activity and waiting. After the set we wait for an hour before the haul. Then, depending on where the next set is, there will be another wait of between two to three hours. The hauls seem to follow the same patterns. As the mile of line is reeled in, there are long periods with not much happening. Then, there might be three fish online within a few hooks. Last night it was two baby tiger sharks and a 1200 mm (3 ft. 11 in.) barracuda within about 5 minutes. When there is a shark too big to haul up by hand on the gangion, the crane is used. We all don hardhats, the crane is moved into place and everyone is busy taking measurements, preparing tags, and taking tissue samples. I was warned to bring a lot of reading material for the down time and I did that. However, with so many things to learn, interesting people to talk to, and beautiful scenery to watch, I have had little time for boredom to creep in.

Ready to release a baby tiger shark.

One of the most common questions that I had before I left concerned getting motion sick. Dare I utter the word… seasick. So far, I have been lucky… hmm, I can’t seem to find any wood around here to knock on. I started the voyage with what I consider to be a rational decision, take the Dramamine. We started with two days of beautiful weather. By the first sign of rough seas I had stopped taking the Dramamine so I went outside and watched the horizon for about an hour. I decided that watching the horizon on a beautiful day at sea had no drawbacks. I never did feel nauseaus. Some people recomended that I buy the accupressure bands which I did. When seas get rough and I am inside I will sometimes wear those. I have not been seasick, yet. I still take precautions like not doing computer work inside when in rough seas but so far I have been fine. In fact, as far as I know none of the volunteers or crew have been sick.

I cannot end this blog without acknowledging the stewards in the gally and the impressive menu available at each meal. I think that there are always three choices for a main dish and a variety of sides. Additonally, a salad bar is always available, snacks, and my favorite, ice cream.

Just one of three delicious options that night

Animals seen: sea turtle, dolphin, snake fish, spotted eel, barracuda, shark sucker. Sharks: sandbar shark, tiger shark, Atlantic sharpnose shark, scalloped hammerhead

shame faced crab

Did you know?

Most of the fish that we catch have parasites living in and on them?

Martin McClure: Getting Acquainted, July 28, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martin McClure

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 25 – August 9, 2023

Mission: Shark/Snapper Long Line Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean

Date: Jul 28, 2023

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 25°49.441’N

Longitude: 79°59.970’W

Temperature: 30.5° Celcius

Wind Speed: 7 knots

a white ship in port, as seen from the dock, ahead of the bow. we can see the NOAA logo, the words NOAA R 332. the sky is blue and clear.
The Oregon II at dock in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Science and Technology Log

NOAA conducts the Shark/Snapper Longline Survey each year at the same time and place. It goes from July through September and surveys from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to West Palm Beach, FL, and the U.S. northern Gulf of Mexico from southwest Florida to Brownsville, TX. This is a longline survey and one mile of gear is baited and laid down for one hour.

When the line is reeled in, the science and fishing teams take them off the hooks and record data on the fish. The data gathered includes what species (kind of fish) are caught, if they are male or female, their age, weight and length. Additionally, the sharks will be tagged with a number and released.

The data collected will be used by NOAA to help manage the health of the fishery. It is one set of data that goes into deciding how many fish can be safely taken from the ocean each year. Without this information, fishermen might take too many fish to keep the population stable. 

a view up at four flags flown on a line, one after the other. the top is a navy blue flag with a black square. the second has vertical bands of red, white, and blue. the third is diagonally split between a lower yellow right triangle and an upper red right triangle. the last has horizontal bands of yellow, navy, yellow.
The Oregon II call sign flags, WTDO

NOAA Ship Oregon II is the ship that is used to conduct this survey each year. It takes a lot of people working together to accomplish this. The crew of the Oregon II is made up of several teams. Everyone has a job as a part of the team to make sure everything works as needed.

The NOAA Corps are the officers on the ship. They are responsible for the overall operation of the ship and are in charge of navigation, steering and everyone’s safety. They work in shifts from the “bridge.”

The engineering team makes sure that everything is working properly. This includes the engines, electrical systems, fresh water and the all-important air conditioning.

The deck crew includes the professional fisherman who do boat maintenance, prepare fishing gear as well as handle the big fish.

There are two stewards who prepare our meals and keep the dining area clean. They keep us well fed with several choices available at each meal three times a day.

The electronics department has just one person who is responsible to make sure all of the technology is working properly. That is a very big responsibility on this ship.

Finally, there is the science team. That is where I fit in. There are four NOAA scientists and six volunteers. I am one of the volunteers. The other volunteers are all university students. 

There are 29 people on board and everyone works on shifts. The ship operates 24 hours a day so all jobs must be done around the clock. Most teams have two shifts that each last for… you guessed it… twelve hours. 

Personal Log

These first few days have been spent getting acquainted with the layout of the ship, learning the routines of life on the ocean and the people on the ship. The most striking feature is that there seems to be an incredible amount of equipment  packed into such a small space. Everything a crew of 29 could need for three weeks, emergency equipment and replacement parts. Yet, in any one place, there is adequate room to move and work. I have a “stateroom” that I share with one other member of the science team. Each of us have a “rack” to sleep in, lockers and drawers for personal belongings as well as a fold out desk to work at. We also have a sink and mirror. All this in a room that is about 7’X10’.

view of Martin's stateroom. we see high sided bunk beds built into the wall, a sink and a cabinet, the edge of a desk and a desk chair, two backpacks.
stateroom with two berths

Rarely are we both in there but there is adequate room when that happens. The “passageways” are narrow and it takes coordination to pass another crewmember. The “mess” seats twelve people, at most, so we have to eat meals in shifts.

the mess, or dining area, of NOAA Ship Oregon II. there are two tables anchored to the floor by posts; each table has six swivel chairs anchored to the floor on posts, as at a diner. someone sits at one seat, facing away from the camera. there are two televisions mounted on the wall, one showing a baseball game. in the foreground is a small refrigerator with juices and tea.
NOAA Ship Oregon II‘s “mess” seats 12 people at most.

There are three bathrooms and two showers available for general use. Showers should be short to preserve water as well as to make it available for others to use. There are three different “gym” areas with equipment to work out in. My favorite is the flying bridge where you can look out over the ocean.

a view over the bow of NOAA Ship Oregon II, from high up. we can see the front mast, lines, part of a davit arm. the sky is blue, clear of clouds if a bit hazy on the horizon. the ocean is dark blue and calm.
view from the flying bridge of NOAA Ship Oregon II

Safety is a priority on board the ship. We start by using basic safety procedures while moving around the ship. While underway, the pitch (front to back motion) and roll (side to side motion) of the ship never stops. This becomes more or less pronounced depending on the weather.  So moving through the passageways and doorways and especially on the outside decks, one must be careful to use a hand to keep their balance. The stairwells are narrow and steep but negotiable. When using stairwells always have 3 points of contact, that means use two hands and then a foot is the third point of contact.

view down a narrow metal staircase. equipment is stashed on the other side of a railing to the right of the photo.
view down a stairwell on NOAA Ship Oregon II

Moving around comes more easily with time. No open toed shoes are to be worn except on the way to and from the shower. Safety equipment must be worn when working. We will be wearing hard hats, gloves, glasses and a work vest. The work vest looks a lot like a personal flotation device but flat. If you fall overboard it will automatically inflate. There is a lot of equipment and devices all over the ship for use in emergency situations.

firefighting equipment mounted on an interior wall: an axe (labeled "Oregon II"), a crow bar, a folded up fire hose. a red plaque on the wall reads FIRE STATION NO. 4.
firefighting equipment in case of emergencies

Fire extinguishers, AEDs, masks for smoke, and, of course, life rafts. We have to do drills to make sure that we know what to do in emergencies. 

four people stand on the aft deck "decked out" in firefighting gear. they wear yellow fireproof pants and jackets, heavy black and yellow boots, large yellow gloves, black or white helmets, gas masks, some sort of backpack. the sky is bright blue with some wispy clouds and the ocean is fairly calm.
our firefighting team
Martin stands on the aft deck in a heavy orange survival suit with his arms raised for the photo. it's only partially zipped, revealing his Teacher at Sea t-shirt underneath. He wears a Teacher at Sea hat and sunglasses. other survival suits and flotation devices rest on deck around him
That’s me in a “Gumby” suit for survival in case we have to abandon ship.

Did You Know?

Did you know that not all sharks reproduce the same way? Be sure to check future blogs to find out how. 

Animals Seen Today:

brown booby in flight
brown booby
the dorsal fin of a dolphin visible above water

and also: masked booby, swallow, flying fish, barracuda. 

Martin McClure: Looking Forward, July 19, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martin McClure

NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 25– August 9, 2023

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean

Date: July 19, 2023

A portrait photo of Martin wearing his navy blue NOAA Teacher at Sea t-shirt and navy blue NOAA Teacher at Sea hat

TAS ’23 Martin McClure

My name is Martin McClure and I am thrilled to have been selected as a Teacher At Sea and to be headed to the NOAA Ship Oregon II! We will be embarking from Pascagoula, Mississippi on July 25th and disembarking at Port Canaveral, Florida on August 9.

I teach third grade at Nokomis Elementary, The Greatest School In The Universe, in Ukiah, California. Ukiah is a thriving metropolis of about 17,000 people located about 2 hours north of San Francisco. The economy of our beautiful community is primarily agricultural and tourism based. We are known for pears, wine, and redwoods. The coast of Mendocino county is about an hour away, through the redwoods, and features beautiful cliffs, beaches and even the Lost Coast.

I grew up I n South Florida fishing in the mangroves and flats of the Everglades, Florida Bay, the Keys and Biscayne Bay so this is a bit of a return home for me. This will, however, be a very different endeavor. I look forward to being part of a science team collecting data. I want to learn about the sharks and other fish that we catch. I look forward to meeting and working with a variety of people from different professional backgrounds and regions.

I recently completed my 25th year of teaching as a classroom teacher and it has been quite a journey. I have taught grades K-6th and have enjoyed different aspects of each of them. Before becoming a classroom teacher, I taught English in Taiwan and traveled in China, Tibet, and Japan as well as working in schools in Philadelphia. Because I see how my own enthusiasm helps my students to connect with whatever I am teaching, I integrate my own interest in science, nature and the outdoors. The best that I can bring to my students is what I know and love. Through the Teacher At Sea program, I look forward to expanding my experiences and knowledge about applied science and careers at sea so that I can better bring the world of science to my students.

New Terms: Forward is a nautical directional term referring to the bow at the front of the ship while aft refers to the stern at the back of the ship.