Andrea Schmuttermair: Back On Solid Ground, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 7, 2012

Personal Log

As I write this final post, I sit at a cafe looking out at the Pacific Ocean. A cool ocean breeze kisses my face, and the smell of the salty sea air fills my nostrils. Different from the damp air and blazing sun that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, yet the ocean all the same. I know I am in my element, and will soak in as much ocean as possible before heading back to land-locked Colorado.

I have spent a lot of time this past week thinking about my trip on the Oregon II, at sea with people passionate about the work they do. I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have had this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity (although I am certain I will do this again) to not only participate in real-life science, but to be able to share this experience with my students.

scientists in the galley

A few of us scientists hanging out in the galley.

I have spent some time talking about the scientists that were on board with me on the Oregon II, and I must say that my experience would not have been the same had it not been for these people I worked so closely with. When traveling, it is not only important to see the sights and soak in the culture, but to also get to know the locals. Hear their story. Spend time with them. Listen to them. I placed as much importance on getting to know some of the scientists and crew on board as I did the work that we were doing. In that, I know I have made lasting relationships.

night shift

Our night shift team: Me, Alonzo, Lindsey, Alex, and Renee.

all scientists

All the scientists on the Oregon II

The more I talk to my friends and family and fellow teachers back at home, I am realizing that working on a ship is not for everyone. In fact, it takes a special person to spend a good portion of their years on a ship, away from friends and family, up to their elbows (quite literally) in fish. The adventurous side of me absolutely loved this, and hopes to do it again in the future. Alonzo, my watch leader, says I am welcome back any time. Well, Alonzo, I may just take you up on that one of these days.

Towards the end of my cruise, I had the opportunity to interview one of the junior NOAA Corps officers on board the Oregon II, ENS Junie Cassone. In her interview, she talks about life in the NOAA Corps and how one can become a NOAA Corps officer.

Watch the interview with ENS Cassone here: Interview with ENS Cassone.

My final post would not be complete without a few last critter pics, as I’ve started naming my ever-growing file. Here are some of my favorite critters from our last few trawls.

hermit crab

One cute little hermit crab!

seahorse

A seahorse we found amongst the Sargassum.

bashful crab 2

A flame-streaked box crab (Calappa flammea)- my new favorite of the bashful, or shameful, crabs

lion fish

Alex showing off one of his lionfish

To wrap up, I’d like to post one final Critter Query. When we brought up out trawls, I noticed some fish had this red bulge coming out of their mouths. I had never seen this before, and inquired what it was. Do you know what it is and what causes it?

fish

What is the red bulge coming out of the mouth of this fish and what is the cause of it?

Andrea Schmuttermair: A Lesson in Chemistry, July 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 1, 2012 

Ship  Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 2957.02N
Longitude: 8618.29W
Speed: 10 knots
Wind Speed: 9.65
Wind Direction: S/SE
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 28.2 C
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure: 1017 mb
Water Depth:  57.54 m

Science and Technology Log

water from CTD

Here I’m filling up the BOD jar with our salt water samples from the CTD cast.

Reminiscent of my days in high school chemistry, today I had the opportunity to work with our Chief Scientist, Brittany, on completing the daily titration. If you remember, getting readings on the dissolved oxygen in the water is an important part of this survey as we locate any hypoxic (less than 2 mg of oxygen per liter of water) zones or anoxic (no oxygen) zones. This is done with a computerized device on the CTD, but we want to make sure that our readings are accurate. Because “chemistry never lies”, this is how we ensure our readings are accurate.

With our CTD, we have the ability to collect water samples at various depths. We do not collect water samples at every CTD, but rather one or two a day during the daytime hours. We collect water from the bottom to see if there is any expansion of hypoxia.

orion meter

Using the Orion dissolved oxygen meter to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen in our sample.

When the CTD comes back up, we use an Orion dissolved oxygen meter, which is a handheld device, to get a dissolved oxygen reading from our samples. We put the probe on the end of the meter gently into the containers of water on the CTD to get our reading. We will use this number in conjunction with the information sent from the CTD to our dry lab to check against our titration results.

Once we have the reading with the probe, we are ready to take some samples for our titration. We then take the water samples in the cylinders, rinse out our 300 mL BOD (biological oxygen demand) glass bottles a few times with that water, and then fill the botttles up with the sea water from the bottom. These samples are brought back to our Chem Lab (short for chemistry, as I’m sure you figured out) where we will test the amount of dissolved oxygen.

adding manganese sulfate

Adding the manganese sulfate to our sample.

This is after I’ve added the manganese sulfate and iodide. Now we have to wait for it to settle.

We are using the Winkler method to find the amount of dissolved oxygen in our water samples. The first step in this process is to put 2mL of manganese sulfate into the bottle. After that, we also add 2 mL of azide- iodide. With those 2 chemicals added, we carefully replace the stopper and give the bottle a good shake. We then can wait about 10-15 minutes for the chemicals to settle at the bottom. Pipettes are used to add the liquids and allow us to be very precise in our measurements.

after settling 1

Here is our sample after it has settled.

After the particles have settled at the bottom, we add 2 mL of sulfuric acid (which can be a dangerous chemical if used inappropriately), replace the stopper, and shake the bottle again gently. The sulfuric acid “fixes” the solution. Finally we add 2 mL of starch to the solution, which is a blue indicator when we put it in but turns the solution a burnt orange color. Now we are ready to titrate!

adding to beaker

Our sample solution being poured into the beaker, ready for the titration. Inside the beaker is a magnetic stirrer.

finished titration

Now you can see the solution is clear in color, meaning our titration is finished. We are ready to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen.

Prepared beforehand was a burette filled with phenylarsine oxide, what we use to drip into the sample. We pour the sample into a beaker and place it on a magnetic plate. We’ve placed a magnetic stirrer in the beaker so it gently stirs the solution while we are titrating. We let the phenylarsine oxide slowly drip into the sample  until it turns clear. When it does this, we note the amount of phenylarsine oxide that we put in the sample (which is equivalent to the amount of oxygen in the water), and the number should match (or be very close) to the reading of dissolved oxygen that we received from the CTD and the Orion dissolved oxygen meter.

This process is quite simple yet yields important results and is just one of the ways scientists verify their data.

Bioluminscence

One other interesting thing happened the other night on one of our shifts. We had brought in a bongo tow and were looking into the codends to see what we got. When Alex began rinsing the sample with some salt water, the whole codend began to illuminate. Why did it illuminate? Bioluminescence.  Bioluminescence is essentially a chemical reaction that produces light. Many marine critters can produce bioluminescence, as seen below.

bioluminescence

Bioluminescence in our bongo tow.

Personal Log

One of the things I’ve probably enjoyed the most about my trip so far are the relationships I’ve formed with the people on board. As a teacher, one of my top priorities is to build and maintain relationships with my students, both past and present. That became a bit more of a challenge to me this past year as I took on a new position and began teaching 600 students rather than the 30 I was used to.

Alonzo

Our watch leader, Alonzo, waiting to weigh our next catch.

I’ve come to love working with the scientists on the night watch, as each of them brings something to the table. Our watch leader, Alonzo, has a wealth of knowledge that he gladly shares with each of us, pushing us to learn more and find the answer for ourselves. I’ve improved immensely on identifying the different fish, crabs and shrimp we find (thanks to Lindsey, who is my partner in crime for making up silly ways to remember these crazy Latin names for all our species). Where I came in knowing names of very few if any types of Gulf critters, I can now confidently identify 15-20 different species. I’m learning more about how to look for the subtle differences between different species, and Alonzo has been able to sit back and be that “guide on the side” while we work and input all of our data. His patient demeanor has allowed all of us to become more self-sufficient and to become more confident in the knowledge we have gained thus far on this trip.

Alex

Alex with a sharksucker

Alex, another one of the scientists on my watch, shows an endless enthusiasm for marine science. He shares in my excitement when a trawl comes up, and the both of us rush out there to watch the net come up, often guessing how big we think the catch is going to be. Will it fill one basket? Two? Six? It’s even more exciting when we get inside and lay it out on the conveyor belt and can really examine everything carefully. His wish finally came true today as we are now in the eastern part of the Gulf. Alex is studying lionfish (Pterois volitans) for his research, and of course has been hoping to catch some. Today we caught 4, along with a multitude of other unique critters that we have not seen yet. Alex’s enthusiasm and passion for science is something I hope my students can find, whether it be in marine science, biology, or meteorology- whatever it is they love is what I hope they pursue.

Lindsey

Lindsey and Alex, getting ready to work.

Lindsey and Renee are both graduate students. Rene wanted to gain some experience and came on the ship as a volunteer. What a better way to get a hands-on experience! Lindsey has joined us on this cruise because she is doing research on Sargassum communities. She has been able to collect quite a few Sargassum  samples to include in her research for her thesis. Lindsey, like Alex, is very passionate and excited about what she does. I’ve never seen someone more excited to pull up a net full of Sargassum (which I’m sure you remember is a type of seaweed) in order to sift through and find critters. She has a great eye, though, because she always manages to find even the tiniest of critters in her samples. Just yesterday she found a baby seahorse that couldn’t have been more than a few millimeters long! Outside I hear her giggle with glee- I know this is because she has found a Sargassum fish, which is her all-time favorite.

deck crew

Our night shift deck crew- Tim, Chuck and Reggie

Our night watch would not be complete without the deck crew, Tim, Reggie and Chuck, who are responsible for helping us lower the CTD, Neuston and bongo tows, and for the trawl net. Our work could not be done without them.

William, one of our engineers, took me down into the engine room the other day. First impressions- it was hot and noisy! It was neat to see all the different machines. The ship makes its own water using a reverse osmosis system, which takes water from the ocean and converts it into drinking water for us (this water is also used for showers and sinks on board). One interesting note is that the toilets actually use salt water rather than fresh water so that we conserve our fresh water.

reverse osmosis

Our reverse osmosis systems.

I cannot believe how fast this leg has gone and that we only have a few more shifts to go before we return to the Oregon II’s  home port of Pascagoula. As we’ve moved into the eastern waters of the Gulf, we have seen a lot of different types of critters. On average, our most recent trawls have been much more brightly colored. We are near some coral reefs too- in our trawls we have pulled up a bit of coral and sponge. The markings on some of the fish are very intriguing, and even fish we’ve seen before seem to be just a little brighter in color out here.

Due to the fact that we are finding very different critters, my list of favorites for today has greatly increased! Here are just a few:

scorpion fish

The mouth of a scorpion fish. We’ve caught a bunch of these since we hit the eastern Gulf.

sea horse

A baby seahorse we pulled out of our Neuston tow. He was hiding in the Sargassum.

red snapper

One of our biggest red snappers.

box crab

This is another type of bashful crab, also known as the flame-streaked box crab (Calappa flammea).

octopus

This octopus sure liked my hard hat!

Andrea Schmuttermair: Collecting Data, June 30, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 30, 2012

Ship  Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 2830.05N
Longitude: 8955.4W
Speed: 10 knots
Wind Speed: 7.11
Wind Direction: S/SW
Surface Water Salinity: 29.3
Air Temperature: 28.4C
Relative Humidity: 63%
Barometric Pressure: 1012 mb
Water Depth: 257.19m

Don’t forget to follow the Oregon II at: www.shiptracker.noaa.gov

Science and Technology Log

fish board

This is the fish board we use for measuring each critter in our sample.

Now that we’ve talked about how we collect, sort, and measure our catch, let’s take a closer look at the way we measure, weigh and sex our critters.

When measuring the critters, we use a fish board that is activated by a magnetic wand to measure the animal to the nearest millimeter.

When the fish is placed on the measuring line, we touch the magnetic wand to the board and the length is recorded into our computer program, FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).

Depending on the type of fish we catch, there are different ways to measure it.

scorpion fish total legnth

Here is Alex measuring the total length of our scorpion fish.

total length measurement

This is how we would measure a fish for its standard length, which is just before the tail fin starts.

fork length measure

This is how we would measure a fish for its fork length.

Cutlass measuring

For fish such as this cutlassfish, we measure the length from the head down to the anus, as seen here on the board.

When we are done measuring, the fish is placed on a scale to determine its weight to the nearest gram. When we confirm the weight of the fish, that weight is automatically put in the computer for us- no need to enter it manually.

Our last task is to determine the sex of the fish. For many fish, this is done by making an incision in the belly of the fish from their anus to their pelvic fins. It’s easiest to determine the sex when it is a female with eggs. In the males, you can see milt, or sperm, which is a milky white color.

male fish

This is a male fish. Notice the arrow pointing to the testes.

female fish

Here we have a female fish.

For the flatfish, you can see the female’s ovaries when you hold the fish up to the light. Males lack this feature.

male flat fish

This is a male flat fish.

female flat fish

Here we have a female flat fish- notice her gonads.

Because we were catching quite a few shrimp earlier in the leg, I got pretty good at sexing the shrimp. Remember, we take samples of 200 for each type of shrimp, and we often had more than one type of shrimp in each trawl. Male shrimp have a pestama on their first pleura to attach onto the females. The females are lacking this part. Although it’s not necessarily an indication of sex, on average the female shrimp tend to be larger than the males.

male shrimp

Here is a male shrimp.

female shrimp

Here we have a female shrimp, which is lacking a pestama.

You  know from my previous post what we do with the data we gather from the shrimp, but what about the other fish? With the other fish and critters we catch, we use the data to compare the distribution across the Gulf and to compare it to the historical data we’ve collected in the past to look for trends and changes.

Sometimes scientists also have special requests for samples of a certain species. Some scientists are doing diet studies to learn more about what certain types of fish eat.  Other studies include: species verification, geographic range extensions, age and growth, and distribution. Through our program, we have the ability to create tags for the scientists requesting the samples, allowing us to bag and freeze them to send to labs when we return to land.

showers

There are 2 communal showers for our use on the bottom deck.

Personal Log

I’ve had a few people ask me what the living quarters and the food is like on the ship, so I wandered around the ship with my camera the other day to snap some shots of the inside of the Oregon II. There are 17 staterooms on board. Most of the staterooms are doubles, such as mine, and are equipped with bunk beds to sleep on. It makes me reminisce of my days at camp, as it’s been a while since I’ve slept on a bunk bed! We have a sink and some cabinets to store our belongings. Once a week they do room inspections to ensure our rooms are neat and orderly. Most importantly, they want to make sure that our belongings are put away. If we hit rough waters, something such as a water bottle could become a dangerous projectile.

Walter, doing what he loves

My stateroom is on the bottom deck, where there are also communal showers and toilets for us to use. We can do our laundry down here, providing the seas aren’t too rough. Most of the staterooms are on this bottom deck, as the upper 2 levels are the “living areas” of the ship. On the main deck is the galley, where we eat all our meals, or where we head to when we are trying to make it through the shift to grab a snack or a cup of coffee. This tends to be right around 4:30/5:00am for me, especially when we aren’t too busy. I’ve gotten used to the night shift now, but it still can be tiring, especially when we have a long wait in between stations. Our stewards take very good care of us, and there is always something to snack on. Meals have been pretty tasty too, with plenty of fresh seafood. My favorite!

chart room

Junie, one of the NOAA Corps officers, working in the chart room on the navigational charts

On the top deck we have the lounge, a place where we hang out in between shifts. We have quite a good movie selection on board, but to be honest we haven’t had the time to take advantage of it. They’ve kept us very busy on our shifts so far, and today is one of the first days we’ve had a lot of downtime. Outside we also have some workout equipment- a bike and a rowing machine- to use on our off time. When you set the rowing machine out on deck, it’s almost like you are rowing right on the ocean!

dive

LT Harris, LT Miller, and Chris getting ready for the dive. Jeff and Reggie help them prepare.

The other day, 2 of the NOAA Corps officers, LT Harris and LT Miller (who is also the XO for the Oregon II) and 2 of the deck crew, Chris and Tim, got ready to go out on a dive. NOAA Corps officers need to do a dive once a month to keep up their certification. Sometimes they may need to fix something that is wrong with the boat, and other dives are to practice certain dive skills. They dove in the Flower Gardens, which is a national marine sanctuary with a wide diversity of sea life. I was hoping they’d see a whale shark, but no such luck. We stopped all operations for the duration of their dive.

Favorite Catch of the Day: Here are a few cool critters we pulled up today. In addition to these critters, we also started seeing some sea stars, lots of scallops, and a variety of shells.

angel shark

An angel shark

jelly soup

How about some jelly soup?
(there are about 500 jellies in there!)

large flounder

Southern Flounder

roundel skate

A roundel skate

Critter Query: This isn’t a critter question today, but rather a little bit of NOAA trivia. 

What is the oldest ship in the NOAA fleet and where is its home port?

Don’t forget to leave your answers in the comments below!

Andrea Schmuttermair: Tows Away! June 26, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2012 

Ship  Data from the Bridge:
Latitude:  2805.26N
Longitude: 9234.19W
Speed:  10mph
Wind Speed:  5.86 knots
Wind Direction:   E/SE
Surface Water Salinity:  35.867 PPT
Air Temperature:  28.8 C
Relative Humidity: 86%
Barometric Pressure:  1010.51 mb
Water Depth:  96.5 m

Science and Technology Log


Sunrise

Sunrise on the Oregon II

Opisthonema oglinum, Lagadon rhomboides, Chloroscombus chrysurus…..yes, I have officially started dreaming about taxonomic names of our fish. It’s day 4 and I now have a much better grasp at identifying the variety of critters we pull up in our trawls. I am always excited to be out on deck when they bring up the trawl to see what interesting critters we catch. Surprises are great!

Do you want to know where the Oregon II is headed?

Check out Ship Tracker at http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/

If you click on the link above, you can see the path that our ship is taking to hit all of our stations for the survey. We often have station after station to hit- meaning as soon as we are done sorting and measuring, we have to bring in the next catch. Because some stations are only 3-5 miles apart, we sometimes have to do “double dips”, where we put in the trawl for 30 minutes, pull it up, and put it right back in again.

It’s been interesting to note the variety of our catches. Croakers, bumperfish, and shrimp have been in high abundance the last 2 days as we were in shallower water. Before that we had a couple of catches that had a high abundance of pinfish. When we take our subsample, we typically enter data for up to 20 of that particular species. We take length measurements on each fish, and on every fifth fish. We will also weigh and sex it (if sexing is possible).

Shrimp in the Gulf

A comparison of the various sizes of shrimp we pull up from our trawls.

Shrimp waiting to be measures

A relatively small catch in comparison to the 200+ we’ve been pulling up recently.

When we were in shallower waters, we had a significant increase in the number of shrimp we brought up. Tuesday morning was the first catch that did not have well over 200 shrimp (this is because we’ve been moving into deeper waters).  For the 3 commercial shrimp, white (farfantepenaeus setiferus), pink (farfantepenaeus duorarum), and brown (farfantepenaeus aztecus), we take 200 samples, as opposed to our high-quantity fish, where we will only take 20 samples. For each of the commercial shrimp we catch, we measure, weigh and sex each shrimp. I’ve gotten very good at identifying the sex of shrimp- some of the fish are much more difficult to tell. The information we get from this survey will determine the amount of shrimp that boats can take during the shrimping season in Louisiana and Mississippi. During the first leg of the groundfish survey, the data collected determined the amount of shrimp that could be caught in Texas. The groundfish survey is crucial for the shrimping industry and for ensuring that shrimp are not overfished.

Students- think of the food chain. What would happen if we overfished and took out too many shrimp? (Hint: Think of predators and prey.)

Sunrise

The trawl net at sunrise

We’ve now started doing 2 different tows  in addition to our trawls. Some of the stations are trawl stations, whereas others are plankton stations.

The trawl on deck

Alex, Alonzo and Reggie unloading the trawl net.

At a trawl station, we lower the trawl from the stern down to the ocean floor. The trawl net is meant for catching larger critters that live at the bottom of the ocean. There is a chain, also known as a “tickler”, which moves lightly across the ocean floor to lure fish to leave their hiding spots and swim into our net. The trawl is down for 30 minutes, after which it is brought back on deck to weigh the total catch, and then brought back into the wet lab for sorting.

Another important mission of the groundfish survey is to collect plankton samples. To do this, we use a Neuston tow and a bongo tow.

neuston tow

The Neuston tow about to pick up a lot of Sargassum- oh no!

The Neuston tow has a large, rectangular frame with a fine mesh net attached to it. At the end of the net is a large cylindrical bucket, called a codend, with a mesh screen meant for catching the organisms. In comparison to the trawl net, which has openings of 41.4mm , the Neuston’s mesh is only 0.947mm. This means the mesh is significantly finer, meant for catching some of the smaller critters and plankton that would otherwise escape the trawl net. The Neuston tow is put on the surface of the water and towed for 10 minutes. Half the tow is in the water while half is out. We end up picking up a lot of Sargassum, or, seaweed, that is found floating at the water’s surface. When we gather a lot of Sargassum, we have to sift through it and spray it to get out any of the organisms that like to hide in their protective paradise.

Bongo tow

The bongo tow on deck waiting to be sent down to about 3m from the ocean floor.

After we’ve completed the Neuston tow, we do the bongo tow.  The bongo’s mesh is even finer than the Neuston tow’s mesh at only 0.333mm. The bongo has 2 parts- a left and a right bongo (and yes they do look a little like bongo drums- hence their name). The top part of the bongo is a large cylinder with an open bottom and top. The net is attached to this cylinder, and again at the bottom of each side is cylindrical tube  called codends meant to catch the plankton. The bongo tow is meant to take a sample from the entire water column. This means that instead of riding on the surface of the water, it gets sent down to about 3 meters from the ocean floor (there is a sensor at the top that is 2m from the bottom of the net)  and brought back up immediately.

Sifting through the sieve

The remnants from our Neuston tow. This is the sieve we use to weed out what we want and don’t want.

bongo leftover

Here are our 2 samples from the bongo tow. The left one is preserved in ethanol and the right is preserved in formaldehyde (10% formalin and sea water)

Neuston tow samples

Here is a sample from the Neuston tow. Carefully camouflaged are thousands of crab megalops, aka juvenille crabs.

For both tows, it is important to rinse the nets to get any lasting organisms we might not see with our own eyes into our sample. Once we’ve done this, we bring the tubes back into the wet lab where we continue to rinse them through a sieve so that only certain items are leftover. In the Neuston, we often find small fish (usually less than 3mm), baby shrimp, crabs and Jessica’s favorite, the Sargassum fish. Most recently a few flying fish got caught in our Neuston tow. Prior to pulling it up, I was enjoying watching them flit across the water- they were about all we could see in the water in the middle of the night. After being rinsed thoroughly through the sieve, we preserve them by placing the sample in a glass jar with either ethanol or formaldehyde solutions. They are preserved in ethanol for DNA work and in formaldehyde for long-term preservation. These samples are then saved to send to a lab in Poland, which is the sorting center for the SEAMAP samples.

Flying fish

Flying fish we pulled up in our Neuston tow at nighttime.

Personal Log

My stateroom

My sleeping quarters (top bunk), also known as a stateroom. My roommate is Kristin, one of the scientists on board.

Well, I think I am finally getting used to the schedule of working the night shift. I am thankful that my bunk is on the bottom floor of the ship- which means it is completely dark- so that I can sleep during the daytime. Yesterday was probably one of the least busy days we’ve had so far, and because we were in deeper waters, our trawls were much smaller. This means I had a little more time to work on my blogs, which at times can be hard to fit in. It amazes me that we have internet access on the ship, and it’s not even as slow as I expected. It goes down from time to time, especially when the waters are rough. We’ve been fortunate to have pretty calm waters, aside from the first day.

You may have heard about Hurricane Debby on the news as it prepared to hit the Gulf. On Sunday, we were heavily debating heading back to Galveston to “bunker down” and ride out the storm. However, the storm that was forming seemed to dissipate and head in a different direction, thank goodness.  I was not thrilled about the possibility of heading back to port!

We had our first drills the day after we set sail. The drills- fire and abandon ship are distinguished by different types of bells, similar to using Morse code. The abandon ship drill was fun. We got to put on our survival suit, which is like a big orange Gumby suit. It not only protects you in cold water, but also makes you highly visible. I remember reading some of the former TAS blogs, and this picture was always in. Of course, I’ve got to add mine as well.

Survival Suit

Here I am in my survival suit. Judd also decided to be in the picture. 🙂

I’ve been having fun exploring different areas of the ship, even though there is only so far you can go on the ship. Yesterday, I went up to the bridge, which is the front of the ship where the captain or the NOAA Corps officers steer the ship from. You can think of it like a control center of an airplane. There are navigation charts (both computerized and paper) and radars that help guide the ship so it knows what obstacles are out there. There is a great view from the bridge that you don’t get anywhere else on the ship. It’s also fun to watch the folks down on deck when they are deploying the CTD or either of the 2 tows.

We’ve caught such an abundance of critters, I thought I’d share some of my favorite catches thus far:

cownose ray

Here I am holding a cownose ray (Rhinoptera bonasus)- my favorite catch yet. He weighed about 25lbs! This one was the highlight of my day as rays are some of my favorite ocean critters!

Atlantic sharpnose shark

One of the 4 Atlantic sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) we’ve caught so far.

Sharksucker
A sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)- these guys hang onto sharks to catch a ride- he’s still alive so is able to hang onto my arm!

Critter Query Time!

Critter Query #1: What is a fathom (in your own words please)?

Critter Query #2: What are the differences between skates and rays?

Andrea Schmuttermair: Out to Sea, June 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 24, 2012

Ship Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 2858 N
Longitude: 9310.96 W
Speed:  10 mph
Wind Speed: 6.77
Wind Direction: N/NE
Surface Water Salinity: 30.9
Air Temperature: 28.5 C
Relative Humidity: 79%
Barometric Pressure: 1009.84 mb
Water Depth:  24.3 meters

 Personal Log

About ready to set sail!

About ready to set sail!

And the journey has begun! I arrived in Houston on Thursday afternoon, only to be whisked away by Chief Scientist Andre DeBose to meet a few of the other scientists and crew for dinner. I had a great time getting to know a few of the people I will be working with over the next couple of weeks. We arrived to the port at Galveston about 10pm, where I got a quick tour of the Oregon II, my home for the next 2 weeks. Exhausted from traveling, I made myself at home in my stateroom before turning in for the evening.

Because we weren’t scheduled to set sail until 1400, I had a bit of time in the morning to explore Galveston. Being the adventurous type , I took this time to explore the land I would soon be leaving. The Oregon II is docked at Pier 21, located on “The Strand”, a strip filled with historic buildings and tourist shops.  I spent most of my morning snapping photos, checking out the shops, and tracking down a good breakfast burrito at one
of the many Mexican food places that don the strip.

The pier in Galveston

The pier in Galveston

Once back at the ship, we were briefed on the “Do’s and Don’ts” while on board, and what our shifts would look like. I am on the night watch, which means I will be working from midnight until noon each day. This will be a tough schedule to get used to, but I’m hoping we’ll see some neat things at night, and that it will be a little cooler out. I knew I should get to sleep as soon as we set sail, however I couldn’t help hanging out on deck for a little while as we left the port. I was rewarded for this opportunity by watching the pelicans and dolphins seeing our ship out of the port. I snapped a few more photos, enjoyed the cool breeze, and then headed down for bed.

I had quite a blast on my first night shift. I think keeping busy was a good thing, even though it was exhausting. I enjoyed getting to know my team a little better, and of course, checking out all the critters! Some of my favorites were the squid, sharp-nose and dogfish sharks, lizardfish, and my all-time favorite so far – the bashful crab.

Why do you think he is called the "bashful crab"?

Why do you think he is called the “bashful crab”?

Science and Technology Log

I am always under the mindset that if you want to learn something, you need to throw yourself in head first. Well, that’s exactly what I did on my very first shift on the Oregon II. We are split up into 2 shifts — midnight to noon or noon to midnight. On my watch, I am working with our watch leader, Alonzo, 2 scientists, Lindsey and Alex, and a volunteer, Renee. Our Field Party Chief Scientist (FPC), Andre, had to leave unexpectedly. Our new FPC, Brittany, was with us a bit of this first watch to make sure we understood our tasks, as I had lots of questions! Not only did I get the privilege to work the nightshift (I know you’re probably wondering why I said privilege  — I’ll explain soon), but we also had one of the busiest shifts we’re anticipated to have for the length of this cruise. Just after midnight on Saturday morning, we pulled up our first trawl and conducted our first CTD.

The CTD warming up just below the water's surface

The CTD warming up just below the water’s surface

Rinsing out the CTD with freshwater

Rinsing out the CTD with freshwater

A CTD, if you remember from my first blog, stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. We put the device overboard in the front of the ship (the bow), and let it sit just below the surface for about 3 minutes so the sensors can warm up before we drop it to its scheduled depth. Then we lower it so it is as close to the ocean floor as possible. We do this at every station to collect important information about the oxygen level in the water in these areas. This information is important because we want to find out what the optimal conditions (temperature, salinity and oxygen levels) are for the specimens we collect. Knowing what environmental conditions suit each species allows us to see how shifts in the environment can impact populations. The data from the CTD is displayed on the computer in our dry lab, where the data points are plotted on a graph.

The dry lab is where we process a lot of our data both from the CTD and the sampling. We can monitor our CTD casts and find the weather information here. It is also the area where scientists go when there is a bit of downtime to relax before the next catch is brought in.

Bringing up the trawl- this was a big catch!

Bringing up the trawl — this was a big catch!

Working in the dry lab

Over in the back of the ship, also known as the stern, the trawl picks up all sorts of critters from the ocean bottom. When we’re ready, the deck crew helps us bring up the trawl and dump our catch into large buckets on deck.  We had so much on the first catch that they dumped it out on the floor and we shoveled it into buckets like we were shoveling snow. We then weighed our catch before bringing it in and sorting it. Our first few catches were quite large — we had 6 or 7 baskets full of critters! Each basket can hold roughly 25kg. So, mathematicians, about how many kilograms were our first couple of catches? The nighttime brings on some interesting animals, and there is a certain excitement to staring out at the pitch black ocean.

Our troughs full of the catch, waiting to be sorted

Our troughs full of the catch, waiting to be sorted

With these large catches, jumping in head first was exactly what I had to do. I got a quick crash course in how to identify and sort the fish. I had no idea there would be so many different types! From the entire catch, we were to pull out red snapper, shrimp (pink, white and brown only), blue crabs, and anything unusual. We did this by dumping all the fish in a large trough, which we would then dig through to find our samples and place them in separate baskets.

We are pulling out samples primarily of shrimp because that is one of the main focuses of our survey this summer. The estimated abundance of shrimp, calculated from the trawl catches, is used to set limits for the commercial fishermen.

In addition to sorting out these important critters, we would also take what we call a subsample, the size of which is determined by the size of our total catch. Of this subsample, we sorted out everything in this section of the catch. We often had over 20 different types fish or crustaceans! Once the subsample was sorted, Alonzo would then weigh the total weight of a certain species and enter the data into our computer system. From here the fun part really began.

Lindsey is measuring, weighing and sexing the catch while I enter the data into the computer.

Lindsey is measuring, weighing and sexing the catch while I enter the data into the computer.

Weighing the lizardfish

Weighing the lizardfish

We would measure the length of each critter on our measuring board, which uses a magnetic wand to capture the data and send it directly to the computer database. For most of the species, we would also take the weight of the first fish and every fifth fish thereafter, and, if possible, also determine its sex and stage of maturity. All this information was entered in the database. We typically worked in teams of 2 with one person measuring and weighing the fish and the other entering information into the computer. We were a bit slow to start, but after the first catch we had a system down. Once we had all of our data, we bagged up some of the fish that people have requested for samples while the rest headed back to the ocean. Fish from our survey will go to scientists in lab across the country to study further.

Because all the stations were about 2-5 miles apart on our first watch, we were working nonstop from midnight until about 11am. We pulled up about 7 catches, and almost always had a catch waiting to be sorted on deck.

Hard at work measuring my lizardfish

Hard at work measuring my lizardfish

Got Questions?

Don’t forget, you can leave your questions in the “Comments” section below, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Critter Query:

Students: Don’t forget to put your name in your response.  Remember, the first one to respond correctly will receive a prize in the fall!

Critter Query #1: What’s the biggest commercial shrimp found in the Gulf of Mexico and what is its scientific name?

Critter Query #2: Name 3 types of shark found in the Gulf of Mexico.  (more than one correct response — all correct responses will receive a prize providing there are no repeats)

Andrea Schmuttermair: Eager Anticipation from Land-locked Colorado, June 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (between Galveston TX and Pascagoula, MS)
Date: June 7, 2012

Personal Log (pre-cruise)

What does

      +     +       =   ?

That’s right! Ms. Schmuttermair is heading to sea this summer as a participant in NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program!

Me and my forever hiking pal, Wesson

Hi! My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am a 3-6 grade science teacher at The Academy in Westminster, CO.  I just finished up my first year in this position, and absolutely love engaging my students in important science concepts. Outside of the classroom, I can be found hiking, biking, and exploring the mountains of beautiful Colorado with my dog, Wesson.

Growing up in San Diego, CA, I would definitely consider myself an “ocean lover”. I grew up spending countless hours at the beach, checking out the sea life that washed up in the tide pools and snorkeling in La Jolla Cove. When I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, I knew it was right up my alley. Living in land-locked Colorado, I strive to bring both my love and knowledge of the ocean to my students. One of the most memorable teaching moments for me this year was seeing my 3rd graders have that “Aha!” moment when they realized what we do here in Colorado greatly affects our oceans, even though they are hundreds of miles away.

Now, in just a couple short weeks, I will  don my sea legs, leave dry land behind, and set sail on the Oregon II. The Oregon II, one of NOAA’s 11 fishery vessels, conducts fishery and marine research to help ensure that our fish population in the ocean is sustainable. Fishery vessels work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide important information about fish populations and what regulations about fishing practices need to be in place.

This summer, we will be conducting the summer groundfish survey, a survey that has been conducted for the past 30 years. This particular survey is conducted during the summer months between Alabama and Mexico. On this second leg of the survey, we will be sailing from Galveston, TX to the Oregon II’s home port of Pascagoula, MS.


What exactly is a groundfish survey, you ask? When I first received my acceptance letter, they informed me that this was the “critter cruise”, and I, being the critter lover, was thrilled! The main goal of this survey is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth. In addition to collecting shrimp samples, we may also collect samples of bottomfish and crustaceans. It will also be important to collect meteorological data while out at sea. I am excited to see what kind of critters we pull up!

Ms. Schmuttermair LOVES critters, as seen here with Rosy the scorpion.

How will we be catching all of these critters and collecting data while out at sea? The Oregon II has a variety of devices to help collect information about the ocean, including bottom trawls and a CTD. The bottom trawl is a large net that is towed to collect shrimp and other bottom dwellers that will be sorted once the catch is brought aboard. A CTD (stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) is an instrument that can collect a wide variety of data, including temperature, salinity and oxygen content. I can’t wait to learn how some of these tools are operated!

What are my goals while out at sea?

  • To learn as much about the environment I am in as possible.
  • To ask the scientists plenty of questions about their research, and why collecting data is so important.
  • To take many pictures to bring back to my students
  • To get to know the crew on board, and how they came to work on the Oregon II
  • Not getting seasick!

Now it’s your turn: What would YOU like to know more about? Is it more about the animals we bring up in our trawls? Maybe it’s to learn more about life on the Oregon II, and specifications about this ship. Perhaps you’d like to know how to become a scientist with NOAA and work on board one of their many ships.  Leave your questions in the “Comments” section below (you are welcome to do this in any of my entries), and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the challenge questions, which from this point forward I will refer to as the “Critter Query”.