Annmarie Babicki, August 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 27, 2010

Before I left for this cruise, I believed this would be a once in a lifetime experience.  This trip exceeded all of my expectations and was due to everyone on board the Oregon II.  I am forever grateful for all that I learned from all of you.  I left the Gulf not just with knowledge about species of sharks, but also about what and how scientists collect data.  There’s a great deal of responsibility in knowing that the data you collect, will be used to determine policy, which will impact the lives of so many people who live in the Gulf.
Your admiration, respect and compassion for sharks was evident in so many ways. You introduced me to some of the most beautiful and powerful creatures on this earth and I thank you for that. I am so very grateful to Trey for being open to having me as part of his team. He listened to and answered my many questions and was indeed very patient with me.  I will bring back to my young students not only what I have been taught, but also the passion, I too, now feel for these animals.  My hope is that it will inspire some of them to think about becoming scientists.
Rainbow from the Oregon II
To NOAA’s Captain Dave and his very capable and wonderful crew, I would like you to know how much I appreciate you sharing your lives and expertise with me.  I know that for much of the year, the Oregon II is your home and I am grateful that you were willing to share it with me.  You are all so knowledgeable in what you do and I felt very safe on board your ship.  The teamwork that I witnessed was impressive and you made running and driving the ship seem so easy.  I will certainly convey to my students the role that your teamwork played in making our trip a successful and productive one.   One of my goals upon returning to school will be to share your stories and the work you do.  I want my students to know about the many career opportunities that are available to them if they have a love for the ocean. It could be that your story will be their inspiration.
I am very grateful to all of you for this incredible journey.  I feel blessed to have so many memories that will last a lifetime.  Safe Travel.
Sunset from the Oregon II

Annmarie Babicki, August 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date  August 20, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:  28.52 degrees North
Longitude:  85.52 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds:  10.37 kts.
Waves:  2-3 Feet
Air Temperature: 31.3 degrees C or 88 degrees F
Water Temperature:  29.7 degrees C or 85 degrees F
Barometric Pressure:  1014.28
Bull shark in the cradle

Science and Technology:

  There have been a couple of times when we have worked through a station and have not caught a fish.  That has been very discouraging and rather boring.  However, we had several stations that made up on it and we could barely keep up with bringing in the catch.  One catch, we caught seven sharks that needed to be put in the cradle because they were so large.
Underside of a bull shark
Bull sharks can be dangerous in the Gulf area because they swim in shallow waters where recreational activities take place.  They are one of the most abundant species of sharks, so you do have to be watchful of them.  It is fairly easy to recognize them because of the width of their midsection is and by their rounded nose.  The bull shark was a big male weighing 130 lb.  The black lines you can see just behind his head are the gills slits.  It’s amazing to think that he was enticed with a three inch piece of mackerel. This was only  second bull shark we have caught on our trip thus far.  The night shift also caught one and they were as excited as we were.
We also caught three sandbar sharks, which is the most common large shark we are catching out here.  They ranged in weight from 82 lb. to 136 lb.  Their colors vary from being a light sandy color to a grayish brown.  We had one fighter that thrashed around in the cradle.  The scientists was able  to calm it down, so that it did not hurt itself.  I made a video of one of the catches and it took the scientist and his assistants three min. to weigh, measure, tag and get the hook out of that shark.  I did tag a sandbar shark, but generally do not handle the really big ones.  This expert shark scientist is so skilled at handling sharks and the collecting of data he needs without stressing the sharks. I am in awe of his work and I very much admire the work he is doing to protect the shark populations in the Gulf.
We have caught several little sharks from the dogfish family that are not easily identifiable just by observing them. In order to identify them, the scientist takes a biopsy punch, which takes a small piece     (approx. .8 cm.) of skin just below the dorsal fin. It doesn’t hurt the shark and does not go deep into the muscle tissue. When the DNA testing is completed, the scientist will have the correct genus and species of the shark, which they can then enter into their data base.  Having accurate data is a must.  Without valid data, the shark populations will not be managed properly, which impacts sharks and fisheries.
Two embryos from a sharpnose shark
Another small shark that we caught was the sharpnose shark, which we dissected a few days ago.  Once again it was dissected and the data was collected on the female and her embryos.  They were measured and were old enough that the sex could be determined.  That was amazing to me as they were so small and translucent.  I will be bringing two of the embryos home with me.  I am sure my students will be excited them because you really can see their shark features.
In addition to the scientists on board, we have two contracted bird watchers, who have come to observe birds in the Gulf.  What has brought them here is in part the impact of the oil spill on the birds in open waters.  The other reason is that there have been few studies of Gulf birds, so at the very least they have begun to set a baseline for the species and populations.  Early on in our trip, we saw a very small bird called a cliff swallow that was migrating south to Argentina, which is its home.  It was fun to watch how they glided as they circled the ship.  It was aerodynamics at its best.  I was told that in February or earlier, it flies to North America where is mates and bears its young.  These birds travel this distance every year, which may account for why they live only 2 or 3 years.
A cliff swallow

 Personal Log

I have interviewed many of the officers and members of the science team since I arrived.  They come from diverse backgrounds and their journeys coming on the Oregon II are also very different.  Everyone has been very helpful and kind, even though I have so many questions that are both personal and professional in nature.  I look forward to sharing their stories with my students.
Sleeping has been a little more difficult for the past couple days.  I think it is the constant running of the engines.  I have not experience any soundless time, which I often have at home.  It will be nice to get home where it is quiet.  The crew has informed me that the lack of noise may bother me because it does them whenever they return from a trip.  They also stated that I will need a couple of days to adjust to land life.  I hope not since I start school on Thursday!
I will complete one more blog
“Animals Seen Today”  blacktip shark tiger shark, sharpnose.  yellow wedge grouper, golden tile fish, king snake eel.
Did You Know” that if a  hook is left in a shark’s mouth, it will rust out and the shark will expel what is left.

Annmarie Babicki, August 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date  August 17, 2010

Weather Data from the bridge

Latitude:  26.96 defgrees North
Longitude: 83.95 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds:  5.0 kts.
Temperature: 31.70 C or 89 degrees F
Barometric Pressure: 1014.55
A blacknose shark

Science and Technology:

shark embryo
Measuring the shark embryo
It was afternoon when we caught a sharpnose shark, a silky shark and 6 blacknose sharks. This was very exciting because the blacknose shark is the chief scientist’s project out here in the Gulf. In order for him to make observations of age, maturity and reproduction, he has to dissect the shark. Three of the blacknose were put back in the ocean after they were weighed, measured and tagged. The other three waited for dissection. I watched as the three sharks were dissected and the only part that cause me to look away was cutting off the head.  Some of my team members were so excited because they could keep the head and later remove the jaw.  That is a lot of work, which I do not have the patience for, so I will not be bringing home a shark’s jaw and teeth.  If there is time, one of the observers said she would prepare a jaw for me. Even if I do not get the jaw, I will be bringing back a shark fin, shark blood and several shark embryos.  The shark fin is currently drying out and the embryo is being stored in ethanol, which is used for all specimens. I won’t go into all the gory details, but the scientist removed the entire reproductive system.  He was looking to see if the shark had given birth and he can tell this by the color of the uterine tissue.  The sharks collected, had produced 4-5 embryos each. The yellow yolk is a soup like fluid that the embryo feeds on the nutrients from its mother.  There is a thin mucus that covers both the embryo and the yolk. It reminds me of a chicken’s egg. Each shark embryo was measured and cataloged.  The data will be used when the scientist writes his paper on the reproduction of sharks, which will then be published.
This evening there was a good deal of excitement on board.  We were hauling back our catch when the line broke.  The thought was that it could be caught on something on the ocean floor or a small reef.  It also could be that the line snapped because there was a large shark on it. This is not a common occurrence, but it has happened before.  When this happens the ship sails to the last hi-flyer and we work our way backwards.  In the end, everything was accounted for.
This really was no ordinary night. We were about 40 miles off shore from Cedar Keys, FL, at about 11 P.M., when we saw a small boat drifting about 3/4 mile from us with no lights on.  The officers on the bridge saw a red flare shoot into the air, so they knew the boat could be in distress. Our ship got close enough so that they could shine a light onto it and kept track of them as it drifted.  The NOAA officers talked to the boaters via radio and discovered that they had left port at 7 A.M. and that the motor on the boat kicked out about 2 P.M. They had been floating for nine hours and in a boat they could not repair. We were so far off shore, it was certainly understandable that they were very relieved to see us and get the help they needed.
Along the coast there is a company called “Sea Tow”. Their job is to haul in boats that are unable to get to land by themselves.  You do have to pay for this service and it is like having car insurance, but costs a whole lot more money.  Luckily this boat had that insurance, so Sea Tow immediately started out to get them.  In the meantime our ship monitored them.  They said they were OK and didn’t need any supplies, they just wanted to get on land.  Sea Tow reached them about 4 A.M. and the Captain thinks they probably docked about 10 A.M.  Thank goodness the Oregon II was out there, because they would have floated out there for many more hours before being seen by another ship.  I asked the Captain what would happen if the boaters did not have Sea Tow and he said they would have called the Coast Guard, who in turn would come out to rescue them.  This is like a story you hear on the news.  This officers and crew feel they were just doing their job.  They are very humble indeed.

Personal Log

Speaking of dress,  I thought you would like to know what I am wearing while I am here.  It is so warm here that shorts are in order.  Sometimes I wear sleeveless shirts, but most time I wear short sleeve shirts. I am wearing sneakers, but wish I had rubber boots.  My sneakers are soaked just about everyday.  Luckily the engine room is hot so I can put my sneakers there to dry. Rubber gloves that are heavy and have a very thick layer of weaved cotton one one side are always worn when we are catching sharks and fish.  They really don’t protect you so much from bites, but rather from the scales of these animals, which are like little knives.  Whenever you are catching fish, you have to wear either sunglasses or safety glasses.  Hard hats are required anytime machinery is being used, which is when we put sharks in the cradle.  Finally and most important is a PFD.  They are not too heavy and come equipped with flashlights in case of an emergency.  My challenge is to make sure I have everything when I need it.  We put out lines on the stern of the boat, but catch them on the bow, so we are not always working in the same place.  It sounds simple, you just have to get into the routine, which I almost have down.
We are starting to move more quickly up the coast of Florida and continuing to complete stations as we go.  We will be back in port on Sunday. The ship can sail at about nine or ten miles per hour, so it will take us awhile to get back to Pascagoula at that rate.  The time on this ship is going by so fast, it’s hard to believe I have been on this ship for over a week!Answer to question of the day:  There are many, many ways that the officers and captain can communicate with ships.  One way is GMDSS,which stands for Global Maritime Distress Safety System.  This system has many components, some of which are overlapping and the expectation is that boaters will have some of them on their boats, whether they are commercial or recreational.  There are computer systems, whistles, flags, and a lighting system that uses the Morse Code.  As you can see this is very complicated.  There are courses that captains and officers have to take in order to understand how the communicate and keep a boat or ship safe.
Kristen and 2 red snapper
“Animals Seen Today”  sharpnose shark, blacktip shark, red groupers, red snappers, nurse shark, blacknose shark. A sandbar shark that was much darker that the one we saw a few days ago.  A few days ago we caught a great hammerhead, which is a light gray color and different from the scalloped hammerhead.
A great hammerhead shark

Annmarie Babicki, August 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki

NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 15, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:  26.96 degrees North
Longitude: 83.18 degrees West
Clouds: scattered clouds
Winds:  6.13 kts.
Air Temperature:  33.5 C or
Barometric Pressure:  1014.93

Science and Technology:

Today was another fantastic day of seeing biology at its best.  I had the opportunity to observe the dissection of a sharpnose shark.  It is a small shark (about 2′ long) and rather docile, so it has been a good shark for me to practice on learning how to handle sharks.  The Chief Scientist works with many other scientists who are researching the  reproduction of a variety of sharks in the Gulf.  Although this species of  shark is not the one that he is researching (he is researching the blacknose shark), shark colleagues throughout the Gulf work together in order to obtain as much data as possible, and therefore collect data for one another.  Scientists look at the reproductive stages by observing and performing tests on the reproductive organs.  The shark dissected was a female in advanced puberty, but was in the process of collecting developing eggs. The samples taken on this shark were the follicles, where the eggs are stored, a piece of tissue and a blood sample. They will be taken to the NOAA lab in Pascagoula for examination.

A sharpnose shark
Yellow follicles where eggs are stored.

One recent finding on the blacknose shark study is that it was thought to reproduce annually. The Shark Scientist has recently found samples of blacknose sharks that show some reproduce biennially and some annually.  This came about by looking at the physical features and chemical makeup of the sharks.  The Chief Scientist stated that they will need to go back and review all of the data they have collected on these sharks over the many seasons they have been conducting the bottom longline survey.  The reason why this is so important is that the federal regulation of the catch is based in part on this data.  The outcome could be that the shark population is being depleted at a faster rate than was expected or the population is larger than anticipated, which means the catch regulations could be changed to reflect that. The shark biologist and the shark endocrinologist ( researching the hormonal makeup of sharks) were both sure that their data was accurate and valid, yet their results contradicted one another.  As you would hope, these scientists are open-minded enough to review their findings again and will try to solve this unexpected puzzle.

There is a great deal of data that is collected during these types of surveys.  Some data is recorded with pencil/paper, other data, such as that collected with a piece of equipment called a CTD (for “conductivity”, “temperature”, and “depth”), is recorded with computers.  The actual measurements of sharks are written with pencil/paper, but once each station is done, the information is entered into one of the computers that are in the dry lab.  There are six computers in the dry lab, 2 of which are laptop computers  called Toughbooks.  The Toughbooks are used when the hi-flyers, weights and numbered tags are put out on the fishing line and when they are hauled in. They are recording the position and time each twelve foot line is being dropped into the water.
CTD lowered into the water.
The CTD is an extremely expensive and sensitive piece of equipment that is placed in the water immediately after the crew and scientists have finished setting the longline.  The CTD sits below the surface for 3 minutes and is then lowered nearly to the ocean floor.  The crew needs to be careful not to let it touch bottom because it can damage the sensors causing the unit to fail. All of the data from this equipment is analyzed by the Chief Scientist when he returns to the lab.  There are also computers in many offices on the ship.  As of this writing, I have not had the opportunity to explore what their functions are.  That is for another day.

Personal Log

 It is incredibly hot here today and I have not adapted very well this week.  For a person who is always cold and who rarely sweats, it is quite a surprise to have sweat dripping from everywhere.  I even had sweat dripping from my forehead into my eyes! That is not fun. Although I do not generally drink Gatorade, I am drinking a lot of it on this trip!  I really am not complaining, just making a statement. I am really having such a great time on board this ship. It truly is a once in a life time experience.
 In the past couple of days I have had the opportunity to interview the five scientists (which includes the shark scientist) that I work with, and the captain of the ship. Their backgrounds are very different, but they all agreed that their love for the ocean has always been there.  The also all stated that while in high school, there were not marine biology classes.  It was not until they were at the college level that there were course offerings in their area of interest. The shark scientist has a PhD., but the other crew members do not.  They are planning to work on their master’s degree in the future. All of the crew have set goals for themselves and I am sure they will achieve them.  Each one gave advice to my fifth graders and that is do what you love. I really enjoyed spending time with all of them and have a lot to share with my students and teachers when we are back in school.
“Answer to the Question of the Day:
A flying fish caught in the night.
The answer is yes.  There is this wonderful little fish that swims very fast under water, but will fly or skip like a rock over the water.  It is a great adaptation that helps it to survive because the dolphins just love to feast on them.  Often times where there are flying fish, there are dolphins.  The other evening a flying fish flew out of the water and bounced off one of the crew members who was walking to the bow.  One of the volunteers, who happens to be from UNE, caught it.  That was so amazing in itself and getting to see it upfront was even better. Another example of the wonders of the ocean.
“Question of the Day”
How do captains and crew members communicate with ships that are far away?
“Animals Seen Today” a pale spotted eel that has very sharp teeth and bites.
A pale spotted eel

Annmarie Babicki, August 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Sharks and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2010
Calm seas in the Gulf off the coast of Florida

Weather Data from the Bridge                                

Latitude: 26.18 degrees North
Longitude: -84.07 degrees West
Winds: 5.25 knts.
Air Temperature: 30.5 C or 87 F
Barometric Pressure: 1013.84

Science and Technology:

Today we entered a fishing area that had once been closed to fishing due to the oil spill.  Since the spill, NOAA scientists have the added responsibility of collecting data on the fish they catch and preparing them for return to a lab. Scientists will to keep up to ten fish of each species for each station they fish.  There is a protocol that is followed in the handling of these fish. Basically, they are wrapped in a industrial strength aluminum foil, labeled, bagged, and placed in a freezer.  Upon returning to port, the Chief Scientist with sign over each individual fish to the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) at Pascagoula.  Toxicology testing will be performed on each fish to determine if chemicals from the oil have entered their body. The data will be analyzed and determinations will be made.  Many marine biologists have been out to sea for long periods of time since the spill.  They have been away from their family and friends, but feel that what they are doing is very important for marine life and the people along the Gulf.  Their passion and dedication is much like the passion and dedication I see in teachers.
Ready for Testing

On a lighter note, yesterday I was able to tag my first shark.  The sandbar shark was large enough to be  brought up in the cradle.  The Chief Scientist made the slit just below the dorsal fin, while two other assistants held the shark in place.  I did not get the tag in on the first try, but finally did get it into position.  The shark’s skin was so tough and full of razor-like scales.  If a shark’s tail slaps and hits you, it can leave a burn-like mark that is very painful.  Hopefully I will not have that experience while I’m here. Tagging the shark was amazing and frightening all at the same time.  I was very aware that I needed to get it done quickly before the shark became restless.  A shark’s movements are swift and powerful and you don’t want to be in their way.  Everyone out here has a great respect for these animals and appreciates the beautiful creatures that they are.  I, too, am learning what they already know.

Sandbar Shark in Cradle
Tagging the Sandbar Shark

Personal Log

I almost never know where to begin as I write a blog.  There is always so much going on, so much to see, learn, and write about,  it is sometimes overwhelming.  I always have questions for everyone here and they are willing to take the time to answer them with great detail.  Today the Chief Scientist was explaining to me about the swim bladder on a particular fish that we pulled out at one of the stations.  One of the lessons in the ocean unit is about swim bladders, so I was very curious to hear more about them.  After listening to him, I came away with a better understanding, which I will be able to share with my students.
Well, we all like to eat and if you like really good food and lots of variety, the Oregon II is the place to be.  Our chef served in the Navy as a Culinary Specialist and upon retiring joined NOAA.   You can tell he loves his job and that he’s not just cooking.  He creates meals that tickle all of your taste buds and some you never knew you had.  No one misses mealtime around here.  And if you think you may, he will put a plate aside for you so that you don’t miss his luscious meal. If you’re sitting in the mess hall you hear lots of “thank you’s” and if you look at the chef, you will see a wide, proud smile on his face.
When I can, I try to head up to the bridge to learn about all the complicated and sophisticated electronics that this ship is furnished with.  The equipment provides a staggering amount of information that the officers must analyze prior to making decisions about how to manuever their way from station to station.  I was told that it is very unlikely a NOAA ship can get lost at sea.  There are multiple systems in place, so that if one fails, there is at least one other to take its place.  Even though the ship has navigational and radar systems, the officers continue to use paper nautical charts as a backup.  The Captain and all of the officers who sail this ship love what they do and put safety for everyone above all else.

The Bridge on the Oregon II

“Answer to the Question of the Day”
The wet lab of the ship is where the scientists process marine life and store supplies they will need to work with while they are out to sea.  In the dry lab you will find computers that are used entering data and for general communications.
“Question of the Day”  Is there a fish that really flies?

Annmarie Babicki, August 10, 2010

Time:NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki

NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 10, 2010

Weather Data

Latitude:  25.36 degrees North
Longitude:  82.56 degrees West
Clouds: Overcast and occasional showers
Winds:  11.5 kts
Temperature: 28.6 Celcius or about 84 degrees Fahrenheit
Barometric Pressure; 1010.04

Science and Technology:

  I am working here in the Gulf of Mexico with a scientist who is completing shark stock assessments.  It is a long term study, which monitors population trends of all shark species in the Gulf.  The data collected from this survey is used in conjunction with data from many other studies to determine fisheries policy. One example of this could be the determinations of how large a catch can be and how long the catch season can be.  Policies are not only different by species, but also by whether the catch is for recreational or commercial use.
Today we began the shark survey and completed locations off the coast of Florida.  The locations are chosen at random, so that the data is objective and the findings are not skewed.  During each sampling the following information is recorded: shark species, its length, weight, sex, and the stage of its maturity.  The coordinates for each survey are also recorded, which enables scientists to know where particular shark populations exist. The number of stations completed per day varies depending on how far the stations are from one another.  Generally, the amount of time it takes to complete it is approximately two hours.
Bait bucket
Hi-flyer being dropped in the water

The methodology used to collect data on sharks is called bottom longlining.  This is when each hook are baited with mackerel and put on a gangion. We cut our own bait and attach it to the hooks.  Each hook is assigned a number, one to one hundred, so that it can be tracked. That line is then systematically hooked onto another line that runs one nautical mile.  Both ends of the line have what are called hi-flyers that float vertically in the water.  They are bright orange and have a blinking light on the top, so that they can be seen from a distance. There is a weight placed on both ends of the line and one in the middle. The weights help to keep the baited lines well below the surface.  After the last gangion is put on, we wait one hour and then begin to pull in all hundred lines. During this entire process the ship is moving, which can be sometimes challenging, especially in bad weather.

Measuring the length of a barracuda
weighing a barracuda
A tagged tiger shark

Although the focus of this survey is sharks, data is collected on all fishes that are captured. After the fish are pulled up on deck, data is collected and recorded by the hook number. The handling of sharks is different from the handling of fish.  Only sharks are fitted with a tag, which does not hurt them.  There are two types of tags, but to date we have only used one type.  In order to attach the yellow tag, a small slit is made underneath the dorsal fin. The tag has a sharp point on one end, which is inserted into the slit.  Also a small sample (5-10 cm) of the shark’s pelvic fin is taken.  This is then taken to the lab where DNA testing is done.  The DNA can be used to verify known species and unknown or new species. Also, scientists can compare the population of sharks in other oceans around the globe by their DNA. What I have observed on every catch is that the scientist carefully monitors the shark to ensure it is not being stressed or could be hurt in any way.
Today we caught this beautiful and powerful scalloped hammerhead shark.  When very large sharks like the hammerhead are caught, they are not pulled up by the line because it can damage them and they are too heavy to handle.  Instead they are guided onto a cradle which sits in the water. Once on securely they are hoisted to the side of the ship where scientists can collect the needed data. The hammerhead weighed in at 341lb. and was 8 feet long. What a catch this was, everyone was very excited.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
The cradle used to raise sharks in and out of the water.

Personal Log

The day started out cloudy but eventually turned over to showers and then to a hard rain.  We are feeling the effects of the tropical depression, which explains why it is difficult for me to stay standing for any length of time.  I am hitting and seeing more walls than I care to!  Also, it is a very bizarre feeling when the chair you are sitting in moves from one side of the room to the other.  Luckily I have fended of sea sickness, but I did have a mild case of nausea, however, nothing that stopped me from continuing to work on deck.  Thank goodness for Bonine.
Sleeping has not been much of a problem for me except when the ship’s engine changes.  The engines make a deep loud growling sound that wakes me for just a few minutes. Being out in the fresh air does make me tired, so I have to set my alarm clock or I will sleep through my next shift. It’s hard to know what day it is because I am working a noon to midnight shift. You keep track of time by when the next sampling is due.

Being at sea and doing this type of research is definitely only for the hearty.  The weather changes often as does the pace of the work.  There are many jobs to do during sampling and I am trying to learn all of them.  Baiting a hook and taking off bait has been frustrating, particularly since it has to be done quickly.  The type of hook they use has a barb on it that goes in a different direction from the rest of the hook, so it doesn’t just slide out.  We wear special gloves to protect our hands from the hooks and skin of the sharks, which can feel like sand paper or razor blades depending on the shark.  They say that practice makes perfect. Well, I have a lot of practicing to do!
My next adventure is to learn how to hold sharks and not be afraid of them.  I’ll keep you posted.

“Answer to Question of the Day” The fin clip is an actual piece of a fin that has been cut off the shark to be used for DNA testing.”Question of the Day”  What is a wet and dry room on a research vessel?

“Animals Seen Today” red groupers, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, scalloped hammerhead, sharpnose shark, and sea birds

Annmarie Babicki, August 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 8, 2010

A cargo ship off the starboard side.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 16:17 Military time, 4:17 P.M.
Latitude: 2636.96 degrees North
Longitude: 8510.18 degrees West
Clouds:  Mostly cloudy
Winds:  7.68 knots (kts.)
Air Temperature:  30.4 Celsius (C)
Sea Temperature: 30.2 Celsius (C)
Dry Bulb Temperature: n/a
Wet Bulb Temperature: n/a
Barometric Pressure: 1012.97 mB

Science and Technology:

Today the sea is very calm, so it was a great opportunity to have a diver’s drill. This was a very special event because they occur only once a month, so it was great to be able to watch the drill in action. Safety is of the utmost importance in everything both ship personnel and scientists do on this ship.  Prior to the dive, the Captain, Dave Nelson, called a meeting for all who were involved. Their  discussions included their mission, current and potential weather changes, possibility of sharks in the water, the role of each pair of divers and what the plan is in case of an emergency.  There is an in depth checklist to follow along with the recommendations of the Captain, Executive Office, Navigator, Junior Officer, Diver Master, Chief Boson, divers and skilled fisherman. Everyone on board has multiple roles and the key to everything going to plan is teamwork and safety.

The rescue boat, called a RHIB, was put into the water prior to divers going in. There were two people in the boat who monitored the divers and were there in case of an emergency.  This boat costs about $125,000 and needs to be cared for carefully so that it does not incur any damage. The divers jumped in the water, which was about 80 degrees and gave the OK (a pat on the head) that they were ready to begin their mission.  When they were about 12 feet down in the water,  I could clearly see them (No oil in these parts).

RHIB, the rescue boat used in the diver’s drill

They checked out the bow and propeller blades to make sure there was not a barnacle build up that could impact them functioning properly. The dive went off without a hitch and their diving gear was hauled out of the water prior to the divers coming aboard.  The Captain explained that this was done because the equipment is over 40 pound and would make it difficult for the divers to climb the floating ladder which is over the side of the ship. After the dive was completed, they had a debriefing session, where they discussed the status of the barnacles and concluded that at this time they were not having any impact the propeller or hull.

Personal Log

What an unbelievable 24 hours.  The crew and scientists have been so supportive and patient with me, as I asked them a thousand questions.  They are all willing to share their time, knowledge and experiences with me. I keep a small notebook with me at all times as there is so much I am learning every minute of the day.
We have been traveling to our first survey site, which is over 400 or so miles from the port in Pascaguola, Mississippi.  At a speed of about 12 knots, it will take us about 34 hours to reach our destination.  This has given me time to get my “sea legs”, which I’m still working on.  No sea sickness yet, and besides there’s too much I want to see and do to have time to get sick.

One thing I have been struck by is the color of the ocean.  It has change color many times since we left port.  It has been a muddy brown because the fresh water coming down from the Mississippi River is carrying sediment, which is then mixing with the salt water of the ocean. As we got farther away from shore, the color changed from a muddy brown, to a green and then to a very dark blue. We are currently in very deep waters  (approx. 10,750 feet) and the color of the ocean is a beautiful blue like I have never seen before. It almost took my breath away.

Blue waters

We will reach the survey site about 2 A.M. and get to work right away.  It is a 24 hour working ship, which means that surveying never stops.  I am part of a group of 5, who will work noon to midnight, therefore my work will start tomorrow.  I have lots to do and learn in the meantime and can’t wait to see my first shark.

“Question of the Day”: What is a fin clip?  Find out tomorrow after we begin the survey.